What’s the best Nikon camera on the market in 2019?  The better question is what is the best Nikon camera for you!

You are in the market for a new Nikon camera.  Two questions are likely top-of-mind: which is the best Nikon camera and how much is this going to cost me?  Follow along as I break down some considerations for finding your next new camera!

What is the best Nikon DSLR camera: Outlining Your Needs in a Camera

The question isn’t just what is the best Nikon camera.  The real question is “Which is the best Nikon camera for me?”  Knowing how you’ll use your camera and what demands you will place on it will help you make a more informed decision and hopefully let you find the perfect camera to fit your needs, lifestyle and budget!

You wouldn’t choose a Lamborghini to transport four kids to daycare each morning.  Nor would you purchase a minivan if you intend to do a lot of travel off-road in the backcountry.  We purchase cars, clothes, shoes and other goods largely based on how those goods will be used.  So too, should it be with buying a new camera.  When choosing the best Nikon camera, the first question you need to ask yourself is what will I use this for?

A Point-and-Shoot or Cell Phone Camera

Best for snapshots of your children, family or events, or for personal use or on social media.  They are small, lightweight and easy to tuck in a pocket and are fully automated.  Just smile and snap away!

Semi-professional

Best for all of the above AND you want to print these photos in slightly larger sizes, edit them in greater detail OR you want more creative control over your images.  DSLRs and mirrorless cameras do a better job of stopping action and can make use of external and off camera flash.  They also offer interchangeable lenses allowing you to zoom and magnify.

Professional

Best for all of the above AND you want maximum editing abilities, need to shoot in very low light conditions and will sell images to clients, especially large format prints like canvases and metals.  A professional camera also gives you more buttons and scroll wheels on the camera body itself, allowing you to rapidly adjust exposure or other image controls.

I’m going to assume that since you are on a photography education website, you are considering a purchase beyond a cell phone camera or point-and-shoot model.  And since this article is about Nikon cameras, we will focus on that brand in particular.  Keep reading and I’ll give you my picks for best Nikon camera for professionals and semi-professionals.

But first…

Should you upgrade your camera?  Read our article for food for thought!

best camera for photographers - nikon

Which is the better camera, Nikon or Canon?

Ahhh, the age-old Canon vs. Nikon debate.  I’ll tell you the truth…it doesn’t really matter which you choose, other than to the company’s bottom line.  Both Nikon and Canon manufacture great cameras, loved by amateurs and pros alike.  As does Sony, Olympus, Pentax and some others.  But the big two, the Coke and Pepsi of the photography world, are Nikon and Canon.  Which one is better is largely a matter of personal preference.  You really won’t go wrong with either brand.

To help you decide, find a local camera store and spend some time picking up and holding the cameras.  See if one fits your hands or body type better.  Also think about if there is a local Canon or Nikon dealer close to you.  Having a repair and service shop that deals in your brand can save mailing your camera cross country or a long drive in the car for service.

I’m Team Nikon simply because my camera at my day-job was a Nikon and I didn’t want to learn a new system when I replaced my 35mm film camera.  I love my Nikons and have found them to be high quality, durable and capable of producing amazing images.  You should know, however, that lenses, batteries and other accessories aren’t interchangeable, so consider this a long-term relationship.  So be prepared to show your chosen new brand love for a long time.

Crop-sensors vs. Full Frame

Just like there is no real best Nikon camera, there is no designation of a “professional” grade camera.  Professional photographers, that is, photographers who are paid for their work shoot iPhones, full-frame DSLR cameras and everything in between.  It is not a specific make or model of camera that makes you a professional photographer.  It is your understanding and use of exposure, posing and all the other elements of photography that sets your work apart.  The camera is just a tool.

When folks talk about a semi-professional camera, however, they are generally referring to a crop-sensor camera.  Nikon calls these DX cameras.  The term professional cameras usually means a full-frame camera, called FX by Nikon.

