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5 Best Nikon Cameras For Beginners (and 2 you should avoid)

Nikon has been one of the top camera manufacturers in the world for decades so if you’re a beginner then Nikon cameras are an excellent place to start. But with a number of quality cameras, the choice can be difficult, especially without a lot of experience.

I think the Nikon Z Mount system is the best on the market today, so even as a beginner, starting to build your kit with that system is an excellent choice. The best Nikon camera for beginners is the Nikon Z50.

But depending on your specific needs, there are a few others you may want to consider, and a couple that I wouldn’t recommend. After using these cameras and teaching many beginners, here are the ones I recommend…

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Top Pick

Nikon Z50

Everything a beginner needs

Nikon’s crop sensor option for the Z Mount system is an excellent camera that has a ton of great features like eye autofocus and focus stacking with excellent image quality all in an easy-to-handle body that is perfect for beginners.

The Nikon Z50 is an excellent crop-sensor camera in the Nikon Z Mount system. In short, this is my top recommendation for beginners because it is less expensive than its full-frame counterparts but still has all the features you need to develop good photography skills for shooting just about anything.

Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 20.9
  • Sensor Size: APS-C / DX (23.5×15.7mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-51,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
  • Stabilization: none
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2-inch 1,040,000 dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 126.5 x 93.5 x 60 mm
  • Weight (battery incl.): 405g

The biggest highlight here is that despite being a crop-sensor camera, it has the exact same mount as the full-frame Nikon Z cameras. There are two benefits to this.

First, the Z mount is arguably the best mount on the market today. Its size and design allow Nikon to produce lenses that lead the pack in image quality while also making it easier to build smaller and more compact lenses without sacrificing that image quality.

Second, it means that even with somewhat of an “entry-level” camera, you can start building your kit of full-frame Z Mount lenses and they will work perfectly on this camera. Then, if you add a Z5 or Z6II to your bag, you won’t need any new lenses.

Even though the Z50 is smaller than the full-frame Z mount cameras, it still has excellent ergonomics. The decently sized grip is welcome and not always found on crop-sensor mirrorless cameras.

There are some negatives, though.

Because this is a crop sensor camera, the low light performance and dynamic range aren’t as good as the more expensive Z5 or Z6II cameras. Of course, this is expected given the price difference, but if you want a camera that works great in low-light situations like parties, natural light portraits after sunset, evening street photography, or others, then you may want to check out the Z5 below.

Pros

  • Excellent image quality for a crop sensor camera
  • Exceptional ergonomics and usability
  • Affordable entry point to Nikon Z system

Cons

  • Only a few Z mount DX lenses are currently available
  • Flip down screen isn’t very practical

If you want the same tech but in a very cool retro style and a screen that flips out to the side then you may want to check out the Nikon Zfc. It is basically the exact same camera as the Z50 but with a very different body style.

Best Budget Option

Nikon Z30

Least expensive Z Mount option

The Z30 is very similar to the Z50 but the absence of a viewfinder makes it smaller and a little less expensive. This is also a great option if you plan on vlogging as well.

The Nikon Z30 is a smaller, somewhat stripped-down, version of the Z50 that is designed for vlogging. But that doesn’t mean beginner photographers should ignore it.

Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 20.9
  • Sensor Size: APS-C / DX (23.5×15.7mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-51,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
  • Stabilization: none
  • Viewfinder: None
  • Screen: Tilting 3 inch 1,040,000 dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 128 x 73.5 x 59.5 mm
  • Weight (incl. battery): 405g

This is currently the least expensive entry point into the Z Mount system, so that alone makes it a great option for many beginners.

As far as image quality, the Z30 uses the exact same sensor as the Z50, so the RAW files you’ll get from those two cameras will be of identical quality.

The main differnce of the Z30 as compared to the Z50 is that the Z30 has no viewfinder, only the rear screen. So if you are looking for a camera primarily for shooting stills, then the Z30 is going to be a little more difficult to use than the Z50, but overall their stills performance is the same so if you don’t care about the viewfinder than you can save a few hundred dollars with the Z30.

Pros

  • Same image quality as the Z50
  • Lighter than the Z50
  • Great for vlogging
  • Least expensive entry point to Nikon Z system

Cons

  • No electronic viewfinder
  • Only a few Z mount DX lenses are currently available

If you want to shoot some vlogs then I think the Z30 has a bit of an advantage over the Z50 with its side flip out screen. The flip down screen of the Z50 was an interesting attempt at innovation, but it really wasn’t practical to use for shooting video yourself (I know this from experience). That being said, the video quality itself in the Z30 is identical to the Z50.

