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Best lenses for the Nikon D5600, part 1: Primes for beginners

By Paul Carroll - Thursday May 25 2017

Lens Recommendations
Best lenses for the Nikon D5600, part 1: Primes for beginners

We’ve tested 149 lenses on the D5600, including primes and zooms, and in this first part of our “Best lenses for the Nikon D5600” review, we’ve picked a selection of the best affordable primes. The review analyzes the performance of our top three lenses in four categories, including wide-angle, standard, 50mm, and telephoto lenses. Before we get dive into the lenses, here’s a quick overview of how we calculate the Lens Metrics, along with some key lens features to look for.

DxOMark Lens Metrics

Our lens analysis provides six scores, including an overall DxOMark score that’s used to rank lenses, and five Lens Metric scores for Sharpness, Distortion, Vignetting, Transmission, and Chromatic Aberration.

The DxOMark score shows how much information is recorded by a lens and camera combination, to determine how well they perform together. Lens performance is evaluated in low light, and the DxOMark score is an average of the best image quality recorded at each focal length and aperture setting.

The Sharpness score indicates how well fine details are resolved, and the final score is an average of the maximum sharpness at each focal length and aperture setting. Greater weight is given to sharpness in the center of the frame, and sharpness scores are reported in P-Mpix values, with higher numbers indicating sharper images.

Lens distortion can cause straight lines to curve either outwards (barrel distortion) or inwards (pincushion distortion). To calculate the final distortion score, we average the maximum amount of curvature at each focal length and report the score as a percentage. 0% is perfect, with no distortion, and over +1% barrel distortion or under –1% pincushion distortion is high.

Vignetting, or corner shading, is caused when less light is transmitted to the corners of the frame compared to the center. We evaluate vignetting for each focal length at a lens’s widest aperture setting, where the effect is worst, and average out the values to provide a final score. 0 EV is perfect, with no corner shading, and anything at –1 EV or beyond is high.

Transmission indicates how much light a lens can transmit at its maximum aperture setting. This is important, as the amount of light that reaches the sensor can affect exposure, resulting in longer exposure times or higher ISO sensitivities needed for a correct exposure. Transmission also impacts autofocus performance, as well as how bright the image appears in an optical viewfinder. We measure Transmission in T-stop values at each focal length, and average out the results to provide a final score, with lower scores indicating better light transmission.

Chromatic aberration appears as colored red, green, or purple lines along high-contrast edges. It is the result of a lens not being able to focus all wavelengths of light perfectly on the sensor. Chromatic aberration scores are expressed in micrometers (µm): 0 is perfect, with no visible fringing, and anything above 5µm indicates some noticeable colored lines at some settings. For more detailed information on how we calculate our scores, please visit the About section on our website.

Key lens features

Mount

There are a few features to look out for when choosing a lens. Most importantly, it needs to fit on the camera, and both Nikon FX- and DX-mount lenses are compatible with the D5600. DX-mount lenses are designed specifically for use on APS-C DSLRs like the D5600, and are typically cheaper, lighter, and smaller than FX lenses, which have to produce a larger image circle.

Effective focal length

Only a smaller area of the image circle is captured by the sensor when using an FX lens on an APS-C camera, which changes the effective focal length of the lens — think of it as cropping in a bit. We refer to this new focal length as the lens’s “equivalent” focal length, and to calculate a lens’s equivalent focal length on the D5600, we multiply the stated focal length by x1.5.

So a 24mm FX lens has an equivalent focal length of 36mm on the D5600. This sounds confusing, but it helps us compare the usefulness of DX and FX lenses for shooting different photographic subjects.

Autofocus motor

The Nikon D5600 doesn’t feature an autofocus motor in the camera itself, so if you want to be able to autofocus, you need a lens that features a built-in autofocus motor. Nikon lenses with such a motor contain the abbreviation AF-S in the lens name; third-party manufacturers have different abbreviations, such as HSM on Sigma or USD on Tamron.

