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Updated Mar 16, 2022 9:44 AM

Nikon has been one of the biggest camera makers in the world for decades and its lineup has shifted rather dramatically in recent years. The company still churns out some of the highest-quality bodies and lenses available on the market, but it has shifted it sights more toward the mirrorless market. There are still many great Nikon DSLRs out there, but mirrorless cameras have more features and will get more support down the road. Still, some users prefer the DSLR experience and we totally get that. When finding the best Nikon cameras, it really is about your specific needs. We curated this list to address a wide variety of users at various skill levels.

How we picked the best Nikon cameras

The editors and writers at Popular Photography have had hands-on with just about every major camera released in the modern era. We have been testing cameras for decades, and many of us have professional photography experience. The picks on this list come from a mixture of hands-on testing, user feedback, spec comparisons, and other editorial reviews. For this list, we focused on picking the right Nikon cameras to fit specific user needs. While DSLRs are still totally viable, mirrorless cameras clearly have an advantage when it comes to many features and future system support.

Features to consider when shopping for the best Nikon cameras

The best Nikon camera for you comes down to your personal photographic needs. Whether it’s a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or other setup, you should only pay for features you’re going to use. We’ll point out some of the strengths of what we consider the best Nikon cameras currently available. From there, you’ll be better able to sort out which one will best meet your needs and fit with your shooting style and interests.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless

Just a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been a question. Nikon was late to the mirrorless party, but it arrived on a mission. Now, Nikon has shifted a large portion of its focus to mirrorless cameras, which will have way more new lens options coming down the road. That said, Nikon’s current DSLR lineup still has a ton of life left in it and you might be able to find some excellent deals on F-mount lenses as more shooters make the transition to mirrorless.

Do you need a pro camera?

Pro-level cameras combine high-end features and durability, high-speed shooting, and excellent image quality. Look for a solid, weather-sealed build with dual card slots for high speed, high capacity media. Large burst capacity, accurate AF, and low noise in dark scenes. And if you like to shoot action, whether it’s wildlife or sports, a camera’s frames-per-second continuous shooting numbers are a solid indicator of whether or not you’ll get the shot. Of course, autofocus and tracking also plays a role in capturing a soaring eagle or game-winning touchdown.

Resolution 

The resolution war is over—or at least it was. These days some of the best Nikon cameras are built around sensors that offer around double the resolution of most other models. While Nikon cameras with 45-megapixel sensors might not be for everyone given the large file sizes and the need for computer power and storage to process and archive them, high-resolution cameras do offer some benefits. One of the main benefits for most people is the ability to crop an image more tightly than those with fewer pixels. This comes in handy when you (and your lens) can’t get close enough to a subject to zoom in closely for a good composition. 

What are your actual needs?

If you’re intrigued by mirrorless cameras but don’t want to break the bank or get overwhelmed by features and bells and whistles you won’t use, check out Nikon’s entry level mirrorless models. They have plenty of features to grow or polish your photographic skills and come in compact bodies. A camera’s size and weight are always important considerations, especially for those who are on the go, whether it’s an all-day hike in nature or a bucket-list vacation. If you have smaller hands, you want to find a camera that’s designed with important controls within reach and is light enough to hold for long periods of time. Similarly, if you have large hands, a compact model might feel cramped so be sure to try the camera on for size before you buy it.

Fixed lens vs. interchangeable lens

Although compact and bridge cameras are relatively few and far between compared to what you used to have, there are still a handful of Nikon models on the market. The term point-and-shoot doesn’t necessarily mean a basic camera that’s pared down to a basic snapshot camera, however. Rather, this category is applied to cameras that don’t have interchangeable lenses. So, don’t be fooled—there are P&S models that have special capabilities that you won’t find elsewhere, like super-long zoom.

Low-light shooting

Versatility is key for most photographers and that versatility extends from video capabilities to low light performance. Since artificial light is not always available (or desirable), the ability to shoot at high ISOs while maintaining detail and sharpness is key. Results at high ISO are usually best when shooting and processing RAW files but the camera should be able to deliver low noise in JPEG files as well. Although some people enable built-in high ISO noise reduction, we found it’s usually best to disable this feature (or set it at the lowest level) and handle any noise reduction when post-processing RAW files. Another key factor is the camera’s ability to focus under low light, low contrast conditions.

