Discovering the Perfect Match: The Best Lenses for Your Nikon D3100

Finding the ideal lens for your Nikon D3100 can be an exciting, yet somewhat daunting task. There are a myriad of lens choices, each offering unique benefits and potential for distinct creative styles.

Before delving into the details of the best lenses for the Nikon D3100, it’s crucial to understand lens compatibility. The Nikon D3100 uses the Nikon F-mount, a standard among Nikon DSLRs for years. While this allows a broad range of Nikon lenses to be used, an important consideration for D3100 users is the absence of an in-built focus motor in the camera. As such, to benefit from autofocus functionality, lenses with their own autofocus motor - typically labelled as AF-S - must be used.

However, newer AF-P lenses, while they do contain a built-in focus motor, are not compatible with the Nikon D3100. While newer Nikon cameras have embraced this technology for quieter, smoother autofocus, the D3100 does not support AF-P lenses.

Understanding your camera’s lens compatibility requirements is a fundamental first step to identifying the best lens for your Nikon D3100. This article aims to guide you on this path, providing insights and recommendations to help you make the most of your camera and bring your creative vision to life.

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  1. Best Zoom Lens - Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  2. Best Wide Angle Lens - Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II
  3. Best Telephoto Lens - Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G
  4. Best First Prime - Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G
  5. Best Macro Lens - Nikon Micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G
  6. Best All in One Lens - Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR

The Nikon D3100 is compatible with most Nikon F-mount lenses. However, manual focus and older autofocus (AF & AF-D) lenses are not fully compatible lenses.

Choose AF-S or G lenses for full compatibility.

The D3100 can use DX and FX lenses. DX lenses were designed for the APS-C sensor that the D3100 has.

FX lenses are for full frame cameras and will have a 1.5x crop factor when used on the Nikon D3100. This means that a 50mm lens will have the field of view of a 75mm lens on a full frame camera.

Here’s a quick guide to understanding Compatible Nikon lens labels:

  • AF-S Lenses: These lenses have a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM) that allows for quieter autofocusing.
  • G Type: These lenses do not have an aperture ring, and aperture must be controlled from the camera itself.
  • VR This stands for vibration reduction. It is a form of optical image stabilization that will help you capture sharp images.

Not compatible:

  • AF-P Lenses: These lenses feature a Pulse motor or stepping motor that makes autofocus even smoother and quieter than AF-S lenses. Unfortunately, they are not compatible with the Nikon D3100.
  • AF & AF-D These lenses have autofocus, but the AF system needs to be driven by an in-body focus motor. The D3100 does not have a built-in focus motor, so AF will not work with these lenses.

Understanding the distinction between zoom and prime lenses is crucial in making the right lens selection for your photography needs.

  • Zoom Lenses: These lenses offer a range of focal lengths, providing flexibility and versatility. You can “zoom in” closer to your subject or “zoom out” for a wider view without moving your feet. Examples for Nikon D3100 include the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and the AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II.

  • Prime Lenses: These have a fixed focal length, offering superior image quality and wider apertures for better low-light performance. They tend to be lighter and smaller than zoom lenses. Examples include the AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G and the AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G.

The type of photography you engage in should guide your lens selection:

  • Portrait Photography: Prime lenses with wider apertures, such as the AF-S DX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G, are excellent for capturing portraits with a beautifully blurred background.

  • Landscape Photography: Wide-angle lenses like the AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR are ideal for capturing sweeping landscapes and cityscapes.

  • Wildlife or Sports Photography: Telephoto zoom lenses, such as the AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, can provide the long reach necessary for capturing subjects from a distance.

  • Macro Photography: Macro lenses, like the AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G, allow you to capture small subjects with precision and detail.

Quite possibly the most common and useful zoom lens is the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G, one of the kit lenses included with the Nikon D3100. The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 is not going to be discussed as it is already attached to the camera.

Wide zoom lenses are covered lower down.

Telephoto zoom lenses are perfect with the Nikon D3100 for action, portraits,sports,wildlife, or anything involving subjects at a distance.

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens
Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G
  • Silent Wave Motor for Fast and Quiet Autofocus
  • Vibration Reduction Image Stabilization for Outstanding Handheld Shots
  • Has a Massive Focal Length Coverage
  • Outstanding Lens for Action Photography with the Nikon D3100

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The biggest attraction of the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G is the reach the lens has packaged with image stabilization. It’s going to be a very good option when you are unable to move nearer to what you would like to photograph. Like other zooms, the aperture of f/5.6 at the far end of the zoom range is smaller than the best, wider aperture options cost much more.

You will not have to break your budget to get this piece of glass. There are an abundance of pre-owned lenses available for purchase as it was offered with the Nikon D3400, D5500, and D5600 cameras.

