Whether it’s self promoting on YouTube, creating short product highlight videos, or even offering a fully-fledged video production, more and more photographers are adding video to their repertoire in one way or another. So choosing a camera that takes great video is critical. There are certainly dedicated video cameras that offer the most expansive capabilities, but for many people the benefit of having one camera that does both video and stills is too great to give up.
So why would you choose a Nikon camera over one from Canon, Sony, or another option? While there are areas that Nikon has lagged behind in (like sub-par video autofocus), recent models have introduced improvements and features that make them far more competitive. And if you already have a kit of Nikon lenses and accessories, staying with Nikon might be the perfect option.
Before you decide on any camera, there are a few things to look for and consider.
What to Consider When Choosing a Camera for Video
An image sensor converts light into a digital format, which the camera then transforms into a photo or video. In the video world, particularly in the world of DSLRs, the most popular sizes to consider are full frame sensors and APS-C, or “crop sensors.” Full frame sensors are often considered better because they perform well in low light and allow a lot of control over shallow depth of field, but crop sensors often cost less and are perfectly acceptable if you’re usually shooting with a deep depth of field for most video projects. Crop sensor cameras are also often lighter, which is ideal for travel.
DSLR or Mirrorless
Over the last several years, mirrorless cameras have carved out a reputation of being the de facto choice for combining stills and video into one camera. This reputation hasn’t been without merit. Many mirrorless camera models offer the most cutting-edge features that haven’t been available on DSLRs. Offerings like in-body image stabilization and video-centric features like zebras and focus peaking (until recently) simply haven’t been an option on most DSLRs.
But that doesn’t mean that DSLRs are a bad choice for video.
More and more of these features are starting (and will continue) to trickle down to DSLRs, and for hybrid shooters there are still very real benefits for still photography that might make up for missing video features, such as better battery life. Your personal needs should influence which direction you choose to go.
Of course, resolution is extremely important to consider when choosing any camera. In the last several years, 4K has become highly sought after for video resolution, but does that mean it’s necessary in all circumstances?
For some people, yes, 4K will be absolutely necessary. For others, 1080p might suffice. While there are still arguments to be made about the benefit of shooting in 4K if you’re delivering 1080p, the reality is that the window of time for 1080p being sufficient is shortening. We are approaching the point where unless you plan on buying a new camera within the next 2 or 3 years, you might want to consider making the jump into 4K for a little bit of future proofing.
The type of camera you choose will determine the selection of lenses available to you. Nikon has three lines of lenses currently: FX for full frame DSLRs, DX for APS-C sensor DSLRs, and Z mount for mirrorless. There is some overlap in what lenses work with what bodies. For example, FX (full frame) lenses will work on DX (crop frame)-formatted Nikon cameras but not vice versa – unless your full frame camera has a crop mode. Plus, you can get adapters to mount FX lenses to Z mount cameras. In short, certain lenses simply can’t be used on certain cameras even within the same brand.
If you will be purchasing all of your kit brand new, this isn’t as big of a deal. But if you already have your heart set on a specific lens or you already have lenses in your possession, be sure to choose a body that is compatible.
Keeping a scene in focus is a greater challenge for video than it is for still photography. Unless both the subject and the camera are stationary, focus has to be nearly constantly adjusted.
One of the video shortcomings of Nikon cameras historically has been less-than-great autofocus during video capture. Of course, you can still get great results while manually focusing, but there’s a fairly steep learning curve, especially if video is only one component in your arsenal.
Fortunately, some of Nikon’s newer cameras have introduced far better AF systems for those who prefer autofocus while recording, making Nikon far more competitive in this regard.
If you want to up your video game, you are going to need some accessories. External mics will offer far better sound than in-camera mics. Headphones allow you to better hear what is being picked up. External monitors can help you see focus and exposure better. Dedicated video cameras have ports specifically for these and many more tools, but the selection on most DSLR and mirrorless cameras is far more limited. Look at what I/O ports are available if you plan on using any accessories to improve your videos.
A good LCD screen is one of the things that can take a DSLR from good to great when it comes to video. A screen that flips out or tilts makes it easier for you to see what you are recording and is a huge asset when it comes to videography. On many modern cameras, the LCD is also a touchscreen, which can make it quick and easy to change your settings or focus on a subject.
Low Light Performance
How well a camera does in low light depends on things like sensor size and maximum ISO. ISO is the measure of how sensitive a camera is to light. Cameras that can shoot at higher ISOs will perform better in the dark. Nikon has a reputation for cameras with fantastic high ISO performance, which can be extremely helpful when shooting video in low light.
Of course, not all of Nikon’s cameras perform equally well at high ISOs. And depending on what you typically shoot, you might not even need your camera to. Consider your specific needs to help you decide which camera is right for you.
