Looking for the best Nikon lenses for your DX or FX format DSLR? You’ve come to the right place – we’ve rounded up all of the top lens choices for all kinds of photography, and from all types of manufacturer.Any DSLR is only as good as the lens that’s mounted on it. Buy into a Nikon system and you have a wealth of own-brand optics to choose from, covering everything from ultra-wide-angle zooms to super-telephotos, and pretty much anything else in between. It’s only natural to feel the urge to stick with Nikon’s own NIKKOR lenses, but that can be missing a trick.While Nikon’s prime and zoom lenses tend to be of very good quality, they’re certainly not always the ‘best buys’. Over the last few years, independent lens manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron have been steadily raising their game. Many of the latest third-party lenses are brilliantly designed, beautifully engineered and perform every bit as well as Nikon’s own offerings. Better still, they typically deliver all this at substantially reduced purchase prices, making them great value for money.With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best buys in all of the most popular categories of lens for Nikon DSLRs. Our new guide is split in two, so we’ll kick off with the best optics for DX (APS-C) format DSLRs, then move onto lenses for FX (full-frame) cameras. That said, FX format lenses are sometimes the best options for DX format cameras in certain categories, and we’ll explain when that’s the case.We base our purchasing recommendations on rigorous testing of lenses, both in our specialist photo lab as well as in real world testing. Ultimately, the lenses we suggest in this guide are the ones we’d buy for our own Nikon cameras.
Independently manufactured lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron often give similar or even better performance than own-brand Nikon lenses
Best Nikon lenses for DX format DSLRs in 2020
This ‘VC HLD’ lens includes optical stabilization alongside a new autofocus system which is quick and quiet. Handling is great, while the high-quality build includes weather sealing and a fluorine coating for the front element. Image quality is beautifully sharp, while contrast is high. Distortions are kept under control, while there’s also fairly minimal color fringing.Great-value option: Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSMFor about the same cash outlay as Nikon’s budget AF-P DX 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens, this Sigma is a more refined option. It’s got better build quality and delivers greater image quality, but on the downside, lacks stabilization – something which is not too problematic at this focal length.
When you’re pretty much reliant on autofocus, stepping back to manual focus can feel like going backwards. However, lenses like this which promise a huge depth of field thanks to a short focal length make accurate focusing less of a critical issue. To help you out, you also get a handy distance scale to try traditional focus methods for landscape and street photography – you can try setting the hyperfocal distance and ‘zone focusing’. There’s also high-quality glass which helps ensure the best possible image quality, with minimal ghosting and flare.Great-value option: N/AWide-angle prime lenses for DX format cameras are practically non-existent. That means that the Samyang 10mm is not only the best choice, it’s also the best value.
Typically bundled with higher-end cameras, such as the Nikon D500, this is the best DX format standard zoom lens. It’s a great walkaround option with a flexible range and a wide maximum aperture that sees it well suited to a lot of different subjects. It’s also beautifully built, with no less than four ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, plus nano-structure coatings along with fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. Focusing is swift and accurate thanks to ring-type ultrasonic autofocusing, while the VR (Vibration Reduction) stabilization system is very effective. Sharpness drops off a little at the long end of the zoom range, while you can see some barrel distortion at the short end of the lens, but otherwise it’s a great option.Great-value option: Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | CRelatively compact and lightweight, this Sigma has a variable yet fairly fast aperture rating and delivers impressive image quality, all at a bargain price.
Take into account the 1.5x multiplier (or ‘crop factor’) of Nikon’s APS-C models and with this lens you get an effective focal length of 52.5mm, which makes it pretty much perfect as a standard prime. This lens is also FX (full-frame) compatible, so should you find you upgrade later down the line, you can use it as a wide-angle prime, without being limited only to ‘crop mode’. As for usability and image quality, you’ve got fast ultrasonic autofocusing system, plus a Tamron’s VC optical stabilization system which is highly effective. Great-value option: Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8GIt’s less expensive to buy than the Tamron, matches it for aperture rating and delivers very pleasing image quality, but it’s not as well built and lacks stabilization.
