Which Nikon Should You Buy In 2024?

Which Nikon Should You Buy In 2024?

With the announcement of the new Nikon Z6III last week, it inspired me to have a little fun thought experiment as the Nikon lineup of mirrorless cameras continues to take shape.

I’ve been using Nikon cameras for the last two decades as a professional commercial photographer working in the advertising space. Their sturdy DSLR camera bodies were the foundation of my gear package from the very beginning. And, while their transition to mirrorless wasn’t exactly the smoothest, I always had faith that the company would find its footing and rediscover its competitive edge. And, boy, was I right! Beginning with the Z9 in 2021, Nikon has been on a roll producing industry-leading products for all levels of the business. It’s been a long time coming. But, with the announcement of the Z6 III, I think Nikon can finally boast a product line from A to Z that can compete with every other brand in the industry.

So, if you are looking at camera options in the Nikon lineup, where should you start? Well, first we have to ask a few questions. No two photographers are created equal. By that, I mean that every single photographer has their own unique set of preferences and client needs which help to dictate which system is best for them. I, for example, am a commercial photographer but also a commercial director and narrative filmmaker. That dictates a few things for me. One, resolution matters on the still side as the images I’m creating will be used by my clients in various ways and formats that require having as many pixels available as possible. Two, I often work with athletes and dancers. So that dictates having a camera with fast autofocus speed in order to keep up with my subject’s often unpredictable movements. Third, because a majority of my work is either primarily driven by filmmaking or, at least, requires some element of motion content, a camera's video specs are a major factor for me in making my decision.

In fact, it is in the area of video that Nikon has had the longest road to travel. The objective of this article is not to compare brands, but I’ll use Canon and Sony as references here to make a point. Sony’s growth in the still camera market in recent years was largely driven by their early adoption of mirrorless and them staking their place in the world of hybrid shooters. From entry-level vlogging cameras all the way up to the Sony Venice, they present a complete lineup for filmmakers of every shape and size. Canon followed a similar path.

But, it wasn’t until the Z9 that Nikon really had a tool that could compete with the competition on the video front. The original Z6 could produce quality video. I owned it myself. But, it simply didn’t have the shooting formats and other basic requirements needed to force me to choose it over other systems on the market when video was a priority. Because I was already a Nikonian, I tried to make it work. But, it definitely still had room for growth.

When the Z9 dropped, Nikon had now entered the world of filmmaking full force. While many of my colleagues in the film industry might have been slow to accept the fact that Nikon could be taken seriously for film work, I very quickly realized that the Z9 had become a secret weapon. Specifically because of the introduction of N-RAW video and the ability to capture ProRes 422 internally, Nikon had now produced a tool capable of delivering the specs that many of my video clients required. The original Z6 could do many great things with a monitor attached. But the Z9 allowed you to do everything necessary in-camera along with a huge battery that could go for hours. Suddenly, Nikon shooters had the option of a compact filmmaking machine that could rival any product from Canon or Sony without compromise.

When the Z8 was announced, it brought everything the Z9 had into a smaller body with a smaller price tag. It didn’t have everything, the Z9 is still the flagship after all, but if you didn’t need the extra battery life of the Z9 or certain other factors, you could do just fine while saving a few pennies.

The question prior to the announcement of the Z6 III was whether or not Nikon was going to include all of the awesome video features of the Z8/Z9 into its latest iteration of its midrange body as well. Luckily for us all, they did. And that decision, along with its recent acquisition of cinema camera manufacturer RED, now means that Nikon has a complete lineup from A to Z.

Now, if you don’t care about video and only focus on stills, you might be wondering why I’ve focused so much on the video capabilities in the last few paragraphs. Well, that’s simply because at the current moment, video features are the main differentiators between cameras on the market. Market-wide, the advancements in still photography in recent years have lagged well behind advancements on the motion side. Even many of the still advancements that have come, such as being able to shoot ridiculously high frame rates, have come more as a result of manufacturers needing more processing power for video applications than as standalone developments. Other advancements like pixel shift have their pros and cons. IBIS systems, which also benefit motion shooting, have really helped still shooters in recent years. Although IBIS is so ubiquitous in recent years that it’s no longer really the differentiating factor between brands or models to a large degree. The exception to that being Nikon again. By introducing IBIS based on the focus point in the Zf and Z6 III, they have upped the stability game as well for their users.

