Nikon (FX) DSLR Cameras & Lenses

What are the absolute best value Nikon FX (DSLR) cameras and lenses? I’ve narrowed it down to 4 cameras and 35 lenses (20 primes and 15 zooms). This was no easy task!

Lots of great deals today – now that many Nikon users are dumping their gear and switching to mirrorless (Z mount).

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

Best Value Cameras:

  • Nikon D610 ($450 used):
    24 megapixels, 6 fps, 39 AF points. Great high ISO performance, and an incredible value today on the used market. Avoid the D600 (unless you personally know the previous owner). 1080p 30 fps video. Note: if you plan to do any autofocus in low-light or night conditions, avoid this one and go straight for the D750!
  • Nikon D750 ($700 used):
    The best deal in full frame today? Possibly. Now that D750 owners are dumping their bodies for mirrorless, there are some crazy deals on this low-light champion. 24 megapixels, 6.5 fps, 51 AF points, much better AF than the D610. Tilting screen. 1080p 60 fps video.
    Tip: check the Serial # on the Nikon Advisory page to see if you’re buying a D750 that was affected by a recall.
  • Nikon D810 ($850 used):
    For just a bit more than the D750, you’re getting a 36 megapixel beast – great for landscape, architecture, etc. Goes down to ISO 64, amazing dynamic range and shadow detail. Incredible value (originally retailed for $2900). 5 fps, 51 AF points. 1080p 60 fps video.
  • Nikon D850 ($1900 used):
    We’re finally at below $2000 for the best DSLR ever made. Get this one if you want a camera that can do it all. Superb build quality and handling. 45 megapixel sensor – so make sure you pair it with some quality lenses. 7 fps, 153 AF points. Up to 4K 30 fps video.

Shooting hardcore high fps sports/action, or simply need the most rugged body? Look into the D4. (around $1200 used with ~100k actuations). 10 fps, insanely clean files at high ISO. 99.9% of users would be better served by one of the cameras above, however.

Note: while I love the D700, it’s hard to recommend at today’s inflated prices (around $400). If you can get a great deal, go for it! For $500-600, I’d also seriously consider the legendary D3.

Best Value Prime Lenses:

Note: lenses are important (“date cameras, marry lenses”)! If you’re going into the full frame realm, make sure you have the budget for good lenses. Quality glass will stay with you for years (and you can adapt it to Z mount later – if that’s the direction you choose).

Wide angle prime lenses: 

  • Rokinon 14mm F2.8 IF ED ($120 used):
    Manual focus, doesn’t take filters, and prone to sample variation. Still – there’s no better astrophotography lens on a tight budget.
  • Nikon AF-S 20mm F1.8 G ED ($450 used):
    Very sharp, and considered a “must own” for FX shooters. Perfect for astro / landscapes. Great sunstars (for a modern lens design). 77mm filters. Great value, even at this price.
  • Nikon AF-S 24mm F1.8 G ED ($450 used):
    One of the sharpest wide primes ever made. This or the 20mm? You’ll have to make that choice – these are two very angles of view. 72mm filters. Much, much better than the older 24mm F2.8D.
  • Tamron SP 35mm F1.4 Di USD ($400 used):
    One of Tamron’s best – and arguably the best 35mm you can put on a Nikon DSLR. Sharp, contrasty, great colors, bokeh… it’s all here.
  • Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art ($400 used):
    Sharp and contrasty, with great colors and bokeh… at a much lower price than Nikon’s 35mm F1.4. A bit lighter and smaller than the Tamron, and with lower distortion. Some may prefer the bokeh on this one, too.

Normal prime lenses:

  • Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art ($500 used):
    Yep, it’s expensive. But plenty of pro shooters agree: this is actually the best 50mm for portraits on the F-mount. A “buy once, cry once” lens – and ideal for low light shooting.
  • Nikon AF-S 50mm F1.8 G ($120 used):
    For wide open performance, spend the extra money and get this one instead of the older 50mm F1.8 D. Very sharp, great bokeh, perfect as an all-around street/travel/portrait lens. You can safely skip the 50mm F1.4 G (slow autofocus speed, and the 1.8 G is just as sharp if not sharper anyway).

