Nikon is a name you can trust when it comes to purchasing a standalone camera. Although many are well-catered for by their smartphone, Nikon really knows what its doing when it comes to serious photography, having been locked in a fierce battle with its rival Canon for more than 100 years.
If you’ve set your sights on a Nikon, but you’re not sure which model you should go for you, then our guide is designed to help you make the choice. We’ll identify the best camera for a range of different users, with the hope that at least one matches up to your situation.
What kind of cameras do Nikon sell?
Over recent years, most of the heritage brands have streamlined their ranges, thanks to the onslaught of the increasingly more capable smartphone. So while you’ll find a good set of different DSLRs and compact system cameras in Nikon’s line-up, there’s far fewer compact cameras than you might once have found.
That’s OK though, because where Nikon excels is with interchangeable lens cameras. It’s a company which is founded on the principles of excellent photography, and it has something to offer anybody who wants to get a little bit more serious than their smartphone currently allows.
The current line-up includes a few compact cameras, one of which we mention in this guide - the Nikon Coolpix A1000. This gives you a huge focal length range, all while slipping neatly in your pocket - it could be a good option for travellers. If you really want to go big on zoom, there’s also the Nikon P1000 bridge camera, which gives you a huge 125x lens - you can even shoot the moon with it.
For those who have their sights set on interchangeable lens cameras, there’s two different options to consider now. There’s the classic DSLR, with options ranging from the very beginner friendly D3500, all the way up to the serious expert-level D5. In between, you’ll find great all-rounders in the shape of the D500 and the D7500, while the D850 is superb in just about every situation.
If you’re looking towards more modern ways of doing things, then compact system cameras, or mirrorless options, will likely grab your attention. After a relatively unsuccessful foray into the technology with the “1” system a few years ago, which used small one-inch sensors, Nikon finally went the whole hog with a full-frame mirrorless duo in 2018. The Z7 is quite possibly the best camera currently on the market, while the Z6 offers you a heck of a lot for the price.
One area where Nikon currently falls down is in the “premium compact” arena. It doesn’t offer any one-inch compact cameras like you’ll see from Canon, Sony and Panasonic. That’s a bit of a shame, but you could argue that it leaves them free to concentrate on its other products.
How to buy the best Nikon camera
Once you’re sure that Nikon is the brand for you, the next thing to think about is what kind of photographer you are, and therefore what kind of camera you need.
One of the most obvious reasons why people start thinking about buying a camera is because they’ve got a big trip or holiday coming up. Several options make sense for a travel camera, including the long-zoom lenses of the A1000 and the P1000. You might also think that a camera like the Nikon Z6 makes a lot of sense, since it’s so much smaller and lighter than a DSLR - we’d highly recommend it for travellers.
If you’re making your first steps into “proper” or “serious” photography, but you don’t want to commit too much cash yet, an entry-level DSLR is a fantastic place to start. We like the Nikon D3500 thanks to its very intuitive guide mode which teaches you how the camera works as you use it - what more could a newbie want?
Perhaps you’re a bit further along your journey and want something which is suitable for shooting in a range of different conditions. The Nikon D500 is a fantastic top-end APS-C DSLR with a host of exciting features that should match pretty much every scenario you can throw at it. The Nikon D7500 is another good option in this area, too.
Finally, if you’re a pro and you want the best of the best, there’s the Nikon D850 or perhaps even the Nikon D5. The Nikon Z7 is also a superb choice for professionals, but is backed up by fewer native lenses (for now) - you can use existing Nikon DSLR lenses via an adapter though.
Let’s have a look at some of the best Nikon cameras which are available to buy in 2019.
Announced at the same time as its sibling, the Z6, the Z7 has gone on to prove very popular. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best cameras currently on the market - of any kind.
Although on the pricey side, you really do get a lot of bang for your buck with the Z7. There’s a very high resolution full-frame sensor, inside a body which is a joy to use. A stunning high-resolution viewfinder is joined by a tilting touch-sensitive screen, and most importantly, image quality is fantastic.
