Compared with the fairly blinkered view of photography afforded by standard lenses, wide-angle zooms enable you to shoehorn much more into the image frame. For the great outdoors, you’ll be able to capture sweeping vistas and epic skies. And where space is limited, for example if you’re shooting indoors and constrained by walls and other obstacles, a wide-angle zoom can be a massive help.
For creative effects, wide-angle lenses enable you to hugely exaggerate perspective. Move in close and you can make foreground objects really stand out against a rapidly receding background. The big depth of field generated by this type of lens also gives an advantage in maintaining good sharpness for everything from close-up objects to the distant horizon.
Whatever kind of lens you’re buying, it pays to buy a good one. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay over the odds. Two of Nikon’s premium DX (APS-C format) wide-angle zooms are the AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G and the AF-S DX 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED. However, they’re both very pricey and, for our money, the Tamron 10-24mm and Sigma 10-20mm lenses give better performance for much less cost.
It’s a similar story for FX (full-frame) lenses. The Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is a top-performance, pro-grade zoom but, in our tests, the new Sigma 14-24mm Art proved even better, and is significantly less expensive.
Here’s our guide to the best-buy wide-angle zooms for Nikon on the market.
Best overall DX format lens
1. Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD
Updated, uprated and better all round
Mount: Nikon F DX | Full-frame compatible: No | Autofocus type: High/Low Torque Drive | Stabilizer: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions: (WxL): 84x85mm | Weight: 440g
Nearly a decade after Tamron launched its original DX format 10-24mm lens, last year saw the release of the new VC HLD edition, the Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD. It has new and improved optical performance, plus a revolutionary HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) autofocus system. Autofocus is faster, quieter and more accurate than in the older lens. Handling is improved because the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus, while also enabling full-time manual override.
The new lens also features VC (Vibration Compensation), whereas optical stabilization was lacking in the original lens. Electromagnetic aperture control is also new, for improved exposure consistency in rapid-fire continuous shooting, although it makes the lens incompatible with some older Nikon DSLRs. Build quality enhancements include a full set of weather seals, plus a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease.
In our tests, the Tamron beat both of Nikon’s upmarket DX format zooms for sharpness across the whole image frame, and produced less colour fringing and distortion. For a DX format wide-angle zoom, the new Tamron is the pick of the crop.
Best ultra-wide DX format lens
2. Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM
This lens delivers spectacularly wide viewing angles
Mount: Nikon F DX | Full-frame compatible: No | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 75x106mm | Weight: 555g
With immense pulling power, this Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM can suck much more into the image frame than most wide-angle zooms. The difference is immediately obvious, and somewhat eye-popping as you look through the viewfinder.
The high-spec optical path includes four top-quality FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) elements and Sigma’s Super Multi-Layer Coatings to guard against ghosting and flare. Further defence is offered by the built-in lens hood, but a downside of this is that you can only attach filters to the two-part lens cap, rather than to the lens itself. Try this at anything other than the longest zoom setting and you’ll get extreme clipping of the image corners.
Despite the enormous maximum viewing angle, sharpness is very good across the whole image frame, and both colour fringing and distortions are well controlled. If you want truly epic viewing angles on your DX format DSLR, this Sigma is the lens to buy.
Best fast DX format lens
3. Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX
Fast in its class, the Tokina is wide in more ways than one
Mount: Nikon F DX | Full-frame compatible: No | Autofocus type: Electric motor | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x92mm | Weight: 560g
Tokina’s veteran 11-16mm lens was one of the first DX format wide zooms to come to market. It was very well received, despite not having a built-in autofocus motor. The Mark II edition added an AF motor, so it could autofocus on any Nikon DSLR body, but retained the same zoom range. The newer Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX has the same maximum viewing angle and fast f/2.8 constant aperture rating, but extends the long end of the zoom range.
A similarity in all three lenses is Tokina’s trademark ‘one-touch focus clutch’ mechanism, enabling you to switch between autofocus and manual focus simply by nudging the focus ring forward or backward. It’s a bit of a Marmite feature – you’ll either love it or hate it. Either way, there’s no denying that the autofocus motor is noisy.
