With the shift towards the mirrorless segment, the entry-level DSLR segment has been gradually terminated (at the time of writing this, Nikon has discontinued its flagship APS-C camera, the D500).
However, many of us will continue to use this camera. Camera technologies change more rapidly than lens technology, and yet, the core aspects of each camera remain the same. In the right hands and with the right environment, the D5100 continues to shoot exceptional images.
Being a decade-old camera, the D5100’s specifications leave much to be desired, such as autofocusing. Whatever lens you choose to pair with this camera should thus compensate for its shortcomings and complement its features.
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TOP LENSES FOR THE D5100, CATEGORIZED BY USE CASE
BEST STANDARD PRIME LENS
BEST ALL-PURPOSE ZOOM LENS
BEST MACRO LENS
BEST SUPER-TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS
BEST PORTRAIT LENS
BEST LANDSCAPE LENS
6 Best Lenses for the Nikon D5100 Camera
1. Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G – Nikon D5100 Prime Lens
This 35mm f/1.8G lens has been optimized for the smaller image circle of Nikon’s APS-C camera systems. That means the camera’s effective focal length becomes 52.5mm, making this a standard prime lens, similar to the average 50mm prime. Thus, the focal length becomes ideal for shooting street photos and everyday shots.
The lens construction features just 8 elements arranged in 6 groups. These include one aspherical element to counter the effects of spherical aberrations. Additionally, the lens comes with a super-integrated coating. This coating ensures that the lens can withstand the effects of ghosting, flares, and internal reflections.
You could still potentially use this lens on a full-frame camera, but in that case, the camera will only be able to use a small aspect of the sensor resulting in a loss of resolution and vignetting.
The biggest USP of the lens is the fast wide aperture of f/1.8. This lens is a dream to work with in good lighting conditions, allowing fast shutter speeds of over 1/2000 sec. However, the real benefit of the fast aperture is that you can shoot in low-light conditions. The lens can capture well-exposed photos using the fast aperture, whereas kit lenses struggle and hunt for focus.
The other benefit of a fast wide aperture is the ability to blur out the background when focusing on a subject. In practice, this lens isn’t great when focusing on a foreground subject and blurring the background. To do that, you must place your lens close to the subject. If it’s a face, there would be distortions. The f/1.8 specification may lead people to believe this is a great lens for bokeh, but unfortunately, it falls short in that category.
Autofocusing on the lens is powered by Nikon’s silent wave motor technology. This is a ring-type ultrasonic autofocusing technology. The lens features a full-time manual focusing override, which ensures you can adjust the focus by manually turning the focusing ring even when autofocusing mode is activated. The focusing ring is mechanically connected with the focusing elements inside the barrel.
Still on the topic of autofocusing, the lens autofocuses internally, meaning that the barrel length of the lens remains the same. There is yet another advantage, specifically for photographers who prefer to use filters. You can precisely set your filters without worrying they will be out of place.
The lens suffers from massive barrel distortion. However, this could be easily corrected in post-processing. Light fall-off is most noticeable when using this lens on a full-frame camera, however, the light fall-off is also present on DX cameras like the D5100. But it’s not too excessive and can be easily corrected in Photoshop.
Let’s discuss the all-important aspect of sharpness. Sharpness depends on many things other than shooting charts in a studio environment. I didn’t shoot charts for this section, so all my observations are based on what I have seen when shooting with the lens in real-life situations in varying light and less-than-perfect conditions.
Straight away at f/1.8, the lens isn’t the sharpest Nikon has to offer. I will not compare this with the 85mm f/1.4G, as these lenses are nowhere in the same league. Also, the AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8 G is missing the gold band around the lens barrel (Nikon’s pro-quality lenses have this band). Stopping down the lens to f/2.8 shows the best performance in sharpness. Sharpness starts to drop as you go past f/10.
The AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8 G is a great lens if you have the D5100 as your primary camera.
2. Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II – Nikon D5100 Zoom Lens
The AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II is an all-purpose zoom lens for the Nikon APS-C camera systems. When mounted on a D5100, the lens’s effective focal length will be 27-300mm, making this a general-purpose lens.
