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Best Nikon camera 2020: the 10 finest cameras from Nikon's line-up

Nikon Z7
(Image credit: Nikon)

With a wide-ranging, diverse and extensive range, what exactly is the best Nikon camera is a difficult question to answer. With lots of interesting new models released, especially in its mirrorless line-up, over the past few years, there’s lots of choice available. To help you pick the best Nikon camera, we’ve thoroughly tested all of the top Nikon cameras to put them into a definitive rank in our list below. 

Perhaps you’re a dedicated Nikon follower who wants to add to their collection, or perhaps you’re looking for your first camera. Either way, Nikon’s line-up offers something for every type of photographer, across a range of budgets. Anybody who is looking for a flexible option which delivers great performance and extensive and impressive features, both the Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras are fantastic full-frame options. Both have recently been replaced by newer models, which are only just on sale - so the older models bring better value for now. 

If you’re a traditionalist and have a preference for DSLR handling, don’t worry - Nikon hasn’t abandoned the older format. The latest model, the Nikon D780, has all the stylings and feeling of a classic DSLR, but brings some of the newest mirrorless camera technology to the format. That makes it a wonderful all-rounder which should appease both traditionalists and enthusiasts. 

Go to the other end of the scale and you’ve got the Nikon Coolpix W300, a budget-friendly, 4K-capable compact camera which is waterproof. You’ll also find some older, good-value models in our round-up, such as the Nikon D7500 and the D750. If you’re just starting out, the Nikon D3500 is an excellent entry-level DSLR - in fact it’s the one we’d recommend across all brands for those new to DSLR photography.

No matter your requirements, budget or shooting preferences, there’s an ideal Nikon camera you can find in our list. Read on to find out more.

Best Nikon camera 2020 at a glance:

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

Best Nikon cameras in 2020:

1. Nikon Z6

Nikon's full-frame mirrorless camera is a triumph

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

High-resolution EVF
12fps burst shooting
XQD card format has limited support
Limited buffer depth

Nikon’s Z6 is a worthy rival to the Sony Alpha A7 III, delivering a high-spec full-frame experience, with polished handling, a high-res sensor and top-end performance. Which is why news of its successor is so exciting: the Nikon Z6 II is scheduled to launch very soon.

We don’t yet know what upgrades the Z6 II will deliver, but we’re hopeful for a vari-angle touchscreen, next-gen autofocus, a bigger buffer and boosted video skills. Whatever it delivers, price will play a big factor in determining whether it topples the current king of this list: at current prices, the Z6 continues to offer excellent value – and that’ll only be more true if prices fall when the second-gen variant arrives.

For now, the Z6 is still the model to beat, with performance and features to keep both pros and enthusiasts happy. Its 24.5MP full-frame sensor is capable of delivering excellent results, while the 273-point AF system and 12fps burst shooting mean you’ll never miss another shot. It’s great to grip, while the large and bright electronic viewfinder is a joy to use. Excellent.

Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Future)

2. Nikon Z50

A mirrorless marvel with perfect proportions

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

Great handling
Impressive viewfinder
Good value
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.

3. Nikon Z7

Nikon's first full-frame Z camera is a smash

Sensor size: Full-frame | Resolution: 45.7MP | Viewfinder: EVF | Monitor: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,100,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 9fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert

Great MP/burst rate balance
Built-in VR system very convenient
Single XQD card slot splits opinion
Relatively shallow buffer depth

Much like the company’s D850 DSLR (below), the Z7's ace card is that it manages to blend a high-resolution sensor with fast burst shooting and a fleshed-out 4K video recording option, making it versatile enough to be used for all kinds of applications. 

Key advantages over its D850 cousin include 493 phase-detect AF points that stretch right across 90% of the vertical and horizontal axes, together with 5-axis Vibration Reduction that can be used with all kinds of lenses. As we found in our review, handling is great and the 3.69-million dot viewfinder is a joy to use, while video quality is also very strong. 

Only a few native lenses have been developed so far, although you can use F-mount optics through an adapter, and while some may be put off by the presence of a single XQD card slot, this shouldn’t realistically be a deal-breaker when you consider just how much Nikon has managed to get right here. 

Nikon Z5

(Image credit: Future)

4. Nikon Z5

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

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

Great grip, build and layout
Very capable AF system
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 D850

Still the choice of many pros

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

Brilliant image quality
Excellent AF performance
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.

6. Nikon D3500

A great entry into the world of photography

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

Very affordable
Great image quality
No 4K video
No built-in sensor cleaning

The company’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.

Nikon D780

(Image credit: Future)

7. Nikon D780

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

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

Accessible controls
Fast live-view focusing
Superb battery life
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.

8. Nikon D750

Full frame without an empty bank account

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

Lightweight body
Excellent dynamic range
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. 

9. Nikon D7500

High on features, low on price

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

Great image quality
Advanced AF system
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. 

10. Nikon Coolpix P900

Humungous zoom range

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

Huge zoom 
Good autofocus (in good light)
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.

11. Nikon Coolpix W300

Dive deep with this sturdy compact

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

Deep waterproof capabilities
4K video recording
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.