You may have got your hands on your first ever Nikon DSLR camera, possibly off our entry-level DSLR guide, but eventually you’ll start to outgrow the admittedly good 18-55mm kit lens it arrived with. You’ll start to crave a bit more creative freedom, and the best way to expand your horizons is by upgrading your range of Nikon lenses.
This is where the magic of photography happens. The lenses are much more important than the camera body they’re mounted on, and with all Nikon lenses dating back to the late 1950s being compatible with all their modern bodies the selection is vast.
If you’re a Canon shooter, head over to our 5 Must Buy Lenses for Canon DSLRs here.
Unsurprisingly, some of these lenses are better than others. Nikon may be one of the top photography manufacturers in the world, but even they have produced some pretty dire lenses.
That’s where we come in! Here we’ll guide you through the must have Nikon lenses to add to your collection today!
The ‘DX’ and ‘FX’ abbreviations at the end refer to the camera sensor being either cropped (DX) of full-frame (FX.) DX lenses are not fully compatible with FX bodies, but all FX lenses are compatible with DX bodies. You can find more on Nikon’s lens abbreviations at the bottom of this post.
You can read more about cropped and full frame sensors in our Best Cameras for Landscape Photography guide
1. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G – FX
- Fast, upgraded f/1.8, compact FX format prime lens. The picture angle with 35 mm (135) format is 47 degree and the maximum reproduction ratio is 0.15X
- Focal Length 50 mm, Minimum Focus Distance 1.48 ft.(0.45 m)
Best for Shooting: Anything and Everything
I recommend a cheap, fast prime lens to every beginner photographer I meet, and this is one of the best of the bunch. The ‘nifty-fifty’ used to be sold as an all rounder lens with old film SLRs due to them being easy and cheap to manufacture.
Of course, nowadays Nikon (and most other manufacturers) have opted for the convenience of an 18-55mm zoom, but the 50mm lens remains a staple in every professional’s camera bag.
In fact, we love it so much that we’ve dedicated an entire article to the famous nifty fifty lens here!
This one is the perfect blend of affordability and quality. It comes in at less than the cost of most below-par zooms, and because the camera makers have been perfecting the 50mm focal length for so long the quality is almost unmatchable. In fact, this bargain lens outperforms legendary (and expensive) lenses such as the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VRII across the board in technical specifications, and both of those lenses cost over £1,000!
If you’re a beginner to photography you might be wondering why exactly you should give up the convenience of a zoom lens. It’s a fair question, but once you mount a prime lens to your camera body you soon become acquainted. The sharpness of these is leagues ahead of any zoom lenses in the same price bracket, and the lightning fast f/1.8 maximum aperture of this means it’s a beast in low light situations.
On a DX camera body this becomes a beautiful focal length for portraits and street photography, and can even be used for landscapes and woodland photography. An absolute must for every photographer!
2. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC – DX
- Faster, quieter and more precise autofocus
- Maximum diameter: 75mm.Designed exclusively for APS-C DSLR cameras
Best for Shooting: Travel Photography
Superzoom lenses get a bad rap from professional photographers, and some will actually be offended by me recommending it here. True, their optical performance isn’t as good as a monster like the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 mentioned below, but they do offer unique benefits of their own.
The biggest pros of these superzoom lenses is the sheer convenience of them and the amount of time you can save when using them.
There are countless times when I’ve been out with family and wanted to change lenses to get a distant shot, but haven’t had time because we were on the move. That doesn’t matter with these, as we can capture anything from a wide-angle view to a distant mountain with such a huge focal range.
The Tamron 18-200mm takes the top spot in superzooms simply because of it’s price. It’s comes in at substantially cheaper than it’s nearest rival but in no way inferior. Not only that but it weighs just 400g and isn’t as inconspicuous as a top of the range telephoto lens.
At such a low price I’d recommend getting one of these just for family days out and holidays. Sure, opt for the high-end gear when you’re out and about by yourself and able to take your time, but throw this in the bag on holidays and you won’t regret it. It saves having to lug around 15kg of camera equipment every time you leave the house too!
3. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro – FX
- Designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras. May also be used with smaller APS-c size sensors with a corresponding effective increase in focal length to about 150mm with most cameras
- Focuses down to 1:1 magnification ratio at its closest working distance of 12.3 inches
Best for Shooting: Macro Photography
True macro capability is one of the things that separates more serious camera systems apart from the consumer packages, and for that you need a dedicated macro lens. If you’re interested in shooting the world according to ants, the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 is the lens you want.
It comes in at a very respectable price and offers 1:1 magnification ratio (this is true macro,) fantastic image quality, and a host of technical features to make your life easier.
This includes image stabilisation for those lower shutter speeds and a silent autofocus motor to avoid scaring off any small animals you may be photographing.
I’d recommend every photographer trying out macro photography, as it opens up a whole new appreciation for things like depth of field, distractions, and composition. This is a great place to start as well, with the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 [insert jumble of letters here] being at an affordable price point but offering a ton of high-end features and excellent image quality.