The main attraction of a superzoom lens is that it covers everything from wide-angle coverage to serious telephoto reach, without the need to swap the lens on your camera. You therefore don’t have to carry additional lenses, and neatly avoid the worry of muck getting into your camera when changing lenses in dusty environments.When it comes to superzoom range, more might seem merrier. Indeed, Nikon, Sigma and Tamron all make 18-300mm lenses, while Tamron also markets 16-300mm and 18-400mm superzooms. By comparison, the Nikon 18-200mm has a relatively limited overall range, equivalent to 27-300mm in full-frame terms. However, that should prove plenty for most shooting scenarios, and there are some serious plus points.Compared with Sigma and Tamron superzooms, the Nikon has a more up-market ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. This comes complete with the usual full-time manual override, and a focus distance scale mounted beneath a viewing panel. Quality glass includes three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and there’s a second-generation VR system which has switchable Normal and Active modes. The first of these includes automatic panning detection, while the second counteracts increased physical vibrations.In our tests, sharpness proved better than in either of Nikon’s 18-300mm superzooms and overall image quality is particularly good for a superzoom lens. There’s always some compromise in image quality as you push the envelope in terms of zoom range but this lens strikes an excellent balance. All in all, it’s our favorite superzoom on the market.
In full-frame photography, a lens with an 85mm focal length and a fast aperture of around f/1.4 to f/1.8 is generally regarded as ideal for portraiture. It enables a comfortable working distance so you’re not crowding your subject, but you’ll still feel close enough to be engaged and to offer direction. Applying the 1.5x crop factor of DX format cameras, this lens has practically perfect effective focal length of 75mm. Meanwhile, the wide aperture rating of f/1.4 enables a tight depth of field, so you can blur fussy backgrounds when needed, to make the subject of the portrait really stand out. On a tight budget, the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 is a good option, and the AF-S 50mm f/1.4 is nicely compact and lightweight for a ‘faster’ lens. For sheer image quality, though, neither of the Nikon lenses can match this Sigma 50mm ‘Art’ optic, which delivers supreme sharpness along with beautiful bokeh (the pictorial quality of defocused areas in images).Compared with the Nikon lenses, the Sigma has a much more complex optical path, based on 13 elements in total and including both an aspherical element and three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Autofocus is particularly speedy, based on a ring-type ultrasonic system that enables full-time manual override. The only real minus points of the lens are that it’s big and heavy for a 50mm prime and, unlike most of Sigma’s more recent ‘Art’ lenses, it lacks weather seals.
This 90mm macro lens provides a number of excellent specifications, including high-grade glass, nano-structure coating and high-quality weather sealing and fluorine coatings. The autofocus system has been optimized for close-up shooting, while the ‘hybrid’ optical stabilizer counteracts for axial shift (up-down or side-to-side movement) as well as the usual angular vibration (wobble). All that means that this is the best lens in its class for consistently sharp close-ups – you’ll want to use a tripod though.Great-value option: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM MacroIt lacks the Tamron’s hybrid stabilization system and weather seals, but offers refined handling and delivers superb image quality.
This Tamron option offers better build quality than Nikon’s own DX format 70-200mm lens, while being much cheaper than Nikon’s FX format 70-300mm lens – it hits the sweet spot. Here, the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast and quiet, while sharpness and contrast are well rendered throughout the zoom range. Sharpness is a little softer at the full reach of the lens, but Tamron’s own optical stabilization system works well to keep your handheld shots free of blur.Great-value option: Nikon AF-S DX 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR IIThis DX format lens is significantly cheaper to buy than the FX format Tamron, and, while it doesn’t offer as much telephoto reach, its retractable design makes it remarkably compact for stowing away.
This is a lens that makes a heck of a lot of sense with DX format cameras. Try pairing a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with even something like the Nikon D7500 and you’ll end up with something bulky and unbalanced. By contrast, the 70-200mm f/4 option is about half the weight (and half the price) for much more comfortable shooting. This is still an FX format lens, so you’ll be able to use it on either kind of body, which is good news for potential upgraders. Image quality is stunning, with excellent sharpness helped along by very effective stabilization. Great-value option: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSMA great bargain buy, the Sigma has the faster, often favored f/2.8 aperture rating and is a very good performer, although it lacks weather seals.