In order to span the large zoom range, the lens is comprised of 17 elements in 11 groups. Two of the elements are extra-low dispersion and one is a high refractive index element to ensure sharp images.

It weighs in at 580g (18.7 oz), with dimensions of (Diameter x Length) 3.0 in. (76.5 mm) x 4.8 in. (123 mm). While not small, it can still easily be carried around on the camera or in your bag.

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Zoom Lens
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G
  • Excellent Value When Purchased Used
  • Silent Wave Motor for Accurate Autofocus
  • Great for Wildlife, Sports, Action, & Portraits
  • 2 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Lens Elements
  • (VR) Vibration Reduction Image Stabilization

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The Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5. 6G was commonly bundled with the D3300, D3100, and D3200 digital SLR cameras. It’s a incredible deal when bought secondhand.

One in great cosmetic condition are available for less than half the going rate a second hand Nikon 55-300mm.

The only drawback of the 55-200mm is the loss of 100mm of reach. It still has VR image stabilization and to help you get sharp images when hand-holding the camera.

One positive aspect of the lens is that hauling it around won’t be an issue. It only weighs 335g (11.8 oz) with dimensions of (Diameter x Length) 2.9 in. (73.6 mm) x 3.9 in. (99.5 mm).

Tamron 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Super Zoom Lens
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6
  • Ultra Silent Drive (USD) Autofocus Motor
  • Extra Low Dispersion (XLD) Glass Element
  • Broad-Band Anti-Reflection (BBAR) Lens Coating
  • 9 Aperture Blades for Beautiful Bokeh
  • Minimal focus distance 59.1"

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The Tamron 70-300mm is a great pick if you want 300mm of reach, but don’t want to pay for the 55-300mm from Nikon.

One big shortcoming is the lack of image stabilization. This will make it challenging to get sharp images hand holding the lens.

Comparable optical image stabilization is included in the Tamron as found in the Nikons. All of them have extra-low dispersion elements and anti-reflective lens coatings.

The lens weighs 16.1oz (458g). It has a length of 5.6" and diameter of 3.2".

These lenses are handy for landscapes, astrophotography, architecture, group photos, real estate photography, and other wide-angle shots.

One thing to watch out for is the wide angle causing strong distortion. Portraits can be challenging as noses or any body part close to the front of the lens will appear abnormally large.

One advantage of a wide angle is that image stabilization is less beneficial. Little vibrations of movements are unlikely to be noticed in an image.

Having a large maximum aperture is essential for astrophotography. {In order to get the best possible images, you want at least a f/4, if not f/2.8|To get the best results, you want the max aperture to be a minimum of f/4.

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Wide Angle Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
  • Perfect pick for night photography
  • Fast f/2.8 Maximum Aperture
  • 77mm Front Filter Threads
  • Focus Clutch Style M/A Selector

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The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is fast and sharp. With a large aperture, this lens is an outstanding pick for astrophotography.

One key feature of the lens is the focus clutch that controls changing between manual focus and autofocus. To switch focus, the entire focus ring is either pushed forward or pulled back.

There is a built-in autofocus motor, but it is noisy. This might be a problem if you require quiet operation when shooting at an event.

In terms of size, the lens is pretty large. It weighs 550g (1.21 lbs) with dimensions of 4.02 x 4.02 x 4.02 in (L x W x H).

Take care when you look to purchase the lens. Tokina also makes versions that use a different lens mount like the Canon EF or Sony A mounts. Make sure the lens you purchase is compatible with Nikon.

Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM ELD SLD Aspherical Wideangle Zoom Lens
Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5
  • Hyper-Sonic Motor (HSM)
  • Ultra-wide angle lens
  • Internal Focus and Very Good Build Quality
  • Super Multi-Layer Coating
  • Built with Aspherical Elements that Reduce Distortion

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The Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 falls into the same price range as the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. It has a larger zoom range, but a slightly smaller maximum aperture.

At 10mm the lens is going to produce an exaggerated distorted perspective. You’re likely going to see distortion, which you can reduce through post-processing.

4 aspherical elements have been made use of to help reduce distortion and aberrations. In total there are 13 lens elements in 10 groups to ensure the best image quality possible.

All that glass doesn’t make the lens too heavy, coming in at a weight of 520g (18.3 oz). Dimensions are diameter of 3.4" (87.3mm) and length of 3.5" (88.2mm).

Be careful if you are looking to purchase this lens. Sigma also made copies of the lens for other DSLR camera mounts including, Canon EF, Sony A, and Pentax K mounts. Make sure the one you buy uses the Nikon F lens mount.

The 55-300mm & 55-200mm lenses listed in the zoom section are also the lenses to look for first if you need a telephoto lens.

This section is going to take a look at telephoto prime lenses for sports, action, wildlife, and portrait photography. There is no shortage of these lenses available for the Nikon F-mount.

