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Best Nikon camera 2021: the 12 finest cameras from Nikon's line-up

Nikon Z7 II
(Image credit: Future)

What's the best Nikon camera for you? That depends very much on what kind of camera you're looking for, but the classic camera manufacturer certainly has a huge range of options for all kinds of photographer.

Recently, its mirrorless models that have been garnering all the attention, but Nikon still has a great set of DSLR cameras for those who prefer a more traditional shooting style.

The good news is that we've had the enjoyable task of putting all of Nikon's cameras through their paces so that we can put them in a definitive order for you, right here.

Whether you're an established Nikon user or are just looking for your first camera, Nikon has something in its line-up for pretty much every need. There's also a range of different budgets catered for. 

If you're after a flexible camera which comes with an impressive feature set, our top pick for best Nikon camera is the Nikon Z6 II. This full-frame mirrorless camera is available at a great price and should see you taking fantastic pictures in a host of different scenarios. 

For traditionalists who love the DSLR experience, Nikon's newest model is the excellent D780. Again, it's a superb all-rounder which offers DSLR handling while bringing some fantastic mirrorless technology to the format. 

At the other end of the line, there's cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix W300, which will suit those on a budget who are looking for a great little family camera. It's waterproof and can shoot 4K video, making it ideal for trips to the beach (or just the garden). 

Other good-value models also make it into our round-up, some of which are a little bit older and therefore have dropped in price. Cameras such as the Nikon D7500 and the D750 continue to be great options, while those who are after their first camera might want to look towards the Nikon D3500.

Whatever it is you're looking for, at whatever price point, you can be sure of finding the best Nikon camera for you below – check our list to discover more.

Best Nikon camera 2021 at a glance:

  1. Nikon Z6 II
  2. Nikon Z50
  3. Nikon Z7 II
  4. Nikon Z5
  5. Nikon Z6
  6. Nikon D850
  7. Nikon D3500
  8. Nikon D780
  9. Nikon D750
  10. Nikon D7500
  11. Nikon P900
  12. Nikon W300

Best Nikon cameras in 2021:

Nikon Z6 II

(Image credit: Future)

1. Nikon Z6 II

A fantastic refinement of one of our favourite cameras

Specifications
Sensor size: Full-frame
Resolution: 24.5MP
Viewfinder: EVF
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100K dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 14fps
Movies: 4K
User: Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Excellent image quality +Great handling +14fps shooting
Reasons to avoid
-Better AF systems are available-Monitor only tilts

The original Z6 was Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera and really impressed us when it came out. A couple of years after its entry to the market, it was time for an upgrade in the form of the Z6 II. 

Nikon has pretty much kept the essence of the original Z6 - including the same sensor and core design - but has addressed some of the key weaknesses that stopped it just short of greatness.

So you get a well-performing, already-proven 24.5MP BSI CMOS sensor, which is now joined by a second Expeed 6 processor which brings some performance improvements including an increase in burst speed, faster autofocus and 60p 4K video.

Overall, the design is the same, but a second memory card slot (SD) has been added, giving you the peace of mind that a backup slot provides, as well as greater compatibility and familiarity with those who already have SD cards to use and don’t want to splash out on XQD cards just yet. 

If you can live without some of the above mentioned improvements – particularly if you mainly shoot still subjects – you can still buy the original Z6, which now finds itself at number five on our list.

Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Future)

2. Nikon Z50

A mirrorless marvel with perfect proportions

Specifications
Sensor size: APS-C
Resolution: 20.9MP
Viewfinder: EVF
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps
Movies: 4K
User: Beginner/intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Great handling+Impressive viewfinder+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Single UHS-I card slot-Limited native lens range

The mid-range mirrorless market has never been more crowded. Does that make Nikon’s first foray into the APS-C arena any less enticing? Not at all: with fantastic handling, a compact build and plenty of features, the Z50 offers excellent value for Nikon fans.

