It's not hard to pick the best Nikon Z lenses because they are all so good! Part of Nikon's mission was to use the technical advantages of the new Z mount to produce a new wave of optically bold and brilliant lenses, and it seems to have worked. The specifications may look quite ordinary, but the performance of these lenses is far from ordinary.
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 Nikkor 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 Nikkor 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 Nikkor 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
Nikkor Z zooms
Nikon's Z mount zoom lens range is small so far but has all the key lenses in place, including the compact and excellent 24-70mm f/4 'kit' zoom, a pro-spec 24-70mm f/2.8 version, a pro-level 70-200mm f/2.8, an ultra-wide 14-30mm f/4 lens (not f/2.8, alas), and a Nikkor Z 24-200mm f4-6.3 VR lens for travel photography.
Less than half the price of Nikon’s top-flight Z 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (below), 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.
Read more: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S review
We’d still recommend the Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 lens (above) for enthusiasts and travel photographers purely for its size and affordability, but for professionals and experts the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is a no-brainer. It’s a top quality professional lens at the leading edge of optical performance. The smaller lens is already so well corrected for colour fringing and distortion that it left little room for improvement, but the 24-70mm f/2.8 is even sharper in the centre, far sharper at the edges, and delivers not just higher levels of resolution overall, but amazing consistency across the focal length and aperture range. The only thing is, if you want the best you have to pay for it, both in financial cost and weight.
Read more: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S review
Nikon’s top quality f/2.8 telephoto zoom for its full-frame mirrorless cameras sets new standards for image quality and all-round performance. It’s a fabulous lens that delivers spectacular performance in every respect. The autofocus system is super-fast and unerringly accurate, while lens-shift VR delivers 5-stop effectiveness right out to the longest focal length. Throughout most of the zoom range, levels of sharpness are absolutely stunning, right across the entire image frame and into the extreme corners, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8. Of course, all this doesn't come cheap, but the price is certainly justified.
Read more: Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S review
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 Z5, Z6 and Z7 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.
Read more: Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S review
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 Z5, Z6 and Z7, 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.
The Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S is Nikon's latest effort to attract pros to the Z mount system. Completing the holy trinity of fast f/2.8 S-line zooms, it slots in neatly next to the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S and promises uncompromisng wide-angle image quality. The 16-element optical stack includes 3 aspherical lelemtns, along with Nikon’s Nano Crystal and ARNEO Coat for reucing ghosting and flare. The front element gets a smear-restant flouine coating, and the lens is fully weather sealed. Add the included HB-98 lens hood and huge 112mm filters can be used - Nikon offers Neutral Colour and Circular Polarizer options.
Nikon Z primes
Nikon has been quite conservative with its Nikkor Z prime lenses so far, sticking to 'classic' focal lengths from 20mm to 85mm and an f/1.8 maximum aperture (we won't count the crazy 58mm f/0.95 Noct!). These primes may look relatively staid, but they are fast, silent and optically brilliant – and for people who like to collect sets, these lenses all share the same signature family 'look'.
When you want a wider viewing angle than your 24-70mm zoom can deliver, this is the ideal prime lens for Z5, Z6 and Z7 cameras. Image quality is up to the typically terrific standard of Z-mount Nikkor S-line lenses, and you can enjoy similarly refined handling, virtually silent autofocus, and negligible focus breathing. Overall, it’s a superb lens that’s equally capable for stills and movie capture, and it’s also a delight for astrophotography. The wide viewing angle and fast aperture combine to give great versatility for everything from cramped interiors to rolling landscapes and beyond, taking in heavenly skies at night. It’s pretty pricey, costing about the same as Nikon’s Z 14-30mm f/4 S zoom, but the sheer quality and performance makes the 20mm well worth the money.
Read more: Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S review
Nikon’s brace of Z-mount 24-70mm zoom lenses for its full-frame mirrorless cameras perform so well that you’d be forgiven for wondering why there’s a need for a 24mm prime as well. Naturally, any prime lens is good if you like composing shots with your feet, and totting up your count of Fitbit steps, but the Z 24mm is also faster than its zoom siblings, with an f/1.8 aperture rating. What’s more, it delivers drop-dead gorgeous image quality even when shooting wide-open. First-class optics are wrapped up in a compact and lightweight yet robust package, making this lens an absolute joy to use and a Nikkor lens to treasure.
Read more: Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S review
It’s quite a lot to pay for a humble 35mm f/1.8, but the Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S’s optical performance immediately shows where the money’s been spent. Like the rest of the Nikon Z prime lenses, this one is optically excellent, which helps make up for the relatively modest f/1.8 maximum aperture, when many rival 35mm lens are f/1.4s. You don't get a distance scale either, or any depth of field markings, but is the same across Nikon's Z mount f/1.8 prime lens range. This sounds like a lot of negatives, but optical performance of the Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S, its smooth and silent operation and its light weight make up for all of that.
Read more: Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S review
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.
Read more: Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S review
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 Z5, Z6 and Z7 cameras helps to deliver consistently sharp shots.
Read more: Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S review
Up to now, if you wanted a Nikon Z-mount prime faster than f/1.8, you'd have to remortgage your house and fork out for a Nikkor 58mm f/0.95 Noct. When compared to that lens, this 50mm f/1.2 S could almost be called cheap. However, there's no getting around the fact that at 150mm long and over 1kg in weight, this is one hefty 50mm prime. Nikon is promising the best possible image quality from this 17-element pro lens, and it incorporates advanced coatings like anti-reflection ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coat, along with a 9-blade rounded diaphragm which is said to offer cinematic levels of bokeh. The exterior is fully weather sealed and features a video-friendly silent control ring, along with a customisable Fn button and OLED info panel that displays important data.
Nikon Z DX lenses
The APS-C format Nikon Z range is still very new, but the two lenses released so far are very good. The Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm lens has a super-slim retracting design and performs very well for a kit lens, while the Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is extremely good for a low-cost telephoto. The Nikon Z50 can also take regular full frame Nikon Z lenses, of course, and also regular Nikon DSLR lenses, via the Nikon FTZ adaptor.
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.
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.
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