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The best Nikon camera in 2021: from Nikon Z mirrorless to DSLRs and Coolpix compacts

Best Nikon camera
(Image credit: Nikon)

The best Nikon camera will depend on what you want to use it for. If you just want a simple point and shoot camera, a Nikon Coolpix camera could be ideal, but for enthusiasts keen to develop their camera skills a Nikon DSLR or mirrorless camera is the best choice. We cover all three types in our guide below.

If you know what you want already, just click our navigation links on the left. And while the DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate rumbles on, both types have their fans. As far as we're concerned, both are good, and it's the type of camera you like to use that counts.

Nikon now makes some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market. It started out with 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 that's aimed at enthusiasts who want take a step up to a full frame Nikon. 

Nikon has also launched the Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II. These add dual memory card slots and dual processors for improved performance. These are now on sale, but the existing Z6 and Z7 are still available here and there at reduced cost.

On the DSLR side, the new 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. It feels like a new dawn for the DSLR design, and it's great to see another full frame Nikon DSLR joining the range.

That's not all, Nikon has also brought out its new Nikon D6 professional sports camera. No-one got to try it out at the Olympics, alas, but it continues the Nikon pro DSLR tradition in style.

But you don't have to be a pro to get a Nikon camera. Nikon DSLRs range from the cheap and novice-friendly Nikon D3500 right up to the high-end Nikon D850. Nikon DSLRs are amongst the best DSLRs you can buy. 

Of course, an interchangeable lens camera might be more than you need. The best camera for beginners doesn't have to be a DSLR. For family or casual use a fixed-lens Nikon Coolpix 'compact' camera will do just as well, and probably save you some money at the same time. The Coolpix range includes some of the best point and shoot cameras, with specialised models such as ultra-zoom bridge cameras – Nikon has just launched the brand new Coolpix P950 – 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

With the arrival of the full frame Nikon Z 5, Nikon now makes four mirrorless cameras. The new Z 5 sits above the much smaller and lighter Z 50 in the range and borrows many of the same features as the more advanced Z 6, even looking virtually identical and weighing pretty much the same. We've used the full frame Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 models extensively. While the Z 7 is the more expensive option and aimed at pros, the Z 6 is affordable enough for enthusiasts too. They use a new Z-mount lens mount (shared with the smaller APS-C format Z 50), but can come with an adaptor 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

(Image credit: Nikon)

1. Nikon Z50

Nikon's first APS-C mirrorless camera is a star in the making

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Good value from the start
Compact body and kit lens
4K video and 11fps shooting
No in-body stabilization

The Nikon Z50 is a much smaller camera than the Z6 and Z7, but 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 adaptor. 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

Nikon Z5

(Image credit: Nikon)

2. Nikon Z5

Nikon's budget full frame mirrorless camera currently costs more than the Z 6

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24MP | Monitor: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Continuous shooting speed: 4.5fps | Viewfinder: EVF | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Enthusiast

Easy to get to grips with
5-axis IS system
Only 4.5fps burst shooting
4K video gets a 1.7x crop

The Z5 is Nikon's new 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 has for the 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

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3. Nikon Z6 II

It's an evolutionary upgrade of the original Z6, but still worthwhile

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2100k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 14fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p (60p via update) | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Two memory card slots
Improved burst shooting
Superior AF performance
No articulating screen
4K 60p will be cropped

The Nikon Z6 II is a light refresh of the original Z6, with a second memory card and processor bringing a bump to burst shooting, now up to 14fps, and the promise of 4K 60p video via an update. However, the latter is cropped (and not here until February 2021) and 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 very capable camera at a pretty good price. For those who want resolution above video and affordability, though, the Nikon Z7 II (below) would be our recommendation.

Read more: Nikon Z6 II review

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4. Nikon Z7 II

Huge resolution, high-speed shooting and 4K video but not perfect

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,100K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Max video resolution: Uncropped 4K UHD up to 30p, cropped 4K UHD up to 60p | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Excellent image quality
Lovely handling
5-axis IS system
Best-in-class build quality
EVF resolution lower than rivals
Tilt-angle display, not vari-angle

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. 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.

