The discussion about the “best” camera is a debate that never ends and is also a personal choice. These are my recommendations based on my opinion and needs. As this is a photography blog with lots of travel pictures and some more personal photos, the recommendations reflect this.
Nikon has an awesome lineup of DSLRs, and choosing between them can be a bit tricky as they sell several models from the same series at the same time.
DX vs FX.
FX has the same sensor size as the old film, 35mm. The DX sensor is smaller by a factor of 1.5, and what we call the crop factor. As the DX sensor is smaller, the camera can be physically smaller and lighter.
D3K series are the current entry level models from Nikon, and are priced relatively cheap. Being an entry level camera, means it doesn’t have all bells and whistles as the higher levels has. Image quality wise though, there isn’t much that differ the D3K, D5K and the D7K series. They all use virtually identical edition of the same 24 MP sensor, except the new D500 and the D7500 that uses a 21 MP sesor. Means you will get just as great image quality from the entry level using the same lens.
Size comparison makes the D3K and the D5K series about identical, just a few millimeters here and there in the overall size. Also weight is not much different either. What bugs me most with D3K series is the (low) number of focus points, that some software options are squeezed out of the options list and that it doesn’t save 14-bit raw files only 12-bit. If you are a beginner, that might not trouble you as much, but if you are coming from a higher end camera, and are looking for a travel companion it might do. D3200 and on, are all good models.
D5K series is stronger built than the D3K series. It has a deeper grip that makes it better to hold, has more features and has a swivel/tilt screen that can be very useful. The latest models (D5500 and on) even have a touch screen that make browsing through menus and zooming in and out on your pictures more smooth than using the directional button. This, including more focus points and support for 14-bit raw files, makes it my preferred travel camera for most cases and situations. D5300 and on are all good models.
The D7K series very capable cameras that have even more focus points than the D5K series. Quite a bit bigger than the D5K and D3K and should thereby fit better for men (not to imply that D5K and D3K are women cameras). Roughly 250 grams heavier and 1 centimeter larger in all directions. D7500 is a sure bet.
D500 is the flagship of DX-models. Have heritage from the D5 as an awesome piece of camera that you can totally rely on in all situations. Only one surprise come to mind, and that is the lack of built-in flash. The previous models in the series is the D100, D200 D300 and the D300s. Non of them is available in shops anymore. The D300 and the D300s is still awesome cameras but are outperformed even by the most resent D3000 series camera when it comes to image quality. Having used the D300s for almost a decade, I trust this new D500 to be a workhorse too.
D6XX series are the entry level of FX-cameras. Have a 24 Mpx sensor, but only 39 focus points. Never used any of the D600 series, but expect that some functions and options are squeezed out to make room for the D7XX series.
D7XX series are more complicated than other series, I feel. The old D700 was literally a baby D3 at the time, sharing most of the features and included a built-in flash. D750 on the other hand is most definitely not a baby D4. It has tilt screen but no touch, and a redesigned 24 Mpx sensor with 51 focus points. Probably the best all-round FX camera, as of beginning of 2017, that can do about everything very good.
D8XX series are high resolution beasts. The D800/810 boasting a 36 MP sensor that will delight landscape and portrait photographers alike, has now been surpassed by the D850 with a 45 MP sensor and the autofocus module from the D5. Together with tilt screen (with touch) and 7 fps (9 with grip), makes it the new jack of all trades.
DX series (not to be confused with the DX sensor). Will not talk much about the single digit cameras, as I’ve never used any of them and feel they are way over my needs. Obvious workhorses for those who need fast shooting speed and lightning fast focus. Those who need one, know it.
Cameras I’ve owned or still own (underlined) in numeric order. Bought my first Nikon DSLR in 2005.
My personal recommendation:
Why do I recommend cameras that I don’t have or used? Or why not just recommend the newest? Having used a lot of different models and reading lots of reviews, I have a good idea how they feel and perform. For travel, size and weight matters and my wife likes the size of the newer D5000 series. I have used the D810 for travel and I think its a bit overkill, both in size and weight and replaced it with the D750. And I’m not saying that the D5600 is better than the D500, (or that the D750 is better than the D810). As much as I would love to have a D500, it wouldn’t replace the D5600 as my recommendation for a travel camera.
Since I wrote this, the new D850 has arrived in the dealerships and what is my take on that one? I’ve never owned one and probably wont in foreseeable future. Why? Well, it has about everything you will ever want from a camera as off today, but its always a but isn’t it? First off the raw-file size is huge (100 MB!!), then the high megapixel count makes it harder to nail focus and harder to not get visible blurriness caused by camera movement (or explained in other way, it will be easier to see if a photo is out of focus and/or blurriness caused by camera movement). Admittingly I would love the have the D850 (and D500), but in my opinion they won’t be the best options for our kind of work.
This page will be updated to keep up with time.
Any comments? Please let me know.