Last Updated on October 11, 2021
Top Pick: Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
If you are looking for The First Nikon Lenses You Should Buy and you don’t have the time to do long research then just go for this one. Overall its camera quality & performance are better than most others.
It is likely that you will be quite pleased with the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with your DSLR when you first purchase it. Yet there will be a point when the lens you will need has been designed especially for what you want to do.
There are wide lenses, telephoto lenses, ‘nifty fifties’, and macros. A wide variety of lenses are available, even if you don’t decide whether to choose a prime or zoom, a lens that was built by a camera manufacturer or one made by a third-party brand.
The aim of this article is to provide Nikon DSLR owners with the best methods to build a lens collection that’s right for their needs so they can start using Nikon DSLRs.
Nikon currently offers more than 70 lenses for its DSLRs, and dozens more are available from third-party designers, including Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina.
It can be difficult to know where to begin when there are so many options. With the lenses we have compiled in seven categories, we have identified virtually all of your photographic needs in one lens. These lenses are significantly better than the standard 18-55mm or 24-120mm kit lens included with your DSLR and will provide more creative options.
The following points will help you narrow your search to a specific kind of suggestion if you know the type you’re looking for.
- A Prime Lens
- A-Zoom Lens
- A Wide-Angle Lens
- A Lens For Portraits
- A Macro Lens
- A Kit Lens Upgrade
- A Travel Lens
Why We Chose What We Chose
Performance and price are the main determinants of our selections. Choosing the best lens for your DSLR must provide a significant performance and/or feature advantage over the “kit lens.”
Starting out with a zoom lens like this will cover the 18–55mm range for DX bodies or the 24–120mm range for FX bodies. Despite being compact and easy to carry, they do not let much light into the camera and beget mediocre images when zoomed in. When using a zoom kit, a DSLR sensor will provide you with much richer detail than you’ll ever see.
It can be an unpleasant surprise for new DSLR owners to find those high-end lenses are more expensive than the overall camera. In general, we’ve taken care to offer DX-related options that cost at most $500 or less, easing the transition into an undertaking that can be rewarding and enjoyable, but costly as well.
The fast prime
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm F1.8G
It’s a good idea to start your lens collection with something compact, reliable, and affordable. That’s one of the reasons the Nikon DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is so great.
The 50mm-equivalent Nikon lens boasts excellent sharpness and an aperture of f/1.8, which makes it Nikon’s entry-level crown jewel. This is the lens to get if you can afford only one. Images captured by the camera will closely mirror what you see in your head because its visual perspective mimics that of the human eye.
Its prime lenses (which don’t zoom) also make you much more comfortable thinking about composition, moving around the scene more than usual-after all, you’re zooming with your feet. You can take advantage of all of these benefits with the Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 50mm F1.8G if you own a full-frame camera.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by its wide f/1.8 maximum aperture if you’re coming from a kit zoom — most stop at f/3.5.
A wide aperture lets in more light, which makes it easier to shoot in dark environments, such as at concerts, in theaters, or at birthday parties, or outside at night.
Also with the wide aperture, you can blur the background, giving you a wonderful out-of-focus area, called bokeh, that helps draw the viewer’s attention to your subject.
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM
Those looking for the very best – and those with a modest budget – won’t be disappointed by the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens. Although it costs more than four times as much as the main pick, it’s still a very reasonable price since it produces sharper images than even more expensive full-frame lenses like the Zeiss Distagon 35MM F/1.4 or the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G.
As with its more expensive rivals, the Sigma will also work on full-frame Nikon cameras, should you ever wish to upgrade to a Nikon FX-sensor DSLR in the future. The Sigma 50mm 1.4 DG is a great choice for full-frame shooters seeking a high-quality 50mm lens.
A superwide aperture of f/1.4 allows the Sigma to blur the background to a beautiful degree while still allowing handholdable shutter speeds, even in barely lit dive bars. With its design for full-frame cameras, it’s a bit larger than our top pick, but it’s comfortable to use and comes with a durable metal construction that will last for years.
From the moment it launched, reviewers have been raving about this lens. With this focal range, it is the top-scoring lens in this category ever tested by DxOMark. A veteran of almost every type of DSLR optic out there, Roger Cicala of LensRentals.com, calls it “pretty much the best 35/1.4 lens made.”
