We keep a large running list for all of the brands, if you are interested, over here. But for this post specifically we will be focusing on Nikon options.
Nikon Brand Lenses
Nikon’s F mount has been the Nikon SLR/DSLR mount for decades, and as such, not only are there a TON of lenses available from third parties, you also have access to a ton of lenses from Nikon themselves going back years upon years. Depending on your camera you could potentially stick old Nikon film lenses on your body and have a near perfect manual focus experience. But here are our picks for the top Nikon brand budget lenses.
Nikon 50mm F1.8 & 50mm F1.4
The Nikon 50mm f1.8D AF is sharper than Canon’s but doesn’t deliver as pleasing out-of-focus areas. In fact, it’s quite a bit sharper and comes with a slightly higher price as well. The Nikon 50mm f1.4D AF is used widely at concerts and weddings in addition capturing portraits with cameras like a D300s. Many wedding photographers do this and deliver some fantastic and lovely results. I’ve seen some prints from photographers in Brooklyn shooting by the Brooklyn Bridge, and combined with their SB-900 flashes, it does great work on quite the budget.
Also be sure to consider the newer 50mm F1.8 G.
Nikon 35mm F1.8G
For the price, Nikon photographers get a lens that will stay in their bags forever. A lens like this is sharp, focuses surprisingly fast, and can be used for photo shoots, shooting couples, portraits, weddings, etc. Many portrait photographers I know actually use the Nikon 35mm f1.8G AF-S DX.
Nikon 28mm F2.8
Nikon’s wide angle primes are becoming legendary, and the Nikon 28mm f2.8D AF is quite worth its weight in dollars. A lens like this is great for getting up close and personal with your subjects, like children, dogs, etc. Otherwise, it is great for shooting landscapes and some street photography.
Nikon 85mm F1.8
Although it’s not the absolutely gorgeous F1.4, the Nikon 85mm f1.8D AF is a lens seen on many Nikon photographers’ cameras. This lens is the essential lens for portrait photographers and those looking to do in-studio work. Stopped down to around F2.8 it becomes super sharp. The feel and construction of this lens will also not disappoint.
Nikon 40mm F2.8
If you’re a Nikon user looking for a nice macro lens, the 40mm f2.8 is your answer. Becoming essentially a 60mm f2.8 lens, it is an interesting perspective leaning towards the longer side of the normal field of view range. Combined with a fast f2.8 aperture, it’s the lens you’ll want around when you do projects at home.
Third Party Lenses
Third party lenses used to have a pretty bad reputation in the general photography community, but that stigma has largely changed over the last five years or so thanks to companies like Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and Rokinon/Samyang really upping their game in terms of both image and build quality. If you want to save some money, we can recommend the lenses below as being great options, especially after considering price to performance.
Sigma 50mm F1.4
Sigma has updated their 50mm f1.4 to be included into their Art series of lenses, but that doesn’t mean the first version is a slacker. In fact, we’d like to argue that it is the best 50mm f1.4 lens available to Canon users if you’re also factoring in budget. This one is even better than Canon’s own. (Read Our Review | Buy One)
Tokina 11-16mm F2.8
One of the biggest complaints about this list before was its lack of zoom lenses. If you’re looking for one, then consider the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 offering. It’s perfect for APS-C users who want wide angle photos–which means your landscapes will look that much more epic.
Rokinon 14mm F2.8
If we had to choose a single wide angle prime to stick with, it would be Rokinon’s own 14mm f2.8. With a wide field of view at 14mm and an f2.8 aperture, there is no reason not to spring for this lens. Sure, it’s manual focus only, but if you’re using a lens like this then you’re usually focusing out to infinity anyway.
Tokina 12-28mm F4
Of any of the wide angle zoom lenses we’ve tested, this one had to be the most fun. Mount it on a camera, put the camera on a tripod and get to the nearest coastline to shoot the sun as it’s about to go down. The colors, sharpness, and price of this lens are all very pleasing.
Rokinon 85mm F1.4
If you want an f1.4 lens designed for portraits, this is the most affordable one you can get. Wide open, the lens is a bit soft. But once you stop it down a bit, it begins to sing with sharpness. Like other Rokinon lenses, it is manual focus only. But man, that bokeh is glorious.
Sigma 30mm F1.4
APS-C camera users who want a fast 50mm field of view (approximately) will be super surprised by Sigma’s new 30mm f1.4 offering. What’s even cooler is that you can use it on a full frame camera–but don’t expect the image quality to be just like that of an APS-C camera’s due to how this lens was designed.
Looking for more?
These are just our picks for the top budget lenses for the Nikon system in general, if you are looking for good lens options with a specific photographic specialty in mind we highly recommend checking out some of our other lens recommendation posts like: Perfect Portrait: 4 Great Nikon Portrait Lenses Under $1,000, The Essential Budget Portrait Kit: Nikon Photographer, Need For Speed: Our Favorite Nikon F1.8 Prime Lenses , and After The Kit: Five Killer Lens Upgrades For Nikon Photographers.
If you are looking for more budget recommendations for another system make sure and check out our full listing, here.