The Five Best Nikkor Lenses for Nikon Full-Frame Cameras

I bet you've always wanted to hold the crispiest glass yourself. Kai Wong is here with his selection of the ultimate lenses for Nikon full-frame cameras. Well, we have a couple of lists ready to compare Wong's choices with some other usual suspects. This is some expensive glass, and perhaps not surprisingly, most of the lenses in this list are prime lenses in the 50-100mm focal range. However, we've also compiled a list of our top choices according to your subject. But let's start by checking out Kai Wong's latest video.

Love his dry sense of humor or not; Kai Wong makes for entertaining videos. And I've got to say that I miss him and Lok Cheung on DigitalRev. Their chemistry had me checking out their entertaining videos for many years. However, Wong did continue along a course that continues to be fun and some occasions insightful as well. The lenses in our first list represent his choices and are featured in his latest video on Kai Wong's own channel.

Lens Choices

Lens choices are always a matter of opinion and debate. But I do agree on some of the choices here. The 85mm f/1.4G and 105mm f/1.4E ED are damn good. For portraits in particular. If you're a wedding photographer, however, I wouldn't necessarily pick a prime lens for that. The latest Nikon 70-200 is much more versatile and the optical quality is simply great. However, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro is one of my personal favorites due to its sharpness and fantastic out-of-focus details. While I rarely use it for macro photography, it's definitely hard to beat on the Nikon platform. Optical quality of a lens isn't the whole picture, though.

Glowing Mushrooms by Daniel Laan, showing the quality of the Tamron 90mm.

Macro lenses are prime candidates (pardon the pun) for sharp results. But technique is actually much more important than glass in getting sharp results. Focus stacking is one such technique to get a great depth-of-field at your lens' ultimate aperture.

Five Best Nikkor Lenses on DxO Mark as of May 2018

When we're talking lens rankings, one of the interweb's most talked about comparison websites is DxO Mark. If we're to narrow our ranking to displaying only Nikkor lenses that have been tested on the Nikon D810, the following ranking pops out.

  1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED - (Score: 43 | Sharpness: 33)

  2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II - (Score: 43 | Sharpness: 33)

  3. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G - (Score: 43 | Sharpness: 26)

  4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G - (Score: 42 | Sharpness: 30)

  5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED - (Score: 41 | Sharpness: 30)

Interestingly enough, the first four lenses are all great for portrait photography because of their longer focal length. But as a landscape photographer myself, I regularly take telephoto lenses with me into the mountains. An intimate picture of a landscape tells a bit more of a personal story than a wide-angle does.

Mountains and golden sunlit woods, shot with a long tele lens in the Dolomites by Daniel Laan.

These intimate shots are what make it all worthwile for me. Especially considering that you'd have to lug a 150-600mm lens up into the mountains to get this result. This was shot using the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport near Cinque Torri in the Dolomites.

Five Highest Rated Lenses for Nikon Full-Frame on DxO Mark as of May 2018

If we broaden our search to included every lens brand, Nikon is completely gone from our top five. We are presented with a ranking that shows largely 85 mm lenses. The reason for that is that 85 mm lenses generally contain the least amount of optical defects, often making them the sharpest glass around. The relatively new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art grabs first place with a score of 50 and 36 sharpness.

  1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art - (Score: 50 | Sharpness: 36)

  2. ZEISS 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon T* - (Score: 48 | Sharpness: 33)

  3. ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZF.2 - (Score: 48 | Sharpness: 35)

  4. ZEISS Milvus 85mm f/1.4 ZF.2 - (Score: 46 | Sharpness: 36)

  5. Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD - (Score: 45 | Sharpness: 36

A Caledonian pine tree in the Scottish morning light by Daniel Laan, showing the effect of sharpening for the web.

Crucially important for displaying great looking results on the web, is to sharpen your images before posting them. With the Export function of Lightroom, it's possible to apply output sharpening that will spice up your images when sharing them on social media later.

Our Pick: Nine Top Photography Lenses for Nikon Full-Frame

What we've done here is select lenses based on what you do with them and compared results from different sources. Aside from DxO mark, results from LensTip and The Digital Picture are included and compared. These lenses are suggestions for particular genres of photography, but allow some degree of versatility too.

  1. Best Nikon Lens for Wedding Photography: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Variable medium focal range, VR, and best-in-class out-of-focus elements.

  2. Best Nikon Lens for Landscape Photography: Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art Wide and optically better than the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8, but a higher price point.

