The best Nikon cameras have given countless beginners their first taste of 'proper' photography, but they are also popular with enthusiasts and professionals. Once you find a camera brand you like, it's natural to stay with it as you upgrade your camera – and your ambitions!
We've stuck to mirrorless cameras and DSLRs for this guide, because these are the cameras that offer the best image quality, features, controls and versatility.
We haven't included Nikon CoolPix compact cameras because they are aimed at a slightly different audience and we have other guides that can help you here, including the best point and shoot cameras, best waterproof cameras and best bridge cameras. Perhaps the most famous bridge camera right now is the mighty Nikon P1000 and its incredible 125x zoom!
As for the cameras in this guide, Nikon makes both DSLRs and Nikon Z mirrorless cameras, and while mirrorless cameras are regarded by most as the future, the DSLR design still has a lot going for it, especially for beginners who want the most features for the least money, and enthusiasts who want a rugged design and a huge lens choice. If you want to know more about the pros and cons, we've got a whole article on DSLR vs mirrorless cameras.
For this guide, we've split what we think are the best Nikon cameras right now into three sections:
The best Nikon cameras in 2022
Best Nikon cameras for beginners
These are ideal cameras to get started with: not too expensive, straightforward to use but with enough power and potential to keep up with you as you develop your photographic skills.
While you're still learning photography and deciding what sort of camera will suit you best, you should pick a camera that's simple enough to understand straight away and affordable enough that you can change your mind and swap later if you decide you need something different. The D3500 is the entry-level model in Nikon's DSLR range, but it has a 24.2MP sensor as good as those in cameras at twice the price, and it offers a very good 5fps continuous shooting speed for a starter camera. The Guide mode will help beginners get started and understand the basic principles, but the D3500 has all the manual controls you need to learn about photography as you improve your skills. It's sometimes sold a little cheaper with a non-VR (non-stabilized) kit lens, but it's definitely worth paying a little more to get the VR version.
• Read our full Nikon D3500 review
It took Nikon a little while to come out with a really solid entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera, but the firm smashed it out of the park with the Z5. IT takes design cues from its pricier siblings, the Z6 and Z (more on which to come shortly), but makes some sensible additions like a beginner-friendly mode dial. It produces fantastic-looking images, and having a full-frame sensor with the sophisticated Z-mount is a tough combo to argue with. It makes a few compromises, lacking the Z6's back-illuminated sensor, and suffering a 1.7x crop on its 4K video, but these sacrifices are what enable the Z5's real ace in the hole: it's tempting price tag. This camera represents significantly better value in our book than its rivals like the Canon EOS RP and Sony Alpha A7 II, and the price is continuing to drop, meaning it's worth considering over APS-C alternatives like the Z50 and the Z fc.
Read more: Nikon Z5 review
This dreamy camera doesn't just look cool, it's also one of the best beginner to mid-range cameras around. With an APS-C sensor and a sophisticated processor, the Nikon Z fc is a highly capable camera for image-makers of all stripes, even if it misses out on a few features like a built-in flash. It's a little pricier than its stablemate the Nikon Z50, and if you don't care about looks then you may want to consider that camera instead, as it's basically the same deal. However, we're utterly charmed by the style and presentation of the Nikon Z fc. Can't resist the look and feel of the best retro cameras? Then look no further, the Nikon Z fc will suit you down to the ground. It does need a few more native DX format Nikon Z lenses, though.
• Read our full Nikon Z fc review
The Nikon Z50 is a much smaller camera than Nikon's full frame 'Z' models, but it clearly shares the same design DNA. Despite its small size, it has a good grip and good external controls, and the retracting 16-50mm kit lens is remarkable not just for its pancake lens dimensions but for its overall performance. Nikon may have come to the APS-C mirrorless market comparatively late, but it's come in with a camera that has so many good points it's hard to know where to start – but we will highlight the 4K video, 11fps shooting... and the fact that its Z mount is identical to that on the larger cameras, so you can use dedicated Nikkor Z DX lenses, full frame Nikkor Z lenses and regular Nikon DSLR lenses via the FTZ adapter. Best of all, the Z50 is terrific value, especially when bought as a twin-lens kit. This is a great value camera for both beginners and enthusiasts, though we would like to see a few more DX lenses coming out.
Read more: Nikon Z50 review
Best Nikon cameras for enthusiasts
These cameras are ideal if you're upgrading from an older Nikon DSLR system, or you've been using a more basic camera and you feel you've exhausted its potential.
