The Ultimate Upgrade Guide


What you've got versus what you should have.

Original: 9/5/2009
Updated: 9/7/2009
Updated: 3/3/2011

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it again before I present my detailed recommendations: it really doesn't pay to update from one Nikon DSLR to another every generation. For the amateur cameras skip a generation in order to save money, as single generation changes tend to be modest.

With that out of the way, here's my detailed recommendations for every Nikon DSLR user:

  Like What You've Got

Dislike What You've Got

D1 Update. Really. The newer models are so much better than the original. On a budget, try a used D2h. But if you've got the dough, try a D300s, D700, or D3. Update. On a budget, try a used D2h, D7000, or D300s. But if you've got the dough, try a D700, D3s, or D3x.
D1h Then stick with it, but consider picking up extra batteries before they get hard to find. But you're missing out on CLS flash. Update. On a budget, try a used D2h, D7000, or D300s. But if you've got the dough, try a D700, D3s.
D1x I'd ask you to reconsider. The D1x was good for its time, but it has two issues that keep it from being close to current state-of-the-art: the missing rows (it's really a 4024x1324 camera), and very poor shadow detail rendering. Also, you're missing out on CLS flash. On a budget, try a used D2x or even D200. Still have cash burning in your pocket, then buy a D300s or D700, or go all the way with the D3x. Update to a D2x on a budget, a D3x if you've got the money.
D2h Stick with it. Realistically, only a D3 or D3s will make you happier. But you'll be realigning your lens collection.
D2hs Definitely stick with it. Again, the D3 or D3s is the natural upgrade path, and again you'll be realigning your lens collection.
D2x Definitely stick with it as long as you don't need more than ISO 400. This one is tricky. The D3 and D300s are a slight step backward at base ISO, definite steps forward at higher ISOs. If you need ISO 800-1600, the D300s. If you need higher, the D3 or D3s, but prepare for realigning your lens collection.
D2xs Definitely stick with it as long as you don't need more than ISO 400. This one is tricky. The D3 and D300s are a slight step backward at base ISO, definite steps forward at higher ISOs. If you need ISO 800-1600, the D300s. If you need higher, the D3 or D3s, but prepare for realigning your lens collection.
D3 Keep it. What are you thinking? Keep it.
D3s Keep it. Are you out of your mind? Keep it.
D3x Keep it. The only sensible update is if you aren't satisfied with high ISO work (1600 and above), in which case a D3s (or perhaps a D3 or D700) is the only option, and I'd suggest you get them to supplement your D3x.
D100 As long as you don't need the extra pixels or really high ISO values, keeping it is a reasonable option. But you're missing out on CLS flash. D7000 or D300s is the right answer, I think. You could wimp out and buy a used D200, but the D300s bump up in quality is bigger, and the D7000 is even bigger, though with some body limitations. A used D300 is another option for the price conscious.
D200 Consider holding the course. But the D7000 is a tempting step up in image quality. D300 or D300s nets you a modest boost in high ISO work, better autofocus, Live View, and faster card writes. Just barely qualifies as a reasonable upgrade. The D7000 is tempting, but only opt for it if you can deal with the feature set and raw buffer size.
D300 or D300s No need to upgrade. Are you kidding? What are you missing? While the D7000 gives you a "more pixels" option, it comes at the expense of buffer and build quality. Moving from a D300/D300s to D700 triggers a massive lens realignment problem.
D700 Count your blessings. You've got to be joking. There's nothing wrong with a D700. If you need a higher frame rate, get the MB-D10. If you need more pixels, wait.
D40 Keep shooting. You have to consider why you're unhappy. If it's just more features and pixels you want, the D5000 is your choice. If you just want more pixels, the D3100 is a consideration. If it's the lack of autofocus with older Nikkor AF lenses, you have to get to a D90 or D7000 to fix that problem. If you're ready to make a big leap in functionality (and complexity), then a used D90, or new D7000 or D300s might be reasonable choices. Forget FX bodies. If you needed FX, you'd already have it.
D40x Keep shooting. A subset of the D40 upgrade advice: if you want more features, a D5000. If you want autofocus with older lenses, a used D90 or new D7000. If you're ready for a top of the line camera, the D7000 or D300s. Nothing else makes any sense.
D50 Probably keep shooting. You have to consider why you're unhappy. If it's just more features and pixels you want, the D5000 is your choice. If you just want more pixels, the D3100 is a consideration. If you're ready to make a big leap in functionality (and complexity), then a used D90 or new D7000 or D300s might be reasonable choices. Forget FX bodies. If you needed FX, you'd already have it.
D60 No need to upgrade. You have to consider why you're unhappy. Basically, it likely isn't pixels, as the D60 is adequate there. Thus, you're probably looking for more features. This means you'll skip the D3100. Depending upon which features you desire, the D5000, D90, D7000, and D300s are the logical choices.
D70/D70s Realistically, nothing wrong with what you've got. But if you bought into this level of camera, you're probably lusting after some of the changes that came downstream (more pixels, better high ISO, etc.). I'd say give in to those urges, you'll be happier: buy a D7000. This is an easy choice: get the D7000. It's a step up in almost every aspect but won't disorient you. If you're ready for more sophistication, a D300s or used D300 is another possibility, but don't discount the D7000.
D80 You must not be using matrix metering. Of all the consumer DSLRs Nikon has made, this is the weakest of the bunch, in quite a few ways. I'd urge you to reconsider: later cameras fix so many of the D80's flaws. The D7000 is the natural choice now. Used D90 or new D7000 to stay at the same level camera (and both are a significant step up), D300s to move up in body capability.
D90 You've got a fine camera, keep it. I'm not sure what you don't like, but it probably has to do with build quality and/or feature set. That leaves one possibility: D300s. And even that's a stretch. The D7000 is tempting for more pixels and better ISO 3200, but you're paying a lot for a little.
D3000 Probably keep shooting. You have to consider why you're unhappy. If it's just more features and pixels you want, the D5000 is one choice. If you just want more pixels, the D3100 is a consideration. If you're ready to make a big leap in functionality (and complexity), then a used D90 or new D7000 or D300s might be reasonable choices. Forget FX bodies. If you needed FX, you'd already have it.
D5000 Keep shooting. You have to consider why you're unhappy. Basically, it likely isn't pixels, as the D5000 is more than adequate there. Thus, you're probably looking for more features. This means the D7000. Yes, it's a step up, but not as big a step as you might think.
D7000 What are you thinking? The only likely sticking point is that you found the D7000 buffer wanting. That means your only choice is realistically a D300s. Moving to a D3 series body would mean a massive lens realignment and a much bigger camera. Make sure you have the fastest possible card in your camera before ditching the D7000.

That was easy, wasn't it?

You'll note that I'm basically against moving from DX to FX. Realistically, few people actually need FX. Indeed, when I quiz people asking the "should I get a D3s/D3x/D700" question about why they want FX, most of them don't know. It's in some way vaguely better, but they can't define how it will improve their picture taking. If you can't define it, you don't need it. (Yet. You may some day.) We get so caught up in generalized absolutes (e.g. "bigger is better") that we start believing them without challenging them. Let me put it this way: if you haven't printed larger than 13x19" or shot at ISO 6400 lately, there's absolutely nothing wrong with DX. Even if you have done those things, FX isn't an automatic choice. I know many pros that shoot DX. I do it myself whenever I'm not doing landscape photography (24mp in the D3x is hard for a landscape photographer to pass over) or indoor sports (the D3s's high ISO capability is unmatched for indoor sports work).


 

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