With so much choice, this guide will help you choose the best Nikon lens for your DSLR or mirrorless camera. While it might seem obvious to pick a Nikon lens to partner you Nikon DSLR or Z series camera, third-party lens makers like Sigma and Tamron also make some great lenses to fit Nikon cameras, so we've included those too.
Nikon's mirrorless range of cameras and lenses has been grabbing the headlines recently, including the new Z5, so you might be interested in our dedicated guide to the Nikon mirrorless camera system and lenses.
But whether you're a Nikon DSLR user or mirrorless shooter, you're spoilt for choice with the array of lenses available for your camera to suit all budgets. The trouble is though that sheer number of lenses on the market can quickly get confusing, so how do you pick the best Nikon lens for you? First thing you need to decide on is what you want to shoot. Once you've done that you can focus in on a category of lens that will allow you to achieve this. Here's a quick guide to help you work out what kind of lens you might need.
1) Telephoto zoom: most people pick one of theses to go with the standard zoom that came with their camera. They are the obvious choice for anyone interested in sports and wildlife photography, or any other time when you can’t get close enough to your subject. Read more: Best telephoto lenses for Nikon
2) Wide-angle zoom: for when you need to get more into the frame. Most people imagine a telephoto zoom to be the most useful extra lens you can have, but actually a wide-angle zoom can be equally useful, especially if you are interested in travel photography and capturing cramped interiors, big landmarks or narrow city streets. Read more: Best wide-angle lenses for Nikon
3) Standard zoom: standard zooms offer a versatile focal range, allowing you to shoot anything from landscapes to portraits and chances are, you've already got one as these are after bundled with Nikon cameras to get you started. While these are good all-rounders that are designed to be compact and affordable before anything else, in time you might decide you need a replacement that offers a longer focal range, a constant maximum aperture or just better all-round picture quality. Read more: Best standard zoom upgrades for Nikon
4) Macro lens: for subjects so close they're right under your nose. Regular lenses can focus quite close, but not close enough to fill the frame with tiny insects and other close-up subjects. But macro lenses are designed to get much closer, and are optically optimised to give crystal-clear close-ups. Read more: Best macro lenses
5) Portrait lens: for flattering features and background blur. The best portrait shots combine an undistorted perspective with soft background blur. A regular zoom lens might give you the right perspective, but only a dedicated portrait lens with a wide maximum aperture can give those atmospheric blurred backgrounds. Read more: Best portrait lenses
Lens compatibility: Nikon DX and FX cameras
Nikon makes smaller APS-C format (‘DX’) DSLRs and larger full-frame (‘FX’) models. The same lenses will fit on both, but the smaller DX sensor gives a 'crop factor' which reduces the angle of view of the lens. It's not a fault, just a characteristic of different lenses and sensor sizes.
Some types of lenses can be used on both Nikon DX and FX cameras (telephotos, macro lenses, portrait lenses) because the angle of view is not critical. But with others (wide-angle lenses and standard zooms) you need to get a lens designed specifically for that sensor size or you won't get the full benefit.
So just remember these two rules:
DX lenses can be used on a full frame Nikon FX body, but it will have switch to ‘crop’ mode, which only uses the central section of the sensor, so you don’t get the camera’s full resolution.
FX lenses can be used on DX bodies, but the angle of view will be smaller.
Best Nikon lenses in 2021
Once you’ve got a Nikon camera and a kit lens, a telephoto zoom is a good first additional purchase. In fact, it's probably the best Nikon lens for beginners to get. With telephotos we’d always recommend getting a full frame (FX) lens even if you’ve got a smaller DX format Nikon DSLR. That’s because there’s no penalty in focal range and magnification – the ‘crop factor’ of the smaller sensor increases the effective focal length of the lens, which is just what you want from a telephoto! The other advantage is that if you do upgrade to a full frame Nikon in the future, you can carry on using your telephoto lens.
