There are a lot of lens choices out there and I hope to make it a bit easier for the generous gift giver to choose the right lens. First of all you have to find out what kind of photography your special person is into. Is he/she into landscapes, portraiture, lowlight or maybe all the above?
You can probably find this out by what your photographer typically shoots, if all you see are nasty close up photos of spiders then we can assume a macro lens would be the best bet. Know your photographer by knowing his subject or passion.
There are several options for each type of photographer, also options for both DX or FX cameras. If the camera is a D3, D3s, D4, D600, D700 or D800(e) you will be looking for a FX lens, if the camera was not listed a DX or FX lens is recommended. I should also mention that these aren’t the only lenses available for Nikon, there are in fact a lot lot more, these just happen to be some of the more practical and useful lenses.
Editors Note: When you click on the image of a lens it will bring you to the lens on Amazon, if you decide to make a purchase for that lucky son of a gun I will receive a small credit. Thank you in advance!
Landscape photography is where I call home and there are a few great recommendations for this genre of photography. My first wide angle of choice was an older Nikon 24mm f2.8 FX lens, this lens provided a very wide point of view with little distortion on my FX camera. I later graduated to the Nikon 16-35mm f4 VR FX lens, if this lens broke and stuck to 16mm I wouldn’t have a single complaint. Landscape photographers typically shoot around f8 to around f10 so it doesn’t have to be a fast camera as far as the amount of light captured.
Nikon 16-35mm f4 VR – My pride and joy can be had used from the $850-950 range and can be had new for $1,200.
Nikon 20mm or 24mm f2.8 – I bought my 24mm on ebay for $125 a few years ago and has been amazing since, they can easily be had used in the $150-225 range. The 20mm can be had new at $430 and the 24mm is set at a price of $299.
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8- This is a lens that is the golden gauntlet of landscape lenses, If you are looking to gift this lens please contact me via email so we can be best friends. We are reviewing a copy of it and some image samples can be found here. The lens is widely regarded as the best wide angle lens that money can buy for Nikon and can be had new for $1,999.
Nikon 12-24mm f4- This lens was introduced not too long ago to replace Nikons older wide zoom but most times people will recommend the Tokina lenses below. For the brand loyal this lens can be had for $1,100.
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8- After you regain your breath from that last price tag you can breathe easy with this lens, it is priced at $740. This lens is the most popular wide angle lens across all brands of cameras due to its lower price and optical quality.
Tokina 12-24mm f4- This lens ruled the wide angle alternative market but its crown was taken after the above Tokina 11-16mm lens came out. This lens is great stopped down for landscapes and can be had for $410.
I have owned a few portrait lenses in my time and I have some thoughts about what your special someone may be interested in. I personally own the 50mm f1.4 FX D, 85mm f1.8 FX G and the 180mm f2.8 D. Each have their own purpose and set style of portraiture that they are intended for. The 50mm range is usually for waist up style work, 85mm is for portrait work and I use my 180mm for full subject isolation. Depending on what kind of work your photographer likes to do there is a specific lens he/she needs. When these lenses are mounted on a DX camera the you have to magnify the focal length by 1.5x to get an idea of the field of view that the lens will wield on a crop sensor camera.
FX (multiply by 1.5x for DX cameras) :
Nikon 50mm f1.8 D: This is the cheapest of the bunch and it takes a trained eye to detect the differences from its more expensive brothers. The lens is only $125 and is widely known that you should own this lens regardless if you need it or not. It’s extremely versatile and cost effective. There is a G version of this lens that will enable it to autofocus on all cameras and do it much quieter than the D version, the cost for this is $230.
Nikon 50mm f1.4 D- This has been one of my go to lenses for a long time, it is very sharp and at $100 more than the f1.8 G lens ($330) it is one of the decently priced upgrade paths that Nikon offers. The G version of this lens offers newer construction and optics but will run you a bit more at $430. The G version of the f1.4 like the f1.8 allows you to use the lens on more of Nikons consumer cameras.
Nikon 85mm f1.8 D- This was my first lens and I originally bought mine used for $300 on ebay. The lens is great for nice tight head and shoulder portraits and has great contrast. TheD version of this lens can be had new for $460 and if you want the newer G version you will only have to pay $500, the G version at $40 more is worth the upgrade in my opinion. I now own the G version and I prefer the silent precise autofocus.
Nikon 85mm f1.4 D- This lens is coveted as the must have Nikon portrait lens, I’m not going to ignore its large following but I am very happy with my 85mm f1.8 G lens above. The lens goes for $1,200 new and there is a G version of the lens that goes for $1,649. In my opinion the lens is not worth the $1,149 dollar price hike over the previously mentioned G lens, instead of this lens get the 85mm f1.8 and another lens of your choice.
Nikon 180mm f2.8 D- This lens is in my top 3 favorite lenses to shoot with, when I get the chance to use it I do and don’t stop. I bought mine used on ebay for around $400-450 and they can also be had new for $900. If your photographer is into portrait photographer and already owns an 85mm lens, this would be my next choice to compliment it.