So, with all these new options to choose from, which Nikon camera is right for you? Well, I can’t say for sure, since you and I have yet to meet. But, here are some broad generalizations that might steer you in the right direction based on the type of work you do.

Photojournalism, Sports, and Commercial Advertising

While these markets serve very different end users, they both have one major thing in common. Your gear simply has to perform. In a photojournalistic sense, that might mean that you need a dependable camera that will be able to shoot in rain, sleet, or snow without skipping a beat, because missing a key news moment because your camera body isn’t durable enough just isn’t an option. You need a tool that can withstand just about anything and keep on ticking.

Likewise, while a commercial photographer is (hopefully) not going to be battling a warzone to get his or her shot, the stakes can feel just as high. With hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on the line with each campaign, the very last thing you want to have to worry about is your gear. The bare minimum your client is expecting is that you’re bringing the sharpest blade to the knife fight. So, while the costs of the Z9 might be higher than its siblings, the cost of something going wrong on an advertising shoot can be catastrophic. With the Z9, you are cutting zero corners and can feel comfortable that, at least from a gear perspective, you are well taken care of.

Weddings and Events

This is where I think the new Z6 III will really shine. 24.5 MP is more than enough for the vast majority of photographic applications. And, in areas where large file sizes are more hurtful than helpful, 24.5 MP may actually be preferable. Add to that the Z6 III’s stellar solo video shooter capabilities, and you have a lightweight hybrid workhorse that won’t break the bank.

Portraits

Portraits tend to benefit from the added resolution of 45.7 MP, but don’t generally require the added ruggedness or battery life of something like a Z9. So, since the image quality between a Z8 and Z9 is identical, you may find the added perks of the bigger body in excess of your needs. For that situation, or more controlled commercial environments, I suggest the Z8. It’s smaller than the Z9. It’s less expensive. And, for most photographers, it will be more than adequate to handle any job you throw at it.

Landscapes and Still Life

This is where I might throw you the first curveball of my selections. While both the Z8 and Z9, with their 45.7 MP sensors, would be terrific choices for landscapes, landscape and still life shooters have one benefit over other kinds of photography that allow them to save a bit more of their piggy bank. Their subjects don’t move. Sure, you might capture a river or a stream along the way. But, generally speaking, the subjects of your images are relatively stationary. This means that all those autofocus enhancements in recent years are more like “nice to haves” instead of requirements. For this reason, unless a photographer mixes in multiple genres of photography, I think most landscape and still life photographers would actually be best suited with a camera like the Z7 II. Or even picking up a Z7 used. The image quality in those cameras remains excellent. And the main shortcoming of the early Z7 cameras, the autofocus, is not something that would really come into play. So, if landscapes or still lifes were my specialty, I might still want to take advantage of the cost benefits associated with some of Nikon’s previous high-resolution models and save a bit of coin. Actually, you might even be able to get a used D850 and still be able to afford plane tickets to a great landscape destination in the process.

Birds and Wildlife

Similar rules apply to bird photographers as sports and documentary shooters. Speed matters. So, to that end you want the camera with the highest burst rates and fastest autofocus. That means the Z9, Z8, or Z6 III. When you factor in the size of most long telephoto lenses favored by bird photographers, I think the Z9 would be the best choice for the job. The larger body balances well with long and heavy telephoto lenses and will be better suited to more difficult environments.

Professional Filmmaker

I’m going to break the video-oriented jobs into three separate categories. With the advent of mirrorless cameras, the term “filmmaker” can mean different things to different people. So, I’m separating titles to make things easier to understand.

