Awww baby Nikon. I consider them to be the respected underdog of the 2010’s holy camera trinity. Many people will talk about the L-series lens selection or Sony’s mirrorless camera as the most technically advanced, but no one really mentions Nikon’s comfortable medium of body features and lens selection. In my opinion, Nikon offers the best DSLR bodies on the market with a large catalog of lens backing them up. The mirrorless selection has been very underwhelming, but we’ll see how the Z7 and Z6 live up to the high bar that Sony set.
Let’s outline the available DSLR bodies in Nikon’s product line. Nikon splits their products into two groups, Full Frame (FX) and Crop (DX). In each group there are three levels, the highest being a more professional camera. As a photographer, you can grow and slowly pick up higher-end Nikons which will suit you well throughout the progression. Nikon also has a high-end pro FX camera that is typically not categorized with the two groups I mentioned above because it fills a more niche market. I’ll cover all seven bodies, but I’ll only cover the most recent models since cameras bodies really don’t get that much better over new generations.
Full Frame FX
You’ll likely never see normal people using this camera because its main crowd is professional sports photographers. The D5 is top of the line in performance and weight, which means that it offers the performance level that high-end sports photographers need. The D5 doesn’t have a large sensor resolution or mind blowing ISO performance. Its selling point is its durability, the auto focus was top of the line at release, and its buffer is enormous. Basically things you’ll never use as an above average joe photographer.
45.7 MP FX Sensor
4K Video, 120fps 1080p
-4 EV Autofocus
This body blew up reviews, benchmarks, and any sort of performance related metric when it was released. It’s currently the best full frame DSLR on the market until maybe Canon releases a new 5D. Even then, knowing Canon, the release is going to be underwhelming and the new iteration of the D850 will probably reign supreme. Its biggest advantage over other bodies is the superb low light autofocus system that is miles ahead of all other camera bodies. Its ISO performance is phenomenal, second to Sony’s A7S line, and its video capabilities rival the 5D Mark IV.
-3 EV Autofocus
The D750 holds a special place in my heart because I’m a proud owner of it. I call it refined because it’s a high-performing full frame body that does everything and it’s incredibly compact. Full frames are notorious for being heavy and bulky. The D750 is only slightly bigger than a crop sensor camera and it’s the lightest full frame camera on the market. It had both the top of the line autofocus system and the best ISO performance until topped by the D850. I would highly recommend this model to anyone looking to make the switch to full frame because it performs comparable to the 5D Mark IV, but it goes for ~$1,150 used.
This is basically a D7100 with a full frame sensor. It has a worse image processor, battery life, weight, autofocus, and video capability than the D750. I often called this the forgotten one because it sits in between two really great cameras lines, but doesn’t really offer enough features to cement a solid reason to get this over the other two. If you’re on a budget, then this could be a good move to get into full frame, but I would suggest saving the extra money and buying the D750.
Crop Sensor DX
20.9 MP DX Sensor
-4 EV Autofocus
Nikon took a page out of Canon’s book and created a crop sensor camera that’s geared toward sports photography. It’s the newest line to come out of Nikon and its target market is incredibly niche, mostly geared towards professional sports photographers. I find it a tough sell to general medium to high level photographers because its features at its price point really only shine in sports. It’s priced now at $1,900 with a crop sensor and the D750 $2,000 with a full frame setup. The only advantage the D500 would have over the rest of the FX line is its autofocus, continuous shooting rate, and internal buffers. For people who do portraits, lifestyle, studio, or basically any photography that’s not birds or sporting, will not find this body as useful as any of the cameras in the FX lines. Although, if you are in that bucket of sports or wildlife photographers, I would recommend this over the D5 cause not everyone has a sponsorship.
20.9 MP DX Sensor
-3 EV Autofocus
The D7000s have been incredible ever since their release back in 2010. When the original D7000 came out, it competed with full frames cameras in terms of performance and made people question the full frame market. I’m a homer to these guys because I still own a D7000 and it stacks up very well for being tech that was created 8 years ago. This is the sweet spot that I would suggest people enter the camera market at. The D7500 is great and you also find older D7100s and D7000s for the price of a D5500 that will outperform them too. This is also the line that starts coming with an AF motor that opens up the world of Nikon’s vintage lenses.
This is the middle line and I honestly think it’s a marketing trap. Originally the 5000 line was prosumer line that focused on video, but as DSLR technology improved, all the upper tier camera bodies began to provide good video features. Generally the specs aren’t important anymore because it’s targeted at an amateur audience. People will still argue over which one is better, but the pros will tell you that it doesn’t matter—just take pictures and have fun. I started out with a D5100 and I wouldn’t recommend it because an older 7000 line camera will do everything and more yet be cheaper than buying one of these new.
