If you’re after the most flexible type of lens, a zoom lens is generally considered a good idea. You can shoot at different focal lengths, without the hassle and fuss of having to change lenses (or carry them around). Of course, as with everything in life – you’ll usually find there’s some sort of compromise. Even with the best zoom lenses, one big compromise tends to be a narrower maximum aperture than you usually find with prime lenses.
When you’re deciding which zoom lens to pick, first of all consider which type of camera you’re shooting with. That is, whether it’s got an APS-C sized sensor, such as the Nikon D500, or a full-frame sensor, such as the Nikon D810 or the Nikon D5. If you’re using an APS-C sized sensor, you need to be aware of the crop factor. For Nikon cameras, that represents 1.5x the focal length written on the lens. So, as an example, the equivalent focal length of a standard 18-55mm kit lens used on an APS-C body is 27-82.5mm.
The next thing to consider is the type of zoom lens you need. Here we have separated the options into “standard zoom” and “telephoto zoom”. The former is a good option as a walk around lens, giving you flexibility to shoot at different focal lengths without zooming in too far. The latter is best suited to specific needs, such as sports, action, wildlife, or weddings and events.
Best zoom lenses for Nikon – Standard
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 25.5-105mm | Street Price: £349
For an affordable and flexible walk-around lens, the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 is a good option for APS-C users. The wide apertures available at either end of the optic make it a good choice for low light photography, while it’s useful for a range of subject choices, including landscape, street and portraiture.
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Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4G AF-S VR ED DX Lens
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 24-120mm | Street Price: £899
Often sold bundled with Nikon’s superlative D500 APS-C body, the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 makes for a fantastic walk around lens which doesn’t leave you with too many compromises. The focal length starts at the classic 24mm (equivalent), making it well-placed for landscape photography, rising to 120mm (equivalent), which should get you nice and close to lots of different subjects.
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Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 25.5-82.5mm | Street Price: £1,349
This professional level standard zoom lens has a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, making it perfect for low-light photography work – as well as blurring out backgrounds. It’s close to the classic length of 24-70mm favoured by full-frame photographers and gives you lots of options for different subjects, including landscapes, portraits, still-life and more.
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Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 27-52.5mm | Street Price: £649
If you want a super wide aperture, but also want some flexibility when it comes to focal length, Sigma’s fantastic 18-35mm f/1.8 could be the lens for you. You get an almost unheard of maximum wide aperture of f/1.8, ideal for low light and creating a super shallow depth of field. Carrying this lens around is like carrying 2-3 prime lenses, without the need to change or carry additional weight.
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Nikon 24-120mm f/4 G AF-S ED VR Lens
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £914
This standard zoom lens gives extra reach at the telephoto end of the optic over something like the 24-70mm, but you have to settle with an f/4 maximum aperture. You’ve also got vibration reduction on hand, while its compact design makes it well suited to travel – meaning you don’t have to carry around several lenses at once.
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Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E AF-S ED VR Lens
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,779
A professional quality standard zoom lens which is favoured by many full-frame shooters. The classic focal length of 24-70mm pairs with an f/2.8 constant aperture to give you good options when shooting in low light, or to create shallow depth of field effects. You’ll be paying a premium for the wider maximum aperture, so if you think that you’re less likely to be shooting in low light, you might find the f/4 version suits you just as well.
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Best zoom lenses for Nikon – Telephoto
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £2349
To get closer to the action than a standard zoom allows, the next logical step is a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens. The wide angle end is still available for relatively close-up work, such as portraits, while the telephoto end is great for distant subjects, such as sport. It’s designed for full-frame cameras, but it would also work well on some of the larger or more advanced APS-C models in Nikon’s line-up, such as the D500.
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Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC UDS
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,349
A full £1000 cheaper than Nikon’s proprietary 70-200mm f/2.8 lens makes the Tamron version a very, very appealing prospect. You don’t have to compromise on maximum aperture, while the lens has proven to be a great performer.
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Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR Lens
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £999
Another cheaper alternative to a 70-200mm f/2.8 option, is to plump for the f/4 version instead. If you’re mainly shooting in good light, the narrower aperture is likely to bother you less, and you get a hefty saving for making the compromise.
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Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM A
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 75-150mm | Street Price: £949
A high-end APS-C camera like the D500 would match perfectly with this wonderful lens from Sigma’s highly acclaimed Art line-up. With this lens you get a constant maximum aperture of f/1.8, which is extremely unusual for zoom lenses. Carrying this around is like having three wide aperture prime lenses in your bag, without the hassle of having to switch lenses or weighing you down – it’s quite big on its own though, so be prepared to do some weightlifting.
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Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM IS
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £2,699
This telephoto zoom lens certainly isn’t cheap, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. There’s a nice long focal length, which makes it well suited to sports, action and wildlife shooting. The wide angle end could also be used for other subjects such as portraiture, but, due to its heaviness, you might find it’s most suitable for tripod photography. A wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 is constant throughout the focal length, and another specification which makes it well suited for tackling sports and wildlife photography.
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