DX bodies, or crop sensor bodies have a smaller physical sensor than a full-frame FX camera.  This translates into a smaller field of view.  So if I’m shooting a scene with an FX-format D850 and a DX format D7500, the D7500 will capture a tighter field of view.

This also means that a DX body effectively increases the focal length of any lens used on it.  The difference in focal length is known as the crop factor.  Nikon DX bodies have a crop factor of 1.5.  So crop sensor cameras give regular lenses a virtual telephoto effect, because a 50 mm lens on a DX crop sensor will appear like a 75 mm lens.

Lens focal length Focal Length on FX Focal Length on DX
50 mm 50 mm 75 mm
100 mm 100 mm 150 mm
200 mm 200 mm 400 mm

There are pros and cons to both systems.  The important thing is to understand the difference so you can make fair comparisons.

Still not quite sure?  We’ve got more info on crop vs full frame here!

Meet the Nikon D3500, an entry-level Nikon DSLR

If you’re just getting started in the world of digital photography and want an entry-level DSLR, you can’t go wrong with the Nikon D3500 (about $400, new).  This is  entry-level camera is light-weight, inexpensive and is more than ready to handle anything but the toughest lighting situations.  This is the camera I recommend to friends and family when they want a camera that goes beyond their cell phones.

The D3500 features a crop-sensor with 24.2 megapixels (MP).  It’s designed for beginners and new photographers will find it fairly intuitive to use.  It comes with a guide mode that helps walk you through the basics of using the camera.  The buttons are pretty simplified so you don’t get confused about which one does what and there’s little chance of pressing a button you didn’t mean to.

In terms of image quality, this little camera does a bang-up job.  In real-world shooting, it delivers sharp, vibrant images.  This camera will allow you to shoot in RAW if you’re needing some additional creative control and editing range, but the RAW files are slightly smaller, though generally not noticeable to the entry-level user.  In good light with the same lens, its images stack up with those of more expensive, fancier cameras.  I have no problems reaching for the little brother of this camera, the Nikon D3300, f I want to travel light and fast, or when I’m hiking or at the lake and don’t want to risk my “big” camera.  I’ve even

The D3500 also shoots at 5 frames per second and offers a video mode, even though it’s not 4K.  The drawbacks for most folks of this camera will be its lack of a touch/tilt screen, lack of 4K video and it’s slightly bulkier size compared to a mirrorless camera or a cell phone.  Advanced users who want full creative control will also find it hard and slow shooting in manual mode.  Setting aperture requires pressing a button and using the scroll-wheel and changing ISO requires going into the menu.

What’s the best semi-professional Nikon camera?

For your consideration, I suggest looking into the:

  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B077TDHN1Q’ text=’D500′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’us1′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’bb8ea60b-dfd7-4657-b876-42afbd1aab04′] – crop sensor but an action superhero (around $1,800 new)[amazon_link asins=’B01A7Q0DVM’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’us1′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c5979c3e-4df8-4c5e-b75b-8d5fac3f854e’]
  • D7500
  • D5200
  • D5500

Some folks call these cameras enthusiast cameras.  Others refer to them as prosumer.  Whatever name you want to give them, this group falls between the full-frame camera and the point and shoot-model market.  Don’t think that means they are subpar cameras, though.  These cameras have great sensors and speed and are more than capable of shooting pro-level images.  When compared to a full frame camera, however, they don’t handle low light or higher ISOs quite as well, their sensors are smaller and they lack of some of the external controls pros rely on to speed up their work flow.

best semi-pro Nikon camera

My top pick

My top pick for the best semi-professional Nikon camera is the Nikon D7500.  The D7500 packs a lot of features into a low price, at less than $900.  This camera has a 20 MP sensor, but can shoot better at higher ISOs than other models that came before it.  It also shoots 8 frames per second, which is faster than the Nikon D750 full-frame!  My other favorite parts about the D7500 are weather-sealing, its easy to use scroll wheels and buttons to change exposure settings and the flipping LCD touch screen.