The conditions you intend to shoot in will largely determine the amount of weatherproofing you need. If you primarily plan to shoot indoors, weatherproofing isn’t much of a concern, but once you step outside you’ll want to be sure that your camera is protected from the elements. Cameras that are sealed against moisture and dust will hold up better in harsh conditions. The more rugged the climate you will be in, the more weatherproofed your gear should be.
Recording video uses up more battery than taking stills. While you can always carry a bunch of spare batteries and replace them when necessary, it’s better if you don’t have to do this. Look for a camera with good battery life to make your life easier when you’re on the go.
With so many things to consider when choosing a Nikon DSLR for video, it can be hard to narrow it down. We’re hoping to make this process a little bit easier for you. Here are some of our favorites:
The Best Nikon Cameras for Video
Below are 5 favorite and popular rentals in the Nikon space for videographers and hybrid shooters.
Nikon Z6 (RAW Upgraded Version)
Nikon’s Z series mirrorless cameras have already earned a lot of praise for being strong entries into the mirrorless field. While the Z6 is a more all-around performer than the higher-end Z7, its lower resolution 24.5MP sensor (compared to the Z7’s 45.7MP) leads to some important benefits for video shooters, including higher maximum ISO and more efficient downsampling to 4K. With a wide range of resolutions and frame rates, video shooters have many options for capturing the footage they’re looking for.
Nikon’s N-Log mode gives you improved dynamic range and creative control when color grading. But if you want to get the best possible video quality out of a Nikon camera, the raw-upgraded version of the Z6 allows you to connect to compatible Atomos external recorders to record 12-bit 4K raw files for the most flexibility when editing your footage.
Nikon’s newest flagship is a hefty investment, but if you’re looking for a no-compromise camera for both video and still photography, the D6 might be the camera for you.
Among the most notable additions to the Nikon flagship is in-body image stabilization. Mirrorless cameras have had this for years, but the D6 is one of only a handful of DSLRs offering this feature. For video shooters, IBIS is enormously helpful. In addition, better autofocus and a range of resolution options up to 4K 30p give video shooters more tools to work with.
If having a very portable package is a top priority, the D6 might not be for you. It’s a big camera with a big price tag, but equally impressive capabilities.
The 20.0 MP APS-C D500 has the ability to shoot in 4K UHD at 30, 25, and 24 FPS. It can also record Full HD/HD at up to 60 FPS. Save movie files in-camera or uncompressed footage to an external recorder. The very high maximum ISO of 1,640,000 can tackle any low-light situation. A video-optimized Flat Picture Control mode can be used during recording to flatten the overall contrast curve for more control when color grading during the editing process. An Electronic Vibration Reduction feature can be used during Full HD and HD recording, which minimizes the appearance of camera shake across three axes to control horizontal, vertical, and rotational movements. A dedicated Power Aperture button (Pv) allows you to achieve smooth, continuous exposure transitions when moving from light to dark areas. Auto AF fine-tune in Live View allows complete control over minor focusing variations and can be employed to ensure the best possible focus for each mounted lens. The AF system then calibrates itself to the fine-tuned focus position in order to alleviate front/back-focusing issues. Add to this external microphone/headphone ports with sensitive sound monitoring and you have full multimedia potential.
Aside from the D6, the Nikon D780 is the newest DSLR in Nikon’s lineup and benefits from many of the same features introduced in the Z lineup. And while it’s positioned as a mid-tier body, the new features give it some capabilities missing from the higher-end D850.
Sporting a new processor, the AF system has been beefed up with support for Eye Detection AF. Video shooters get 4K 30p (or Full HD up to 120p) and N-Log for the most detail and dynamic range. Low light performance is fantastic with ISOs up to 204,800.
If you’re looking for a classic DSLR form factor with a full frame sensor in a relatively portable package at a relatively affordable price, the D780 is the best Nikon option for you.
Nikon’s D7500 is a great option for shooters looking for a budget-friendly camera with good video chops. As an APS-C camera, it’s also incredibly light and portable, making it a good option for traveling.
As with other Nikon models, the D7500 benefits from very good low light performance that edges out most competitors in its price class. Power Aperture Control lets you smoothly (and silently) adjust brightness with your lenses while recording. You also have 4K options, external microphone and headphone ports, and internal VR (albeit not as effective as true IBIS).
Perhaps the weakest point of the D7500 is the video AF is not as strong as in other models on this list, but you can still get fantastic results at a great price.
Over the last few years, photographers looking to get into video have found Nikon to be somewhat lagging behind the field. However, recent models have lifted Nikon to be far more competitive. Nikon is well known for offering top notch image quality, fantastic low light performance, and some of the best lenses available. Hybrid shooters can now add great video AF systems, IBIS, and even raw video capture to their arsenal.
This post has been updated to reflect recent mirrorless recommendations.Tags: Best DSLR for Video, Cameras for Beginners, Crop Sensor Cameras, DCI 4K, UHD 4K Last modified: July 17, 2020