N-Photo picks its Nikon Gear of the Year for 2023

N-Photo Gear of the Year 2023
(Image credit: Future)

This year, perhaps more than any other, we’ve been truly amazed by Nikon cameras and lenses. N-Photo has been running for 12 years now and, for each and every one of them, we’ve had a sparkling stream of new kit passing through our hands and our test lab. Some cameras, lenses and accessories have always shined more brightly than others, but over the past 12 months, we’ve tested and reviewed kit that has a real wow-factor – not just once or twice, but over and over again. 

Two camera launches over the past year stand out – but the emphasis in 2023 has been on lenses. Z-mount glass impressed us right from the start, but everything just keeps getting better, with new lenses to suit every need and budget.

Here are the highlights of Nikon’s 2023, as chosen by N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine. For even more Nikon Gear of the Year, pick up the latest issue!

Best enthusiast Nikon camera

Nikon Zf

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Zf

What we love
We love the styling of the Nikon Zfc: it’s practically a work of art. We love that the new Zf has almost identical handling characteristics and is barely any bigger or heavier, despite being a full-frame rather than a DX format camera. Despite its classic retro looks, the Zf is bang up to date, with an EXPEED 7 image processor and the latest AI-assisted autofocus system. When it comes to performance, the Zf  certainly isn’t a case of style over substance. 

What’s missing?
The Zf doesn’t come with a battery charger, but EN-EL15c (and EN-EL15b) batteries can be charged in-camera. We’d add a SmallRig grip (originally bundled with the camera) to enhance handling. 

Why upgrade?
For photographers who appreciate retro design and want the latest in technical excellence and overall performance, the Zf delivers. 

Best professional Nikon camera

Nikon Z8

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z8

What we love
The Z8 is a phenomenon. It packs all of the best bits of the mighty Z9 into a comparatively compact and lightweight build. We love the pro-style control layout that gives the Z8 superb handling characteristics for creative photography, along with its intuitive four-axis tilting touchscreen. The combination of 45.7MP FX format stacked BSI CMOS sensor and EXPEED 7 processor deliver spectacular performance and image quality, for both stills and video.

What’s missing? 
Because it’s 30 per cent smaller than the Z9, the Z8 doesn’t feature a built-in vertical grip with duplicate shooting controls.

Why upgrade?
It’s twice the price of the Z6 II – but for the ultimate in all-round performance, the Z8 is a powerhouse.

Best video/vlogging lens

Nikon Z DX 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ VR

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z DX 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ VR

What we love
Last year we gave a gong to the Nikon Z30, a practically perfect camera for vlogging. That perfection is completed by the compact but highly capable Z DX 12-28mm. We love that the wide angle of view lets you put yourself in the scene, ideal for travel vlogs and any time you want to include your surroundings while putting yourself centre-stage. The motorized zoom works brilliantly well for shooting video, and the VR is highly effective.

What’s missing? 
The petal shaped HB-112 lens hood is sold separately and it doesn’t come cheap, at around £35/$42. 

Why upgrade?
It enables a much more expansive viewing angle than the Z DX 16-50mm lens, ideal for close-range vlogging.

Best wide-angle lens

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 17-28mm f/2.8

What we love
The Z 17-28mm delivers an expansive field of view for landscape and architectural shoots. We love that it’s so compact, light and easy to live with, for a lens that really takes the blinkers off in terms of viewing angles.

What’s missing? 
There’s no AF/M focus mode switch, but the lens does have a customizable focus/control ring.

Why upgrade?
An ultra-wide-angle lens can really give a different perspective to your photography. This one’s relatively compact, light and reasonably priced.

Best standard lens

Nikon Z DX 24mm f/1.7

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z DX 24mm f/1.7

What we love
Nikon’s first DX format prime lens for Z-system cameras is a small wonder. We love that it’s so compact and light, making it a perfect fit for street photography and candid shooting with a slimline Z30, Z50 or Zfc. The focal length is ideal for wide-ranging scenarios, equating to 36mm in full-frame terms, while the fast f/1.7 aperture enables sufficiently fast shutter speeds to freeze motion, even in dull lighting. It’s also great for bokeh with close-ups.

What’s missing? 
There’s no optical VR, which can be an issue, as there are currently no DX format Z cameras with IBIS. 

Why upgrade?
A fast prime is a must-have for most photographers, and the combination of this lens’s field of view and aperture make it very versatile.