The downside of the D7500 are few for your average semi-professional user.  While the D7500 does have 51 focus points, they don’t go edge to edge.  So you may still have to do some focus and recomposing.  It also lacks a second memory card slot, there isn’t an option for an extra battery grip and the live focusing feature is slow.  The tilt-screen also doesn’t tilt as flat as my D750, making it sort of a pain to shoot overhead.

But these features aren’t don’t outweigh its speed and performance.  It’s a great camera that will suit lots of different types of photographers perfectly.  You can (and some pros do) use this camera on a professional photo shoot.  The images are outstanding, it shoots sports and action quite well and as mentioned before, it shines at higher ISOs.  When you consider the crop factor of 1.5, it gives you a little more reach out of your lenses making it a great choice for wildlife and even sports.  If you aren’t ready to step up to a full frame camera yet, that’s okay.  You can absolutely still produce pro level images on crop sensor body like the Nikon D7500.

What’s the best Nikon camera for professionals?

I’d like to tell you once you’ve decided on a professional, full-frame camera that the decisions get easier.  But again, there are lots of choices and tradeoffs to consider, including speed, price, MPs and even sometimes availability.

Here are some top picks to get you started researching Nikon professional grade cameras:

  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B07524LHMT’ text=’D850′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’us1′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8b0b4650-cf1b-46e0-bc18-bee5bdfc684f’] – tons of MP and an amazing auto-focus system (about $3,300 new)
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B07GPRSYG8′ text=’Z6′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’us1′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c03f6def-9ec6-4aae-80b8-f00bdbd489f0′] – Nikon goes mirrorless with this full frame (about $2,000 new)
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B01CDCRGNG’ text=’D750′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’us1′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cd6b4159-bcfc-4252-acd8-3c0cb1791226′] – full-frame without breaking the budget (about $1,800 new.  Read our D750 review here!)
  • D5 – the professional flagship camera (around $6,500 new.  Read our full review here!)

Best Nikon camera for Professionals

My top pick

My top pick for best Nikon camera for professionals is the Nikon D850.  This FX, full-frame DSLR came on the scene in 2017 and has quickly become a favorite of portrait, wedding, sports and even wildlife photographers.

The pros of this camera are its image quality and amazing auto focus system.  The Nikon D850 offers 45.7 MP in resolution, 7 frames per second shooting and dual memory card slots.  It also offers silent mode, perfect for shooting in stealth mode at weddings or wildlife watering holes.  The tilt-touch screen is an upgrade from many existing full-frame cameras and the optical viewfinder is easy and comfortable to use.

This camera’s lowest ISO setting is ISO 64, which gives it the biggest dynamic range of any Nikon out there.  Pros who shoot this camera full-time say they can recover up to two-and-a-half stops of blown highlights or shadows in images from this camera.

If video capabilities are a consideration, don’t worry.  The D850 shines there, too.  It can shoot up to 30 fps in 4K and 60 fps in HD.  Nikon also added the MP4 video format and other new, video-specific features to the D850.  I didn’t try that feature specifically, but folks also rave about its time-lapse capabilities.

The drawbacks of this camera are the cost (about $4,000 new) and a slow autofocus when in live view.  It’s also bulkier than many of the mirrorless cameras and the 45 MP size files take up a lot of room on your memory cards and external storage.  Otherwise, this camera is fast, accurate and a true pleasure to shoot.

Best Camera: Our Top Picks for 2018 and Beyond

The camera vs. the photographer

The best Nikon camera with all the bells, whistles and MPs in the world don’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them correctly.  Remember that a camera is only as effective as the operator and that it is the photographer that makes the photo, not the gear.

Before you drop a paycheck or two on a camera upgrade, make sure you know what it is you want, need and know how to use or are willing to learn how to use it.  In many cases, what’s holding you back isn’t your gear but your understanding of how to get the most out of it.  Only when you commit to upgrading your knowledge does it make sense to upgrade your equipment, too.

Happy clicking!

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