Third party lenses, ones that aren’t made by the same company that made your camera (which in this case is Nikon), are often less expensive than name-brand lenses so they’re an excellent alternative should you want to save a little bit of cash. You won’t be compromising on image quality, either, as all of the lenses featured in our top list perform incredibly well and you often get more choice in regards to focal lengths with third-party lenses, too. For example, as well as providing popular focal lengths as name-brand lenses do, they also fill gaps in the market so you’re more likely to find a not-so-common focal length in a third-party lens.
When it comes to third-party lens manufacturers, there are several well-known brands, all of which feature on our list, that you can trust and this includes Tamron, Sigma, Tokina, ZEISS, Irix and Samyang.
If you do purchase a third-party lens, make sure it has the specific mount for the camera type you’re using. If you purchase a lens with the wrong lens mount, you won’t be able to use it with your camera.
Below you’ll find lenses that can be used to shoot a variety of subjects including macro, portraits, wildlife, and landscapes. Each subject has its own section so you can navigate the list easily.
1. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD
Building on the reputation of its predecessors and definitely coming up to the mark, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD is an outstanding updated macro lens that’s actually ideal for all short telephoto applications. The best sharpness will always be obtained using a sturdy tripod, especially for macro shooting. However, both the AF and VC continue to work well at those close distances. The focus limiter is useful for macro distances and even though macro lenses aren’t known for their close range auto focus capabilities, you won’t need to switch to manual focus when using the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD at close range.
2. Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM Macro
The Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens combines superb sharpness, good build quality, and fast focusing. It features a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, optical stabilisation, and fast, silent autofocus. Those serious about macro photography, using a telephoto focal length to increase the working distance will love this lens. It’s sharp, well built and very well featured.
3. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro VC USD
As you might expect from a 90mm macro lens from Tamron, the optical performance of the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro VC USD is excellent. The lens delivers superb sharpness and contrast plus distortion, chromatic aberrations and falloff are kept in check also. The Vibration Compensation system is a useful addition for hand-held photography also.
4. Samyang 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC Macro
This 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC macro lens from Samyang is a very good lens indeed. It delivers sharp images, with low CA and distortion. Focusing is smooth and build quality is good also. However, the lack of autofocus and optical image stabilisation may put some off.
Standard 50mm Primes
1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
With this 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens, Sigma has created an optic which performs well in terms of sharpness and other optical attributes, for a fairly reasonable price. This combination of price versus performance will almost certainly win many fans for this lens, even despite its large size and weight for a 50mm optic.
2. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM has been around a while but it still performs very well. Sharpness in the centre is this lens’ strong point, so if you tend to shoot at wide apertures this could be the lens for you.
1. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens is on the same level playing field as lenses costing up to twice as much, punching far above its weight. It may not have the same silky smoothness in operation as its more expensive competition, but it delivers the goods, making no compromise on image quality.
Add to that the amazing VC system and moisture and dust resistance and Tamron have a definite winner on their hands.
2. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports
The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM S is capable of producing images with excellent sharpness, low CA and distortion. Those looking for a long lens to add to their kit bag should certainly add this lens to their list of considerations.
3. Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM S
This is a 2.5x zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture has silent focusing and optical stabilisation. The lens is well damped, making fine focusing adjustments easy to apply and chromatic aberrations are well controlled with fringing very low towards the edges of the frame. It makes a compelling alternative to the camera manufacturer’s own lenses and we awarded the 120-300mm lens 4.5 stars for excellent build quality, fast focusing and low CA.
3. Sigma AF 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
The Sigma AF 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM gives excellent results, and an excellent price in a compact package. There’s no weather sealing and its edge performance at longer lengths is a little weak but there are plenty of other positive points that make this optic well worth considering.
Wide-Angle Primes & Zooms
1. Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM | A
What is there not to like about this lens? It’s capable of delivering excellent sharpness, with low CA and distortion and offers pretty good value for money too.
Rather than creating a niche oddity, Sigma has produced a lens that may actually have much wider appeal, thanks to its unique f/2 maximum aperture, excellent build quality and the value for money it delivers. The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM is well worth taking a look at.
2. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM A
The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM A lens opens new possibilities for owners of APS-C format cameras for low light shooting and creative use of depth of field with a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture, normally reserved for prime focal length lenses. The image quality delivered, especially at shorter focal lengths is of the level normally reserved for prime lenses also.
3. Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Distagon T*
The temptation may well be there to go for the wider 15mm lens at the same price, or one of the alternative 15mm offerings. However, the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 does offer a smaller, lighter lens that is easier to focus and handle and may even be more universally useful. It is not a lower cost option. The optical performance is virtually the same.
This leaves the lens as a very tempting option that could be a superb travel and landscape companion.
1. Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
A slightly slower maximum aperture of f/1.8 (many 85mm lenses are f/1.4 designs) does seem to have its advantages in terms of a more compact, lighter lens and also a lower cost. Performance is impeccable, the lens handles superbly and the price well within reason. Unless the photographer has a definite need for an f/1.4 then the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD delivers superb quality at a more reasonable price level. What a lovely lens this is.
2. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a high-class, highly competent design that performs confidently and efficiently. It is of the modern breed of 85mm lenses, sharp from open aperture, as opposed to older designs that were intended to be softer wide open for the purposes of flattering portraits. This new lens is sharp throughout, although not cruelly over-sharp, so subjects should be pleased enough.
It is also delightful to use, the only omissions being vibration reduction and weather sealing, but the performance itself is not in question.
3. Zeiss OTUS 55mm f/1.4 APO Distagon T*
If the objective is the best possible technical quality then there is no doubt that here is a lens that’s probably as good as we can get. The Zeiss OTUS 55mm f/1.4 gives superb quality at a high price but if the price is within reach, it would make a good investment.
4. Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4
The Milvus 85mm f/1.4 is, without doubt, a superb lens and it is a gorgeous example of fine engineering. But above all, the fast 85mm is a very exciting lens to use, offering a very pleasant perspective on the world, whether for portraits, landscapes, street photography, close-range sports or any other short telephoto applications. The wide aperture offers the ability to continue shooting as the light fails. The price may be high and there’s no AF, but the other qualities shine out and certainly justify giving it very serious consideration.
If the price can be afforded and the lack of AF is acceptable then the Zeiss Milvus is one of the very best 85mm lenses available.
1. Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
The Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD is lightweight, compact and it delivers excellent quality results when used within its limitations. Overall, it’s a decent performer with an impressive zoom range and a great range of features.
2. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
The Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC lens performs very well indeed, especially at the centre and is punching way above its weight in many areas. It has high central sharpness, low CA, low flare and an incredibly low price. There are performance compromises, as mentioned throughout this review, but for anyone wanting an inexpensive, versatile holiday or travel lens this is terrific value for money. Add the bonus of the VC system and it is difficult not to be impressed.
3. Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD
Superzoom lenses like this offer a versatile, compact option for photographers. Plus, this lens adds a decent vibration compensation system, resistance to dust and moisture and fast focusing to allow this lens to be used in a wide range of shooting scenarios, further increasing the convenience on offer.
Overall, the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD offers a versatile, compact option which is great for travel.
4. Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro Contemporary
Overall, the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC is a great choice for those wishing to travel light. It delivers sharp, contrasty images throughout the zoom range and costs around £100 less than comparable alternatives.
Build quality is great for a lens this inexpensive, as are focus speeds. The fact it focuses close as well will make this lens an ideal, good value travel companion.
5. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Macro OS HSM C
The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Macro OS HSM C is certainly capable of delivering images with decent sharpness. It is reasonably compact, well built and the price is very reasonable too. Those looking for a lens covering a wide range of focal lengths, whilst allowing them to travel light should certainly give this lens serious consideration.