Which Nikon camera should you get first?

Even though a significant portion of our readership is comprised of novice photographers, we frequently discuss topics that, although they may appear straightforward to us, can be quite puzzling to people who have less background information and practical experience. I recall how difficult it was to make the shift from being a photography theorist and an “armchair expert” to being someone who uses his technical knowledge automatically for the sake of photography (rather than for the sake of making comparisons and pixel-peeping). On this adventure, the first thing I needed to do was ask myself the most apparent question: what kind of camera should I buy?

You have to go on your journey from someplace. You may have already made up your mind to purchase a Nikon camera, or perhaps you’re comparing Nikon to other manufacturers. In any case, throughout this post, I will familiarize you with a variety of DSLR and mirrorless cameras that are now available from Nikon as of 2024. You will not be able to discover the greatest camera in this location since there is no such thing as the best camera. However, I have faith that you will locate the Nikon camera that is most suited to your needs as a starting photographer and that you will keep using it for many years to come.

In Search of Your First Nikon

Every single DSLR and mirrorless camera manufactured in the present age is capable of pretty serious work. Even the most basic models, which are typically the least expensive, have focusing systems that are lightning-quick and sensors that are quite close to being at the cutting edge of technology. It is not an issue whether or not the camera you pick is good since, in this day and age, every Nikon camera is good. The issue that has to be answered is which of these options is most suitable for you.

If you are just starting in photography, it would be unwise to buy a flagship model like the Z9 or D6 from Nikon as your first camera. These cameras are not only very costly, but also quite complicated to use. It is recommended that you begin with a camera that falls somewhere in the middle of the price spectrum or with something more affordable so that you can become accustomed to Nikon as a brand.

For a very long time, Nikon has been recognized for manufacturing DSLR cameras such as the Nikon D850, which some people consider to be the greatest DSLR ever created in terms of its versatility. However, the Z-series of cameras released by Nikon in 2018 marked the company’s debut in the market for high-end mirrorless cameras. They are presently offering eight different mirrorless models, one of which is their flagship Z9, and they are focusing practically all of their research and development efforts on mirrorless cameras rather than DSLR cameras these days.

Even though mirrorless cameras are Nikon’s primary emphasis at the moment, it is still possible to purchase new DSLRs from the company, such as the D6, D850, D750, and D500. Additionally, there are a great many other cameras available for purchase if you opt to purchase used models. As a result, you have several choices available to you for your initial Nikon camera purchase.

The following is a list of more recent Nikon cameras, along with a link to my evaluation of each camera (if I’ve written a review of it):

Nikon DSLRNikon Mirrorless
Nikon D6Nikon Z9
Nikon D5Nikon Z7 II
Nikon D850Nikon Z6 II
Nikon D780Nikon Z7
Nikon D750Nikon Z6
Nikon D610Nikon Z5
Nikon D500Nikon Z50
Nikon D7500Nikon Zfc
Nikon D5600Nikon Z30
Nikon D3500

If you are interested in getting an overview of all the Nikon cameras that are currently available, you might find the following article helpful:

Nikon Mirrorless or Nikon DSLR?

Except for Pentax, virtually all camera manufacturers have put an end to the development of DSLR cameras. Although it is not completely out of the question that Nikon will release another DSLR camera in the future, the likelihood of this happening is decreasing with each passing day.

On the other hand, Nikon’s mirrorless cameras are now undergoing significant development. If you take a look at Nikon’s lens roadmap, you’ll notice that the company currently has an incredible variety of lenses. The vast majority of these lenses even perform better than the lenses that come standard on DSLR cameras in terms of aspects like sharpness, weight, and focus speed.

Because the majority of Nikon’s mirrorless cameras are relatively new, they also tend to offer greater features, such as focusing that follows the subject’s eye, 4K (or even 8K) video, and more frames per second for recording quick action. When one considers the long-term prospects of both Nikon’s DSLR and mirrorless camera lineups, the mirrorless option emerges as an even stronger front-runner as the best choice for most consumers purchasing their first Nikon camera.

Does this suggest that you should steer clear of Nikon digital single-lens reflex cameras? There are quite a few compelling arguments in favor of considering a DSLR. The cost is the primary factor, particularly when purchasing a used digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), where one may save hundreds or thousands of dollars; one can save even more money when purchasing a set of used Nikon F-mount lenses in comparison to new Nikon Z mirrorless lenses. In some scenarios, the focusing performance of Nikon’s DSLRs is superior to that of competing brands. You can get a Nikon D500 DSLR that has been lightly used for around one thousand dollars, and the only Nikon mirrorless camera that has greater autofocus tracking capability than that is the Nikon Z9, which retails for five thousand dollars brand new.

Therefore, if you are looking for a Nikon camera that can perform well in really challenging scenarios, such as photographing birds in flight, but you are on a tight budget, a Nikon DSLR is still the finest option available from Nikon. Of course, this does not imply that the focusing capabilities of other Z cameras, like the Z6 II, are lacking. However, they cannot compete with the performance of a DSLR camera that focuses on focusing, such as the Nikon D500. Aside from this drawback, I would advise most photographers to start with a Nikon mirrorless camera as their first Nikon camera. This is the advice I would give.

Choosing a Nikon Mirrorless Camera

If you’ve decided to go with a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR, you may as well get acquainted with the whole series of Nikon Z mirrorless cameras that have been released up until this point. After all, there are only nine Nikon Z mirrorless cameras available at this time, and they may be broken down into the following three categories:

  1. “The Beast” (Nikon Z9)
  2. “The Full-Framers”: Nikon Z5, Z6, Z7, Z6II, Z7II
  3. “The Starter Camera” (Nikon Z50, Zfc, Z30)

Nikon Z9: “The Beast”

The Nikon Z9 is the company’s premier mirrorless camera. With its built-in grip, stunningly realistic electronic viewfinder (EVF), incredible focusing, and support for recording in 8K resolution, the Z9 is well suited for every kind of photography setting, with the possible exception of traveling light. When it comes to photographing sports and animals, this Nikon Z camera is hands down the best option. However, it is not a suitable first Nikon camera for the majority of photographers, unless you are already an accomplished photographer and are converting to Nikon from another brand.

