Let’s face it, unless you’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by professionals and photography enthusiasts, you’re not likely to know where to start if you have an interest in the field. I know I had no clue what to buy or where to learn from when I first picked up a camera. Often I had to rely on the local camera store employees and, (not to harp on those in the field because most of you are amazing), a lot of the time they have a retail sales quota to reach and don’t really give you the best information.  Then we get into the whole learning the “rules” of composition, and accessories, and lighting, and editing, it’s a whole other thing and can be quite frustrating.

In this post, we’re hoping we can take some of the stress and confusion out of the learning game for you by sharing the first prime lenses you should buy for your Nikon DSLR system when starting out. If you’re like me, you probably started with a kit lens in a bundle, like the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (or something similar). While that lens is very versatile and all, it just can’t give you the “look” that a good prime can for your portrait and landscape work. To get that clean edge to edge image with a beautiful bokeh, you just have to go with a prime sometimes!

With Nikon, one of the best selling points and advantages they have is their selection of affordable primes, since they have a massive and complete line of 1.8 lenses.  Whereas Canon, and other brands have neglected the affordable prime lineups, (ie the 85mm for canon hasn’t been updated in decades!). So what you choose is really based on what you plan on shooting, but in terms of the “prime” holy trinity, i’ll recommend the three prime lenses I think every Nikon shooter should buy when starting out. These are fantastic lenses to get with a professional feel, while saving a lot of stress on your bank account.

The Nifty 50 – Nikon 50mm f/1.8D – $131.95

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens
Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens

No matter what brand you shoot with, the “nifty 50” for your camera is realistically the first lens everyone should pick up. Why? it’s one of the best lenses you can get for under $150! And when paired on a crop sensor camera it’ll give you something closer to a75-85mm field of view (an awesome focal length for portraits). You can always jump up to the G version for $216.95 if you feel the urge. The benefit of the (slightly) more expensive “G” versions of the Nikon prime lenses is they can be mounted safely on both crop and full frame cameras, if you ever upgrade, whereas the D/ED versions, while cheaper, when mounted on a full frame system will sometimes either not work properly.

The build quality is decent, and if you’ve never taken a photo “wide open” before, well, it’ll change your world! The bokeh you’ll achieve will just be more fun than anything you’ve shot on a kit lens and you’ll never go back!

Model in Water nikon 50mm 1.8
Fashion Portrait with Nikon 50mm 1.8
Close Up Portrait with nikon 50mm 1.8
Close Up Portrait with nikon 50mm 1.8


  • Good Bokeh
  • Great Price – $131.95 (and on sale for cheaper very often)
  • Small
  • Lightweight
  • More “light” to play with


  • Not as sharp as the 1.4 version or the 1.8G
  • Not as much bokeh as the pricier 1.4 version or the 1.8G
  • Can be hard to get used to on a crop sensor
  • Crop bodies can have problems with the Autofocus so you be manually focusing
  • Doesn’t perform well on Full Frame cameras

Check Pricing & Availability Here

Adorama | B&H | Amazon

The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G – $476.95

NIkon 85mm f1.8 G
NIkon 85mm f1.8 G

Where to begin with this lens. With nearly any portrait photographer you ask what their favorite lens/focal length is, the most common answer is the 85mm. At nearly half the price of the 1.4 “big brother”, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 can give you incredible images that you won’t believe. Like it’s siblings mentioned in the rest of this post, it’s lightweight and very well built in a under-$500 price tag, and you will for sure fall in love with the bokeh! When paired with a DX (crop) camera body, you’ll get closer to a “135mm” focal length which is almost perfect for doing beauty or headshot work, and if you step further back to take full body shots, you won’t be disappointed! The results when compared to the price will be mind blowing!

Close Up Headshot - Bryan Dockett - Nikon 85mm f1.8G
Close Up Headshot – Bryan Dockett – Nikon 85mm f1.8G
Pull Back Portrait - Bryan Docket - Nikon 85mm f1.8 G
Pull Back Portrait – Bryan Docket – Nikon 85mm f1.8 G


  • Great build quality
  • Very Sharp
  • Beautiful Bokeh
  • Autofocus is snappy
  • Will migrate onto a FX system seamlessly
  • Great value


  • “Only” a 1.8 aperture
  • Honestly, other than the 1.4 “big brother” having sharper glass / images at each focal length, the only downside to this lens is its 1.8 aperture.

Check Pricing & Availability Here

Adorama | B&H | Amazon

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G – $196.95

Nikon 35mm f1.8 G
Nikon 35mm f1.8 G

If you’re anything like me, 35mm is one of your favorite focal lengths for pretty much _everything_. When you pair this with the 50mm and the 85mm, you are pretty much set to shoot anything the business can throw at you! With this lens you’ll be able to shoot gorgeous landscape images as well as breathtaking and beautiful portraits! I end up shooting on this focal length for a lot of my portraiture to create images similar to the ones featured below. The Autofocus is fast and responsive, the bokeh is soft and decent, and works fantastic in low light situations. And lets be real, for under $200 you can’t go wrong!

Should You Buy Full-Frame (FX), or Crop-Sensor (DX)?

The thing to remember with this specific 35m lens (the DX version) is, it’s meant for a crop sensor camera. If you think you’ll be moving to a full-frame system at some point (FX), just plan ahead to replace this lens with the FX version ($526), as the DX version just doesn’t work perfectly with FX cameras. But still, if you’re not looking to break your bank account and have something that is still a great lens to learn with, the 35mm DX 1.8G is the lens for you!

Alternately, what if you are planning on shooting DX for a while, and you actually want a slightly wider angle of view? Well, there are no DX f/1.8 prime lenses besides the 35mm, so you’ll have to look to FX f/1.8 primes, such as the 24mm f/1.8 ($677) or the 20mm f/1.8 ($717). Both are amazing lenses for either FX or DX!

Sample file from the Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Sample file from the Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Sample File from the Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Sample File from the Nikon 35mm f/1.8

35mm f/1.8 (DX) Pros

  • Great price
  • Light Weight
  • Small footprint
  • Incredibly versatile
  • Close focusing capability


  • The bokeh is fair to “decent” when compared to the 1.4 versions
  • Noticeable barrel distortion
  • Lots of plastic in the construction which could be easier to break
  • Not super sharp at 1.8 compared to the 1.4 versions
  • Not weather sealed / build quality isn’t great

Check Pricing & Availability Here

Adorama | B&H | Amazon


Each one of these lenses would be an excellent starting point for a new Nikon Photographer. Just remember that no matter what camera or lens combo you have, the gear isn’t going to create an incredible image for you.  It still takes practice and a creative eye.  These lenses are tools that still require you to master them, but the good news is, the ones suggested above are incredibly affordable and will still help you create stellar images. The key to remember when starting, is to get yourself a few affordable lenses and spend the rest of your budget on great educational resources like SLR Lounge. To learn more about how to take and edit amazing photos, check out our educational resources here.