There’s nothing like the fun and versatility of a zoom lens. This is especially true with high-end Nikon lenses, but unfortunately, they tend to cost a pretty penny. If you can’t quite stretch to the cost of the same-make versions, then the best third-party zoom lenses for Nikon cameras are here to help out.
As we don’t have a specific budget in mind today, we can run through the full gamut of options. These can include the likely candidates of telephoto and wide-angle zooms, along with upgrades to the standard kit lens.
But why choose a third-party zoom lens in the first place? Money-saving can be one thing, but other factors include equal or better optics and just as fancy features in many cases. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at the best third-party zoom lenses for Nikon and why they could/should be your next purchase.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports and Usain Bolt have a lot in common. When they both turn up, they are virtually guaranteed the number one spot with everyone else running for second place. In the case of the Sigma 70-200mm, the lens has found that sweet spot between offering great optics and features for a very affordable price.
As with any high-quality Nikon fitting zoom lens, the Sigma is equally capable on APS-C cameras, offering a 105-300mm equivalent focal length with a very capable f/2.8 maximum aperture. The optical design is wrapped around one Special Low Dispersion and nine F Low Dispersion elements, with a Super Multi-Layer coating and one on the front element to repel water and oil.
The diaphragm on the lens has a larger-than-normal 11 blades, accompanied by a Hyper Sonic autofocus motor and highly efficient optical stabilization system.
Without putting a finer point on it, the Sigma is everything you need in a 70-200mm zoom lens. It’s wonderfully sharp from f/2.8 to f/16, is great for isolating the subject from the background, and the stabilization works wonderfully at the longer focal lengths.
The only negatives I’ve heard about this lens is if someone has received a bad copy or the front and back focus needs tweaking a little. In all other respects, this lens is a solid performer for both its price and focal range.
Moving onto the wide-angle side of things, the Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD is made specifically for the DX-format, providing a 15-36mm equivalent focal length. This lens also features Vibration Compensation with five stops of compensation.
Included in the optical arrangement of 16 elements in 11 groups, the lens has BBAR coatings on all elements, with a seven-blade rounded diaphragm. This is along with a fully moisture-resistant lens barrel and a fluorine coating that has been added to the front element to repel dust and moisture.
For most wide-angle shots, sharpness throughout the depth of field is key. The Tamron has detail in abundance throughout the frame. Plus, image stabilization isn’t always needed at the widest angles, but it does help to achieve super-low shutter speeds in dark environments. Most of all, it’s a great price for this level of optics.
If you need a zoom lens to cover the relatively wide-angle to standard viewpoints, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM OS Art has heaps of quality. For almost half the price of Nikon’s own version, this lens provides spectacular sharpness and contrast, with professional-level bokeh.
Lens anomalies have been kept to a minimum thanks to the Super Multi-Layer Coating. Plus the four-stops-of-compensation image stabilizer is equally as capable as Nikon’s own version.
This lens may not have full weatherproofing, but in every other respect, it’s an equal match to a same-as-camera-brand version.
If the reach of a 70-200mm zoom is not enough and you can’t justify the sky-high prices of a 600mm prime, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary is a great choice.
Useful for anything from long-range events, aviation shots, or for the more skittish of the wildlife. The Sigma has an even more impressive reach of 225-900mm on the DX-format, with almost the same levels of sharpness as its 70-200mm cousin.
To keep everything in sharp focus across the long focal lengths the stabilization system compensates for panning shots. It has different customizable settings and a lens lock switch to add to the functionality.
This may not be a lens that you will use all the time for the most critical work, but what the lens does offer is great value and a good standard of optics for the usually very expensive focal lengths.
5. Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro (Budget Winner)
If you’re in the category of needing a quality step up from a kit lens or you’re in the beginner’s phase, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro can cover a lot of range.
The macro ratio comes in at 1:2, which may not be a true 1:1 reproduction, but it can still fill the majority of the frame with a subject. Internally, LD glass elements have been included to keep all the light rays in check, along with Internal Surface Coatings to reduce the likes of ghosting and lens flare.
Covering such a long focal range in a zoom lens for under $200 is a big ask, but with a good deal of light, this lens produces respectable detail in a lightweight package of 435g. The macro mode works well at this price point, but you will need a tripod for the sharpest of results.
Rounding up the Best Third-Party Zoom Lenses for Nikon
Price is usually the driving factor for turning to third-party zoom lenses. But with the latest crop of offerings, the third-party solutions can also provide a different viewpoint and features. The examples above should provide solutions to suit different shooting scenarios from very close-up to distant subjects.
Essentially, we have never experienced a better time to choose from the wide palette of third-party zoom lenses for Nikon, which covers all price points and focal lengths.