The Nikon Z9 is priced far more than the entry-level camera that I would ordinarily recommend to someone. Although it is not a bad deal for what you get (similar Sony and Canon cameras cost over $6,000), it is not appropriate for any beginning photographer since it has too many features. The good news is that getting started with Nikon mirrorless photography is now far less expensive and more user-friendly than ever before.

Nikon Z5, Z6, Z7, Z6 II, and Z7 II: “The Full-Framers”

These five cameras are the ones you may choose from if you are interested in full-frame photography but do not require the incredible capabilities of the Z9. Both the Nikon Z6 II and the Z7 II belong to the same generation as the Z7 II, which is the second generation of their respective lines. When compared to the original Z6 and Z7, these models are equipped with one more memory card slot, a larger picture buffer, and a somewhat superior autofocus mechanism. Despite this, their ability to autofocus on swiftly moving things, such as birds in flight, is not on par with that of the Nikon Z9 or a competent Nikon DSLR.

In contrast, the sensors found in the Z7 and Z7 II cameras both have a resolution of 45.7 megapixels, whereas those found in the other three cameras only have 24 megapixels. In actuality, twenty-four megapixels is already quite a lot, and it ought to be plenty for the majority of photographers. Since this is the primary advantage of purchasing a Z7 or Z7 II, the majority of photographers will be OK with purchasing a Z6 or Z6 II instead.

What are your thoughts on the Nikon Z5? It is also a highly capable full-frame camera; nonetheless, there are certain limitations due to the camera’s design. There are additional lower-end features on the Nikon Z5, such as the fact that it can only shoot 4.5 frames per second and that it can only capture 4K video with a large 1.7x crop. Additionally, the camera sensor in the Nikon Z5 is not quite as excellent in low light. These shortcomings are not going to be important to a large number of photographers, and the pricing of the Z5 is excellent value for the money. If you are just starting in photography, the Nikon Z5, Z6, or Z6 II are all excellent alternatives for a camera. However, if you are looking for a camera that costs less than one thousand dollars, you may need to choose a used Z6 or a newer model of the Z5, or you might go with a used Z5 altogether.

Nikon Z50, Zfc, Z30: “The Starter Camera”

The Z50, the Zfc in throwback form, and the Z30 are the three mirrorless cameras that Nikon has manufactured so far. All of these cameras use a smaller APS-C sensor as opposed to the bigger full-frame sensor. Each of these cameras can use any of Nikon’s Z lenses because of their tiny sensors, but a crop factor will lower the image quality. APS-C cameras have been one of our top suggestions for beginner photographers for some time now. This is because they are an affordable method to undertake advanced photography, and they have a surprising lack of drawbacks when compared to full-frame cameras, which are significantly more costly.

In comparison to “the full-framers” described above, the Z50, Zfc, and Z30 do have a few shortcomings. It is more difficult to achieve a shallow depth of field with smooth bokeh, and they perform somewhat less well when the available light is low. Because the image sensor in Nikon’s three APS-C mirrorless cameras does not have built-in image stabilization, you will need to utilize a lens that also has built-in stabilization to capture sharp images. (Because every single one of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras has an in-body stabilization system, this translates to the fact that every lens is stabilized, allowing for easier handheld shooting in low light.) For the lineup as it stands right now, I prefer lenses with vibration reduction, such as the Nikon Z DX 16-50mm VR and the Nikon Z DX 50-250mm VR. Perhaps one day, Nikon will introduce an APS-C camera with in-body image stabilization, but for now, I recommend lenses with vibration reduction.

Which APS-C model should you buy if you’ve determined that an APS-C camera would be your first Nikon and you want to buy one? The Z50 and the Zfc are quite comparable to one another; however, there are several key distinctions between the two. The Z50 is the model that I would suggest to the vast majority of people because its grip is more pleasant and it costs a little less. On the other hand, the Zfc comes with a few more features, such as a back LCD panel that can rotate in any direction, rather than only being able to fold up and down as on the Z50. The ZFC has a throwback motif, which I think looks cool as well.

The Z30 is a specialist camera that does not have a viewfinder; rather than being marketed for photographers, it is aimed at video bloggers. If you don’t require the viewfinder, you may get the Z30 for a bit less money and get a few capabilities that are more specialized for video, if you choose. I think the viewfinder is very necessary, particularly for handheld shooting. The specialized video functions are not very extensive, consisting of things like a recording limit of 125 minutes and an integrated light that notifies you when you’re capturing anything.

The Nikon Z50 is one of the greatest first Nikon cameras for the normal photographer, although the Zfc or Z30 may be the best for you, depending on your requirements. However, the Z50 is still one of the finest first Nikon cameras. For the price of $1000, you may get the Z50 together with the 16-50mm kit lens that comes with it. If you are patient enough to wait for a decent offer, you can also find it secondhand for approximately $650 with the 16–50mm lens. If you want to take images with a Nikon mirrorless or DSLR camera, you need a lens, and the 16–50mm is probably the lens that offers the greatest value for a starting lens from Nikon. If you don’t have a lens, you won’t be able to take pictures. (It is important to note that this lens is only compatible with APS-C cameras; also, it will do an automatic crop if you use it on a Nikon full-frame camera, which is something that I highly advise against doing.)

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