On the other hand, image quality is very good. Sharpness is impressive even at f/2.8, and distortions are well-restrained. The lens is particularly well suited to freezing action, for example in indoor sports photography, avoiding the need to push your camera’s ISO setting too far.
Best budget DX format lens
4. Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM
The long-established Sigma goes large on features, but has a small price tag
Mount: Nikon F DX | Full-frame compatible: No | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 87x88mm | Weight: 520g
Launched about 10 years ago, this was Sigma’s second DX format 10-20mm zoom lens. It’s larger than the original lens, but has a constant rather than variable aperture rating. In this respect, it’s similar to the Tokina 11-20mm lens, although the Sigma is two-thirds of an f/stop slower.
Premium glass includes two ELD (Extraordinary Low Dispersion) elements plus an SLD (Special Low Dispersion) element. Despite costing about the same as Nikon’s budget 10-20mm lens, this Sigma feels much more solid and sturdy. It has a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system and, unlike Sigma’s 8-16mm lens, it has a filter attachment thread and removable hood.
Sharpness is impressive, especially in the central region of the frame, while colour fringing and distortions are particularly minimal. For a high-performance, top-value DX format lens, it can’t be beaten.
Best compact DX format lens
5. Nikon AF-P DX 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
Small and simple, it makes an ideal travel zoom
Mount: Nikon F DX | Full-frame compatible: No | Autofocus type: Stepping Motor | Stabilizer: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 0.22m | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 77x73mm | Weight: 230g
A recent addition to Nikon’s lineup, this wide-angle zoom is refreshingly small and lightweight. To put it into context, both the competing Sigma DX format lenses are more than twice as heavy as the Nikon. There’s a catch though, in that the mounting plate is plastic rather than metal, and the overall build feels much less robust.
Unlike Nikon’s older DX format wide-angle zooms, this one adds VR (Vibration Reduction), with a 3.5-stop effectiveness in beating camera shake. There’s also a virtually silent AF-P stepping motor autofocus system, which works well for stills and movie capture alike. However, this does make both autofocus and manual focusing impossible with a number of older DSLRs, and there’s no focus distance scale.
Sharpness is very good at the centre of the frame but drops off noticeably towards the corners. Performance could be better in terms of distortion and colour fringing but, overall, it’s a neat and very travel-friendly lightweight zoom.
Best overall FX format lens
6. Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | A
Say goodbye to distortion and hello to premium performance
Mount: Nikon F | Full-frame compatible: Yes | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.26m | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 96x135mm | Weight: 1,150g
Compared with Sigma’s slightly older 12-24mm Art lens, the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | A has a more modest maximum viewing angle but a faster aperture rating. The net result is that both lenses have a practically identical size and weight. The starring optical attraction is an ultra-high-precision moulded glass aspherical front element, which represents a considerable manufacturing challenge. Further optical highlights include three FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) and three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements.
The consummately pro-grade build has a high-precision yet very robust feel throughout. There’s a full set of weather seals, plus a keep-clean fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements.
Contrast and sharpness are marvellous, the latter being maintained very well out to the corners of the frame, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8. Even more impressively, colour fringing and distortions are absolutely negligible. Overall image quality beats that of Nikon’s pricier 14-24mm lens, making the Sigma an absolute bargain.
Runner-up FX format lens
7. Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
Relatively compact and lightweight, it still packs a strong set of features
Mount: Nikon F | Full-frame compatible: Yes | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 0.2-0.29m | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 83x125mm | Weight: 680g
Noticeably smaller than most other FX format lenses, this Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is little more than half the weight of some competitors, thanks to the combination of a relatively modest maximum viewing angle and an f/4 rather than f/2.8 aperture rating. This is also the only FX format lens in the group to feature a filter attachment thread and removable hood.
Two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements in the optical path help to optimize image quality, and a Nano Crystal coat minimizes ghosting and flare. Build quality feels very solid, complete with a weather-sealed mounting plate.
