Since I recently published a Canon 70D lens roundup, I want to make sure that I don’t leave Nikon shooters hanging. Are you looking to find the best lens for Nikon D7100? If so, read on, because this review was created just for you.
Table of Contents
The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX is a great choice if you are looking for an ultra-wide zoom for your D7100. Compared to the Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G, it does not have as much range. However, the Tokina comes with superior build, optics, and constant f/2.8 aperture — all the while being budget-friendly.
The Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G DX is a fast mid-range zoom designed specifically for DX cameras. While the autofocus speed is average, it is highly accurate — you’ll rarely ever misfocus. Along with superb contrast and color reproduction, this lens is incredibly sharp at all apertures, even wide open. If money isn’t an issue, this lens belongs in your bag.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G FX is an absolute bang-for-your-buck portrait lens. I say this because, in my opinion, it is optically superior to the f/1.4 version while costing a lot less. This lens has beautiful bokeh, and is considered one of Nikon’s sharpest lenses. If you shoot portraits and/or want a fast 50mm lens, you need look no further.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is one of the top lenses in the Nikon lineup. It is eye-piercingly sharp wide open on both DX and FX cameras. While longer zooms are generally harder to handhold, this lens comes with 5 stops of image stabilization (VR). If you shoot sports, weddings, or candid portraits, consider this lens.
Alright, let’s dig a little deeper into each one.
Reviews of the Best Lens for Nikon D7100
Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX
This lens is the much-welcomed update to the popular Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. I’m quite surprised that they were able to add on another 4mm without increasing the weight too much.
On the D7100, my copy of this lens was extremely sharp. It is noticeably sharper than my Canon 17-40 f/4L and 5DMarkIII — my main landscape photography combo. At 11mm, the corners are slightly soft when shooting wide open. However, it is nearly perfect from f/5.6 and on.
At this price point, most of the competing lenses are made out of plastic. The Tokina is built with metal, it feels sturdy in your hands, and you don’t have to baby it at all. To top it off, it has a constant f/2.8 aperture, making it much more useful in low light.
There are a certain things that I’m not a big fan of, however. This lens uses 82mm, rather than the standard 77mm filters. This means that you’ll have to pick up a step-down ring if you don’t want to buy 82mm filters exclusively for the Tokina. Additionally, it doesn’t have instant manual focus override, which some of you might find limiting (I don’t).
When buying 3rd party lenses, you may encounter some sample variation — meaning higher chances of getting a “bad copy.” While my copy was perfect, yours might not be. Of course, you can get it replaced if this happens.
There is also the whole debate regarding this lens’s compatibility with full-frame cameras. This is very important because it will affect your purchasing decisions if you plan to upgrade in the future. Without being too technical, this lens works perfectly fine from 16mm to 20mm. Unless you need to shoot wider than that on a full-frame, I wouldn’t consider this a limitation.
My conclusion is that the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 is a hell of a lens for ultra-wide lovers. If you were shooting Canon, I’d tell you to go for their near-perfect 10-18mm f4.5-5.6; but on Nikon, this one takes the cake. It’s sharp, fast, and well-built while costing much less than the Nikon 10-24mm.
Things I Liked
- Extremely sharp
- Built like a tank
- F/2.8 aperture
- Much cheaper than the Nikon 10-24mm
- Works on full-frame as well
Things I Didn’t Like
- 82mm filters (if you have mostly 77mm filters)
- Sample variation
- Slightly smaller range than the Nikon 10-24mm
Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G DX
Since we are talking about the “best,” I assume that your wallet can take a bit of a hit, and that you’re ready to make a long-term investment. If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly in this focal range, check out our review of the highly capable Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8.
The Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G is one of Nikon’s pro-grade lenses made specifically for their DX cameras. The 17-55mm focal range on your D7100 will be similar to something like 27-88mm on a full-frame camera. This is one of the most popular focal ranges as it can be used to shoot anything from landscapes to portraits (although due to distortion, it might not be the best for shooting headshots).
What I find most useful in this lens is the f/2.8. The faster aperture allows you to shoot in semi low-light situations and capture moving objects through higher shutter speeds. While some people would prefer having f/4 and VR (Vibration Reduction), I find this much more useful unless you only shoot static subjects.
Adding on to the previous point, the bokeh at the long end is quite pleasing. For me personally, this is very important as I often shoot portraits wide open. At the shorter end, most of the picture is in focus so I wouldn’t worry about it as much.
As you can expect for a lens in this price range, it is very sharp. In fact, the only time it is not perfectly sharp is at the corners when shooting at f/2.8 (but honestly you wouldn’t notice it unless you’re pixel-peeping hardcore). With that said, the 17-55mm f/2.8G has a sweet spot between f/5.6 and f/8 (at least on my copy).
Another +1 is for its internal focus, where nothing moves or extends while focusing. I also haven’t found any zoom creep on my copy; the lens stays at the focal length it’s set at.
There are very few negatives to speak of. The first one that comes to mind is its weight and size. I mean, you’d think that a lens designed for a smaller sensor wouldn’t be so heavy, right? For some, this might not be an issue, but if you’re used to smaller lenses, this will be a noticeable change.
While I stand by my earlier point of f/2.8 being more important, I still wish this lens had VR. For the majority of the time, I shoot posed portraits, and could use a few extra stops to help me in less-than-optimal lighting. On my 5DMarkIII, I don’t mind bumping the ISO up to 6400. However, I prefer to keep it much lower on the D7100.