The zoom lens
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6G IF-ED
A telephoto zoom lens will probably be the next addition to your camera bag after you get a fast prime. The Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6G IF-ED lens is highly appreciated in this regard. Its 105-450mm equivalent makes it an excellent choice for a wide variety of subject matter, including wildlife at the zoo, the little league game at your kid’s school, or distant landmarks during a vacation.
Comparing this lens to your 18-55mm kit zoom, you’ll have access to a whole new range of photo opportunities. When using telephoto lenses, fast shutter speeds are crucial to avoid blurry images due to camera shake. Our pick, however, lets in less light than, for instance, the zoom we recommend for Canon shooters, with an aperture range of f/4.5–5.6.
The Nikon overcomes those problems, however, with its built-in image stabilization (VR, or vibration reduction) that can produce sharp images even when the shutter speed is slower than ideal.
It provided a hand-holding speed improvement of three stops, which is more than Nikon claims for its stabilization system.
As a result, a shutter speed as slow as 1/25 second can be used for a shot that normally requires a shutter speed of 1/200 second. This means, If you shoot with less light while still getting a sharp and quality image, you will be able to achieve this.
The price of a telephoto zoom lens can easily reach four figures, so for an amount like $500, you’ll get solid rather than outstanding performance. Despite the fact that it isn’t perfect, Photozone calls it “a very good lens” with “a harmonious price-performance ratio.”
In Imaging Resource’s opinion, the lens is very sharp between 70mm and 150mm; after that, it softens as the zoom increases; they recommend stopping the lens down to f/8 at 300mm for best results. They agree that the lens will work well for amateur sports shooting due to its fast AF speed and image stabilizing features.
A comparison of this lens with the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55–200mm f/4–5.6G ED VR II by Gordon Laing of Camera Labs concluded that the lens’ build and optical quality was superior to budget counterparts.
Several reasons make this lens attractive: It’s cheaper by about $150, it’s more compact, and it won’t weigh much more than the main pick.
Despite a longer focal length, the extra reach (300mm versus 200mm) of our pick, together with its excellent sharpness in corners, superior focus ring, and superior build quality will make it a more versatile lens.
Nikon’s AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5–5.6G ED VR is even less sharp than the 55-200mm zoom, so a longer zoom range always compromises image quality, and it is also slower to focus.
The wide-angle lens
Sigma 10–20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM
There is only so much room to back up when you’re photographing in small spaces. The wide-angle lens comes in handy in these situations. Additionally, it is perfect for shooting architecture and landscapes — or to make a small apartment seem more spacious.
Sigma offers a wide-angle zoom that includes a fixed f/3.5 aperture for APS-C cameras, 15-30mm-equivalent zoom, and solid metal construction, resulting in a lens that delivers crisp images.
Wide-angle lenses are typically characterized by barrel distortion, in which vertical lines bow outward. In comparison to most wide-angle zoom lenses, the Sigma is better at preventing barrel distortion.
In DxOMark’s tests, they found the Sigma 10-20mm */3.5 to have a good distortion performance over the entire focal range. At Imaging Resource, the team finds ultrawide lenses are typically prone to distortion, but Sigma 10-20mm */3.5 achieved an excellent performance. He goes on to say, “This is most evident at 10mm, but there is a reduction of distortion at 15mm almost to zero.”
“This optic is well built and the fit and finish are outstanding,” writes Gary Wolstenholme of ePHOTOzine, adding that the “conservative constant f/3.5 aperture will surely help those shooting dimly-lit interiors at night.”
“The perfect wide-angle lens for APS-C cameras,” states DxOMark, claiming that the Sigma offers similar or even better performance than Nikon’s AF-S DX Nikkor 10–24mm f/3.5–4.5G ED.
The Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG is a good wide-angle zoom if you own a full-frame camera. Although there is some distortion at 12mm, this can be fixed using image editing software.
While there are certainly sharper wide-angle lenses available, this one offers plenty of sharpness for most prints and online sharing. And sharper lens cost significantly more than this one.
