Choosing the best lenses for the Nikon Z9 and Z8 sounds an easy job. You just pick the most expensive S-line version of every lens, right? Well it's not that straightforward, since Nikon now offers different choices within a specific focal range and for different user types, so we need to steer a path through these different options.
The Nikon Z9 and Nikon Z8 are the best Nikon cameras so far, and true that the best Nikon Z lenses are obvious candidates to go with them, but these can get VERY expensive, so if we can think of more affordable alternatives, we'll mention them. It all depends on what you use your camera for.
For social and wedding photographers, for example, the best constant-aperture 'S' lenses are must-haves, while longer-range telephotos or ultra-wide lenses might be needed only occasionally, so you maybe don't need to spend quite as much!
And if you're a pro wildlife or sports photographer, you'll probably going to be looking at Nikon's top-flight super-telephoto primes, including the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, NIKKOR Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S and NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S, which are highly expensive and just a little outside the scope of our list.
Otherwise, these are the lenses we would pick out for general travel, landscape, commercial and other photography. Be ready for some fairly stiff prices, but then if you're looking for the best lenses for the Nikon Z9 and Z8, you'll know you've already entered a new price bracket, and that 45.7-megapixel sensor common to both cameras is going to test even the best lenses.
So let's get on with the list!
Best lenses for the Nikon Z9 and Z8 in 2023
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This is one of three 'trinity' lenses any Nikon Z9 or Z8 owner will have on their shopping list. A constant-aperture f/2.8 24-70mm has become a standard fixture in any premium camera manufacturer's lens range. But while the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S might look the obvious choice, it's not the only one. Nikon's Z-mount cameras first arrived with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, which is a lot smaller, around half the price and a lens we still rate very highly. And if you don't need such a wide angle of view, the NIKKOR Z 28-75mm f/2.8 offers the same constant maximum aperture but in a lighter, cheaper package. But for outright optical performance, the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S still reigns supreme, and that's likely to matter most to Z9 and Z8 users.
Every pro needs not just a 24-70mm f/2.8 standard zoom, of course, but a 70-200mm f/2.8 too. These constant aperture telephotos are incredibly useful for short-range sports, some wildlife, social photography and even portraits, where they can deliver beautiful background separation. As we've come to expect from Nikon's S-line lenses, the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is superb in every way. If it's just a bit TOO big and heavy for a lens you don't use often enough to justify the cost, take a look at the NIKKOR Z 70-180mm f/2.8 instead. It only goes to 180mm not 200mm, but it's half the price and still gives you a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture – and you still get VR, too.
A constant f/2.8 ultra-wide zoom is the third 'trinity' lens in any pro line-up, and Nikon pulls it off again with the superb NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S. Anyone who remembers. the AF-S 14-24mm DSLR lens and its bulbous front element will be pleased to learn that this lens actually supports front filters too, though at 112mm they're probably going to cost as much as a budget lens on their own. If you want to travel light, though, take a look at the older NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S lens. You lose a little on the maximum aperture, but you lose a lot in weight and cost too, and this could be a telling factor for landscape photographers or those who need an ultra-wide zoom now and again rather than all of the time. And if you must have a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, there's always the NIKKOR Z 17-28mm f/2.8, which is a little longer in focal length than the S-line 14-24mm, but a good deal cheaper.
We've included the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S in our list because it is the ultimate 50mm prime in the Nikon Z line-up. The f/1.2 maximum aperture is not so far behind the somewhat crazy 58mm f/0.95 Noct and produces wonderful background blur, not to mention superb center sharpness even wide open. But we're in two minds. For a 50mm, this is a seriously massive lens, and as you stop down the bokeh shape starts to get visibly 9-sided rather than perfectly round. The edge sharpness doesn't really catch up with the center performance until you stop down to around f/4, either. Much as we love this lens, for everyday usability, we also rate the far more humble and MUCH cheaper and lighter NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S, which we feel is pretty much a match for the f/1.2 lens optically.
Not so long ago, we all thought the classic 85mm f/1.4 was the ultimate 'portrait' lens – but the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S takes it that step further, with a maximum aperture that offers hairs-width depth of field wide open – but it has the fast and accurate autofocus needed to make that work, to produce quite superb image quality. This does make for a very big lens, though, not to mention an expensive one (wait, weren't mirrorless systems mean to be SMALLER?). If the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S is a step too far, consider the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S instead. It's a much smaller lens and WAY less expensive, and although it doesn't offer the bigger lens's razor-thin depth of field, it still delivers strong background blur and great optical performance for occasional portrait shooters.
Nikon's flagship macro lens is interesting for several reasons. One is the f/2.8 maximum aperture, which makes this lens handy not just for extreme close-ups but also as a general-purpose short telephoto, even a portrait lens, where the longer 105mm focal length vs an 85mm lens will help with background blur, despite the smaller aperture. The other notable feature is Nikon's VR image stabilization – Nikon's full frame Z-mount cameras all have IBIS, but lens VR, where availabe, adds to the stabilizatiion effect. The 105mm focal length helps maintain usable shooting distances too, which is where the admittedly cheaper NIKKOR Z MC 50mm f/2.8 falls down somewhat. What's perhaps most impressive, though, is the price. The NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S does look pretty good value for a professional S-line macro lens.
Nikon's new supertelephoto zoom is so new we haven't yet had time to test it properly, but it could be the perfect lens for occasional sports and wildlife photography, where one of Nikon's S-line lenses would just be overkill. The 180-600mm focal length is unusual – just a tad longer than the best 150-600mm lenses, but with this lens type it's arguably the longest zoo setting that counts, and they don't come any longer than this without a big step up in price bracket. The NIKKOR Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR does have a variable maximum aperture, but we're not going to hold that against it because it's only a small drop of just 1/3EV. We think this could be one of Nikon's most important telephotos for the consumer market, and even though many Nikon pros might gravitate towards the S-line lenses instead, we think they'll be taking a long, hard look at this one too.
If the 70-200mm or 70-180mm Nikkor Z telephotos don't quite have the reach you need, and you're not quite ready for the astronomical cost of Nikon's supertelephoto primes, then the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is not just the best choice from the Nikon stable, it's the ONLY choice. That will change once the new NIKKOR Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR becomes more widely available, but even then it's worth pointing out that the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a professional S-line lens, while the 180-600mm is more of a consumer optic. The NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S does have a variable maximum aperture, but it's only a short shift from f/4.5-5.6, and it is compatible with Nikon's Z teleconverters, so you can extend its reach far beyond its regular 400mm maximum.