Nikon’s full-frame camera lineup is impressive, but perhaps even more so is the extensive collection of FX-format (full frame) lenses. Below are 10 of the best FX lens models from wide angle and portrait to telephoto. We’ve included both zoom and prime lenses, and instead of picking only the most expensive pro-level options, we’ve taken value into consideration as well. That means you’ll find some nice budget lenses on this list like the wide angle 16-35mm f/4 and telephoto 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 that make full-frame photography much more accessible. For more background information, see our lens buying advice below the picks.
Weight: 31.8 oz.
What we like: Sharp and good in low light for a zoom lens.
What we don’t: Bulky and no vibration reduction.
For a versatile FX lens that offers professional-grade image quality, the 24-70mm f/2.8 is one of the most popular options in Nikon’s full-frame lineup. It’s extremely sharp across its zoom range (impressively so for a zoom), focuses quickly and accurately, and has minimal distortion. We also like the sturdy metal build, which adds weight to the lens but makes you feel like you can own it for many years to come (provided you take good care of it, of course).
For everything from travel photography to portraits, the 24-70mm f/2.8 can replace a handful of specialty prime and zoom lenses without a big drop-off in image quality. And with this in mind, paying nearly $2,000 isn’t such a bad proposition. One criticism of this lens is that it doesn’t have vibration reduction, but given the maximum aperture of f/2.8, we give that omission a pass.
See the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 34.2 oz.
What we like: Nikon's top wide-angle zoom.
What we don’t: Heavy and expensive.
For professionals and discerning enthusiasts, the 14-24mm f/2.8 is Nikon’s top wide-angle zoom and captures exceptionally sharp images throughout its range. In addition, autofocus is fast and accurate and the f/2.8 maximum aperture is impressive for a lens of this type. What are the shortcomings of the Nikon 14-24mm? It’s heavy at over 34 ounces and costs nearly $2,000. You also can expect distortion at the wide end but this can be corrected in-camera on new Nikon DSLRs like the D810 and D750. For serious wide-angle photographers, and particular those who shoot ultra-wide, the Nikon 14-24mm is an excellent choice. Those looking to save should consider the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 or Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 below.
See the Nikon 14-24mm f2/.8
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 24 oz.
What we like: Just over half the price of the 14-24mm above.
What we don’t: Low light performance and heavy distortion at the wide end.
The Nikon 16-35mm f/4 is another great wide-angle zoom for FX, giving you professional-grade image quality without breaking the bank. Its biggest competition is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 above, which is superior optically but not necessarily as good of a buy. First, the 16-35mm f/4 is much cheaper at just over $1,000. Second, it covers more focal lengths and has a more useful zoom range. Third, it’s over 8 ounces lighter. The most notable shortcoming of the 16-35mm is the maximum aperture of f/4, which is serviceable but not optimal in low light (the lens does have vibration reduction). It also has noticeable distortion at the wide end. For an even cheaper wide-angle zoom for FX, the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 doesn’t have vibration reduction but costs even less and weighs only 13.6 ounces.
See the Nikon 16-35mm f/4
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 21.2 oz.
What we like: Very sharp and almost no distortion.
What we don’t: Manual focus isn’t for everyone.
Zeiss makes a different breed of lenses, many of which are manual focus but offer some of the finest optics on the planet. We have used the Zeiss 21mm Distagon extensively and feel that it’s the best landscape lens for Nikon FX-format cameras (the lens also is sold with a Canon full-frame mount to pair with cameras like the 5D Mark III and 5DS). The Zeiss Distagon 21mm is extraordinarily sharp all the way to the corners, has almost no distortion, and offers great contrast thanks to Zeiss’ anti-reflection coating on the glass. We also love the durable metal build, which adds weight but means that the lens should far outlast your camera. If you haven’t yet tried manual focus, this is an expensive way to do so. Most of those who do, however, quickly find out that it’s easy, more accurate, and fun.
Editor’s Note: Zeiss recently released a new line of high-end Milvus lenses for Nikon FX and Canon EF that likely will replace the Distagon line. The 21mm Milvus is a promising wide-angle lens but we aren’t ready to add it to this list just yet—it’s hasn’t been fully tested and is $300 more expensive than the Distagon.
See the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8
Weight: 28.2 oz.
What we like: Extremely versatile and a good value.
What we don’t: Distortion and softness, particularly at the ends.
For the ultimate in versatility, the Nikon 28-300mm VR literally can serve as the only lens in your bag. Based on the popularity of all-in-one lenses for Nikon’s DX-format cameras, the 28-300mm VR was built specifically for FX and is currently is the only all-in-one lens for full frame. You can expect noticeable distortion at the ends—new Nikon full-frame camera models do have automatic distortion correction—but the lens is sharp throughout its zoom range and good captures good images overall. And although the Nikon 28-300mm is heavy at over 28 ounces, it’s actually lighter than many of the zoom lenses on this list including the Nikon 14-24mm, Nikon 24-70mm and Nikon 70-200mm.
See the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6
Weight: 32 oz.
What we like: Extremely sharp and fast, and much cheaper than the Nikon 35mm f/1.4.
