Nikon D3200 Lenses – The Best Lenses for Nikon D3200

As a professional photographer, I am often questioned about cameras and lenses.  Recently a student asked me about a Nikon D3200 DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera that he wants to buy.  The camera is an entry level DSLR, and he is also an entry level photographer, so they are well suited.  This Nikon very often comes in a kit including an 18 – 55 mm lens, among other needed accessories.  However, he was wondering if that lens is the best lens for him at this point and if he should buy the kit or just the camera body.   So I did a little research online and also asked the advice of my photography colleagues.  I think my findings and recommendations will be applicable to all new DSLR photographers.

nikon d3200 lensesThe D3200 appears to be a great little camera in the low cost range for a DSLR.  It has all the necessary functions needed to start in digital photography and it even has the now obligatory video cam as well.   It is perfect for someone who is moving up from a point & shoot and it can take the photographer up to a more advanced level (of course, I am always of the opinion that one can take wonderful photography with every sort of camera).   The 18-55 mm lens gets good reviews, but I personally think the zoom range of 18-55 mm is limiting.  Basically, 18 mm is a slightly wide angle. In a digital camera it equates to a 27 mm angle in the old film cameras.   And 55 mm equates to an 82 mm.  While that is a good distance for portraits, it is not telephoto and will not serve for any kind of a distance shot. My recommendation is to buy the body without the lens, if possible.  If the kit is inexpensive and the accessories are useful, buy it and either use the lens as a back up lens or sell it.

There are 5 prominent lens manufacturers in digital photography:  Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.  We have to figuratively toss out the Canon lenses as they are not compatible with Nikon cameras (and vice versa).  As for Sigma, there are many people who like them and say that they are good, reliable lenses at a price less than comparable Nikon and Canon lenses, but there are others that say they have focus problems.  There are a few who extol the virtues of Tamron lenses, but almost no one who comments favorably on Tokina.  Thus I am going to focus my comments solely on Nikon lenses.

Also, keep in mind that when you buy a new Nikon camera and you start to have a “library” of Nikon lenses and accessories, it will be cost effective to stick with the Nikon brand because your “old” Nikon lenses can be used on that new camera.

A lot of photographers make the argument to use prime lenses (i.e., not zoom) because they are generally faster lenses and are individually cheaper.  They are called “fast” lenses because they have wider apertures (or f stops), and because they let in more light, the photographer can use a faster shutter speed.  And, there is an argument to be made that if you get an expensive prime lens, you can still use it when (and if) you move up to a more professional camera.

Another factor is that supposedly the larger the zoom capabilities are, the less clear and detailed is the photo and that the prime lens is the most pure lens.  I personally have never seen any lack of clarity in either of the Nikon zooms I have used.  Perhaps people remember the zoom lenses of many years ago when there definitely was a difference between a zoom and a fixed lens.  If there is a difference now, it would take an extremely discerning eye to see it and it is something that a new photographer need not worry about.

Why Go for Zoom Lenses?

Therefore, for my recommendation, I centered on zoom lenses for the following reasons:

  1. It takes a long time for a photographer to discover where his/her talents lie and, in fact, we are always looking at new ways of photographing.  The budding photographer needs to experiment with all sorts of different styles to finally find his niche.  Does he want to shoot flowers and birds close up?  Is he intrigued with landscapes?  Or portraits?  They all require different focal lengths.  And the photographer won’t know what he really wants to do unless he has the opportunity to try photographing with different focal lengths.
  2. As discussed, die hard photographers will tell us to buy only prime lenses. But in order to experiment with different kinds of photography, the new photographer would be able to do so only if he buys a complete array of different lenses.
  3. Therefore, he would need to tote a whole bunch of lenses wherever he goes. And carrying heavy camera equipment is hard on the back and on the shoulders.
  4. It takes time to change lenses, so if you need to switch from one prime lens to another, you risk losing the shot.
  5. And while each of the prime lenses will be individually less expensive than a zoom, you will wind up spending the same or more because you need more lenses.

So, then, what focal length is better?  I personally have an 18mm to 200mm lens and I love the variety of it.   Of course, the more zoom capability in a lens, the more expensive it is and unfortunately, this lens costs more than the cost of the D3200 camera.

A further consideration is the physical size of the lens.  The D3200 is a small camera.  Also, while I love my 18-200 zoom, I use it on a larger camera.  I would be afraid that a larger lens on a small camera might make it awkward or unwieldly to use.  Many photographer friends suggested the 70-300 mm zoom, but for the same reasons of size, I would not consider it, and furthermore, this zoom does not allow for wide angle shots.

You can also get “fast” zoom lenses.  However the zoom lenses with apertures of 2.8 or less can cost thousands of dollars.  So, does anyone want to put a thousand or two thousand dollar lens on a $400-$500 dollar camera?  Those of us who do not have thousands of dollars to spend on zooms with small apertures learn to live with not being able to shoot close up.  The trade off money wise, for me, is worth it.

One last consideration in getting a lens is, of course, price.  And the larger the zoom, the larger the price.  And then the question is, do you want to put an expensive lens on an inexpensive camera?  One justification of this is that when you trade up to a better camera, the lens can still be used. Another is that many would argue that the lens is more important than the camera body

My final recommendation is the 18-140 zoom. It gives the beginning photographer enough flexibility to experiment, but is not prohibitively expensive (though not cheap)  and will serve the photographer well throughout the years.

Below is a simple table summarizing the comparison of the 3 different types of lenses and the variables that I used:  (1) quality of the lens (2) size of the aperture available for a medium priced lens (3) flexibility of usage for multiple purposes (4) physical size of the lens (5) cost of the lens (expensive/inexpensive).

Best Lense for the Nikon D3200 – Comparison Table

PRIME LENS(NOT A ZOOM) A + F2.8 or less for relatively low cost 0 Perfect Size for the camera   $ (see here)
18-140  mm A- F3.5-5.6 Very good Good size for the camera $$ (see here)
18-200 mm B+ F3.5-5.6 Excellent Maybe too large for a small camera $$$ (see here)


Robert Alexander

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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