If you’re a wildlife, sports or action photographer – this is one of the most versatile lenses you can pick up. It’s fairly unusual in that it has a constant aperture throughout the range, which at f/5.6 is not too bad for the type of lens. On your DX body, the far end of the lens will give you 750mm, which may not be quite as much as using either a Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm zoom, but it’s not too far behind. Another fantastic benefit is a ‘Sport’ mode, which makes it easier to track fast and erratically moving subjects through the viewfinder.Great-value option: Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | CThe maximum focal length is comparatively modest, but Sigma’s Contemporary class super-telephoto zoom is wonderfully compact and lightweight, making prolonged handheld shooting less of a strain.
Best Nikon cameraBest wide-angle lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest telephoto lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest super-telephoto lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest macro lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest portrait lenses for Nikon DSLRs
You’ll often hear it said that a camera is only as good as the glass attached to it. FX (full-frame) format Nikon bodies like the D810 and D850 certainly set the bar high, with high-pixel-count sensors that draw attention to any shortfall in sharpness. But it’s also true that there’s more to a good lens than just its ability to resolve fine detail.In the real world, you’ll find that handling is a key factor to consider. You’ll also need accurate and fast autofocus to help you get those shots that others might miss. Effective optical stabilization can also make the difference between images that win awards, versus those that are only fit for the trash.
It’s certainly not always the case that own-brand Nikon lenses outperform competitors from independent manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron
It’s not just about sharpness either. You also want high contrast, even when shooting wide-open at the largest available aperture. We’re also keen to look for minimal distortion, color fringing as well as resistance to ghosting and flare. Reasonably low vignetting (where the corners of the image are dark) is also something to look out for. Such shortfalls can often be corrected in-camera, or in post-production software such as Photoshop – but it’s always better to get it right in the first place if you can.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that own-brand Nikon lenses are the go-to options for best performance. Independent manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron have produced some corkers, while they generally offer much more of a bargain. Based on our extensive lab tests and ‘real-world’ testing, we’re proud to present our top 10 lenses in a wide range of popular categories, as well as great-value alternatives to suit tighter budgets. Let’s take a closer look at all the winners.
Best Nikon lenses for FX format DSLRs in 2020:
Sigma made big news when it upgraded its 12-24mm Mk II lens to the constant-aperture f/4 Art edition. Image quality is better, distortion is reduced, and you get the same monster maximum viewing angle. Even so, we prefer the newer 14-24mm lens, which forms part of Sigma’s ‘holy trinity’ of f/2.8 zooms, along with the 24-70mm Art and 70-200mm Sports.Optical finery includes an ultra-high-precision moulded glass aspherical front element, which represents a significant engineering challenge due to its large size. There are also three top-grade FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) elements and three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Whereas Sigma’s 12-24mm Art lens has a weather-sealed mounting plate, the 14-24mm gains a full set of weather seals, while also inheriting a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease, and to aid easy cleaning. Image quality is gorgeous in all respects, with incredible sharpness and contrast and practically no distortion, which is a real achievement in such a wide-angle zoom. Overall performance and image quality are better than in Nikon’s much pricier 14-24mm lens so, while the Sigma isn’t a cheap lens, it’s nevertheless great value. Great-value option: Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USDIt’s not quite as ultra-wide as the Sigma, but this Tamron undercuts it for cost, while adding optical stabilization and a faster f/2.8 aperture rating.
You can trust your creative potential to Sigma’s ‘Art’ range, which has been designed to be as sharp as possible, while also producing beautiful blurred backgrounds. The company has a large selection of f/1.4 primes to choose from, but this is the widest available (there is also a 14mm f/1.8 lens). Image quality is superb, while build quality – although on the chunky side – is nothing short of spectacular. Great-value option: Irix 15mm f/2.4 FireflyIt lacks autofocus, but this is a fabulous manual-focus lens that’s beautifully built and a real joy to use. The ‘Blackstone’ edition adds a couple of extra luxuries, but the Firefly is unbeatable value.
