Gear-obsessed photographers spend a lot of time arguing about one camera body or another, but what makes the most difference to your picture taking is lenses. Lenses change your view of the world more than anything else and there are subjects and scenes you simply can’t capture without the right ones. So, if you’ve upgraded to one of Nikon’s new Z series cameras, you’re likely to be thinking about what glass you need to go along with it. We’re here to help.
Now, whether you bought into the original Z 6 and Z 7, the entry level Z 5, or the new Z 6II and Z 7II, you’ll probably have bought your camera with a kit zoom. A great many of those cameras shipped with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S and a very good lens that is, too. But you’ll soon be wanting to push things further, and that means adding to your kit.
If you’re coming from a Nikon DSLR, you might also have bought a Nikon FTZ adapter along with your camera, and while that’s a great way to bridge the gap between F mount and Z mount lenses, there’s no doubting that to make the most of your new camera you’ll want glass that was specifically designed for it.
It’s a fairly close field right now in terms of lenses choice for the Z series, with only Nikon itself, Laowa and Samyang the recognised names producing Z mount glass, but the third-party mainstays of Sigma and Tamron will soon be joining, so we’ll look forward to seeing what they have to offer, too. Right now, here’s our shot at five Nikon Z lenses that’ll make a big difference to your shooting. This is our pick as of April 2021, and there’s a mix of specs and budgets to suit all sorts.
Best wide-angle lens
Oh my goodness, the first lens on the list isn’t even made by Nikon! The Samyang MF 14mm f/2.8 is a manual focus wide-angle prime, and a snip at under £300. Sure, there’s the Laowa 11mm f/4.5 FF RL out there, too, but to get this wide with one of Nikon’s own Z lenses, right now you’re looking at the super-lovely, but also super-expensive Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S or the Z 14-30mm f/4 S. And yes, it’s a manual focus lens, but if you’re using it for landscapes or interiors, how important is AF anyway? Especially as your Z camera has all the mirrorless benefits of focus peaking in manual focus mode. In low-light or shooting stars, the f/2.8 is a bonus, and if working handheld, you can also set up the Z series’ IBIS to compensate for shake. It even gives lovely sunstars. Get one!
Best all-purpose lens
What do we mean by ‘all purpose’? Well, something that’s suitable for all occasions, really. That could be a zoom with a flexible range of focal lengths, or a prime that’s great for a range of subjects. And while Nikon’s Z 35mm f/1.8 S and Z 50mm f/1.8 are great general purpose prime lenses, you can’t argue against the flexibility of the Nikkor Z 24-200mm f4-6.3 VR. It’s not actually one of Nikon’s S-Line lenses and if that’s a dealbreaker for you, there’s a 24-105mm f/something S on the roadmap, more details of which soon no doubt, but the 24-200mm has lots of fans, not least because a modern mirrorless body makes lenses like this really sing. For instance the Z cameras’ excellent IBIS and ISO performance means a variable aperture is less of a limitation than before, and image stay nice and sharp at the long end. It’s small, light at 570g, weather sealed, gives good quality shots, and even has a handy 70cm minimum focus distance аt 200mm.
Best portrait lens
Whether it’s humans or pets you’re framing, a proper portrait lens is vital. Here, our money has to go on Nikon’s own Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S. An impeccably sharp lens, which, unlike some of its super-fast brethren, still handles beautifully with the dripless Z bodies. Yes, there’s a f/1.4 version on the way, as well as other manual focus options out there already, and this lens also lacks some of the refinements of other high-end Z series primes like an L.Fn button and LCD display, but arguably those aren’t all that necessary anyway. And though it’s no little outlay at £just under £800, you won’t feel short changed by its performance at all.
Best telephoto zoom
In the history of photography, is there a lens type more synonymous with excellence than the 70-200mm? Well, maybe, but that’s a discussion for another time. The fact is, a 70-200mm is one of the most useful optics you can buy, capable of being turned to a huge range of subjects, and if it’s a fast version like the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, it’s a winner for freezing the action in low-light and for subject separation, too. Basically, this performs just as well as the previous F mount version, and even eclipses it in some areas. That’s no mean feat as the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR was rated as one of the best lenses ever.
Again, the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is by no means cheap, but a lens like this is a lifetime investment, that will eventually seem like a bargain. Buy it along with the Nikkor Z 1.4x Teleconverter and you’ve got an effective 100-280mm f/4 lens. Until Nikon brings out a 70-300mm Z-fit lens, this is there’s really not much option for more reach, though there are 100-400mm S and 200-600mm S lenses coming down the track, according to Nikon’s own roadmap.
Best macro lens
As we’ve all found in our various lockdowns, there’s nothing like a macro lens. Whether you’re shooting floral still-lifes, carefully structured flat-lays, closeups of man-made tools or jewellry, or even something completely abstract, the close focusing potential of a macro lens can’t be overstated in its usefulness. The thing is, there’s actually only one macro lens currently available for Nikon’s Z mount! Fortunately it’s a pretty neat one.
Even if it weren’t the only dedicated Z macro option right now, the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO’s stand-out feature would be worthy of adding it to your shopping list – a 2:1 magnification that provides twice life-size results. It’s a manual focus lens, but that’s not a big deal with macro, and as a lens that’ll help you explore your Z camera’s superb focus stacking options, it’s well worth the investment.