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9 Best Nikon Cameras For Portraits (and 6 you should avoid…)

Whether your version of portrait photography means running a professional portrait studio or simply just taking beautiful photos of your kids, the camera does make a difference.

I’ll break everything down for you in this guide, but if you want to know my top pick, it’s the Nikon Z6II. This camera does everything exceptionally well which is why it’s my top pick for the best Nikon camera for portraits.

But there are other great options as well, so keep reading for my breakdown of the top portrait cameras in the Nikon Lineup.

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Best Nikon Mirrorless Cameras For Portraits

Top Pick

1. Nikon Z6 II

The second version of the Z6 has improved focusing, an exceptional sensor, and dual card slots and the Z mount means you’ll have some of the best lenses on the market available to you. This camera does everything very well from stills to video.

The Nikon Z6 II has been my top overall camera recommendation and my pick for the best Nikon camera 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.

This is the camera that I use on a regular basis and one that I would recommend to anyone from a skilled photography enthusiast to a professional photographer.

Z6II 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

When it comes to low-light performance, dynamic range, overall image quality, build quality, and ergonomics…the Z6 II is arguably the best camera on the market, especially at this price range.

I like this camera as a bit of a sweet spot for shooting portraits because it has a tremendous auto-focusing system that uses eye autofocus and the 24.5-megapixel sensor is a good size for portrait photography.

I don’t necessarily think you need the higher resolution for portraits and you get all the other benefits of the Z6 II such as the higher frame rate and exceptional video capabilities, both of which are lacking in the Z7 II.

Z6II_mag_body_front_back.low
The build quality of the Z6II means it can stand up to elements and survive some rough treatment while still giving exceptional results.

But if the highest resolution is a must-have for you then you may want to go with the Z7 II for its resolution and give up the shooting speed of the Z6 II. If you want both high resolution and a high frame rate then you’ll need to more than double your investment and get a Z9.

Pros

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

Cons

  • Reasonable price for a full-frame camera but still pricey
  • 24.5 MP might not be enough for some

Of course, the Z6 II falls behind the Z9 in a few different categories. But with the larger and heavier body as well as the hefty price tag, the Z9 is more of a specialty lens for pros that need that kind of performance.

Most of you, and most professional photographers as well, will be able to get everything you need in the Z6 II, which is why it’s at the top of the list. Keep reading if you want to know more about the Z7 II and Z9.

Beginner Pick

2. Nikon Z50

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 excellent image quality all in an easy-to-handle body.

The Nikon Z50 is an excellent crop-sensor camera in the Nikon Z Mount system. In short, this is my top recommendation if you are just getting started or on a budget because it is less expensive than its full-frame counterparts but still has all the features you need to develop good portrait photography skills.

Z50Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 20.9
  • Sensor Size: APS-C / DX (23.5×15.7mm) CMOS
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 100-52,200 (expands to 204,800)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
  • Stabilization: None in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m-dot OLED
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 30p
  • Memory Card: 1 slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I)
  • Dimensions: (W x H x D): 127 x 94 x 60 mm / 5 x 3.7 x 2.36-inches
  • Weight: 450g /14oz (body only)

The biggest highlight here is that despite being a crop-sensor camera, it has the exact same lens 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.

My Z50 that goes in my bag when I want to travel light.

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.

If you do a lot of portrait shooting then you will appreciate this. A well-built camera makes it easy to hold in one or two hands so you can interact with your subject, give posing instructions, or even have a hand free to fix things like hair in their face or background issues that arise.

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

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.

Best Budget Option

3. Nikon Z30

The Z30 is very similar to the Z50 but the absence of a viewfinder makes it smaller and a little less expensive. While it is not ideal for portrait shooting, its a great camera packed into a compact body.

The Nikon Z30 is a smaller, somewhat stripped-down, version of the Z50 that is designed for vlogging. But that doesn’t mean portrait photographers should ignore it. This is currently the least expensive entry point into the Z Mount system, so that alone makes it a great budget option.

In fact, I would choose this camera over any of the lower-priced DSLRs I’ll cover below. The benefits of getting into the Z mount system make it worth the added cost. The eye autofocus alone will make portrait photography far more fun.