The pro-grade choice for a standard zoom on FX format bodies is usually a 24-70mm f/2.8, which combines a useful zoom range with a fairly fast aperture rating that remains constant at all focal lengths. They tend to be pretty weighty but, while this Sigma only weighs marginally less than Nikon’s latest offering, it’s only about two-thirds of the physical length and less than two-thirds of the price. Better still, there’s absolutely no compromise in build quality, image quality or overall performance.The construction of the lens feels very robust, and features a weather-seal ring on the plated brass mounting plate. Zoom and focus rings are silky-smooth in operation, and the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is both very rapid and whisper-quiet. Two switchable autofocus modes give priority to either autofocus or manual override. In the latter, you don’t need to wait for autofocus to lock on before manually overriding it by twisting the focus ring, and you can also apply manual override in AF-C (Continuous) mode. The optical stabilizer has a four-stop effectiveness.Sharpness and contrast are simply superb, throughout the entire zoom range, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8. In our tests, it beat the much pricier Nikon 24-70mm VR in this respect, as well as delivering less color fringing at short to medium zoom settings, and less barrel and pincushion distortion at the short and long ends of the zoom range respectively.Great-value option: Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2The G2 (Generation 2) edition of Tamron’s 24-70mm lens combines excellent image quality with a tough build and great handling. The original edition is still on sale as well, and rather less expensive to buy.
As a classic ‘nifty fifty’ with a 50mm focal length and fast f/1.4 aperture rating, Nikon’s AF-S 50mm f/1.4G is only about half the length and a third of the weight of this Sigma lens, and rather less expensive to buy. However, the Nikon lens has a relatively antiquated design with a basic optical path featuring just eight elements. The Sigma is a much more modern, high-tech affair with no less than 13 elements in its optical line-up. These include one aspherical element and three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements.Typical of Sigma’s Art and Sports lines, the 50mm f/1.4 has a super-fast yet whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, complete with the usual full-time manual override facility. In our tests, autofocus proved very accurate and highly consistent, which can be a struggle when shooting with any DSLR in conjunction with such a wide-aperture lens. Sharpness itself is rather better than with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens, especially towards the edges and corners of the frame, and when shooting at wide apertures. Further plus points include negligible colour fringing, even at the extreme corners of the frame, and absolutely negligible distortion. All things considered, it’s simply the best 50mm lens on the market for Nikon DSLRs and well worth the weight gain.Great-value option: Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4GCompared with the ‘budget’ Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, this f/1.4 lens is about twice the price, but still rather less expensive than the Tamron. It’s nice and sharp, but you do forego stabilization.
Travel photographers are often drawn towards superzoom lenses as it means you only have to carry one optic with you. However, when a lens like this tips the scales at 800g, it kind of loses its appeal for that purpose. That said, if you’re an event or wedding photographer who finds they need to quickly – and often – switch between wide-angle and telephoto shooting, a lens like this can be a godsend. You’ll have to compromise on image quality – this is a lens which is ‘good’ rather than ‘great’, but in terms of flexibility, nothing beats it.Great-value option: Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZDIt’s a cheaper option than Nikon’s FX-format superzoom and delivers similar image quality, but the autofocus system is comparatively basic and build quality doesn’t feel quite as good.
Sigma’s recent Art and Sports lenses have a reputation for being on the weighty side and this 85mm f/1.4 is certainly no exception. It tips the scales at 1,130g, making it nearly three times the weight of Nikon’s own 85mm f/1.4. As with the two contrasting Nikon and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lenses, however, the Sigma has a more complex design, this time based on 14 optical elements compared with the Nikon’s ten. The Sigma goes all out for image quality, with absolutely no concessions to compactness. Even so, it’s much less expensive to buy than the competing Nikon lens.One slight disappointment is that the lens lacks an optical stabilizer and, given the 85mm telephoto focal length, you’ll need a steady hand to avoid camera-shake. That said, the fast f/1.4 aperture rating helps to enable fast shutter speeds even under fairly dull ambient lighting. Better still, levels of sharpness remain outstanding, even when shooting wide-open at f/1.4. At wide apertures, bokeh is wonderfully soft and dreamy. There’s often a slight ‘onion ring’ effect in defocused light sources when using Sigma Art lenses but it’s particularly minimal with this lens. For portraiture and any other time you need a fast, short telephoto lens, this one’s a cracker.Great-value option: Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8GThis Nikon lens is a bargain if you’re willing to stick with f/1.8 rather than stretching to an f/1.4 aperture, although it doesn’t feature stabilization.