The portrait lens
When you use portrait lenses, blurry backgrounds and shallow depth of field are the keys to making your subject stand out from the background. Blurring backgrounds, pin-sharp subjects, and subject separation are all traits of this style
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G
Photographing people is enjoyable with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G portrait lens. In addition to being amazingly sharp, this 127mm-equivalent optic has a fast aperture, so you can capture beautiful background blurry in low light if necessary while using a shutter speed fast enough to hold the camera by hand.
In addition to being dust- and moisture-resistant, this full-frame lens weighs just 350 grams (0.8 pounds), half what its nearest rival weighs
Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
When taking portrait photographs, your composition should include both the subject’s head and shoulders and a blurred background. A medium telephoto focal length will help you achieve the former. The 127mm-equivalent lens, which allows you to mount an 85mm lens onto a DX-format camera, does just that.
Even from a distance of 8 to 9 feet, you will be able to get enough detail into the frame to make the eyes and facial expressions of your subject stand out. A background that seems drab or distracting will be transformed into a complementary blur of color when we use the f/1.8 maximum aperture of our portrait pick.
There was consistent praise for this lens’s sharpness across all reviews. According to The Phoblographer’s Chris Gampat, it provides “an excellent focal length for headshots,” depending on the lens, on a DX-format camera. According to the reviewer of PCMag, “Getting this kind of optical performance for $500 is an amazing deal, especially considering that similar lenses from Zeiss and Nikon can cost two or three times as much.”
According to DxOMark’s portrait lens test, there are no significant differences between our pick and the more expensive Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. As well, our pick performed slightly better than the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM. Reviews consistently complained about sluggish autofocus, which may interfere with focusing on fast-moving subjects but won’t cause problems in portraiture or general photography.
Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
There are 13 elements in 9 groups, including LD (Low dispersion) and XLD (Extra-low dispersion) glass. The front is also coated in fluorine for enhanced anti-dirt and anti-grease function. By using eBAND and BBAR coatings, reflections are reduced.
Tamron’s eBAND is a nanocrystal coating, while BBAR is a multi-coating. Optical specifications of the lens include a focus range of 0.8 m (31.5″), a maximum magnification of 1:7.2, filter compatibility, and a weight of 700g.
In addition to being an AF lens, it also features Vibration Control (VC) to reduce camera shake. On the barrel of the lens are two switches that control AF/MF and VC. There is a solid bayonet-style lens hood provided. It snaps securely into place but is still easy to use.
The image in the viewfinder appears reassuringly crisp when focusing. As expected with a lens with an f/1.8 aperture, the point of focus is very precise. A depth of field scale is not provided since the lens has no aperture ring.
There is a wide rubber ring that lets you manually focus, and despite it being short, you can easily locate the focus point. For the Canon EOS 6D camera used for the review, the focus was in the correct direction.
For action subjects, the VC system should be switched off since it takes only about one second to click in. VC should also be turned off when the camera is mounted on a tripod because it may try to detect vibrations where none exist. But it’s best for subjects that are more static.
The lens’s construction has waterproof seals, which is a useful feature, as we can take photos whatever the weather conditions.
It balances nicely on the Canon 6D, making for a very ergonomic package, despite the lens’s chunkiness. Controls are easy to use and reliable. With AF, you’re practically silent all the time and have a positive lock every time.
This lens is widely applicable for many purposes, from portraits to landscapes, sports to reportage (street photography), and anything else requiring a short telephoto lens.
The macro lens
Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
There’s something fun about macro photography. Creative ideas can be revealed by using a camera to magnify even the tiniest objects in high resolution; using the lens as a magnifying glass means you can reveal even the most intricate details. However, these super-close-ups can only be obtained by using a macro lens, a specialty optical instrument that can focus close to the subject to render it a 1:1 magnification ratio.
The top choice for DX bodies is the Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR. This lens produces pleasing images and the vibration reduction built into it means you don’t need a tripod if you also use it for portraiture.
Its built-in motor is one of the most appealing features that beginners may appreciate. For those who own a D3000 or D5000-series entry-level Nikon DSLR, you will not be able to use an otherwise excellent lens, like the Tokina AT-X M100 AF PRO D, since it lacks a focus motor.