Nikon series

Nikon also produces lenses in different ranges, and the two most common are Nikon D and Nikon G lenses.

Nikon D lenses were launched years ago, but some are still in production today and are available to buy as new. Nikon D lenses typically feature a well-engineered metal barrel construction and simple optical design, which makes them robust units. They also feature a mechanical aperture ring for changing the aperture, but also have an auto setting for controlling the aperture electronically via the camera, in the same way as modern G lenses. D lenses also transfer lens data to the camera, so shooting information is recorded in an image’s metadata file, but Nikon D lenses do not have an autofocus motor, so they focus only manually on the D5600.

Nikon G lenses are newer and typically feature a more plastic barrel construction that completely does away with the aperture ring. Newer isn’t always better, though, and although Nikon G lenses do offer autofocus on the D5600, they are often more expensive than D lenses, despite their less-robust build quality, and they don’t necessarily produce better image quality.

Best wide-angle prime: Sigma 20mm f/1.4 A

There are no very cheap autofocus wide-angle primes for the D5600, so those on a budget should consider a manual-focus option. At under $1000, the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 A and the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G do offer autofocus, and although their equivalent 30mm focal length is almost wide-angle, it’s not very wide.

The Samyang 14mm f/2.8 offers a more useful 21mm wide-angle focal length for architectural or landscape photography, but this is a manual-focus only lens. Boasting a very wide f/1.4 maximum aperture and best low-light performance, the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 A wins overall with a DxOMark score of 27 points, compared to 22 for the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G and 20 for the Samyang 14mm f/2.8.

Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon vs Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 20mm f/1.8G ED vs Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical Nikon

The Sigma just edges it for sharpness, too, with greater and more uniform resolution at the wider aperture settings. At mid apertures between f/4 and f/8, all three lenses are very sharp, achieving over 70% acutance in the field, but the Nikon is very slightly softer in the corners compared to the third-party competition.

Sharpness f/1.8

Sharpness f/5.6

Although the Samyang isn’t as “fast” as the Nikon and Sigma alternatives, it does close down to a minimum f/22 aperture, which is worth bearing in mind for long depth-of-field architecture or landscape shots. However, the Samyang’s wider 14mm focal length results in noticeably more geometric distortion (recorded at 1.5%), and thus displays more barrel curvature compared to the Nikon and Sigma lenses.

The Samyang suffers from chromatic aberration, too, with some noticeable fringing at all apertures, particularly in the outer field; fringing is better controlled on the Nikon and Sigma alternatives. Vignetting can also be an issue with wide-angle lenses, and although all three of these wide-angle primes display darker corners at their respective maximum apertures, closing down a stop all but eradicates the problem.

Chromatic aberration

Distortion

Vignetting

Best standard prime: Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM A

The top three affordable standard primes include the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 A, and the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G, all of which autofocus on the D5600.

The Nikon 35mm and Sigma 30mm boast a more versatile focal length, with the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G a little long for some shots, but featuring 1:1 macro focusing. The Nikon 35mm and Sigma 30mm feature very fast maximum apertures, and accordingly achieve a higher overall DxOMark score of 25 points, compared to 21 for the Nikon 40mm — although the Nikon 40mm offers better sharpness, distortion, and chromatic aberration.

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G vs Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC HSM A Nikon vs Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G

The Nikon 40mm is sharper and more consistent with close to uniform resolution at all apertures. It’s a bit softer towards the edges at f/2.8 and achieves peak sharpness of around 70% acutance between f/4 and f/8. Both the Sigma 30mm and Nikon 35mm offer good sharpness in the center, but with softer edges at their respective maximum apertures. The Sigma 30mm is more uniform than the Nikon 35mm using mid apertures, with its sharpest results between f/4 and f/8. The Nikon 35mm is still good between f/5.6 and f/11, but a bit softer in comparison.