What can you shoot with this general-purpose lens? With the shorter focal length, you can easily use the lens to shoot landscapes, weddings, and general-purpose shots. I wouldn’t attempt shooting street photography or candid photography with this lens due to its large size, but I can certainly shoot weddings with this lens – especially if I pair the D5100 with an external flash because the smaller f/5.6 aperture would struggle in low light conditions.
At 300mm, the lens can shoot some sports and wildlife photography. Natural lighting is actually ideal, as this lens will struggle at the most extended focal length when shooting indoors with poor lighting.
The construction of the lens includes 16 elements arranged in 12 groups. The lens includes three aspherical elements designed to take care of spherical aberrations. Additionally, the lens consists of two ED elements that take care of chromatic aberrations and color fringing, improving the contrast and color accuracy of the images. On top of that, the lens is coated with a super-integrated coating that takes care of internal reflections, ghosting, and flares.
The lens does come with a weather-sealing ring on the mounting plate, but don’t think that the lens is fully weather sealed. Nikon does not say anything about weather sealing, and I am not ready to test the lens by exposing it to a torrential downpour.
Image stabilization is built-in and offers up to 3.5 stops of image shake correction. This comes in handy when shooting in low light conditions and hand-held.
There are two different modes to this second-generation vibration reduction technology. In one of the modes, the lens can pan with a subject; in this mode, the lens does not try to correct intentional panning movement. The other mode is for standard vibration reduction.
Nikon’s silent wave motor powers the autofocusing mechanism. This autofocusing technology is a ring-type mechanism that ensures superior focusing results while remaining quiet during operation. The lens also features a full-time manual focusing override. One good thing about the focusing mechanism is that it’s entirely internal. This means the lens’s front element does not rotate or protrude, allowing filters to be used.
Bringing performance into question, the lens is often compared to the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR and the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. The 18-105mm has been a solid performer for the Nikon mid-range APS-C cameras. The lens was offered as a kit lens with the D7000, and I have used it for six years. I know it’s a solid-performing lens, especially in good lighting.
The 18-140mm and the 18-105mm do not cover the focal length that the 18-200mm lens does – an advantage for the 18-200mm. All three lenses have the maximum aperture of f/5.6 at the tele-end, but the 18-200mm reaches much further without a further drop in the aperture.
Let’s talk about the sharpness quotient of the lens. First, the 18-200mm wide open is very sharp at f/3.5. Center sharpness is good but starts to drop when the aperture drops. This is across all focal lengths. Center sharpness is the worst at f/5.6 when shooting at 70mm.
However, corner sharpness isn’t so good and stays the same across the focal length and at all apertures.
The lens has several aspherical and ED elements, yet it does suffer from some amount of color fringing which is apparent across the focal length.
The lens also suffers from barrel distortion, which is most noticeable when shooting in wide-angle focal lengths. This is something that you will have to correct when post-processing.
3. Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G – Nikon D5100 Macro Lens
The most inexpensive macro lens for the D5100, the Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G, is an entry-level macro lens and also has the shortest focal length. Suppose you’re starting in macro photography and have the D5100 or any other camera from the Nikon entry-level segment – you can use this as your first macro lens without extension tubes or macro-focusing lenses.
The most significant advantage of this lens is the price at which it launched, ensuring you can’t go wrong.
Please note that this lens is an actual macro lens, meaning you can get a life-sized reproduction of a subject from the closest working distance. But you can also use the lens beyond macro shots for other photography opportunities. When mounted on the D5100, the effective focal length becomes 60mm, allowing you to get a tight shot of subjects like a face. Though 60mm isn’t the best focal length for shooting portraits, you can shoot this genre if you know how to work with the lens.
The lens consists of only 9 elements arranged in 7 groups. The lens comes with a super integrated coating, ensuring that the lens can counter the effects of flares, ghosting, and internal reflections. In reality, there is a tiny bit of flare and ghosting, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
This is a very lightweight lens. Weighing only 235 grams, the build quality is anything but solid. The lens consists of a generous amount of plastic. The mount is made of plastic too. However, there are some brushed metal elements. There is no weather sealing on this lens, either. When heading outdoors, you must ensure that you don’t expose this lens to the elements. In terms of the ability to withstand bumps and knocks, the lens shouldn’t be handled too heavy-handedly. Make sure that the lens is always handled with care.
