The best lens for a Nikon D7100


Uncompromising quality on DX

The Nikon D7100 is the ultimate camera for a perfectionistic amateur photographer or a (semi-) professional photographer. If you're looking for a lens of the very highest quality for a Nikon DX camera, it doesn't have to be a D7100, you'll find that here. There are 4 FX lenses in the group as well. The best FX lenses, as expected, score even better on a camera with a smaller DX sensor on the points of distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration. Unfortunately, the best lenses are usually not the smallest, lightest or least expensive lenses. In "The best lenses for a Nikon D5300," we took into account the wallet and the photographer's back. Now, we're focused on the very highest quality. Exciting! 

D7100LowLightHappy that I didn't choose a vacation zoom. This shot was made in Chili from a moving bus, with a 70-200 mm zoom @ 105 mm, f/2.8 and 1/160 second, with image stabilization – because of the bus – turned on.

Nikon D7000 vs Nikon D7100: Time to switch

Of the 50 lenses that we have reviewed on a Nikon DX camera, here we name only the very best.

The best lenses for a Nikon D7100 are obviously also the best lenses for a Nikon D7000. Is it time to switch? If you place importance on high resolution or a good signal/noise ratio, then it is. With Imatest and our own eyes, we can see no difference in resolution between the Nikon D5200 and D5300. Both cameras have a 24-megapixel sensor, with Nikon omitting the moiré filter in the D5300. For resolution, you don't have to switch from a D5200 to a D5300. But for the Nikon D7100, it's different. With a Nikon D7100, you profit in comparison with the 16-megapixel D7000 with visibly higher resolution, thanks to the 24-megapixel sensor without a moiré filter. DxOMark has shown that the resolution of good lenses increases by 50% (and 35% for superzooms) when you switch from a Nikon D7000 to a Nikon D7100. Do smaller pixels have more noise? Far from always. The modern sensor of the D7100 has smaller pixels, but a higher signal/noise ratio.

In How Do I Choose a Lens? (Subjective strategy for purchasing a lens), we listed which criteria we use in our hunt for the perfect lens for – in this case – a Nikon D7100.

Depending on your photography experience, capacity (financial and physical), the subject and your ambitions, there are multiple choices possible. That's why we split our lens advice series between SLR starters (best lenses for a Nikon D3300), enthusiastic amateurs (best lenses for a D5300) and prosumers (with a D7100). In comparison with our earlier advice for beginners and amateurs, there are now more lenses with a fixed focal length available – not necessarily because they're better, but more because experienced photographers get a lot of pleasure from lenses with a fixed focal length. In general, the fixed focal length lenses actually are better than zooms, as it appears from our review results. Even so, the differences are becoming less visible.
Our practical experience with reviewing nearly 50 lenses on a Nikon camera with a DX sensor has been put to work in making a selection of good lenses for the Nikon D7100. We only name the lenses that we have reviewed. Naturally, there are more good lenses for sale. We do our best to review ever-more lenses, so that we can supplement this article in a year.

Are you on the verge of purchasing a Nikon D7100?

Nikon D7100 kit is about as expensive as the body with separate lens

Less expensive Nikon cameras will be purchased as a kit with a small, light 18-55 mm lens. But the Nikon D7100 is offered as a kit with a Nikon 18-105 mm or an 18-140 mm. Where image quality is concerned, it's not crazy to choose the 18-105. That lens – thanks to the larger zoom range – did as well in our review as the 18-55 mm. The 18-140 mm is also an attractive lens. The 18-140 mm at longer focal lengths is sharper than the 18-105 mm and surprised us with a nice background blur. For both zooms, a bit heavier, larger lens than the 18-55 mm works perfectly with a D7100. If you can find a Nikon 18-55 mm VR (II) for a steal, then you'll get a positive surprise as far as price/quality ratio is concerned.

product-Nikon-18-105With a kit, you're out the door for less money that with a separate camera body and lens, you would think. But with the Nikon D7100, it doesn't make much difference. The Nikon D7100 (store price body: 950 euros) will be offered as a kit with a Nikon 18-105 mm (kit price in the store: 1150 euros) or an 18-140 mm lens (kit price in the store: 1500 euros). The Nikon 18-105 mm and 18-140 mm are sold separately for 200 and 500 euros. If you don't need these lenses, then it makes no sense to purchase a D7100 with a kit lens. It's then better when purchasing a Nikon D7100 body to choose a lens that you really want to have.
Unless you run into a promotion that significantly beats the named prices.