There are some downsides - buying this will still mark your card as an early adopter. That means the native lens range is still relatively limited, while this being mirrorless means battery technology still lags a little behind DSLRs - at least USB charging is available though. A single XQD card slot will also be off-putting to some, too.
Overall though, on balance, the Z7 is close to being the perfect camera.
When you’re just starting to become serious about your photography hobby, it stands a good chance that you won’t have a huge amount of cash to throw at it. You might also be keen to learn exactly what each of those settings actually does.
If that sounds like you, the D3500 is an ideal choice that you can’t go far wrong with. Available for around £300 (including a kit lens), the best thing about the D3500 if you’re new to all of this is its user-friendly guide mode. It’ll help you pick up all those new concepts pretty quickly, rising you to expert level in no time.
Another bonus is that there’s literally hundreds of lenses you can pair with the D3500, so as you start to outgrow the camera’s kit lens offering, you’ll be able to upgrade with ease.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to travel cameras: those that want something pocket-friendly, and those are prepared to be a little more weighed down but want the ultimate image quality.
While the Z6 is never, ever going to fit in your pocket, it’s a heck of a lot smaller than an equivalent DSLR, which is why we’ve picked it as our choice for travel photography. There’s not many Z mount lenses available just yet, but those that do exist are also perfect for travel, being nicely small and light too.
The Z6 has the same body and handling as its more expensive sibling, the Z7, but thanks to a lower resolution sensor is much more attractively priced. Having fewer pixels to work with actually means it’s better in some areas too - it’s got a faster frame rate and is better equipped for shooting in low light.
Overall, the Z6 is a camera that will help you produce seriously enviable travel shots. If you really do want something pocket-friendly though, see our compact camera recommendation.
Although mirrorless sales continue to eat into DSLRs, the Nikon D850 can still very much hold its own thanks to a range of fantastic features which are still impressive some two years after its introduction.
The high-resolution sensor delivers the goods in almost all conditions, while it’s only really action and sports photographers that might feel their needs are better served by the D5. A fantastic battery life and hundreds of different lenses to choose from make the D850 the obvious choice for professionals of many different kinds.
For average people, the high price of the D850 could be off-putting, but if you’re using this as a work tool, you can’t afford to skimp. A few extra tempting features include 4K video recording, a 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen and a 153-point/99 cross-type AF system that nails the shot pretty much every time.
We’ll level with you - compact camera is one area where Nikon has a weakness in 2019. If you want something sensational but are really determined to stick with the Nikon brand, you’re going to have to make some compromises - we’d recommend Canon, Panasonic or Sony if you want something better.
If your loyalty really is to Nikon, then have a think about the A1000. It’s a pocket-friendly compact camera with a 35x optical zoom. It’s got a lot of features which, on paper at least, sound really rather good - such as raw format shooting, and an inbuilt electronic viewfinder.
However, the A1000 is let-down by fairly mediocre image quality, while the handling could be improved by giving more space for its buttons and dials. You can at least get nice and close to distant subjects, though.
This solidly built camera may be a little on the old side, but it’s still got everything that every enthusiast who wants to shoot a little bit of everything should need.
The APS-C sized sensor might not be full frame, but it’s still a very good performer and it’s joined by a body which is a dream to use. Our top tip is to pick it up with the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 kit lens and you’ll also have a great travel combo, too.
It’s got a fairly decent frame rate, so if you like to shoot moving subjects, it’s no slouch, while those who generally prefer to photograph static subjects are also well-catered for, too. Primarily designed as a camera for advanced amateurs, professionals may also consider it - especially as a second or backup body.
When it comes to showing off exactly what Nikon can do, the P1000 puts all other bridge cameras to shame.
That said, you do have to make some quite extreme sacrifices if you feel you need a 125x optical zoom. Small, light and discreet, this ain’t - the P1000 is super bulky and a little bit awkward to use for that reason. On the plus side, you get lots of space for dials and buttons, plus a surprisingly decent electronic viewfinder, too. It also shoots raw files and gives you lots of shooting modes to work with.
The biggest downside is the small sensor that is necessary for a camera like this. That means that image quality suffers - so while you may be able to get a picture of the moon, don’t expect it to be pin sharp and super detailed.