4.1. Nikon Lenses
Many Nikon cameras come with some sort of kit lens – baseline models come with the Nikon 18-55mm or Nikon 18-140mm, while full frame cameras come with the Nikon 24-85mm, Nikon 24-120mm, or Nikon 28-300mm lens. All of these lenses are good lenses, and here are a few more options:
Additional kit lenses
Dx models: if you purchased a new Nikon D3300 or Nikon D5500, your camera most likely came with a Nikon 18-55mm f/4-5.6 VR II lens. That lens is great for landscapes and outdoor photos of your children, but if you’re outside trying to take photos of wildlife or at your kid’s sports game, you’ll want to add the inexpensive Nikon 55-200mm. At under $100 refurbished, this lens is a no-brainer. It’s small, fairly sharp, and has Vibration Reduction (which helps if you don’t have a steady hand). It’s not a professional lens, but for taking occasional photos of your kids or wildlife from far away, it’s perfect.
FX (full frame) models: if your Nikon D610, Nikon D750, or Nikon D810 came with a zoom kit lens, then you’ll probably want to jump directly to either pro-level zooms that have a constant f/4 or f/2.8 aperture, or prime lenses.
Nikon Prime Lenses for dSLR Cameras
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens is by far the most popular prime lens – it’s a great lens for under $200 that will allow you to take a lot sharper photos in low light, and if you like portraits, it will also allow you to blur the backgrounds and make them smooth. It’s ideal for portraits on a DX body, and ideal for pretty much anything on a full frame body. There are three different versions:
Nikon 50mm lenses:
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-S G – newest version, works on all Nikon cameras.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-S G Special Edition – cooler looking version, introduced with the retro-looking Nikon DF camera. Other than the classic look and premium price, it’s identical to the AF-S G version.
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF D – older version, half the price of the AF-S G version (sells for about $100) – only works with newer cameras (since ~2013) and semi-pro/pro level cameras. If you are on a tight budget, get this lens instead of the $200, AF-S G sibling. If you have the extra $100, get the AF-S G version, it’s smoother and slightly sharper at wider apertures.
There is also a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens – f/1.4 is not hugely different from f/1.8, but for a portrait photographer, the extra half a stop makes a big difference in tight spaces with close backgrounds. If you have $300 more to spend on a do-it-all prime lens, the f/1.4 version is worth the money.
The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens only works on DX bodies (D3xxx, D5xxx, D7xxx). This is one of my all time favorite lenses for DX bodies. It’s small, cheap, versatile, and the 35mm focal length seems ideal for most of the types of photos I take at home: kids, food, some landscapes. If I had to recommend a single lens for the D3300, this would be it.
Nikon 85mm f/1.8
The 85mm f/1.8 has the same excellent optics as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 but it’s slightly more telephoto. On a full frame camera, this is the best portrait and headshot lens for the value. On a DX body such as the D3300, the 85mm turns into a 125mm lens, which for my taste is not very practical for portraits – it flattens people’s faces too much, and you need to be relatively far from subjects all the time.
If you have the money to upgrade to the $1,000 more expensive f/1.4 version, you will not regret it – the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is a Nikon portrait photographer’s dream – sharp subjects and mesmerizing backgrounds, impeccable glass. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is in a class of its own, just like the Canon 85mm f/1.2.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8 micro is a specialized lens for macro photography and also used for outdoor portraits. If you’re into flowers and bugs, this is what you’re looking for. If you’re shooting a full frame camera and enjoy taking portraits from farther away, many portrait photographers use this lens instead of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8. The higher focal length gives you blurry backgrounds even at f/2.8.
The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (Nikon)/Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (Canon) only works on Nikon or Canon DX/APS-C bodies (Nikon D3xxx, D5xxx, D7xxx series, Canon Rebel series and 70D) – one of the few off-brand lenses I recommend. Exceptional value for the price, incredibly wide, super sharp, not too much distortion. If you’re shooting a DX/APS-C (crop) camera and want the best ultra-wide lens for landscapes, real estate, and even weddings (I used this lens a lot during the receptions), then you should consider this lens.
Pro Nikon Zoom Lenses for dSLR Cameras
These lenses are found in most pro wedding or portrait photographer’s bag. If zooms are your thing and you want the best of the best, sell your kit lenses and buy these instead.
The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is a standard for photojournalistic wedding photographers, real-estate photographers, landscape photographers, and journalists. It’s very sharp and well built. This is a full frame camera lens, I would buy the Tokina for DX cameras.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is one of the most versatile lenses for both DX (crop sensor) and FX (full frame) cameras. It’s very sharp, covers the vast majority of your photography needs, but it comes at a hefty price, just under $2,000. For many pro photographers who use zooms, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is on their camera 90% of the time.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II is the best telephoto zoom lens you can get – it’s fast, sharp, has Vibration Reduction, and if you take good care of it, it keeps its value indefinitely. It’s also insanely expensive – $2,400 or so. Most pro photographers (sports, weddings, portraits, fashion, etc.) own one and use it regularly.
The cheaper alternative to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II is the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR lens. I personally think this lens is a lot more practical than the f/2.8 version. It’s a lot lighter (which alone accounts for the extra aperture stop), half the price, and equally sharp. If you’re just getting started shooting weddings, portraits, sports, etc., then I would get the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR version instead. Make sure you buy the VR version though, the non-VR lens is not worth it for a telephoto.