We’ve picked out the top five lenses for Nikon cameras, which you should buy first as a photographer.
Which Nikon lenses should you buy first?
Choosing a new camera is often not a simple story, especially for a relatively inexperienced photographer. When you have finally decided on a particular model, then you should think about the next question: Which lenses should I buy first? The kit lens often performs an excellent job in the beginning, but it pushes you to the limits relatively quick. Moreover, if you want to delve deeper into specific areas such as portrait photography, landscape photography or macro photography, then you’ll just need special lenses.
That’s how we made our choice
In this article, we want to list the five Nikon lenses that we think should be the first choice for a Nikon photographer. For the research of this section, we have read about 80 reviews, reviews and articles, many prices compared and worked piece by piece to the best Nikon lenses. In doing so, we not only paid attention to the excellent quality of the lenses but also focused on convincing the lenses with a first-class price-performance ratio. Especially if you’re a hobby photographer you want to save your wallet as often as possible.
When we talk about the “best” Nikon lenses here, we do not mean the highest quality lenses, because they would cost many thousands of dollars and thus go beyond the budget of most photographers. Instead, we have set a price limit of 500 USD for each lens. We’ve also focused on lenses that are suitable for Nikon’s APS-C cameras (also called DX cameras) because these lenses are cheaper and most Nikon newcomers probably opt for an APS-C camera and not the full-frame camera (same as FX camera). Thus, we have decided on these terms.
DX vs FX: What’s the difference?
DX cameras, FX cameras – what exactly is the difference? In general, Nikon has many different cameras on offer. In the field of entry-level and mid-range models, the models are always equipped with APS-C sensors (DX sensors). These, for example, include: Nikon D3300, Nikon D5500, Nikon D7500 or Nikon D500. More expensive cameras like the Nikon D610, D750 or D810, on the other hand, work with full-format sensors (FX sensors). As already mentioned, this Nikon lens purchase advice is aimed primarily at users who have opted for an APS-C camera.
If you’re looking for a new lens for Nikon cameras and wondering which Nikon lenses you should buy first, you’ll need to pay close attention to whether it’s a DX lens or an FX lens. DX lenses are only suitable for Nikon cameras with APS-C sensors, while FX lenses are suitable for Nikon cameras with a more extensive full-size sensor.
DX lenses are often more compact and cheaper than FX lenses, but can only work on APS-C cameras. FX lenses, on the other hand, are “backwards compatible” and can be used on FX as well as DX cameras.
If a lens from Nikon is a DX lens, then the “DX” always appears in the name of the lens. FX lenses, on the other hand, are not provided with an “FX” in the name.
Our recommendation: If you do not really know if you’ll switch to a full-frame camera shortly, you should try going for some DX lenses. So you save much money that you can use for additional lenses if the needs arises.
Note the crop factor
Crop factor – you may have heard that before, but what exactly does that mean?
A full-format sensor always captures a larger image area than an APS-C sensor – logically, it is more prominent. If you attach the same Nikon lens to a full-frame camera and an APS-C camera and photograph an object from the same distance, then it’ll look as if you have zoomed in closer with the APS-C camera; because the sensor is smaller and captures a smaller (= “closer”) image area. This is called crop factor.
For example, an FX lens with a focal length of 50mm looks like a 75mm lens on an APS-C camera. In the case of Nikon, the focal length must be multiplied by 1.5, taking into account the crop factor.
As I said, you can use all full-frame lenses on APS-C cameras as well, but the focal lengths have a more extended effect due to the crop factor.
The Best Nikon Lenses for Under 500 USD
The Best Compact Nikon Fixed Focal Length
The first Nikon lens we would recommend to any new Nikon photographer with an APS-C camera is the Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G. With a price of less than 200 USD, it is among the cheapest lenses for Nikon cameras, but at the same time has to offer excellent image quality, is versatile and also very compact and lightweight. The perfect lens for getting started!
“The Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G is a no-brainer for owners of Nikon DX cameras!” – Gordon Laing of Cameralabs
One of the most significant advantages over the kit lens is the fact that the 35mm f/1.8G with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 is very bright.It means that you can work brilliantly with a blurry background (this always requires an opening, recognizable by a small number after the “f/”). For comparison, many kit lenses only f/3.5, which a blurry background is not possible.
Another reason why we would recommend the 35mm f/1.8G as the first lens for Nikon cameras to every newcomer is because it has a fixed focal length. Thus, it means you can not just zoom in like the kit lens, but have to think more about the composition and move more actively. So you should learn a lot about photography and take the next step as a photographer.
That’s what the press says:
- The Phoblographer: “It’s one of Nikon’s least expensive lenses, and one of my absolute favorites.”
- Neunzehn72: “A meiner D7000 ist das 35er mittlerweile das Standard-Objektiv geworden und die beiden machen sich verdammt gut zusammen.” (On my D7000, the 35er has become the standard lens, and the two make damn well together.)
- Cameralabs: “… a no-brainer for owners of Nikon DX-format DSLRs.”
The Best Nikon Portrait Lens
If you like to photograph people and faces, you need a unique portrait lens. The requirements are clear: It must be a fixed focal length with at least 50mm and an open aperture.