This Nikon camera features fast, accurate, and silent autofocus thanks to Nikon’s ultrasonic motor, as well as a front lens element that doesn’t extend during focusing, which can be a big help with subjects like butterflies. Even when shooting at maximum magnification, the minimum focus distance of 11.4 inches keeps you at a reasonable distance.
Reviewers appreciated the overall package that the Nikon 85mm f/3.5 macro lens brings to the table, though they did note some optical shortcomings compared to other, more expensive, macro lenses that we recommend for full-frame shooters.
Described by Photozone’s Markus Stamm as an “attractive Macro option for DX shooters. It’s compact and lightweight and produces excellent images wide open… No indications of [chromatic aberration] are visible in this photograph. Additionally, Nikon’s VR II optical stabilization comes with all of these features.”
“When it comes down to it, barrel distortion is a mere quibble, and [the lens] can capture a surprising amount of detail.”, writes Jim Fisher of PCMag. The lens can also be used for non-macro photography when converting to a short telephoto prime… It is also well suited for smaller Nikon SLR cameras.”
The Micro-Nikkor 85/3.5 from Nikon is a very competent macro lens. It is among the lowest-cost stabilized macro lenses you can find, and it delivers excellent performance with center-to-corner images that are sharp, but with slightly reduced contrast when wide open.
It seems that the best results are obtained at f/5.6 and smaller apertures, but “you shouldn’t be too concerned about that since you have to stop down [well beyond that] to achieve any acceptable depth of field.”
The Tokina AT-X M100 AF PRO D is a more affordable and higher-quality option that DxOMark rates even sharper than our main pick if you already own a Nikon DSLR such as the D7000 or have a built-in focus motor. As well as letting in two-thirds more light, it offers better insulation.
The kit lens upgrade
Sigma 18–35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
The Sigma 18–35mm f/1.8 DC HSM is a great alternative to the 18–55mm kit lens if you’re looking for a higher-quality lens that takes sharper images and can shoot in darker lighting conditions.
It’s currently $800, which is slightly more expensive than the other options we’ve discussed here, but this single lens can essentially serve as an 18mm, 24mm, and 35mm prime lens. Moreover, the fixed maximum aperture of f/1.8 will provide you with a strong light source even in very low lighting conditions.
Although some users complain about its autofocus, the reviews for the device are overwhelmingly positive. A huge fan, Chris Gampat at the Phoblographer calls it “super sharp” and “perhaps the best concert lens there is.” He adds, “The color is natural, the contrast is sharp, the focusing is quick, and the zoom and focus are internal.”
Your Nikon full-frame DSLR likely comes with the 24-120mm F4 kit lens, which is sharp and has a good zoom range, allowing you to handle all manner of challenging shooting situations. From there, the best option would be to invest a sizeable sum in Sigma’s 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS lens. Because the aperture remains nearly constant throughout its zoom range, you can shoot in lower lighting conditions and blur background to isolate your subject for portraits.
Whenever you travel, you need a lens that offers plenty of reaches while also providing a wide field of view or portrait shot, without compromising on quality or burdening yourself with extra bulk. Here is where superzooms come in handy.
In one piece of kit, superzooms provide you with focal lengths ranging from wide-angle to telephoto. Furthermore, you will be less likely to miss a shot by not having to dig in your kit bag to switch lenses, and dust and dirt will be less likely to accumulate on your sensor as you won’t be swapping lenses.
Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
The lens’s weight is reduced by 400g thanks to the use of high-quality plastic in its construction and mount. A camera body such as the Canon EOS 600D works well with this. With the fairly wide zoom ratio, the lens extends quite a distance forward when zoomed in to the full range, and a lock keeps the lens from expanding when carried.
Additional controls on the camera include an AF/MF switch and an on/off switch for the VC system. Using the bayonet mount surrounding the 62mm filter thread, the lens hood clicks securely into place. Lenses are described as being “moisture resistant” which is a wonderful, vague statement which, if used correctly, means that they will survive light rain.
A Canon body with a focal range of 18-200mm would be equivalent to a Canon body with 28.8-320mm, and a Nikon body with 27-300mm in 35mm format. It is well suited to close focusing because max magnification is a useful 1:4. Although the lens has an internal focus, it does not extend, but the focusing ring on the front rotates, so it needs to remain free-moving. Due to the non-rotating front element, polarising filters can be used more easily.