I hate bugs and small objects but if your photographer likes the small freakish creatures you can look into these macro lenses. I own a macro lens and I also lust after another, the one I own is an old 55mm f3.5 AIS FX lens and the one I want badly is the 105mm f2.8 VR FX lens. When it comes to macro lenses in my opinion you choose them based off of how far you need or want to be from your subject. For my use I 8/10 times I use my 55mm lens I use it for photographing wedding rings. I don’t mind being close to them and they are not going to get scared off and fly/run away. Along with the portrait lenses above these FX lenses work great on DX bodies, you just have to apply the 1.5x crop factor.
Nikon 55mm f3.5 AIS: This lens doesn’t have a 1:1 ratio but it gets close enough to my subjects that makes me happy. The other thing that makes me happy about this lens is that I bought it used for about $50 used. Prices are closer to $75 used today because of the DSLR video boom. This lens is only manual focus but I believe that autofocus is not needed when it comes to macro work.
Nikon 55mm f2.8 AIS: This lens is pretty much the same as the one above but it has a bit faster aperture at f2.8 and gets a little closer with a 1:1 ratio so objects will fill the screen a bit more. The lens goes from anywhere from $80-130 on the used market.
Nikon 60mm f2.8: There is a D and a G version of this lens and both offer autofocus and a 1:1 ratio for close macro focus. I have used the lens and its fantastic but I don’t see a need to choose one of these versus the 55mm lenses mentioned above. The D version on Amazon goes for $464 and the G version goes for $549. I have commonly seen a used version of the D going for around $300-350.
Nikon 105mm f2.8 VR: This is a lens that like the 85mm f1.4 is well sought after and regarded as the must have macro lens. I have never used but I have read rave reviews about this lens and it is near the top of my list to buy. When not photographing small subjects this lens will easily double as a great portrait lens. The lens sells new for $900 and the used prices are usually in the $600-700 range.
Nikon 40mm f2.8: This is actually a newer lens and one that was actually made specifically made for Nikons DX camera lineup. We have recently reviewed the lens and we suggest it for those with a DX camera and looking for a more affordable macro lens. The lens goes for $270 new and would be great for subjects that won’t get scared off because you have to get a bit closer with a 40mm lens.
Well this doesn’t exactly have a place and each of these can do some of the above jobs but these are in fact the most common lenses. I personally prefer prime (fixed focal length) lenses because I am a snob but I am jealous of the connivence of zooms. The holy trinity of Nikon lenses are the 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. The lack of gap in the zoom ranges is a sign that these three lenses are meant to be together, unfortunately the cost for each of these lenses is well above any other lens. Event shooters, people who have plenty of money and lazy photographers own these zooms and they are getting to the point where they optically match their competitive prime lenses.
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8- As mentioned above it is the king of wide angle full frame lenses, it has next to zilch distortion and goes for $2,000 new.
Nikon 28-70mm f2.8- This lens is known amongst Nikonians as the beast due to its weight and is a great lens, this lens goes for around the $900-1000 mark used.
Nikon 24-70mm f2.8- The above mentioned lens was replaced by this 24-70mm lens to become most common zoom lens in the trinity and goes for a shocking $1,900 dollars new.
Nikon 70-200mm f4- We don’t know much about the newest addition to the Nikon zoom lineup but it is expected to be a great one. The lens will be available at the beginning of December for $1,400.
Nikon 70-200mm f2.8- The is the official final member of the trinity and the second most common after the 24-70. This lens offers a faster brighter f2.8 aperture over the previous f4 lens and because of that it will cost you $1,000 more, this lens will cost you $2,400 and possibly your first born.
Third Party Lenses:
When it comes to Nikon lenses you can either buy their Nikkor brand or you have the options of third party lenses. There are several great great alternatives to Nikons offerings and I am going to briefly mention a few.
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 FX- This is a good alternative to the two Nikon wide angle lenses, this is lens goes for $849.
Sigma 35mm f1.4- is a new lens and is looking like the best Sigma lens to date based on early reviews, it is priced at $900.
Tamron 24-70mm f2.8- The only lens like this that offers vibration reduction and is well rated at a price of $1,300.
Tamron 90mm 2.8 Macro- A macro lens that offers 1:1 ratio at a reasonable price, reviews tend to say that this is one of the better macro lenses money can buy and the amount you can acquire it for is $500.
Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro- If you need further reach than Nikons 105mm lens than this is the lens for you, this 150mm Sigma macro is regarded as one of the best and most popular to date. This lens comes in at a bit higher price than the others at $1,100.
Well we did it, well I did it and what I did is assemble what I think is a pretty decent guide or at least a starting point for those looking to buy someone else a lens. Oh and you mysterious buyer, I want you to know that you are going to make someone a very very happy camper with any of these lenses, even the cheap nifty fifty listed above. If you are in fact going to buy one of the most expensive gifts for someone I believe we should be friends, I could use a wealthy friend and I think you could deal with one more person freeloading off of you.
As a friendly reminder by clicking on the images it will bring you to a special place on Amazon where I get a ridiculously small credit for pointing you their way. With that I shall wish you Happy Holidays.
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