It’s not as small as some rivals, but a deep grip and a good spread of buttons make it a lovely thing to hold and operate – though a joystick would allow quicker AF point selection when looking through the viewfinder (which you’ll do often, given how comfortable it is to use).

Supported by an Expeed 6 processor (as found in the Nikon Z6/Z7), the 20.9MP sensor performs well. Besides facilitating 4K video recording, it helps produce images with vibrant but realistic colors and a good level of overall detail. Low-light performance could be much worse and, while it’s certainly not a sports model, the AF does a decent job with eye-detection.

There are compromises, of course – such as the single SD card slot which only supports slower UHS-I cards – but the Z50 should nevertheless be on the radar of anyone looking to switch from a Nikon DSLR.

Nikon Z7 II

(Image credit: Future)

3. Nikon Z7 II

A worthy evolution of the original Z7

Specifications
Sensor size: Full-frame
Resolution: 45.7MP
Viewfinder: EVF
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Expert
Reasons to buy
+Excellent handling+Quick Eye AF+Now has two card slots
Reasons to avoid
-Screen only tilts-AF for action lacking

On the one hand, the Z7 II is a relatively subtle refresh of the original Z7, but on the other, when a camera is great in the first place, it only needs a few tweaks. 

Handling is fantastic and perhaps the biggest problem of only having a single card slot has been addressed by adding an SD slot here. Not only is that good news for pros wanting to back up as they go along, it’s good news for anybody not already toting XQD cards and want to wait to replace.

Otherwise, much of the Z7 II’s physical design is the same as its predecessor – the same sensor, viewfinder and screen are all here (and all excellent). Burst shooting has been improved with faster frame rates that can be sustained for a little longer. 4K has been upgraded to 60fps, making it a solid choice for those who like to shoot video as well as stills. 

The only thing which lets the Z7 II down is its speed of AF for fast-moving subjects, where it is outclassed by its rivals in the mirrorless market – but if you’re typically into shooting more static subjects, that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

Nikon Z5

(Image credit: Future)

4. Nikon Z5

The best entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera right now

Specifications
Sensor size: Full-frame CMOS
Resolution: 24.3MP
Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690K dot
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 4.5fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User: Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Great grip, build and layout+Very capable AF system
Reasons to avoid
-Disappointing video specs-Underwhelming burst speed

Almost identical to the outstanding Z6, the Nikon Z5 is the best entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera on the market right now. Its 273-point autofocus system is capable, reliable and clever, while the large 24MP sensor delivers sharp, detailed images in a whole range of scenarios. 

You’ll really have to look closely to spot any difference between stills from the Z5 and Z6 – even low-light shots. Accessible handling is a hallmark of Nikon DSLRs, but the Z5 also benefits from a tough, weather-sealed body – though it loses the top-plate LCD of the Z6. 

The 3.2-inch touchscreen is only a tilting affair, but it’s very good nevertheless. In truth, there are just three significant compromises with the Z5: the disappointing 4.5fps burst shooting speed; the limiting 1.7x crop on 4K footage; and the price. 

With robust performance and a big sensor, it’s a fantastic camera for first-time full-frame photographers to grow with – but it’s not that much cheaper than the superior Z6.

5. Nikon Z6

Nikon's original Z6 is still a fantastic choice – and can save you cash

Specifications
Sensor size: Full-frame
Resolution: 24.5MP
Viewfinder: EVF
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Intermediate/expert
Reasons to buy
+High-resolution EVF+12fps burst shooting
Reasons to avoid
-XQD card format has limited support-Limited buffer depth

Nikon’s Z6 launched as a worthy rival to the Sony Alpha A7 III in 2018, delivering a high-spec full-frame experience, with polished handling, a high-res sensor and top-end performance.  

Its performance and features keep both pros and enthusiasts happy. The 24.5MP full-frame sensor is capable of delivering excellent results, while the 273-point AF system and 12fps burst shooting mean make it a good all rounder for a variety of subjects. Its handling is great, while the large and bright electronic viewfinder is a joy to use.

