The Rational Z DX Lens Kits

With only five Nikon DX lenses in the Z-mount at the moment, we once again get the feeling that Nikon is constraining DX cameras artificially by not making a full lens set. That said, a serious DX user today has some choices that can expand their kit in useful ways. Indeed, I'd say that you can build a "full" kit that's reasonable now.

I'm going to restrict myself to autofocus lenses, because that's where most of the buying is. You can certainly supplement your autofocus lenses with any number of excellent manual focus Z DX lenses these days, but I haven't chosen to in this article.

Nikon's official DX offerings
As noted, Nikon has five DX lenses at present, with two additional ones in the Road Map (links are to my reviews of a lens):

  • 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 VR — This power zoom now gives you a wide angle zoom option that’s suitable for both still and video use. While the range isn’t perhaps what people wanted, overall this is a very good lens.
  • 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR — One of the best APS-C (DX) kit lenses to date, in any mount. While not superb—it's a kit lens—this mid-range zoom is reliably good at what it does and compact enough to be useful on all three DX bodies. 24-75mm equivalent makes for a solid and useful zoom capability. Every Z DX user should have one of these lenses.
  • 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR — The first super zoom for DX (28-210mm equivalent). As super zooms go, it's one of the better ones, but with a super zoom you're always giving up some optical capability for flexibility. I have a potentially better choice coming up later.
  • 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR — Probably the weakest of the three Nikon DX zooms, though still very good for its price. When bought in any of the two-lens kits, the implied price makes this lens a "no brainer," so a lot of you have it. However, I have a better (and more expensive) choice coming up later.
  • 24mm f/1.7 DXThe one DX prime is a 36mm equivalent lens that starts to answer the need for a faster optic that's small. The focal length seems a little long for me, as we're edging close to "normal" focal length here. Better choices already exist from third party lens makers, but this lens keeps you in the Nikon family.

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Nikon's FX offerings that make sense
Fortunately, we have a range of lenses that, while sometimes on the expensive side for the DX body prices, answer some focal length needs. 

  • 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR — Yep, here's the better super zoom choice, though it skews long in focal length for DX (36-300mm equivalent). It has the VR necessary for the non-IBIS DX bodies, and you're using the best part of this lens because its image circle was designed far larger than you'll be using. If you can afford it, it's a better choice than the 18-140mm, and it's not all that much bigger in size (until extended fully). It also reduces the need for the 50-250mm DX. This FX zoom also matches up well with the 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR wide angle zoom, giving you 12-200mm (18-300mm equivalent) in two lenses.
  • 28mm f/2.8 — This lens appeared with the Zfc even though it's an FX lens on a DX body. This nets you a near normal (42mm equivalent) fast prime that's an appropriate size on the DX bodies. No complaints.
  • 40mm f/2 — The unsung hero of DX ;~). An even faster prime that's DX small and which puts you on the other side of normal (60mm equivalent, which is an okay portrait focal length). Again, no complaints.
  • 50mm f/2.8 macro — Now we're definitely in the portrait range (75mm equivalent), though we're slightly on the slow aperture side of where we'd really want to be (f/2 or faster). Still, definitely DX physical size appropriate, plus gives you some close up capability (until you get too close to the subject and can't light it). 
  • 400mm f/4.5 S VR — Surprise! I'm not sure I'd really want to use this on the Z30 or Zfc due to handling issues, but we're talking about a very useable 600mm equivalent on the Z50 that's optically superb. You'll wish the Z50's focusing system were a bit faster and more controllable, but nevertheless, I'm finding this combination works quite well. (Review coming soon)

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Third party offerings
The really good news is that Viltrox has stepped in to give us a quartet of fast prime lenses that absolutely will appeal to DX users:

  • 13mm f/1.4 — Yes, it's good. Really good. We basically get a fast 20mm equivalent for DX, and that just excites the Galenesque part of my brain. I can now see my 70-year old body scrambling up sketchy terrain with just a 13mm and Z50 and getting that unique angle. 
  • 23mm f/1.4 — Here's your fast 35mm equivalent lens, and it's a solid choice with no obvious faults. 
  • 33mm f/1.4 — And this would be your fast normal (50mm equivalent) lens, also a very solid choice with no obvious faults.
  • 56mm f/1.4 — Finally, your fast 85mm equivalent lens (actually 84mm), and a really excellent portrait lens for DX.

If you need to go further, both Viltrox and Yongnuo now offer 85mm f/1.8 autofocus lenses that would give you a 123mm equivalent modest telephoto. If you haven't explored working with a fast telephoto in the 105-135mm focal length, you're missing out on isolated detail options. 

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Thom's Kits
Okay, so let's put the above into a few useful kits:

  1. The Nikon DX Choice(s) — the two kit options of the 16-50mm 3.5-6.3 VR and 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR are the least expensive way to get a wide focal range (24-375mm equivalent) in a DX-sized kit that doesn't have any big flaws. Plus they both have VR, which none of the DX bodies have built-in. But these are kit lenses. You can get better optical results from other choices. However, I now prefer the beyond kit choice of the 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR coupled with the 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 DX VR. This gives me overlap before I have to change lenses, among other things.
  2. The Hidden (FX) Nikon Choice — the 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR and 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. True, this is a slightly expensive way to get to a really wide useful range compared to Nikon’s kit lenses, but it is a small but useful step up optically, and it restores some wide angle that I find more useful than the extra telephoto end. Folk who already have FX bodies and lenses and are looking to go lighter from time to time, can opt for a Z50 and use these two lenses as the solution.
  3. The Prime Choice — Viltrox 13mm f/1.4, Nikon 24mm f/1.7, Nikon 28mm f/2.8, Nikon 40mm f/2, and Viltrox 56mm f/1.4. Why not the entire Viltrox set? The Viltrox lenses are bigger and heavier than the Nikon primes. If I'm going all prime, I'm looking for the smallest, lightest set that gives me plenty of options. Here I can go fast wide (20mm equivalent) or fast telephoto (85mm equivalent), and still stay reasonably fast in the mid-range. I've got 20mm, 35mm, 42mm, 60mm, and 85mm equivalent covered with these five lenses. Personally, I can leave out two of the lenses and still be happy, but your mileage may vary. 
  4. The Wildlife Choice — Surprise! Didn't think I'd go there, did you? The safari-proven duo is to have a modest telephoto zoom on one body, a long lens on the other (don't you dare think about trying to change lenses when the action is happening in front of you and the dust is blowing over the savannah!). So: 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR on one Z50, 400mm f/4.5 S VR on another Z50. That nets you 36-300mm and 600mm equivalent. You could substitute the 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR for the FX zoom and not lose a lot optically, but you'd have a bigger gap between your zoom and long lens.

Final Words
We're now at a point where we have reasonable choices for Z50 users (the lack of viewfinder or hand grip on the Z30 or Zfc models makes a lot of the >50mm choices not reasonable for those camera owners). 

I'm finding my Z50 to now be a travel-worthy utility camera that packs a very small kit when needed. 

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