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, see our lens comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Weight: 37.7 oz.
What we like: Adds vibration reduction to an already exceptional lens.
What we don’t: Some people think the lens is slightly less sharp at the center compared to the older “G” version.
For a super versatile FX lens that produces professional-grade images, the 24-70mm f/2.8 E is one of the most popular options in Nikon’s full-frame lineup. It’s extremely sharp across its zoom range, 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 will 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 lenses without much of a drop-off in image quality.
For background, there has been much discussion over which Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 version is best. The older “G” version of this lens (described below) originally was released in 2007 and known for being tack sharp, particularly in the center of the image. The newer “E” version was released a couple of years ago in 2015, including all-important vibration reduction and improved sharpness around the edges. Some people, however, have argued that there was a slight drop in center sharpness on the E, not to mention it’s heavier and more expensive by about $600. We think both are excellent lenses and the choice probably should come down to whether or not you want VR.
See the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR
Weight: 9.9 oz.
What we like: Excellent low light performance and creamy bokeh.
What we don’t: Some barrel distortion, although it’s certainly not a deal breaker.
For just about any type of photography or camera, a quality 50mm lens makes a whole lot of sense. And the 50mm f/1.4 G happens to be one of Nikon’s top prime lenses: it’s sharp, 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 50mm Art, the Nikon is cheaper and lighter at less than 10 ounces. At around $450, it’s a no-brainer in our book.
What are the shortcomings of this lens? It has some barrel distortion that can be noticeable when shooting straight lines, which is an uncommon trait on Nikkor primes. And there is a decent amount of plastic in the build, but that does help keep cost and weight down. Interestingly, Nikon has yet to release a 50mm f/1.2 with autofocus (they do have an older manual focus 50mm f/1.2), which Canon has done on the other side of the aisle with its L series. Based on the success of the Canon we know the demand is there, so we hope Nikon takes the plunge with an ultra-fast f/1.2 in the future.
See the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 34.2 oz.
What we like: Nikon's top wide-angle zoom.
What we don’t: Heavy and no vibration reduction.
For professionals and discerning enthusiasts, the 14-24mm f/2.8 is Nikon’s top wide-angle zoom. It’s exceptionally sharp, autofocus is fast and accurate, and the f/2.8 maximum aperture is impressive for a lens of this type. In addition, we love the focal length range: many camera manufacturers go for a 16-35mm f/2.8 as their top wide-angle zoom, which doesn’t go as wide as this Nikon and has crossover with the 24-70mm f/2.8, our top pick.
If the cost and weight of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 are too much for you to swallow, there are some interesting alternatives below. The 16-35mm f/4 is slower in terms of aperture but costs and weighs significantly less. And if you have a need for speed, the Tamron 15-30mm hits that sought-after f/2.8 and is a nice value at around $1,200. But neither can match the optical performance or build quality of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, which remains the cream of the wide-angle crop.
See the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
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 Art
Weight: 50.4 oz.
What we like: Sharper, lighter, and focuses better than the older “G” version.
What we don’t: Pricey and heavy.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a staple for many professionals—it’s great for everything from portraits to travel and outdoor photography. And Nikon outdid itself with the recent 70-200mm f/2.8 E. We loved the older G version, but they managed to improve a whole lot of things on the E: it’s even sharper, lighter, focuses better and closer, and has a more modern feel with handy features like four memory focus buttons. All things considered, we think it’s the most impressive FX lens Nikon has released in years.
As we mentioned above, this is a lens built for professionals and enthusiasts, and there are reasonable alternatives. The 70-200mm f/4 has the same focal length range, weighs over 20 ounces less, and costs roughly half as much. For amateur photographers and those who only plan on dabbling at the telephoto end of the spectrum, the f/4 should be plenty. However, we can’t help but love the creamy bokeh and incredibly crisp images produced by the f/2.8 E. For those who prioritize image quality over all else, it’s the must-have telephoto lens for FX.
See the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR
Weight: 12.4 oz.
What we like: Super sharp and substantially cheaper than the 85mm f/1.4.
What we don’t: For professional portrait photographers, it’s still tempting to go for the f/1.4.
We hemmed and hawed about whether to include the 85mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 on this list, and it’s a really tough call. In a nutshell, the f/1.4 truly is an incredible lens: it’s extremely sharp all the way to the edges, has superb color rendition, produces creamy bokeh, and excels in low light. But given the hefty $1,600 price tag, the f/1.8 is the better value and not too far behind in terms of image quality. For portraiture and event photography, it’s one of our favorite primes in Nikon’s FX lineup.
A common strength between the Nikon f/1.8 and f/1.4 is sharpness. The step down in speed does impact low light performance and bokeh, but f/1.8 certainly isn’t a bad place to be. You still can shoot handheld photos in low light, we’ve seen plenty of examples of creamy bokeh, and the f/1.8 weighs 8 ounces less. And we keep coming back to price: the f/1.8 is less than one-third the cost of the f/1.4, which is why we give it the nod here.
