Best Nikon gear of the year: great cameras, lenses, flashguns and accessories

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There’s no question that the biggest news of the year came without mirrors. Even so, there’s plenty of other fabulous photographic kit to get excited about. As well as Nikon’s new cameras and lenses, Sigma and Tamron have served up a feast of glorious glassware. For high-performance accessories, Kenro, Elinchrom and Manfrotto and others have also impressed us.

We’ve seen a vast array of products through the past year of Big Tests, Mini Tests and reviews. The standard of design and manufacture is so good, that it’s often been hard to pick outright winners. Ultimately, there’s been some memorable new gear, while some previously launched lenses remain so desirable that they’re worthy winners a second time. Let’s celebrate!

Budget

Nikon D3500 + AF-P 18-55mm VR

The best entry-level SLR in 2018

What we love

Wonderfully compact and lightweight with its retracting kit lens, the D3500 also has a refreshingly small selling price. It still manages to go large on specifications and features, with a 24.2Mp image sensor, powerful EXPEED 4 processor, high-res LCD screen and speedy 5fps burst rate. It’s got great stamina too, delivering more than 1500 shots from a fully charged battery. As with previous D3xxx series cameras, we absolutely love the interactive ‘Guide’ shooting mode. It’s like having your own personal photography trainer inside, making it the most intuitive DSLR for beginners.

What’s missing? 

It lacks the custom settings menu of more advanced Nikon DSLRs, and the lens of the cheapest version of the kit lacks VR (Vibration Reduction).

Why upgrade?

If you’re upgrading from a compact or even a mobile phone, the D3500 offers the perfect introduction to DSLR photography.

Nikon AF-S DX 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II

The best budget telephoto zoom in 2018

What we love

For us, the standout feature of this lightweight telephoto zoom is that it has a similar retractable mechanism to the D3500’s standard kit lens. It shrinks to just 83mm in length for packing away or carrying around, which is incredibly small for a tele-zoom. Weighing in at 300g, it’s also only about half the weight of many competing lenses. There’s something to be said for using the combination of Nikon’s retracting 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses instead of a superzoom lens – the weight of the camera that’s hanging around your neck at any given moment will be considerably lighter…

What’s missing? 

The lens is supplied without a hood, and the official Nikon HB-37 item will cost you an additional £15/$15. 

Why upgrade?

If you’ve got a budget DSLR with an 18-55mm kit lens, this is the ideal zoom to extend your telephoto reach.

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C

The best budget standard zoom in 2018

What we love

Typical of Sigma’s ‘Contemporary’ lineup of lenses, the 17-70mm f/2.8-4 aims to keep size and weight to a minimum. We’re impressed that this lens is a mere 82mm long and tips the scales at just 465g, yet gives a generous zoom range that goes slightly wider and noticeably longer than most standard DX format zooms. It does this while also delivering a ‘faster’ aperture rating of f/2.8-4. Best of all, image quality is excellent, boosted by two top-grade FLD (Fluorite Low Dispersion) elements in the optical path, while a four-stop stabilizer helps to keep things steady.

What’s missing? 

There’s no full-time manual focus override of AF, and the focus ring rotates during autofocus. At least the filter thread doesn’t rotate.

Why upgrade?

For a bigger zoom range, faster aperture, excellent image quality and a useful 0.3x macro facility, it’s certainly a step up from an 18-55mm kit lens.

Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD

The best budget wide-angle zoom in 2018

What we love

It’s not just about the eye-popping maximum viewing angle. This lens has a great zoom range for an ultra-wide-angle lens, making it incredibly versatile and reducing the need to keep swapping between wide-angle and standard zoom lenses on your camera. A major upgrade from Tamron’s original 10-24mm zoom, we’re won over by this one’s uprated optical design that delivers excellent sharpness and contrast, along with reduced distortions. The new HLD (High/Low torque Drive) autofocus system is quicker, quieter and improves handling, as the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus. Optical stabilization is also added, which was entirely lacking in the original lens.

What’s missing? 

There’s nothing missing as such. The new edition of this lens even gains weather-seals and a keep-clean fluorine coating on the front element.

Why upgrade?

