For my list, I am going to cover 10 of the best Nikon lenses for DX and FX cameras at different price points. Some lenses, like telephoto ones, are fine for both DX and FX use. DX lenses are for cameras such as the D3100, D5100, D7000, D300, etc. FX lenses are for full-frame sensor cameras like the D700, D800, D3, D4, etc. Let’s get started…
Top 10 Best Nikon Lenses For Photography & Video
1. Best All-Around DX Nikon Lens – Nikkor AF-S DX 18-300mm
Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
The 18-300mm VR is the successor to the very popular 18-200mm VR lens. The 18-200VR was so popular that years after its release it was still on backorder at popular photography stores most of the time. One of the biggest complaints some DSLR users have is swapping lenses and an all-in-one like the 18-300mm solves this problem.
The good thing is software like Nikon’s own Capture NX or Adobe’s Lightroom can easily take care of the distortion and chromatic aberration in raw files. Overall a great lens that easily deserves a number one spot on this list of best Nikon lenses.
2. Best All-round FX Nikon Lens – Nikkor AF-S 28-300mm
Nikkor AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
This is the ultimate walk-around/vacation lens for FX cameras. Not quite as popular as the DX equivalent since people who use FX cameras tend to spend a lot more money on fast 2.8 lenses. The downside to that is it takes them 3 lenses to cover a similar zoom range.
This lens is surprisingly sharp for such a large zoom, especially when you stop it down a few stops. There is a fair amount of vignetting at the 28mm mark at f/3.5 though. It mostly disappears by f/5.6 and again is very easy to fix in post production. Below I have posted a couple of shots I personally took with this lens (on a D700 camera).
3. Best DX Ultra Wide Nikon Lens – Nikkor 10-24mm
Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
This is about as wide as you can get for a DX camera without going fisheye. At 10mm you get an impressive 109 degree field of view with this lens. What are the best uses for a lens like this? Most people will immediately think landscape and while that is true, simply making your landscape shots wider is not going to make them better. In a lot of cases it could do the opposite if there’s nothing for the eye to focus on.
The biggest benefit to a ultra wide lens like this is the ability to take pictures from a more unique perspective which usually means getting as close as you can. You can have something or someone completely fill the foreground while still getting a huge background view.
The background is no longer isolated from the subject but more a part of it. You need to be careful to avoid having too many points of interest in a picture like this or else the eye gets confused and it’s not pleasing to look at. This lens is very sharp and a must-have for a DX user wanting to go W-I-D-E.
4. Best FX Ultra Wide Nikon Lens – Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm
Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G
The Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 is the first lens in Nikon’s “holy trinity” of lenses which include the 14-24mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8 VRII. This lens is even wider than the 10-24mm DX lens, giving you a whopping 114 degree field of view. It’s sharp, it’s fast; there’s a reason it’s part of the Nikon holy trinity.
If you have an FX camera (or own a DX camera and plan on going FX in the future) and you have the money, these lenses are as good as it gets. This lens easily earns a spot in your best Nikon lenses list.
5. Best Normal Range Nikon Zoom DX Lens – Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm
Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
If you bought a DX camera kit you probably got one of the standard kit lenses like the 18-55mm or 18-105mm. I don’t believe it’s worthwhile replacing that lens with something like the 16-85VR but if you are buying just a body and looking for a normal or mid-range zoom then the 16-85mm is an excellent choice.
It gives you a little bit of extra reach on both ends compared to a standard 18-55mm kit lens and it’s also better built (with a metal mount instead of plastic). I used one of these for a long time when I shot DX and thought it did a great job. Below is a few samples taken with this lens by myself.
6. Best Normal Range Zoom FX lens – Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm
Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8
The second lens in the Nikon holy trinity is the 24-70mm f/2.8. The lens earns its reputation by being sharp at all focal lengths and its quality construction. You can definitely use the lens on a DX camera if you want, it would provide an equivalent to 36-105mm on DX which is a nice range, plus you will be all set to go if you ever upgrade to a FX camera.
7. Best Low-Cost Nikon Telephoto Zoom Lens – Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm
Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR
This lens is suitable for both DX and FX cameras. On DX it will give you the equivalent of up to 450mm focal length. The vibration reduction will allow you to more easily shoot handheld at the long focal lengths. The lens has excellent sharpness when you stop it down a couple of stops but can still produce some nice results wide open that will respond well to some moderate sharpening during editing.
The zoom action is very smooth and there is no lens creep when pointing the lens straight up or down. This lens is good for stationary subjects or wildlife that doesn’t move too fast. While shots of say birds in flight is possible, you will have a lot more throw-aways than keepers compared to a fast telephoto lens with a bigger aperture and faster focusing. I have included some photos I took with this lens below.
8. Best High Cost Nikon Telephoto Zoom Lens – Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm
Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
Aside from telephoto prime lenses that cost as much as your car, the 70-200mm 2.8 VR is about as good as it gets. It is the third and final lens of the Nikon holy trinity. This is the type of lens where you can use it wide open without hesitation. The focusing is lightning fast and reliable, it is the ultimate sports and wildlife lens.
To get more reach you can use 1.4x, 1.7x or 2.0x teleconverters. With a 1.4x TC (280mm) the lens still performs like a dream and you can sacrifice some speed and use the 1.7x and 2.0x TCs as well. On a DX camera you get an equivalent range of 105-300mm. This lens is on the wish list of every single Nikon user that doesn’t already have it.
9. Best Low Cost Nikon Portrait Lens – Nikkor AF-S 50mm
Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G
The 50mm prime lens is a lens that should be in every photographer’s arsenal. Prime lenses force you to get more creative rather than just rotate the zoom ring. And for subjects where you want the background to disappear, such as portraits, there is nothing better. Another option for DX users is the 35mm 1.8G which will give similar field of view that the 50mm does on FX cameras.
If you are not happy with your photos and think your technique needs improving, my advice is to slap a 50mm prime onto your camera and leave it on there until you’re happier with your photos. Being forced to move to your subject instead of zooming will in most cases give you more intersting angles and composition.
Don’t get me wrong, zoom lenses are great and have their uses but I don’t think it’s the best thing for a beginner.
10. Best High-Cost Portrait Nikon Lens – Nikkor AF-S 85mm
Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4G
This is another lens for your wishlist. It will produce pictures with a three-dimensional quality to them because of how liquid smooth the out of focus background becomes and how much your subject pops out of the frame because of it.
The lens is technically perfect; incredibly sharp even at f/1.4 and the bokeh (bokeh is the term for the way a lens displays out of focus areas) is world-class. Good bokeh doesn’t distract you at all and that is exactly what the bokeh on this lens does (or doesn’t actually). Simply one of the best Nikon lenses money can buy.
I hope you enjoyed my list of top Nikon lenses. I personally shoot Nikon most of the time which is why I created a Nikon list first but I hope to do some research and create a Canon list soon as well. For someone on a budget, I think the absolute best combo you can get is an all-in-one lens like the 18-300 or 28-300 plus a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 prime lens.
The zoom will give you the versatility and the prime will give you the low light performance and spark your creativity a bit more. If money is no object, I would buy the holy trinity and the 85mm 1.4. I didn’t cover macro lenses in this article but if you are looking for one, I have experience with the 105mm Sigma 2.8 macro and it performs well at a much lower cost than the Nikon counterpart. If you want to learn more about lenses and photography, you can check out our Astrophotography guide here.
There are so many other cool Nikon lenses out there too but I tried to keep the list short. Good luck in selecting your lenses!