This is the ideal focal range for a telephoto zoom, and there are lots of similar 70-300mm lenses on the market. But although this Nikon lens cost more, it’s well worth the extra outlay. It has an AF-P (Pulse motor) autofocus system that’s super-fast and basically inaudible in operation, along with an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm. New-generation VR (Vibration Reduction) gives enhanced 4.5-stop performance and adds a ‘Sport VR’ mode. This enables easier tracking of erratically moving objects in the viewfinder, as well as avoiding any slowdown in rapid continuous shooting. The lens has a tough, weather-resistant build although, as with the vast majority of stepping-motor lenses, there’s no focus distance scale. All-round performance is excellent and image quality is absolutely top-drawer. It might seem expensive right now, but this lens will prove its worth in the future.
This 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom category is also very popular. This lens doesn't have the zoom range of the 70-300mm lens above, but it does have a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. This offers faster shutter speeds in low light and shallower depth of field to help isolate your subjects from their backgrounds. Nikon’s own AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR is a great lens, but this Sigma Sports version matches it at pretty much every step of features and performance – and it’s much less expensive. Its pro-grade features include autofocus-hold/on buttons around the mid-section of the lens, the ability to switch autofocus to either auto-priority or manual-priority mode, and two switchable custom modes. You can assign these with Sigma’s optional USB Dock, for example to increase or decrease the effect of stabilization in the viewfinder image. You can also tailor the autofocus speed and change the autofocus range limiter distance. The only minus points is that the Sigma is a little bigger and heavier than most 70-200mm lenses, and its tripod ring can’t be fully removed to save space.
For some subjects you need more magnification than a regular 70-200mm or 70-300mm lens can provide. This is where you need a super-telephoto of up to 600mm focal length, and this is where the new breed of 150-600mm zooms is ideal. This is the best Nikon lens for wildlife and long-range sports fans and could be especially good for aviation nuts. For outright image quality, the more expensive Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens is our top choice, but this ‘C’ lens offers a better cost and weight compromise for most people, while covering the same focal range. This ‘C’ (Contemporary) lens is almost a full kilogram lighter in weight than Sigma’s ’S’ (Sports) version. It’s not quite as extensively weather-sealed but still very well made, almost as sharp, and has the same range of up-market features and controls. Overall, it’s the more sensible buy if you need a lens like this occasionally rather than all the time. It’s designed for full frame FX Nikons, and on a DX format Nikon with the 1.5x ‘crop factor, it gives an amazing 225-900mm effective focal range.
Nikon’s amazing constant aperture telezoom isn't cheap, but you do get a lot of lens for your money. With a constant fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 all the way through the zoom range from 120-300mm, the 2.5x zoom range means you have the telescopic power of a 300mm f/2.8 prime, but with the ability to zoom back out if the action moves closer to the camera. If you shoot a lot of close quarters sport or wildlife, this versatility will prove incredibly handy. With 25 optical elements in 19 groups, including one SR (short wavelength spectrum) element and 1 ED element to minimise chromatic aberration, there's also Nikon’s Arneo and Nano coatings at work to control flare and internal reflections – two elements also have fluorine coatings. There's also a 4-stop VR (Vibration Reduction) system with ‘sports’ mode, SWM autofocus and an electromagnetic diaphragm for more consistent exposures during high-speed burst shooting. This is all backed up by a brilliant optical performance and rock-solid build. A cracking lens if you can justify the price.
Like its smaller sibling, the Z DX 16-50mm VR zoom, this is a compact and lightweight lens created for the Z 50. The small size is enabled by a retractable design and modest f/4.5-6.3 aperture rating, while a plastic rather than metal mounting plate helps to keep the weight off. Although small and light, build quality feels nice and solid, but the lens doesn’t feature any weather-seals. Highlights include an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element in the optical path, a speedy and ultra-quiet stepping motor autofocus system, and highly effective 5-stop VR. Image quality is impressive although, as with most budget telephoto zooms, sharpness drops off a little at the long end of the zoom range.
