Nikon has a huge selection of lenses and the one you choose depends heavily on what you need it for. Making a smart decision is really just picking the right tool for the task at hand.
So rather than give you a useless list of the best Nikon lenses overall, I’ll break down the best choices for specific needs so you can make an informed decision.
Nikon/Tamron 24-70 f/2.8
All around great performer.
Whether you’re on the F-mount or Z-mount systems, the 24-70mm f/2.8 is the workhorse of the lens lineup and is an essential piece of kit for any photographer. For F-Mount cameras, I recommend the Tamron G2 version.
If you are going to buy one lens, then a 24-70mm f/2.8 should be the one. It is the kind of lens that you can leave on your camera permanently and get just about any shot you want.
The zoom range and aperture allows you to use this for just about anything from portraits to landscapes or even street photography. There is a reason, you’ll find a 24-70mm f/2.8 in most professional photographers’ bags.
You many notice that the photo above is actually a Tamron lens (and you would be right). For this focal length (and another one you’ll see lower) I would actually recommend the Tamron version over the Nikon version (for F Mount users only…for now). You’ll get about 95% of the performance of the Nikon version at about half the price. Unless you are making big bucks with your photography, that extra $1200 just isn’t worth investing.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8
The Essential Lens
This is the lens that every photographer should buy after the kit lens that came with your camera. The 50mm focal length is very versatile, the f/1.8 max aperture allows you to shoot in low light, and it’s the among the most affordable for F or Z Mount cameras.
The 50mm f/1.8 is the first lens that I purchased after realizing that there were certain shots I just could not get with my trusty kit lens. I even started my portrait photography business with little more than a Nikon crop sensor DSLR and a 50mm f/1.8 lens.
The f/1.8 maximum aperture is really the key spec that opens a lot more possibilities. This will allow you to shoot those shallow depth of field portraits and also give you the ability to shoot in low light by using the lens at f/1.8.
I recommend this lens as a great choice for beginners because in addition to getting shots that you can’t with a kit lens, it is the perfect lens to learn with. The 50mm focal length is a nice mid-range field of view that you can use for just about anything including portraits, landscapes, and even street photography.
This focal length also has very little distortion, so you don’t have to worry about being perfect with your angles on things like people and buildings, which lets you experiment more and develop some creativity.
Just be aware that if you are looking for a portrait lens for your Z Mount camera, then the 50mm f/1.8 is going to be double the price of the F Mount version.
This is the top lens I recommend in my Complete Guide to Equipment for Photography.
Once you are comfortable with a 50mm lens like this, you can move on to some of the more specialized lenses below…
Nikon 14-24 f/2.8
The Pro Landscape Lens
This lens is at the wide range of the big three lenses every pro photogrpaher wants. Both the F mount and the Z mount versions are absolute beasts in terms of sharpness, which is exactly what you need for impressive landscapes.
The very popular 14-24mm f/2.8 lenses are not only among the best Nikon landscape lenses, they are among the best landscape lenses of any system.
While you can shoot compelling landscapes at any focal length, a sharp wide angle zoom is an essential piece of kit. For about 15 years, the F-Mount 14-24mm f/2.8 was setting the standard when it came to sharp wide angle zooms. Nikon leveled-up this venerable lens when it created the Z Mount version, which takes the best qualities from its predecessor and improves upon them.
The f/2.8 maximum aperture may not be necessary for most landscape shots, but if you are shooting astrophotography with a Nikon, then it becomes quite important to have a wide maximum aperture.
However, if you are using the Z Mount system and not shooting astrophotography, the Nikkor Z 14-30 f/4 might actually be a better option. If you are shooting primarily landscapes, the f/4 max aperture isn’t a problem. You retain the ultra-wide 14mm end of the zoom range, gain an additional 6mm on the long end and gain the ability to use standard lens filters, which are incredibly importat to landscape photographers.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4
Perfect Focal Length For People
The 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens is one that you will find in the bags of many portrait photographers. It has a great combination of flattering focal length and wide maximum aperture that gives you good flexibility and impeccible image quality.
Whether you need a family portrait lens for your Nikon or shooting fashion shots for the cover of a magazine, you can’t go wrong using the 85mm lenses from Nikon.
The longer focal length gives you that extra compression look that is flattering to faces but isn’t too long that you’ll find yourself standing too far away to talk to your subject.
Nikon/Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8
For Capturing The Perfect Action Shot
70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are a staple in every sports and wildlife photographer’s bag. The focal length range allows you to fill the frame without getting too close but also back off for closer action. You can get longer specialty lenses but this is where you should start.
The 70-200mm focal length is a nice range for shooting action as it allows you to get real close of you need to and still back off a little for a wider picture of the action.
The fast f/2.8 maximum aperture is important for two reasons. First, it will let you isolate your subject with a shallow depth of field. Second, and more important, it allows you to use faster shutter speeds even when you’re not shooting in bright sunlight.