Our recommendation in this area is the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens, which is also suitable for full-frame cameras. It impresses with perfect sharpness and fills with a focal length of 85mm (equivalent to 128mm on an APS-C camera) and a f/1.8er aperture perfectly above the requirements. Also, it is very sturdy and high-quality installed and is comparatively light with a weight of 350 grams.
For example, the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which is also an excellent portrait lens, weighs a lot more with its 540-gram weight and is priced above 650 USD, even above our 500 USD price limit.
That’s what the press says:
- Ken Rockwell: “This Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G is the sharpest 85mm lens ever made by Nikon, sharper on the D800 than even the extraordinary 85mm f/1.4 G.”
- PCMag: “Getting this kind of optical performance for $500 is a treat, especially when you consider that similar f/1.4 lenses from Zeiss and Nikon can cost more than twice as much.”
- Digital Photo (Print): “Das 85mm überzeugt schon ab Offenblende mit auflösungsreichen Ergebnissen.” (The 85mm convinces already from open aperture with dissolving results.)
The Best Nikon Lens for Macro Photography
The field of macro photography has a peculiar fascination for many photographers. Small animals, mushrooms, beetles, flowers and other small objects can be photographed with a suitable macro lens in magnification 1: 1.
Our choice for the best Nikon macro lens has fallen on the Nikon AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G. The lens convinces with outstanding sharpness, a high light intensity, a minimum focusing distance of only 0.163 meters, autofocus with Silent Wave engine – and above all a low price. Also, the 40mm is not a clear macro lens, but you can also shoot beautiful landscapes and portraits! So it’s versatile and therefore, in our opinion, fantastic for beginners who want to deal a little more intense with the macro photography.
Of course, in some situations – if you want to shoot tiny subjects like insects – a macro lens with a slightly longer focal length would be useful, but the price of the 40mm f/2.8G is just unbeatable. In our opinion, the best choice for getting started in macro photography! Who is looking for a “pure” macro lens, we would recommend the Nikon DX Micro 85mm f/3.5G ED VR, which just slipped into the price range of less than 500 USD.
That’s what the press says:
- Photographylife: “As for macro use, I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of this lens for shooting macro subjects. Its sharpness is very good from center to corner …”
- Photozone: “In summary, the lens is compact, light-weight, affordable and, most important, optically very good.”
The Best Nikon Wide-Angle Lens
If you want to photograph architecture and capture dramatic landscapes, you can not avoid buying a Nikon wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are characterized by very short focal lengths, so you can “zoom out” very much and capture a large image area. This is also useful when you want to photograph interiors from a little space area.
If you are looking for a lens for wide-angle Nikon cameras, then we would recommend the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM for APS-C cameras. Wide-angle lenses often have problems with distortions. Distortions are occasionally visible in horizontal lines, which are wonderfully straight in the centre of the picture but have a slight curvature at the edges of the image because of the extraordinary focal length.
The Sigma 10-20mm is one of the few relatively cheap wide-angle lenses, which has hardly any problems with distortions. For example, DxOMark says:
“… good result for distortion is very surprising for a wide-angle zoom.”
That’s why Lenstip.com guys consider the Sigma 10-20mm as one of the best Nikon lenses in combination with the superb picture quality and sharpness:
“… place Sigma in the very lead of this equipment class.”
The Best Telephoto Lens for Nikon Cameras
Telephoto lenses can be costly – and if we say costly, then we mean very expensive. The problem with telephoto lenses is not covering a broad focal length range, instead, it is difficult for manufacturers to deliver an open aperture even in the telephoto range of, say, 200 or 300mm. Here you have to compromise in the price range of less than 500 USD, the same applies to the speed of the autofocus.
In our opinion, the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR offers an optimal compromise. First of all, an enormous focal length ranging up to 300mm is covered here, and you can also zoom in on distant subjects such as birds. Other lenses in the price range of below 500 USD create only 200mm. Also, the lens for this price provides a high picture quality, and it is an image stabilizer (which means the abbreviation “VR”) which has been installed, and it reduces camera shake.
Disadvantages are as I said; the lack of light and the not so fast autofocus. If you do not want to compromise, you have to invest more than 1,000 USD. Thus, the 55-300mm in our opinion the best Nikon telephoto lens for the entry and the price is unbeatable for this quality. Of course, there are even cheaper telephoto lenses on the market, but the image quality is known to be significantly worse.
Anyone who wants a Nikon telephoto lens with a little more quality, we would recommend the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR, which costs just under 750 USD and is also suitable for full-format cameras.
That’s what the press says:
- Chip.de: “Vor allem mit hoher Auflösung, treffsicherem Autofokus sowie geringen Abbildungsfehler kann die Optik punkten. Damit liefert das Nikon AF-S Nikkor 4.5-5.6/55-300mm DX VR ED eine hervorragende Preis-Leistung.”(Especially with high resolution, accurate autofocus and low aberrations, the optics can score. Thus, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 4.5-5.6 / 55-300mm DX VR ED delivers excellent value for money.)
- Photographylife: “…proved to be a great choice when it comes to optical performance, value and weight. It obsoletes the previous 55-200mm lens in all aspect… Overall, I am impressed with this lens.”