A good photographer with a grasp of the fundamentals can produce quality work with any tools, but a big camera can make all the difference. But one of the components that many new photographers neglect is the effect that a high-quality lens can have on their work. While more advanced photographers normally carry a small catalog of lenses wherever they go, a good utilitarian lens can get you a long way.
Our top ten lens list focuses largely on the fundamentals: quality lenses that can serve double duty and deserve a spot in any photographer’s tool kit. Further complicating matters is the fact that lenses aren’t universally compatible, but any of the lenses on this list will suit you well if you have a Nikon camera.
TD;LR - The Best Nikon Lenses:
- Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G Lens
- Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
- Nikon AF FX 50mm f/1.8D
- Nikon AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED
- Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED
- Tamron 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di-II VC HLD
- Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
- Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G
- Nikon AF-P DX 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
- Nikon AF-S FX 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
- Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED
- Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR
1. Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G Lens
Novice photographers looking for a lens they can take anywhere and depend on for reliable shots should look to the AF-S DX NIKKOR. Optimized for DX-format cameras, this Nikon lens provides a fast maximum aperture that offers exceptional low light results and can be used to achieve a soft blurred background. The classic "normal" angle replicates the human range of sight, making it less unwieldy than 50mm options. And once you start adding new lenses to your standard gear, you'll appreciate how compact and lightweight this lens is.
The AF-S DX NIKKOR is powered by a Nikon Silent Wave Motor, a proprietary form of tech that promises quiet, accurate, and nimble autofocus in any condition. The lens is also treated with Nikon Super Integrated Coating to create color consistency and minimize the amount of flare in your photos.
2. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
While many of the lenses on this list can serve as great all-around choices for novice photographers, the AF-S 70-200mm is not that. With a price tag roughly ten times the AF-S DX 35mm, this is a lens reserved for professionals and serious hobbyists. But those looking for a top of the line lens will fall in love. Its zoom range allows it to capture photos ranging from 70mm to 200mm with crystal clarity, while its VR stabilization allows for significantly less motion blur even when trying to capture subjects at high speed.
The Sports Mode is built for action pans, and it's well regarded as one of the better professional action lenses around. That's in large part due to how sturdy this lens is. Weather sealing allows it to be used in practically any condition, and all nine parts of the lens barrel are sealed against dust and water.
3. Nikon AF FX 50mm f/1.8D
The Nikon AF FX NIKKOR may not come with zoom functionality, but it's a great and sturdy starter lens that can cover all the basics in your kit. The f/1.8 aperture provides beautiful results even with a shallow depth of field, and it works well even in low light settings. And at the widest aperture setting, it offers a quality Bokeh blur. That makes it ideal when you're looking to produce naturalistic results with your camera.
This lens makes use of Super Integrated Coating to offer quality color consistency and lens flare on all of your shots, while the Silent Wave Motor built-in makes for an autofocus system that's as quiet as it is accurate. Just keep in mind that this lens only offers autofocus functionality on DSLR cameras with an autofocus motor.
4. Nikon AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED
When you're looking for a lens that will work with your traditional DSLR still camera and you need Nikon lenses for videography, the AF-S DS NIKKOR can pull double duty. This lens is ideal for everything from photo blogging to shooting vacation footage, and it's one of the best Nikon lenses for portraits due to the very high level of detail it can bring to wide angled shots. This is the first lens of its type to offer a VR mode for tripods, but that's just one of four VR image stabilization stops that it brings to the table.
The presence of nonstick fluorine coating allows it to perform exceptionally even when it's exposed to water, dirt, or smudges. The presence of a 5X zoom lets you get a wider range of different shots than many of the other, less expensive, lenses on this list.
5. Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED
As an F-mount lens, this Nikon camera lens can be used with every model of Nikon DSLR camera. Whether you carry multiple cameras with you or you're looking to potentially upgrade to a new device in the future, that's a great advantage to have. The ultrasonic-type autofocus motor runs smoothly and quietly and offers full-time manual focusing.
This lens combines the natural perspective you'll get with a 35mm lens with a solid f/1.8 so it will work well in low lights and provide crisp results regardless of the environment in which you're shooting. Its lightweight design allows it to be added to your existing kit without having to make any major adjustments, but it can work very well as your primary Nikon lens as well.
6. Tamron 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di-II VC HLD
One of the biggest advantages of Tamron Nikon lenses is that they can be picked up for a fraction of the price of equivalent Nikkor lenses, but that doesn't mean that you're sacrificing quality for the sake of a good deal. Tamron offers some of the best 10-24mm focal length range of any lens manufacturers, and it makes up for the lack of Nikon brand VR with the presence of Tamron's proprietary vibrational compensation.
This lens also comes with a high/low torque modulated drive and fluorine coating to provide cleaner images with every shot. It's refreshingly free of the distortion that's often found in other wide-angle lenses. And you don't have to worry about compatibility issues just because this is a third party lens. It works perfectly well with a variety of different Nikon cameras.
7. Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
This Nikkor is one of Nikon's finest choices for portraitures, but it's a little less suited to more adventurous shots with more depth to their subjects. But it makes those sacrifices for the sake of offering a very impressive portrait lens. It's especially strong in low light settings, resulting in one of the best Nikon lenses for weddings, restaurants, or nightclubs.
Regardless of the environment in which you're shooting, you can expect this lens to provide you with incredibly bright and vibrant photos that capture the mood of your subjects perfectly. This 85 mm lens is one of the first to employ a nano crystal coat that produces clearer images with a much lower risk of lens flare and ghosting.
8. Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G
This 85mm lens isn't the ideal all-around lens, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its values. This is one of the best Nikon lenses for portraiture, but it starts to lose some of its usefulness for high-level professionals looking for a meaningful group or wedding shots. The depth of field isn't ideal, but it's a top shelf choice if you tend to lean towards more tightly planned and flat compositions.
The lightweight is a great advantage of this lens, and it offers a remarkably low level of chromatic aberrations. This lens isn't a bad choice as a centerpiece of your photographic kit, but it really excels as a complementary Nikon lens focused primarily on portraitures and static shots.
9. Nikon AF-P DX 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
Professional and amateur photographers who want to get creative with their compositions without having to switch out lenses should check out this Nikon DX lens. It's ultra wide angle allows you to do more with your compositions, while its lightweight design makes it a highly portable choice. These two aspects combine to make it a stellar choice for more adventurous photographers. The exceedingly quiet autofocus stepping motor, meanwhile, allows it to function incredibly well as a lens for shooting video on DX cameras.
Then there are the VR capabilities that allow to produce sharp results and keep photos and videos looking good even in the lowest light conditions. The close focusing allows you to get in tight on your subject even when you're shooting from afar.
10. Nikon AF-S FX 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Need a dedicated telephoto lens that can provide you with superb zoom without a loss of clarity? This lens has you covered. The AF-S has long been a recognized favorite of professionals, and that looks unlikely to change anytime soon. The fixed aperture of f/2.8 allows for more natural results and a respectable zoom range without a loss of quality in your images.
The internal focus allows you to change the autofocus quickly and quietly without having to change your lens at all. If you're working in challenging environments and you need a lens that can adjust with your needs on the fly, this is one of the best Nikon lenses on the market.
11. Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED
This Nikon brand lens doesn't occupy the upper range of costs, and there's a reason for that. This is a specialized lens designed to meet your needs when you need a lens that works with zoom. While it probably won't be your first choice when it comes to shooting wedding photographs or portraiture, it can provide you with the versatility you need to portray action shots or capture animals in their natural habitat.
This is a lens designed for photographers on the go - those that aren't interested in capturing the ordinary. More expensive lenses in this category will cost you more and weigh more with little substantive results. VR is built in to ensure that you get the results you want even if there are vibrations present.
12. Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR
The price tag on this AF-P lens is respectable, and that's especially remarkable given how much if packed in to this lens. Its tele zoom can provide you with high-quality results at ranges from 70 to 300 mm, and you don't have to sacrifice quality for the range of zoom. It's an incredibly balanced lens that works just as well for video as it does for stills and can excel at both action shots and still shots like wedding photos and portraiture.
This lens works with both FX and DX cameras, and it offers fast and quiet focusing so you don't have to worry about disturbing your subjects or missing out on the perfect shot.
Best Nikon Lenses Buyer’s Guide
How Many Lenses Do You Need?
While we’ve listed the best ten Nikon-compatible camera lenses around, there are literally dozens on the market. Since many fulfill specialized needs for photographers, it can be hard to determine what the best choices are for any given photographer. It can be even harder for novice photographers to know how many lenses they need to have in their collection. Pricing isn’t the only issue here. Lenses can quickly become heavy and bulky, so there’s only so many lenses you can practically carry with you on any given photography shoot.
Most professional photographers carry about five different lenses with them at any given time. While those cover most of the utility purposes that a photographer might need on a standard shoot, the lenses alone can easily weigh ten pounds. Most pros will also carry some specialized lenses that they might expect to use in rare or semi-regular situations. If you’re a novice, it’s recommended that you start with the basics. A good 35mm or 50mm lens will take you a long way. Investing in one high-quality lens will get you a long way until you learn the ins and outs of the craft and determine what exactly you’ll need. We suggest that you start with one of the lenses listed above and then potentially expand your collection only as needed.
A Quick Guide to Nikon Abbreviations
You may have already noticed that Nikon tends to use a lot of abbreviations in their product names. These can be incredibly confusing to new photographers, but someone versed in what they mean can quickly learn a lot about a camera with a glance. Here are some of the abbreviations you’re most likely to see in this list and while doing independent research. Just keep in mind that these are the abbreviations used for Nikon lenses, and many third party manufacturers make use of their own unique terminology.
AF: AF lenses come equipped with autofocus capabilities
AF-P: AF-P lenses utilize an automatic stepping motor, a choice that’s ideal for both traditional photography and videography.
AF-S: The autofocus on these lenses are powered by Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor.
ASM: The latest development in lens motors, the auto stepping motor moves quickly and quietly and lets you change focus settings in the camera menu.
DX: This designates that the camera is designed to work with DX camera bodies. While they can be mounted on FX cameras, they’ll only operate at half the resolution.
ED: A given in most modern Nikon lenses, extra-low dispersion glass provide better sharpness and reduce chromatic aberrations.
FX: This stands for “full frame” which is the default format size for camera lenses.
SIC: Super Integrated Coating is a trademark protective measure from Nikon, designed to counteract flare and ghosting in shots.
SWM: Nikon’s proprietary “Silent Wave Motor” technology allows for a high-speed autofocus that’s also remarkably quiet.
VR: Vibration Reduction allows handheld lenses to be used without the need for a tripod in low light situations.
There was naturally a lot of difficulty in creating a top ten list of Nikon lenses. Most of the lenses available are high-quality, and a number of the lenses that didn’t make the list have specialized value which could easily fill the needs of specific photographers. We naturally leaned towards the most versatile lenses and those that can meet the most common demands of photographers. We’ve carefully taken both versatility and specialization into account with our Nikon lenses review, but you should strongly consider what you need out of a lens before making a purchase.If you liked our article on nikon lenses, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.