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Best Nikon Lenses 2020: 8 lenses perfect for your DSLR

Have you outgrown the basic kit lens of your Nikon DSLR? Then check out this guide that reveals the best Nikon lenses for all aspiring photographers.

When you buy your first DSLR, you’re likely to get one of the kit lenses the manufacturer offers as part of a bundle. If you’re new to DSLR photography then you’ll probably settle for an 18-55mm zoom kit. While there’s nothing wrong with this decision, you may feel it restricts your creativity and the type of shots you’d like to take after you’ve got your head around how the camera works.

Of course, the great thing about buying into a DSLR system is that there’s no end of choice when it comes to expanding it. If you’d like to get closer to far-off subjects, or maybe squeeze more of what’s around you in the frame, there are dedicated lenses that allow you to do just that. Telephoto zooms and wide-angle lenses are just a couple of examples. If you’d like to shoot better portrait shots of the family then you might want to look into buying a fast aperture prime lens or perhaps a dedicated macro lens if your interest lies in close-up photography.

Whatever you like to shoot, there are better options out there than the lens that’s bundled with your camera. In this roundup, we’ve gather eight of the best lenses for Nikon users looking to build a system beyond the limitations of a kit lens. As well as Nikon own-brand lenses, there are some fine examples of third-party alternatives from manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma.

If you’re unsure of complex lens terminology, or simply want to go into buying your next lens with a little more knowledge, check out the jargon buster below before scrolling down to our list of lens recommendations.

Related: Best cameras

Nikon lens jargon explained

Lens mount: Different Nikon lenses are designed to accommodate the different camera sensor sizes. Nikon makes a DX-format sensor, which you’ll find inside models such as the Nikon D3400, and an FX-format sensor that’s used in cameras like the Nikon D850. The manufacturer supports both types of sensor with DX lenses and FX lenses.

DX lenses: In the case of DX cameras and their smaller sensors, corresponding DX lenses have been designed that are optimised for use with the DX sensor. The DX designation is found in the lens name – AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, for instance. To work out the 35mm equivalent focal length of a DX lens, it has to be multiplied by 1.5x. For example, mounting the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G to a camera like the Nikon D7500 is equivalent to 52.5mm in 35mm terms.

Nikon D850

The Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S is a fast prime lens designed for FX-format Nikon DSLRs

FX lenses: Nikon FX lenses are designed to be paired with the larger FX-format sensor and cast a larger image circle. DX-format cameras can use both types of lenses (DX and FX), since the non-DX lens image circle is larger than needed on a DX-format camera. FX cameras can also use DX lenses; however, to avoid vignetting, the DX crop mode is automatically selected by the camera with a DX lens attached.

Prime: The word ‘prime’ is used to describe a fixed focal length lens; in other words, a lens that doesn’t zoom.

VR: This abbreviation refers to Nikon’s Vibration Reduction system. Nikon lenses equipped with VR counteract hand-shake and allow us to use slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible.

AF-P: This identifies a lens that supports autofocus with a fast and ultra-quiet stepping motor. It’s worth remembering AF-P motors are only compatible with the latest generation Nikon DSLRs, so double-check compatibility before you buy.

ED – This abbreviation is used to describe the Extra-low Dispersion glass elements in a lens. Many top-of-the-line Nikon lenses contain ED glass, which is used to deliver better sharpness and reduce chromatic aberration.

SWM – Nikon’s ‘Silent Wave Motor’ offers a smooth, quiet autofocus performance with a quick switching between autofocus and manual operation. Overriding autofocus couldn’t be easier: simply turn the focus ring instead of switching to manual mode first, as you’d do on AF-D lenses.

Related: Best DSLRs

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

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Best kit zoom upgrade lens

Key features:

  • 17 elements in 11 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.4m minimum focus distance
  • 67mm filter thread
  • 485g
  • £579

If you’ve outgrown the 18-55mm kit zoom that came with your camera, this might just be the perfect upgrade.

It offers a usefully extended zoom range, from 24mm equivalent wide-angle to 128mm telephoto, while providing consistently respectable optical performance that’s aided by a fast, ultrasonic-type autofocus motor and built-in image stabilisation. It’s been on the market for almost a decade now, meaning good prices can often be had if you shop around.

If you have another £300 to spare then the AF-S DX Nikkor 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR represents another step up again, with a faster maximum aperture.

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G

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Best budget fast prime lens

Key features:

  • 8 elements in 6 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.3m minimum focus distance
  • 52mm filter thread
  • 210g
  • £159

Large-aperture prime lenses are the perfect complement to ‘walkaround’ zooms, allowing you to shoot indoors without flash, or blur backgrounds for creative effect.

Not only is this small, lightweight 35mm prime the most affordable such option available for Nikon DX users, it’s also super-sharp. With a view roughly equivalent to a 50mm prime on full-frame, it’s a versatile option that’s suitable for a wide range of subjects, from street photography to portraits.