What’s more, if you decide macro photography isn’t for you you’re still left with a beautiful lens for portrait and woodland photography.
4. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED – FX
- Focal Length Range : 14 -24 mm
- Minimum Focus Distance 0.9 ft.( 0.28 m), minimum f/stop 22
Best for Shooting: Landscapes, Architecture, and Astrophotography
This is about as good as it gets for landscape photographers. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G offers a super wide angle view on full frame cameras and a still acceptably wide perspective on cropped sensors.
As far as image quality goes it’s the market leader in wide-angle zoom lenses, offering excellent sharpness throughout the frame and across almost all apertures. In addition, the wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 makes this an ideal astrophotography lens as well. In fact, it’s the best astrophotography zoom lens around, only bettered by the super wide-angle primes that were built almost specifically with astrophotography in mind.
As you would expect from such a high-end lens it comes with some extra features, such as the Extra-low Dispersion glass and the Silent Wave Motor autofocus system. It’s also weather sealed and constructed as professionally as any lens on the market. It really is a work of art.
But, that work of art does come with the price tag to match. It costs a fair chunk of change, but if you’re serious about your wide-angle photography it’s a purchase you won’t regret!
5. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 – FX
- INCLUDES: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens + Tamron TAP-in Console for Nikon + Altura Photo UV-CPL-ND4 Filter Kit + SanDisk 64GB Ultra UHS-I SDXC Memory Card (Class 10) + Altura Photo Cleaning Kit.
- A POPULAR TELEPHOTO ZOOM for a variety of shooting applications, this lens is characterized by its bright f/2.8 constant maximum aperture, as well as sophisticated optical and physical designs.
Best for Shooting: Wildlife, Pets, Portraits, Landscapes, Weddings
The trusty 70-200mm lens is a staple in every professional photographers bag. It offers a hugely versatile focal range that can cover everything from portraits, candid wedding shots, wildlife, and distant landscapes. In addition, the wide f/2.8 maximum aperture gives it great low light potential, not to mention the selective focus when used in wildlife and wedding photography. Of course, these lenses are fairly bulky and heavy, but they are optically excellent and useful in every photography situation.
Up until recently the Canon and Nikon versions of the 70-200mm f/2.8 were market leaders due to their supreme quality, but recently Tamron have upped their game. The newest iteration, their Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2, is the best quality 70-200mm that money can buy.
It beats out the Canon and Nikon equivalents across the board and is close to half the price of them. There really is no reason not to buy the Tamron over any of it’s competitors!
Expanding your Nikon Arsenal
As you may have already found out there are dozens, if not hundreds of lenses compatible with your new Nikon. Most of them are good, some of them are excellent, a few are terrible. It’s always best to do your research before buying, or in this case let somebody else do it for you!
And remember, you often get what you pay for in photography. Apart from in the case of the fast standard primes such as 35mm and 50mm f/1.8s, if it looks too cheap to be true, it probably has something wrong with it.
Nikon Lens Terms Explained
If you’ve been around photography for longer than a couple of minutes, you’ll have noticed that almost every product comes with an adornment of seemingly meaningless letters.
Confused about your AF-Ps and PC-Es? We’ll give you a quick rundown here:
AF – Simply stands for autofocus
AF-S – Nikon’s most recent lenses, with the “S” standing for their Silent Wave Motor which makes autofocusing quieter.
AF-D – Released in 1992. Autofocus with distance information but no integrated focusing motor. If you want to autofocus with these lenses, you need a camera with a built-in focusing motor.
AF-P – One of Nikon’s more recent advancements, the AF-P lenses include a stepping motor for ultra fast and quiet autofocus.
IF – Internal Focusing, which means that the lens can focus completely inside the barrel. No extending lens barrel or rotating front element required.
SWM – Nikon’s new Silent Wave Motor which allows for even quieter focusing than the AF-S.
G – This means the lens doesn’t have an aperture ring (unlike the ”D’ lenses). Example being the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G above.
FX – Lens designed for Nikon’s full-frame cameras.
DX – Lens designed for Nikon’s cropped sensor cameras.
Z – New Nikon lens mount to be used with their flagship mirrorless range such as the Z6, Z7, and upcoming releases.
VR – Nikon’s version of image stabilization, labelled Vibration Reduction. Allows for slower shutter speeds when hand holding, with VR II being their upgraded version of the technology.
ASP – This means the lens as an aspherical element and helps to control various optical phenomena such as coma and chromatic aberration.
ED – Extra low Dispersion glass, which results in generally higher image quality.
SIC – Super Integrated Coating, which results in better color reproduction and a reduction in ghosting and lens flare.
N – Nikon’s Nano coating on their glass, which eliminates reflections inside the lens and improves image quality.
Micro – Nikon’s range of macro lenses.
PC-E – Nikon’s tilt-shift lenses. You can find more about these terms here.
There! That’s not all of them, but it’s most of the more common terms Nikon use. For example, the Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED mentioned above has a noise reducing autofocus motor (AF-S), doesn’t have an aperture ring (G), and is made from extra low dispersion glass to improve image quality (ED).
Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.