70-200mm f/2.8 zooms are often the preferred telephoto choice for the most demanding photographers, and this new Nikon Z-mount optic is one of the very best. Optical finery includes two aspherical elements, a top-quality fluorite element, a short-wave refractive element and no less than six ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements. ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coat are also on hand to minimize ghosting and flare. Advanced handling characteristics include two customisable Lens Function buttons, a customisable control ring and a multi-mode info display. Autofocus is super-fast and unerringly accurate, while VR has a mighty 5-stop effectiveness. Build quality is rock solid and image quality is simply stunning.
For everyday photography a standard zoom (or ‘kit’) lens offers excellent versatility, but often won't go as 'wide' as you need for interior shots, tall buildings and sweeping landscapes. For this, you’ll need a wide-angle zoom, typically kicking off with a 10mm focal length for DX format lenses, or 14mm for full frame FX lenses. Naturally, a wider viewing angle enables you get more into the frame. With wide-angle zooms you have to get the right one for your camera’s sensor size. You CAN fit full frame wide-angles on a DX format Nikon, but the 1.5x crop factor means you are paying for a more expensive lens and losing much of that wider angle of view, so it’s just not worth doing.
A major upgrade over Tamron’s original 10-24mm ultra-wide zoom for APS-C format cameras, this one has improved optics, 4-stop VC (Vibration Compensation) stabilization, and a new HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) autofocus system. Weather-seals are also added, plus a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and aid cleaning. Image quality is very good and, overall, it’s simply the best Nikon-fit DX format ultra-wide zoom. It beats Nikon’s long-standing AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens for performance and image quality, and is much less expensive to buy, although it’s twice the price of Nikon’s budget 10-20mm VR zoom (which you also might like to consider if you’re on a budget).
Nikon’s own-brand AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is legendary as a pro-grade ultra-wide zoom for FX format cameras, but the Sigma 14-24mm delivers equally stellar sharpness and contrast. Better still, it beats the Nikon for control over colour fringing and distortions, both being incredibly well controlled for a zoom lens as wide as this. In fact, this is probably the best Nikon lens for landscape and architecture fans. The top-performance optics are wrapped up in a superbly well-engineered and fully weather-sealed barrel. The maximum viewing angle isn’t quite as extreme as in Sigma’s 12-24mm Art lens, but the image quality is better. More importantly, the new Sigma 14-24mm out-performs the equivalent Nikon lens and is less expensive to buy.
Ultra-wide-angle zooms for full-frame cameras tend to be big and heavy, as well as lacking an attachment thread for easily fitting filters or filter holders. This Z-mount lens manages to shoehorn an epic maximum viewing angle into a relatively compact and lightweight build, thanks to a similar retractable design and modest f/4 aperture rating as its sibling Z 24-70mm f/4 S-line standard zoom. It also has a removable hood, enabling the inclusion of an 82mm filter thread. Sharpness across the whole image frame is superb, even when shooting wide-open at the shortest zoom setting, while colour fringing and distortion are effectively eliminated in-camera. It’s a high-performance lens that’s a bit pricey for an f/4 zoom, but worth every cent.
Nikon’s ‘kit’ zooms supplied with its DX and FX format bodies offer pretty good performance and image quality, along with big savings when you buy the camera and lens as a complete package. However, they have limitations in zoom range, maximum aperture and overall quality, and since this is lens you’ll be using for much of your everyday photography, you might want to think about getting a better one. More up-market standard zooms may have a faster, constant aperture of f/2.8 to enable faster shutter speeds in poor light and better background separation (defocus). Alternatively you might want a standard zoom with a longer focal range than your kit lens to cope with a wider range of shooting situations.
This is another time when you have to get a lens to match your camera’s sensor size – so get a DX size standard zoom if you have a DX format Nikon, or FX for a full frame Nikon. If you use a full frame FX standard zoom on a DX Nikon, the effective focal length will be too long and you won’t get a wide enough angle of view.
With class-leading wide-angle coverage and a generous zoom range, this lens is equivalent to using a 24-120mm lens in 35mm camera terms. The widest available aperture shrinks from f/2.8 to f/4 at longer zoom settings but the upside is that the lens is smaller and lighter than constant-aperture f/2.8 zooms and has a longer zoom range. High-tech attractions include an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, a focus distance scale beneath a viewing panel, four ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and Nano Crystal Coat. Keep-clean fluorine coatings are also applied to the front and rear elements. We think this is a better choice than Nikon’s old and unstabilized 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom and the best Nikon lens for anyone who wants to upgrade their standard zoom.
