Choosing the best Nikon camera for you has become a bit trickier in recent times, because Nikon has introduced exciting new options in both its mirrorless and DSLR stables. Luckily, we’re here to help you choose the right model for you, whether you’re a complete beginner or a more advanced photographer.
A couple of years ago Nikon moved away from its Nikon 1 mirrorless system, but it’s now right at the forefront of mirrorless cameras thanks to the full-frame Nikon Z6 and Z7, plus great mid-range options like the Nikon Z50.
Not that it’s thrown the towel in on making new DSLRs – the Nikon D780, which is in many ways a hybrid of its best DSLR and mirrorless camera tech, arrived recently to give full-frame traditionalists a camera that feels like a classic, familiar Nikon, but with some of the latest shooting tech.
Right now, that camera is a little on the pricey side, so we’ve also included some great value older models like the Nikon D7500 and Nikon D750, which remain greats buys for APS-C or full-frame fans despite their age. For complete beginners, there’s also our favorite starter DSLR, the Nikon D3500.
Whatever your photographic tastes, there’s a great choice for you – here are the best Nikon cameras you can buy right now.
Best Nikon camera 2020 at a glance:
- Nikon Z6
- Nikon Z50
- Nikon Z7
- Nikon D850
- Nikon D3500
- Nikon D780
- Nikon D750
- Nikon D7500
- Nikon P900
- Nikon W300
Best Nikon cameras in 2020:
1. Nikon Z6
Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless camera is a triumph
Sensor size: Full-frame | Resolution: 24.5MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
12fps burst shooting
XQD card format has limited support
Limited buffer depth
Nikon’s previous 1 system never really made much of a mark on the mirrorless landscape, but its newer full-frame Z system has got off to a sterling start with the Z6 and Z7 (see below).
We reckon the Z6 is hard to beat for the price, offering a great blend of features and performance that should keep both pros and enthusiasts happy. The 24.5MP full-frame sensor is capable of delivering excellent results, while the 273-point AF system (while not quite as sophisticated as the 693-point AF in the Sony A7 III) and 12fps burst shooting should mean you’ll never miss another shot. Handling is polished too, while the large and bright electronic viewfinder is a joy to use. Excellent.
2. Nikon Z50
A mirrorless marvel with perfect proportions
Sensor size: APS-C | Resolution: 20.9MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User: Beginner/intermediate
Single UHS-I card slot
Limited native lens range
The mid-range mirrorless market has never been more crowded. Does that make Nikon’s first foray into the APS-C arena any less enticing? Not at all: with fantastic handling, a compact build and plenty of features, the Z50 offers excellent value for Nikon fans.
It’s not as small as some rivals, but a deep grip and a good spread of buttons make it a lovely thing to hold and operate – though a joystick would allow quicker AF point selection when looking through the viewfinder (which you’ll do often, given how comfortable it is to use).
Supported by an Expeed 6 processor (as found in the Nikon Z6/Z7), the 20.9MP sensor performs well. Besides facilitating 4K video recording, it helps produce images with vibrant but realistic colors and a good level of overall detail. Low-light performance could be much worse and, while it’s certainly not a sports model, the AF does a decent job with eye-detection.
There are compromises, of course – such as the single SD card slot which only supports slower UHS-I cards – but the Z50 should nevertheless be on the radar of anyone looking to switch from a Nikon DSLR.
Nikon’s first full-frame Z camera is a smash
Sensor size: Full-frame | Resolution: 45.7MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 9fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Great MP/burst rate balance
Built-in VR system very convenient
Single XQD card slot splits opinion
Relatively shallow buffer depth
Much like the company’s D850 DSLR (below), the Z7’s ace card is that it manages to blend a high-resolution sensor with fast burst shooting and a fleshed-out 4K video recording option, making it versatile enough to be used for all kinds of applications.
Key advantages over its D850 cousin include 493 phase-detect AF points that stretch right across 90% of the vertical and horizontal axes, together with 5-axis Vibration Reduction that can be used with all kinds of lenses. As we found in our review, handling is great and the 3.69-million dot viewfinder is a joy to use, while video quality is also very strong.
Only a few native lenses have been developed so far, although you can use F-mount optics through an adapter, and while some may be put off by the presence of a single XQD card slot, this shouldn’t realistically be a deal-breaker when you consider just how much Nikon has managed to get right here.
Still the choice of many pros
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Resolution: 45.4MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Brilliant image quality
Excellent AF performance
Live view AF speed
SnapBridge is far from perfect
Still arguably Nikon’s most desirable DSLR, the D850 is a robust, full-frame powerhouse that has proved to be smash among wedding, landscape, portrait and wildlife photographers among others.
Its key highlights of a 45.7MP back-illuminated full-frame sensor, 7fps burst shooting, a 153-point AF system and 4K video recording are supported by a solid secondary set of specs, from the 1,840-shot battery life and dual cards slots (one being the speedy XQD type) right down to illuminated controls for the benefit of those working in darker conditions.
Clunky SnapBridge functionality and slow live view autofocus speeds mean that it’s not quite a flawless performer, and it’s now somewhat overshadowed by the newer and flashier Z7 mirrorless camera, but for those after something a little more traditional the D850 remains a stellar option.
5. Nikon D3500
A great entry into the world of photography
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Great image quality
No 4K video
No built-in sensor cleaning
The company’s most junior DSLR blends a capable imaging core with a light body and a fuss-free interface, and delivers it all with modest price tag. While we don’t expect many extras at this level, we’re lucky enough to get a handful, including a 1,550-shot battery life that is significantly better than every other camera in its class.
