Current Nikon Consumer DX Lens Summary


Nikkor DX Lenses Rated Concisely

Consumer Zooms
Nikon now produces a wide line of consumer DX zoom lenses. Here's a quick summary of my opinions on them (see the full reviews for more, but note that the ratings here now conform to my current rating scheme):

Lens Reasons to Buy Reasons to Avoid Ratings
18-55mm VR Comes with camera at a price you can't resist. Very good all around; no significant optical faults, though showing some age on 24mp bodies. Small, light. Can't override autofocus. Not a lot of focal range. Plastic mount, low build quality.

overall: ***
features: ***
autofocus: ***
optics: ****
build: ***
value: ****

18-70mm * Sharp lens with one optical fault. Good build quality for a kit lens. Vignettes wide open. No VR. overall: ***
features: **
autofocus: ***
optics: ****
build: ****
value: ***
18-105mm VR # Very good all around; no significant optical faults. Modest build quality. overall: ****
features: ***
autofocus: ***
optics: ****
build: ***
value: ***
18-135mm * Sharp. Serious chromatic aberration issues. No VR. Modest build quality. overall: ***
features: **
autofocus: ***
optics: ***
build: ***
value: ***
18-200mm VR Really wide focal range. Decent quality for a superzoom. Not quite as sharp as others overall. Isn't really 200mm at close focus distances. overall: ***
features: ****
autofocus: ***
optics: ***
build: ***
value: **
18-300mm VR Huge focal range. Decent quality for a superzoom. Varying shaprness over focal range. Isn't really 300mm at close focus distances. overall: ***
features: ****
autofocus: ***
optics: ***
build: ***
value: **
16-85mm VR # Very useful wide angle ability. Excellent overall with no significant optical faults. High price. overall: ****
features: ***
autofocus: ***
optics: ****
build: ****
value: ***
55-200mm VR Very good overall; no significant optical faults. Small, light. Can't override autofocus. Plastic mount. Low build quality. overall: ***
features: ***
autofocus: ***
optics: ***
build: ***
value: ***
55-300mm VR Very good overall; no significant optical faults, though slightly less sharp at 300mm. Small, light. Can't override autofocus. Plastic mount. Low build quality. overall: ***
features: ***
autofocus: ***
optics: ***
build: ***
value: ***

* No longer in production
# Lenses I've kept in my kit (2012)

So which one do you get? I say don't be afraid of the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses on everything up to and including the 16mp DX DSLRs. While they have the lowest build quality of the consumer DX lenses Nikon has made, they still hold up quite well in use. Moreover, both are optically fine and somewhat a bargain for their performance. All the third-party competitors I've tested against these two come up short.

If you opt for something else, I think your best choices are two: the 18-105mm VR or the 16-85mm VR. These are both useful focal length ranges for DX, providing you modest wide angle to modest telephoto, both lenses are optically very good, neither has any substantive flaws, and both feature VR. If you're a wide angle freak, get the 16-85mm. If you're more into telephoto reach, get the 18-105mm.

Why not the 18-70mm, 18-135mm, 18-200mm, or 18-300mm? Because all four have at least one substantive optical issue that hurts their usability a bit. The 18-70mm has a lot of vignetting and needs to be stopped down two stops to get rid of it (plus it doesn't have VR). The 18-135mm has more visible chromatic aberration than the other lenses (and doesn't have VR). The 18-200mm and 18-300mm aren't as tack sharp as the others, especially on the high megapixel count bodies, plus their telephoto end reduces the closer you focus (common amongst superzooms). None of these things are killers (as long as you're aware of them and can live with the limitation), so you shouldn't automatically avoid any of these lenses. Still, in my mind they fall down a notch below the others previously mentioned.

My priorities for an everyday, general purpose lens are that it has no real faults and has VR. To that I'd add that I like the ability to override focus (the 18-55mm and 55-200mm don't let you do this). Thus, my list narrows to the two lenses I mentioned above (16-85mm and 18-105mm).

Consumer/Prosumer Primes
If you like prime lenses rather than zooms, you'll have to mix DX and FX lenses. Unfortunately, Nikon hasn't given us a true wide angle DX yet (other than the fun 10.5mm fisheye). But these two consumerish primes stand out in the middle of the focal range: the 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX and the 50mm f/1.4G AF-S.

  • 20mm f/2.8D: the weakest of my suggestions (Nikon doesn't have any great small wide primes suitable for DX, but this is usable). (The Voigtländer 20mm f/3.5 is my preferred choice here--it's a manual focus lens, though it meters on all Nikon DSLRs.)
  • 35mm f/1.8G DX: a good "normal" lens on the DX bodies, it's small, sharp, and can be used on an FX body in a pinch. Inexpensive. (The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 HSM is another alternative that works well on all Nikon DSLRs.)
  • 40mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor DX: a strange lens that really doesn't have any practical application. If you want "normal" focal lengths, get the 35mm f/1.8 DX. If you want macro, get a longer focal length macro (e.g. 85mm f/3.5 DX).
  • 50mm f/1.4G: a reasonable "portrait" lens on the DX bodies, though a bit short in focal length, which changes the perspective for head and shoulders shots. Also small, sharp and usable on FX. As an alternative, consider the Tamron 60mm f/2 for portraits.
  • 85mm f/1.8D: a solid moderate telephoto. Doesn't have AF-S but still decent.
  • 85mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor DX VR: probably the right general purpose macro lens for DX users. A bit slow in aperture, but optically fine, and a reasonable general purpose telephoto, too.
  • 180mm f/2.8D: an excellent, long telephoto that's small and fits the DX body size well. Autofocus doesn't work on D3xxx/D5xxx bodies, though.

Prosumer/Pro Lenses
Nikon makes four other DX lenses, all geared towards a more professional or serious user:

  • 10.5mm f/2.8G DX: a diagonal fisheye (180 degrees from corner to diagonal corner), this lens has a lot of barrel distortion when used normally. Still, a fun situational lens that, with the right software, can produce really wide shots. Chromatic aberration near the edges shouldn't be a real issue.
  • 17-55mm f/2.8G AF-S DX: the "pro" normal zoom. This is a big, heavy, and built-like-a-tank lens. Some have questioned how good it is, but I find mine to be very good optically. (Still, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 OS seems like a better choice.) The real question is whether you get anything here that you don't with one of the consumer 18-xx lenses. The answer: realistically, only the f/2.8. At f/8 this lens isn't going to outperform any of the 18-xx consumer lenses. So you get it only if you need a faster maximum aperture.
  • 12-24mm f/4G AF-S DX: Nikon's first wide angle option for DX. It's very good optically and well built. Can be used as an 18-24mm lens on FX.
  • 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S DX: Nikon's latest wide angle option for DX. Optically very good, though the build is a bit on the consumer side. Probably the best choice for most people in the wide-angle zoom range (though the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is worth looking at if you need a fast wide angle zoom).

FX Lenses
Remember, you can use FX lenses on your DX bodies. So look at my FX lens recommendations, too. However, most users should be able to find good DX lens choices, especially if you consider the Sigma and Tamron options in addition to Nikkors.

 

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