However, telephoto prime lenses tend to be expensive because the amount of optics that need to be implimented. The weight of the lens and ergonomics when mounted on a camera body need to be taken into account. The right lens the one that is easy to handle and use so you can capture memorable pictures.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G Prime Telephoto Portrait Lens
Nikon 85mm f/1.8G
  • Best Lens for Portraits
  • Internal Focus (IF)
  • Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
  • Superb Color Reproduction

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The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is one of the best Nikon portrait lenses every produced. It is a fast lens that delivers excellent images and pleasing bokeh due to the wide aperture.

The 85mm 1.8G is a full frame lens. You’ll notice two differences when comparing it against a DX lens.

First, full frame lenses are usually more expensive than DX lenses. They have larger lens elements, which translates to additional cost.

Second, the lens is larger than many DX lenses. While not a huge issue, if you plan to carry it around with another lens, you’ll definitely need a bag.

Nikon AF-S FX Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Standard Prime Lens
Nikon 50mm f/1.8G
  • Very Good Lens with a Fast Aperture
  • Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
  • Small and Lightweight
  • Excellent Selection for Low Light Photography

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Taking the crop factor focal length multiplier into consideration, this lens could be treated as a short telephoto lens. It is a cheap fast prime that can be used for portraits and indoor photography.

The FX 50mm f/1.8G provides more reach than the DX 35mm f/1.8G, while still having a comparable price.

There won’t huge differences between the lenses. With the 50mm, you’ll get a bit more reach and have a less difficult time blurring the background.

It weighs 185g (6.6 oz) and has dimensions of (Diameter x Length) 2.83" x 2.01".

Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G Standard Prime Focal Length Lens
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G
  • Very Accurate Autofocus Performance
  • Takes Outstanding Pictures in Challenging Lighting Situations
  • Excellent Nikon D3100 lens for street photography
  • High Build Quality
  • Best option for an all around lens

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The Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G is one of the few prime lenses available for the Nikon D3100. It is also the best suited for general photography.

A maximum aperture of f/1.8, means you’ll be able to isolate your subjects and create beautiful bokeh. Indoors the lens is fast enough to where you will not need to use flash.

With a 35mm equivalent field of view of 52.5mm, you’ll have a “standard” field of view. Your photos will have a perspective that is similar to what is seen by human eyes.

Weighing just 200g (7oz), there’s never a reason not to have the lens with you. With dimensions of (Diameter x Length) 2.8 in. (70 mm) x 2.1 in. (52.5 mm), you can easily keep it in a coat pocket or bag.

Macro photography starts with a reproduction ratio of 1:1. That 1:1 ratio can also be referred to as life size or 1X magnification.

Those terms all mean that the subject being photographed is the same size as the camera’s sensor. Popular subjects are insects, coins, flowers, copy work and academic subjects. Keep in mind that at full magnification there will be very little depth of field.

There are other ways to achieve macro magnification, such as extensions tubes. Personally, I find that a macro lens easier to use and gives better results. That’s because a macro lens has a large minimum focus distance.

As a quick note, Nikon branded their macros as Micro-Nikkor lenses. This is a constant source of confusion as micro and macro have opposite meanings.

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G Macro Lens
Nikon Micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G
  • Close-Range Correction System (CRC)
  • Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio of 1X
  • Well Built with a Rubber Sealing Mount Protects Against Dust and Moisture
  • Excellent option for Close Ups

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The Nikon Micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G is the best option for getting started with macro and close-up photography with the Nikon D3100.

As far as modern macro lenses go, the lens is relatively inexpensive. It also has a high-quality autofocus motor and uses current optics, which makes getting macro shots fun and easy.

This means the lens can also be utilized for general photography. That’s not the case with older macros, as their image quality only becomes razor sharp after the lens has been stopped down.

The lens weighs 235g (8.3 oz) with dimensions (diameter x length) of 2.7 in. (68.5 mm) x 2.5 in. (64.5 mm).

Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Telephoto Macro Lens
Nikon Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G
  • Super Integrated Coating (SIC) to reduce Chromatic Aberration
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio of 1X
  • Built with Internal Focus (IF)
  • VR - Vibration Reduction Image Stabilization

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The most important benefit of the 85mm macro lens over the 40mm is a longer working distance. That’s the distance from the front of the lens to the subject.

At 1X magnification, the front of the lens is going to be close to the subject. If you are trying to photograph an insect, this may cause them to try to get away.

Another issue could be properly lighting a subject. Depending on your light source it could be laborious to get it setup without the lens blocking it.

The downside is that a little more working distance adds to the cost of the lens.

While not the primary purpose of the lens, it can be used for portraits, but the f/3.5 maximum aperture might not create the best background bokeh that you will see dedicated portrait lenses.

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