If you’re looking for a new lens for your Nikon D3500 then I’ll assume you want something better than the kit lenses that typically come bundled with an entry-level camera like this.
You shouldn’t be looking for one lens to do everything, you’ll get a lot better results by choosing lenses that do one particular thing very well instead of the “do-it-all” kit lenses. That’s why my top recommendation for your D3500 is the Nikon ASF DX 35mm f/1.8G lens.
In fact, most photographers would be able to create much better photos with just two or three primes than with a single zoom.
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Nikon AFS DX 35mm f/1.8G
The 35mm f/1.8 lens is a perfect upgrade from the D3500 kit lens. The wide max aperture will unlock opportunities to use shallow depth of field in your photography and shoot in low light conditions.
This may be a surprising choice, but I recommend that all my students start with a mid-length prime lens like this 35mm lens. On a crop-sensor camera like the D3500, the effective focal length is 52.5mm.
The wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 also allows you to use a shallow depth of field to create background blur in your portrait photos or to shoot in lower light. This alone actually makes it much more versatile than most kit lenses with a maximum aperture of f/4 or f/5.6.
I also like the 35mm (52.5mm equivalent) focal length as a first upgrade from the kit lens. It’s a middle-of-the-range focal length and a great one to start learning how to compose an image with more skill.
- Excellent image quality
- Versatile…can be used for portraits, landscapes, street photography, etc.
- Wide max aperture of f/1.8
- Fixed focal length can be limiting
You can also take multiple shots in a panorama in order to get a wider angle of view for larger scenes like landscapes or cityscapes.
Finally, the small size makes this lens a great option for travel or simply just taking it with you on a day out for street photography.
But, I am sure many of you are interested in shooting landscapes, so check out this next pick…
Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD O
The focal length of this Tamron lens is perfect for wide-angle scenes like landscapes and cityscapes and the f/3.5 aperture is wider than many other lenses in this price range so you can use it for wide angle portraiture as well.
When you are choosing the best wide-angle lens for the D3500, keep in mind that it is a crop sensor camera so you need a lens that is wider than the usual wide-angle lens if you want that expansive landscape look. That’s why I recommend the Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5.
At the widest end, the effective focal length is 15mm which is perfect for capturing large vista-type scenes. It is also a very sharp lens (especially considering the lower price point compared to some of the Nikon branded lenses). So you can create landscape photos that will look great printed large on your walls.
- Perfect wide-angle focal length for D3500 sensor.
- Excellent image quality
- Compact and light design
- f/3.5-4.5 max aperture limits your ability for shallow depth of field shots
- Not great for shooting portraits
This lens made my overall list of the best wide-angle lenses for Nikon.
Of course, not everyone wants to spend their days in the great outdoors shooting landscapes and many of you would rather photograph people. If that’s the case then this next lens may be perfect for you…
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G
The 50mm f/1.8 is the lens many photographers start with and still one of the classic and most useful lenses you can own.
Although you can use the 35mm I recommended above to take great portraits, if you want to specialize in portrait photography, then I would add a 50mm f/1.8 to your D3500. On that camera, the effective focal length is 75mm which is a great focal length for shooting portraits.
The added reach will allow you to fill the frame more and step back a few feet while shooting portraits. This gives the appearance of something we call compression. This generally has the effect of making people’s faces look more flattering and also allows you to more easily eliminate background distractions from the frame.
- Excellent image quality
- Wide max aperture of f/1.8 is great for portraits
- Light and compact design
- Fixed focal length can be limiting
- 50mm on a crop sensor camera may be too long for landscapes
The 50mm f/1.8 is a simple but vastly underestimated lens. I started my portrait photography business with nothing but a Nikon crop sensor camera similar to the D3500 and this lens. It has everything you need to grow your photography skills and your creativity.
Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD
This Tamron telephoto gives you the reach you need for shooting sports and wildlife without the hefty price tag that you’ll find on the Nikon 70-200mm lenses.
If you want to shoot sports or wildlife then you’ll need a telephoto lens. Having a zoom telephoto like this 70-210 from Tamron gives you the ability to cover more area as the action moves closer or farther away.
The effective focal length on the crop sensor D3500 is 105-315mm.
This is another lens where you’re getting a lot more value for your dollar by choosing a Tamron lens over a Nikon. Don’t be deceived though, the image quality of this lens is top-notch.
- Excellent image quality
- Constant f/4 aperture
- Affordable compared to similar lenses
- Great for portraits, sports, and wildlife
- Full frame lenses are larger and heavier than DX lenses
- Not weather sealed as well as more expensive 70-200mm lenses
Despite being relatively affordable compared to many similar lenses out there, this is also a full-frame lens. That gives you two positives.
First, because the crop sensor on your D3500 is utilizing only the center portion of the lens, you’re getting the sharpest part of the lens, so you’ll get very high-quality images throughout the zoom range, even when you have the aperture wide open at f/4.
The other benefit is that you’ll be able to continue using this lens if you upgrade to a full-frame Nikon camera. Any full-frame F-mount camera can use this lens natively and it will work on the impressive new Z Mount system with the FTZ Adapter.
Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8 Micro
If you’re shooting macro photography on your D3500 then this is the first lens I would pick up.
This particular lens is one of the standouts of the Nikon DX lenses.
