Not everyone approaches the dSLR buying decision as a tabula rasa choice. If you've already chosen Nikon — whether it's because you already have some lenses, friends who are brand-enamoured, or have simply had good experiences with the company's point-and-shoot models — here's some help selecting the right model.
On a general note, if your budget is tight, and unless there's a specific feature or performance level you need from a particular model, it's usually a good idea to save money on the body and spend it on a better lens.
- If you're on a tight budget, the D3000 is the best (and only) choice. However, it's pretty frill-free — it doesn't even include exposure bracketing, for example.
- If you can afford a little more, however, opt for the D5000. It's a significantly better camera than the D3000 — faster, with better photo quality and a broader feature set that includes video capture and a flip-down-and-twist LCD. At this point, it's also a better deal than the D90. They're very similar models, with comparable photo and video quality, and the D5000 is slightly cheaper. The D90 does still have a couple of advantages over the D5000, though, including a better LCD (though it's fixed, not articulated) and viewfinder.
- If you need a pro-level camera, and don't need the lens compatibility or wide-angle flexibility of a full-frame model, the D300s offers a host of advantages over the D90. It's better constructed, with a dust-sealed body, delivers an extra stop (ISO 3200 versus ISO 1600) of latitude, and provides a more sophisticated 51-point AF system. Its performance generally matches or outpaces the D90's as well, and you don't give up the video capture — it, too, supports movies with a few extra options. Nikon has reportedly discontinued the still-excellent D300 rather than just dropping the price, but if you don't need the video support and can find it for less than the D300s, it's a worthwhile option.
- If you need a more rugged body, better low-light latitude or real wide-angle focal lengths below 20mm or so, then it's time to step up to the D700. It delivers a couple stops of exposure over the D300s — up to ISO 12,800 is usable on occasion — and because it's full-frame lacks the 1.5x magnification factor that narrows wide-angle lenses. Performance matches the D3 in all but the fastest burst mode and image quality is very similar, making the less-expensive D700 a compelling alternative to the D3 for a majority of shooters.
- If you need the best performing, most rugged body available with the best photo quality, you're going to have to shell out for the D3 or the D3X.