The Nikon Z6 II is a light refresh of the original Z6, with a second memory card slot and faster processor bringing a bump to burst shooting, now up to 14fps, and the ability to record 4K video at 60fps. it's a terrific all-round camera at a very good price, and this camera's build quality, design and handling are excellent – as is its in-body stabilization. The 24MP sensor sounds only a small step up from Nikon's 20.9MP APS-C mirrorless models, but in combination with the much larger full frame sensor area, it delivers a big leap in image quality, especially in low light. If you're into vlogging and filmmaking, not just stills, this is the Nikon to get.
Read more: Nikon Z6 II review
The Nikon D780 takes the on-sensor phase detection autofocus of the Nikon Z6, resulting in a DSLR with the live view autofocus speed of a mirrorless cameras – brilliant! Essentially, the D780 is like a modernized, supercharged version of Nikon's still popular D750 full-frame DSLR. The D780 doesn't just have advanced live view AF – it also comes with a high-resolution tilting touchscreen display, 4K UHD video, dual UHS-II compatible memory card slots and continuous shooting speeds up to 12fps in live view mode. Combine that with its solid design and comfortable grip and you've got a camera that's an instant classic.
Read more: Nikon D780 review
Nikon DSLR fans ready to step up from a beginner-orientated model like the D3500 should look at the Nikon D7500. It's a larger, more rugged cameras that offers 8fps continuous shooting, Nikon's highly-regarded 51-point autofocus system and the ability to capture 4K video. It has a tilting rear screen rather than the fully-articulated design on the Nikon D5600, so vertical shots are trickier – but it's fine for video and horizontal shooting. The D7500 has a lower resolution sensor than the D5600 (20MP vs 24MP) but it's a newer design taken from the pro-grade D500 that sacrifices a few megapixels in exchange for better image quality at high ISO settings and faster all-round image capture.
Read more: Nikon D7500 review
Best Nikon cameras for professionals
Professional Nikon cameras can be expensive, as you would expect, and although we start this section with the most expensive of all, we have two others that are much more approachable in price and could tempt many enthusiasts too.
Here, at long last, is the shot across the bows of Canon and Sony – the Nikon Z9, the firm's latest pro mirrorless camera and a startling step forward for professional imaging. The Nikon Z9 boasts an intimidating set of features. It's capable of burst-shooting at a face-melting 120fps, for one, and its buffer can record a nominal 1,000 images per burst, with Nikon recording it being capable of as many as 5,000 when used with a high-spec CFExpress card. It also uses deep-learning AF, meaning its focusing ability should get better over time, and the back-side illuminated sensor delivers superior low-light performance. However,several of its headline features, like 8K 60p video and the compressed high-efficiency N-RAW format, are not going to be available at launch, but will come in a firmware update expected later in 2022. Nikon is not the only manufacturer doing this, but it's still a trend we're not fans of.
• Read our full Nikon Z9 review
Mirrorless camera fans will often complain about the size and weight of DSLRs, and they have a point. The Nikon D850 is a big bruiser of a camera compared to Nikon Z models. But this size works in your favor if you're shooting with big, heavy lenses, and most pro lenses are big and heavy! This is a handling factor that many mirrorless users don't take into account. Being a DSLR, the D850 has a bright, clear optical viewfinder that many photographers still prefer over a digital display, no matter how good the latter. The D850's 45.7-megapixel sensor produces quite superb image quality, yet it can still maintain a shooting speed of 7 frames per second, or 9 frames per second with the optional battery grip. Even without the grip, the D850 has an amazing battery life of 1840 shots – far more than any mirrorless rivals – and it comes with two memory card slots; one for an XQD/CFexpress card and one for regular SD/SDHC/SDXC.
Read more: Nikon D850 review
The Z7 II was Nikon's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera until the mighty Z9 came along. Even so, while the Z7 II can't match the Z9's continuous shooting speed or 8K video, it delivers the same super-high resolution and easily enough sports shooting/video capability for everyday non-specialist use. This Mark II version brings dual memory card slots and faster processing, but retains the excellent design and handling of the original, and Nikon's equally excellent in-body stabilization system. Nikon has quickly built an impressive range of pro-spec Nikkor Z lenses, so the Z7 II makes an extremely good all-round camera for professional use – and Nikon's pricing is very competitive too. We really rate the Nikon Z7 II not for any flashy, headline-grabbing specs but because it does everything really well at a good price.
Read more: Nikon Z7 II review
How we test cameras
We test cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use both real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides.