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Nikon mirrorless cameras and lenses in 2021: what's new and what's coming next

Nikon mirrorless cameras and lenses
(Image credit: Nikon)

The Nikon Z mirrorless camera system is now three years old, but that's still positively fresh-faced in camera terms. The system made its debut back in 2018, but there are already four different cameras in two different sensor sizes (six, if you count the original Z6 and Z7, which are still on sale), with a newly announced flagship coming later this year.

We suspect there are more Nikon Z cameras to come. You can find out the latest speculation in our Nikon rumors article, where we reveal talk of a new APS-C model below the Z50 and two new full frame Z models delivering high resolution and high burst speeds respectively. 

And of course, it's not just cameras; a new system is no use without new lenses to go with it, and Nikon has been slowly but surely rolling out a line of equivalent lenses to their F-mount counterparts for DSLRs, along with showcase optics that simply wouldn't be possible on an older camera system with a mirror mechanism and smaller mount. 

So, here's everything you need to know about Nikon's Z cameras and lenses, both in terms of what's here now and what's on the horizon…

Nikon Z cameras

Nikon mirrorless cameras are not just amongst the best Nikon cameras you can buy right now but also the best mirrorless cameras from any maker.

Nikon is probably best known for its DSLR cameras, and these are still going strong. In fact, it's just launched the brand new Nikon D780. You can read more about the pros and cons of these different camera types in our DSLR vs mirrorless cameras article.

Nikon Z cameras come in two sizes: there's a smaller APS-C DX format, with just one camera at the moment, the Nikon Z50, and full frame Nikon Z cameras including the Nikon Z5, Z6 II and Nikon Z7 II. Both sizes use the same Nikon Z lens mount.

The Nikon Z fc and the Nikon Z50 both use an APS-C sized sensor (Image credit: Future)

Nikon Z50: This is an affordable APS-C format camera designed for beginners, enthusiasts and vloggers. It uses the same Nikon Z lens mount as the full frame Nikon Z cameras, but it doesn't have in-body stabilisation and, while it can also use the same lenses, you're better off with dedicated Nikkor Z DX lenses to fit the smaller sensor size. Currently, there are two: the rather good Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR kit lens with a super slim retracting design, and an inexpensive but equally impressive Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR telephoto zoom. However, you can use the Nikon FTZ adaptor to fit any number of Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses, including DX lenses, with full autofocus and auto-exposure compatibility.

• See also: Nikon Z50 vs D7500

Nikon Z fc: a retro-styled version of the Nikon Z50, that offers a beautiful-looking APS-C sensor mirrorless camera that references the classic Nikon FM2.

The Nikon Z5 is the entry-level full frame model, though the Z6 II and Z7 II are more powerful. (Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z5: This is the cheapest full frame model. It's designed for more advanced enthusiasts and has a lot in common with the Nikon Z6 and Z6 II, including the same 24MP resolution, though it is simplified in some areas to keep the price down. It has twin memory card slots and 4K video, though this is in a cropped format so doesn't cover the full frame width. The Z5 can't match the continuous shooting speed of the Z6 II and Z7 II either, topping out at a modest 4.5fps.

The Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II are physically identical but with different sensors (24MP and 46MP respectively) and aimed at different kinds of users. (Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Z6 II: This is a newer version of the original Nikon Z6, with a 24MP sensor and very good 4K video and continuous shooting features. The chief differences over the original Z6 are a second memory card and faster processing, bringing a bump to burst shooting 4K 60p video (though this is cropped rather than full frame.

Nikon Z7 II: Where the Nikon Z6 II is designed for affordability and performance, the Z7 II targets outright resolution, with a 45.7MP sensor and dual memory card slots. To a large degree, it's closed the gap in video features and burst shooting with the Z6 II, so the Z7 II is a powerful professional camera which can tackle almost any assignment.

Nikon Z9: Nikon's new flagship camera will exceed and, in many ways, replace the Nikon D6 as the manufacturer's top-tier sports camera. Boasting 8K video – meaning that it will have a resolution of at least 39MP – along with a brand new Expeed 7 processor and stacked image sensor for super-fast continuous shooting speeds, Nikon has promised that the Z9 will arrive in 2021. 

Read more:

Nikon Z6 II vs Nikon Z7 II
Best Nikon cameras

As with any camera brand, there are lots of camera rumors about new Nikon Z cameras, including a possible professional full frame Z8 model, and a cheaper entry-level Nikon Z30 below the current Nikon Z50.

Nikon mirrorless cameras don't have a DSLR's mirror and viewfinder system. This means the body is slimmer and lighter and Nikon has been able to design a wider and more versatile 'Z' lens mount and a new range of lenses. (Image credit: Nikon)

Nikkor Z lenses

Designing a new camera system meant that Nikon could return to the drawing board with its lens designs, developing a new ‘Z-mount’ that’s wider than its DSLRs’ old F-mount and closer to the sensor itself, thanks to the absence of a mirror.

This has given Nikon’s lens designers and opportunity to design new and exotic lens designs with optical specifications and performance that could not be achieved with its older Nikon F mount, such as the remarkable Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct.

The new Nikon mirrorless Z mount has enabled its designers to produce a new generation of more advanced and more adventurous lenses. (Image credit: Nikon)

This does mean that Nikon has had to start from scratch with a new range of Z-mount lenses for these cameras, but there are two advantages:

1) Nikon's designers have been able to rethink conventional lens design and produce, for example, retracting lens designs for the 24-70mm kit zoom and 14-30mm ultra-wide zooms. These are mirrorless lenses small enough to complement  smaller mirrorless bodies.

2) You can get a relatively inexpensive Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter, often sold bundled with the new Z series cameras, which lets you use any current Nikon DSLR lens with no exposure or autofocus restrictions.

Nikon has been very busy developing new Z lenses. These include the brand new Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S, which has really extended the system's appeal amongst professionals. The Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S is a constant aperture pro telephoto lens, but at the other end of the scale, the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is the widest Z mount prime lens yet.

Nikon is aiming its new mirrorless system at professionals, with 'trinity' lenses like the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S (Image credit: Nikon)

However, it's also targeting amateurs and enthusiasts, with more affordable and compact lenses like this retracting Nikkor Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 standard zoom. (Image credit: Nikon)

You can find out a lot more about the latest and best Nikkor Z lenses in the following articles:

Best Nikon Z lenses
• The latest
Nikon Z lens roadmap

There are more Nikkor Z lenses scheduled for release in 2021:

• 85mm prime lens
• 400mm prime lens
• 600mm prime lens
28mm f/2.8 compact prime
40mm f/2 compact prime

• 24-105mm S standard zoom lens
• 100-400mm S telephoto zoom
• 200-600mm full-frame supertelephoto zoom

18-140mm DX zoom for the Z50

Read more:

Best Nikon cameras
Best mirrorless cameras
Best professional cameras
Best beginner cameras

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.