This lens isn’t cheap, but it’s still a chunk cheaper than Nikon’s popular AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G IF ED VR Micro lens. It also gives you a hybrid optical stabilization system which counteracts the shift in vertical and horizontal axes, as well as correcting for vibration and wobble. What that means is that sharpness is seriously impressive, especially for close-up shots. This lens proved to be a little sharper in our tests for extreme close-ups, with defocused areas being just a touch smoother, too.Great-value option: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM MacroIt lacks the Tamron’s hybrid stabilization system and weather seals, but has refined handling and delivers superb image quality.
Back in the day, the 70-300mm ED lens for film SLRs which hugely popular. The later VR edition was also a big hit among DSLR shooters. This is the replacement fro those lenses, and includes newer technology, such as an AF-P (pulse) autofocus system which is based on a stepping motor. That means you get super fast performance for shooting stills, as well as smooth and virtually silent transitions for movie shooting. It also features an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm, for more consistent apertures in rapid-fire shooting using fast continuous drive mode. On top of that, you get Nikon’s Sport VR mode, which makes it easier to track erratically moving subjects in the viewfinder. However, the AF-P autofocus and electromagnetic diaphragm control make the lens incompatible with some older DSLRs, and the relatively expensive price tag stretches the notion of a ‘budget telephoto zoom’.Read our in-depth Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR reviewGreat-value option: Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USDAs well as being our top pick for DX-format cameras, thanks to its good performance and relatively inexpensive price, this Tamron is also a smart budget buy for FX bodies.
Until fairly recently, the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR was the best ‘money no object’ telephoto zoom and the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 was the most ‘sensible’ buy. Both have now been overtaken by Sigma’s updated 70-200mm zoom, which gains a ‘Sports’ badge and joins the company’s Global Vision line-up.Although very reasonably priced for a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom, the Sigma boasts a top-notch optical path based on 24 elements in 22 groups, incorporating no less than nine FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) elements and one SLD (Special Low Dispersion) element, along with a particularly well-rounded 11-blade aperture.Handling highlights include three customizable AF-on/AF-hold buttons around the barrel. There’s also a dual-mode autofocus system in which you can switch priority between autofocus and manual override. Further switches give access to an autofocus range limiter, static and panning stabilization modes, and two optional ‘custom’ modes. You’ll need Sigma’s optional USB Dock to set these up, enabling custom settings of autofocus speed, how much the stabilization effect is viewable in the viewfinder, and where the cut-off distance is for the autofocus range limiter.It’s an absolutely first-class lens and a real bargain at the price. However, it’s bigger and heavier than most competing 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, and only the foot of the tripod collar can be removed rather than the whole assembly.It’s an absolutely first-class lens and a real bargain at the price. However, it’s bigger and heavier than most competing 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, and only the foot of the tripod collar can be removed rather than the whole assembly.Great-value option: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2This directly competing second-generation Tamron’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is very nearly as good as the own-brand Nikon, but costs about half the price.
Reasonably unusually for a Sigma lens, this offering gives you a full set of weather-seals, while there’s a whole range of other high-tech specs. Auto and manual priority autofocus modes are available, and the clever zoom lock mechanism enables you to lock the position at any marked focal length, rather than just at the short end of the zoom range. Image quality is fantastic with superb sharpness and excellent contrast all the way to the maximum telephoto reach, while distortion and color fringing is kept to a minimum. Fast-moving subjects won’t be beat by the ring-type autofocus system either, making this a smart choice for action shooters. Great-value option: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | CNearly a kilogram lighter in weight, this Contemporary lens retains many of the advanced features of the Sport edition, but is cheaper to buy and less of a strain in handheld shooting.
Best Nikon cameraBest wide-angle lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest telephoto lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest super-telephoto lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest macro lenses for Nikon DSLRsBest portrait lenses for Nikon DSLRs