Although the Z6 II is now on the market, the original Z6 hasn't disappeared – instead, it offers a cheaper alternative if you're happy to live without some of the upgrades. So, you don't get that second memory card slot or the slightly improved autofocus system, but otherwise you get almost the same build and design and matching image quality via the same sensor and processor combo.

6. Nikon D850

Still the choice of many pros

Specifications
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS
Resolution: 45.4MP
Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type
Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Expert
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant image quality+Excellent AF performance
Reasons to avoid
-Live view AF speed-SnapBridge is far from perfect 

Still arguably Nikon’s most desirable DSLR, the D850 is a robust, full-frame powerhouse that has proved to be smash among wedding, landscape, portrait and wildlife photographers among others. 

Its key highlights of a 45.7MP back-illuminated full-frame sensor, 7fps burst shooting, a 153-point AF system and 4K video recording are supported by a solid secondary set of specs, from the 1,840-shot battery life and dual cards slots (one being the speedy XQD type) right down to illuminated controls for the benefit of those working in darker conditions. 

Clunky SnapBridge functionality and slow live view autofocus speeds mean that it’s not quite a flawless performer, and it’s now somewhat overshadowed by the newer and flashier Z7 mirrorless camera, but for those after something a little more traditional the D850 remains a stellar option.

7. Nikon D3500

A great entry into the world of photography

Specifications
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Great image quality
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-No built-in sensor cleaning

Nikon's most junior DSLR blends a capable imaging core with a light body and a fuss-free interface, and delivers it all with modest price tag. While we don’t expect many extras at this level, we’re lucky enough to get a handful, including a 1,550-shot battery life that is significantly better than every other camera in its class.

Compatibility with decades' worth of F-mount lenses and a 24.2MP sensor that loses its anti-aliasing filter to better capture fine details sweeten the deal further, although the lack of built-in sensor cleaning is a shame. 

The fact that there's no touchscreen may also displease those used to jabbing away at their phones and tablets, although on such an affordable model, it’s easy to understand Nikon’s decision to go without this. If you're looking for a beginner-friendly DSLR, this is still the go-to choice.

Nikon D780

(Image credit: Future)

8. Nikon D780

A hybrid all-rounder offering mirrorless smarts in a DSLR body

Specifications
Sensor size: Full-frame
Resolution: 24.5MP
Viewfinder: Optical
Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359K dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Accessible controls+Fast live-view focusing+Superb battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Big and heavy-No in-body image stabilization-Expensive

A DSLR/mirrorless crossover that offers the best of both worlds for full-frame first-timers, the Nikon D780 resembles a traditional DSLR but packs plenty of the tech you’ll find in its mirrorless Z6 cousin.

A hybrid of sorts, the D780 handles like an old-school DLSR. Its magnesium body is heavy in the hand, but a big grip that makes it satisfying to hold. The optical viewfinder and top-plate LCD will be familiar to DSLR users, too, yet the tilting touch-sensitive display is more of a mirrorless mainstay. 

Either way, the D780 is no anachronism. It borrows a metering and scene recognition system from the more advanced D850, shares a 273-point on-chip phase detection autofocus system with the Z6 and deploys Nikon’s EXPEED 6 image processor to support the 24.5MP full-frame sensor.

As a result, image quality is truly fantastic, with nicely balanced exposures, excellent dynamic range and brilliant noise control at mid-high ISOs. Battery life is outstanding, too, while autofocus is predictably fast and reliable when using Live View. It’s an impressive package with just one major snag: the cost. Right now, it's a bit pricey, but with time that price will come down and make the D780 an even better buy.

9. Nikon D750

Full frame without an empty bank account

Specifications
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS
Megapixels: 24.3MP
Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type
Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,228,800 dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Enthusiast/expert
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight body+Excellent dynamic range
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-LCD isn't touch sensitive

With its 51-point AF system and video recording topping out at Full HD quality, the D750 may be looking a little dated next to some of its newer rivals. That said, it was always intended as a more compact, lighter and more affordable full-frame solution to the likes of the D800 series, and if you’re not fussed about 4K video there’s much to love.