See the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G
Weight: 28.2 oz.
What we like: The most versatile lens on this list.
What we don’t: Can’t match purpose-built primes and zooms in terms of image quality.
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 models for Nikon’s DX-format cameras, the 28-300mm VR was built specifically for FX and currently is the only such lens for full frame. You can expect distortion at the ends—all new Nikon full-frame camera models do have automatic distortion correction—but the lens is sharp throughout its zoom range and captures good images overall. And although the Nikon 28-300mm is heavy at over 28 ounces, it’s actually lighter than many of the zooms above including the Nikon 24-70mm, 14-24mm, and Nikon 70-200mm.
All things considered, we aren’t huge proponents of all-in-one lenses, and particularly for full-frame cameras. The convenience is unbeatable, but this lens simply can’t match the optical performance of primes or purpose-built zooms at their respective focal lengths. The maximum aperture of f/3.5-5.6 is rather pedestrian, and you won’t get the same sharpness and bokeh as many of the lenses above. Nevertheless, a good number of people love carrying one lens, and for them the Nikon 28-300mm is the ticket.
See the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 24 oz.
What we like: A cheaper wide-angle alternative to the 14-24mm f/2.8 above.
What we don’t: Not as good in low light.
Good news for wide-angle photographers who don’t want to spend up for the 14-24mm f/2.8 above: the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 is a viable alternative. This lens is $800 cheaper, 8 ounces lighter, and covers more focal lengths by a big margin. Yes, you do have to sacrifice a full stop in terms of aperture, but the sharpness is there and a good portion of wide-angle shooting is done is good natural light. In addition, the 16-35mm comes with vibration reduction, while the 14-24mm does not.
Interestingly, Nikon has released an even less expensive wide-angle zoom in the 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6, which currently retails for around $750. We like the concept of giving people multiple wide-angle options, not to mention the 18-35mm is relatively light at just 13.6 ounces (this makes it a fun lens for landscape photographers who want to carry the minimum). But it’s lacking in vibration reduction and can’t match the low light performance of the 16-35mm f/4. The 18-35mm is a fine choice for those on a budget, but we prefer the 16-35mm.
See the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR
Weight: 31.8 oz.
What we like: Cheaper and arguably a bit sharper at the center than the f/2.8 E.
What we don’t: No vibration reduction.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 is the most popular pro zoom on the market, and on this list we have two different options. As mentioned above, the f/2.8 E was released in 2015 with the notable addition of vibration reduction technology. Nikon also redesigned that lens to even out the sharpness (more in the corners, perhaps slightly less in the middle of the frame), and the E costs $600 more and weighs an additional 5.9 ounces (VR always adds weight).
If you don’t need vibration reduction, the 24-70mm f/2.8 G continues to be an excellent option. Sharpness and color rendition are exemplary, autofocus is fast and accurate, and the lens is extremely versatile for everything from landscapes and travel photography to portraits. It’s an oft-debated subject how much better the new “E” really is, and some of the negative coverage may have been specific to early samples that were tested. But with a decade of information to go off of, we know the “G” is a winner.
See the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
Weight: 25.4 oz.
What we like: Doubles as both a macro and portrait lens.
What we don’t: Big and heavy for a prime at over 25 ounces.
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8 is our favorite macro lens for FX (Nikon uses the term "Micro"). With impressive sharpness and a minimum focusing distance of just over 12 inches, this lens can handle the vast majority of your full-frame macro needs. In addition, the 105mm focal length allows it to double as a portrait lens, including vibration reduction for those on the move. For both types of photography, autofocus is reasonably fast in most circumstances, and low light performance is on par with other lenses of this type.
The biggest shortcoming of the 105mm f/2.8 is its large size and heavy weight at over 25 ounces. For comparison, the 60mm f/2.8 Micro weighs just 15 ounces and costs $597, but we still prefer the 105mm focal length and crispness of this lens. Many people buy it primarily for macro purposes but end up being pleasantly surprised with its versatility.
See the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro
Six FX Lenses That Just Missed the Cut
Weight: 24 oz.
What we like: Fast autofocus and great sharpness for a telephoto zoom.
What we don’t: Not as good of a portrait lens as the 70-200mm f/2.8.
Nikon keeps rolling out new “ED” lenses, and this one replaces the 70-300mm “G” version that was popular for years. In terms of optical performance, you get surprisingly fast autofocus (which can be an issue with inexpensive telephoto zooms) and great sharpness at an even lower weight than past versions. For those who want to experiment at the telephoto end of the spectrum while staying well below the $1,000 price threshold, this is your ticket.
What are the shortcomings of the Nikon 70-300mm ED? With a maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6, it’s not nearly as good of a portrait lens as the 70-200mm f/2.8 above. In terms of reach, 300mm is viable for wildlife and other telephoto uses, but this lens can’t match the 200-500mm f/5.6 below. But if you want a quality telephoto zoom for Nikon FX without breaking the bank, this is a nice option.