Read more: Nikon Z7 II review

Nikon DSLRs

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 like the Nikon D850 and brand new Nikon D780. Our list has both.

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikon D3500

Just getting started? The D3500 is the best DSLR for beginners

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3in fixed, 921K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Great image quality
Neat retracting kit lens
Beginner friendly
Fixed screen not touch-sensitive

While you're still learning your feet 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 beginners 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-stabilised) kit lens, but it's definitely worth paying a little more to get the VR version.

Read more: Nikon D3500 review

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6. Nikon D7500

Nikon’s enthusiast DSLR combines rugged build, features and value

Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast

Has the best bits from the D500
Lightweight build
Less robust than the D500
Downgraded autofocus system

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 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

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7. Nikon D780

The new Nikon D780 offers the best of both worlds!

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.4MP | Lens mount: Nikon FX | Screen: 3.2in tilting screen, 2,359k dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7/12fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Great handling
Fast live view AF
Uncropped 4K video
Two AF systems to master
Manual live view swapping
Expensive while new

The Nikon D780 takes the on-sensor phase detection autofocus of Nikon's own mirrorless Z6 model to offer a DSLR with mirrorless camera live view performance – brilliant! Essentially, the D780 is like a modernised, 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. We'd just like the prices to fall a little, though – being brand new, it's a little expensive right now. It also reminds us just how good (and cheap) the older Nikon D750 is right now. If all you need is a classic, good value still camera, the D750 remains a great buy.

Read more: Nikon D780 review

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8. Nikon D750

Nikon's cheapest full frame DSLR still feels surprisingly fresh

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 1,228,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optical | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Useful tilting rear-screen
Wide dynamic range
No 4K video
Live view AF slow and unreliable

The Nikon D750 is a few years old now, 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 big news for Nikon fans is that the new 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 Z 6, 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.

Read more: Nikon D750 review

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9. Nikon D850

This is the ultimate Nikon pro DSLR, the camera with everything

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Lens Mount: Nikon F | Screen type: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2,360,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Professional

High MP and fast burst shooting
Solid, weather-sealed body
Better battery life than mirrorless models
Expensive

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 the new Nikon Z models. But this size works in your favour 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 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 the new XQD card format 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.

(Image credit: Nikon )

10. Nikon Coolpix A10

We love the Nikon A10. It's cute, it's simple and it's amazing value

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 230k | Viewfinder: None | Lens: 5x zoom, 26-130mm equiv. | Max burst speed: 1.2fps | Max video resolution: 720p | User level: Beginner

Stabilisation for stills and movies
Takes AA batteries
Simple and intuitive layout
720p maximum movie resolution

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, but you still get a 5x optical zoom lens, a decent 2.7-inch screen and a simple control layout that means anyone can just pick it up and use it. We love the fact that it runs on a pair of regular AA batteries, too, so that if it runs out of power you can just get a couple of replacement batteries from any nearby shop. Its continuous shooting mode is a bit too slow to be much use, and it can only capture 720p video, but at this price you've got to accept a couple of compromises and the A10 ticks all the boxes for a low-cost family camera.

Read more: The best camera under $200/£200

(Image credit: Nikon )

11. Nikon Coolpix W300

Best for adventure lovers: the Nikon W300 can survive anything you can!

Type: Waterproof compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 16MP | Lens: 24-120mm f/2.8-4.9 | LCD: 3in, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: No | Maximum continuous shooting rate: not quoted | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner

Decent zoom range
Excellent waterproofing
Shockproof
No Raw shooting

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

(Image credit: Nikon)

12. Nikon Coolpix P950

The huge P1000 zooms further, but we think the P950 makes more sense

Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 16MP | Lens: 24-2000mm (equiv.) f/2.8-6.5 | LCD: 3.2in vari-angle, 921k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,359k dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps | Movies: 4K UHD | User level: Beginner

Raw capture and 4K video
83x zoom range
Quite expensive
Small sensor limits image quality

For our tenth camera we've chosen a superzoom bridge camera, a type of camera that continues to be popular. There are compromises – you have to accept a smaller sensor and somewhat reduced image quality in exchange for the huge lens – 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.

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