  3. Best Nikon Lens for Nightscape Photography: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Large aperture, negligible coma, especially good for the Milky Way.

  4. Best Nikon Lens for (tracked) Astrophotography: Samyang 135mm f/2.0 ED UMC Optically superior to competition, especially good for larger deep sky objects.

  5. Best Nikon Lens for Wildlife Photography: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Versatile and fantastic image quality.

  6. Best Nikon Lens for Photographing Sports: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Bright and blazing fast auto focus that's spot-on.
  7. Best Nikon Lens for Macro Photography: Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD Medium macro focal length makes it versatile; image quality only rivaled by Canon's 100mm L.
  8. Best Nikon Lens for Portrait Photography: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED Creamy bokeh and a perfect focal length for stunning facial features.
  9. Best Nikon Lens for Street Photography: Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Fairly small profile, wide aperture and great focal length for journalistic purposes.

Of course, these lists are based on opinions. For objective measurements such as MTF and lens defects, I highly recommend you check out the lab results for either of the lenses in this article. I do look forward to seeing your opinions and recommendations in the comments. Please take a moment to include the reason for recommending that and consider the competition as well.

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14 Comments

DJ Toman's picture

Nice article, but I can't see how anyone can recommend a 200mm prime lens for sports, unless it's for the specialty purpose of taking finish line photos for magazine covers like Delly Carr does at major Ironman races.

If you're going to recommend a 6000-dollar lens, the Nikon 200-400 f/4 zoom, which is optically excellent and far more versatile than the 200 prime, is something sports photographers can actually use on a daily basis in a wide range of situations.

michael buehrle's picture

agree.

Daniel Laan's picture

Thanks for the recommendation. That sounds like an excellent choice and I agree with you arguments. Cheers!

Devin Groody's picture

Interesting article. Call me a Nikon fanboy or narrow-minded, but I can't seem to wrap my head around this quote:

"...the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Macro is one of my personal favorites due to its sharpness and fantastic out-of-focus details. While I rarely use it for macro photography, ***it's definitely hard to beat on the Nikon platform***"

Is it really hard to beat? Is the Nikon 105 Macro not better or at least as good? Coming from a long-time user of the Nikon 105 2.8G who could never imagine buying a lens for my Nikon that wasn't made by Nikon...

You're a narrow-minded, Nikon fanboy! ;-)

Devin Groody's picture

I couldn't agree more ;)

I am too but he's right, the Tamron is a little better depending on your taste. I really, really wanted the Nikon to be better but... :-(

Ryan Cooper's picture

It is important to factor in price. Even if the two lenses are otherwise almost identical in quality, the tamron is a third cheaper, thus giving it the edge.

Though it is also critical to remember the Tamron is very new while the Nikon is getting a bit old now. This means Tamron is rocking the latest in Tamron's excellent stabilization while the Nikon is first generation VR. That alone can account for a big difference in sharpness in many situations.

All that said, without having tested or seen any side by side reviews I suspect the Tamron also has higher image quality on tripod as well. More modern coatings and Tamron's recent track record for great image quality suggests it is unlikely that the old Nikon will be able to beat it optically.

1. I agree with this one but am surprised you guys picked it over Tamron's, which I thought was Fstopper's favorite.

3. I'm surprised to see a 35mm lens for nightscape. I would think a 24 or wider, depending of course on the subject. This is the only one I take exception to.

D. Bradford's picture

I don't know how you can't have the 20mm 1.8 on here for astro. It's amazing even when you don't know what you're doing. Great for landscapes too.

Daniel Laan's picture

Unfortunately that one has too much coma in the full-frame corners in order to make it to this list.
For astro, we need a longer lens. It is an OK lens for nightscapes such as the one you posted here, but astrophotography is a different ballgame. It more than handles its own on DX though:

https://www.lenstip.com/416.7-Lens_review-Nikon_Nikkor_AF-S_20_mm_f_1.8G...

Mike Poole's picture

That 58 is pure MAGIC

To be complete you might want to add in Nikon guru Thom Hogan's article on his list of the top Nikon Lenses. And perhaps someone can comment on why/how so many articles with the exact theme appeared within days of each other.

All of my lenses are primes, and all around 25-30 years old. I have hand selected them for sharpness over the years. Not a 'G' lens in the pile:

20mm F2.8D
28mm F2.8D
35mm F2 D
50mm F1.4D
85mm F1.8D
180 F2.8D

Could not be happier.