The Nikon D500 is a professional camera, despite the fact that it is a crop sensor body. So when choosing lenses for this camera, you should be looking to match it with similarly high-quality lenses.
Although Nikon released this camera in 2016, it is still an exceptional camera. So the best lenses for the Nikon D500 are going to be a mix of crop sensor (DX) and full frame lenses.
The first lens I would recommend for you is the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 because of its high image quality, versatile zoom range, and wide maximum aperture.
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1. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is the crop senor answer to the professional workhorse 24-70mm lens. You can put this on your camera and shoot just about anything other than telephoto shots.
This Sigma lens is a professional quality lens in a crop sensor size, which pairs well with the D500, a crop sensor camera aimed at professional and advanced amateur photographers.
The 18-35mm focal range is the equivalent of 27-52.5mm on a full-frame camera which makes this lens a pretty close cousin to the full-frame 24-70mm lens that you’ll find in most pro photographer’s bags. But in addition to the useful focal range, the constant f/1.8 aperture is something you won’t see in any other lens of this sort.
So the specs look good but is it sharp?
Yes, this is one of the sharpest crop-sensor lenses I’ve tested. When shooting wide open at f/1.8 you may see a small loss of sharpness at the edges but the center and mid-frame are excellent. Once you stop down to f/1.8 you’ll get excellent sharpness across the frame.
- Excellent image quality throughout the zoom range
- Affordable substitute for a pro-level 24-70mm lens
- Small and compact for an f/1.8 zoom lens
- Weather sealing isn’t as good as Nikon lenses
It also has a close focusing distance of 28cm/11.0in. which means you can get pretty close to foreground objects for close-up photos or you can shoot wide and include foreground elements in your shot for more drama and depth in your landscape shots.
Finally, Sigma made sure this lens was built pretty solid. It has a solid brass mount and a metal barrel that makes it both easy to handle and durable. It does lack a rubber gasket on the mount though which makes it less weather-sealed. But, that’s really my only complaint about this lens.
2. 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.
You don’t have to limit yourself to crop sensor lenses if you’re shooting with the D500. In fact, despite the fact that it is a crop sensor camera, the D500 is really a pro-level camera designed with lenses like this in mind.
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 (36-105mm equivalent on the D500) 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.
By using this lens on a crop sensor camera like the D500, you also get the benefit of only using the sharpest part of the lens. Almost all lenses have a small bit of softness around the edges, especially at their widest aperture, and this one is no exception.
But when using it on the D500, the image will be from the center part of the lens where it is at its sharpest, so you’ll get exceptional results, even at f/2.8. This is also why I don’t recommend the Nikon version of the 24-70mm f/2.8 for this camera because you’ll be paying almost double the price for edge-to-edge sharpness that you don’t really need.
3. Nikon AFS DX 35mm f/1.8G
The 35mm f/1.8 lens is a perfect upgrade from the D500 kit lens. The wide max aperture will unlock opportunities to use shallow depth of field in your photography and shoot in low light conditions.
I recommend that all my students start with a mid-length prime lens like this 35mm lens. On a crop-sensor camera like the D500, the effective focal length is 52.5mm which makes it a great option for an everyday walk-around lens or shooting portraits.
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
This lens makes a great companion to the D500 because it is affordable but still has some pro-level features like the f/1.8 maximum aperture and excellent sharpness at all apertures. This means that while you may be limited by the focal length, you can get very high-quality results in terms of image quality.
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. It pairs well with the smaller size of a crop-sensor DSLR like the D500.
But, I am sure many of you are interested in shooting landscapes, so check out this next pick…
4. 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 D500, 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.
10-24mm on a crop sensor camera is going to give you an effective focal length of 15-36mm which is perfect for shooting landscapes and other wide-angle photos.
In addition, this lens boasts excellent image quality, especially for the price point.
This lens made my overall list of the best wide-angle lenses for Nikon.
- Perfect wide-angle focal length for D500 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
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…
5. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G
The 50mm f/1.8 is the lens many photographers start with and is still one of the classic and most useful lenses you can own.
If you want to shoot primarily portraits, you may want to have a slightly longer focal length than the 35mm lens above. In that case, this 50mm lens is perfect. On the D500, the effective focal length is 75mm.
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 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 D5100 and this lens. It has everything you need to grow your photography skills and your creativity.
6. Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2
This Tamron telephoto lens is a professional full-frame action lens with an exceptional autofocus motor and excellent sharpness throughout the focal length, even wide open at f/2.8.
If you want to shoot sports or wildlife then you’ll need a telephoto lens. Having a zoom telephoto like this 70-200 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 D500 is 105-300mm. This combined with the wide f/2.8 aperture means that you can get a lot of reach and use higher shutter speeds even in low light to capture the action. The Nikon D500 shoots 10 frames per second so it is well suited to shooting action.
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/2.8 aperture
- Weather sealed
- Great for portraits, sports, and wildlife
- Price point over $1000
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 D500 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/2.8.
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.
7. Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8 Micro
If you’re shooting macro photography on your D500 then this is the first lens I would pick up. It’s affordable and a great way to learn macro.
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.
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.
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 D500 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.
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.
What To Look For When Choosing A Lens For Your D500
Some lenses are just better suited for some cameras and while all Nikon F-mount lenses would fit onto the D500, there are some things you should consider before choosing one.
If you want to see more options, check out my buying guide for the best Nikon lenses.
The D500 does have a focus motor drive, so if you have a lens that requires one, the autofocus will work with this camera.
But more importantly, the D500 has one of the best autofocus systems on a DSLR. It is very popular among sports and wildlife photographers that want the extra reach of a crop sensor in a pro body.
So when you’re choosing a lens for any type of action like that, it can be important to choose one that has the fast focusing ability to keep up with the D500’s focusing system.
If you have an older Nikon lens, the easiest way to determine whether it is compatible with your D5600 is to check this Nikon lens compatibility chart.
If you’re currently using one of the kit lenses that came with the D500 then the biggest impediment to your photography may be that those lenses do not have a wide maximum aperture. This can hinder your ability to use depth of field in your photography.
So when you’re looking for an upgrade for your D500, go for a lens with a wide maximum aperture like the 35mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.8 above.
While kit lenses do usually over a wide focal length range, the lack of a wide aperture and lower image quality often offset any benefits that range gives you.
The D500 is an exceptional camera that can handle a lot of different types of photography from telephoto wildlife and sports to landscapes and portraits.
So you’ll get far better results if you choose professional level lens that are designed for the type of photography you want to shoot. That’s why I broke down the choices above by the thing they are best used for. By taking this specialization approach with your lens selection, your results will improve much faster.