Finding the best Nikon DSLR for you can be a tricky business. Not only do you need to consider factors like performance, usability and price, there’s the added complication of whether or not you have existing lenses. Luckily, our guide is here to help you decide, whether you need a beginner-friendly DSLR or a professional workhorse.
So how you know which is the best DSLR for you? Our current all-round favorite is the Nikon D850, which is one of the most complete cameras we’ve ever tested, even with the arrival of the Canon 1DX Mark III. But it’s certainly not the right choice for everyone.
For beginners, one of the best choices right now is the Nikon D3500, which combines everything that’s great about DSLRs – great handling, an incredible battery life and excellent image quality – in an affordable, user-friendly package.
With so many great mirrorless cameras around, though, you may be wondering if a DSLR is the right choice at all. The basic difference between the two is that the former lack the mirror common to DSLRs, replacing the optical viewfinder with an electronic equivalent called an EVF. This brings benefits like reduced size and weight, albeit at the expense of value for money and battery life.
While mirrorless is where most camera manufacturers are headed, there are still many good reasons to go for a DSLR, whether you’re a beginner or pro. They remain the cheapest way to get a camera with a viewfinder, while for pros the best DSLRs offer native lens choices and autofocus talents at longer focal lengths that mirrorless cameras still can’t match.
If you want to know more about how they compare, read our Mirrorless vs DSLR: 10 key differences feature. But if you’re already happy that the superior handling and battery life of a DSLR is for you, then here’s how to refine your choice down to the right model.
1. Nikon D850
It’s hard to think of another DSLR that wows like the D850 does. It’s on the pricey side for sure, but this is justified by excellent image quality, bags of features and a rugged, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. The 45MP sensor is one of the highest in terms of resolution in any DSLR, while the 7fps burst mode is unusually high for a camera with such a sensor. Add to that a cracking AF system, wonderful handling and great 4K video, and it’s versatility should be easy to appreciate. Like the sound of the D850, but want to go mirrorless? Well, while not strictly a mirrorless version of the D850, Nikon’s newer Z7 mirrorless camera shares the same 45MP resolution as the D850, but features some clever tech of its own, including an all-new lens mount.
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 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
2. Nikon D3500
At the opposite end of the spectrum to some of the full-frame DSLRs here, the D3500 is super affordable, has one of the sharpest APS-C sensors out there, and a neat retracting kit lens. A word of warning: there are two versions of this lens, and it’s worth spending the extra $20/£20 and getting it with VR, Nikon’s image stabilization system. It’s proof that you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a great camera, and we say its value for money makes it just as impressive as much more advanced (and much more expensive) alternatives. The controls are designed to be simple for novices, and in the right hands it’s a match for cameras costing far more. If you’re looking to get more creative with your photography, and looking for your first DSLR, the Nikon D3500 is hard to beat.
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
3. Nikon D7500
Fancy the D500 but don’t fancy the price tag? Well, if you’re prepared to make a few compromises here and there, the D7500 is probably what you should be looking at. It’s packed with the same 20.9MP sensor as its more senior stablemate, and also matches it in offering 4K video recording. Nikon has also furnished it with the same 180k-pixel RGB metering sensor and the tilting screen on the back is just as large at 3.2 inches in size, although not quite as detailed, and it’s all wrapped up inside a weather-sealed body. On an even tighter budget? There’s also the slightly older 24.2MP D7200 (above), which may have been surpassed by the D7500, but it’s still one of the best enthusiast DSLRs out there.
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
4. Nikon D780
The D780 is effectively a hybrid of a full-frame DSLR and mirrorless camera like the Nikon Z6. This makes it a fine (if expensive) option for anyone who wants to combine the benefits of both. Building on the solid foundation of the D750, which will remain on sale (see below), the D780 has the same 273-point on-chip phase-detection autofocus system as the Z6, but also brings an impressive 2,260-shot battery life, if you prefer to shoot through its optical viewfinder. Image quality is among the best around, while its 4K video skills are boosted by the inclusion of modern features like Face and Eye detection. As a new DSLR, it’s currently a little pricey, but if that isn’t an issue for you, then it’s one of the best full-frame all-rounders you can buy.
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Lens mount: Nikon F mount | Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/pro
5. Nikon D750
With the recent launch of the Nikon D780 (above), should full-frame fans still consider the D750? The answer is yes, because the D780 isn’t a replacement for this camera, more a pricier alternative for those who want the latest mirrorless tricks in DSLR form. If you’re looking for a good value full-frame DSLR that’s almost half the price, then this 24MP model remains a great option. That sensor still produces top-quality results, particularly at high ISO settings, and you also get a very decent 6.5fps continuous shooting speed, together with a handy tilting screen. As it’s an older model, there’s no 4K video or a touchscreen, but if you don’t need these, then the D750 offers very good value that lets you put extra money towards a lens or two.
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Intermediate