Best Nikon Lenses

Updated October 2020
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Bottom Line

Buying guide for best nikon lenses

When you’re ready to step up from shooting photographs with your smartphone to using a high-quality camera, you’ll undoubtedly encounter the Nikon name as you shop. Nikon is one of the world’s best-known manufacturers of high-end cameras.

Nikon’s best consumer-level digital cameras are digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. These cameras use interchangeable lenses, and some of them ship with a basic lens only; you must buy any other lenses you need separately. So the question becomes, how do you know which Nikon lenses to buy?

When you’re ready to shop, we invite you to examine our top-choice Nikon lenses in the chart above.

Once you’ve attached the Nikon lens to the DSLR camera, the two can send data back and forth, allowing the camera to control the settings on the lens.

A primer on lenses for DSLR cameras

If you’ve never owned a high-end camera before, you may be curious about how digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras work with their lenses. Here’s a little primer.

  • A DSLR camera has high-quality components that enable you to create sharp and vibrant photographs. The lens you use plays a role in the quality of the images.

  • Unlike smartphone cameras or simple point-and-shoot cameras, DSLR cameras can use different lenses depending on the type of photographs you want to take. Most photographers eventually amass a collection of different lenses for their DSLR camera, each of which offers its own features and capabilities.

  • All Nikon lenses fit on the Nikon F mount. That means that any Nikon lens you purchase now will fit future Nikon camera models. You can use older Nikon lenses on current and future Nikon DSLR cameras.

  • Lenses are not an insignificant expenditure. However, when you invest in a Nikon lens, you know that you will be able to it them for many years to come.

Did you know?
Nikon lenses only fit on Nikon cameras with an F mount. Some other companies also make lenses that fit on Nikon cameras.

How to attach interchangeable Nikon lenses

  • Line up the back of the lens (shaped like a cylinder) with the camera’s mount hardware.

  • Twist the lens one-quarter to one-half of a turn until it clicks into place.

  • Make sure the lens is securely attached before you begin taking photographs.

Expert Tip
Keep a microfiber cloth in your camera bag to safely clean both the front and back glass on the lens.

Nikon camera image sensors

Nikon lenses are designated to work with a specific type of image sensor in the DSLR camera. Nikon DSLR image sensors are either DX (crop-frame image sensors) or FX (full-frame image sensors).

Lenses will contain a DX or FX in the name, allowing you to pair each lens with the most compatible DSLR image sensor. You can use either type of lens on either type of Nikon DSLR image sensor, but each lens works best when paired with the corresponding camera.

An image sensor is a computer chip that measures the light from what you are photographing and turns that measurement into the digital bits that make up the photograph. The larger the image sensor, the better the image quality – and the higher the price.

  • Nikon DX lenses contain components geared specifically for Nikon DSLR cameras with a crop-frame image sensor. Such cameras make use of an APS-C-size image sensor of roughly 24mm x 16mm.

  • Nikon FX lenses work best with Nikon DSLR cameras with a full-frame image sensor measuring roughly 36mm x 24mm – the same dimensions as a frame of 35mm film. This is the largest sensor on a digital camera made for consumers.
Expert Tip
Before purchasing a Nikon lens, make sure you understand the difference between DX and FX. These designations affect the performance of the lens.

Nikon lens prices

If you’re a photographer, you know that accumulating DSLR camera gear can get expensive, and your lens collection is a large part of that expense. Even a relatively inexpensive Nikon lense will set you back a couple hundred dollars.

  • Under $300: Beginner to intermediate amateur photographers can find Nikon lenses that will give a good performance in this price range. Most of these lenses offer common focal lengths that range from 35mm to 200mm.

  • Over $300: Intermediate to advanced amateur and professional photographers will want to stick in this price range. Common price tags hover between $1,500 and $5,000. The lenses at the top of the range are Nikon’s very best. You’ll also find speciality lenses here, including telephoto, wide-angle, fisheye, and macro lenses. Nikon’s highest-quality prime lenses fit in this price range, too.
If you’re looking for a macro lens from Nikon, know that the company calls it a “micro” lens. A macro lens creates precise details in close-up photographs, such as those of flowers or insects.


Q. What does focal length mean in a Nikon lens?
The focal length of an interchangeable lens reflects the amount of the scene that the lens can capture. Focal length is represented in millimeters.

  • A focal length of 35mm to 50mm closely approximates human vision.

  • A lens with a focal length of 150mm or 250mm is a telephoto lens that offers more magnification than human vision.

  • A lens with a focal length of 18mm or 24mm is a wide-angle lens that gives a wider view of the scene than normal human vision.

Q. I’ve seen the terms “zoom lens” and “prime lens.” What do these terms mean?
A zoom lens makes use of a range of focal lengths. It may shoot between 28mm and 300mm or between 18mm and 55mm, depending on the lens you buy. A zoom lens is a bit more versatile than a prime lens. Prime lenses are only able to shoot at one focal length. However, the images you can capture with a prime lens are sharper.

Q. What does the “f” mean in the name of the Nikon lens, such as the FX Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens?
The FX refers to it being a Full Frame compatible lens. Some lenses will say FX and other will say DX which is the designator that it's compatible with a Crop Frame camera.

Q. Does Nikon offer lenses for mirrorless cameras?
This shopping guide focuses on Nikon DSLR cameras, not mirrorless cameras. However, Nikon has offered mirrorless cameras in the past, and the company may begin making in them again in the near future. If Nikon does restart manufacturing in the mirrorless format, it will almost certainly use a different lens mount than the current Nikon DSLR camera F mount. That means you would need different lenses than those you use with your Nikon DSLR camera unless the company makes an adapter for the mount.

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