Sigma 85mm 1.4 DG HSM Art
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

A camera is only as good as the lens mounted on the front of it — and Nikon’s 100+ year history has a tendency to lean towards excellent optics. From getting up close to the tiniest subjects to bringing distant wildlife within reach, if you have a Nikon DSLR, you can probably find a lens for the task. You also have plenty of choices from other reputable brands, like Sigma and Tamron, which may save you some money.

But a broad selection begs the question: What are the best Nikon lenses out there? While the answer varies based on your needs and budget, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites from macro, wide-angle, and telephoto options. And because not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on a lens, we’ve included a few budget alternatives that still offer good performance for the cash.

From ultra-wide angles and fisheyes to super-telephotos and tilt-shift lenses, Nikon offers a variety of optics for speciality uses, but the list below covers general purpose lenses only. Not sure exactly what type of lens you want? Pay a visit to our lens buying guide before making your pick.

The best cheap Nikon lens

AF-S FX Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

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The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 is one of the cheapest lenses you can find, but it’s also a favorite for many photographers. Selling for $220, the lens is inexpensive but it doesn’t skimp on quality. With a fixed focal length of 50mm, it does not zoom, but it offers a good focal length for general shooting and portraits. Plus, it measures less than 3 inches long and weighs just 6.5 ounces, meaning this is a full-frame lens you can take anywhere.

The f/1.8 aperture is excellent for low light and creating that creamy soft background thanks its shallow depth of field. Autofocus performance is also snappy and quiet thanks to the Silent Wave Motor. For any subjects where it’s possible to “zoom with your feet,” the 50mm is an excellent option.

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The best Nikon midrange zoom

AF-S FX Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

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The 24-70mm is a favorite among wedding photographers, photojournalists, sports photographers, and many others — and for good reason. This midrange zoom spans both wide angle and telephoto focal lengths in one lens, making useful for a variety of subjects, particularly in situations where you don’t have time to swap lenses.

Additionally, the f/2.8 aperture stays consistent across the zoom range, compared with cheaper zooms which see their aperture reduce toward the telephoto end. This brings good low light performance depth of field control. While not as fast as a prime lens, it’s hard to find an aperture larger than f/2.8 in a zoom. This latest version also uses Vibration Reduction for steadier handheld shots and is weather sealed to endure the elements.

The downside to this lovely piece of glass? The price and weight. The lens typically retails for around $2,400 and adds 2.35 pounds to your gear bag.

Budget alternative: The previous generation of this lens will save you hundreds of dollars — and buying the previous generation used will save you a thousand dollars. The earlier lens doesn’t have image stabilization, however, but the Nikon AF-S FX 24-70mm f/2.8 ED still offers the same versatility and bright aperture, along with solid image quality.

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The best Nikon macro lens

AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED

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For getting up close, the Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 is one of Nikon’s best options. The lens has a 1:1 ratio, which means you can create life-sized reproductions of tiny subjects. The 105mm focal length gives you a good working distance for getting up close with the likes of insects and helps ensure you don’t block the light from your subject by having to be directly on top of it, as can happen with shorter macro lenses. The lens also brings vibration reduction, which is always good to have but plays an even bigger role in capturing better shots up close since macro photography tends to exaggerate hand shake.

Besides the close-up capabilities, the lens has a nice f/2.8 aperture that’s good for low light and getting that out-of-focus backgrounds. This also makes it a fantastic portrait lens. Users typically praise the lens’s sharpness and quality, but complain about its 1.5-pound weight. The lens sells for about $900, but is a valuable buy at that price.

Budget alternative: The Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC Macro doesn’t have quite the same longer focal length, but offers very similar features for about $650. The lens is a budget favorite for macro, but some do complain of inconsistent autofocus performance.

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The best Nikon portrait lens

AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED Lens

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The second 105mm lens on this list, the AF-S 105mm f/1.4 distinguishes itself from the aforementioned Micro-Nikkor in two key ways: It isn’t a macro lens, and its f/1.4 aperture lets in four times as much light. For silky smooth backgrounds, the combination of that fast aperture with the 105mm focal length is hard to beat.

The lens is quite large and weighs just over 2 pounds, but it is one of the sharpest lenses Nikon has ever released. It is also quite special in that it was the first 105mm f/1.4 lens produced. But all of that quality does come at a cost: $2,200, to be precise. But if you want the best portrait lens money can buy, this might just be it.

Budget alternative: Retailing for $1,200, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is not exactly inexpensive, but it is $1,000 cheaper than the Nikon 105mm f/1.4 (and also cheaper than Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4). For a bright mid-telephoto, the Sigma is an excellent choice.

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The best Nikon telephoto zoom

AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E VR

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The companion lens to the 24-70mm, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 has the same bright aperture but with a longer telephoto zoom. The longer zoom makes the lens ideal for sports, wildlife, weddings, or portraits where the 200mm focal length can really help blur out backgrounds.

The lens also includes Vibration Reduction that’s particularly helpful when using the long end of the zoom. That stabilization is rated for up to four stops, letting you shoot a shutter speed four times slower than you could without it. Like the 24-70, the lens is weather-sealed but also heavy and pricey, retailing for around $2,800.

Budget alternative: If you just want a long lens for a birding hobby or to capture your kids t-ball game, the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR offers an excellent reach and a cool $600 price point. The aperture isn’t as wide, but the price is much more palatable for hobbyists. If you really need that f/2.8 aperture, try the Sigma AP 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM or the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USB G2.

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