The best Nikon lenses in 2018: top lenses for your Nikon camera

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When it comes to buying new lenses for your Nikon camera, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice out there. 

Both Nikon itself and a number of independent companies make a huge selection of lenses, which means that when you want to expand your collection, it can be tough to know where to start. 

Just about anything and everything is available, from ultra-wide-angle Nikon camera lenses to massive telephoto zooms, plus specialist optics like fisheye and ‘perspective correction’ lenses. So if you’re looking to upgrade your collection, which are the best Nikon lenses for your camera?

The lenses you’ll need depend on what you like to shoot. The most popular choices include a telephoto zoom for shooting sports and wildlife; and an ultra-wide-angle zoom for landscapes, cramped interiors and the wow-factor of exaggerating perspective. Another popular add-on is a ‘fast’ prime lens with a wide aperture rating – ideal for blurring the background in portraiture.

Below, we’ve picked 10 categories of lenses for your Nikon camera that are firm favourites, with real mass-market appeal. In each case, we’ll pick a standout lens that delivers superb all-round performance, excellent handling and gorgeous image quality – and the best budget alternative in each category. If independent manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron make a better or more affordable lens than an own-brand Nikon, this will be our top recommendation.

Which lenses are compatible with Nikon?

When buying new lenses for your Nikon camera, it’s good to keep compatibility in mind. FX format (full-frame) lenses work perfectly well on DX format (APS-C) camera bodies, with their smaller image sensors. 

However, if you mount a DX lens on an FX body, you’ll need to shoot in ‘Crop’ mode, which only uses the central region of the image sensor. Naturally, this produces images with a much-reduced megapixel count. 

FX compatible lenses are classified as Nikon FX, Sigma DG and Tamron Di. APS-C format lenses are designated Nikon DX, Sigma DC and Tamron Di II. 

Do all Nikon lenses work on all Nikon cameras?

Another compatibility issue is that various older DSLRs don’t work with some of the latest Nikon lenses, which feature AF-P (Pulse motor) autofocus systems or ‘E’ type electromagnetic aperture control. The recently launched Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR lens has both. Electromagnetic aperture control is increasingly being used in some of the latest Sigma and Tamron lenses as well.

With this all in mind, here’s our pick of the best lenses for your Nikon camera…

Opening image: MarioGuti for Getty Images

The best Nikon lenses right now

Nikon lens: AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR

1. Nikon AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR

It’s Nikon’s latest and all-time greatest DX format standard zoom

Mount: Nikon DX | Elements/groups: 17/13 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Maximum magnification: 0.22x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 80x86mm | Weight: 480g

Generous zoom range
Premium build and image quality
No ‘constant’ f/2.8 aperture
Competing lenses less expensive

With class-leading wide-angle coverage and a generous zoom range, the Nikon AF-S DX 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR is equivalent to using a 24-120mm zoom on an FX body. 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. 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. Nikon’s unstabilized 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom used to rule the DX roost but this newer lens has become the most appealing choice for general shooting requirements.

Budget option: Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C
At around a third of the price of the Nikon 16-80mm lens, the Sigma has a similar zoom range and an identical aperture rating. Image quality isn’t quite as good and handling is less refined because the focus ring rotates during autofocus. Even so, it’s a very good buy at the price.

Nikon camera lens: Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | A

2. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | A

A top-class standard zoom for full-frame cameras

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 19/14 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.37m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 88x108mm | Weight: 1,020g

Fabulous image quality
Pro-grade build and handling
Typically large 82mm filter thread
Heavy at just over a kilogram

Nikon’s latest AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is a beast of a standard zoom, measuring 155mm in length and 1,070g in weight. Its robust build, high-end performance and superb image quality make it the choice of many professional photographers around the world – but it’s hugely expensive to buy... 

The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | A lens isn’t as weather-sealed as the Nikon version, 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 incredible, while bokeh is amazingly smooth. Colour fringing, distortions and vignetting are very well controlled. Autofocus is super quick and quiet, while the 4-stop stabilizer is equally effective as the Nikon lens’s VR system. At around half the price of the Nikon lens, the Sigma is vastly better value.

Budget option: Nikon AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR
A drawback of 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses is that they’re fairly weighty at around a kilogram. The f/3.5-4.5 variable aperture rating of this lens enables a smaller, lighter build (465g), although it can’t deliver quite such a tight depth of field. Build quality, handling and image quality aren’t up to the standards set by the latest Nikon, Sigma and Tamron f/2.8 lenses, but this lens is much cheaper to buy. It’s also available as a kit lens option with some Nikon FX cameras.

Nikon lens: Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD

3. Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD

The best DX format ultra-wide zoom for APS-C cameras

Mount: Nikon DX | Elements/groups: 15/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Maximum magnification: 0.19x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 84x85mm | Weight: 440g

Great performance and image quality
4-stop image stabilizer
Weather-seals and fluorine coating
Twice the price of Nikon’s 10-18mm

The Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD represents a significant upgrade over Tamron’s original 10-24mm ultra-wide zoom for APS-C format cameras. It boasts improved optics, 4-stop VC (Vibration Compensation) stabilization, and a new HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) autofocus system. Handling is improved as the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus and enables full-time manual override. There are also weather seals, plus a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and aid cleaning. And happily, image quality is very good. All in all, this is the best choice there is for a DX format ultra-wide zoom. The lens trumps 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. And the Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM offers an even wider maximum angle of view – but has a built-in hood with no filter thread.

Budget option: Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM
While Nikon’s AF-P DX 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR is a tempting budget buy, especially as it includes stabilization, which can come in handy even with ultra-wide lenses, this Sigma constant-aperture lens is better in terms of build quality, performance and image quality. At around the same price as the Nikon 10-20mm, the Sigma lens is the smarter budget buy.

Nikon lens: Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | A

4. Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | A

A virtually distortion-free ultra-wide zoom for full-frame cameras

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: / | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.26m | Maximum magnification: 0.19x | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 96x135mm | Weight: 1,150g

Epic image quality with negligible distortion
Superb build quality and handling
There’s no filter thread
Not as ‘ultra-wide’ as Sigma’s 12-24mm Art lens

Sure, Nikon’s own-brand AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is somewhat legendary as a pro-grade ultra-wide zoom for FX format cameras. But as a relative newcomer on the scene, the Sigma 14-24mm delivers equally stellar image quality in terms of sharpness and contrast. Better still, it beats the Nikon for control over colour fringing and distortions, both aberrations being incredibly minimal for an ultra-wide zoom. 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, all in all, the new 14-24mm out-performs the equivalent Nikon lens and is less expensive to buy.

Budget option: Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
It isn't a budget lens, but the Tamron nevertheless undercuts the Sigma and Nikon 14-24mm lenses for price. It’s well-built, and delivers very good image quality and all-round performance. It also retains a ‘fast’ f/2.8 aperture rating while adding an effective image stabilizer, which is lacking in the two pricier lenses.

Nikon lens: Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

5. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

Money no object? This is the best Nikon-fit 70-200mm telephoto zoom on the planet

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 22/17 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.1m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x203mm | Weight: 1,430g

Stellar image quality and performance
Supreme build quality and handling
Very expensive to buy

This latest edition of Nikon’s world-class 70-200mm lens adds electromagnetic aperture control for greater exposure consistency in rapid continuous shooting, and a new ‘Sport’ VR mode that makes it easier to track erratically moving objects in the viewfinder. Optical highlights include a fluorite glass element for optimum image quality and a slight reduction in weight, along with six ED elements, one HRI (High Refractive Index) element and Nano crystal coatings. Handling benefits from the addition of switchable, dual-mode autofocus on/lock buttons. The new lens reigns supreme for sharpness and the 4-stop stabilizer is half a stop more effective than in the older 70-200mm f/2.8 VR. It’s the best lens of its kind on the market, but the competing Tamron G2, below, is practically as good in all respects and only costs half the price.

Budget option: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The ‘Generation 2’ edition of this fast 70-200mm telephoto zoom is spectacular. It very nearly matches the top-flight Nikon lens, above, in every area of build quality, handling, performance and outright image quality. Apart from the Nikon being very marginally sharper, most differences are negligible, and the Tamron goes one better for stabilization, with a class-leading 5-stop system.

Nikon lens: Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR

6. Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR

A cut above the usual 70-300mm telephoto zoom

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 16/11 | Diaphragm blades: 8 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x143mm | Weight: 1.050g

Excellent image quality and handling
Fast and silent autofocus system
No focus distance scale
Very expensive for this class of lens

Nikon’s previous 70-300mm VR lens gained a reputation for being one of the finest ‘budget telephoto’ zooms in the world. The new edition, the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR, costs about twice as much to buy but is a major upgrade. 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 one downside is that there’s no focus distance scale. As with all-round performance, image quality is excellent in all respects.

Budget option: Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD
This Tamron lens is an impressive performer and features ring-type ultrasonic autofocus along with highly effective VC (Vibration Compensation) stabilization. It also features a focus distance scale, lacking in Nikon’s latest 70-300mm lens. It’s not quite as sharp as the Nikon lens but much more affordable, at just half the price. And unlike the own-brand Nikon lens, the Tamron is compatible with older Nikon DSLRs.