Image quality is particularly good at the short end of the zoom range, although sharpness drops off at bit at the long end. The ‘VR’ optical stabilizer is nice to have, especially for shooting in cathedrals, museums and other locations where you might not be allowed to use a tripod. However, it only has a 2.5-stop effectiveness, and is outclassed by the 4.5-stop stabilizer in Tamron’s newer 15-30mm G2 lens.
Best ultra-wide FX format lens
8. Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM | A
Go overboard with your viewing angle
Mount: Nikon F | Full-frame compatible: Yes | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 102x132mm | Weight: 1,150g
We were always fond of Sigma’s 12-24mm Mark II lens, which delivered a monstrous maximum viewing angle along with good overall image quality and performance. The newer ‘Art’ edition from Sigma’s Global Vision range ups the stakes, with a constant rather than variable aperture rating.
The optical path is refined and incorporates an extra-large diameter aspherical element, along with five top-class FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) elements. The mounting plate gains a weather seal and fluorine coatings have been added to the front and rear elements. The new lens retains a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, but it has extra torque for improved performance. Another notable upgrade is that the Art lens is compatible with Sigma’s optional USB Dock for applying firmware updates and fine-tuning. The only downside is that it’s rather bigger and heavier than the previous edition.
Image quality is excellent, despite the extravagant maximum viewing angle, and there’s much less distortion than from the previous Mk II lens, although it’s not as ‘distortion-free’ as Sigma’s newer 14-24mm Art lens. Even so, this is the lens to get for ultra-wide-angle coverage.
Best fast stabilized FX format lens
9. Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 DI VC USD G2
Better, faster and more refined, the G2 is new and improved
Mount: Nikon F | Full-frame compatible: Yes | Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 85x145mm | Weight: 1,100g
The original edition of Tamron’s 15-30mm very nearly matched Nikon’s mighty 14-24mm lens for maximum viewing angle, had the same fast and constant f/2.8 aperture rating, but also added optical stabilization. Further attractions included a full set of weather seals and a fluorine coating on the front element. It also massively undercut the Nikon lens for price.
The new G2 (Generation 2) edition represents a major upgrade. The autofocus system is faster and more precise, and the effectiveness of the optical stabilizer increases from 2.5 stops to 4.5 stops. A new high-tech coating is added to the existing nano-structure and conventional coatings, and even the muck-resistant fluorine coating on the front element is improved.
Overall, the G2 lens is better in pretty much every area. It’s a third more expensive to buy than the original lens, but is still very good value for money.
Best budget FX format lens
10. Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX
Tokina aims high but keeps the asking price low
Mount: Nikon F | Full-frame compatible: Yes | Autofocus type: Electric motor | Stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Weight: 950g
Typically hefty for an f/2.8 wide-angle zoom, this Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX weighs almost as much as the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art lens. Both lenses have a pro-grade feel to their build quality, a fast f/2.8 constant aperture, and weather seals on their mounting plates.
The Sigma adds a more comprehensive set of weather seals and has ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, whereas the Tokina employs a 'silent' DC motor and GMR (Giant Magnetoresistance) module. It's certainly a lot quieter than the electric motors in some Tokina lenses, but autofocus is nowhere near as rapid or near-silent as in the Sigma lens.
The focusing system retains Tokina’s usual 'one-touch focus clutch', with a push-pull mechanism coupled to the focus ring, for switching between autofocus and manual focus.
Image quality is good on the whole, with impressive centre-sharpness and fairly minimal colour fringing. However, sharpness drops off noticeably towards the corners of the frame. The built-in lens hood helps to avoid ghosting and flare but precludes the attachment of filters.
Overall, the Tokina lags behind both of the competing Sigma lenses, and gives a less generous maximum viewing angle. However, it’s remarkably inexpensive for a full-frame wide-angle zoom, especially considering its upmarket build quality and f/2.8 aperture rating. There’s no beating the Tokina if you’re on a tight budget.