In summary, the 17-55mm f/2.8G is a great lens for photographers who need a fast midrange zoom and aren’t restricted by budget. It is also great for photographers who just want one awesome lens that can perform a wide variety of applications.
What I Liked
- Highly useful focal range
- F/2.8 aperture
- Extremely sharp
- Solid autofocus performance
- Internal focus
What I Didn’t Like
- Big and heavy
- No VR
- Flares easily in backlight situations
Nikon 50mm f/1.8G FX
As a portrait shooter, I heavily gravitate towards prime lenses, especially ones in this focal range. Why do I recommend this one over the 1.4 version? Having used the 50mm on several cameras, I have concluded that this lens outperforms its big brother.
When you buy a fast prime lens, you’re either looking for additional light-gathering capabilities or you like the shallow depth-of-field look. In either case, wide-open performance is probably important to you.
In my tests, the 50mm f/1.4G is not sharp until stopped down to f/1.8 or so. The 50mm f/1.8G, however, is perfectly sharp wide-open. The f/1.4G’s performance only starts to win at around f/5.6 or so. But then again, I don’t think you would get a fast prime if you plan to shoot at smaller apertures.
At larger apertures, the bokeh is quite beautiful. Like Canon’s 50mm equivalent, the out-of-focus background is very neutral and not distracting at all (and I’d say the Nikon version is a bit better). The autofocus is very fast and accurate, more so than the 1.4G.
When thinking about the negatives, I don’t have much to say about this lens except for distortion. Compared to Nikon’s other 50mm lenses, this one has moderate levels of barrel distortion. However, Adobe’s built-in lens profile can take care of this in just a second. If you need a 50mm lens with absolutely no distortion, check out the older Nikon 50mm f/1.8D FX.
While this lens also works on FX bodies, I personally find the 50mm focal length to be somewhat awkward — it’s not wide enough, but not long enough either. However, the D7100’s crop factor effectively turns it into a 75mm lens, which is close to ideal for any kind of portraiture. If you need a fast lens at this focal length, buying it is almost a no-brainer.
Things I Liked
- Excellent price-to-performance ratio
- One of Nikon’s sharpest lenses
- Smooth bokeh
- Fast and accurate autofocus
Things I Didn’t Like
- Moderate barrel distortion
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
I’ve always sworn by Canon’s 70-200mm lineup, and it’s the same with Nikon’s. Apart from the one extra stop of speed, I find the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G to be on par with the more expensive f/2.8 version (IQ-wise).
For me, the biggest selling point of this lens is the VR, offering up to 5 stops of image stabilization. Without this feature, the lens would be difficult to use in any situation outside of bright daylight.
While the majority of zooms can’t compete with primes in terms of sharpness, this bad boy is an exception. For most lenses, I end up having to use a touch of the Unsharp Mask during the retouching stage. However, I’ve found that photos taken with the 70-200 do not require any use of this filter. If you were shooting a headshot of someone with bad skin, this lens would not be the right choice because it will pick up every little blemish.
In addition, the contrast and color rendition are good right out of the camera, requiring very little adjustment in post. What a time saver indeed!
The autofocus performance is superb. With the Silent Wave Motor (SWM), the lens focuses very fast while remaining ultra-quiet. It also has instant manual focus override and internal focus.
While it does not have the same solid build as the f/2.8 brother, the f/4G is fairly lightweight and portable. You will be able to use it for extended periods without tiring out. There were periods of time where I used it as a walkaround lens with nearly zero issues.
Another pleasant surprise is that there is not much chromatic aberration even in high-contrast situations (The little bit of CA can easily be corrected).
While it has a bit more distortion than the f/2.8 version (almost twice as much), it’s probably not an issue unless you’re shooting brick walls head on. Plus, you can set the D7100 to automatically correct the distortion in-camera.
Apart from this (and the fact that you can’t shoot at f/2.8), the Nikon 70-200 f/4G doesn’t really have any negatives to speak of. If you need a killer telephoto zoom that shines on both DX and FX bodies, this is the lens you should go for.
Things I Like
- Sharpest lens in this roundup
- 5-stop image stabilization (VR)
- More portable than the f/2.8G
- Good contrast and color rendition
- Superb autofocus performance
Things I Didn’t Like
- Moderate distortion
- Can’t shoot at f/2.8
Where Should You Spend Your Money?
While I think that every lens on this list should have a place in your bag, I know that photography is an expensive hobby. Therefore, I would suggest that if you need to choose between different types of equipment, definitely focus on a good lens rather than a camera body.
Here are the reasons why:
- Lenses maintain their value indefinitely. Whatever lens you buy today will still be relevant 5 years later. If you keep your lenses in great condition, you may even be able to sell them for a profit at some later point in time.
- Some cameras get updated yearly, which means their monetary value also depreciate quickly. Think about the iPhone 5 and how fast it took for its value to fall after newer versions were released. The same is true of cameras; whatever you buy now will be worth a fraction of the price in just a few years.
- Lenses can completely upgrade your photo quality in a way that camera bodies cannot. It makes absolutely no sense to put a $100 lens on a $2500 camera. On the other hand, I’ve taken some gorgeous photos with a Canon T2i and a 70-200mm f/2.8L,.
No matter which lens you choose to buy, just know that you’re making a solid investment that will last you for years to come. So, what is the best lens for Nikon D7100? If I had to choose just one, I’m going to go with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G DX. It’s super sharp and fast with excellent IQ. Not only that — its highly useful focal range allows me to shoot just about anything I could think of.