Nikon full-frames are divided into the two categories of DSLR and mirrorless. And while the battle between the two is still pretty alive today, both have something to offer. Both have their own strengths, and so as flaws. This includes the size, performance, battery life, and lens compatibility of the cameras.
If you are having a hard time figuring out which full-frame models to choose from, we offer you the Nikon Z7 II and D850. Both are full-frame models with 45.7 resolution but each one is unique in its own way. For instance, due to the nature of the Nikon Z7 II as a mirrorless model, it comes with an IBIS. It also comes with 340 more focus points and 3fps faster continuous shooting ability than its DSLR counterpart. It also includes the animal eye AF tracking and eye tracking focus.
D850 DSLR, on the other hand, can shoot 1420 more frames with a single charge than Z7 II, has 8K Timelapse mode, 15-point autofocus at f/8 aperture, and better color depth and dynamic range.
With this, it is true that it is important to know what you really want if you are planning to purchase a Nikon full-frame camera. The bottom line of all this is to find the perfect balance even if tradeoffs are inevitable. And while you have the ability to afford a full-frame camera, make sure you get the best out of it. In this case, find something that will give you uncropped 4K capabilities. To know more about them, check our personal opinions we crafted after a series of tests and comparisons:
1. Nikon Z7 II
4K at 60fps
If Canon has its EOS R5 and Sony boasts Nikon Z7 II, Nikon made a comeback with Z7 II. It is a mirrorless camera housing a 45.7 MP full-frame CMOS sensor and other overwhelming features, making it one of the most powerful Nikon cameras on the market. Apparently, it is based on the original Z7 but it comes with a better system.
“Nikon Z7 II is made to resolve the issue the market has seen in Z7,” said SolidSmack Photography Editor Evangeline Summers. “Some of them include viewfinder blackout, buffer depth, and burst speed. It also now comes with dual EXPEED 6 processors to back up the improvements made and to ensure the efficiency of its performance.”
Videographers will also benefit from the improvements of Z7 II due to the great features it offers.
“Besides supporting UHS-II, it also now has a video HLG / HDR Out. On the other hand, from the former 30fps 4K frame rate, Z7 II now sports a maximum of 60fps for the said resolution. Even better, it now has an eye AF in video and an option for a timelapse movie. It can also last 20 minutes longer in video mode than its predecessor and now allows the use of continuous external power,” Summers added.
2. Nikon D850
4K at 30fps
7fps and 9fps using a grip
D850 comes with an astounding high-resolution full-frame sensor which is primarily one of its biggest strengths against other candidates on the list. With this, you can expect an excellent camera for stills.
“Nikon D850 offers an astounding 45.7 MP resolution which beats the models on this list,” Summers said. “The success of its sensor to deliver pristine details is partly affected by the absence of an anti-aliasing filter. It is paired with a powerful EXPEED 5 processor so you can expect that detail by detail, stills will come out nothing but perfect: sharp, crisp, and detailed. Most of all, rich and natural colors. Really enticing.”
Further, its burst can reach up to 7fps/9fps and its buffer up to 51 RAW files. This performance, however, depends on the battery and memory card. According to Summers, while it seems a bit limiting in the eyes of other users, a 7fps burst and 51 RAW buffer are already a bonus given the fact that it shoots 45 MP stills.
Also, D850 delivers 4K videos. The good news? No crop factor. With this, you’ll be able to enjoy the full scene of your footage and the focal lengths of the lens.
“The frame rate is available in 24, 25, and 30fps; nonetheless, if you want smoother actions and the best slow-mo effects, it can offer an astounding frame rate of up to 120 frames per minute at 1080p. Under this resolution, you also have the advantage of D850’s digital stabilization and focus peaking,” Summers added.
Meanwhile, though D850 is ‘just’ armed with a contrast-detect AF, it is comparatively better and more effective than the other systems of other models. Also, you have the Live View option where you can take advantage of the touch-shutter function for faster focusing and shooting. The touch focus and the Pinpoint AF are also great additions in D850 which allows users to maximize its high-resolution capability.
3. Nikon Z6 II
4K at 60fps
We all love Z6 and it inspired the design of some of the Nikon cameras that follow it. Now, Nikon gives us the Nikon Z6 II.
“Basically, you still get the same sensor resolution at 24.5 MP, image stabilization, autofocus points, and a lot more,” said Summers. “So, if you already own Z6, there is probably no need for an upgrade. However, if you still don’t have a cam and need to choose between Z6 and the Z6 II, the latter is better as it has two SD card slots, better continuous shooting, and more.”
Indeed, Z6 II comes with some updates and although they are not that grand, Z6 II can still charm anyone who is planning to have a new Nikon model. It comes with a continuous shooting mode of up to 14fps against the 12fps of the original Z6. And thanks to its dual Expeed 6 processors, the buffer of Z6 II can now handle 124 12-bit RAW files/200 JPEGs. To support these updates, Z6 II offers better battery life which can shoot 80 more frames than Z6. And as Summers mentioned, you get two storage slots that now support UHS-II. However, keep in mind that when using the full benefit of 14fps shooting, you have to sacrifice the tracking AF and shift to single-point AF. Thankfully, tracking AF can still be enjoyed at 12fps which is more than what you need in shooting fast-moving subjects.
According to Summers, the two processors also aid the dynamic range (14.4) and focus sensitivity (down to EV -4.5) of the camera. And most of all, its AF performance seems relatively better.
“When we tried to compare Z6 and Z6 II using the same lens, the latter was able to focus faster. It can also designate a smaller frame to focus on the eyes of the subject. This allows the new model to deliver more accurate autofocus even when used with complex subjects,” Summers added.
4. Nikon Z5
4K at 30fps
After the release of Nikon Z6 in 2018, Z5 is considered a fresh breath of air in 2020. Yet, the two just seem identical when it comes to their body, especially in the body dimensions and weight where they are almost the same. Inside, it also promises the same details as Z6 such as the 273 AF points. Nonetheless, as a newcomer, it certainly has something newer to offer.
“Perhaps, the best thing about choosing Z5 over Z6 is the fact that it has better battery life,” said Summers. “Compared to Z6 with max 330 shooting ability, Z5 can last up to 470 shots. Z5 is also now to support UHS-II and has two card slots. Most importantly, it is at least $300 to $400 cheaper.”
Further, it has all the essential features every enthusiast and pro is looking for. This includes sensor-shift image stabilization, a 3.2” tilting touchscreen, RAW support, Face AF, Eye Tracking Focus, headphone and microphone ports, focus bracketing, focus stacking, 3690k-dot EVF, weather-sealed body, 4K video, and lots of wireless connectivity.
On the other side of the coin, while Z5 is one of the cheapest full-frame cameras on the market, Nikon did few cutbacks on some of its areas.
5. Nikon D780
4K at 30fps
If there is one notable thing about D780, it is its ability to provide excellent video performance. It isn’t much but it allows it to be an effective DSLR unit for shooting videos. It starts with its uncropped 4K up to 30fps. It also offers better frame rates under the DX mode which comes at 50fps or 60fps. Lastly, for smoother action in videos, there is Full HD offering 120fps.
Furthermore, it can be a serious piece of video equipment due to the features it borrowed from Z6. It includes the focus peaking, wind noise filter, zebra warnings, and more. It also comes with headphones and external mic sockets. And by using an external recorder, the camera can also produce 10-bit Log outputs.
On the other hand, what we really adore about D780 is its efficient AF system. Employing 273 hybrid phase-detect points for its Live View and 51 phase-detect points for the viewfinder, it is one of the reliable Nikon cameras in keeping your subject details sharp and crisp.
“The on-sensor phase-detect AF is very responsive during video mode, especially in detecting and following faces. There is almost no difference in the AF’s activity whether you are shooting stills or videos. It also responds quite impressively with just a tap on the screen for fast focusing,” said Summers.
Best Nikon Full-frame Cameras - Buyer's Guide
Keep in mind that Nikon, just like any other brand, often releases new models that are just based on the earlier ones already present on the market. If you are a buyer who still doesn’t have the earlier models, it is better to have the newer ones as they often come with better and improved features. For instance, Nikon Z6 II is based on the original Nikon Z6. The Nikon Z6 II offers better processors, continuous shooting mode, and two SD card slots. This is a better option than Z6 given their small difference in price. However, if you are a current owner of Z6, we don’t think it is necessary to have an upgrade to Z6 II. With all this, remember to always go for the model that will offer you the best value.
Besides the total number of megapixels, it is also important to consider the video resolution of the camera. Since you are buying a full-frame model, make sure that the unit can offer you an uncropped 4K video in the highest frame rate possible. Also, check for the frame rates available. The higher the frame rates, the better. This will allow you to have a better video shooting experience and will result in smoother footage.
As said, the full-frame models of Nikon are divided into two groups: mirrorless and DSLR. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. With this, consider the battery life, video, size, and lens compatibility you need before deciding on what to get.
It is true that there is no perfect camera and choosing one is a game of finding the right set of features. That being said, take your time checking the other important aspects of the camera that will help you enjoy its true value. It can be the viewfinder resolution, type of screen (preferably vari-angle), button layout, ports, number of storage slots, processor, and more.
Best Nikon Full-frame Cameras - FAQs
Nikkor is only the brand of the lenses of Nikon. This is the reason that explains why you see the name always present in the lenses of Nikon cameras.
Full-frame cameras have more depth-of-field flexibility, which is one of their best features. It lets you get shallow depth-of-field effects, hence better focus on the subject.
Full-frame sensors are much better compared to APS-C sensors for low-light photography. Since the pixels on full-frame sensors are bigger, they generate intricate details and have a better image quality than an APS-C sensor.