The lens aperture is made of a seven-aperture diaphragm. The blades are rounded, creating beautiful bokeh.
The lens’s minimum focusing distance is 6.42 inches, which can lead to lighting obstructions. In trying to get a 1:1 magnification, you must get in very close, and you could block the light in the process.
Autofocusing is powered by Nikon’s silent wave motor autofocusing system that comes with a full-time manual focusing override. Focusing isn’t internal, meaning the lens barrel extends when you focus close to your subject. The objective is to move the focusing elements as far away from the sensor as possible so that it can focus close to the subject.
There are two switches on the barrel. One is the M/A and M switch that allows the lens to switch from full manual to auto manual mode, in which you can use manual focusing override. If you’re shooting macro photography, you will usually find that the lens responds better to manual focusing inputs than autofocusing. This is also the preferred mode of focusing for macro photography.
Still on the subject of manual focusing, the manual focusing ring is smooth and offers excellent feedback and precise focusing accuracy.
The other switch is the focus delimiter switch. You can choose to use either the entire focusing range of the lens, in which case autofocusing takes a bit more time, or the infinity to the 0.2-meter option that ensures a smaller focus hunting range. A focusing range indicator also lets you know how far or close you focus. The closest focusing distance is 6.42 inches.
I would suggest that when you’re working on either macro or normal subjects, you choose the focus delimiter button because macro lenses are not known to travel the entire focusing distance very quickly. So you can see a significant decrease in focusing speed if you choose not to use the focus delimiter button.
Regarding optical performance, the AF-S 40mm f/2.8G is very sharp. Wide open lens sharpness is excellent, and stopped-down lens sharpness improves slightly. Out-of-focus effects are beautiful, and I love the quality of blur that the lens can produce. There is some noticeable vignetting when you’re shooting wide open. This goes away when you stop down the lens to f/4. In any case, vignetting can be removed when you’re post-processing.
Coming down finally to the distortion part, the 40mm f/2.8 prime suffers from a wee bit of distortion. This isn’t a significant issue and can be corrected in the post.
4. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 – Nikon D5100 Telephoto Zoom Lens
The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is the updated version of the original G1 model. But before we start delving into this lens, let me remind you that the D5100 isn’t exactly cut out for fast action or sports photography. With a continuous shooting speed of 4 fps, getting decent action shots is very difficult – not to mention the low buffer of about 13 RAW frames. Even then, if you try your luck with some fast action shots, there are a few dedicated options: the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is our favorite.
In any case, I wouldn’t be using the lens for dedicated fast action and sports photography. If I use a telephoto lens like the Tamron SP 150-600mm, it would be for landscapes.
The long reach of the Tamron 150-600 gives you a tighter crop. Let’s say you want to capture a tight shot of a mountain peak. You could never achieve this with traditional landscape lenses (wide-angle lenses). Lenses like the Tamron 150-600, however, allow you to do this.
And don’t forget that the D5100 is a crop camera, and therefore the crop factor of 1.5x steps in when you’re shooting. That means the effective focal length of this lens becomes 225-900mm!
The lens comes with a zoom lock, handy when traveling or hiking. But zoom lock works only when the lens is zoomed out at 150mm. You will love the new Flex Lock option if you wish to lock the focus at a specific zoom range. You can simply pull the zoom ring slightly outwards to engage this feature.
One complaint I have about this lens is that the manual focusing ring is too thin. It may not be a feature you need often, but it’s still a rather impractical design.
Still on the subject of focusing, the G2 lens tends to hunt for focus a bit more than the original G1 lens. This can be improved by using the focusing delimiter button.
The new Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 has some critical improvements over the older G1, and one of the areas of improvement is better weather sealing. The older lens did not have any weather sealing at all. That’s one of the significant parameters where the Tamron SP 150-600mm wins over the Nikon 200-500m. Many users would point out that the Nikon 200-500mm is an OEM lens with many advantages, like reliable autofocusing. But weather sealing is an especially important feature when shooting outdoors, as landscape photographers often do.