Best Full Frame

Nikon Z5

Entry-level full rame Z mount option

The Z5 is Nikon’s most affordable full-frame entry point into the Z mount system. While it lacks some of the more advanced features of the Z6II, it is a very capable camera adand great for beginners.

The Z5 is essentially Nikon’s entry-level full-frame camera. This is the perfect step up from the Z50 for beginners that have a little extra budget and want to get into a full-frame camera right away.

Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 24.3
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 4.5fps
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2 inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p (with 1.7x crop)
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 590g /1lb. 4.9oz

When Nikon introduced the Z5, the goal was to give beginners (any even advanced hobbyists) a less expensive full-frame camera to get started with.

At just a few hundred dollars more than the Z50, this is a great value and possibly the most affordable full-frame camera on the market.

Because it is part of the Nikon Z mount system, you can save some money on the camera body when you’re getting started so you can invest more in lenses (which is a great idea).

You’re going to get the same 24.3 megapixels as the more expensive Z6II but the sensor is not backside illuminated so it falls short of that camera in terms of low light performance.

There are going to be some advantages and disadvantages compared to the Z50, though. The Z5 only shoots 4.5 frames per second. So if you want a solid camera for your kids’ sports, then this is not the one for you. You would be better off with either the Z50 or jumping up to the Z6II (see below).

Pros

  • Low-cost full-frame Nikon Z camera
  • Z mount has exceptional lenses

Cons

  • Low frames per second make sports/action shooting difficult
  • 1.7x crop factor when shooting video

Overall, this camera is a bit of a mix of entry-level and pro features mixed together by Nikon to keep the price down. It’s a great entry point into full-frame but the frames per second and the 1.7x crop factor on video will make you want to upgrade as soon as you can.

Best Pro-Quality

Nikon Z6II

Z mount camera that can do just about everything

This is the camera I would recommend to photographers of any skill level and the camera I use on a regular basis. It can do just about everything you need and the 24 MP sensor has excellent low light performance and dynamic range.

The Nikon Z6II has been my top overall camera recommendation since shortly after its release. It’s a camera that does everything you could possibly ask from a camera and is also reasonably priced compared to other full-frame mirrorless cameras.

Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 24.5
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 50-204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 14fps
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3.2 inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 60p
  • Memory Card: 2 slots (1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 705g /1lb. 4.9oz

This isn’t necessarily the first camera I would recommend for beginners as it really is a professional-level camera, but if you’re not worried about budget, want a full-frame camera, and need either better video capabilities or more frames per second than the Z5 gives you, then this is the right camera for you.

Pros

  • One of the best cameras overall
  • Excellent low light performance
  • 11 frames per second
  • Does everything well (stills and video)

Cons

  • Most expensive camera on this list
  • Can be too much camera for a beginner

When it comes to low-light performance, dynamic range, overall image quality, build quality, and ergonomics…the Z6II is arguably the best camera on the market, especially at this price range. This certainly isn’t a “beginner” camera, but if the budget isn’t a concern then starting with this camera means you won’t have to upgrade even if you started shooting professionally.

Best Point and Shoot

Nikon Coolpix A1000

Manual controls in a compact point and shoot

If you are looking for the most compact option that still has manual controls and will allow you to learn photography, this is a good option at a lower price point.

I’ve included the Nikon Coolpix A1000 here at the end because I know some of you aren’t ready to take the plunge into the (admittedly expensive) world of interchangeable lens cameras but still want to learn the fundamentals of photography.

Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Fixed Lens
  • Megapixels: 16MP
  • Sensor Size: 1/2.3-inch-type backside illuminated (BSI) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-6400
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 4.7fps
  • Stabilization: optical image stabilization
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 1.1666m dots
  • Screen: Tilting 3-inch 1,036,000-dot touchscreen
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slots (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 114 x 72 x 41 mm (4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in.)
  • Weight (battery incl.): 330g (11.6 oz.)

There are many point and shoots, including some of the Nikon models, that don’t have full manual control. Thankfully, the A1000 isn’t one of them, which makes it an excellent choice for beginners to learn with.

It also can be difficult to find a camera that shoots RAW files. Shooting in RAW makes a huge difference in the quality of your images and also gives you more adjustment range when you are editing your photos. This is a major upgrade over the predecessor A900 which only shoots JPEG.

I also like the backside illuminated (BSI) sensor in this camera. This is a feature that used to be reserved for the more expensive DSLR and Mirrorles cameras. It helps with low light performance of the sensor. While it isn’t going to give you the same performance as the larger sensor cameras on this list, it helps distinguish this camera among other point and shoots.

Pros

  • Least expensive camera on this list
  • BSI sensor performs better than most point and shoots

Cons

  • No interchangeable lenses
  • Worst low light performance on this list

Overall, if compact size and low budget are the most important things to you and you don’t care about having interchangable lenses, then this is the Nikon camera for you.

Nikon Cameras For Beginners To Avoid

Nikon D3500

I’ve seen a lot of other sites recommending the D3500 for beginners. I think this is a bad idea. In fact, you probably noticed that I haven’t included any Nikon DSLRs on this list at all.

Nikon has recently stopped making new DSLRs or the F-mount lenses that go with them. So if you purchase a D3500, you’ll be buying into a system that has already been discontinued.

Coolpix P950/P1000

Skip the Coolpix P950 and P1000, at that price point, you’ll be far better off with a Z30 or Z50 so you can use interchangeable lenses.

These are point-and-shoot cameras like the Coolpix A1000. However, they are larger and built like a DSLR, just without the detachable lens. These also do not have the ability to shoot in manual mode. This makes it much more difficult to learn basic photography skills as you would simply be letting the camera choose the exposure.

Why You Should Trust Me

As an active professional photographer and owner of Photography Goals, I get the opportunity to use many different cameras. I teach photography to many beginners and these are the cameras that I recommend to my students.

Top Factors For Beginners Choosing A Camera

As a beginner, there are certain things you should be looking for when choosing a camera. You want something that is easy to learn on and will grow with you as your skills improve.

Here are some of the factors I considered when making this list.

Ease Of Use

For beginners, ease of use is a significant factor. If you are just learning photography then you want as few barriers to that skill development as possible.

This is why I never recommend that beginners get the best, most expensive, flagship camera bodies for any manufacturer. Having a million buttons and functions can confuse beginners and prevent them from focusing on the fundamentals of photography that make the most difference in their images.

Versatility

If you are a beginner that wants to learn photography and develop your skills then you don’t want to be limited in what you can do with a camera. That is why I recommend that beginners get a camera with interchangeable lenses.

The best part of an interchangeable lens camera is that you can try a variety of different types of photography simply by buying or renting a new lens.

This is why the point-and-shoot option isn’t my top budget pick, even though it is less expensive than the actual pick.

Of course, it is entirely possible to learn photography with a point-and-shoot camera like the one above, but it does limit you.

Expandability

Expandability is all about how you can grow with the camera system that you choose as a beginner. Some systems lend themselves to easy expandability where you can grow your camera kit piece by piece and everything is going to work well together.

If you choose a good system from the beginning, you never have to go through the hassle and expense of trading in all your gear for a new set.

You also have to consider the number of lenses available for a system. The reason I recommend beginners get started with the Nikon Z system is that the Z cameras are all backward compatible with the massive F-mount lineup of Nikon. All you need is the F to Z adapter and you have access to hundreds of lenses by Nikon and also third-party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma.

In addition to the backward compatibility, you’re also relatively future-proof because Nikon is aggressively building out its Z mount lineup with some amazing lenses.

Price To Quality Ratio

Cameras are expensive. There’s really no way around that and whatever your budget is, you should keep within it. You can always upgrade later on.

But I also recognize that if you are going to invest in a camera, you want to make sure you are getting your money’s worth.

Also, remember that beginners do not need to spend as much money as possible on a camera body. If you have a budget, I would rather see you spend it on adding a 50mm f/1.8 lens to your kit rather than buying a more expensive body.

FAQs

Which Nikon Camera is best for a beginner?

The Nikon Z50 is the best Nikon camera for a beginner because it is a less expensive entry point into the exceptional Nikon Z system while offering very good image quality and a collection of features and functionality that make it easy for beginners to learn the basics of photography like shooting in manual mode.

Is the Nikon D3500 best for beginners?

No, the Nikon D3500 is a DSLR style camera that uses F-mount lenses and Nikon has announced that they will no longer be making new DSLRs or developing new F-mount lenses. Beginners should look for a camera in the Nikon Z mount system instead.

Is Nikon or Canon better for beginners?

Both Nikon and Canon offer cameras that are great for beginners. However, the Nikon Z mount system seems to be the better option at this point with excellent quality images and is designed in a way that gives Nikon an advantage when developing new, cutting edge lens technology.

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