The sensor delivers great dynamic range and noise control, while the AF system delivers a wonderful performance against static and moving subjects alike, continuing to work well when lighting conditions worsen. 

The viewfinder is nice and large while the 3.2in LCD screen tilts to help you shoot from all kinds of positions, and while the body is smaller than other full-frame cameras, this has no adverse effect on handling. 

Supported by a respectable 6.5fps burst mode, two card slots, Wi-Fi and excellent in-camera raw processing, the D750 would serve well as a primary body, but is also a logical choice as a backup to a camera like the D850 or Z7. 

10. Nikon D7500

High on features, low on price

Specifications
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 20.9MP
Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type
Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots
Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8fps
Movies: 4K
User level: Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Advanced AF system
Reasons to avoid
-Only one card slot-LCD screen only has 921k dots

While Nikon’s D500 may appear to have a few advantages over the D7500 on paper, the fact that this newer model borrows many key features from its sibling and costs significantly less makes it a better proposition overall. 

Crafted with the sports, action and general outdoors shooter in mind, the D7500 uses the same 20.9MP DX-format sensor as the D500, and also pinches its 180k-pixel metering sensor, with 8fps burst shooting, 4K video and a robust, weather-sealed body as further highlights. 

The focusing system isn’t quite as advanced as the 153-point systems seen in other Nikon models, but we still found it to be a commendable performer in our review, while images also impressed. Some may prefer an additional card slot as the body has only been designed with one of these, but this is very much a nicety rather than an essential feature. 

11. Nikon Coolpix P900

Need a humungous zoom range? The P900 could be for you

Specifications
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 16MP
Lens: 24-2000mm, f/2.8-6.5
Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 921,000 dots
Viewfinder: Yes
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Huge zoom +Good autofocus (in good light)
Reasons to avoid
-Tiny sensor means average images-No raw shooting

We had mixed feelings about Nikon’s recent P1000 superzoom camera, with its monstrous 125x optical zoom presenting just about as many challenges as advantages. So it’s the more affordable and considerably smaller P900 that deserves consideration if high-zoom photography is your thing.

The Nikon P950 is more recent, but this model packs the same 24-2000mm focal range (in 35mm terms). With a slightly more sensible 83x optical zoom range than the P1000, the camera is easier to work with at its telephoto extremes, with effective Dual Detect VR on hand to stabilize compositions and an autofocus system to works well in bright light. 

The lack of a touchscreen does show its age somewhat, although this was also omitted from the P1000 and it's arguably less of a priority on a camera likely of this sort. It’s a shame there’s no Raw capture too (which you do get on the P950), but full manual control over exposure does at least give you the flexibility to get it right in camera for ready-to-use results, and it's better value than its newer sibling.

12. Nikon Coolpix W300

Dive deep with this sturdy compact

Specifications
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 16MP
Lens: 24-120mm
Waterproof: 30m
Freezeproof: -10°
Shockproof: 2.1m
Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots
Movies: 4K
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Deep waterproof capabilities+4K video recording
Reasons to avoid
-Metering could be more consistent -Can be fiddly to operate

Nikon’s flagship waterproof compact manages to partner its well-rounded spec sheet with a design that’s thankfully a lot more sober that what we normally find in this category of camera. 

Built around a 16MP back-illuminated sensor and 24-120mm (equivalent) lens, its rugged credentials include 30m/100ft waterproofing and 2.4m/7.9ft shock-proofing, with a GPS system, compass and an altimeter alongside. 

The further bonus of 4K video capture also means that it competes well with models like the Olympus Tough TG-5 and Panasonic FT7, although we would have loved to see it pack Raw shooting so allow users to hone their masterpieces later on.

Mark Wilson

Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won the Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.