Nikon lens: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S

7. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S

A fantastic super-telephoto zoom for your Nikon camera

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 24/16 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 2.6m | Maximum magnification: 0.2x | Filter thread: 105mm | Dimensions (WxL): 121x290mm | Weight: 2,860g

Great image quality, even at 600mm
Really solid build with neat features
Comparatively big and heavy
Typically ‘slow’ f/6.3 aperture at 600mm

Although Sigma and Tamron both manufacture 150-600mm super-telephoto lenses – which, when mounted on DX format cameras, give you a fantastic maxima ‘effective’ focal eight of 900mm – the Sigma ‘Sport’ line lens takes first place in terms of image quality, with excellent sharpness throughout its entire zoom range. The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S lens gives fast and accurate autofocus, and the dual-mode stabilizer is highly effective for both static and panning shots. Build quality is of a pro-grade standard, with a weather-sealed metal barrel and even a tough, metal hood. The only downside is that it’s a pretty massive lens and, at nearly 3kg in weight, it’s cumbersome for handheld shooting.

Budget option: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
Sigma’s ‘Contemporary’ class lens is smaller, almost a kilogram lighter, much cheaper and has the same zoom range as its ‘Sport’ sibling – but it's much more manageable in the hand. It boasts a weather-sealed mount, although it doesn't have the Sport lens’s more comprehensive set of seals. And it’s not quite as sharp either. Nevertheless, it performs well and offers great value.

Nikon lens: Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro

8. Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro

This superzoom lens is perfect for travel or walkabout shooting

Mount: Nikon DX | Elements/groups: 16/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (motor) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Maximum magnification: 0.34x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 75x100mm | Weight: 540g

Better wide-angle coverage than competing lenses
Big overall zoom range
Typical superzoom compromise in image quality
Less telephoto reach than Tamron’s new 18-400mm

Tamron is known for its ground-breaking superzoom lenses. The company’s latest offering is an 18-400mm lens that pushes boundaries at the long end of the zoom range – but the previously released Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro is top of the class in wide-angle coverage. It reduces the minimum focal length to just 16mm, and the extra-wide maximum viewing angle can often be more useful than greater telephoto reach. As you would expect for superzoom lenses, colour fringing and distortions can be noticeable, but sharpness is better than normal and handling is good. The stabilizer is very effective too, which is handy because the ‘effective’ maximum focal length of this DX format lens is 450mm.

Budget option: Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
It has a fairly modest zoom range, but this relatively new Tamron superzoom lens is very small and lightweight – so it's a good choice for taking on your travels. Performance is great and, because it's fairly cheap, it's great value too. 

Nikon lens: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A

9. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A

The best portrait lens for your Nikon camera

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 14/12 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Maximum magnification: 0.12x | Filter thread: 86mm | Dimensions (WxL): 95x126mm | Weight: 1,130g

Beautiful image quality
Sophisticated design
Comparatively huge
Twice the weight of Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4

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, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A 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.

Budget option: Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G
For budget portraiture on an APS-C format body, look no further than this Nikon lens. It’s only two-thirds of a stop slower than Nikon’s pricier 50mm f/1.4 lens but performs almost as well, and only costs about half as much to buy. For an own-brand Nikon lens, it’s an absolute bargain.

Nikon lens: Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro

10. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro

More advanced than Nikon’s 105mm VR macro lens – and cheaper

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 14/11 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Maximum magnification: 1.0x | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 79x117mm | Weight: 610g

Hybrid image stabilizer
Full 1.0x magnification
Includes weather-seals and fluorine a coating
Lacks ‘G2’ designation to distinguish it from the previous edition

The Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro is from the second generation of the company’s 90mm VC USD macro lens, and it brings with it a number of upgrades - from improved optical performance, nano-structure coatings and weather-seals to a fluorine coating on the front element. There’s also a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilizer that counteracts horizontal and vertical shift, as well as the more usual angular vibration or ‘wobble’. As a result, stabilization is 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 a better value buy.

Budget option: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
The price of this Sigma macro lens varies in different world regions, but it’s great value in the UK. Boasting a brilliant build quality, image quality is excellent and, while it doesn’t have ‘hybrid’ stabilization, it does sport a dual-mode stabilizer with static and panning options. This is a fantastic value lens that’s just as effective used as a relatively fast telephoto prime, as it is for capturing extreme close-ups.

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