Picking the best Nikon camera means picking between several different types of camera. With the firm covering everything from point-and-shoot compacts for kids to heavy DSLRs that meet the demands of professionals, there's a lot of choice out there. Our guide below is designed to help you make sense of it all and find the right Nikon camera for you.
There are three main types of Nikon camera: mirrorless, DSLR and compact. If you're already familiar with them and know what you want, you can click the headings on the left to jump straight to the section of your choice. The DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate will probably outlive everyone reading this, but the main thing to remember is that neither type is necessarily "better"; both have their advantages and drawbacks.
It took Nikon a while to sort out its mirrorless offering but now its Z range contains what are unequivocally some of the best mirrorless cameras you can buy. The range started out with a bang at the debut of the impressive full frame Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7 mirrorless cameras, but has since introduced the compact, powerful and affordable APS-C format Nikon Z50 and the full frame Nikon Z5, which is designed as a step-up camera for those hunting for their first full-frame model.
The second-generation Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II replace the two that kicked it all off, adding dual memory card slots and dual processors for improved performance. More recently, we've seen the arrival of the Nikon Z fc, which takes the internals of the Z50 and houses them in an achingly cool retro chassis.
While there's more development happening in the world of mirrorless, DSLRs can still hold their own. The Nikon D780 combines the best features of a DSLR (optical viewfinder, battery life, size and robustness) with the cutting-edge live view, on-sensor autofocus and 4K video of Nikon mirrorless cameras, in this instance the Nikon Z6.
For professional photographers who need the absolute best, the flagship Nikon D6 is a true workhorse camera and is the tool of choice for capturing high profile sporting events. However, pros aren't the only people who can benefit from a Nikon DSLR. The cheap, entry-level Nikon D3500 is great for starting your photography hobby, and you can graduate right up to the high-end Nikon D850. Nikon DSLRs are among the best DSLRs you can buy.
• See also: Nikon Z50 vs D7500
Of course, an interchangeable lens camera might be more than you need. The best camera for beginners include many of Nikon's fixed-lens Coolpix compact cameras, and for family or casual use, these are a great and inexpensive choice.
The Coolpix range includes some of the best point and shoot cameras, with specialized models such as ultra-zoom bridge cameras – the latest in the range being the Coolpix P950 with its huge 83x optical zoom – and rugged underwater cameras that can stand being submerged, dropped and frozen!
So that's enough talk – let's see which are the best Nikon cameras to buy today!
The best Nikon cameras in 2021
Nikon Z mirrorless
Nikon now makes seven mirrorless cameras, though two - the Z 6II and Z 7II - are technically replacements for the original Z 6 and Z 7, and we don't expect the old models to be around much longer. The Z 5 is the cheapest full-frame Nikon Z camera, though it too is undercut on price by the entry-level Z 50 which uses a smaller APS-C sensor, but in turn is a much smaller and lighter camera. The Z fc is basically the same deal as the Z 50, but housed in a much more attractive retro-styled body.
All current Nikon mirrorless cameras use Nikon's Z-mount lens mount (shared with the smaller APS-C format Z 50 and Z fc), but can come with an adapter that lets them use regular Nikon DSLR lenses too, so they're perfect for Nikon DSLR owners who want to migrate to a mirrorless system – or use a mirrorless Nikon alongside their DSLRs.
Read more: Nikon mirrorless cameras and lenses
The Nikon Z50 is a much smaller camera than the Z6 II and Z7 II, 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. We would like to see a few more DX lenses coming out, though.
Read more: Nikon Z50 review
The Nikon Z6 II is a light refresh of the original Z6, with a second memory card slot and processor bringing a bump to burst shooting, now up to 14fps, and the ability to record 4K video at 60fps. However, the camera still lacks an articulating screen, limiting its appeal for video and vlogging. Existing Z6 owners won't see a need to upgrade, but new buyers will get a terrific all-round camera at a pretty good price. For those who want resolution above video and affordability, the Nikon Z7 II (below) would be our recommendation.
Read more: Nikon Z6 II review
The Z5 is Nikon's entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera. Rather than starting with a clean sheet of paper, Nikon's pretty much used the same design for the Z5 as it did for the original Z6 (and Z7 for that matter). The most noticeable thing on the body that differs from the Z6 is the arrival of a more beginner-orientated mode dial in place of the LCD top-plate display. The Z5 also borrows much of the tech inside the Z6, with the most noticeable difference being the sensor. The resolution might be the same, but the Z6 benefits from a back-illuminated chip and images from the two are very similar, with the Z6 having the edge at higher ISOs. The 4K video is a little restrictive with a 1.7x crop, while the burst shooting speed is a modest 4.5fps. The Z5 is better than its budget rivals the Canon EOS RP and Sony Alpha A7 II, but currently costs more than the Z6, making it a tough one to recommend over the more advanced camera.
Read more: Nikon Z 5 review
The Z7 II is Nikon's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera. All the changes that we’ve seen on the Z7 II compared to the original Z7 are certainly welcome, but we can’t help feeling that Nikon’s played it a bit safe with its second-gen Z cameras. We’d like to have seen even more of a jump to really make it a serious threat to the likes of the Canon EOS R5 and Alpha A7R IV. But still, the Nikon Z7 II has a lot going for it. It might not have a standout feature that sets it apart from its competitors, but the Nikon Z7 II delivers solidly across the board and is a great mirrorless camera. Nikon's changes – dual processors and dual memory card slots, for example – have made a great camera even better, and don't forget the growing selection of terrific Z-mount lenses now available for Nikon's Z cameras.
Read more: Nikon Z7 II review
The Nikon Z fc is, without a doubt, the coolest-looking camera on this list. It's a retro-styled mirrorless machine with dial-based controls, and it's a joy to handle, to use, and to be seen using. Internally, it's basically the same deal as the Nikon Z50, with the same APS-C sensor and processor and many of the same specs. A few extra features like a built-in flash have been shaved off, and it is more expensive than the Z50, so if you don't care about aesthetics then Nikon's other DX-format camera is the smarter choice. But if you're the sort of person who can't resist the siren song of the best retro cameras, the Nikon Z fc will be right up your alley.
Nikon DSLRs come in two sizes: the smaller format APS-C (DX) models like the D3500 and D7500 aimed at beginners and enthusiasts respectively, and larger full-frame (FX) models aimed principally at more advanced enthusiasts and pros - the Nikon D850 and D780, for example. Our list has both DX and FX DSLRs.
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.
Nikon fans ready to step up from a beginner-orientated model 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
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. But the D780 also reminds us just how good (and comparatively cheap) the older Nikon D750 still is. If all you need is a classic, good value full-frame DSLR for stills shooting, the D750 remains a great buy.
Read more: Nikon D780 review
The Nikon D750 is fairly old, but it's proved itself to be a great all round camera at an increasingly attractive price. The D750 is now Nikon's entry-level full frame DSLR and takes its controls and handling cues from Nikon's enthusiast-level DSLRs rather than its pro models, but it does have Nikon's tried and trusted 51-point AF system which was, for a while, the best in the Nikon range. The D750 does not capture 4K video, but it can shoot 1080p full HD at up to 60fps. It also has a tilting rear screen, so although its live view autofocus isn't especially fast, it's still a step ahead of most fixed-screen DSLRs. The newer Nikon D780 fixes all the D750's faults while keeping all its best features. The D780 has the fast live view autofocus from the mirrorless Nikon Z6, 4K video and continuous shooting up to 12fps – though while the D780 is great for video shooters and sports fans, the D750 still offers the best value for money.
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
Nikon Coolpix compacts
Some 'compact' cameras aren't very compact at all! Bridge cameras and their big lenses can be as big and heavy as a mirrorless camera or DSLR. The term 'compact' actually refers to the fact that the lens is fixed and can't be removed. This means you have to choose the zoom range carefully when you buy because you can't change it later. Otherwise, a compact camera is perfect for casual snapping and family use.
Can you really get a decent digital camera for so little money? Well, that depends on the standard of picture quality you're expecting. You wouldn't really attempt to make wall-size enlargements with a camera like this, but it's more than adequate for snapshots and social sharing, and it's a lot more versatile (and less expensive to lose or damage) than a smartphone. Obviously the budget price brings compromises in sensor size and image quality - the 1/3.1-inch sensor size is small, and results in a mix ISO sensitivity of just ISO1600 - not great for low light photography. The 2.7-inch 230k-dot rear screen will also pale in comparison to any current smartphone display, and you only get 3x optical zoom. But there are other benefits to the W150. Unlike most smartphones, the W150 is waterproof down to 10 metres, it can withstand a drop of up to 1.8m, and it’s freezeproof down to -10 degrees. Considering this is the cheapest camera Nikon currently produces, it's a bit of a bargain, providing you're not expecting top-notch image quality.
Read more: The best camera under $200/£200
Big, heavy cameras don't do well in extreme environments. If you're skydiving, surfing or plunging off watery precipices in a kayak, you need a camera that's small, light and tough. There are plenty of GoPro-style action cams to fit the bill, but the Nikon Coolpix W300 is a 'proper' camera with a 5x zoom lens, a 3-inch screen, and camera controls you just don't get on an action cam. Its 1/2.3-inch sensor can capture 16-megapixel stills and 4K video, and it's impressively tough. It's waterproof to a depth of 30m, which is impressive enough, but it's also shockproof, being designed to withstand being dropped from a height of 2.4m. It doesn't shoot raw files, which is a pity, but then that is pretty uncommon in this class of camera, and hardly a deal-breaker. This is the ideal camera for families that like to go a little wild!
Read more: The 10 best waterproof cameras
Though not exactly 'compact' in the conventional sense, this superzoom bridge camera does offer extreme optical zoom range. What is compact is the image sensor inside - you have to accept a smaller sensor and somewhat reduced image quality in exchange for the P950's huge 83x optical zoom – but what you get is a camera with a colossal zoom range that DSLR and mirrorless camera owners can only dream of. So why do we recommend the smaller Coolpix P950 over the even longer range Coolpix P1000? Frankly, the P1000 is just too much. It's a huge camera with a pretty huge price tag. The P950 comes with raw capture and 4K video, and is just that bit more portable and affordable.