Telephoto prime lenses:

  • Nikon AF-S 85mm F1.8 G ($250 used):
    One of my favorite lenses. A pro-level telephoto – and a perfect portrait lens. Very sharp, with beautiful bokeh. While the 85mm 1.4G is definitely “dreamier,” you’d have to pay up to 3x as much for a used one in mint condition.
  • Nikon AF 180mm F2.8 D ED ($250 used):
    It’s heavy, it’s bulky, it’s 100% pure delicious out of focus areas. Optimized to be sharp right at F2.8 (wide open). One of Nikon’s oldest-running optical formulas for a reason. Pro portraits!
  • Nikon AF-S 300mm F2.8 G ED VR ($1700 used):
    If you need this lens, you already know who you are. This is one of Nikon’s best lenses, and is now available at a heavy discount. Perfect for sports and action.
  • Nikon AF-S 300mm F4 D IF-ED ($450 used):
    No VR? No problem. This is a fast-focusing, super sharp lens. Pairs great with a 1.4x Tele-converter for a budget wildlife setup (get the TC-14E II, not the III).
  • Nikon AF-S 300mm F4 E PF ED VR ($900 used):
    Is it worth the premium over the non-PF lens? Weighing in at only 755 grams and featuring VR… many would say it’s worth the price (the best lens is the one you actually take with you). Easily handholdable. Goes well with both TC-14E II and TC-14E II teleconverters.
  • Nikon AF-S 500mm F5.6 E PF ED VR ($2500 used):
    Not that long ago, it was near impossible to find any available copies of this lens. Phenomenal optics, and weighing only 1.46 kg – a game changer for wildlife photography.

Specialty prime lenses:

  • Nikon PC 19mm F4 E ED Tilt-Shift ($2000 used):
    Yes, it’s expensive – but it’s one of the best. If you happen to need a tilt-shift lens for architecture or landscapes, this is the one.

Tip: if you’re building a system specifically around architecture, strongly consider the Canon TS-E 24mm F3.5 L II (only $1500 used, and you may prefer 24mm anyway).

  • Nikon AF 60mm F2.8 D Micro ($150 used):
    Very sharp, and great for product / reproduction work. True bargain, and could do double duty as a portrait lens on a DX camera.
  • Nikon AF-S 60mm F2.8 G ED Micro ($300 used):
    For what you’re getting, this is a bargain. A great macro for product, reproduction, or even scanning your film negatives!
  • Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 Di Macro 272E ($150 used):
    A very sharp macro that doubles as a portrait lens with nice bokeh. 1:1 reproduction. Best from F4 – F16. A bit slow to autofocus, and the barrel extends substantially for close focus. At this price, can you complain?
  • Tokina AT-X 100mm F2.8 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.
  • Nikon AF-S 105mm F2.8 G Micro VR ($400 used):
    Despite some heavy competition, this is still a great lens. Sharp, with great stabilization. There’s a reason it’s still being used by wedding and product pros today – it’s a winner. Now a bargain.
  • Sigma 150mm F2.8 APO HSM OS Macro ($400 used):
    A very sharp macro, and with stabilization too! You won’t find better value for macro at this focal length.

Best Value Zoom Lenses

Wide angle zoom lenses:

  • Nikon AF-S 14-24mm F2.8 G ED IF ($550 used):
    Once the king of wide zooms; now available for a bargain price as people continue to switch to mirrorless alternatives. Bulbous front element (careful!) means no screw-in filters. Special filter systems exist for this lens.
  • Tamron SP 15-30mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2 ($600 used):
    Tamron went to war with Nikon, and many think they won this particular battle. The 15-30mm G2 is sharp, stabilized, and gives you more flexibility at the long end. No screw-in filters.
  • Nikon AF-S 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 G ED ($350 used):
    One of the bargains in Nikon’s entire lineup. Sharp, compact, and weighs almost nothing. Pairs very well with the 24 MP bodies. Not to be confused with the (optically inferior) earlier D version of the 18-35mm. 77mm filters.

Standard / mid-range zoom lenses:

  • Nikon AF-S 24-70mm F2.8 G ED ($400 used):
    This classic “holy trinity” lens is still a great performer, and is smaller/lighter than its successor. One weakness is the wide end (edge sharpness at 24mm @ F2.8). Still, a great professional lens and part of the “holy trinity” (14-24, 24-70, 70-200).
  • Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2 ($500 used):
    Goes head-to-head with Nikon’s offerings at a great price. If you need a fast mid-range zoom, this is the value pick – and even includes VC (Vibration Control = Image stabilization).

Note: do you really need a 24-70mm F2.8? They are big and heavy – so I would only pack one of them for specific commercial work when changing lenses is too annoying or impossible (e.g. corporate events, weddings).

  • Nikon AF-S 24-85mm F3.5-4.5 G ED VR ($200 used):
    A solid mid-range zoom for the money, noticeably lighter and smaller than the 24-120mm F4. Great for general use, travel, etc. If you don’t need the extra 85-120mm reach of the lens below, this is the one to get. Much better than the earlier F2.8-4 D version.
  • Nikon AF-S 24-120mm F4 G ED VR ($350 used):
    It’s chunkier and heavier than the 24-85mm above, but it’s fixed-aperture and goes out to 120mm (resolution drops slightly above 85mm or so). Prone to sample variation – you may get a lemon or a gem. The Z-mount 24-120mm completely out-classes this one, so expect prices to keep dropping. Stop down to F5.6 for much better sharpness.

Telephoto zoom lenses:

  • Tamron 70-210mm F4 Di VC USD ($350 used):
    Do you need a F2.8 constant aperture? If not, this is a great lens that goes head to head with Nikon’s 70-200/4 (and wins). A bargain today, and an easy lens to recommend. 
  • Nikon AF-P 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 E ED VR ($400 used):
    Still hard to find – it’s a very popular lens to adapt to Z mirrorless. Nikon hit a home run with these sharp, fast-focusing AF-P lenses… and this one is the king of them all.
  • Nikon AF-S 70-200mm F2.8 G ED VR ($500 used):
    One of Nikon’s holy trinity lenses. Still great today, and now available at a bargain price. The VR II is a bit sharper at the edges, but most may not notice the difference (that one is $700 used). Rock solid construction.
  • Tamron SP 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2 ($600 used):
    Practically a steal at this price. Great optics and handling, and considerable savings over Nikon’s equivalents. A popular choice for portrait / wedding shooters.
  • Nikon AF 80-200mm F2.8 D ED ($250 used):
    You’re getting yesterday’s pro optics at a bargain price. If you’re OK with the size, weight, and slower autofocus, this lens will not disappoint. A bit soft when focused closer than 3 meters, and above 135mm. Note: this is the two ring version (faster AF speed than the earlier push-pull design).

Super-telephoto zoom lenses:

  • Tamron AF 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD ($500 used):
    fast, sharp, optically stabilized (VC), and easily hand-holdable (1.14 kg / 40 oz.). Great value for budget wildlife or outdoor sports.

Note: why not the Sigma 100-400mm, at a similar price to the Tamron? The Tamron includes a tripod collar and has slightly more reliable autofocus.

  • 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.

Note: surprised to see the Tamron and Sigma 150-600mm 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).

All-in-one (“superzoom”) lenses:

  • Nikon AF-S 28-300mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR ($400 used):
    A surprisingly capable superzoom – and the only one worth sticking onto your FX camera. Not for hardcore pixel peepers, but gets very sharp by F5.6 (short end) or F8 (long end). The “Swiss Army knife” of Nikon FX lenses.

Useful websites:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *