Best Nikon SLR: 11 cameras compared

Find the best Nikon DSLR for you

Nikon D3100

Nikon D3100

Price: £299/US$389/Aus$498 with 18-55mm VR kit lens

Key spec: 14.2Mp APS-C (DX) format CMOS sensor, 1080 video, 11 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 3fps, 3-inch 230,000-dot LCD

The D3100 set minds racing and hearts aflutter when it was originally launched back in 2010. Breakthrough features like Live View and full HD video recording, on an entry-level camera no less, made it an instant hit.

At the time, the camera's 14.2MP image resolution also put some of Nikon's fully professional bodies in the shade. Best of all, the D3100 was, and still is, incredibly beginner-friendly. Its interactive, illustrated Guide mode really helps in the transition from fully automatic shooting to making effective use of creative settings.

It's a testament to the D3100's quality that many of its features, like its autofocus and metering systems, have continued on into the D3200 and even the D3300 cameras. In other respects, however, it's starting to show its age.

The 14.2MP image sensor looks a little low-res in the current market, the maximum drive rate of 3fps is a bit sluggish and the 230k-dot LCD screen is also relatively low in resolution and lacking in clarity.

Similarly, the standard sensitivity range tops out at ISO 3200 but it's worth bearing in mind that it still matches the older D90 and D300s here, while offering a higher sensitivity of ISO 12800 in expanded mode.

Apart from the relatively sluggish continuous drive rate, performance is very respectable considering the rock-bottom price. Automatic scene analysis works well in live view shooting mode and, in keeping with its beginner-friendly design philosophy, the D3100 delivers consistently good results in fully automatic and scene modes.

The D3100 delivers vibrant image quality but, despite featuring Active D-Lighting, loses a little detail in bright highlights and dark shadows, while shots at high ISO settings can be a bit on the noisy side.

Pros

Inexpensive to buy, good automatic and guided shooting modes, compact lightweight build.

Cons

It's been largely overtaken by the newer D3200 and D3300 as an entry-level SLR.

Read our full Nikon D3100 review

Nikon D3200

Nikon D3200

Price: £369/US$497/Aus$614 with 18-55mm VR kit lens

Key spec: 24.2Mp APS-C (DX) format CMOS sensor, 1080 video, 11 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 4fps, 3-inch 921,000-dot LCD

Having been on sale for about two years, the post-launch price of the D3200 has now dropped to make it more competitive with the older D3100.

Key upgrades include a big boost in pixel count from 14.2Mp to a lofty 24.2Mp, essentially matching the D5200, D5300 and D7100 and outstripping the D7000. Around the back, the LCD screen also jumps in resolution to 921,000-dots compared with the D3100's relatively lacklustre 230k. The image processor is also upgraded from EXPEED 2 to a later generation EXPEED 3, again matching the D5200.

The continuous drive rate isn't exactly fast at 4fps (frames per second) but again, it beats the 3fps of the older D3100.

Similarly, the standard sensitivity range is also enhanced, at ISO 100-6400 instead of ISO 100-3200, although both cameras offer the same maximum extended sensitivity of ISO 12800.

The D3200 has a bigger memory buffer as well, with enough space for 18 raw quality images instead of the D3100's 13 shots, both bodies being limited to 12-bit colour depth for raw files.

Some of the specifications that helped to make the D3100 such a winner are retained, most notably the highly accurate autofocus and metering systems. It's only an 11-point autofocus module with one cross-type point at the centre, as also featured on the older D90, but it works well nonetheless. The same is true of the 420-pixel 3D Colour Matrix II metering system.

Pros

High-quality stills capture, video benefits from an external mic socket, intuitive Guide mode for beginners.

Cons

Loses out to more advanced cameras in Nikon's SLR range with its fairly limited selection of custom functions.

Read our full Nikon D3200 review

Nikon D3300

Nikon D3300

Price: £599/US$647/Aus$727 with 18-55mm VR kit lens

Key spec: 24.2Mp APS-C (DX) format CMOS sensor, 1080 video, 11 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 5fps, 3-inch 921,000-dot LCD

While at first glance the D3300 may not seem much of an upgrade on the D3200 it's 24.2Mp sensor has no anti-aliasing filter which means that the newer camera is able to capture a little more detail.

Nikon has also given the D3300 its latest generation of processing engine, Expeed 4 and improved both the Guide mode and Graphic User Interface to make them a little cleaner in appearance.

Furthermore, the D3300's native sensitivity range runs from ISO 100 to 12,800 and there's an expansion setting equivalent to ISO 25,600.

As we would expect, the D3300's metering, automatic white balance and autofocus systems perform well, enabling the camera to produce sharp, well exposed images with natural, yet vibrant colours in most situations.

In addition the D3300's monocoque construction means it is a little lighter and stronger than the D3200 – as well as being slightly smaller.

Pros

Improved interface make settings changes clearer and the lack of an anti-alaising filter enables greater detail capture than the D3100 and D3200.

Cons

The D3300 lacks the vari-angle screen of the D5200 and D5300 and experienced photographers are likely to want a few more direct control buttons and dials.

Read our full Nikon D3300 review