Best pancake lens

Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8

What we love
Tiny but mighty, the Z 26mm truly qualifies as a pancake lens, at just under an inch thick. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Nikon can’t really squeeze much quality glass into such a small package, but we’ve been hugely impressed by the image quality from this lens. It’s a superb optic for walkabout and travel photography with full-frame Z cameras, and also works a treat on DX format bodies, where it has a  natural 39mm effective focal length.

What’s missing? 
You can only fit filters via the circular HB-111 hood, which is supplied with the lens. 

Why upgrade?
If you’re after a versatile, fairly fast prime lens that you can slip into a spare pocket, look no further.

Best portrait lens

Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2 S

What we love
Ultra-fast prime lenses are notorious for being a bit soft, especially when shooting wide-open. The Z 85mm f/1.2 S rewrites the rulebook, delivering scintillating sharpness throughout its entire aperture range, along with negligible color fringing. But photographic quality isn’t just about sharpness. What we really love about this lens is that the combination of focal length and f/1.2 aperture enables a really tight depth of field, and that the quality of bokeh is so deliciously soft and dreamy.

What’s missing? 
It’s not the least bit surprising that such a fast lens lacks optical VR, but it can take full advantage of the IBIS in all full-frame Z cameras.

Why upgrade?
It’s an undeniably expensive lens – but if you want the very best portrait prime on the market, it’s well worth the asking price. 

Best lens for bokeh

Nikon 135mm Plena

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena

What we love
85mm might be the classic focal length for full-frame portraiture, but 135mm is a better fit for really tight head-and-shoulders shots, and for shooting from a more discreet distance. Nikon bills this lens as the first to maximize the potential of the Z-mount flange’s large diameter and close proximity to the image sensor. The result is a medium-telephoto focal length with a fast f/1.8 aperture that’s great in itself – but we’re most impressed by the beauty of the bokeh and the relative absence of vignetting.

What’s missing? 
As with the Z 85mm f/1.2, there’s no optical VR – but that’s essentially unnecessary, and bokeh quality is maximized.

Why upgrade?
This is a fabulous lens that provides full creative freedom for both stills and video.

Best telephoto zoom lens

Nikon Z 70-180mm f/2.8

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 70-180mm f/2.8

What we love
One of Nikon’s most exciting lens launches of 2023, the Z 70-180mm f/2.8 completes the lightweight ‘trinity’ of f/2.8 zooms. Building on the success of the Z 17-28mm and the Z 28-75mm f/2.8, this takes the same constant-aperture rating into telephoto territory. Conventional 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses tend to be big, heavy and very expensive, which makes this lens very easy to live with and relatively affordable – and we find that we don’t really miss the extra 20mm in zoom range that rival lenses provide.

What’s missing? 
There’s no optical VR, so handheld telephoto shooting is more of a challenge on DX format cameras that lack IBIS. 

Why upgrade?
This telephoto zoom with a fast f/2.8 aperture works brilliantly for portraiture, action, sports and wildlife, without breaking the bank.

Best super-telephoto zoom lens

Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR

What we love
For birds in flight, air shows and sporting events, where you can’t get as close to the subject as you might like, the Z 180-600mm makes all the difference. Sure, it’s relatively big and heavy, but we find it manageable, even for long periods of handheld shooting, where the 5.5-stop VR comes in really useful. We also love that the pro-grade controls, image quality and all-round performance come with a very competitive price tag.

What’s missing? 
There’s nothing really missing, although purists might prefer an aperture rating that remains constant throughout the zoom range.

Why upgrade?
It’s a must-have lens for any photographer who wants to shoot birds and other small wildlife, aircraft and the like, without blowing the budget. 

Best super-telephoto prime lens

Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S

What we love
If you’re going to spend as much on a lens as many of us would pay for a family car, it needs to be something special. And this one certainly is. Its built-in teleconverter gives the options of 600mm and 840mm focal lengths and it’s compatible with Nikon’s separate 1.4x and 2.0x Z-mount teleconverters. We’re impressed that the lens is scary-sharp but we love most that the ultra-fast ‘Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor’ autofocus system and 5-stop optical VR deliver an amazing hit rate.

What’s missing? 
It would be nice if an interest-free loan was part of the overall package.

Why upgrade?
When you simply have to nail the decisive moment in action, sport and wildlife photography, this monster of a lens won’t let you down.

Read more: 

Best Nikon cameras
Best Nikon lenses
Best lenses for the Nikon Zf
Best lenses for the Nikon Z8 and Z9

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