Nikon’s latest AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR might look like a top choice for full frame Nikon DSLRs, but it’s a beast of a lens and hugely expensive to buy. This Sigma lens isn’t as fully weather-sealed as the Nikon, but it’s still immaculately well-engineered. It’s physically shorter and marginally lighter, but matches the Nikon for all-round performance and image quality. Sharpness and contrast are spectacular, while bokeh is lusciously smooth. Colour fringing, distortions and vignetting are very well controlled. Autofocus is very quick and extremely quiet, while the 4-stop stabilizer is just as effective as the Nikon lens’s VR system. At around half the price of the Nikon lens, the Sigma is vastly better value.
Nikon’s retractable 24-70mm f/4 Z is available separately or as part of a kit with Z 6 and Z 7 cameras. It’s such an excellent lens that you barely need to consider an upgrade. However, for those that demand a faster f/2.8 aperture rating for quicker shutter speeds and a tighter depth of field, this is the lens to go for. Like the Z 70-200mm f/2.8, it features a suitably high-grade optical path, this time including four aspherical elements and two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, along with the same mix of ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coat. Further similarities include a customisable Lens Function button and info display. A notable difference is that this lens lacks the optical VR of its telephoto partner, but the shorter focal length range makes it unnecessary, taking the in-body stabilization of Z 6 and Z 7 cameras into account. All-round performance and image quality are absolutely top-drawer.
The ‘macro’ badge is plastered over many zoom lenses but they only tend to offer a maximum magnification ratio of 0.2x to 0.5x at best, which isn’t ‘real’ macro photography at all. Most dedicated macro prime lenses, however, deliver a full 1.0x magnification. Basically, an object will be reproduced at full life size on the camera’s image sensor so, on a DX format body, a standard postage stamp would practically fill the entire frame. Just like with telephoto lenses, it can pay to buy an FX format macro lens, even if you’re shooting with a DX format body. The 1.5x crop factor won’t hurt, and you’ll have a lens that will work on a full frame camera too if you decide to upgrade in the future.
This little lens is only about half the length and a third of the weight of a 'pro' lens like Nikon’s 105mm macro lens for FX format cameras, so it’s easy to squeeze into a spare corner of your camera bag. With an ‘effective’ focal length of 60mm, it’s ideal as a standard prime lens for general shooting too, combining a fairly fast aperture rating with excellent optical performance. Sharpness is excellent across the entire image frame, from f/2.8 all the way to f/16. Colour fringing is absolutely negligible and there’s virtually zero distortion. The only catch is that, for full 1.0x magnification, the minimum focus distance from the focal plane is a mere 16cm and, because the inner barrel extends, the working distance from the front of the lens to the subject shrinks to just 35mm, which is a bit close for comfort. Nevertheless, if you own a DX Nikon and shoot macros only occasionally, this is the best Nikon lens for the job.
Like Tamron’s other recent ‘G2’ lenses, this is the second generation of the company’s 90mm VC USD macro lens. This means it features a host of upgrades including improved optical performance, nano-structure coatings, weather-seals and a fluorine coating on the front element. It also adds a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilizer that counteracts horizontal and vertical shift, as well as the more usual angular vibration or ‘wobble’. This makes stabilization much more effective in close-up shooting, especially compared with the regular stabilizer in Nikon’s competing 105mm VR macro lens. It matches the Nikon for build quality and image quality as well, making the Tamron the best Nikon-fit lens for extreme close-ups.
This Sigma lens is brilliant for extreme close-ups, delivering full 1.0x magnification at its shortest focus distance. It works equally well as a fast, short telephoto lens for shooting anything from portraiture to action sports and wildlife photography. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast and whisper-quiet, and the optical stabilizer is worth around 4-stops, complete with switchable static and panning modes. However, unlike in Tamron’s competing lens, stabilization is conventional rather than ‘hybrid’ so it can’t correct for x-y shift, only angular vibration or ‘wobble’. That makes stabilization less effective for macro shooting but, to be honest, you’re better off using a tripod anyway. Also unlike Tamron’s 90mm lens, the Sigma works fine with Z-series cameras, via an FTZ mount adapter, whereas Tamron is working on a forthcoming firmware update to enable compatibility.
Like with a macro lens, there can be advantages in shooting with an FX format lens on a DX format body. The crop factor and narrower angle of view is unlikely to matter. However, a 50mm DX format lens will give a comparable angle of view of 75mm equivalent, which is near enough to the classic 85mm focal length not to matter, and will be a cheaper option for Nikon DX camera owners.
For portraiture, you’ll often want to make people stand out from their surroundings, so that they’re the centre of attention. A cluttered or highly detailed background can be a nuisance but, with a long focal length and ‘fast’ aperture of around f/1.4 to f/1.8, you can solve the problem. The resulting tight depth of field will effectively throw the background out of focus, and make the person you’re photographing the centre of attention. The longer focal length of ‘portrait’ lenses also helps render faces more naturally, as you shoot from further away. You’ll be close enough to engage with and give directions to the portrait sitter, without invading their personal space.
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is a great lens, but heavy and expensive and perhaps a bit too much for many Nikon DX camera owners. For budget portraiture on a DX format body, look no further than this Nikon 50mm f/1.8. It’s two-thirds of a stop slower but performs very well and is cheap to buy. Considering the downmarket price, build quality feels pretty good, right down to the weather-sealed metal mounting plate. The lens comes complete with a hood, despite the front element being deeply recessed within the barrel. You get ring-type ultrasonic autofocus complete with full-time manual override and a focus distance scale positioned beneath a viewing panel. One final advantage is that this is actually an FX full frame lens, so if you move up to a full frame Nikon in the future, you can use it as a compact standard lens.
The combination of an 85mm focal length and f/1.4 aperture is perfect for portraiture on a full-frame camera. It enables a comfortable shooting distance and a tight depth of field, so you can make the main subject really stand out against a blurred background. Typical of Sigma’s ‘Art’ line of prime lenses, this one has a relatively large build with a complex optical design. Indeed, it’s about 50 per cent longer than the competing Nikon lens and nearly twice the weight. The pro-grade construction includes weather-seals and the overall finish is immaculate. Sharpness is exceptional across the entire image frame, even at the widest aperture of f/1.4. It outperforms the pricier Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lens in this respect, while also beating it for minimizing colour fringing and distortion. It’s the best portrait lens for full-frame portraiture on Nikon DSLRs – if you can live with the weight!
50mm f/1.8 lenses are often regarded as the poor relations of f/1.4 standard primes. But despite its modest aperture rating, this Z-mount lens delivers sumptuous image quality, with amazing levels of sharpness across the whole image frame and negligible distortion or colour fringing. The f/1.8 aperture also enables a reasonably compact and lightweight build, in keeping with slim-line mirrorless camera bodies. Even more impressively, the quality of bokeh is remarkably good for a 50mm f/1.8 lens, with particularly smooth rendition of defocused areas. Autofocus is very fast and virtually silent, and the lens is well-built with a weather-sealed construction. It’s pretty pricey for a 50mm f/1.8 prime but well worth the money.
Only a little larger and heavier than Nikon’s Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens, this 85mm optic is better suited to portraiture on full-frame cameras. The focal length is ideal for head-and-shoulders and half-length shots from a natural shooting distance. 85mm f/1.4 lenses are often preferred for their tighter depth of field, which can blur the background a little more effectively and make the main subject really stand out. Based on our tests, however, the bokeh (pictorial quality of defocused areas) produced by this lens is easily on a par with f/1.4 lenses, and better than some. As with other Z-mount f/1.8 S-line primes, build quality is very good and features weather-seals. A drawback of unstabilized 85mm telephoto lenses is that camera-shake can degrade sharpness in handheld shooting, but the in-body stabilization of Z 6 and Z 7 cameras helps to deliver consistently sharp shots.