Zoom lens? Choose Sigma 18-35 mm, Tamron 17-50 mm, Nikon 18-105 mm or 18-140 mm?

D7100FeedChoice enough, for an Ethiopian feeding pelicans.

Zoom vs prime: Is there a revolution taking place in lenses?

A few years ago, a 70-200 mm f/2.8 was really the only zoom lens that in terms of image quality could compete with lenses with a fixed focal length. Whether you're now looking at build quality, brightness or image quality, the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 still holds its own. But in the past year, it has gotten company from multiple zoom lenses, which just like the 70-200 mm f/2.8 are better than lenses with a fixed focal length. A bloodless revolution? For photographers, the choice of good lenses is becoming larger.

kijkvensterThe most heralded high-performance zoom to recently appear is, of course, the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8. The less bright Nikon AF 18-35 mm f/3.5-45 ED and Tamron 17-50 mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC LD Aspherical IF SP AF also produced incredibly beautiful results in our reviews in combination with a Nikon D7100. These zoom lenses beat out at 50 mm (converted to FX) many zoom and fixed focal length lenses, when it comes to image quality. The build quality of these zoom lenses is also of a very high level.
A zoom range that compares with 27-53, an unheard of f/1.8 brightness and a faultless image quality make the Sigma 18-35 mm our first choice if we must choose from among zoom lenses for a Nikon D7100.

RAW or jpg, does it matter?

CameraStuffReview readers shoot most frequently in RAW. You?

It matters whether you photograph in RAW, or only use jpg files from the Nikon D7100. At CameraStuffReview, we make test shots simultaneously in RAW and jpg, after which we analyze both files. For starters and amateur photographers, we report the lens quality on the basis of jpg files, where we apply as many in-camera lens corrections as possible. These scores say a bit less about the lens quality, because some lens properties are corrected by the camera. The jpg scores for a large group of photographers come the closest to their workflow. In other words: the jpg scores from CameraStuffReview correspond to what photographers see if they view jpg files. In addition, we give our readers the ability to see how much sharpness (specifically, but not exclusively in the corners) you lose in the corners when you correct for distortion.

If you photograph with a Nikon D7100, then you're going for the highest quality, and the chance is good that you photograph in RAW. From a survey of our readers, it appears that most of our readers photograph in RAW. Like DxO, CameraStuffReview measures lens performance on the basis of RAW files where no editing (sharpening, noise suppression, lens corrections) is done. In that way, you prevent the lens performance from being influenced by the settings that a reviewer has chosen for sharpening or noise suppression.
CameraStuffReview uses Imatest for measuring image quality, instead of DxO Analyser, meaning that the measurement results from CameraStuffReview and DxO are not directly comparable. The trends for the individual lens properties on DxOmark and the RAW scores on CameraStuffReview are largely in agreement. In weighting the various lens properties in order to calculate a final score, there are differences between DxO and CameraStuffReview. Our final scores are based on a complex calculation in which many factors that photographers find important, such as sharpness in the corners versus the center, performance at full aperture and optimal aperture, etc. are considered, so that the scores compare with the visual judgments that we do for all lens reviews.

We are not the only site with lens advice for Nikon D7100 owners. Look, for example, at:

Nikon 18-300mm D0X VR II: best superzoom for the D7100


product-Nikon-18-105We consider all zoom lenses with a zoom range of 5 or more to be super zooms. The Nikon 18-140 mm produces the highest overall score if we use the RAW image quality as the measuring stick, but the differences in overall image quality between all superzooms is small. This is the only category where image quality is not the most important factor. Zoom range is at least as important. With that, we have chosen here the recently released Nikon 18-300 mm VR II, which is just as good but less expensive and more compact than its predecessor. We assume that a superzoom is not that the only lens that will be used on the Nikon D7100. The other lenses that we name in this article do more to let the high quality of the Nikon D7100.

The best lenses for Nikon D7100:

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Macro photography with a Nikon D7100

Tip: Qualitatively high-value Sigma 105 mm f/2.8 Macro, for around 500 euros

105-micro-nikkorDe Nikon 105 mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR is the best macro lens that we have reviewed so far on a DX camera. A macro lens is also good for use as a short telephoto lens. You can make shockingly good portraits with it. From grasshopper to catwalk, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR delivers!