Z30 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
  • 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 / 5.1 x. 2.9 x. 2.4 inches
  • Weight (incl. battery): 405g / 12.4 oz

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 difference between the Z30 and the Z50 is that the Z30 has no viewfinder, only the rear screen. So 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 then 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 in addition to portraits, 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 wasn’t great for shooting video (I know this from experience). That being said, the video quality itself is also identical to the Z50.

High-Resolution Pick

4. Nikon Z7 II

The Z7 II is a high-resolution camera that is all about the highest image quality. Its 45.7 MP sensor is perfect for the portrait shooter that needs to print large. However, it lacks the shooting speed and video features that you’ll find in other Z bodies.

The Nikon Z7 II delivers a massive 45.7 Megapixels so if maximum resolution is important to you, then this is the camera you want.

This camera is also one of the few on the market that has a low native ISO of 64 which helps give it very good dynamic range as well as allows you to use slower shutter speeds without an ND filter which can be helpful for shooting portraits outdoors when you want to use a wide aperture in daylight.

Z7II Tech Specifications

  • Lens Mount: Nikon Z
  • Megapixels: 45.7
  • Sensor Size: Full-Frame (35.9 x 23.9mm) backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Sensitivity Range: ISO 64 to 25,600 (expands to 32 to 102,400)
  • Monitor: 3.2-inch tilting, 1.04m dots
  • Continuous shooting speed: 10fps (with single point AF)
  • Buffer: 50 frames
  • Stabilization: 5-axis in body
  • Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots
  • Max video resolution: 4K UHD at up to 60p (with 1.08x crop)
  • 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 2.7″ inches
  • Weight (battery incl.): 705g / 1lb. 4.9oz

While its continuous shooting rate of 10fps is much better than the predecessor Z7, you still only get single-point AF and cannot take advantage of the highly improved subject-tracking AF system Nikon has put into its mirrorless cameras.

All that makes this a camera that can shoot fast-moving subjects in a pinch, but would not be my first choice to do so. The Z6 II and Z9 are both far better suited for action, sports, and wildlife.

Entry Level Full Frame Pick

5. Nikon Z5

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 and great for beginners.

The Z5 is essentially Nikon’s entry-level full-frame camera. This is the perfect step up from the Z50 if you have a little extra budget and want to get into a full-frame camera right away. The jump up to full-frame makes a big difference with portraits because it is easier to create the blurry bokeh background that helps your subject stand out.

When Nikon introduced the Z5, the goal was to give beginners (and 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.

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
  • 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

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 in addition to shooting portraits of them, then this is not the one for you. You would be better off with either the Z50 or jumping up to the Z6II.

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 entry-level and pro features mixed together by Nikon to keep the price down. It’s a great entry point into full-frame and the compromises they made on frames-per-second shooting speed and video capabilities don’t really have any effect on portrait shooting.

So you can get the benefit of the exceptional sensor at a much lower price.

Best Nikon DSLRs For Portraits

If you want to shoot portraits with your Nikon camera, the mirrorless options above are going to give you better results than the DSLR cameras in their lineup. The ability to use their eye autofocus alone makes it a lot easier to shoot portraits and increases your keeper rate if you shoot a lot.

That being said, Nikon DSLRs are still exceptional cameras. So I want to cover a few that I think are great options for portrait photography.

Top Pick

6. Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 is one of the best DSLRs ever made and remains the standard to measure cameras for image quality, color, dynamic range, and low-light performance.

The Nikon D850 is still the standard by which DSLRs are measured. It was first released in September 2017 and remains one of the best-rated camera sensors in terms of dynamic range, low-light performance, and

Those combined with a 45.7-megapixel resolution make it a powerhouse in terms of any type of photography, including portraits.

For most, non-professional photographers, the 45.7 megapixels may be a bit of an overkill in terms of resolution. But if you are looking for the absolute best in terms of image quality and have a computer that is ready to deal with large file sizes, then this camera delivers.

Another major benefit of going with the D850 over some of the mirrorless options above is access to the full range of Nikon F-mount lenses. It has a built-in focus motor so you’ll even be able to use the older F-mount lenses that don’t have their own motors.

Budget Pick

7. Nikon D780

The D780 came out just as Nikon was transitioning to mirrorless, so it has a lot of great technology built into it despite being a DSLR.

The Nikon D780 is one of Nikon’s most recent DSLRs and was released in January 2020. At this time, Nikon had already released some of its mirrorless lineup so the D780 benefitted indirectly from some of the innovations that went into those cameras.