The construction of the lens includes 21 elements arranged in 13 groups. These include three low-dispersion elements that ensure the lens can handle the effects of chromatic aberration and color fringing. On top of that, the lens also features Tamron’s eBand and BBAR coating, specifically designed to counter the effects of ghosting, flares, and internal reflections. This improves the quality of the images by improving contrast and color accuracy.
Most of the construction is metal rather than plastic, which adds to the lens’s strength, durability, and bulk. So, on one side, the lens is built to last, but on the other, the added weight could be an issue for some photographers.
Weight and bulk are other advantages the Tamron holds over the Nikon 200-500mm. The Nikon 200-500mm weighs 2.3 kilos, while the Tamron 150-600mm weighs just under 2 kilos. That’s a good 300 grams lighter. But how does this weight fare on the D5100? I must tell you that it feels a bit lopsided. The D5100 weighs 560 grams with the battery and the memory card. The weight distribution does not feel great when you attach the Tamron to this camera body.
Both the Nikon 200-500mm and the Tamron 150-600mm G2 come with built-in image stabilization, and both are rated up to 4.5 stops.
Wide open at f/6.3, the Tamron performs admirably in good light. I have already mentioned the issue with occasional focus hunting, and that problem remains. But when it does lock focus accurately, the image is beautiful.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G – Nikon D5100 Portrait Lens
You might wonder why I did not choose a standard 85mm lens for this segment. We’re using the Nikon 5100, and this camera is an APS-C unit with a crop factor of 1.5x. A traditional 85mm lens would become an effective 127.5mm on the D5100. It can still be used for portraits, but I prefer the 50mm prime f/1.8G lens for the D5100. The effective focal length becomes 75mm, perfect for this genre.
Considering that this is a G-series lens, it has a built-in autofocusing motor, making it compatible with entry-level Nikon DSLRs like the D5100. Older D-type lenses without an autofocusing motor will not be able to autofocus with this lens.
The 50mm f/1.8G is powered by Nikon’s silent wave motor technology. This autofocusing technology is silent and accurate and produces decent results in most kinds of lighting. The lens also comes with a full-time manual focusing override. The positioning of the focusing ring is perfect in my experience.
Regarding autofocusing performance, the 50mm f/1.8G is speedy and, at times, faster than its more illustrious cousin, the f/1.4G.
Between the 85mm f/1.8G, a lens that would be a good match for the D5100, and the 50mm f/1.8G, the latter is the lighter option by 165 grams. Considering that the D5100 is a lightweight camera, the 50mm is a better match purely in the sense of weight. Of course, the 50mm f/1.8G is a fantastic lens in terms of optical performance. We’ll still cover that.
The 50mm f/1.8G is a simple design with 7 elements arranged in 6 groups. The lens consists of one aspherical element that’s in place to take care of the spherical aberrations. It helps with the overall image sharpness. It’s important to note that you won’t even find an aspherical lens element in the pricier Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G lens.
The lens also features Nikon’s super-integrated coating that takes care of internal reflections, ghosting, and flares that often impair the image sharpness, contrast, and clarity of wide aperture lenses, especially when working in challenging lighting conditions.
The 50mm f/1.8G features weather sealing in the form of a rubber gasket on the metal mount. But does that categorize the lens as fully weather sealed? In short, no. The 50mm f/1.8G isn’t a weather-sealed lens.
In terms of size, the 50mm f/1.8G is surprisingly identical to the 50mm f/1.4G. But there are subtle differences. The 50mm f/1.4G is heavier and slightly bulkier than the 50mm f/1.8G.
The fast aperture of f/1.8 produces interesting background blur effects. You can use this to highlight the subject. The lens aperture diaphragm is made of 7 rounded blades. The rounded blades ensure that the lens can produce a beautiful bokeh. The 50mm f/1.4G lens comes with 9 rounded blades and produces a slightly better-looking bokeh (around the center of the frame). But the trade-off is that the f/1.4G lens is more than twice the price of the f/1.8 lens.
Bokeh is one of the primary reasons I have picked this lens to be paired with the D5100. This lens wouldn’t have been my first pick for shooting portraits with a full-frame camera (not that it can’t shoot portraits on a full-frame camera).
Let’s move on to the optical performance of the lens. The lens performs admirably even at f/1.8. At the center of the frame, sharpness is excellent. However, as you move away from the center of the frame, lens sharpness starts to drop. Stopping down the lens to f/2.8 significantly improves center sharpness and improves corner sharpness slightly. The lens is sharpest in the middle when you stop down to f/4 and f/5.6, and then sharpness starts to drop because of the onset of lens diffraction.
Continuing on the topic of optical performance, the 50mm f/1.8G does have some amount of vignetting. This is particularly true when you’re shooting wide open at f/1.8. Stopping down the lens improves performance and vignetting can be improved in post-processing.
Overall I feel this is a beautiful lens that’s plenty of fun to shoot with, thanks to the fast f/1.8 aperture. The fast autofocusing, reliable performance, and presence of an aspherical element, something that even the 50mm f/1.4G does not have, only enhances the reputation and the performance of the lens.
6. Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art – Nikon D5100 Landscape Lens
Many of you would ask if the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art is compatible with the D5100. Fortunately, the Sigma compatibility page for this lens shows that the lens is fully compatible with the D5100.
Another valid question you may have – why would you pick a reasonably expensive lens for the D5100? The answer is versatility. When mounted on the crop sensor D5100, the effective focal length of the Sigma 12-24mm will become 18-36mm. This would mean the lens will remain useful as a landscape lens, despite the crop factor. If you prefer tight compositions for your landscape photos, however, I would recommend a telephoto lens like 70-200mm or even 200-500mm, which can produce a very tight composition of distant objects.
One factor that contributes to the price of this lens is that it is part of Sigma’s Art series, which means it’s very well-built.
There are 16 elements in the lens arranged in 11 groups. This includes one special low-dispersion (SLD) element and no less than five F Low-Dispersion (FLD) elements. These elements are put in place to ensure the lens can withstand the effects of chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Needless to say, this affects the color clarity of your images and their overall sharpness.
In addition to this, the lens also includes three aspherical elements. These elements are used to suppress the effects of spherical aberrations. The lens also features Sigma’s super multi-layer coating. Like Nikon’s super integrated coating, this coating ensures that the camera can withstand the effects of ghosting, flares, and internal reflection.
The lens’s front element has been treated with water and oil-repellent fluorine coating. This makes it easier to clean the lens. Additionally, the lens has been constructed of thermally stable composite material. This material can withstand substantial temperature changes, ensuring the lens barrel’s dimensions remain unchanged even when exposed to extreme weather.
The lens mount comes with a rubber gasket that prevents moisture or dust from entering the lens while in action.
Based on what I’ve said thus far, you may have concluded that this is a hefty lens. At 1150 grams, this lens is more than double the weight of the D5100. When mounted on the D5100, it does feel lopsided.
The main reason someone would be interested in this lens is to shoot wide panoramic shots. Despite the 1.5x crop and the shortened field of view, the lens delivers that on a crop camera.
One serious issue with the lens is that the bulbous front element of the lens makes it impossible to use a front-threaded filter. Additionally, there is no scope to use a rear filter either.
Coming down to the autofocusing functionality of the lens; autofocusing is powered by integrated HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) technology. This autofocusing technology ensures smooth and quiet autofocusing performance. Full-time manual focusing override is also possible.
The manual focusing ring is about the same thickness as the zoom ring and functions quite smoothly. The focusing distance indicator is between the manual focusing ring and the zoom ring. The zoom ring below it is a bit stiff to operate, so you may have to exert some force when operating it.
Let’s discuss the image performance of the lens. First, when shooting f/4 wide open at 12mm (18mm effective focal length), the middle of the frame’s resolution is very good. The corners of the images are sharp but not as sharp as the middle of the frame. When stopping down the lens, both the middle of the frame and the corner of the frame perform better. The trend continues even when you zoom in to 16mm. At 24mm, the lens is the softest across the wide open frame. Even if you stop down, the lens sharpness does not improve.