Low-Light lenses

D7100NightHoogovers at Duisburg, the glowing hot ore on the train is clearly visible in the dark.. 
Nikon has a great series of affordable f/1.8 lenses (28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm) that are ideal for low-light photography. The Nikon 24 mm f/1.4 G ED AF-S is more expensive, but better. The Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR and the Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G AF-S are not lenses that we would omit from the list of perfect low-light lenses. They're lenses that, point for point, we can recommend for low-light, concert and HDR photography. 

Wide-angle lenses

D7100BWFor all wide-angle lenses it is true: If you choose the shortest focal length, then you will clearly see distortion without correction. If you want to take great wide-angle shots with a Nikon D7100, then you need a lens with a focal length of 16 mm or less. We have not reviewed any lenses with a fixed focal length of less than 16 mm (I think specifically about the AF Nikkor 14 mm f/2.8 D ED), so we come back to the wide-angle zoom lenses. There are several of these, very good lenses among then, for which we still need to see whether they'll be beaten out by a lens with a fixed focal length. The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 PRO DX II SD links consistent, high brightness with high image quality. Another very nice wide-angle zoom that we can recommend to every owner of a Nikon D7100 is the Nikon AF-S 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED DXTokina-11-16v2210

Best portrait lens, also the best 85 mm (fixed and zoom)

ConcertportretNikkor85mmIf you look in our overview with review results at 135 mm (converted to FX), then both the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 aim high with their impeccable image quality. For portraits with a Nikon D7100, the f/2.8 is the better choice of the two.
Even so, we advise the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G as a portrait lens. Not only is the image quality super and the high brightness delivers a nicer isolation of the subject from the background, it is also nicer for the photographer to work with a more compact, lighter lens. For example, the Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 with a filter size of 67 mm is less intimidating than a Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8, with a 77 mm filter. That is nice to take along, unless you want to make an impression with the size of your lens.

Telephoto lenses for the Nikon D7100

D7100teleNikon-70-200For the best shots of distant subjects, you need a bright telephoto lens. Due to the 1.5x crop factor of a Nikon D7100, for many subjects a focal length of 200 mm is sufficient. It will come as no surprise that we advise here the purchase of a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II If its weight or purchase price is in this case a bit too high for you, then you can choose the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR. It's just as good. If I were going on a trip with the Nikon D7100 and two lenses, then I would be taking the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR II with me. If you want to photograph small birds, then 200 mm is not sufficient. The Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S isthe only serious candidate that we have reviewed with a longer focal length, so we'll refrain from making a recommendation about the best supertelephoto lens.

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Best fixed-focal length standard lens

Sigma35mmExperienced photographers often gladly work with a fixed focal length due to creative considerations. Because you cannot zoom in or out, a fixed focal length forces you to think more carefully about the composition of a photo. The first lens with a fixed focal length that is purchased is usually a standard lens. For a camera with a DX sensor, that would have to be a 35 mm lens. Of the fixed-focal length lenses with a field of view equivalent to 50 mm on a camera with an FX sensor, the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art delivers the best performance and the highest brightness of the lenses that we have reviewed so far. 

Best lens with a 35-50 mm focal length (FX equivalent)

Tamron 17-50 lensNikon does not produce a 17-50 mm f/2.8 with image stabilization. The Tamron 17-50 mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC LD Aspherical IF SP AF zoom beats out many lenses at 35 mm and 50 mm (converted to FX): both zoom lenses and lenses with a fixed focal length. The lens is beautifully finished and feels solid, and the profit from the image stabilization is a good 3 stops. The vignetting in stops in only on the high side at f/2.8. At the other apertures, the vignetting is negligibly low. The power of separation in the center is high at all apertures. There is a difference between the center sharpness and corner sharpness at most apertures.

DX bokeh nicer than FX bokeh?

Nikon58mm14If you want a butter-soft bokeh, without trading in your Nikon D7100 for a Nikon D810? Many photographers look exclusively at the sensor size to predict the bokeh. The lens probably has a greater influence on the quality of the bokeh. OK, with the best lens on an FX, you get the maximum score for bokeh, if we leave the cameras with an even larger sensor out of it. But put the same lens on a Nikon D7100 and you still have a fantastic bokeh – with less vignetting, less distortion and lower chromatic aberration to boot.
DeThe Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR II in combination with the Nikon D7100 delivers at full aperture a super-nice bokeh that will beat out many lenses on an FX camera. If you find the focal length a bit too long, then you can choose a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art or Nikon 58mm f/1.4G. If you ever decide to buy an FX camera, then you can keep using these bokeh monsters.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.