It comes in at 24.5 megapixels so it’s a perfect alternative for those that want a DSLR but not the huge file sizes that the D850 produces.

Like the D850 it can be used with the full range of Nikon F-mount lenses.

In addition to the great lens lineup, the D780 also has upgraded video capabilities if you are looking for a camera that you can use for video as well as shooting portraits.

Budget DSLR Pick

8. Nikon D3500

The second version of the Z6 has improved focusing, an exceptional sensor, and dual card slots while the Z mount means you’ll have some of the best lenses on the market available to you. It also has a price tag that won’t break the bank.

I don’t necessarily recommend the D3500 as the best choice for shooting portraits, but it does come in at an MSRP of $649.95 so it’s the most affordable DSLR you can get.

However, for just another $60, you can get a Z30 body which will get you into the Z mirrorless system, and a better-performing camera with eye autofocus. You’ll find the Z30 performs better for portraits.

Nikon Cameras To Avoid For Portrait Shooting

You may notice that I put the Nikon DSLRs second on this list and only included a few. There’s a good reason for that…

Nikon announced in 2022 that they will be discontinuing their DSLR lineup. That means that if you’re looking to buy a new camera body then mirrorless is the way to go.

But that doesn’t mean they are bad cameras. I love my D850 and use it for most of my portrait photography client shoots. That being said, Nikon has plans to release a Z8 by mid-2023 that is rumored to be a mirrorless version of the D850 and I plan to upgrade if it’s as good as the D850.

So there’s nothing wrong with getting a Nikon DSLR for portrait photography. They are great cameras. But just be aware that Nikon isn’t planning to add to the F-mount system.

There are a few that I wouldn’t recommend though, simply because you can get a better mirrorless camera at their same price range.

Nikon D5600

The D5600 is what I would call an entry-level body as they lack some of the more “pro-level” features.

Nikon has recently stopped making new DSLRs or the F-mount lenses that go with them. So if you purchase a D5600, you’ll be buying into a system that has already been discontinued. Go for the Z50 or Z30 instead.

Nikon D7500/D500

The D7500 and very popular D500 are Nikon’s higher-end crop sensor bodies. Both contain many features found on the full-frame models like Nikon’s higher-end autofocus system and a motor drive that allows you to use Nikon’s older lenses that don’t have a built-in AF motor.

The D500 is very popular among wildlife photographers as it combines a high frame rate and rugged construction with a body that is lighter than most full-frame cameras. The 1.5x crop factor was also welcomed by those looking for more reach without investing in massive lenses. But this doesn’t have much utility for shooting portrait photography.

These are both still very good cameras, and if you have a lot of Nikon crop sensor F-mount lenses already, then you can find them at a good price while Nikon unloads their inventory. But be aware that you won’t see any new lenses coming out for these cameras.

I would recommend the Z50 or Z5 instead at this price range

Nikon D750

The Nikon D750 is among the most popular full-frame cameras of all time. In fact, I still use the 8-year-old D750 in many of my professional shoots.

The image quality of these cameras is competitive with even the best cameras of today, so if you have one of these, there’s no reason to replace it just because Nikon isn’t making them anymore.

However, if you don’t have a collection of F-mount lenses and are looking for full-frame cameras, skip this body and go for the Z6II at around that same price range.

Coolpix P950/P1000

Given the price of the Coolpix P950 and P1000, you’ll be far better off with a Z30 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.

Honestly, there’s really no reason to use these cameras unless you are just taking snapshots and not interested in photography as a hobby or profession. Skip these altogether.

Why You Should Trust Me

As an active professional photographer and owner of Photography Goals, I get the opportunity to use many different cameras as well as teach photographers how to use them.

I’ve tried all the cameras on this list personally and my goal is to make sure you make the best choice for your needs instead of just going with the latest or most expensive model.

Top Factors For Choosing A Nikon Camera For Portrait Photography

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

Ease Of Use

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 from 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.

But if you are comfortable with camera settings and want a camera that has more features, then go for the more advanced, full-frame models.

Versatility

As you 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 anyone that wants to learn photography (even just as a hobby) 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.

Expandability

Expandability is all about how you can grow with the camera system that you choose. When you buy a camera, you’re not just buying the body, you’re buying into a whole ecosystem of lenses and even accessories.

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 very large 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.

You shouldn’t spend your entire budget 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. The lenses are going to make a much bigger difference in the quality of your images than the camera body.

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