Having trouble figuring out which Nikon dSLR is for you? Here's some advice to help you get started.
Editors' note:This story was originally
published in a different form on March 20, 2014. It has been updated to
include a discussion of the D5500 and D810a.
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
As an inexpensive entry point into dSLRs -- because it's an older model, the kit is widely available for less than $450 (£300/AU$550) -- the D3200 is probably the best of the cheap models. As a gift, it makes a solid, safe choice.
However, the older D5100 kit can now be found for less than $450 (£450, $AU500 for just the body) as well, and it's a much better camera, so it's worth doing some price comparisons before you decide.
The newest entry-level dSLR in Nikon's lineup, the D3300 runs about $500 (£380/AU$700) 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.
Better than entry-level for tight budgets: Nikon D5100
It has better photo quality than than the D3200 for about the same just-under $500 price for the kit (£450/less than AU$500 for the body only), especially at midrange ISO sensitivities. Andit has a broader feature set that includes exposure bracketing and a flip-down-and-twist LCD. It's not as fast as the D3200 or D3300, which may complicate your decision a bit, but it's not so much slower that I think you'd really notice.
Least expensive model that's nice to use: Nikon D5200
An older model, you can find the basic kit for less than $650 (less than £430/AU$900). 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 $900 (£570/AU$1,000), and it yields better image quality and slightly faster performance, but I still think that the D5200 kit is a comparatively better value.
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 $1,500 (£850, AU$1,800) if you can afford its $1,000 (£700, AU$1,300) 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$550) plus the 18-140mm lens for about $500 (£350; hard to find in Australia) if you're cash-strapped and don't mind losing all the features.
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 $1,000 (£750/AU$1,250) body-only price tag and opting for the D5300. And while there are a few tradeoffs, if you're really price sensitive the D7000 is still around at $500 (£600/AU$800) for the body.
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$2,000) 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.
With a great feature set, excellent performance, photo and video quality, plus a solid design, the $2,300 (£1,200/AU$2,500) D750 earned an Editors' Choice for cameras between $1,800 and $3,000 (£1,300 to £2,300, AU$2,000 to AU$3,400). It has a lot of advantages compared to the more-expensive D810 and only a few drawbacks.
With only minor updates over the D5300, it probably makes sense to watch out for deals on the older model before this one pushes it out. It will initially ship at a body-only price of $900 (£640, AU$1,000).
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$3,800) 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.
The D800 is still around, but at comparable prices of $2,900 (£2,500, AU$3,100), it looks like it's only a significantly better deal in Australia. The D810 has a lot of updates over the previous model, however.