Nikon has put a lot of effort into making this camera small and compact. I think it’s a great casual camera for people that want a “nice” camera. I don’t think this is a great choice if you’re trying to really dive into photography because I’m on the stance that you can get an old D7000 for a similar price, and that is everything you need unless you decide to make the jump to full frame. So, casual folk, I would say this is a great investment. More serious folk, look higher up on the list.
Nikon’s lens selection is pretty standard in the sense that it has everything you need. It doesn’t have the variety and prestige of the L-series lenses, but the F-Mount has some quirks to it that make staying in the ecosystem interesting.
Nikon offers full frame variations of the standard lenses you see everyone use. Whether it’s the holy trinity of primes or the holy trinity of zooms, you’ll be able to find them at a reasonable price no problem. This is a more detailed list of what I’m talking about:
16-35mm F/4 VR
24-72 F/2.8 VR
70-200mm F/2.8 VR
Nikon has this image stabilizing algorithm in their lenses called Vibration Reduction (VR). It’s basically the equivalent of Canon’s Image Stabilization (IS).
Nikon also has a cool line of macro lenses that focus on either compression or close distance focusing. These are called Micro lenses by Nikon. Other than the close focusing distance, they function like basically any other lens. What’s cool is that you get some high quality glass at interesting focal lengths like the 105mm 2.8 for some real portrait compression.
60mm f/2.8 Micro
105mm f/2.8 Micro
There’s also a line of DX lenses for Nikon crop bodies that are cheaper than their FX variant. I wouldn’t suggest investing too much money into them because they don’t work when you ever decide to make the jump to FX. However, there’s some great finds like the 35mm f/1.8 DX, which probably my favorite lens of all time.
Finally, one thing to note is that Nikon has a made to commitment to capability with the F-Mount. What that means is any Nikon lens can be attached to any Nikon body ever made. There’s caveats to autofocusing and metering due to the longevity of the mount, but you can pretty much attach any Nikon lens, which opens up the whole world of vintage lenses! Canon can’t do that because they shifted to the EF-S mount to support the L-Series line. Generally you’ll see some letters at the aperture of a lens (50mm f/1.8D, 35mm f/1.8G DX) which will define what type of lens it is. Here a quick breakdown of the types of Nikon lenses:
E - Fancy new lenses introduced in 2016 that uses an electric motor for AF
G - Modern lenses that use a built-in mechanical motor for AF
D - Doesn’t have an internal AF motor, but can be auto focused by bodies that have a motor built-in (D7XXX and above)
AI, AI-S, Non Ai - Very old, vintage lenses that can’t be auto focused. Kinda cool though because I think there’s a 50mm f/1.2 in there.
Nikon does make the best DSLRs on the market. I stand by that statement with full confidence. They also do at a price point that’s much better than Canon, so I feel like I’m really getting my money’s worth. I wouldn’t consider Nikon a budget brand, but it’s definitely odd to me how the 5D holds its value.
I think an ecosystem that has the 2nd best lens selection and the best camera bodies is something people undervalue about Nikon. They’re a bit behind on the glass game, but most of the lenses they’re missing are pretty niche and not something you would necessarily use or need. They offer the quintessential pro and entry level lenses that the majority of photographers use, so you’ll never feel like the lens selection is small.
Finally, the fact that the F-Mount has maintained its compatibility throughout the years means that I can actually use all my Nikon glass with my Nikon film cameras. It’s pretty cool to be able to jump between different styles of photography and still use all the lenses that I’ve drained my wallet to accumulate. This isn’t really applicable to most people, but it’s an added bonus for all the hardcore photographers out there.
So I basically have two gripes with Nikon.
First, their video is often underwhelming when compared to Canon and Sony. Nikon has always tried to break into the video game, but every time there always something missing. Things just do not work as smoothly on Nikons compared to other brands in the same time. Although the gap isn’t as wide since technology is so advanced, you’ll feel it if you have any experience filming on a 5D or any Sony device. If videography is your main gig, I would recommend you go for Sony.
Second, the mirrorless offerings are abysmal. This is definitely an issue that’s come recently with how commercially successful Sony has been with mirrorless. A lot of companies are responding by offering really cool mirrorless setups and Nikon just isn’t one of them. Nikon and Canon are trying to break into the full frame mirrorless market and I just don’t see them making any progress when compared to Sony. I really like the convenience of mirrorless and I’ve thought about getting an a6000 to carry around casually, so I feel the worries if you’re afraid of commiting to the Nikon ecosystem. Luckily, I got into film photography before I committed to the idea of buying a Sony to play with. At the end of the day, my serious setup is all Nikon because they offer performance and lens selection at the best price point.
Nikon is cool. Be cool. Get Nikon.