Budget

Like any other product category, camera prices increase in concert with a camera’s feature set and performance. But there are bargains to be had especially if you don’t need the latest technology or the most bells and whistles. Since digital camera improvements are often evolutionary or fairly minor from one iteration to the next, it may not be worth the money for the latest and greatest. And, as other new models come on the market, older models drop in price but don’t lose their original capabilities. So look around for camera models that have been around for a while and grab yourself a bargain.

Best overall: Nikon Z9

Why it made the cut: Nikon’s flagship camera can literally handle any situation with super-fast shooting a high-resolution images.

Specs:

  • Type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor size: Full-frame
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Resolution: 45.7 megapixels

Pros

  • 20 fps raw burst shooting
  • Super-fast, high-resolution sensor
  • 8K video and other advanced motion modes
  • Lots of customizability and tactile controls

Cons

  • Big
  • Expensive

10 years ago, the stats on Nikon’s Z9 mirrorless camera would have seemed impossible. Nikon built a pro-grade mirrorless camera that can literally handle pretty much any situation if you can handle the bulk and the price. It has a high-resolution 45.7-megapixel stacked sensor that reads out quickly enough that the camera can capture up to 20 fps in full-resolution raw mode. It can shoot 8K video and 4K video at a high frame-rate. It has Nikon’s most advanced autofocus system to date, which tracks subjects with extreme accuracy. I spent two weeks shooting with the Z9 and was blown away by everything it can do. The price point obviously makes it for pros only at this point, but I’m excited to see some of these features trickle down into lower models down the road. This is one of the best cameras ever made, full-stop. -Stan Horaczek

Best pro-level: Nikon D6

Why it made the cut:Nikon’s flagship DSLR is built like a tank and shoots fast enough to make it a sports staple.

Specs:

  • Type: DSLR
  • Sensor size: Full-frame
  • Lens mount: Nikon F
  • Resolution: 20.8 megapixels

Pros

  • Built super tough
  • Up to 14 fps shooting
  • Full-sized body includes a vertical grip and lots of buttons

Cons

  • Big
  • Expensive

The full-frame DSLR Nikon D6’s continuous capture rate clocks in at a speedy 14fps and has a solid autofocus system at its core ensuring that you’ll get the shot, regardless of how fast it’s flying past your lens. The Nikon D6 is a pro-level camera built for shooting high-end sporting events or serious wildlife. It’s fast and weatherproof, but, it’s bulky, heavy, and commands a price to match its capabilities so you’ll need deep pockets. Equally speedy at 14fps, but less than half the price, is the smaller, lighter full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z6 II. While the Z9 has stolen some of the D6’s thunder, this is still a staple camera for sports shooters who want a lower resolution sensor for quicker transmission and a zero-lag viewfinder for capturing super-fast action.

Best high resolution: Nikon Z7 II

Why it made the cut: Its 45.7-megapixel sensor squeezes every detail out of a scene.

Specs:

  • Type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor size: Full-frame
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Resolution: 45.7-megapixels

Pros

  • High-res sensor pulls in lots of details
  • Solid weatherproofing for pro work
  • Fast memory card support to accommodate high-res images
  • Relatively compact for all that resolution

Cons

  • Burst mode is just OK

If you’re only concerned with resolution and detail and don’t need the speed of the Z9, then the Z7 II will suit your needs just fine. It has a 45.7-megapixel sensor inside, which is paired with Nikon’s most advanced image processor. That helps keep the noise down, which can be a problem with high-resolution sensors. It has Nikon’s advanced tracking AF as well as its excellent matrix metering tech inside. It shoots 4K video or 1080p video at a high framerate. This is the pro-grade Nikon camera that would fit most people’s workflows when you take budget into consideration.

Best entry-level : Nikon Z 50

Why it made the cut: A compact body and a versatile screen make this great for content creators of all kinds.

Specs:

  • Type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor size: APS-C
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z DX
  • Resolution: 20.9-megapixels

Pros

  • Compact and light
  • Screen flips forward for selfies and vlogging
  • Very affordable compared to other Nikon mirrorless offerings

Cons

  • Just OK viewfinder

Weighing only 14 ounces (body only), the 20 megapixel Nikon Z 50 is a smaller, APS-C version of its mirrorless Z-siblings but is built around a smaller sensor. In addition to a solid build and a flip-down touchscreen LCD, the Nikon Z 50 offers plenty of features for the enthusiast picture-taker but, as an entry-level camera, is simple enough for beginners to master. The Nikon Z 50 is speedy at 11 frames per second continuous shooting and is also vlogger-friendly thanks to its flip LCD. If you want to step it up a bit and prefer a full-frame camera, check out the 24 megapixel Nikon Z 5

Best point-and-shoot: Nikon P1000

Why it made the cut: The attached lens can literally let you see miles away under the right circumstances

Specs:

  • Type: Bridge camera
  • Sensor size: 1/2.3-inch
  • Lens mount: Fixed lens
  • Resolution: 16-megapixels

Pros

  • Massive lens offers the equivalent of a 24-3,000mm lens
  • Solid image stabilization
  • Tactile controls
  • Sturdy grip

Cons

  • You absolutely need a tripod for long zooming

With its mind-boggling 125x zoom with a 3000mm focal length, the Nikon P1000 will bring distant subjects into close range. The camera is relatively compact, but you can photograph the moon’s craters and capture that skittish bird or wild animal while keeping your distance–all with built-in image stabilization. Go to the other extreme and photograph small subjects as close as one foot. A 16-megapixel sensor helps keep high ISO noise to a minimum and there’s a built-in timelapse feature, too. If you want to head underwater instead, check out the tiny Nikon Coolpix W300 which can accompany scuba divers as deep as 100 feet.

Best low-light: Nikon Z 6II

Why it made the cut: Nikon’s mid-level mirrorless camera has everything most shooters need, even for high-end work. While it doesn’t have the most megapixels, that allows it to excel in low-light.

Specs:

  • Type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor size: Full-frame
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Resolution: 24.5-megapixels

Pros

  • Very solid featureset
  • Excellent image quality
  • Customizable controles
  • Great low-light performance

Cons

  • Fewer tactile controls than the Z7 II

The full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z 6II does a great job shooting in low light and at high ISOs. The latter ranges from a native 100-51,200 and is expandable to 204,00. Sensitivity can be set in steps of ⅓ or ½ EV (exposure compensation), so you can fine-tune the ISO setting. Low light AF works well at around -4.5 EV (-6 with low-light AF) so you won’t have to worry about starting with unfocused images. 

Best budget: Nikon D3500

Why it made the cut: It provides a solid foundation for aspiring photographers.

Specs:

  • Type: DSLR
  • Sensor size: APS-C
  • Lens mount: Nikon F DX
  • Resolution: 24.2-megapixels

Pros

  • Very small and light
  • Solid image quality
  • Helpful automatic modes for beginners

Cons

  • Plastic construction
  • Very limited tactile controls

Although the Nikon D3500 APS-C DSLR has been around for a while, it’s still a solid option especially for beginners and people on a budget. And, it comes bundled with an 18-55mm lens, so you’re good to go for less than $600. It has beginner-friendly features to help those just getting started, but offers access to manual features as skills improve.

FAQs

Q: What is the newest Nikon DSLR?

Nikon’s newest camera is the 24 megapixel, full-frame D780. This DSLR has something for everyone but is best for those who want to step up their game. With great stills and a variety of video options (4K video, slow motion, timelapse), and a more than respectable 7 fps shooting speed, the Nikon D780 is sure to be popular among enthusiasts who want to invest in a system that will serve them well for a long time. 

Q: What’s the most expensive Nikon camera?

Nikon’s most expensive camera is the Nikon D6. This pro-level camera is equipped with a long list of sophisticated features and is designed for the photographer who needs exceptional image quality and stellar performance. The Z9 may take over that title when it debuts down the road.

Q: What is the least expensive Nikon camera? 

Nikon’s least expensive camera is the waterproof Nikon Coolpix W150. This tiny point-and-shoot camera, which is waterproof to 33 feet, is perfect for quick snapshots at the beach or in the pool. It comes equipped with SnapBridge for wireless or Bluetooth connectivity to mobile devices so you can share a fun day’s photos with family and friends.

A final word on shopping for the best Nikon camera 

Like any camera purchase, it’s important to match a camera’s feature set and body design with your needs and photographic style. Because a camera is a serious investment, be sure to think about where you want to take your photographic skills and make sure that the camera you select will serve your needs for at least the near future.

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