Sharpness

Sharpness f/8

The wider-angle 30mm and 35mm lenses distort more than the 40mm lens, which offers very close to perfectly straight lines. With barrel curvature of just 0.5% for the 30mm and 35mm lenses, however, the effect isn’t overly strong.

Distortion

The Sigma 30mm is the best for vignetting, with only minor corner shading at f/1.4 and virtually no shading between f/1.8 and f/22. It’s a similar story on the Nikon 35mm and 40mm lenses, with only mild shading visible at their respective maximum apertures.

Vignetting

Both the Sigma 30mm and Nikon 40mm handle chromatic aberrations well, with little sign of fringing. It’s more problematic on the Nikon 35mm, however, particularly towards the edges of the frame at apertures between f/5.6 and f/22.

Chromatic aberration

Best affordable 50mm prime: Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

We’ve tested three affordable 50mm primes on the D5600, including the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4D wins overall, with the best light transmission and low-light results giving it the edge over the newer f/1.4G and f/1.8G equivalents, but it’s manual-focus only on the D5600.

Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D vs Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G vs Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G

The Nikon 50mm f/1.4D wins for sharpness, too, scoring 15 P-Mpix, and although it’s not amazingly sharp at f/1.4, it’s reasonably uniform from f/2.8, with the best resolution between f/4 and f/5.6. The more expensive 50mm f/1.4G offers the same maximum aperture as well as autofocus on the D5600. Sharpness isn’t as strong as the 50mm f/1.4D in the center of the frame using the mid apertures f/4 to f/5.6, and it’s softer at the edges, too. That said, between f/2.8 and f/11, the D5600 offers good levels of resolution.

Costing just $217, the 50mm f/1.8G is good value, featuring autofocus on the D5600 and a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture. Sharpness at f/1.8 isn’t amazing, with some soft edges, but it’s better in the center of the frame at f/2.8 and f/4, and more uniform using the mid-aperture settings between f/5.6 and f/8.

Sharpness

Sharpness f/2.8

Sharpness f/5.6

There’s only minimal distortion of just 0.2% on all three lenses, and they all offer similar levels of vignetting using their respective maximum apertures. At just under –1 EV, it’s not a significant issue, however, and there’s no vignetting from f/2.8 on.

Vignetting

Chromatic aberration isn’t a significant issue either, although all three are prone to some mild outer field fringing at the mid to narrower apertures. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is marginally the best, although there’s not much in it, and the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G fringes less at the maximum aperture compared to its D equivalent.

Chromatic aberration

Best affordable telephoto prime: Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di

The Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di and the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G achieve the same overall DxOMark score of 29 points for low-light performance, ahead of the budget Samyang 85mm f/1.4 with 25 points. Although boasting a wider f/1.4 maximum aperture, the Samyang is manual-focus only and doesn’t have image stabilization.

With lens-based motors in both the Nikon and Tamron alternatives, these lenses autofocus on the D5600, and the Tamron boasts image stabilization, too, which is a useful feature on a telephoto lens, especially for getting sharp shots in low light.

Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (Model F016) Nikon vs Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G vs Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon

The Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di takes the crown, however, thanks to its improved sharpness score of 21 P-Mpix. The Tamron hits peak sharpness of over 70% acutance in the field between f/2.8 and f/8, and although the Nikon remains very good at these settings, it’s not quite as sharp as the Tamron. The Nikon is slightly sharper than the Tamron at the maximum f/1.8 aperture, however, which is significant if you like shooting wide-open. The Samyang has slightly lower levels of resolution at its maximum f/1.4 aperture, under 60% acutance, but improves notably in the center of the frame at f/2, with just a little edge softness. The Samyang hits peak sharpness of over 70% acutance at f/4 and f/5.6, and offers good overall sharpness using apertures between f/2.8 and f/8.

Other lens metrics for the budget telephoto primes are very close, with no noticeable distortion and well-controlled chromatic aberration. Although some minor vignetting (under –1 EV) occurs on all three at the maximum aperture, it’s all but eradicated by closing down a stop.

Sharpness

Sharpness f/4

Vignetting