What we don’t: Heavy and focus may need calibration.
Third-party lenses come and go but few have true staying power for the most discerning of photographers. Sigma’s Art series is an exception, offering ultra-fast prime lenses that can go head-to-head with just about anything that Nikon makes. In this case, we like the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 more than Nikon’s 35mm f/1.4, which costs nearly $1,500 and isn’t markedly better in terms of performance. You can opt for the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 below, but we jump on the opportunity to shoot at f/1.4 whenever possible, especially if you shoot at this focal length frequently.
Similar to other third-party lenses used on Nikon camera bodies, autofocus can be an annoyance with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 (it’s also made for Canon and Sony, so the one-size-fits-all build has its shortcomings). A number of users have reported focus inaccuracies out of the box that require calibration either manually or via Sigma’s USB lens calibration dock. And despite the impressive build quality, this lens is heavy for a prime at 2 pounds. But if 35mm is your focal length, we highly recommend giving the Sigma Art series a serious look.
See the Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Weight: 9.9 oz.
What we like: Excellent low light performance.
What we don’t: Barrel distortion.
For portraits, the 50mm f/1.4 is one of Nikon’s best FX-format prime lenses. It performs extremely well in low light, has fast and accurate autofocus, and impressive bokeh. Compared to other f/1.4 prime lenses like the Sigma 35mm above, the 50mm f/1.4 is cheaper and lighter at less than 10 ounces. What are its shortcomings? It has some barrel distortion that is noticeable when shooting straight lines, an uncommon trait on Nikkor prime lenses. Other 50mm options for FX include the cheaper 50mm f/1.8 and manual focus 50mm f/1.2, a throwback manual focus lens made that gets rave reviews.
See the Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Weight: 25.4 oz.
What we like: Versatile and sharp.
What we don’t: Heavy for a prime lens.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8 is our favorite macro lens for FX (Nikon uses the term "Micro"). With a minimum focusing distance of just over 12 inches and impressive sharpness, this lens can handle the vast majority of your full-frame macro needs. It also doubles as a short telephoto including vibration reduction for those on the move. For both types of photography, autofocus is reasonably fast in most circumstances, images are sharp, and low light performance is on par with other lenses of this type. The 105mm f/2.8 is heavy at over 25 ounces despite a lot of plastic in the build, but the optics are excellent.
See the Nikon 105mm f/2.8
Weight: 54.3 oz.
What we like: Nikon’s top telephoto zoom for FX.
What we don’t: Very heavy.
You’ll likely want to use a tripod with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II—it weighs a hefty 54.3 ounces and extends more than 8 inches from your camera. Size notwithstanding, the 70-200mm is Nikon’s best performing telephoto zoom lens for everything from travel to sports and school plays. The autofocus is fast and accurate, sharpness and colors are exemplary, distortion is low, and the lens comes with vibration reduction technology. Wildlife photographers may find that 200mm is not sufficient for far-off subjects, but the options get very pricey as telephoto capability increases. For a less expensive option with the same zoom range, try the Nikon 70-200mm f/4.
See the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
Weight: 26.3 oz.
What we like: Long zoom range and low cost.
What we don’t: Low light performance and distortion.
The 70-300mm VR is an excellent budget telephoto lens and one of the best values in Nikon’s FX lineup. For around $500 you get reasonably sharp images throughout its long zoom range, vibration reduction covering up to four stops, and a Silent Wave Motor that focuses quickly (most of the time). The biggest shortcoming of this lens is its maximum aperture range of f/4.5-5.6—professionals and those who frequently shoot in low light should consider the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 above. But for the majority of people who aren’t telephoto specialists, this is a solid FX lens at a great price.
See the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
Three Lenses That Just Missed the Cut
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 38.9 oz.
What we like: Optical quality rivals the pricier Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8.
What we don’t: Super heavy.
Given the high price of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 above, we’re always looking for wide-angle alternatives that still meet a high quality standard. Enter the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, which offers the same fast maximum aperture as the Nikon at a significant discount. The optics are much more impressive than other third-party wide-angle lenses, including excellent sharpness, minimal distortion, fast autofocus, and solid build quality. And you even get more reach than the Nikon 14-24mm with the only sacrifice being 1mm at the wide end.
Why isn’t the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 ranked higher? It’s a beast in terms of size, weighing in at nearly 2.5 pounds. This is more than 4 ounces heavier than the Nikon 14-24mm, in and of itself a super heavy lens, and a detriment to landscape photographers who carry their own gear. It does come with Tamron’s built-in image stabilization (they call it Vibration Compensation), which helps when shooting handheld images without a tripod. And despite the weight, the image quality will not disappoint.
See the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8
Weight: 10.8 oz.
What we like: Cheaper and lighter than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4.
What we don’t: Slower and a lot of plastic in the build.
Our top 35mm pick for FX is the Sigma f/1.4 above, but not everyone shoots frequently enough at this focal length to merit the price or weight of that lens. For these people, we like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8. It’s one of the lightest lenses on this list and offers great sharpness, fast autofocus, and respectable bokeh, all for around $500. Because of the reasonable price point, it makes the 35mm focal length available to a wide range of consumers who want better performance than their zooms.
Keep in mind that aside from a metal mount, the lens is constructed almost entirely of plastic and therefore isn’t super durable and may not last forever. But this does help keep the price and weight low, two of the main reasons why we like it. The other native option at this focal length is the Nikon 35mm f/1.4, but at around $1,500, it’s too pricey for our tastes.
See the Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Weight: 16 oz.
What we like: Inexpensive, lightweight, and versatile.
What we don’t: Soft and heavy on distortion.
First, let’s call a spade a spade: the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-5.6 is not the ultimate professional lens. Its edge-to-edge sharpness and low light performance simply will not match a premium full-frame zoom like our top pick on this list, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s not intended to, however, and is literally about one quarter the price and significantly lighter weight. All things considered, it’s one of the best values on this list.
As one might expect, the Achilles Heel of the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 is softness. It’s not super sharp at any particular focal length, and is particularly soft at the ends. In addition, distortion is fairly heavy from wide angle throughout its zoom range. For these reasons, we don’t love this lens on some of Nikon’s higher resolution cameras like the Nikon D810, but it’s a viable budget option for cameras like the D750 and D610. Remember, it’s the photographer and not the gear, and this lens gets you shooting full-frame photos for just about the minimum.
See the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5
An old photography dichotomy is that professionals use prime lenses and amateurs use zoom lenses. It’s true that some of the very top lenses in terms of aperture, bokeh, and sharpness are primes, but the lines have been blurred as of late as the zoom options have improved. More non-professionals are buying full-frame cameras and want lenses that are less expensive and easier carry. As a bonus, cheaper full-frame lenses usually have fewer elements and more plastic are therefore are lighter and smaller.
In the outdoor and travel industries, we’ve noticed a lot of professional photographers using zoom lenses, and particularly of the wide-angle and telephoto varieties. Portrait and event professionals that depend on the 35mm to 100mm focal length range have the strongest selection of primes. Both types of lenses have advantages—primes in their optical performance and zooms in their versatility—but the latest generation of zoom lenses certainly outperforms past models and are no longer only for kits and those on a budget.
One of the strongest correlative factors with lens price is low light performance. This is measured primarily by aperture, or the amount of light that a lens is able to let through. Professionals need fast lenses, amateurs want them, and your decision should be dictated by your budget and intended use. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules here, but we make the professional/non-professional lens cut-off at around f/2.8. Most pro-level lenses are at or below an f/2.8 maximum aperture (f/2.8, f/1.8 and f/1.4, for example), and many inexpensive zoom lenses are f/3.5 and above. You can get stunning photographs with almost any lens but a faster model definitely helps in low light, when shooting without a tripod, and with bokeh.
Another factor in gauging low light performance is image stabilization. Many lenses have tiny motors that help stabilize the image when shooting by hand, and depending on the situation, this can buy you a stop or two of performance. Many non-prime pro-level lenses have image stabilization while budget lenses like the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6 do not.
Distortion in photographs occurs when straight lines appear slightly curved, and can be either of the barrel or pincushion variety. In general, zoom lenses have more distortion than prime lenses. Wide-angle lenses have the most distortion of any type. And the cheaper the lens, the more likely it is to suffer from distortion.
The good news for photographers is that all of Nikon’s new digital SLRs have a built-in distortion correction mode that helps offset the weaknesses of a lens. More, editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom can correct distortion and the process is relatively quick and painless. Of course, minimal natural distortion is optimal and both in-camera distortion correction and post processing have their limitations. If the distortion is too complex, the camera may not be able to recognize or fix it to your satisfaction.
Full-frame cameras are heavier than their crop-frame and mirrorless counterparts, and unfortunately so are FX lenses. On this list, for example, some of the heavier zoom lenses like the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8G are nearly 2 pounds. Given that Nikon full-frame camera bodies also weigh nearly two pounds (the Nikon D810 is 31.1 ounces), the camera and one zoom lens together already weigh nearly 4 pounds. And many photographers have multiple lenses and a camera bag to keep it all contained and protected.
If you’re after the lightest possible set-up, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras lead the pack including the full-frame Sony a7R II. Nikon currently doesn’t make a full-frame mirrorless camera but that may change in the near future as they are rumored to be acquiring all or part of Samsung’s camera division. For full-frame DSLR lenses, your lens choice does matter in terms of weight and bulk, so take note when making a purchase. FX lenses on the light end of the spectrum weigh as little as 10 ounces for the 50mm f/1.8, and the 18-35mm zoom comes in a very respectable 13.6 ounces. On the contrary, the hefty 70-200mm f/2.8 is a hefty 54.3 ounces.
The short answer is yes: most DX lenses technically are compatible on FX cameras. However, only the center of the image will be recorded because the camera automatically selects a crop mode whenever a DX lens is attached. The result is a compromised image that is a disservice to your expensive FX camera. If you have a high quality DX lens that you can’t live without, you can get DX-like image quality from your FX camera. But if you’re buying new or used lenses for your full-frame camera, we recommend using FX lenses.