Introduction to the Nikon F mount
In the case of Nikon, it must be taken into account that some cameras incorporate an internal focus motor (so the lens does not need a focus motor) but other models do not (they need lenses that include an AF motor), therefore we have to see what camera model we have and depending on that choose the type of lens:
- Nikon AF lenses : no internal motor. Camera needs focus motor on body
- Nikon AF-S lenses : with internal focus motor. Nikon’s latest lenses are usually AF-S
- Nikon AF-P lenses : with internal stepper type focusing motor ( NOTE: not compatible with all Nikon SLR models, see below to ensure they are compatible with your camera )
An AF lens can be used on a Nikon camera without a body focus motor, but focusing in that case has to be done manually. For a beginner / hobbyist user it can be a bit tricky, especially in the beginning. It is advisable to buy an AF-S lens and we will always have the option to disable the auto focus option to focus manually if we want.
AF-P lenses are similar to AF-S lenses in that they include a focus motor. This focusing system (stepper motor) is much quieter, smoother and in general a little faster and more precise than the traditional system (Silent Wave). On the downside, AF-P lenses do not usually incorporate physical buttons to switch to manual focus mode (AF / MF) and activate / deactivate the optical stabilizer (VR), these options are now in the camera menu and the camera needs an updated firmware that is already included from the D3300 and D5500.
Entry-level / mid-range cameras without internal focus motor, require AF-S or AF-P lenses (see below for compatibility for AF-P lenses ) : Nikon D5300, D5500, D5600…, D3300, D3400…
Mid-range cameras with internal focus motor : D7000, D7100, D7200 …
The recommendations in this article are primarily aimed at DX cameras (with APS-C sensor) , which are the ones that most amateur users and advanced amateurs have. APS-C camera lenses are generally smaller and lighter, and also cheaper, than their FX (full frame) camera equivalents. In some cases, if the lens is in high demand, only the FX version is manufactured, which is compatible with all cameras.
We repeat the idea discussed in other articles: for the same lens (same focal length, etc.), users of full frame cameras (FX) have a slightly different experience / vision than users of APS-C (DX) camera. The crop factor of the sensor affects the equivalent focal length and depth of field . The optical characteristics of the lens are independent of the camera or sensor.
Recommended prime lenses for Nikon
What would be the first lens I would buy for my Nikon camera?
As with all systems, and as a general rule, fixed lenses (prime) tend to offer higher optical quality (more aperture, more sharpness), while zoom lenses (variable focal) provide more flexibility when working.
We all tend to have our favorite focal lengths or the ones we feel most comfortable with when taking photography or video. Many times it is something unconscious. For example, if you have been taking photos with the kit lens, try to make a selection of the photos that you like the most, especially focusing on the frame. From that selection, look at the focal points used in each photo and make a kind of histogram or statistic with the focal points that you use most often.
If a focal point appears that repeats a lot, it would be a clear sign that it would pay you to have a fixed lens with a focal point close to the one you usually use.
If you work with the entire focal range of your kit lens, your next step would surely be to look at a zoom lens with higher optical quality (more sharpness and more maximum aperture). In any case, I recommend investing in a fixed lens , since the experience is different, both when photographing and in the results obtained.
Nikon 50mm f / 1.8 G AF-S FX
It is perhaps the most recommended lens as a first jump from the kit lens, although in the case of Nikon mid-range cameras (APS-C sensor) another very good option as a first purchase is the 35mm f / 1.8 that you can see a little further down.
For the 50mm, the equivalent focal length on an APS-C camera is 75mm . It is compatible with all Nikon entry- and mid-range cameras (D3000, D5000 and D7000 series).
For the D7000s (D7100, D7200…) we could buy the equivalent AF lens (without focus motor) which is a bit cheaper, although I don’t know if it would be worth it.
It is a perfect lens for portraiture, very bright , which allows a very beautiful background blur ( bokeh ). Also for street photography. When using a bright lens for the first time (compared to the kit), what is most surprising is that it allows you to take pictures in low ambient light without using a flash.
The G in the name refers to the fact that these lenses do not have a manual aperture (aperture) adjustment ring. The aperture is adjusted from the camera itself.
Nikon 35mm f / 1.8 G AF-S DX
This APS-C camera lens has an equivalent focal length of about 50mm , which is the focal length that is considered ‘normal’ in photography, very similar to the human angle of view.
How do I know if I am more interested in 35mm or 50mm? Test your kit lens around those focal lengths over the same scenes to see what kind of photography / framing appeals to you the most.
The 35mm is more off-road, more street photography . The 50mm maybe more for portrait. But fundamentally it is a matter of personal taste.
Nikon 85mm f / 1.8 G AF-S FX
If you are going to do a lot of portraiture, this is your goal.
The equivalent focal length in APS-C camera in terms of angle of view would be about 128mm. You have to take it into account if you want to use it in very closed spaces depending on the frames you want to achieve.
In terms of sharpness it is beastly and with that maximum aperture you can get some beautiful background blur.
It is a lens that does not have an optical stabilizer. Although normally for the use it is given (more or less static scene) and with the maximum aperture it has, it is not a characteristic that is usually missed.
Lenses to replace or complement the kit lens
The idea is to complement the focal range, especially towards the telephoto part, a greater focal range, to cover events (the children’s party, a concert …) or to do some portraiture.
On the other hand, you may also be interested in improving the range of the kit lens: cover those 18-55mm but with better optical quality: more sharpness or more aperture.
Here are some recommendations:
Nikon AF-S DX 55-200mm f / 4-5.6 G VR (version I and II)
Unbeatable for value for money and a perfect match for the 18-55mm in the mid-telephoto range.
Mechanically it is very basic: plastic body and bayonet. For this reason it is very light, below 300g. And it is also comparatively small considering the focal length it covers.
The autofocus is not excessively fast but it defends itself very well. It is a lens that can perfectly cover sporting events, concerts, etc. Always taking into account the limitations of its maximum aperture, but with current cameras you can raise the ISO to gain those 2 or 3 stops of shutter speed.
If you need a (affordable) medium telephoto lens with faster focus you can take a look at the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm VR. Please note that you have to check if your camera is compatible with these AF-P lenses
Going back to the Nikon AF-S 55-200mm, from an optical point of view it is a very sharp lens. If the scene allows you to shoot with the aperture a little closed, f / 8 has its sweet spot (maximum sharpness)
Version II includes some small improvements in the optical stabilizer, it is a tad lighter and some other minor changes. At similar prices choose version II, but if there is a difference in price, either of the two will offer you a similar optical performance.
Sigma 18-35mm f / 1.8 DC HSM (DX)
This Sigma is a great lens for Nikon cameras. It provides more flexibility for being a zoom lens and the aperture of f / 1.8 throughout the focal range is impressive.
It is a more expensive lens but the price-quality ratio is very good . And for that price it is difficult to find such a bright angle. That is, it is like having a more than decent angle and 35mm f / 1.8, all in one. It must also be said that it is a much larger and heavier lens than the 50mm or 35mm, as is often the case with wide-aperture angles.
It has very good ratings in terms of quality and benefits. It is a fully recommended goal.
Off-road / superzoom lenses
This type of zoom lens (variable focal length) has as its main characteristic its wide focal range, normally ranging from 16-18mm to focal lengths above 100mm. That is, from a fairly wide angle to a short telephoto or medium telephoto lens.
The main advantage is that they are very versatile. For example, during a trip if we want to go light with equipment and we want to cover any possible circumstance: from open shots to close-ups and distant objects. The other positive aspect is that we do not waste time changing objectives on the fly, sometimes depending on the circumstances it is difficult to find a quiet place to change objectives.
The main disadvantage is that the greater the focal range, the more difficult it is to maintain a certain optical quality . For example, they are not usually super sharp targets. Even across the focal range there can be appreciable sharpness differences. They are not lenses with a large aperture either, especially on the television side.
Ultimately, the idea of this type of lens is that we sacrifice a bit of optical quality (sharpness, chromatic aberrations, geometric distortions) to have more comfort and ease of use: lightweight equipment, all in one, and without the need to make changes of target. When we talk about sacrifice, we are talking about losing a bit of quality, it will be appreciable if we compare with fixed focal lenses or with very high-end lenses, but it does not mean that we are going to obtain horrible and distorted photos.
Some recommended goals:
Tamron 16-300mm f / 3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
It is an all-terrain lens for Nikon DX cameras (APS-C sensor) with an equivalent focal range in terms of angle of view of 24-450mm
It measures about 10cm in length when collected in transport mode and weighs about 550g.
It is a lens that performs quite well overall in terms of sharpness throughout the focal range.
On the tele side, from 100-150mm, the maximum aperture is logically not a marvel, but this also happens with mid-range telephoto lenses. It will perform well in good light, if we can close the diaphragm a little at f / 8 we will get very good results.
The optical stabilizer works quite well and can save our lives by shooting freehand. Tamron usually makes very good optical stabilizers.
Another interesting feature is that it is a lens that has a good seal to prevent dust or splashes from entering.
One of the weak points of the lens is that in certain situations with front or side lighting some chromatic aberration may appear in the form of small colored halos at the edges of objects. But these effects are usually corrected by the camera itself if we shoot in JPG or by editing / development programs if we work with RAW.
For value for money and the wide focal range it covers, it would be one of the recommended SUVs.
Tamron 18-270mm f / 3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
Another very good option for Nikons with APS-C sensor. It would have an equivalent focal range of 27-405mm in terms of angle of view.
With regard to 16-300mm, the 2 millimeters that are lost from the angular part are usually more noticeable than the 30mm from the tele part.
On a day-to-day basis, for trips or situations in which these lenses are often used, these differences in focal length are not usually significant. The angle of view at 18mm corresponds to a decent angle and covers most group shooting situations, buildings, etc. well. that we can meet on a trip, tourism, etc.
The optical stabilizer works very well , both in photography and video.
At 18mm at maximum aperture, vignetting is noted in the corners (darker areas) and some geometric distortion. However, in the lower part of the focal range up to 75-100mm it performs very well in terms of sharpness and has very good optical performance.
In the longer focal lengths, starting at 200mm, it already looks a little softer, less sharp, and with more chromatic aberration (small halo of color on the edges of some objects). And as with this type of lens, the maximum aperture from 100-200mm is greatly reduced, down to f / 6.3, which can limit us a bit if the lighting conditions are not good.
The focus system is not particularly fast, but sufficient for normal use (not a specific lens for sports photography, etc.)
Nikon 18-140mm f / 3.5-5.6 DX G VR | Nikon 18-105mm f / 3.5-5.6 DX G VR
These two lenses would be an alternative if we don’t need such a wide focal range. Until relatively recently these focal ranges were the standard for off-road / ‘superzoom’ lenses.
The Nikon 18-140mm is perhaps the one I would recommend as a first choice . It is a little sharper, especially at the edges, and has that extra focal length up to 140mm, which on an APS-C sensor camera would correspond to about 210mm. Also, since they both have the same maximum aperture, with the 18-140mm a little more is used in the intermediate focal range (ie around 100mm the 18-140mm has more aperture than the 18-105mm).
They are relatively small and light lenses, not much bigger than the 18-55mm kit. They would be the substitute for the 18-55mm if it falls a little short in terms of focal length.
For travel they cover 90% of the situations that we may encounter. They are lightweight lenses (about 400g for 18-105mm and about 490g for 18-140mm) and only slightly larger than 18-55mm.
It has a good optical stabilization system.
In general they are very good option for value for money. As a first option the 18-140mm, but if you find a good offer for the 18-105mm, either of these two lenses performs very well within its limitations (which we have discussed for all off-road vehicles in general)
There are many types of portrait photography, for example depending on the frame or shot used, or the conditions of the place where the session is carried out. Take a look at this article where we discuss how to choose the best lens for portrait photography based on your style or needs.
For portrait photography a focal length in the medium telephoto range is usually used: 75-135mm
With short focal lengths, for the same frame, there is a small distortion on the faces. In addition, with medium and long focal lengths it is easier to blur the background to give more prominence to the main subject of the scene.
Also, to get those funds out of focus, it is important that the lens has a large aperture. The larger the maximum aperture, the easier it is to achieve a shallow depth of field.
In general, a fixed lens in that range around 100mm is usually the best option due to the relationship between sharpness, aperture and price.
Nikon 50mm f / 1.8
The 50mm f / 1.8 on an APS-C sensor camera (D3000 / D5000 / D7000 series) has a 75mm equivalent angle of view. You can achieve impressive portraits with this lens. Also, being FX you could continue to use it if at some point you switch to a Nikon with a Full Frame sensor. More info about the Nikon 50mm f / 1.8
Nikon 35mm f / 1.8
Although we stay at about 52.5mm of equivalent focal length, it is such a good and versatile lens that it will also allow you to take very good portraits. More info about the Nikon 35mm f / 1.8
Nikon 85mm f / 1.8 FX
It’s a portrait beast. In an APS-C camera it is a very very good combination. Keep in mind that it is a very specific focal length, it can be long for day to day and it would surely be a bit short as a medium telephoto lens. But for portrait … a marvel. More info on the Nikon 85mm f / 1.8
Lenses for street photography
It is impossible to recommend one type of lens for street photography as there are as many styles of street photography as there are photographers.
Historically, ‘normal’ focal lengths have been used a lot, between 30 and 50mm in full frame cameras. This angle of vision gives a perspective similar to that of human vision , which fits very well with this type of dynamic photography, which tells us a story and brings us closer to people, characters and places in the city.
There are photographers who prefer longer focal lengths so as not to ‘invade’ the space of the scene. One of the premises of street photography is that the subjects appear natural, that they do not pose or feel invaded or annoyed.
Other photographers prefer to interact more with people, getting closer, using slightly shorter focal lengths.
Fixed focus or zoom lens? Perhaps a fixed objective allows you to better maintain coherence in your photos , a more homogeneous perspective, which helps you better tell a story, for example if you publish a series or make an exhibition with a certain theme, plot line, etc.
Fixed lenses are also usually lighter, go unnoticed (there are people who get nervous if they see a telephoto lens pointed at them), they usually have a very fast focusing system and are usually brighter. As against: we lose flexibility when looking for a good framing without drawing too much attention moving around the scene.
Nikon 35mm f / 1.8
We repeat ourselves a lot, but this goal can give you a lot of joy. We would be in a focal length equivalent to 52mm in APS-C cameras. It gives a lot of play whether you want to get closer to the subject or if you want to take a photo with a wider frame. Very sharp, small, light, cheap … More info about the Nikon 35mm f / 1.8
Nikon 50mm f / 1.8
Angle of view equivalent to a 75mm that will allow you to get very good close-ups and maintain a little distance if you do not want to ‘overwhelm’ the people you meet on the street. More info about the Nikon 50mm f / 1.8
Sigma 18-35mm f / 1.8 DC HSM
This option is great because it gives you a lot of freedom when framing. The most purists still prefer a fixed focal length, but this lens offers enormous flexibility, and you will get many photos that with a fixed one you would lose simply because you do not have time to move yourself to get a good frame. It is a bigger and heavier lens, there you will have to assess whether or not it compensates you for this type of photography. More info about the Sigma 18-35mm
Telephoto lenses for sports and nature (wild animals, birds …)
In this article you have more information about recommended lenses to start in bird photography , which can serve as a reference.
Some goals to start with:
Nikon AF-P 70-300mm VR
This lens is the new version of the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm. The new stepping motor focus system (AF-P) enables much faster and smoother autofocus.
Please note that this AF-P system is only compatible with the latest Nikon SLR cameras: starting with the D3300, D5500, D7500 included (works with the D5200, D5300, D7100, D7200 with the latest firmware versions).
Tamron 70-300mm f / 4-5.6 Di VC
Another option for telephoto is this Tamron 70-300mm (105-450mm equivalent in APS-C). A lens with a very good stabilization system (VC – vibration control)
It is a lens with a very good optical quality, it offers great sharpness throughout the zoom range.
Objectives for landscape, architecture, interior design …
Wide-angle and wide-angle lenses are often used for this type of photography. The point is to have a wide viewing angle to capture a complete scene, for example the interior of a room in the case of interior design, or part of a building in the case of architectural photography.
Cameras with a Full Frame sensor are the ones that best take advantage of these lenses, since they can use the entire angle of view. In cameras with APS-C sensor the effective angle of view is smaller. In this case, the crop factor works against the APS-C cameras, therefore, for the same frame we need to go to shorter focal lengths.
An angle of view corresponding to the 24mm focal length can be considered a good starting point for architectural photography.
Nikon AF-P DX 10-20mm f / 4.5-5.6 G VR
A fairly recent lens in the Nikon catalog, aimed especially at the amateur user since they had practically no more or less accessible wide angle.
It is designed for APS-C (DX) cameras and its equivalent focal length in terms of angle of view would be 15-30mm on these cameras.
It is a fairly balanced lens with a very good value for money. The sharpness is very good, impressive. The focus system, like all AF-P is fast and smooth, and in these short focal lengths the focus is usually very fast in all models.
Keep in mind the compatibility issue of AF-P lenses. If you have a recent Nikon camera it will work perfectly.
The weak points would be in the construction, basically plastic, including the frame. But otherwise it is a totally recommendable objective.
With respect to the Sigma 10-20mm. In general, the two models are very similar, the Sigma a little brighter, especially in the 20mm area, and its constant aperture that is good for video. Perhaps for interior architecture or if you work in low light, the Sigma has that little point going for it. For landscapes and exteriors, the diaphragm is normally more closed, f / 7 or f / 8 and there the performance would be practically identical.
Sigma 10-20mm f / 3.5 EX DC HSM NAF
A very good value for money for this wide angle from Sigma. It is a lens for Nikon cameras with APS-C (DX) sensor, compatible with all entry and intermediate range models. The equivalent focal length in terms of angle of view is 15-30mm, a very good option for landscapes and indoor photography.
The aperture, f / 3.5, is constant throughout the zoom, a very interesting feature for video.
Geometric distortions (for example, barrel distortion, typical of wide angles) are very contained, compared to other targets of similar or higher price. In addition, this type of distortion can be easily corrected with development programs (Lightroom, etc.)
Goals for travel / tourism
Within this section there are also as many options as photographers, each one will have their own needs and preferences.
The general idea would be to go with the lightest possible equipment, but minimizing the risk of losing those special moments by not wearing the right equipment, basically we are talking about the focal length and the brightness of the lens.
Examples of situations:
- We go in a group (family, group with a tour guide, etc.) and we don’t have time to change our objective at all times
- We go into museums and want to photograph without a tripod (low light)
- We want to photograph a distant element (building, monument …) but we don’t have time or opportunity to get closer
- If we carry a lot of equipment to be out there all day, in the end we end up exhausted and we stop enjoying photography
As you can imagine, it is difficult to combine all the situations, in the end you have to sacrifice some things and prioritize others. The most important thing is to go at ease and enjoy the experience.
We are going to propose some options, with their pros and cons:
It is one of the simplest and most effective options. If you go in a group, with family or simply you will not have the time or desire to walk changing your goal. You come out with the bare minimum: camera + off-road lens, and you have a huge focal range with which you don’t lose any frame.
On the negative side: what we have commented on the off-road vehicles in terms of optical quality (we sacrifice a bit of sharpness) and brightness (in museums and places with less light we will have to raise ISO to avoid shake)
Sigma 18-35mm + Nikon 55-200mm Pack
I really like this combination. The Sigma 18-35mm f / 1.8 is an outrageous lens and surely with that focal range it would cover 95% of my needs. With the Nikon 55-200mm in the backpack I would have room to cover the telephoto part, usually outdoors.
The pros: I cover the mid-focal range with an f / 1.8 lens, which allows me to shoot indoors (museums, etc.). Sharpness and optical quality. When you need to frame distant subjects or close-ups, I would use the 55-200mm
Less positive aspects: The Sigma is big, not a light target. The price of Sigma. Depending on the style of each one and the situations, we will have to stop to change the objective in some moments.
Nikon Dream Team: 10-20mm + 35mm + 55-200mm
Another winning combination for travel, and in general it is a very complete combo for almost any situation, with an unbeatable value for money.
Perhaps it would be my favorite combo for travel photography because I really like the more angular part for buildings, architecture, monuments, landscapes …
The idea for this combo would be to go with the 35mm f / 1.8 as the main lens. We would have sharpness, optical quality, luminosity and a very versatile focal length. Perfect for interiors (museums, etc.)
The 10-20mm gives us that angle that sometimes we miss because in some situations we do not have material space to frame everything we want (for example, a building enclosed in a small square)
And the 55-200mm covers us in the tele part, for close-ups or for distant objects that we cannot get close to.
Less positive aspects: They are three light objectives, but we need to carry a backpack or a medium bag. Keep in mind that depending on the style of each one and the situation, we will have to change the objective from time to time.