Skip to main content

The best Nikon camera in 2021: Nikon Z mirrorless, Nikon DSLRs and Coolpix

Best Nikon camera

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: Nikon Z mirrorless cameras, Nikon DSLRs and Nikon Coolpix compacts. 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. 

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, now updated with second-generation Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II models.

Nikon has also introduced the compact, powerful and affordable APS-C format Nikon Z50 and retro-styled Nikon Z fc, plus affordable full frame Nikon Z5, which is designed as a step-up camera for those hunting for their first full-frame model.

But don't forget Nikon's DSLR cameras. 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 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 both full frame mirrorless cameras, which include the Nikon Z5, Z6 II and Z7 II, and two smaller APS-C models, the Z50 and Z fc. They all use Nikon's Z-mount lens mount, but can come with an FTZ 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

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon's entry-level full frame 'Z' model is now a real bargain

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

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, and steady price drop make it a really attractive buy, even up against cheaper 'beginner' models like the Z50 and Z fc.

Read more: Nikon Z5 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

It's basically the Nikon Z50, but with bags of retro style

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Glorious looks+Dial-based controls
Reasons to avoid
-Z50 is cheaper-Few DX Z-mount lenses

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 a little 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.

(Image credit: Nikon)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Good value from the start+Compact body and kit lens+4K video and 11fps shooting
Reasons to avoid
-No in-body stabilization-Still very few 'native' 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. This is a great value camera for both beginners and enthusiasts, though we would like to see a few more DX lenses coming out, though.

Read more: Nikon Z50 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

It may be an evolutionary upgrade of the original Z6, but it's still awesome

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Two memory card slots+Improved burst shooting+Superior AF performance
Reasons to avoid
-No articulating screen-4K 60p video is cropped

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, and this camera's build quality, design and handling are excellent – as is its in-body stabilization. For those who want resolution above video and affordability, the Nikon Z7 II (below) would be our recommendation.

Read more: Nikon Z6 II review

(Image credit: Nikon)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Excellent image quality+Lovely handling+5-axis IS system+Best-in-class build quality
Reasons to avoid
-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 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

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 - the Nikon D850 and D780, for example. Our list has both DX and FX DSLRs.

(Image credit: Nikon)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Neat retracting kit lens+Beginner friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed screen not touch-sensitive

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 more: Nikon D3500 review | Nikon D3500 vs D3400

(Image credit: Nikon)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Has the best bits from the D500+Lightweight build
Reasons to avoid
-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 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

(Image credit: Nikon)

The D780 offers the best bits of mirrorless and DSLR cameras

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Great handling+Fast live view AF+Uncropped 4K video
Reasons to avoid
-Two AF systems to master-Manual live view swapping-Expensive while new

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

(Image credit: Nikon)

This is the ultimate Nikon pro DSLR - it's the camera with everything

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+High MP and fast burst shooting+Solid, weather-sealed body+Better battery life than mirrorless models
Reasons to avoid
-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 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.

(Image credit: Nikon)

10. Nikon Coolpix W150

A bargain kid-friendly family compact camera

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/3.1-inch
Megapixels: 13.2MP
Screen: 2.7-inch 230k
Viewfinder: None
Lens: 3x zoom, 30-90mm equiv.
Max burst speed:
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof, shockproof & freezeproof+1080p Full HD video+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Small, low-res screen-Tiny sensor, low max sensitivity-Only 3x zoom

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

(Image credit: Nikon )

11. Nikon Coolpix W300

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Decent zoom range+Excellent waterproofing+Shockproof
Reasons to avoid
-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)

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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Raw capture and 4K video+83x zoom range
Reasons to avoid
-Quite expensive-Small sensor limits image quality

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.

See more buying guides

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.