Nikon lenses are fantastic pieces of glass in their own right, but if you spread the net further, there are also lots of third-party lenses available for the platform. The best third-party lenses for Nikon cameras can come in many different shapes and sizes. Not just as telephoto, wide-angle, or even macro lenses, but also for DSLR and mirrorless cameras as well as DX and FX formats.
As a side note, we have not included any mirrorless lenses as they are currently resigned to being Nikon-made only.
Many of the third-party lenses available work equally well on both DX and FX formats, but the main starting point for any lens is what you want to use the thing for and the particular scenarios. This point will dictate the focal length, aperture, and if you need extra fancy features such as image stabilization.
With so many options to choose from, we have listed examples which include prime and zoom lenses, along with budget and expensive options. All the examples listed below provide good quality optics, but as generally recommended, it’s best to save up for the best glass you can afford.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports (Overall Winner)
I am almost at the point where it feels like I’m giving the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports an unfair advantage, constantly recommending this lens. However, Sigma seemed to have nailed it in the 70-200mm department. It’s not just a worthy competitor to Nikon’s own version, but also an alternative for other same-brand lens offerings.
The Sigma has equally high-quality optics as Nikon’s offering, featuring one Special Low Dispersion (SLD), nine F Low Dispersion (FLD) elements, and a Super Multi-Layer coating. The internals also include a higher-than-usual-count 11-blade rounded diaphragm, along with an optical image stabilizer.
The lens has some advanced features such as autofocus-hold/on, custom autofocus modes, image stabilization modes, and the option to be linked to the optional Sigma USB dock for firmware updates. The wide f/2.8 aperture is wonderfully sharp and the only real downsides to this lens are the 1.8kg weight and the nonremovable tripod ring.
In all the areas this is an incredible lens for the money, providing equal optics to Nikon’s own version, but at a cheaper price point.
With the telephoto end of the spectrum covered above, the Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD is a worthy candidate as a wide-angle zoom. The Tamron can be used on both FX and DX-format cameras, with the latter providing a 15-36mm focal range.
The optics consist of one extra-low dispersion (XLD), one low dispersion (LD) element, plus a molded glass aspherical and a hybrid aspherical element, and a Broad-Band Anti-Reflection (BBAR) coating. The image stabilization system offers up to four stops of compensation, while the whole lens barrel has a sealed and moisture-resistant construction.
This lens works wonderfully on the DX-format, providing great image quality for the price, while on an FX camera body, the full width and resolution can be experienced.
If you need a wide-angle zoom lens with image stabilization on the DX-format, this lens is a winner and on FX cameras, the Tamron provides great value for money above Nikon’s offerings.
To cover the most useful and general focal ranges the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art is a high-quality option. On DX cameras, the focal length comes in at 36-105mm while also providing a constant f/2.8 aperture.
The optics comprise of three Special Low Dispersion (SLD), four aspherical elements, and a Super Multi-Layer coating for increased image quality. The Hyper Sonic Motor is quick to lock into focus and features has a full manual override. The optical stabilization system stands out above other offerings, with four stops of compensation and works extremely well in the real world.
The Sigma costs far less than the Nikon version, which means the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 is also great value, along with providing superb optics.
The standout points of the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD are that the lens can act as a regular shooter as well as a macro lens. The Tamron benefits from Vibration Compensation which can compensate for both horizontal and vertical shifts while providing 3.5 stops of compensation.
Internally, the optics are made up of one Low Dispersion (LD) and two Extra-Low Dispersion (XLD) glass elements, plus eBAND and BBAR coatings for superior clarity and image definition. Other tasty advanced features on the lens include a focus limiter switch, moisture-resistant construction, and the ability to link into the optional TAP-in Console for firmware updates.
The macro reproduction on this lens is 1:1 and provides wonderfully detailed close-up images that fill the full frame. Most importantly, the lens comes in at a very affordable price and the focal length works extremely well for portrait work.
Just like the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 above, it’s almost getting monotonous recommending the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art as a same-camera make alternative. But, when a lens delivers such great optics for the money, it’s hard to ignore.
The lens consists of two SLD, one anomalous partial dispersion/high-refractive index, and one aspherical element in the optical arrangement. Plus, a Super Multi-Layer Coating producing high levels of clarity, contrast, and color rendition.
A wide and bright f/1.4 aperture produces wonderfully creamy bokeh effects, while the Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) lens barrel is tough enough for most applications, although it’s not fully weather-proofed.
Image quality is exceptional from the Sigma and, dare I say, outperforms Nikon’s own version in this category. The only real downsides to this lens is that it can exhibit chromatic aberration at f/1.4 and is quite hefty at 1.13kg. In all other areas, you simply can’t fault the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 for the money.
6. Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8 (Budget Winner)
You would be hard pushed to get a more budget lens than the Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8, but for just under $100, this lens provides better-than-expected image quality. The Yongnuo features Multi-coated glass elements to increased color, contrast, and accuracy and even has autofocus and Gold-plated electronic contacts for improved transference of lens information to the camera.
The aperture is respectively wide at f/1.8 and although it doesn’t have the fine detail of higher-priced lenses, it’s relatively sharp after f/2.8 with a good degree of detail. Colors look slightly oversaturated at times, but considering the cost of this lens, it does a mighty fine job for the price.
Therefore, if you’re on a very limited budget and want a simple walkaround lens, the Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8 may just fit the bill.
A Closer Focus on the Best Third-Party Lenses for Nikon
As we stated at the beginning of this article, when choosing any lens you have to start with its applications, then proceed to which version closely fits your needs. We have included above both zoom and prime lenses, covering the most useful focal lengths, which means they all should be useful in a wide range of applications.
As with all lenses, price usually dictates quality, but as found with most third-party lenses for Nikon cameras, they generally provide extremely good optics for the price. If you had to choose one lens above all the rest, you can’t go wrong with the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport or the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8, but these examples will obviously depend on your needs and your budget.