Editors' note: This story was originally published in a different form on March 20, 2014. It has been updated to include review-based recommendations for the D5500.

Not everyone approaches the dSLR buying decision as a tabula rasa choice. If you've already chosen Nikon -- whether it's because you already have some lenses, your friends are enamored of the brand, or you simply have had good experiences with the company's point-and-shoots -- here's some help selecting the right dSLR model.

On a general note: if your budget is tight, and unless there's a specific feature or performance level you need from a particular model, it's usually a good idea to save money on the body and spend it on a better lens.

Still to come: the D7200 and D810.

Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Cheapest option: Nikon D3200

As an inexpensive entry point into dSLRs -- because it's an older model, the kit is widely available for less than $450 (£300/AU$485) -- the D3200 is probably the best of the cheap models. As a gift, it makes a solid, safe choice. The older D5100 kit has finally priced itself out of being a good alternative, but if you can find it for less or just a little more, it's a much better camera, so it's worth doing some price comparisons before you decide. Also, in Australia -- at least at the moment I'm writing this -- the D3300 is only about AU$25 more, so that's worth looking at for those folks.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Best value: Nikon D3300

The newest entry-level dSLR in Nikon's lineup, the D3300 runs about $500 (£390/AU$510) with the collapsible kit lens. It replaces the D5200 as the best overall Nikon value; even though it's a lower-end model I think its image quality and performance are better than the D5100's, and it performs as well as the D5300. However, I don't enjoy shooting with it as much as the higher-end models.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Least expensive model that's nice to use: Nikon D5200

An older model, you can find the basic kit for about $550 (£430/AU$680). At that price, it's a great camera that should serve the needs of most folks who want a camera that's fast enough to keep up with the kids and capable of producing photos with the quality you're looking for in a dSLR upgrade from a point-and-shoot. The D3300 delivers modestly better performance and photo quality for the same money, but the D5200 has a better viewfinder and an articulated display.

The "unauthorized" D5300 kit with the same 18-55mm lens seems to run about $750 (£550/AU$680), and it yields better image quality and slightly faster performance, but I still think that the D5200 kit is a comparatively better value in the US and the UK; in Australia, the D5300 looks like a better deal.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Best kit choice under $1,000: Nikon D5300 with 18-140mm lens

While it's not the best value, the Nikon D5300 kit with the 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens is the best overall choice under $1,000 (£654, AU$1,305) if you can afford its $950 (£760, AU$1,105) price tag. The body delivers better photo quality than the D5200 (and similar quality to the D7100), as well as a much broader feature set that includes GPS and Wi-Fi, plus slightly better performance. While the lens is technically still pretty slow, it covers a much broader range and is a lot more flexible -- especially if you only plan to use one lens. The much cheaper D3300 provides similar photo quality and performance, and you can get the body-only version of that for about $350 (£350/AU$470) plus the 18-140mm lens for about $500 (£460/AU$425) if you're cash-strapped and don't mind losing all the features. The D5300 is also a better buy than the D5500 ($750/£550/AU$680 for the kit with the 18-55mm VR II lens) ) if you have big hands or don't miss the touchscreen and Wi-Fi.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Best modern Nikon under $1,000: Nikon D5500

The D5500 ($750/£550/AU$680 for the kit with the 18-55mm VR II lens) is very similar to its predecessor -- same video and photo quality and I suspect the same performance (I didn't have a D5300 in-house to retest with our new methodology). It's slightly smaller, and the redesigned grip may not be comfortable if you've got large hands.

 I qualify this with "modern" because the old D5300 kit with the 18-140mm lens is an overall better choice and less expensive than the D5500 paired up individually with the same lens; I can't find the two offered in a kit together anywhere, but that may change over time. Plus, I don't like the 18-55mm VR II collapsible lens very much. However, if you feel the need to only buy current-generation products, the D5500 is a good choice.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Least expensive model for action shooting: Nikon D7100

The best choice for inexpensive action photography, the D7100 is a great camera, delivering better photo quality, performance, and improved weather sealing than its predecessor. That said, folks who don't need the build quality or the extra continuous-shooting speed might be better saving some money over the D7100's $900 (£750/AU$935) body-only price tag and opting for the D5300 18-140mm kit ($950, £654, AU$1,105).

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Least expensive full-frame option: Nikon D610

The full-frame D610 competes with the more expensive D750, and the latter is a better camera in many ways. But if your budget's tight, this approximately $1,500 (£1,200/AU$1,615) body is worth the step up to full-frame from APS-C; it gives you access to a larger selection of wide-angle focal lengths (no crop factor) and extremely shallow depth of field in situations where it might not be attainable with an APS-C camera.

The trade-off is that decent lenses are more expensive for this model than for the D7100. While the D610 supports both DX (APS-C) and FX (full-frame) lenses, to get the most out of this camera you need to use more upscale glass. The only difference between the D610 and its predecessor, the D600, is a new shutter mechanism which enables a couple of new features. However, the D600 had some issues with dust and oil on the sensor that you might not think are worth the risk just to save a couple hundred dollars on the older model.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Best value over $1,500: Nikon D750

With a great feature set, excellent performance, photo and video quality, plus a solid design and a now-lower price in the US and Australia, the $2,000 (£1,500/AU$2,040) D750 earned an Editors' Choice for cameras between $1,800 and $3,000. It has a lot of advantages compared to the more-expensive D810 and only a few drawbacks.

Read full review
Updated:
Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Best photo and video quality: Nikon D810

Although I haven't yet reviewed the D810, I have started my testing.  While its filter-free sensor delivers sharper photos with somewhat better dynamic range, compared to the cheaper D750 the $3,000 camera (£2,400/AU$3,145) has only a few other advantages. It maxes out at one stop faster shutter speed (1/4,000 sec. vs. 1/8,000 sec.), and it has a higher flash sync of 1/200 vs. 1/250 sec.

Read editors' take
Updated:
Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

For astrophotography enthusiasts: D810A

It's a bit of a niche, but this is a version of the top-of-the-line D810 optimized for astrophotography with an IR cut filter and some expanded features.

It's now available for preorder in the US for $3,800 (converted roughly to £2,490, AU$5,000)

Read editors' take
Updated:
Photo by: Nikon / Caption by:
Hot Galleries

Tech Tip

Stuck without Internet and want to watch movies?

CNET shows you how to download movies and TV shows onto your device using Amazon Prime so you'll always be entertained.

Hot Products