While Nikon hasn't been without its troubles internally, as far as camera kit goes it's been a fantastic 2021 for the Big N – making it a travesty of riches as far as selecting the best gear of the year.
We've seen some of the best Nikon cameras (opens in new tab) ever – although sadly we haven't had enough time with the Nikon Z9 (opens in new tab) to include it in our list. Still, it feels like a big turning point for the Z mirrorless system thanks to the phenomenal Nikon Z fc (opens in new tab), along with some of the best Nikon Z lenses (opens in new tab) in an already top-flight ecosystem.
Best mirrorless camera
NIKON Z FC (opens in new tab)
What we love
Those of us old enough to remember Nikon’s iconic 35mm film cameras can enjoy a trip down memory lane with this new mirrorless digital body. The Z fc is equally appealing to young, dedicated followers of fashion and everybody who simply loves retro charm. But it’s certainly not a case of style over substance, with hands-on dials and buttons that give an intuitive immediacy to adjusting important settings in creative shooting. It’s a digital camera with an analogue feel, and all the better for it.
There’s no in-body stabilization, so camera-shake can be an issue when using non-VR lenses in handheld shooting.
Even if you’ve already got a high-performance Nikon DSLR or mirrorless camera, the Z fc makes a stylish addition that offers a different way of shooting.
NIKON D780 (opens in new tab)
What we love
Mirrorless cameras aren’t for everyone and many photographers still prefer the feel (and freedom) of a DSLR in their hands. For our money, the Nikon D780 is the best of the breed, boasting the purity of a stellar optical viewfinder, native support for Nikon’s hugely diverse range of F-mount lenses and a 2260-shot battery life that knocks any mirrorless camera out of the ballpark in terms of stamina. We especially love the fast and unerringly accurate 273-point hybrid phase / contrast autofocus system based on the image sensor, inheriting a major advantage from mirrorless camera technology.
It’s naturally incompatible with Nikon’s latest range of high-performance Z-mount lenses, but there are plenty of epic F-mount optics to choose from.
With all the latest tech, the D780 is more like a hybrid camera that delivers many of the key advantages of both DSLRs and mirrorless bodies.
Best budget prime
NIKON Z 40mm f/2 (opens in new tab)
What we love
Full-frame shooters can feel a little envious of the small and perfectly formed Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 SE (opens in new tab) for DX-sensor mirrorless Nikons, but this new lens is the perfect pick-me-up. Weighing in at a mere 170g, it’s unfeasibly lightweight for an FX format prime and, while it’s pretty much the same size, weight and effective focal length as the DX format Z 28mm, it’s also a full f-stop faster. Image quality is really quite nice and, despite its lightweight build and low-budget price, the lens feels like a high-quality and durable item, complete with weather-seals.
One thing that’s missing is a lens hood, as Nikon doesn’t include one with the lens or offer one as an optional extra.
For casual shooting, this lens is in perfect keeping with the slimline design of mirrorless Z-series cameras and works a real treat.
Best macro lens
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S (opens in new tab)
What we love
When it comes to macro, this is the GOAT – the greatest of all time. One of the best macro lenses (opens in new tab), it shares all of the sublime image quality attributes and handling exotica of other top-end S-line lenses, along with a super-fast Dual-Motor Multi-Focus STM autofocus system, 4.5-stop optical VR and both Nano Crystal Coat and ARNEO coating, plus a fluorine coating on the front element. It’s a stunner not only for full 1.0x magnification extreme close-ups, but also for portraiture, action sports, wildlife photography and any other time you need a fast, short telephoto lens.
Maximum magnification tops out at 1.0x, which is entirely normal, but some recent macro lenses stretch the envelope further.
Superb for general shooting, as well as for extreme close-ups, this is a highly versatile lens that will earn its keep in any kit bag.
Best DX superzoom
NIKON Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (opens in new tab)
What we love
We have waited quite a long time for a superzoom lens for DX format Z-series cameras, and now the wait is finally over, as the Nikon Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR has just made its grand entrance into our labs (and we’ll be bringing you our verdict very soon). It has an effective zoom range of 27-210mm in full-frame terms, taking you all the way from generously wide-angle shooting to some very powerful telephoto reach, all at the twist of a zoom ring with no need to swap the lens on your camera. For travel and holiday photography, as well as for special events and a whole range of other shooting scenarios, this all-in-one lens is supremely versatile and will serve you well.
As usual with superzoom lenses, the aperture rating isn’t exactly fast at the long end of the range, narrowing down to f/6.3.
With its powerful 7.8x zoom range and 5-stop optical Vibration Reduction system, this could well be the only lens you’ll ever need for your Z DX format camera – making it a worthy addition to your kit bag and worth every penny.
Best ultra-wide zoom
NIKON Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S (opens in new tab)
What we love
Taking up residence at the wide-angle end of Nikon’s Z-mount ‘trinity’ zooms, the Z 14-24mm has typically exotic handling characteristics, coming complete with a customizable tertiary control ring, customizable Lens-Function button and multi-function OLED display. It’s scary-sharp right into the corners of the frame, throughout the entire zoom range, and delivers scintillating all-round performance. We like being able to use regular screw-on filters on such an ultra-wide-angle lens, thanks to the specially designed hood.
The filter-friendly hood doesn’t enable the fitment of a filter holder for square and rectangular filters.
With its top-notch feature set, superb handling and stunning image quality, it’s a wide-angle dream for FX format Z-series shooters.