If you want a lens that will also work on full-frame cameras then you’ll need the similarly named Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G – but this costs almost three times as much at around £449.

Nikon AF-P DX Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR

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Best wide-angle zoom lens

Key features:

  • 14 elements in 11 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.22m minimum focus distance
  • 72mm filter thread
  • 230g
  • £329

Nikon users have long been crying out for a lightweight, inexpensive wide-angle zoom. Finally, it’s arrived in the shape of this 10-20mm option.

Optically it’s okay, if not outstanding – but crucially, its built-in optical stabilisation is extremely useful for shooting in marginal light.

Being an AF-P lens, it isn’t compatible with Nikon DSLRs released five years or more ago, so check before you buy if you use an older camera model.

Otherwise, this is a great complement to a standard zoom for subjects such as landscapes and architecture, particularly when you want to travel light.

Nikon AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G ED VR

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Best telephoto zoom lens

Key features:

  • 14 elements in 10 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 1.2m minimum focus distance
  • 58mm filter thread
  • 400g
  • £305

Often the first lens DSLR users buy after the 18-55mm that came with their camera is a telephoto zoom. But there’s a huge number to choose from, with Nikon alone offering six for its DX-format SLRs, distinguished only by opaque combinations of letters in their names.

The most up-to-date is the AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 VR: a compact, image-stabilised optic with a usefully-long zoom range and the latest fast, silent AF-P motor for autofocus, that’s also suitable for video work.

Again though it only works on relatively recent DSLRs, so if you have an older camera, you’ll need to buy the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR instead.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

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We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

Best fast prime lens

Key features:

  • 7 elements in 6 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.5m minimum focus distance
  • 58mm filter thread
  • 185g
  • £199

For many years, 50mm primes (or ‘nifty fifties’) were sold as general-purpose lenses with 35mm film cameras. But after falling out of favour for a few decades, they’ve recently seen a resurgence in popularity for use with APS-C format DSLRs.

They tend to be small, light and relatively cheap, yet very sharp, and perfect for shooting portrait pictures with defocused backgrounds.

Nikon’s AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is a classic example of the type, and will also work on full-frame cameras. Don’t confuse it with the cheaper AF 50mm f/1.8D, which won’t autofocus on Nikon’s entry-level D3000-series or D5000-series DSLRs.

Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC

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Best superzoom lens

Key features:

  • 16 elements in 14 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.49m minimum focus distance
  • 62mm filter thread
  • 400g
  • £189

Long-range ‘superzoom’ optics are extremely popular, as they let you shoot a wide variety of subjects without having to change lenses. But in general, they’ve tended to be quite expensive, which is what makes this Tamron lens so appealing.

For £100 less than its nearest rival, and indeed less than many telephoto zooms, it gives a very handy 28-300mm equivalent range.

Like all superzoom lenses it’s optically compromised, and is much less sharp at telephoto than wideangle. But it’s not obviously worse than much more expensive alternatives, meaning that as an all-in-one travel lens it represents unparalleled value.

The Canon and Nikon versions include optical stabilisation, which the Sony-mount version omits.

Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art

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Best fast telephoto lens

Key features:

  • 21 elements in 15 groups
  •  9 aperture blades
  • 0.95m minimum focus distance
  • 82mm filter thread
  • 1490g
  • £949

This Sigma ‘DC’ zoom is optimised for DSLRs with APS-C size sensors and covers three popular focal lengths (85mm, 105mm and 135mm) in one while offering a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture throughout.

It’s an attractive option for those who’d like to lighten their load; however without optical image stabilisation you will be required to support the lens steadily in the palm of your hand or mount it to a tripod/monopod to prevent handshake.

It’s a lens that delivers stunning images right across its zoom range, however beware that it can make smaller APS-C models feel rather front heavy. Complementing the also excellent 18-35mm f/1.8 in Sigma’s range of APS-C format zooms, it’s fittingly priced at under £1,000

Tamron 60mm f/2 Di II Macro

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Best macro lens

Key features:

  • 14 elements in 10 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.2m minimum focus distance
  • 55mm filter thread
  • 400g
  • £349

If you’re after a relatively inexpensive macro lens for your APS-C DSLR, the Tamron 60mm f/2 Di II LD (IF) is a recommended third-party option.

Capable of a 1:1 reproduction ratio, it features excellent ergonomics, an internal focusing system and focus distance window. It should be noted that the AF system isn’t the fastest or the quietest in use, however it produces excellent results when it’s stopped down to f/2.8 and controls chromatic aberration admirably.

As well as being a useful macro lens, it’s a prime contender for portrait photography as it will give the same perspective as a 90mm lens on a full-frame camera.

If you are in the market for a genuine macro lens and you’re working to a strict budget you won’t come any better for the money.