Choosing the right Nikon DSLR camera can be difficult, especially if you are not familiar with this manufacturer’s current product lineup. In order to choose the right Nikon reflex camera, you will also need to define specific criteria in order to narrow down your search.
Many people seem confused by Nikon’s current product offering – wondering how much they should spend and what type of sensor they should choose: APS-C or Full Frame? The following article includes some useful tips for choosing the right Nikon reflex camera based on your individual needs!
Which reflex camera should you choose? Introduction…
The following recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt since the categories defined below are not set in stone; your needs will probably change over time and Nikon’s product offering is also constantly evolving.
Choosing a Nikon reflex camera is also a matter of choosing a lens (or several) to go with it. Your choice of lens will have a significant impact on your final budget as well as on the quality of your photos. You should take this factor into account before making your decision. To learn more about available lenses, check out this lens buyer’s guide.
Why choose Nikon?
There are many excellent camera brands on the market: Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Pentax, Sigma, to name just a few. So why choose Nikon?
While you may understandably be dubious of any recommendations made by a website called “Nikon Passion”, you should realize that Nikon (along with Canon) is one of the two most prominent reflex camera manufacturers in the world. The Nikon brand is a guarantee of durability, long-term support, and upgradability.
Nikon’s long-lasting F mount
Nikon has been using the same reflex mount (the mount that attaches a lens to the camera), called “F Mount” since the introduction of its first reflex camera, the Nikon F, in 1959. In practice, this means that any Nikon (or Nikon-compatible) lens can be mounted on any Nikon reflex camera (with a few notable exceptions, see below). Because of this characteristic of Nikon cameras, you could, for example, decide to purchase more affordable, second-hand lenses to use on your new Nikon reflex camera.
A comprehensive product lineup
Nikon offers a comprehensive line of reflex cameras (ranging from beginner models to models for professional photographers) designed to handle a wide range of possible uses. You are sure to find a model to suit your particular needs!
A comprehensive collection of lenses
Since you will need one or more lenses to accompany your reflex camera, you should know that Nikon’s current line of lenses (called Nikkor) includes over 80 different models, from zooms to fixed focal length lenses. Some third-party lenses manufactured by Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, Zeiss, and others are also compatible with Nikon cameras.
What you should know before choosing a Nikon reflex camera?
There are several criteria often put forward by resellers in order to entice buyers to choose one particular product over another. While some of these criteria are important, others are less so. Here is what you should remember.
Number of pixels (Mpx)
Let’s be clear: the number of pixels is only a serious consideration for professional photographers who have a specific reason for needing 24, 36, 45 Mpx, etc… If you do not fit into this category, you should simply remember that, generally speaking, all reflex cameras have more than enough pixels.
APS-C or Full Frame?
Nikon manufacturers reflex cameras with both an APS-C format sensor – called Nikon DX cameras – and a full frame sensor (equivalent to a traditional 24×36 negative) – called Nikon FX cameras.
If this distinction doesn’t mean much to you, you should probably forget about purchasing one of Nikon’s FX cameras which are mainly geared towards professional users. APS-C is a very good sensor format for anyone just starting out; it also costs less (in terms of lenses and the camera itself).
If you are fully aware of the differences between these sensor formats but are unable to make up your mind, here are a few things you may want to consider.
APS-C reflex cameras: pros and cons
- APS-C reflex cameras are less expensive, more lightweight, and more compact than their full frame counterparts; they can also be used with more inexpensive, lightweight, and compact lenses
- some APS-C cameras (D7200, D7500, D500) are equipped with all of the same features as professional full-frame models (in terms of build quality, ergonomics, and performance)
- under the same framing conditions, APS-C reflex cameras offer greater depth of field than full frame reflex cameras due to the reduced size of their sensor (however, this may possibly also reduce your ability to create background blurring effects)
- even though APS-C and full frame reflex cameras use the same mount type, dedicated APS-C lenses are not (or very little) compatible with full-frame cameras (you should know this in case you are interested in transitioning towards a full frame camera sometime in the future)
- the optical viewfinder on DX cameras is often less comfortable to use (with the exception of the D500)
- (with the exception of the D7200/D7500/D500), APS-C sensor reflex cameras cannot be used in auto mode with manual focus lenses or lenses that do not have a built-in motor (read: the D3xxx and D5xxx require a Nikon AF-S or AF-P lens).
Full frame reflex cameras: pros and cons
- the larger sensor used by this type of camera will allow you to achieve nicer-looking background blurring effects
- for an identical number of pixels (24 Mpx for example) a full frame sensor will have larger photosites and will offer a better dynamic range (ability to record high and low-intensity light on the same image)
- all Nikon full frame reflex cameras are compatible with older manual focus lenses and lenses that don’t have a built-in motor
- this type of camera is more demanding in terms of its lens requirements (as a result, its lenses are more expensive)
- Nikon full frame reflex cameras are not (or very little) compatible with APS-C format lenses
- for nature photography, reflex cameras require longer (and more expensive) lenses
- in order to exploit its full potential, a full frame reflex camera requires better mastery of photographic techniques (this is especially true of professional models)
- reflex cameras are often heavier and less compact than their APS-C counterparts
All Nikon reflex cameras are capable of shooting video sequences in Full HD (4K for the newest models). Any new Nikon reflex camera could be used as a replacement for a traditional video camera, but professional models require a greater mastery of video recording techniques.
Using a reflex camera’s autofocus to record video can be quite noisy (this is one of the main differences with a conventional video camera). However, a reflex camera offers greater creative freedom than your average video camera. Since Nikon’s AF-P lenses are quieter, they are better for shooting video.
If you are an experienced videographer, you should opt for a professional Nikon reflex camera capable of providing you with a video stream suitable for post-production activities. Something else to consider is that Nikon’s hybrid cameras generally offer better video recording performance.
The most expensive Nikon reflex camera is not necessarily the best
The difference in price between Nikon’s products is not only related to their respective features, but also to their respective build-quality. A professional model such as the Nikon D5 is built to stand up to the harshest conditions whereas an entry-level model like the D3500 is more likely to be damaged if dropped, for example.
The newest Nikon reflex camera may also not be the best
Without necessarily inciting you to buy an “old new” Nikon reflex camera, you should be aware of the fact that “last year’s model” is still likely to offer very good performance characteristics and may retail for a much more attractive price.
Nikon’s DX line, in particular, is renewed almost every year. Generally speaking, the innovations introduced by the newest generation of Nikon cameras are not revolutionary with respect to the previous year’s models.
Are you a novice user transitioning from a compact camera to a reflex camera?
Maybe you are only interested in taking better photos than you would otherwise be able to with a compact camera or a smartphone. Or, maybe you don’t have (or are not interested in having) a mastery of the basic concepts of photography. In either case, you would be better off choosing an entry-level Nikon reflex camera.
The Nikon D3500 is this manufacturer’s most basic reflex camera. While it is equipped with some advanced features that would allow you to use it in a more professional way, it has, above all, been conceived as an everyday camera intended to be used in Automatic or Scene (see results) mode.
In addition to having most of the same characteristics as the D3500, the Nikon D5600 also features an adjustable touchscreen and superior overall ergonomics (it allows for much faster access to certain functions – without necessarily requiring that users go through its menus).
It is also worth remembering that some models belonging to Nikon’s previous generation of reflex cameras, such as the Nikon D3400 and Nikon D5500, remain excellent alternatives which are often more affordable than newer models.
Are you interested in learning how to become a professional photographer?
Do you find your entry-level reflex camera to be too limited? Are you thinking about transitioning towards a more comprehensive reflex camera? Does your budget prevent you from investing in a professional reflex camera?
While the Nikon D5600 is already a good camera, the Nikon D7500 is a truly excellent APS-C reflex camera. Its quick-access buttons and comprehensive menu set it apart from entry-level models. The camera’s body itself is well-built and very durable. The D500 is the most professional camera in Nikon’s DX product line; its technical characteristics rival those of Nikon’s best cameras. While the D500 does require a good mastery of photographic techniques, it is sure to deliver results in line with the highest standards and expectations.
You should also remember that when purchasing lenses for your APS-C reflex camera, it is well worth investing in full frame compatible lenses (in case you ever decide to transition towards a Nikon FX camera).
Are you just looking to use your existing Nikon F lenses to have some fun without investing too much money?
Are you already equipped with any number of autofocus or AI/AI-S lenses dating back to the good old days of film photography? Are you are just looking to have some fun without breaking the bank? If so, you may want to consider purchasing one Nikon full frame camera in particular: the Nikon Df.
Nikon Df, chrome version (also available in black)
This camera is exclusively geared towards photography (no video mode) and can be used in conjunction with any of the lenses ever manufactured by or for Nikon. It is also equipped with the same sensor used on Nikon’s professional D4 camera.
Are you a professional photographer looking for the best compromise?
Do you already have a certain mastery of photographic techniques? Are you interested in perfecting your skills? Are you looking for a camera that is versatile enough to satisfy all of your needs? Do you see yourself becoming a professional photographer and living off of your work?
If so, the Nikon D750 might be the best choice for you because of its full-frame sensor, its excellent low-light performance, and its comprehensive technical characteristics.
The Nikon D750 is used by many photographers who consider it to be one of the best Nikon products on the market – along with the more exclusive D850 and the prohibitively expensive Nikon D5.
If you are on a tight budget but are not interested in purchasing an APS-C format camera, the Nikon D610 would be a good alternative; its performance characteristics are similar to those of the D750 (although it lacks a pivoting display and 51 points autofocus system – which are not necessarily serious handicaps).
Are you a professional photographer with very specific needs?
Do you have perfect mastery of photographic techniques? Do you know how to get the most out of a reflex camera? Do you have very specific needs (studio/landscape photography, portraiture, etc.)? Not interested in being in debt for the rest of your life?
If so, you should choose the Nikon D850. Its 45 Mpx sensor (currently Nikon’s highest-definition sensor) offers very good performance characteristics.
Is the motion blurring caused by a very high definition sensor likely to be a problem for you (as in the case of photojournalism, sports/action photography, etc.)?If so, you may want to consider purchasing the Nikon D750 instead. The Nikon D810a, for its part, is almost exclusively geared towards astrophotographers.
Older versions of Nikon’s professional D4 and D4s cameras could also prove quite interesting if purchased for a reasonable price. Beware of cameras that have a lot of wear and tear since repair costs could quickly cause your initial budget to skyrocket.
Are you a photojournalist, a sports or action photographer? Do you travel the world?
If you are a real adventurer and if your camera needs to be able to stand up to the harshest possible environments, you should not hesitate to purchase the Nikon D5.
Its monocoque (single piece) construction, its weatherproof finish, and its ability to withstand any kind of abuse while shooting bursts of 11 images/second are what make the D5 the prime example of a truly professional camera.
The D5, the flagship model of Nikon’s LE product line, also has a better autofocus, more powerful Expeed processor, and better low-light management than the previous generation of Nikon’s D4s cameras.
Although Nikon’s reflex product lineup is constantly being renewed, every individual Nikon camera is built to last. As a result, you should choose your Nikon camera with a view to keeping it for a certain length of time (unless you enjoy buying a new camera very often).
All Nikon reflex cameras are capable of taking excellent photos; the only real limiting factor is the photographer…
All Nikon cameras are very powerful; they may even offer features that you will never end up using. Keep this in mind when making your selection. When allocating your budget, it is always preferable to equip a less expensive camera with better-quality lenses (a nice fixed focal length lens, for example) rather than the opposite.
You should also keep in mind that it is better to properly use a more modest camera than to improperly use an excessively powerful camera. This is all the more true in this day and age of overpowered sensors (45 Mpx vs. 24 Mpx, for example) that impose framing constraints that some photographers have a hard time coping with (motion blurring, etc.).