I’m calling a “professional filmmaker” someone who works on a traditional film set. That's not to say other filmmakers aren't professional, I'm just using this term to talk about filmmaking in the most traditional sense. This person rarely works alone. They work amongst a team of other professionals including people like focus pullers, dolly grips, etc. So, certain camera specs, like autofocus, are less important. And other specs, like ports and connectivity for interfacing with other departments and/or specific industry standard codecs for ease of teamwork throughout the production process, matter more.

I’m guessing you’re already aware of this, but, in case you aren’t, Nikon just purchased a little company called RED. “Little” is obviously being used tongue in cheek. RED has been a leader in film and television production for a long time now. That means that, legally speaking, Nikon is now a leader in film and television since RED is now officially Nikon.

So if your main focus is on professional narrative filmmaking and still photography is not a consideration, Nikon now has an offering for you. There are multiple RED cameras used in production, but the most recent are the $5,995 Red Komodo, the $9,995 Red Komodo X, and the $24,995 Red V-Raptor VV. There is also the more expensive Red V-Raptor XL VV coming in at $39,995. The difference between the systems and price tags mostly boiling down to sensor size, frame rates, and connectivity options.

As time goes on, the products from RED and Nikon will continue to merge and compliment each other. And doing a full breakdown of RED’s lineup is another article entirely. But, as of the moment, if your primary goal is filmmaking in a professional narrative environment, skipping mirrorless altogether and buying one of the RED systems might actually be a real consideration.

One Man Band Filmmaker and Documentary Filmmaker

A while back, I found myself doing a video production with both the RED Komodo and the Nikon Z9. The footage from both would be used in the same end product. Them both being used concurrently on the same shoot was simply a result of a unique situation. But, the experience did give me a nice apples to apples way of comparing the two systems. Both cameras are roughly the same price. Both have excellent image quality. If you bring the footage into DaVinci Resolve and check the scopes, you will notice differences. But, to someone not watching the footage with mathematical equations in mind, the results are very comparable. The main differences between the two boil down to use-case.

As I mentioned earlier, the RED cameras are built to exist within a team environment. So they are better suited than pretty much any mirrorless camera for shooting in a collaborative environment. But, what if it’s just you and a camera and you are out to capture as much footage as you can as quickly as you can? In this scenario, I think the Z9 actually shines. The ergonomics out of the box and especially the autofocus make it very easy for a solo operator to use efficiently. The autofocus, especially, might be the main deciding factor for a documentary shooter getting the shot or missing the moment. So, while the RED cameras do make excellent documentary machines, the Z9 is also a terrific option for a solo shooter workflow.

Content Creator

Are you someone that needs to be on camera as often as you are behind it? Then, you are probably going to be looking at either the Z30 or the new Z6 III. Those are very different cameras depending on the level of content creation you hope to obtain.  

The Z30 is ideal for folks who don’t want to do much with their camera aside from turning it on and hitting record. Of course, you can operate it manually and it is fully customizable. But, its main selling point is that it is tiny, has a fully articulating LCD screen, and is built specifically with content creators in mind.

I’m adding the new Z6 III to this category because it depends on who you are creating content for. Let’s say you are just creating content for a vlog or a YouTube channel. In that case, you will probably be fine with the Z30.

Now, let’s say that you are creating content for a brand. Footage that might, at some point, need to be integrated into footage from other cameras. And let’s say the demands of the job can occasionally escalate without warning. In this case, I think the Z6 III is an excellent choice. With the massive upgrade in recording formats, it is essentially a mini Z8/Z9. It’s not as rugged as either of those. But size and portability are often going to trump ruggedness in the content creator space. Even within more demanding environments, the Z6 III’s ability to shoot in 6K with N-RAW or ProRes 422 might lead me to choose it over my Z8/Z9 when portability is at a premium. It is by far the Nikon best suited for gimbal work. Add to all of that the fully articulating LCD and, if it’s in your price range, the Z6III might be the best all-around value for your buck.

