What is Nikon’s best DSLR? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions that many of us Nikon shooters get. Having been using Nikon gear for close to a decade, I have been fortunate to use pretty much every Nikon DSLR produced since I started – from low-budget entry-level cameras to high-end professional DSLRs. While my overall experience with Nikon DSLRs has been mostly positive, I surely did criticize Nikon heavily a number of times (and sometimes very harshly) – all with good intentions of course. As a company, Nikon has had its ups and downs for sure, but its track record of delivering solid cameras and lenses cannot be denied. Looking back and thinking about every Nikon DSLR camera I have used so far, I came to realize that some cameras just really stood out from the bunch. For example, for a long time, I picked the Nikon D700 as Nikon’s best overall camera for a reason – it was and still is an absolutely brilliant DSLR in many ways. At the time of its peak popularity, it was a very well-balanced DSLR, appealing to many enthusiasts and pros. And many of them even today, still believe that the camera never had a proper replacement. I sold mine a couple of years back and although it was difficult to let go of it, I eventually found something that I truly think presents the same amazing balance of image quality, features, ergonomics and value today. For me, it is the Nikon D750. I wrote a detailed review of the D750 last year and since then, it has surely become one of my most favorite Nikon DSLRs. Let’s take a look at the reasons why I picked the D750 over others as Nikon’s best overall camera.
Cameras are photographers’ tools and they play an essential role in the process of creating images. Just like a painter picking his favorite brush or a chef grabbing his top knife, photographers often go through a similar process of selecting the best tool for the job. And while the resulting images heavily depend on the skill of the photographer, the choice of a camera is, without a doubt, very important. Yes, a good artist or a well-known chef can probably use any tool out there to get amazing results, but good, solid and reliable tools do make their lives easier. The same goes for us photographers – well-balanced gear certainly does make a difference in our daily lives. Sadly, with so many different camera systems out there, it is already a daunting task to pick the best tool for the job. And with manufacturers releasing so many new cameras each year, it can be difficult to identify what works and what does not. Many of us end up trying a number of different systems and cameras to land with something that works, potentially wasting a lot of time and money in the process.
Gladly, there are many resources you can come across today similar to Photography Life, where it is our job to go through a large variety of tools to hopefully ease the process of selection for our readers. However, despite our best efforts to remain objective in our evaluations, subjectivity and certain bias are always going to be present. And that’s because we are different individuals with varying experiences and perspectives – what works for one person, might not work for another. One criterion might have much bigger weight compared to another, whereas for another person that same criterion has zero importance. It is therefore essential to clarify that my selection of features and conveniences might not appeal another reader the same way and potentially carry little to no weight. Once again, cameras are just tools and if you disagree with anything stated in this article, I will only be happy to hear that, as it shows how different we are in the way we perceive and shoot.
With this article, I am also not implying that Nikon is better than any other brand. Every camera system has its pros and cons and I am not favoring one brand over another here. The article title has the word “Nikon” for a reason :)
2) Balance in a Camera
Those who attend my workshops know the significance the word “balance” plays in my photography and what I teach. So I believe it is important to first characterize the meaning of this world in relation to cameras. Let’s take a look at the criteria that I picked to represent a good balance in a camera:
- Image Quality
- Ease of Use
- Quality and Reliability
- Battery Life
- Lens Selection
- Price and Value
I could add much more to the list, but the above is the most important criteria in my opinion. A camera that can rank highly in all of the above would be a good candidate for being the “best overall” camera, which I believe the D750 easily fulfills.
2.1) Image Quality
For me, overall image quality is comprised of a few important factors, such as dynamic range, low-light performance and resolution. Similar to other Nikon DSLRs, the D750 has amazing dynamic range, making it a prime candidate for shooting in very challenging lighting conditions. Whether you shoot portraits or landscapes, you can recover a lot of detail in both shadows and highlights on the D750. With its 24 MP sensor, one might wonder if the sensor resolution is too low by today’s standards, given that we are seeing more and more resolution on other cameras. Currently, the D810 has the resolution crown and we are likely to see a push towards 40+ MP in the future iterations of that camera. It is funny how a few years back 12 MP was the best you could get and today even mobile devices have more resolution than that. If you are wondering about how much resolution you really need, take a look at John Sherman’s humorous take on the matter, where he argues that 16 MP is plenty enough for most photographers out there.
Looking at Nikon’s full-frame cameras today, we have 16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP sensors available in different cameras. While I love my D810 for doing specific work like landscapes, working with 36 MP images is not always easy, especially when I travel light and need to post-process images quickly. In comparison, 24 MP images are much faster to work with and if I really do need more resolution, I can always go vertical and shoot a couple of frames to yield far more resolution than 36 MP using a panorama stitching technique.
When it comes to low-light performance, you probably know by now that for the most part, it does not really matter what resolution you shoot with. Once down-sampled, 16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP all look very similar below ISO 6400. Cameras with higher resolution produce more noise at pixel level (when zoomed into an image at 100%), but not at the same output size as others. Where lower resolution sensors usually win is very high ISOs – that’s where they generate less overall noise and better dynamic range.
For the above reasons, I believe that the Nikon D750 has a superb balance of image quality. Amazing dynamic range, plenty of resolution that will satisfy pretty much every photography need and excellent low-light performance.
In my opinion, the D750 is Nikon’s best DSLR in terms of ergonomics. Its grip feels just right for my hands and unlike other DSLRs, I do not get wrist pain when shooting with the camera all day long. The camera is light and compact too, making it extremely easy to handle in the field. On top of that, the D750 has the very useful U1 and U2 camera modes, which you can easily program for two different photography scenarios. Once you save your settings, it is a matter of switching between U1 and U2, instead of messing with the camera menu system or fiddling with buttons to try to load a certain profile. I have two different settings loaded for my shooting needs – one for landscapes and one for people.
It still boggles me why Nikon continues to use its stupid Custom Memory Banks in its high-end systems, which are absolutely useless when compared to the dial navigation of the D750 and other lower-end cameras!
Button layout and navigation is also superb on the D750. One could argue that the D750 should have gotten a dedicated AF-ON button like the D700, but to be honest, I am perfectly fine with re-programming my AE-L/AF-L button to do the same thing, as stated in my Nikon D750 recommended settings guide.
Another huge plus for the D750 is the tilting LCD screen – that is such a huge convenience when shooting high or low! Another minus for other high-end Nikon DSLRs that do not have this feature. I seriously doubt that there would be huge concerns with weather sealing and ruggedness of the cameras if Nikon started including this feature in its high-end DSLRs. Olympus and Fuji did it on their best cameras and they are weather sealed. I have yet to see issues with tilting screens on any of the cameras that I have previously used.
For the above reasons, I believe that the D750 is Nikon’s best DSLR ergonomically.
When I first found out that Nikon would include its high-end 51-point autofocus system on the D750, I knew that I would be buying the camera. I shoot a variety of different subjects and for things like wildlife, AF speed and reliability are critical. Nikon not only put its best AF system on the D750, but it also updated it to be sensitive all the way down to -3 EV. In comparison, neither the D810 nor the top of the line D4s can do that – they are only rated down to -2 EV. Does that make a difference? Having shot with the D750 and D810 side by side in dimly-lit environments, I can confidently say that the D750 outperforms the D810 in low-light. So yes, that -3 EV vs -2 EV certainly does make a difference. Try shooting a wedding in a castle with small windows and you will quickly realize what works and what does not!
2.4) Quality and Reliability
Aside from a strange flare issue, which Nikon quickly addressed, the Nikon D750 did not have any serious production issues. I personally did not consider the flare issue to be a big deal and never sent mine for repair. Reliability-wise, I found the D750 to be rock-solid, similar to what I experienced with my D700. In fact, I find the overall construction to be even better and more reliable than the D700 – after a year of heavy use, I remember the rubber on the handle of my D700 started coming apart. My D750 has no such issues and I have been shooting with it far more in comparison.
There are no concerns with slow start up, or things suddenly not working either. The camera fires every time I want it to fire and its overall responsiveness is amazing.
2.5) Battery Life
When it comes to battery life, Nikon once again brought some serious improvements to how much battery the camera drains during shooting. Rated at 1230 shots (CIPA), the D750 is perhaps one of the most efficient Nikon DSLRs to date. When I plan on shooting an all day wedding with my D750, I don’t have to worry about carrying another battery in my pockets, as the battery has plenty of juice (that’s not to say that I don’t bring any batteries with me – I still do, but I rarely ever use them). It also makes it easier on travel. When I was in Jordan, I charged my D750 batteries only a couple of times throughout the trip, while the Sony A7-series cameras that I had with me had to be charged on a daily basis.
2.6) Lens Selection
Nikon has been pushing its development efforts very hard in making small, lightweight prime lenses that are stunning optically. Being a lightweight camera with serious image quality capabilities, the D750 for me balances best with f/1.8 primes. I recently sold pretty much all of my zoom lenses for this reason and although some lenses will be replaced with their more modern counterparts, I will be shifting the bulk of my glass to lighter and smaller f/1.8 and f/4 lenses. I have carpal tunnel and it is getting increasingly difficult to shoot with heavy gear, which is why the D750 and lightweight lenses will be my primary tool of choice going forward.
2.7) Price and Value
A camera cannot represent good balance, if it is outrageously expensive. I believe in good value and that’s where the D750 once again delivers. Initially priced at $2,299, the D750 has been recently reduced by a whopping $400, driving its cost down to $1,900. While that number is still quite high for many hobbyists, for enthusiasts and pros that want to invest in lenses and other gear, the Nikon D750 is a very value-driven proposition. If I were doing weddings full time, I would not even look at another Nikon DSLR – I would get a pair of D750s and be set for many years to come. The same applies to many other photography needs.
Therefore, in my opinion, the D750 has the best overall value among all Nikon DSLRs.
At the end of the day, the choice of a camera is your personal, individual choice. I highlighted my reasons for picking the D750 as the best overall Nikon DSLR and you might agree or disagree with me (would love to hear some feedback from you in the comments section!). Ever since I added the D750 into my arsenal, I have enjoyed the camera far more than any other camera I have used so far and the images you see in this article hopefully reflect that. For me, the D750 is the update to the D700 in many ways and looking back, I don’t regret my decision to buy it even one bit…
I vote for the D750 as Nikon’s best DSLR to date. What’s your take? Would love to hear your thoughts!
4) More Image Samples
Just wanted to share a few images that I captured with my Nikon D750:
Hope you’ve enjoyed the article! Once again, please leave your thoughts below!