Compatibility with decades’ worth of F-mount lenses and a 24.2MP sensor that loses its anti-aliasing filter to better capture fine details sweeten the deal further, although the lack of built-in sensor cleaning is a shame. The fact that there’s no touchscreen may also displease those used to jabbing away at their phones and tablets, although on such an affordable model, it’s easy to understand Nikon’s decision to go without this.
6. Nikon D780
A hybrid all-rounder offering mirrorless smarts in a DSLR body
Sensor size: Full-frame | Resolution: 24.5MP | Viewfinder: Optical | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359K dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
Fast live-view focusing
Superb battery life
Big and heavy
No in-body image stabilization
A DSLR/mirrorless crossover that offers the best of both worlds for full-frame first-timers, the Nikon D780 resembles a traditional DSLR but packs plenty of the tech you’ll find in its mirrorless Z6 cousin.
A hybrid of sorts, the D780 handles like an old-school DLSR. Its magnesium body is heavy in the hand, but a big grip that makes it satisfying to hold. The optical viewfinder and top-plate LCD will be familiar to DSLR users, too, yet the tilting touch-sensitive display is more of a mirrorless mainstay.
Either way, the D780 is no anachronism. It borrows a metering and scene recognition system from the more advanced D850, shares a 273-point on-chip phase detection autofocus system with the Z6 and deploys Nikon’s EXPEED 6 image processor to support the 24.5MP full-frame sensor.
As a result, image quality is truly fantastic, with nicely balanced exposures, excellent dynamic range and brilliant noise control at mid-high ISOs. Battery life is outstanding, too, while autofocus is predictably fast and reliable when using Live View. It’s an impressive package with just one major snag: the cost. Right now, it’s a bit pricey, but with time that price will come down and make the D780 an even better buy.
Full frame without an empty bank account
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert
Excellent dynamic range
No 4K video
LCD isn’t touch sensitive
With its 51-point AF system and video recording topping out at Full HD quality, the D750 may be looking a little dated next to some of its newer rivals. That said, it was always intended as a more compact, lighter and more affordable full-frame solution to the likes of the D800 series, and if you’re not fussed about 4K video there’s much to love.
The sensor delivers great dynamic range and noise control, while the AF system delivers a wonderful performance against static and moving subjects alike, continuing to work well when lighting conditions worsen. The viewfinder is nice and large while the 3.2in LCD screen tilts to help you shoot from all kinds of positions, and while the body is smaller than other full-frame cameras, this has no adverse effect on handling.
Supported by a respectable 6.5fps burst mode, two card slots, Wi-Fi and excellent in-camera Raw processing, the D750 would serve well as a primary body, but is also a logical choice as a backup to a camera like the D850 or Z7.
High on features, low on price
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
Great image quality
Advanced AF system
Only one card slot
LCD screen only has 921k dots
While Nikon’s D500 may appear to have a few advantages over the D7500 on paper, the fact that this newer model borrows many key features from its sibling and costs significantly less makes it a better proposition overall.
Crafted with the sports, action and general outdoors shooter in mind, the D7500 uses the same 20.9MP DX-format sensor as the D500, and also pinches its 180k-pixel metering sensor, with 8fps burst shooting, 4K video and a robust, weather-sealed body as further highlights.
The focusing system isn’t quite as advanced as the 153-point systems seen in other Nikon models, but we still found it to be a commendable performer in our review, while images also impressed. Some may prefer an additional card slot as the body has only been designed with one of these, but this is very much a nicety rather than an essential feature.
Humungous zoom range
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 16MP | Lens: 24-2000mm, f/2.8-6.5 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: Yes | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
Good autofocus (in good light)
Tiny sensor means average images
No raw shooting
We had mixed feelings about Nikon’s recent P1000 superzoom camera, with its monstrous 125x optical zoom presenting just about as many challenges as advantages. So it’s the more affordable and considerably smaller P900 that deserves consideration if high-zoom photography is your thing.
The Nikon P950 is more recent, but this model packs the same 24-2000mm focal range (in 35mm terms). With a slightly more sensible 83x optical zoom range than the P1000, the camera is easier to work with at its telephoto extremes, with effective Dual Detect VR on hand to stabilize compositions and an autofocus system to works well in bright light.
The lack of a touchscreen does show its age somewhat, although this was also omitted from the P1000 and it’s arguably less of a priority on a camera likely of this sort. It’s a shame there’s no Raw capture too (which you do get on the P950), but full manual control over exposure does at least give you the flexibility to get it right in camera for ready-to-use results, and it’s better value than its newer sibling.
10. Nikon Coolpix W300
Dive deep with this sturdy compact
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 16MP | Lens: 24-120mm | Waterproof: 30m | Freezeproof: -10° | Shockproof: 2.1m | Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots | Movies: 4K | User level: Beginner
Deep waterproof capabilities
4K video recording
Metering could be more consistent
Can be fiddly to operate
Nikon’s flagship waterproof compact manages to partner its well-rounded spec sheet with a design that’s thankfully a lot more sober that what we normally find in this category of camera.
Built around a 16MP back-illuminated sensor and 24-120mm (equivalent) lens, its rugged credentials include 30m/100ft waterproofing and 2.4m/7.9ft shock-proofing, with a GPS system, compass and an altimeter alongside.
The further bonus of 4K video capture also means that it competes well with models like the Olympus Tough TG-5 and Panasonic FT7, although we would have loved to see it pack Raw shooting so allow users to hone their masterpieces later on.