March 2

5 comments

A Practical Comparison of The Nikon Pro DSLR Camera Line

By Dan

March 2, 2011

Deciding which camera to buy can be a no-brainer for some people; for others, it can be a rather daunting process. For example, if you’re a top pro looking for a body to take on assignment to Afghanistan or to photograph the Olympics, then you simply grab the top of the line model and head out the door to catch your plane.

However, if you’re a working pro who doesn’t necessarily need the top shelf body, an enthusiast who may have the income to spend on a higher end model, or a beginning photographer, it can be difficult to narrow down your selection.

There are many factors to consider when shopping for a new camera, and price is certainly one of them, but so are the real life considerations of how you’ll use the camera. These are often just as important.

To help put these considerations in perspective, here is a practical comparison and review of the current Nikon Pro DSLR Camera line, minus the slick copy and gorgeous photographs that the product catalogs and advertisements use to sway you. If you’re in the market for a new camera, hopefully this can help you with your decision making process.

Nikon D3x Street Price: $7499.95

Nikon’s top of the line model. At 24.5 megapixels, the D3x boasts the highest resolution of any camera that they’ve made to date. It shoots Full Frame (FX sensor) at 5 fps at full resolution and can capture subjects with absolutely incredible detail and low light sensitivity.

It’s designed for full time, working pros who demand maximum image quality.

If you’re a high end studio, assignment or stock photographer who uses your camera in every type of environment and who needs the absolute best, or if you simply have discernible taste and the right income, then the D3x is for you. (It’s great for the retired doctor who’s planning that trip to Denali National park.)

Bear in mind, though, that the D3x a fairly heavy camera. If you’re a highly mobile shooter who likes to go light and fast in the outdoors, or are prone to elbow tendonitis, then you’ll feel the weight of this thing pretty quickly.

Nikon D3s Street price: $5199.95

Also a Full Frame FX sensor camera, the 12.1 megapixel D3s shoots up to 9 fps (11 fps in Crop DX format) and it’s expanded buffer allows continuous capture of up to 36 RAW or 85 JPEG images.

This one’s pretty straightforward; you get the D3s if you’re a full time pro sports and action photographer, or, like the D3x, if you’ve got the type of income to afford it.

Hey, if you have the cash, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur photographer who likes to shoot the kids’s soccer games with your D3s. Photography is an equal opportunity activity and if you’ve got the money you can play the game however you want.

Nikon D700 Street price: $2399.95

At 12.1 megapixel, the D700 is a Full Frame FX body that shoots 5 fps with excellent low light, high ISO sensitivity. It’s basically the little brother to the D3x.

It’s a full-on pro quality body won’t weight you down as much as the much heavier D3x. It has many of the same features but since it doesn’t have the built in vertical grip, it’s considerably lighter, which makes it great for all around use and for carrying into the backcountry for landscape photography, or for hiking, biking or skiing shoots.

The D700 is my main camera body and I use it all the time for everything: sports, action, travel, landscapes, people, lifestyle and portraits. It’s solid, highly durable and the image quality is fantastic. Plus, I like the fact that it shoots 14-bit RAW at the full 5 fps.

Of all the cameras that I’ve ever used in my fifteen year career, this one is my favorite. Ergonomically, it fits perfectly in my hands and everything about it just works the way I need it to.

And if it’s not as fast as you need for action, you simply slap on the MB-D10 Multi Power Battery Grip and you’ve got 8 fps. If you want a solid, all around, pro quality Nikon camera, you cant go wrong with the D700. It’s the choice of professional adventure and outdoor photographers all over the world.

Nikon D300s Street Price: $1499.95

The 12.3 megapixel D300s is pro quality camera body with a DX format crop sensor that also shoots 1280 x 720 HD 24 fps video with a stereo audio input. It also shoots at 7 fps, and it has an advanced, very fast 51-point 3D autofocus tracking system, which makes it ideal for sports and action.

I’ve got a non “s” version D300 that I still use quite often. It’s the backup to my D700, although for some applications, it’s my first choice. Since it’s a crop sensor body, it’s great for telephoto work; my 200mm lens effectively becomes a 300mm f/2.8 lens when I stick it on the D300, so use it for sports and during those times when I want to zoom in close.

The D300s is plenty durable for just about any condition you throw at it. I’ve dropped mine on rocks with no ramifications other than a scratch on the paint, and for a number of years, it was my main DSLR body. If you’re looking for a rugged all round pro quality camera that’s great for shooting sports and people, then the D300s might be a good choice for you.

Nikon D7000 Street Price: $1,199.95

The Nikon D7000 took the photography world by storm when it was announced last fall, and since then it’s been the number one choice for many pros and amateurs alike.

A DX body that shoots at 16.2 megapixel, 14-bit RAW images at up to 6 fps, the D7000 is an awesome camera that’s perfect for just about every kind of photographer. I know full time action and adventure shooters who use this thing because it’s lighter than both the D700 and D300; it’s great for taking into the outdoors because it won’t weigh you down.

Image quality is excellent on the D7000; with it’s 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering, advanced processing, and A/D conversion, it will produce photographs that are certainly good enough for professional publication. It also shoos 1080p HD video with full autofocus, which is something the D300s can’t do.

The D7000 is a great choice for working photographers who want a lightweight body and pro quality features and who don’t need the more advanced autofocus (i.e. more cross type sensors) or the extreme durability that Nikon’s higher end models offer. If you shoot in all but the worst conditions, the D7000 will get the job done and it will get the job done well.

It’s also one of the best cameras for the beginning and enthusiast photographer. It costs less than half as much as the D700, but it’s my no means half the camera. Essentially, the D7000 is a solid camera choice for just about anyone who is serious about their photography.

I didn’t include the D90 on this list, but here’s a post that compares the D90 to the D7000.

About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.


  • Gotta admit I picked up a D7000 while waiting for the D3x to come down from the ionesphere. So far finding the images and video to be superb.

  • Russ, I checked out a D7000 in the local camera store and was also very impressed. My initial response was, “All this just over a thousand bucks?!” For many shooters, this is the no-brainer choice.

  • Dan, as I’ve posted on your site before (or maybe it was on Twitter), I own a Nikon D7000, and I love it. I upgraded from the D90, which is also an excellent camera. Before I bought it, I really debated whether I wanted a D700 or a D7000. I chose the D7000 because of the price and the video features, and also, because I’m a serious amateur and not a pro (which makes the higher price of the D700 harder to justify). I take a lot of outdoor photography, and I’m starting to try out the video (I’d love to put together some multimedia slideshows). So far, the D7000 has been the perfect camera for me.

  • Dan — As a Nikon shooter (and D90 owner) I enjoyed reading your evaluation. What do you see as the benefits in trading up to the D7000 from the D90? Would you expect to see an appreciable difference in picture quality between the two?

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.


    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.