Photography / Buying Guide

Best of 2015: Nikon Lenses

Nikon's lens releases from 2015 tended to focus on telephoto designs, going against the grain this year. With the exception of one wide-angle prime, each of the eight lens announcements, along with one unique point-and-shoot was, in some way, characterized by focal lengths that are longer than normal. With Nikon's legacy in mind, however, this shouldn't be a surprise, as the company has certainly filled out all of the focal-length gaps over the course of its 80+ year history; 2015, rather, served as a year of refining optical designs, incorporating new technologies into existing focal lengths, and introducing a select number of fully unique lenses that push the boundaries of what was previously possible.

The Telephotos

Beginning at the start of the year, Nikon introduced the AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens, which succeeds the previous 300mm f/4D IF-ED, and brings with it a marked reduction in weight and overall form factor: about 3" shorter in length and 1.5 lb lighter in weight. This notably smaller size permits easier handheld shooting, and the addition of Vibration Reduction image stabilization also compensates for up to 4.5 stops of camera shake to benefit working with slower shutter speeds. The decreased weight can be attributed to Nikon's incorporation of a newly formulated Phase Fresnel (PF) element, which beyond reducing chromatic aberrations, permits the use of fewer traditional glass elements in the lens design. In addition to the PF element, the lens construction also includes one extra-low dispersion element, as well as both Super Integrated and Nano Crystal Coatings. Furthermore, this new 300mm f/4 has an internal focusing design, along with a Silent Wave Motor to enable quick, quiet, and accurate autofocus performance, along with full-time manual focus override.

Moving on to the middle of the year, Nikon updated a couple of its super telephotos for faster, more consistent performance, as well as heightened image quality. Both the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR received a similar suite of upgrades, including the addition of fluorite elements that serve to reduce aberrations and distortions and lessen the overall weight of the lens. In the case of the 500mm f/4, the new model is nearly 2 lb lighter than its predecessor, and the 600mm f/4 is nearly 3 lb lighter than the former model. As lenses that are ideally suited to wildlife and sports photography applications, both lenses also now feature an electromagnetic aperture mechanism, which offers greater exposure control stability when working with fast continuous shooting rates, as well as 4-stop-effective Vibration Reduction with a specialized Sports Mode that is optimized to minimize the appearance of camera shake when making fast panning movements. In regard to durability and handling, the two lenses also sport redeveloped magnesium-alloy barrels, new ball bearings in the tripod collars for smoother rotations between vertical and horizontal shooting orientations, and the front element of each lens incorporates Nikon's Fluorine coating for easier cleaning and resistance to water, dirt, and smudging.

For a bit more versatility without sacrificing the reach, Nikon also introduced the tele-zoom AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, which is characterized by its constant f/5.6 maximum aperture and a relatively compact (4.25 x 10.5"), lightweight (5 lb) design for such a long-ranging lens. VR image stabilization compensates for up to 4.5 stops of camera shake, to better enable shooting handheld, and like the two previous telephotos, this zoom features the Sports Mode for enhanced VR when making panning movements while shooting. Running through the other signifying letters of the lens's name, the 200-500mm f/5.6 also has the electromagnetic aperture mechanism, uses a Silent Wave Motor for fast and smooth AF, and integrates three extra-low dispersion glass elements into its design to suppress chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range.

The DX Lenses

Nearly any DX lens announcement can be seen as a positive for DX shooters, and 2015 saw the introduction of two new lenses designed specifically for Nikon's crop sensor DSLRs. Early in the year, announced alongside the aforementioned 300mm f/4 lens and the D5500 DSLR, was the AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II lens. Providing an 82.5-300mm equivalent focal-length range, this sleek telephoto zoom features an updated retracting design that is approximately 20% shorter than its predecessor. The Vibration Reduction system was also upgraded from the previous model, and now compensates for up to 4 stops of camera shake for sharper handheld shooting in difficult lighting conditions or with slower shutter speeds. The optical design features one extra-low dispersion element, and a Super Integrated Coating has been applied to reduce lens flare and ghosting.

Later in 2015, announced at the same time as the 500mm and 600mm, is the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR, which serves as a new premium wide-to-telephoto zoom in a 24-120mm equivalent focal length range. In addition to the bright maximum aperture range of f/2.8-4, which avails greater control over selective focus and enhanced low-light shooting capabilities, this new DX-dedicated zoom features the now-standard electromagnetic diaphragm, 4-stop-effective VR with Sports Mode, and a Silent Wave Motor for quick AF speeds. The optical design contains three aspherical elements and four extra-low dispersion glass elements for reduced chromatic and spherical aberrations and controlled distortion throughout the zoom range, as well as both Super Integrated and Nano Crystal Coatings to minimize flare and ghosting. Additionally, similar to the tele lenses from this year, this zoom sports fluorine-coated front and rear elements to guard against smudging, moisture, and dirt. This versatile zoom breathes new light into the DX system as a high-performance option well suited to the increased resolution of the new DX sensors, as well as support for faster shooting rates and more action-based shooting methods.

A New FX Wide and an Update to a Classic

Finishing off 2015's lens announcements were a pair of FX-compatible lenses that share the common 24mm focal length; however, one is a prime and the other is the zoom of choice for many working professionals.

The prime first, Nikon added the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED to its stable of f/1.8 G-series primes that now range from 20mm to 85mm. One of the more versatile wide-angle focal lengths, this lens's f/1.8 maximum aperture is ideal for use in difficult lighting conditions and also results in a more compact form factor than the f/1.4 version. The optical design incorporates a pair of extra-low dispersion elements, a pair of aspherical elements, and a pair of coatings—Nano Crystal and Super Integrated—help to limit surface reflections for increased contrast and color neutrality. The Silent Wave Motor also provides fast autofocus performance and offers full-time manual focus override for refined control.

Finally, one of the most high-profile Nikon lenses of the year was the update to the esteemed 24-70mm zoom with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR. Upgrading a lens of this reputation required a wealth of attention to bringing new features to its build, as well as improving the image quality. Arguably the most notable difference between the new lens and its predecessor is the incorporation of Vibration Reduction for minimizing the appearance of camera shake by up to four shutter-speed stops. The optical design also received a complete overhaul, to suit Nikon's new echelon of high-resolution DSLRs, and incorporates a newly developed aspherical extra-low dispersion element (ASP/ED) in addition to a trio of aspherical elements, a pair of extra-low dispersion elements, and a single high refractive index element. This complex design serves to reduce chromatic, comatic, and spherical aberrations noticeably throughout the zoom and aperture ranges for consistent, even illumination and sharpness. Rounding out the feature set of this new preëminent lens is the electromagnetic aperture mechanism, Silent Wave Motor AF system, Nano Crystal and Super Integrated Coatings, and fluorine coatings to protect the front and rear elements.

A Point-and-Shoot's Notable Lens

Perhaps unique to a roundup of this kind, it must be mentioned that one of the most notable lenses of the year from Nikon isn't even available for their mirrorless or DSLR systems—it's built into a point-and-shoot. The COOLPIX P900 features a 16MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, 7 fps shooting rate, can record full HD 1080p video, has an expandable sensitivity range to ISO 12800, and incorporates both a 3.0" 921k-dot vari-angle LCD monitor and 921k-dot electronic viewfinder. Beyond all of the camera specs lies the most impressive asset, the 83x zoom lens that provides a 24-2000mm equivalent focal-length range. Composed of 16 elements in 12 groups, incorporating extra-low dispersion glass into its design, and featuring an f/2.8-6.5 maximum aperture range, this lens is benefitted by 5 stop-effective Dual Detect Optical Vibration Reduction to enable handheld shooting at such extreme focal lengths. Additionally, a Snap-Back Zoom button lets you quickly zoom out for easier re-composing and Dynamic Fine Zoom effectively doubles the already impressive zoom magnification to 166x for an equivalent focal length of 4000mm.

Discussion 18

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only 64% of reviewers on B&H recommend the 300mm lens

While an OK lens, it's not exactly a stellar performer, unfortunatelly.

Where's the link to the 24-70mm Zoom?

You can find the new Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 VR lens on our site if you Click Here

The "items discussed in this article" section leaves out the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

Great article though!

The new 24-70 f2.8 VR is fantastic! The edge to edge sharpness even shooting wide open is incredible and the VR makes a huge difference in low-light situations...loved the old 24-70 f2.8 and thought it couldn't be better; however, thanks to the engineering crew at Nikon they have really produced a lens no professional should be without.

Really would like to have the new 24-70 with vr. I really believe vr is important to have for this lens. Also I'd like to have the new 200-500 great deal for this lens. Wish it was weather sealed. And I have the old afs-d 300 mm it's soooo nice. Didn't like it when I first go it thought it was soft or just missing focus. After some in camera focus adjustments it's now one of my favorite lens. It's so tack sharp and the color are phenomenal. Oh and it doesn't miss focus to often. Love it for insects, flowers and portraits.

Sory Perry, but the new 24-70 2.8 VR isn't as great step up from the older 24-70 2.8 as you seem to lead the masses to believe. I have both.

The 200-500 mm lens is remarkable. It shoots amazingly clean & sharp. For a reasonably priced lens it  gives you a lot of reach for the money.

Amazin price point. As a Canon shooter, I wish I had this option. The new Canon 100-400 was disapointing. Plus this 200-500 FL would work well partnering a 70-200.

I have the 24-70mm lens. Really nice lens. I'm thinking of the 70-200 to add to the collection.

I have a 5100 and need a good, fast lens for shooting indoor volleyball.  Could you give me a high and a medium priced lens and links?

Thank you,


Easy answer is...Call the store.  They are great.

See the links below for recommended lenses for use for indoor sports and low light work to consider.

I've shot quite a few martial arts events with my 50/1.4G on my D300.  This is really a fantastic lens with tons of light and tons of sharp.  No, it's not a zoom, but when you figure out how to position yourself, you'll be getting some stunning shots.

Oops... meant to say 1.4D, not G.  G is a good lens but you can get the D for half the price and I'm not sure there's any difference in quality.


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