See the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E VR
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/1.8G
Category: Super telephoto
Weight: 73.7 oz.
What we like: A great value for a super telephoto.
What we don’t: Extremely bulky and heavy.
The 70-200mm and 70-300mm above are the most widely used telephoto lenses for Nikon, but they pale in comparison to the 200-500mm f/5.6 E (at least as far as zoom is concerned). All in all, there is a lot to like about this lens: it’s incredibly sharp for a super telephoto, focuses well, and is a great value at just under $1,400. For everything from wildlife photography to events that require huge zoom, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E can get the job done.
Keep in mind that this is an extraordinarily bulky and heavy lens. At well over 4.5 pounds and 10.5 inches in length, the Nikon 200-500mm takes some serious getting used to for those making the jump. In addition, the maximum aperture of f/5.6 limits your ability to shoot in low natural light. This is a common problem with super telephoto zooms—primes often are faster like the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 E, but that lens runs more than $11,000 (no, that is not a misprint). All in all, the 200-500mm isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun lens and a heckuva value.
See the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
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/3.5-4.5G VR
|Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E||$2,397||Travel/portrait||37.7 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||82mm||36-105mm|
|Nikon 50mm f/1.4G||$447||Travel/portrait||9.9 oz.||f/1.8||No||58mm||75mm|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8||$1,897||Wide angle||35.3 oz.||f/2.8||No||None||21-36mm|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art||$799||Street/travel||23.5 oz.||f/1.4||No||67mm||52.5mm|
|Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E||$2,797||Telephoto||50.4 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||77mm||105-300mm|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.8G||$477||Portrait||12.4 oz.||f/1.8||No||77mm||127.5mm|
|Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G||$947||All-in-one||28.2 oz.||f/3.5-5.6||Yes||77mm||42-450mm|
|Nikon 16-35mm f/4G||$1,097||Wide angle||24 oz.||f/4||Yes||77mm||24-52.5mm|
|Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G||$1,797||Travel/portrait||31.8 oz.||f/2.8||No||77mm||36-105mm|
|Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro||$897||Macro||25.4 oz.||f/2.8||No||62mm||157.5mm|
|Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E||$747||Telephoto||24 oz.||f/4.5-5.6||Yes||67mm||105-450mm|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8||$1,199||Wide angle||38.9 oz.||f/2.8||VC||None||22.5-45mm|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.8G||$527||Street/travel||10.8 oz.||f/1.8||No||58mm||52.5mm|
|Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E||$1,397||Super telephoto||73.7 oz.||f/5.6||Yes||95mm||300-750mm|
|Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G||$497||Travel/portrait||16.4 oz.||f/3.5-4.5||Yes||72mm||36-127.5mm|
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/2.8E VR are well over 2 pounds. Given that Nikon full-frame camera bodies also weigh nearly two pounds (the Nikon D850 is 32.3 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 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR is a hefty 50.4 ounces.
Sharpness is one of the most cited—and perhaps one of the most overused—terms when evaluating lens quality. The truth is that a number of factors influence the sharpness of an image: the quality of the glass and internal lens components, the conditions you are shooting in, the aperture, and the camera itself. But sharpness does vary, and in general, higher-end lenses with faster apertures tend to be sharpest.
When evaluating sharpness, many lenses are strong at the center part of the image, but this can change dramatically as you move toward the edges of the frame (edge-to-edge and corner sharpness are commonly used terms in the industry). When looking at an image, we recommend studying the edges and corners as that will help paint the real picture. Some lenses do struggle with center sharpness too, and particularly inexpensive kit zooms, which is one big reason that we prefer fast zooms and primes.
When people review lenses, the speed and accuracy of the autofocus often comes into play. Like many factors evaluated in this article, the reality is that pricier pro-grade lenses tend to focus better than their slower and cheaper counterparts. In terms of categories, lenses with big zooms ranges, and telephoto zooms in particular, have a tendency to hunt for the right focus, which can be a big issue if you’re trying to capture something on the move like wildlife. Prime lenses tend to be the fastest at focusing as they have the least internal complexity. The camera matters too, of course, and Nikon’s latest FX offerings like the D850 continue to raise the bar in terms of autofocus accuracy and tracking of moving subjects.
All of our lens picks above have autofocus, but it’s worth noting that it’s easy to switch over to manual. For things like portraits, travel, and even landscape photography, focusing manually can be a fun and even more accurate way to have an image turn out exactly as you desire. In addition, Nikon and other third-party manufacturers do offer manual focus only lenses that are popular among some professionals and enthusiasts. The Nikon 50mm f/1.2, for example, is a superb lens in terms of aperture and depth of field, and the lack of autofocus makes it a great value at just over $700. In addition, Zeiss has a number of premium manual focus primes like the Milvus 21mm f/2.8. For the right photographers, manual focus lenses can be viable and fun options.
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.
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