Nikon arrived in style at the full-frame mirrorless party (finally). The des-res Z7 and more affordable Z6 cameras became instant hits, followed by the downsized DX format (APS-C) Z50. Naturally, any system camera is only as good as the lenses that support it and that’s where Nikon really struck gold.
The Z mount lens flange is considerably larger than in Nikon’s traditional F mount for its SLRs and, with no mirror assembly to contend with, it’s positioned much closer to the image sensor. The net result is greater freedom in the design of high-performance lenses and, sure enough, every NIKKOR Z-mount lens that we’ve seen so far has been an absolute cracker.
An advantage of mirrorless cameras over SLRs is that they tend to be more compact and lightweight. For the most part, Nikon has followed suit with its Z-mount lenses, giving them modest aperture ratings of f/1.8 for the majority of primes (the specialist Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct is a notable exception) and f/4 for zooms. Again, the Z 24-70mm f/2.8 and Z 70-200mm f/2.8 buck the trend, catering to the most demanding professional photographers.
• Read a review of the Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct
For the vast majority of us, Nikon’s Z-mount f/1.8 primes and f/4 zooms offer the perfect balance. They deliver spectacular image quality and all round performance, while keeping size and weight to easily manageable proportions. They’re also much more affordable than Nikon’s top-dollar Z-mount lenses.
The range of Z-mount lenses is still in its infancy, at least compared with six decades of F-mount lens heritage. There’s already a healthy range of high-quality S-line f/1.8 primes with a variety of focal lengths, including 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. Even so, there are still some gaps in the line-up, which are best filled with an F-mount lens via an FTZ adaptor. These include a full 1.0x macro prime lens and a ‘budget’ 70-300mm telephoto zoom.
For cut-price alternatives to native Nikon Z-mount lenses, there’s also a growing range of manual optics, available from independent manufacturers. Let’s take a closer look at all the best buys.
The best Nikon Z lenses in 2020
1. Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S
Best standard zoom for Z6 & Z7 - a consummate all-rounder
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: None | Min focus distance: 0.3m | Max magnification ratio: 0.3x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 78x89mm | Weight: 500g
Less than half the price of Nikon’s top-flight Z 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, this one is much more compact and lightweight. As well as having a retractable design for compact stowage, the glass elements towards the front of the lens naturally have a smaller diameter, the trade-off being that the f/4 aperture rating transmits less light and doesn’t allow for such a tight depth of field. There’s certainly no lack in outright image quality, however, this lens being sold not only in its own right but as a ‘kit’ lens with the Z6 and range-topping Z7 cameras. On the latter, it makes full use of the high megapixel count to retain ultra-fine levels of detail and texture.
• Read more: Nikon Z6 or Z7: which should you buy?
Typical of Z-mount lenses, the control ring serves not only for manual override of autofocus and fully manual focusing, but also for a variety of other customizable functions, including step-less aperture adjustment during movie capture. Even if you want a ‘faster’ lens, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with this zoom and supplementing it with an f/1.8 prime or two.
2. Nikon Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR
Remarkably small its the best standard zoom for Z50
Mount: Z DX | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: 4.5-stop | Min focus distance: 0.25-0.3m | Max magnification: 0.2x | Filter thread: 46mm | Dimensions (WxL): 70x32mm | Weight: 135g
Tipping the scales at just 135g, this DX (APS-C) format standard zoom for the Z50 pretty much qualifies as a ‘pancake lens’, measuring a mere 32mm in length when retracted. The flip-side is that, compared with weightier FX (full-frame format) Z-mount lenses, it feels a bit less solid and has a plastic rather than metal mounting plate. Even so, it’s certainly robust enough for daily shooting.
Like most similarly priced APS-C format cameras, the Z50 lacks IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) but the lens comes to the rescue with 4.5-stop optical VR (Vibration Reduction). Although small in size, the little NIKKOR punches above its weight, delivering great sharpness and contrast even when shooting wide-open, which is just as well considering that the widest available aperture shrinks to f/.6.3 at the long end of the zoom range.
3. Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S
A pro-grade lens that’s the best telephoto zoom for Z6 & Z7
Mount: Z FX | Elements/groups: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: 5-stops | Min focus distance: 0.5-1.0m | Max magnification: 0.2x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x220mm | Weight: 1,440g
What price do you put on an own-brand NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8 lens? Well, if want one of the best telephoto zooms in the world, on which top professional photographers depend, the price is bound to be pretty steep and this lens is no exception. Ideal for everything from sports and wildlife to portraiture and wedding photography, it has a fast f/2.8 aperture that enables quick shutter speeds even under dull lighting, without the need to bump up your ISO too much. And especially towards the long end of the zoom range, it gives a tight depth of field and very attractive bokeh.