If you want to buy the best, this is unquestionably the greatest and most versatile DX format wide-angle zoom lens on the market currently.

Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

The best superzoom lens in 2018

What we love

Tamron has a habit of pushing the boundaries with superzoom lenses. Its 18-250mm and 18-270mm both boasted the world’s greatest zoom range, when they were launched in 2006 and 2008. They were both surpassed by the 16-300mm, which not only sent the zoom range into overdrive, but delivered an even wider maximum viewing angle. The 18-400mm can’t quite match that but we love the way it stretches into super-telephoto territory with a frankly monstrous 600mm ‘effective’ focal length on DX cameras, complete with highly effective optical stabilization and an advanced HLD autofocus system.

What’s missing? 

You might miss the more generous wide-angle potential of Tamron’s previous 16-300mm superzoom.

Why upgrade?

If you hate carrying extra lenses, and swapping the lens mounted on your camera body, this Tamron works well for pretty much everything.

Kenro Karoo Ultimate Travel Tripod

The best travel tripod in 2018

What we love

 All too often, ‘travel tripods’ are flimsy affairs that only reach waist-height and wobble around in the breeze. Despite weighing in at just over 2kg and folding down to a mere 48cm in length. When the ball head is attached, this Kenro tripod extends to a mighty 190cm maximum operating height and has a hefty 8kg load rating. It’s wonderfully versatile too, with three independent leg angles, a detachable leg that you can use as a monopod, and even a 90-degree pivot facility for the centre column, ideal for macro and ultra-wide-angle shooting. We love that it’s so flexible (in a good way) and such great value for money.

What’s missing? 

You won’t get any significant weight loss if you splash out more on the carbon fibre edition. It’s only 10 per cent lighter than this aluminium kit.

Why upgrade?

This tripod is so versatile that it’s suitable for pretty much any scenario, from the studio to the great outdoors. This tripod makes an ideal travel companion.

Mid-range

Nikon Z6

The best enthusiast camera in 2018

What we love

It’s not just the price drop that we love, the Z6 being less than two-thirds the price of the range-topping Z7. The Z6’s more modest 24.5 megapixel resolution equates to bigger photosites on the image sensor. Making the most of this, the Z6 has a greater ISO range and delivers cleaner high-ISO images under low lighting. It’s faster too, with a blistering 12fps burst rate that matches the fastest shooting rate of the mighty D5. Its smaller image file sizes are easier to manage as well, with faster Raw processing speeds and editing times.

What’s missing? 

Naturally, it’s missing a mirror but the sheer quality of its OLED viewfinder makes this less of a drawback than you might initially imagine.

Why upgrade?

There are pros and cons to mirrorless cameras but, whichever side of the fence you sit, Nikon’s new Z-series lenses add a strong case for upgrading.

Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S

The best standard zoom in 2018

What we love

It’s funny how we get so hung up on new camera bodies, when lenses cause less of a stir. The extra-large lens flange of Nikon’s Z-series cameras, and its close proximity to the image sensor, enables a new freedom in lens design. The Z 24-70mm f/4 combines a sensible zoom range and aperture rating to maximize versatility while keeping the size and weight to ideal proportions for Z6 and Z7 bodies. Handling is excellent but what we absolutely adore about this lens is its stunning performance. Sharpness is absolutely incredible across the entire frame, while colour fringing and distortions are practically nonexistent.

What’s missing? 

It lacks the faster f/2.8 aperture of most pro-grade 24-70mm full-frame zooms for DSLRs, but the f/4 rating enables a better balance on the relatively lightweight mirrorless bodies.

Why upgrade?

The image quality delivered by this lens is so exceptional that you might even consider upgrading to a mirrorless body just so you can use it.

Nikon Coolpix P1000

The best bridge camera in 2018

What we love

 When is a compact camera not a compact camera? Being from Nikon’s Coolpix range, the P1000 certainly has a fixed rather than interchangeable lens, but it’s definitely not compact. It’s big and chunky, and weighs in at a hefty 1.42kg. Even the price tag puts a lot of DSLRs in the shade, so what’s the attraction? We love this camera because, in full-frame terms, it has a totally bonkers 24-3000mm optical zoom range. By way of comparison, you could put Nikon’s 200-500mm super-telephoto zoom on a DX format DSLR and get a maximum effective focal length of 750mm. This camera goes four times longer. Thankfully, image stabilization is included.

What’s missing? 

Not everything about this camera is colossal. The 1/2.3-inch image sensor is comparatively small, even by current compact camera standards. This does, however help to bump up the effective telephoto reach.

Why upgrade?

You can practically take a photograph of something way off in the distance without having to jump in your car and drive there.

Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR

The best telephoto zoom in 2018

What we love

We were big fans of Nikon’s AF-S 70-300mm VR telephoto zoom but the new AF-P edition takes everything to a new level. The ‘Pulse’ stepping motor autofocus system is incredibly fast and completely silent, the aperture is electromagnetically controlled. Also, the new-generation VR system delivers 4.5-stop performance with an added ‘Sport VR’ mode, which is great for tracking erratically moving objects through the viewfinder. It’s super-sharp, weather-resistant and an all-round top performer.

What’s missing? 

Like most lenses with a stepping motor autofocus system, it has no physical focus distance scale, but you probably won’t miss that.

Why upgrade?

When launched, this lens was more expensive than most of the 70-300mm competition. The price has now dropped by a third, making it more affordable and harder to resist. 

Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD

The best Super-telephoto zoom in 2018

What we love

Think ‘super-telephoto zoom’ with full-frame compatibility and you’re probably thinking of big, heavy lenses that are inconvenient to carry and an actual pain for prolonged periods of handheld shooting. Along with the competing Sigma 100-400mm, this Tamron rewrites the rule books, packing powerful telephoto reach into a comparatively lightweight package. Barely more than a kilogram, it’s only about two-thirds the weight of Nikon’s 80-400mm zoom, yet matches it for sharpness throughout the zoom range.

What’s missing? 

A tripod mounting ring isn’t really necessary, but you can buy one as an optional extra for a typically pricey £110/$129.

Why upgrade?

If you want serious super-telephoto reach without the overhead of a bulky, heavyweight lens, this is the best option.

Manfrotto XPRO Magnesium

The best enthusiast tripod head in 2018

What we love

Manfrotto was something of a late adopter of fancy features in its ball heads, although they’ve typically always given rock-solid support. The XPRO Magnesium serves up a veritable smorgasbord of features, with an independent main locking lever and adjustable friction damper to suit varying weights of camera and lens combinations. It also adds a pan-only release with a calibrated scale on its red dial. Two bubble levels ensure easy levelling in both landscape and portrait orientation shooting, and the magnesium build keeps the weight down to 520g, despite a hefty 10kg load rating.

What’s missing? 

It’s not Arca-Swiss compatible. If you want that, you’ll need to buy the ‘Top Lock’ edition, which retails for around £134/$163.

Why upgrade?

For a feature-rich yet easy-to-use ball head with supreme build quality and super-solid dependability, look no further.

Pro/Top-Spec

Nikon Z7

The best pro-grade camera in 2018

What we love

If retail figures from around the world are to be believed, people love shooting with mirrorless full-frame cameras. The only real question mark over the Z7 is why Nikon waited so long before creating it. There’s so much to love about this camera but, for us, the highlight is its ability to capture fine detail and texture. It has almost exactly the same exotic megapixel count as the D850, but the removal of a flip-up reflex mirror to reduce vibrations and the built-in stabilization system help to ensure pin-sharp handheld shots. This is especially true when using Nikon’s spectacular new Z-series lenses, and the camera also performs admirably when using F-mount lenses via the mount adaptor. Indeed, in-camera and in-lens stabilization systems work together for optimum performance.

What’s missing? 

If you’re used to the 1840-shot battery life of the D850, you might feel a bit miffed at only getting 330 shots before reaching for the charger.

Why upgrade?

To name but one, what you see is what you get when composing shots on an electronic viewfinder, including the effects of exposure settings.

Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S

The best pro-grade prime lens 2018

What we love

The compact, lightweight nature of Nikon’s new mirrorless full-frame cameras makes them ideal for street photography. It therefore makes perfect sense to create a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens, which is ideal for the purpose. The relatively small size and weight are entirely in keeping with new Z-series cameras, and this lens’s image quality is simply epic. We’re particularly impressed with its general handling, and how manual focusing reacts to how quickly or slowly you turn the control ring. It’s also rather neat that you can assign the ring to ISO or exposure compensation adjustments when using the autofocus mode.

What’s missing? 

Refreshingly absent are unwanted image attributes like distortion and colour fringing, which will generally go unnoticed.

Why upgrade?

Not just for street photography, this is a fabulous wide-angle prime for Z-series cameras, with exceptional sharpness.

Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | Art

The best pro-grade wide-angle zoom in 2018

What we love

Don’t you just hate it when ultra-wide angle lenses give you that nasty barrel distortion effect? Going one better than Sigma’s surprisingly low-distortion 12-24mm Art lens, this newer release is virtually distortion-free. Indeed, even when shooting at the shortest focal length of 14mm, there’s practically no visible distortion. We also love that this Sigma lens delivers superb sharpness and contrast even at f/2.8 and that, for such a wide-angle lens, sharpness is retained so well out to the corners of the frame. Handling and build quality are great, and the autofocus system is extremely quick and quiet.

What’s missing? 

There’s no optical stabilization but many would argue that it’s not really necessary in such a fast, wide-angle lens.

Why upgrade?

For our money, this is the best wide-angle zoom lens on the market, and it undercuts the competing Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G for price.

Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL To Go Set

The best location flash kit in 2018

What we love

We love it when photographic kit does the maths for us. Elinchrom’s latest ELB flash head is the first in the range to feature IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor) technology. A bonus is that TTL flash metering is on the menu, when using a dedicated trigger from Elinchrom or our award-winning Phottix Odin II transmitter. No more worrying about working out manual flash power settings – let the camera and flash head work everything out. Previous ELB heads came in three options, optimized for maximum output, super-short flash durations, or synchronicity with fast shutter speeds. The new ELB 500 covers all three bases, while avoiding any obvious colour shift through the power range.

What’s missing? 

You’ll need to buy a Nikon-dedicated Elinchrom Skyport PRO or Phottix Odin II transmitter separately, as they’re not included in the kit.

Why upgrade?

For both your ultimate performance and versatility at home, in the studio or out on location (wherever that may end up being), the battery-powered ELB 500 system is simply brilliant and a real no brainer.

Phottix Odin II

The best wireless trigger in 2018

 

What we love

We all love being in control, and this RF wireless triggering system keeps you in control of your flash from distances of up to 100m. Sold as separate transmitters and receivers, Nikon-dedicated editions enable easy setup of up to five groups of flashguns or flash heads – with a complete range of TTL flash metering and flash exposure compensation, or remote manual power control. Even more impressively, HSS (High-Speed Sync) mode is available for shooting at fast shutter speeds. The transmitter’s intuitive yet wide-ranging controls and illuminated LCD screen are a joy to use, and the receiver also includes an illuminated LCD screen plus an AF assist light.

What’s missing? 

One thing that’s missing from retail shelves is a complete kit that includes both a transmitter and receiver. As such, you have to buy both devices separately.

Why upgrade?

For one or more ‘off-camera’ flashguns, the Odin II makes wide-ranging modes easily available, along with consistently reliable triggering.

Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

The best pro-grade telephoto zoom in 2018

What we love

A complete revamp of Tamron’s original 70-200mm VC lens, the G2 has better glass, faster and more accurate autofocus, and a class-leading five-stop optical stabilizer, complete with static and panning modes, plus a third option that’s similar to Nikon’s ‘Sport VR’ mode. Unlike the previous edition, the G2 is also compatible with Tamron’s teleconverters, the latest editions of which are of similarly high quality. Build quality is excellent, with a robust metal barrel and a full set of weather-seals. The main attraction, however, is the simply stunning image quality that this lens delivers.

What’s missing? 

It’s missing a Nikon badge but, compared with the equivalent own-brand lens, the Tamron delivers very similar performance and image quality at just half the price.

Why upgrade?

A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is great for everything from action sports and wildlife to portraiture, weddings and events. This Tamron is one of the best we’ve ever seen.