Travel, Street and Everyday Photography

Walkaround photography for me is about fun. Performance is important. But, when I’m just doing a walkabout, my main concerns are portability, ability to capture a quick moment, and personal style. In this area, the Zf for me remains the best option. It's small and compact. It has a fully articulating screen if you decide to do a little vlogging on your trip to Aruba. Its retro style won’t kill your fashion vibes if you decide to take it out with you in more social situations. And the excellent image quality will deliver more than enough punch for your fun family photos and travels to exciting destinations.

I am sure I haven’t even begun to cover every avenue of photography. And, it is important to remember these are just general thoughts. Literally, any camera you have is likely capable of doing any job on this list if you know how to use it. But hopefully, this gives you an overview of the now wide line of products Nikon has to offer and may help you decide if one of the systems is right for you.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

Log in or register to post comments
12 Comments

I have lost faith in Nikon quality. Every one of my Nikon cameras now have issues. The Nikon D700 has an issue with the LCD, same with the D7000. Even my D750 has now developed an issue with the readout in the electronic viewfinder. The D750 also had to have a new sensor as there were issues with it. What has happened with Nikon's renown quality control?

Those are pretty old cameras, friend. Yes, I had an issue with sensor oil with the D600, and I had 2 or 3 F100’s brick on me, but dozens of Nikon film, point and shoot, DSLR, and mirrorless cameras work like champs.

Every Nikon I've owned starting with a 70's Nikkormat, and D610, D7200, D750, Z7ll has worked flawlessly...and I'd pick Nikon over Canon all day any day...

I currently own 8 Nikon cameras, with 4 of them being part of my active series for professional work. Each camera is in ready-to-shoot mode, including my older models. They perform excellently, with no issues beyond the usual wear and tear from regular use. Aside from some older battery concerns, all of them are more than capable of handling another day's work.

It's unfortunate that your experience with Nikon has been less than ideal. However, as a photographer who relies on Nikon cameras, I can confidently attest to their reliability and quality..

---
D2Xs | 2x D300+grips | D4 | 2x D800 + grip | D850 | Z711+grip

I dunno homie. The only problems I've ever had with nikon was with my zf and my F3 but that was also my fault for dropping the Zf and the F3 is super old So one should expect issues anyway. I've owned the F3, F100, F5, N80, D40, D80, D90, D200, D300, D700, D610, two D800e's, and now the Zf. Never had an issue with them that wasn't my fault.

I, like a few others (although I think the number is much greater than some think), believe camera makers are focusing too much of their efforts and camera specifications on video-centric properties. I realize the market for these "hybrids" cover a larger market share, but I could care less having 8k, 10k, or whatever video capture capabilities. My interest is photography. Dynamic range, resolution, focus capabilities, and overall quality is what i seek when looking for the next camera I may purchase.

Just buy any Canon and be done with it.
Best AF available, even the R8 AF beats Z8/9, Z7II or Z6III.

What is it with people like you BORING! Get a life mate.

You don’t get out much these days, do you. Nikon, Canon and Sony AF are all pretty much on par with a few individual differences and preferences. In addition, the title of this article was “Which Nikon should you buy in 2024”, not which camera. All you do is reduce your credibility by posting baseless comments like that.

I started digital (after 40 years of film) with a D40, then a D200. I finally bought a used D3200. I treat them well. No problems so far. One clue is they all (except for the D3200) look like the were just unboxed.

What Nikon camera should I buy in 2024? D7000! I used shoot with it, but had sell to buy a D600. Now it's time to get my d7000 back

Mr Malcom the 8 stops of Ibis and the low light performance on the Zf are a game changer. I can shoot landscapes hand held and have tremendous freedom to compose in all but the lowest light. this is particularly helpful for amateurs who do not have multiple days to scout locations in person. The ibis and low light/ high Iso performance are also helpful to me when I shoot form boats or kayaks. If you need more resolution for a portfolio worthy shot you can up-res it in post or use the high res function on a tripod getting to 100 MP. Street and travel shooters can also use the ibis and often combine it with exotic manual focus lens.. The Zf is one hell of a tool for 2k. Tip- get the small rig grip.