Add to that advanced shooting controls with a dedicated multi-function control ring, multiple lens-function buttons, super-fast autofocus and a 5-stop optical stabilizer that works in conjunction with the sensor-shift stabilization of Z 6 and Z 7 cameras, and you’re onto a sure-fire winner.
4. Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR
Best budget telephoto zoom for Z6 & Z7: big on reach, small in size
Mount: F FX (use FTZ adapter) | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: 4.5-stop | Min focus distance: 1.2m | Max magnification: 0.25x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 81x146mm | Weight: 680g
Not everybody wants to dangle a whopping 1.5kg 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on the front of their slim, lightweight mirrorless camera. Indeed, 70-300mm lenses have long been favored by photographers who want to go large in telephoto reach, while keeping the size of their kit to travel-friendly proportions. This is Nikon’s latest and greatest FX format (full-frame compatible) F-mount 70-300mm lens for SLRs, and it’s something of a treat.
The lens boasts a super-fast stepping motor autofocus system and 4.5-stop optical VR, as well as packing a high-grade optical path into a relatively compact construction. Indeed, it feels well balanced on any Z-series camera even taking into account that you need to add an FTZ mount adaptor. Until a native Z-mount telephoto zoom with similar specifications comes along, this is the best buy.
5. Nikon Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR
Best telephoto zoom for Z50 – not so fast, but super steady
Mount: Z DX | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: 5-stops | Min focus distance: 0.5-1.0m | Max magnification: 0.23x | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 74x110mm | Weight: 405g
Designed for Nikon’s DX format Z50, this telephoto lens has an ‘effective’ zoom range of 75-375mm in full-frame terms, edging into super-telephoto territory. Even so, it’s remarkably small and lightweight, partly thanks to a retractable design and plastic mounting plate. Handling is very good, with a really nice balance on the slinky Z50 body, and a smooth action to its zoom ring and multi-function control ring. The latter also acts as a focus ring, being electronically coupled to rapid stepping motor autofocus system.
Compared with the impressive autofocus speed, the aperture rating is less ‘fast’, shrinking to f/6.3 at the long end of the zoom range. However, that particular issue is minimized by excellent sharpness and contrast even when shooting wide-open, along with a 5-stop optical VR system that lives up to its claims.
6. Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S
Best wide-angle zoom for Z6 & Z7
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: None | Min focus distance: 0.28m | Max magnification: 0.16x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x85mm | Weight: 485g
Ultra-wide lenses are epic for exaggerating the perspective between nearby objects and distant backgrounds, as well as for simply shoehorning more of a scene into the image frame. This one comes with all the usual attractions of Z-mount S-line lenses, including a customizable control ring and a rapid yet virtually silent stepping motor autofocus system.
Typical of Z-mount NIKKORs, the lens relies on the in-body stabilizers of Z 6 and Z 7 cameras as a steadying aid, as well as omitting a physical focus distance scale. The latter can be a bit of an issue if you like setting the hyperfocal distance for shooting with wide-angle lenses.
Getting back to the plus points, image quality and overall performance are easily up to usual S-line standards, with superb corner-to-corner sharpness, especially for such a wide-angle lens. And unlike many similar optics, this one has a removable hood that enables the easy fitment of filters via an 82mm attachment thread.
7. Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR
Best all-in-one lens for Z6, Z7 & Z50 and perfect for travel
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: Pulse (stepping motor) | Stabilizer: 4.5-stops | Min focus distance: 0.5-0.7m | Max magnification: 0.28x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 77x114mm | Weight: 570g
Ideal for the long or short haul, this ‘superzoom’ lens gives you everything from great wide-angle coverage to powerful telephoto reach, at the flick of a wrist. It’s impressively compact and lightweight for a full-frame compatible superzoom, measuring 114mm in length and tipping the scales at just 570g. That’s pretty remarkable, considering it can replace separate dual 24-70mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses, albeit with a more restrictive aperture rating of f/6.3 at the longest setting.
Travel-friendly credentials include weather-seals and a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease, as well as an anti-glare ARNEO Coat for when (or if) the sun comes out. It also boasts a 4.5-stop optical stabilizer which works in conjunction with the in-body stabilizers of the Z 6 and Z 7, and is even more desirable in the Z50 which has no IBIS. On the latter, you gain in telephoto reach what you lose in wide-angle ability, the ‘effective’ zoom range equating to 36-300mm in full-frame terms.
8. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM
A superb, fully-featured macro lens that’s a steal at the price
Mount: F FX (use FTZ adapter) | Autofocus: Ring-type ultrasonic | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Min focus distance: 0.31m | Max magnification: 1.0x | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 78x126mm | Weight: 725g
There’s still no sign of a native Z-mount Nikon ‘micro’ lens but, naturally, you could use one of the F-mount NIKKOR micro lenses via an FTZ mount adaptor. If you don’t have one already, we’d recommend buying the Sigma 105mm lens instead. It delivers full 1.0x macro magnification at its shortest focus distance of 0.31m, which enables a comfortable working distance between the front end of the lens and what you’re shooting.
Performance is excellent, from its fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system and 4-stop optical stabilizer, to its super-sharp image quality. The stabilizer has switchable static and panning modes, and there’s an autofocus range limiter switch, making the lens equally useful as a general purpose short telephoto for everything from portraiture to wildlife and action sports. It’s definitely not a one-trick pony for shooting close-ups.
9. Samyang/Rokinon MF 85mm f/1.4 Z
Best budget lens for portraiture on a shoestring budget
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: None | Stabilizer: None | Min focus distance: 1.1m | Max magnification: 0.09x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 78x103mm | Weight: 740g
For portraiture and still-life photography with a short telephoto lens, the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S is the most obvious candidate. It’s an autofocus lens with all the usual S-line refinements and is great value for money to boot. But if you feel it it’s still too expensive, this manual lens costs less than half the price. Sold under the Rokinon brand in North America, and as a Samyang in Europe, it really is a ‘manual’ lens, as it has no electronics built into it whatsoever. You can therefore only adjust the focus distance and aperture setting by using the respective control rings on the lens, rather than from the host camera.
Another challenge is that in-body stabilization of Z 6 and Z 7 cameras is disabled, so you have to watch out for camera-shake. On the plus side, the fast f/1.4 aperture enables quick shutter speeds even under dull lighting. The manual focus ring operates with smooth precision and the camera’s optional focus peaking display helps to nail accurate focusing. For defocused areas, the lens delivers beautifully soft and creamy bokeh.
10. Samyang/Rokinon MF 14mm f/2.8 Z
Best budget wide-angle prime & faster than Nikon’s Z 14-30mm zoom
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: None | Stabilizer: None | Min focus distance: 0.28m | Max magnification: 0.08x | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 87x124mm | Weight: 810g
Given that many of us only tend to use an ultra-wide zoom lens at or near its shortest focal length, this 14mm prime lens makes a good cut-price alternative to the Z 14-30mm S. It’s an f/stop faster and, while it’s a manual-focus lens, it does at least have a focus distance scale complete with depth of field markers. This makes it ideal for ‘zone focusing’ where you want to set up the focus distance and aperture manually, so that the depth of field covers a given area of a scene. However, you’ll need to shoot in Manual exposure mode, as the aperture can only be set from the lens’s own aperture ring, rather than from the host camera body.
Build quality is very good and image quality is impressive for such a relatively inexpensive lens, although barrel distortion can be rather noticeable. The Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D is also available in a Nikon Z-mount option, which is even faster and produces negligible distortion, as well as having a de-click facility for its aperture ring. However, the Laowa is also a fully manual optic, but costs about twice as much to buy.
• Read more: The Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D review
11. Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III
Best budget bokeh lens. A not so ‘standard’ prime at a great price
Mount: Z FX | Autofocus: None | Stabilizer: None | Min focus distance: 0.5m | Max magnification: 0.1x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 73x84mm | Weight: 720g
If money were no object, we’d be tempted by the Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct for its stellar performance and incredible f/0.95 aperture rating. However, with a list price of £8,299/$7,997, it costs more than most of us would spend on an entire Z-series outfit. If you’re hankering after an equally ‘fast’ lens that can deliver a super-tight depth of field, this Mikaton is only about one fifteenth of the price. Suffice it to say, it’s rather more ‘affordable’.
Although relatively inexpensive, the Mitakon has a high-grade optical path that includes no less than four ED elements plus a high-refractive-index element. A niggle for some might be that the aperture ring is positioned at the front end of the lens, which can seem a little unnatural. On the plus side, the aperture ring controls a very well-rounded 11-blade diaphragm that helps to maintain the quality of bokeh when stopping down a little, and it comes complete with step-less operation that’s ideal when shooting movies.
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