Nikon DX (APS-C) DSLR Cameras & Lenses

What are the absolute best value Nikon DX (DSLR) cameras and lenses? I’ve narrowed it down to 3 cameras, 7 prime lenses, and 11 zoom lenses. This was no easy task!

Note: prices are in US Dollars based on recent eBay sales (exact prices will depend on your local area).

Best Value Cameras:

Note: at today’s rock bottom prices, you could say that all Nikon DX cameras represent great value. These three are just my personal picks.

  • Nikon D300 ($150 used):
    If you’re interested in sports / action / wildlife, skip the D200 and grab this one instead (much, much better autofocus). Slight resolution bump to 12 megapixels, but now on the newer CMOS sensor (better in low light / higher ISOs). 6 fps, 51 AF points. No video. Only supports full frame AF-P lenses. Max 32 GB Compact Flash card.
  • Nikon D7100 ($350 used):
    24 megapixels, 6 fps, 51 AF points, weather sealed, dual SD card slots, supports not only AF-P but also AF (screw-drive lenses). Only downside: limited buffer for continuous shooting (1 second, or 6 RAW shots). 1080p 30 fps video (1080p 60i available in 1.3x crop mode). Best value out of all of these – just my opinion!
  • Nikon D7200 ($500 used):
    A camera that improves upon the (already excellent) D7100. Notably: deeper buffer for continuous RAW shooting (18 shots vs. 6 shots), better high ISO performance, 30% faster processor (faster Autofocus). The budget sports / action / wildlife camera of choice. 1080p 60 fps video.

Note: if you’re specifically buying a camera for sports / action / wildlife, consider the D500. It’s not cheap ($1000 used), but the autofocus performance is truly world-class. Still popular today with professionals for a reason. The D7500 is also great for this (if you can live with one card slot and no option to add a vertical grip).

Best Value Lenses:

Note: there’s nothing stopping you from using a Full Frame lens on your DX camera – as long as your camera supports it. I’ve included some great full frame options here.

Prime lenses (fixed focal length):

  • Nikon 10.5mm F2.8 G DX Fisheye ($180 used):
    Do you really need a fisheye lens? Probably not. But it’s so much fun if you’ve never tried one – and this is one of the best fisheyes out there.
  • Nikon 35mm F1.8 G DX ($90 used):
    A fast, sharp prime lens at a great price. 53mm equivalent field of view (FOV) in full frame terms (35 * 1.52 crop factor = 53). Perfect for general use, street, travel, etc.
  • Nikon 50mm F1.8 G ($100 used):
    Spend the extra money and get this one instead of the older 50mm F1.8 D if you’re planning to use it at large apertures (F1.8-2.8). Very sharp, great bokeh, 76mm equivalent FOV (perfect for portraits on DX). Full frame lens.
  • Nikon 85mm F1.8 G ($300 used):
    A superb telephoto – and an excellent portrait lens on DX. Very sharp even wide open, beautiful bokeh. Full frame lens.

Prime lenses (macro):

Note: there’s a great 40mm DX macro lens, but I don’t think the focal range is long enough for most uses. Could be a great choice for at-home product and/or food photography, though. Even then, I’d probably take the 60mm F2.8 D instead.

  • Nikon AF 60mm F2.8 D Macro ($150 used):
    Very sharp, and great for product / reproduction work. 1:1 reproduction. True bargain, and could do double duty as a portrait lens (although it’s so sharp that you’ll see every little detail on the subject’s face!) Full frame lens. Superb build quality and handling. Note: the 60mm F2.8 G macro is even better (optically), but twice the price (around $300 used).
  • Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 Di Macro 272E ($150 used):
    A very sharp macro that doubles as a portrait (headshot) lens with nice bokeh. 1:1 reproduction. Best from F4 – F16. A bit slow to autofocus (and you will need a camera with a screw-drive motor). Full frame lens.
  • Tokina 100mm F2.8 AT-X Macro ($200 used):
    Dual-purpose lens (macro and portraits). Competes directly with Nikon’s offering at a fraction of the price. Once hyped online, now back to normal used pricing. A bargain.

Zoom lenses (ultra-wide and wide):

  • Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM ($200 used):
    If you can get your hands on good sample (without significant decentering), this ultra-wide may surprise you with its sharpness and rendering. Doesn’t take filters (bulbous front element).
  • Nikon AF-P 10-20mm F4.5-5.6 G VR ($200 used):
    Ultra-wide on a budget. Sharp and lightweight (plastic construction), the lens is only let down by sub-par performance at the long end (20mm). 72mm filter thread.
  • Tokina 11-20mm F2.8 PRO DX ($300 used):
    Widely regarded as the best wide angle zoom for Nikon DX (even better than the 11-16mm… and the extra 4mm on the long end are very useful). 82mm filter thread. Lens hood highly recommended.

Zoom lenses (standard / mid-range / all-in-one):

  • Nikon AF-S 16-85mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR ($120 used):
    Still holds up to today’s high-resolution sensors. Very sharp, with surprisingly manageable distortion and excellent VR (stabilization) mechanism.  Weather resistant.

Note: the Nikon AF-S 16-80mm F2.8-4E ED VR is one of the sharpest for Nikon DX. However, at $350 used, it’s up to you whether it’s really worth it over the 16-85mm.

  • Tamron SP 17-50mm F2.8 XR Di II ($100 used):
    The Sigma gets all the attention these days, but this Tamron was a very competent performer back in the day – and can now be had for a bargain price. Both the earlier non-VC and later VC models are great (VC may be slightly less sharp – but they resolved a lot of QC issues so there’s less sample variation with that one).
  • Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM ($180 used):
    An excellent performer, and a popular upgrade over the kit lens. Features OS (Optical stabilization). Generally pleasing bokeh, and corners sharpen up by F4.
  • Nikon 17-55mm F2.8 G IF ED ($350 used):
    The main arguments against this one were always weight, cost (original price: $1,425), and size. Otherwise, it’s a great lens if you’re willing to lug it around. Makes for an ideal environmental portrait / event lens on DX. Still, the Sigma/Tamron above get you there for a lot less money.
  • Nikon AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 G VR ($50 used):
    One of the best deals in all of digital photography. Very sharp, with excellent VR. Tiny, weighs almost nothing, plastic construction. Some distortion at the wide end (correctable in post-processing). Fast and quiet autofocus – good for video.

Zoom lenses (all-in-one / telephoto):

  • Nikon AF-S 18-140mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR ($150 used):
    Covering roughly 27-210mm FOV (full frame equivalent), this is a great lens for travel and situations when you don’t feel like swapping lenses in the field. Good enough, considering the extreme zoom range. I’d still take the 16-85mm VR for travel, but that’s a personal preference.
  • Nikon AF-P 70-300mm F4.5-6.3 G ED VR ($160 used):
    One of the best value telephoto lenses (for any mount, ever). A must-buy if your camera supports AF-P lenses. Note: make sure you get the VR variant (the non-VR isn’t that much cheaper). Very fast to focus, and sharp even wide open at 300mm.
  • Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F5.6 E ED VR ($800 used):
    It’s big, it’s heavy, but there’s nothing else like it at this price point. Very sharp, fast to focus, and stabilized. If you want to get serious about wildlife photography, this is the one. Full frame lens.

Note: surprised to see the Tamron and Sigma telephoto zoom lenses missing? Given the insanely good value of the Nikon 200-500mm, I see little reason to go for one of those (and deal with potential autofocus calibration adventures).

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