Best DSLR Camera Lenses iMore 2020

It's always fun to upgrade to the best digital camera on the market. Shiny, new hardware is exciting. The truth, though, is that you'll grow more as a photographer and at a faster rate when you invest in new lenses, not a newer camera body. Quality glass is what makes or breaks a shot, not your camera brand or model. If you shoot with a DSLR, listen up! I've combed through my list of favorites, checked them twice, and can't wait to share the best DSLR camera lenses with you.

Best landscape lens: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Staff Pick

If you shoot landscapes on a Nikon full-frame body, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm probably needs little introduction. With a minimum focus distance of just 0.9 feet and a fast, constant f/2.8 aperture, this wide-angle lens captures mountain vistas, open beaches, forests, and architecture in jaw-dropping detail. Nikon's Silent Wave Motor equals fast autofocusing and phenomenal accuracy, whether you're holding your camera or have it propped up on a tripod. The NIKKOR has a rugged construction that's perfect for hikers and those who need to trek a bit to get the shot, and this lens comes with a hood and protective case.

Best long range zoom: Canon EF 100-400mm

The Canon EF 100-400mm is the lens that's featured in a bazillion movies because it just looks so darn sexy and professional. This is a high-performance model with a rotation zoom that lets you get the most precise composition when handholding. It also comes with a collar for tripod-loving photographers. Covered with Air Sphere Coating, you'll enjoy less flaring and ghosting, which is a huge plus for those who shoot during daylight, sunrise, or golden hours. The Canon 100-400mm is built tough, too. It's resistant to dust and water, allowing you to shoot in the harshest of conditions.

Best portrait lens: Sigma 85mm Art Lens for Canon EF

If you're a portrait photographer, the Sigma 85mm Art Lens for Canon EF has a wide and fast aperture that puts out the creamy backgrounds everyone is craving these days. Equipped with a hypersonic motor, autofocus is quiet and vastly superior to previous generations of this lens, and it far surpasses the competition. Focus is unbelievably precise with the Sigma, allowing you to focus on a pupil of the eye yet blur the eyelid. Now that's impressive bokeh! This Sigma is faster than the Canon alternative and nails the right colors every single time.

Budget 50mm for Nikon: YONGNUO YN EF 50mm f/1.8AF

I've owned this 50mm from independent lens maker YONGNUO for three years, and I love everything about it, including its low price. The f/1.8 aperture is great for isolating your subject while still getting a soft, blurry background. This is an excellent prime lens for autofocus or manual shooters, and it supports both full-frame and APS-C cameras. I used to carry this one around as a backup lens, but it has since earned a full-time place in my bag. YONGNUO's 50mm pulls out more details and brighter colors than Nikon 50mm lens, and it's less than a third of the price. Now that's a bargain!

Best kits lens upgrade: Sigma 17-50mm f/2

The 18-55mm kit lens that comes with most Nikon APS-C cameras is OK. It's lightweight, making for a nice travel companion, but images are dull and usually soft. When I upgraded to the Sigma 17-50mm, my mind was blown. It has a consistent f/2.8 aperture, built-in stabilization, and the hefty quality, usually only available in full-frame equipment. The Sigma is wide enough to use for landscape photography, and it can zoom in to capture crisp portraits, too. This Sigma Kit includes the lens, a heavy-duty padded lens case, and a petal hood.

Best pancake lens: Canon EF-S 24mm

The Canon EF-S 24mm, better known as the best pancake lens ever made fits all APS-C cameras in Canon's lineup. The slim profile lends itself well to street photography, travel photography, and even landscape work. Your camera will never feel so light and free! The seven blades that make up the circular aperture deliver soft backgrounds and crisp subjects and allow you to focus from a minimum distance of only 0.5 feet. If you hike, roam the streets in search of a photo opportunity, or need a light walkabout lens for travel, this is the one to get.

Best do everything zoom: Nikon AF-S-FX 28-300mm

If you can only take one lens with you, grab the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 28-300mm. Second generation vibration reduction enables you to get a clean handheld shot while optimized ED glass gives you edge to edge sharpness. Technically, this can be used on both full-frame Nikon cameras and APS-C models, though obviously, the reach will be longer on crop sensor bodies. This NIKKOR covers a wide range of focal lengths, so it makes for a solid vacation choice. This kit from Nikon includes a dust cover and hood, making it one of the better buys in Nikon's lineup.

Lightweight midrange zoom for Nikon FF: Sigma 70-200mm

It's big and heavy, but the Sigma telephoto for Nikon DSLRs outputs stunning images thanks to its constant f/2.8 aperture. This is a favorite optic for professional shooters and also a worthwhile investment for enthusiasts. With in-built image stabilization, the Sigma produces tack sharp images throughout the entire zoom range. This lens is mountable with the included collar or can be handheld. Perfect for sports and wildlife photographers, the Sigma 70-200mm autofocuses fast and outputs super-sharp shots that easily beat Nikon's lens of this size.

Fantastic super zoom lens for Nikon DX: Tamron 16-300mm

When you're traveling or even spending an afternoon hiking, you can't afford the extra weight and space of five lenses in a backpack or suitcase. That's where superzooms come in handy. This Tamron 16-300mm is for Nikon DX cameras. The expansive range makes it suitable for everything from landscapes to portraits to family photos and wildlife photography. There's vibration compensation built-in, so pictures are always blur-free, even when handholding. Piezo Drive autofocus on this Tamron is fast and spot-on, and this versatile model weighs only a tad over a pound. This kit comes with a lens hood.

$330 at Amazon

Best wildlife lens for Nikon: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm

I've carried the Nikon AF-S-FX NIKKOR 200-500mm lens around the United States for the last year. It is the most compact super-telephoto zoom lens on the market, and it can help you nail a perfect shot of a bird in flight, a deer running through the woods, or even your kid running across the outfield after a pop-up ball. Make no mistake; this is a beast. It may be compact, but at just a smidge over five pounds, it's heavy. It's the kind of lens you can handhold if need be, but you'll do better with a tripod. Thankfully, a tripod collar and lens hood are included. You'll love the 4.5 stops of vibration reduction and a speedy f/5.6 constant aperture. The combination lets you zoom in on the action, gain a clear focus on your subject, and blur the background if you like. And if you want to go longer, this lens is compatible with the TC 14E series of teleconverters.

Wide angle for Canon: Rokinon 14mm

If you're a Canon photographer, the 14mm Rokinon is a lens that will knock your socks off. Complete with a petal-shaped lens hood, the Rokinon is an excellent choice for daylight shooting, sunsets and sunrises, and even astrophotography. Beginners should note that this is a manual focus lens, so you'll either need to learn to shoot in manual or set the lens to infinity. Doing the latter will make everything two to five feet away from the camera stay sharply in focus. Images are well worth the added effort. They come out razor sharp and bursting with color. The Rokinon 14mm works on both full-frame and crop sensor cameras in Canon's lineup.

My final thoughts

DSLRs are not the clunky, antiquated tools that mirrorless camera makers would have you believe. For professional landscape photographers and hobbyists, DSLRs still offer the best waterproofing and build quality available. Investing in high-quality glass is the single best thing you can do for your photographer. It doesn't matter if you're an enthusiast, a beginner, or you make a living with your camera.

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As a landscape photographer, I rely on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm to grab fine details from the environment. Sunsets and vistas never looked so good! If you have a full-frame Nikon and are searching for a lens that with a little zoom room and a constant aperture, this is the one you want. Yep, it's pricey, but it's worth every cent.

If you're a sports shooter or love to hang out in the woods waiting for the perfect moment to capture an elk walking toward you or an eagle flying overhead, you need the Canon EF 100-400mm lens. It's compact, has an impressive zoom range, and is water and dustproof. And if you just need one lens in your bag of tricks that can do everything, invest in the Tamron 16-300mm for Nikon DX cameras. It's quiet, has incredible range, and comes with a lens hood.

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