When Nikon released their Z range of mirrorless cameras, we weren’t just treated to a new model, but also a new line of technology. This also meant a new lineup of lenses for the larger sized Z-mount.
With no mirror to contend with, the new range of lenses are more compact and feature faster communication between lens and camera. The latest and greatest can also mean high price points, but there are examples of Nikon Z lenses under $500 for those who want to stick to a tighter budget.
Z-mount lenses are still in their early years of offerings compared to F-mount lens, which means if there isn’t something in the lineup covering your needed focal lengths, there is still the possibility of using an adapter with regular F-mount lenses.
1. Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S (Overall Winner)
Ok, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S maybe just over our budget range, but it’s worth the inclusion as it’s a wonderfully sharp standard focal length lens. It may not have the ultrawide aperture of higher-priced f/1.4 versions, but it’s still more than capable in low-light conditions and for producing great bokeh effects. Plus, it is part of the top-end range of Z lenses, without any compromises.
Optically, the lens is arranged with 12 elements in nine groups, featuring two aspherical and two extra-low dispersion elements, along with a Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coating. A stepping motor covers autofocusing, with full-time manual override, which should also be quiet enough for the video guys.
This lens is exceedingly sharp at f/1.8 and produces a very smooth bokeh, which is ideal for portrait work. With a fully weather-sealed construction, the Z 50mm f/1.8 S may seem initially expensive, but considering its optical qualities, it’s worth every penny and would make a great accompaniment both the Nikon Z6 and the Nikon Z7.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is designed for the DX-format Z50, providing an equivalent focal length of 75-375mm. This provides the lens with scope for medium to super-telephoto images, which works great for anything from portraits to wildlife and action shots.
The optics comprise of 16 elements arranged in 12 groups, with an extra-low dispersion element and Super Integrated coating. There’s also an integrated stepping motor and a vibration reduction system that provides up to five stops of handheld compensation. A programmable control ring can be used for manual focusing or for controlling other exposure settings.
The aperture on this zoom may not be the fastest around, but the lens is respectably sharp throughout the focal range and the stabilization system works wonders at the longer focal lengths.
As soon as a new camera mount hits the market, third-party lens makers are very quick to adapt existing and new optics to the platform. The Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 is an example of a high-quality, medium-telephoto prime for the Z-mount, which although is fully manual, has wonderful optics for the price.
The lens features a fast f/1.4 aperture, with a hybrid aspherical element and Ultra Multi-coating, plus an eight-blade rounded diaphragm, all wrapped around a weather-sealed design. It’s not exactly a lightweight lens at 740g, but as is the case with many third-party offerings, heavyweight optics come first before anything else.
The general consensus with the Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 is that it is very good value for money and as long as you don’t mind the full manual workings, it can make for a wonderful portrait lens.
Just scraping in under the $500 mark, the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8 can be considered a standard portrait lens, with the addition of a ‘Velvety Glow’ effect as the aperture is changed.
The main specs of this lens consist of a wide and bright f/1.8, wrapped around a fully manual focusing design, with a minimum focusing distance of 24.13cm and a maximum magnification of 0.5x. The soft glowy effect most likely comes from the higher-than-normal 12-blade aperture, wrapped around the well-proportioned weight of 643.5g.
The aperture on the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm will need to stop down to f/4 for the sharpest results. The ‘Velvety Glow’ effect comes in abundance the wider the aperture becomes. This can produce very out of focus areas, which when applied accurately can produce very dreamy-like images. However, it will need some experimentation to balance the effects with sharp areas of interest.
The Lensbaby Velvet 85mm is ultimately for those who buy into its unique properties, like the rest of the Lensbaby range, and want a portrait lens a little out of the norm.
5. Nikon NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (Budget Winner)
It’s a shame that this wide-angle zoom is designed only for DX-format cameras, but at this price point, this lens still packs a punch. On the DX platform, the focal length comes in at 24-75mm, making for a very good standard focal length zoom.
Nikon has somehow crammed a lot of features into this pancake-like design, with one extra-low dispersion and four aspherical elements. It also has a Super Integrated Coating, stepping motor, and even a vibration reduction system with 4.5 stops of compensation.
As per the latest crop of Z mount glass, the lens features a programmable control ring which defaults to manual focusing, but can also be used for changing many different exposure parameters.
To cram all these workings into such a small lens, there have been some compromises such as a plastic lens mount and no included lens hood. On the optical side of things, the lens works reasonably well, with relatively sharp images throughout the aperture range.
This lens would be a great solution over the standard kit lens, especially if you want to travel light.
Finding the Best Nikon Z Lenses Under $500
This small selection of Z-mount lenses should give you a taster of not just what’s currently available, but also of what’s to come. Nikon has quite rightly been focusing on the very top-end glass for their initial offerings to show off the full resolution and capabilities of the platform. But as shown above, more Nikon Z lenses under $500 are now trickling down to the market.
Luckily, we are not long off having the same landscape as enjoyed by DSLR cameras. Where there is a whole slew of same-brand and third-party lens makers providing both prime and zoom lenses at all price points.
For the time being, if you want a standard, high-quality prime lens, you can’t go wrong with the Z 50mm f/1.8 S as a great all-rounder. While zooms such as the 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR have all the fun of their DSLR equivalents, with more contemporary Z platform workings.