The Nikon 40mm macro lens (Nikon calls it “micro” to be different) is surprisingly fun to use. It’s a bit of a shorter focal length than some other macro lenses but that just makes it a little more versatile.
It’s also one of the most affordable lenses in the Nikon lineup, coming in under $300 MSRP.
- 1:1 reproduction ratio
- Affordable for a macro lens
- Good for portrait photography too
- No image stabilization
- Bokeh is not as pleasant as the 35mm or 50mm on this list
It weighs in at only 10 ounces which means it won’t take up much space in your bag or weigh you down on any long hikes. That makes it a great second lens to have in your bag for specialty shots like macro photography.
But it doesn’t have to be a “second lens” or even a macro-only lens. With a focal length of 40mm (60mm equivalent) and a maximum aperture of f/2.8 it would work great as a portrait lens as well.
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 GII
The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a “do-it-all” lens and if you plan to upgrade to full-frame soon, this Tamron is one of the best options on the market and a fraction of the cost compared to the Nikon version.
Just because you have a crop sensor camera doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to crop sensor lenses. Any Nikon f Mount lens will work on the D3500 and the full-frame lenses are often higher quality and more well built compared to the more affordable crop sensor lenses.
The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 is one of the best overall lenses you can buy. In fact, it made my picks for the best Nikon lens overall.
To begin with, this lens covers arguably the most used focal lengths with a range of 24-70mm and it has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 that is useful for shooting portraits with a shallow depth of field.
- Best image quality on this list
- Max aperture of f/2.8
- Less expansive than other 24-70mm options
- Might be overkill if you aren’t planning to upgrade to full-frame eventually
It also boasts excellent image quality with sharpness across the focal length range and minimal distortion. Even when shooting wide open at f/2.8 there is minimal edge softness. As a result, your images are going to be sharp whether you’re shooting portraits at 70mm and f/2.8 or landscapes at 24mm and f/10.
Lastly, it’s about half the price of its 24-70 Nikon counterpart, so you’ll be getting tremendous value for your dollar with this lens.
Lenses To Avoid
Not every lens, even if it’s made by Nikon, is worth buying. There are some lenses that trade image quality just to have a huge zoom range. These might be ok for taking snapshots but as your photography skills improve, you’ll easily see the shortcomings.
For my complete list of great lens options check out my guide to the best Nikon lenses.
Instead of these, stick to the ones on the list above. Here are some of the most popular lenses I’ve seen recommended by other sites to use with the D3500 that you really should avoid…
Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G VR
This is a popular kit lens that was bundled with Nikon crop-sensor DSLRs over the years. But at over $600 at most retailers, it’s not worth the money you would spend on it.
It does have a very large focal range of 18-300mm (which is the full-frame equivalent of 27-400mm) but that’s not the entire story.
Any time a manufacturer makes a lens that covers this wide of a focal range, there are going to compromise elsewhere. In the case of this lens, there are a lot of them.
It has significant distortion and poor edge sharpness throughout the focal range. At the telephoto end, the lens becomes noticeably soft. So any benefit of having that 300mm reach is counteracted by images that don’t look all that great. You would get better results just cropping in on an image taken with a sharper lens.
The Tamron 70-210mm lens above is less money and is a far superior telephoto lens.
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED
This lens suffers from almost all the same problems as the one above, just slightly less so. Because the long end of this lens is only 140mm, the negative effects of creating a super-zoom lens are mitigated somewhat. But you are also giving up 160mm of reach on the long end.
The worst part of this lens is that at 18-140mm, you aren’t really getting all that much reach and still giving up a good deal of image quality.
It’s less expensive than the 18-300mm above but only slightly.
Skip this one too. You’ll get far superior image quality by picking up the Tamron 10-24mm and 70-210mm lenses above to cover this focal range. Throw in the inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 for that standard focal length as well.
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VRII
This lens is just another version of the same kind of lens as the first two. These kinds of lenses are designed with a wide focal length range to make them appealing to the widest range of photographers, but they don’t do anything well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Nikon D3500 outdated?
You can still create beautiful photos with the Nikon D3500, however, Nikon has announced that they will no longer be developing DSLRs and will be focusing on their Mirrorless system. If you are looking for your first camera, check out my guide to the best Nikon cameras for beginners to learn more about the best entry-level mirrorless options.
What is the best lens for portraits on the Nikon D3500
The best lens for shooting portraits on the Nikon D3500 is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. It’s a great focal length for portraits (75mm equivalent on the D3500) and the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 will allow you to create beautiful shallow depth of field images.
What prime lens is best for the Nikon D3500?
The best prime lens overall for the Nikon D3500 is the Nikon AFS DX 35mm f/1.8G. It is light, compact, and affordable but also boasts excellent image quality and a wide maximum aperture of f/1.8. The 35mm focal length (52.5mm equivalent on the D3500) is perfect for shooting a wide variety of subjects like portraits, street photography, and even landscapes.
What lens can be used on the Nikon D3500?
Any lens that has a Nikon F-mount can be used on the Nikon D3500. However, some older lenses will not be able to use autofocus because the D3500 does not have a focus motor drive. If you want to use an older lens be sure to check the Nikon compatibility chart to see if autofocus will work with the D3500.