DC motors are used for focusing, which is extremely fast and silent to operate. With little or no hunting, the focus is quickly acquired. There are 7 blades on the diaphragm.
An interesting feature of the VC system is that it controls the effects of camera shake through the movement of lens elements. The instructions clearly state that VC should be turned off when mounted on a tripod.
Moreover, it could be better to simply turn off the shutter when taking shots of fast-moving subjects, as the prolonged acquisition time might mean missing crucial moments. As the camera is activated, the viewfinder image appears slightly jerky as the lens groups are held magnetically, which can be a problem. Among other things, this means that you may need to re-compose slightly when you half release the shutter after careful composition on a tripod.
LD (Low Dispersion) elements are included in one of the 14 groupings of the optical construction.
It provides great performance across the board, especially in the center of the frame where it performs well above its weight and on the edges as well. In addition to being extremely affordable, it also has high central incredible sharpness, low CA, and low flare.
Although there are some compromises in performance as mentioned throughout the review, for those looking for an inexpensive, versatile holiday or travel lens, this lens offers tremendous value for money. Plus, the VC system is an added bonus.
Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
It’s not the priciest lens on the list, but it’s the most popular among the ’11 Best Superzoom Lenses For Travel’, so it’s an excellent option for Nikon users.
In addition to silent autofocus and Vibration Compensation, the Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD covers a wide range. Despite covering such a broad range of subjects, this lens is low weight and rather compact at only 450g.
It showed itself capable of producing decently sharp, contrasty images during testing, especially when used at maximum apertures. Because of its lightweight, compact design, the lens is ideal for travel, especially when paired with a smaller digital SLR camera.
Despite the large field of view covered by this lens, it is astonishingly compact, and it weighs only 450 grams. In contrast to other superzooms where 67mm or 72mm filters are normally used, a 62mm filter can be fitted to the front of the camera. This lens allows you to use polarizing and neutral density filters with no rotation of the filter thread during focusing or zooming.
The lens barrel is made of high-quality plastic, which feels sturdy enough to withstand some abuse without being too heavy on the optic. When zooming to 270mm, the lens, which consists of two sections, doubles in length. In general, the zoom mechanism behaves smoothly throughout its range and presents just enough resistance so as not to cause creep when pointed downward, although some loosening may occur over time.
A silent focusing motor coupled with Piezo Drive makes focusing pretty quick. A noticeable improvement over the older 18-270mm lens is its ability to focus and perform more quietly. Because of the modest maximum aperture, at the long end of the zoom, the lens may hunt a little when shooting in low light. Among lenses of this type, focusing is fast and accurate under better lighting.
The compact dimensions of the lens can be attributed to the Vibration Compensation system employed in this lens. It quickly stabilizes the viewfinder image, allowing for easier composition at an angle equivalent to a 405mm lens on a 35mm camera.
Photographs took at 270mm were generally sharp when taken at 1/50s, which is three stops slower than the normal rule of thumb. As soon as 1/25s have passed, the success rate drops to approximately half the time, depending on the situation.
What to look forward to
A new zoom lens for the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 has been announced by the company. Focus is accomplished through stepping motors in the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR (hence the “AF-P” designation). In a similar way to Canon’s STM lenses, Nikon says its motors will reduce focusing noise in the video.
In addition, the design reduces the lens’s weight by a couple of ounces. In our pick, it was the mechanical aperture that caused aperture shifting to be more precise and smooth. By contrast, the new lens has an electromagnetic aperture. There is some controversy over electromagnetic-aperture lenses and some older Nikon cameras, such as the D3200, which will have a “limited compatibility”. Nikon also claims that its optical image stabilization has been improved from our pick.
A Nikon-exclusive wide-angle lens became available in May 2017. The 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR is a new and affordable price option at $310. Compared to our current little league of a wide-angle lens, the new lens is cheaper, and it has stabilization, whereas Sigma doesn’t. Sigma, on the other hand, offers a fixed f/3.5 aperture which makes it a major advantage.