Nikon D6: everything new in the flagship DSLR sports camera

DSLRs had taken a back seat to mirrorless cameras in the past few years, with many speculating they will not be resurrected by camera makers. However, Canon has put those speculations to rest, having announced the EOS 1D X Mark III in January, after releasing an enthusiast-level EOS 90D in August last year. And that's not even going to be the last if rumors are to be believed. 

Nikon, too, has just released the D780, and quickly followed it up with its professional sport shooter. And the timing couldn't have been better. 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the Nikon single-digit D series, which launched in 1999 with the Nikon D1. And now, we have what the company calls the "the most advanced digital SLR to date".

With the 2020 Olympic Games coming up this year, we're going to see the professional, sports-focused DSLR flagships from Canon and Nikon face off again, just like the old days. In the red corner, there's the newly released Canon 1DX Mark III. And, in the opposite corner is the Nikon D6, which has only just been announced.

The Canon shooter is pretty much a hybrid of DSLR and mirrorless tech, with some of the best features we've seen from the latest mirror-free models, like advanced autofocus, alongside traditional DSLR traits like the optical viewfinder and lengthy battery life. The Nikon competition also offers similar features, in a very different package.

Nikon D6: release date and price

Like its predecessor, the Nikon D5, and its new Canon counterpart, the D6 is not going to be cheap. It will begin shipping in April 2020 and carry a hefty price tag of $ 6,500 / £6,299, with Australian pricing yet to come. That puts it pretty much in same territory as its main rival, the just-released Canon 1D X Mark III, which is also vying for the camera bags of professional sports photographers.

Nikon D6: design 

Nikon was kind enough to supply a small picture of the D6 in its development announcement back in September. It was presumably a mock-up, rather than a final rendering but, even then, we knew it would resemble the D5 physically.

The chassis remains that quintessential chunky design to incorporate a big battery and accommodate the dual shooting layout for both vertical and horizontal capture.

The magnesium alloy body is completely weather-sealed, making it "as tough as the professionals who use it". 

It should come as no surprise to see Nikon keep to a very similar form factor as the D5's for the D6 – after all, expecting pros to get used to a drastically new way of working is a big task. The square shape of the D5 allows it to incorporate a battery grip for extended battery life, and we expect the D6 to blow its mirrorless rivals out of the water for longevity by doing the same thing. 

Also announced as being in development at the same time as the D6 was a new 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR telephoto lens, which looks set to be a bit of a beast – the Nikon D6 will have to be large enough to balance well with such lenses, which are popular with sports and wildlife shooters.

Nikon D6: sensor and processor

The beating heart of the Nikon D6 is the 20.8MP full-frame sensor, which is lower in resolution than the D5's although marginally higher than the 1D X Mark III's 20.1MP pixel count. Despite the lower resolution, the new sensor has been designed to deliver high quality images that can be captured at a maximum speed of 14fps when shooting with E-type lenses (those with an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm). Switch to shooting via the rear LCD display – or the silent shooting mode – and you'll get a top of 10.5fps at full resolution with autofocus tracking. 

There are also the options of shooting 30fps which will restrict image sizes to 8MP, or heading higher to 60fps to get 2MP files. This burst of speed has been made possible by a brand new Expeed 6 engine.

Nikon D6: autofocus

Nikon has revamped the autofocus system from the ground up, delivering what the company promises is a much faster, more precise AF system. Instead of the older 153-point array, the D6 now features a 105-point all cross-type system with every single point now selectable individually. Each uses what Nikon calls a "triple-sensor arrangement", although details on how this works is as yet unclear.

While the centre point can focus down to -4.5EV, the others are all good for down to -4EV. With an ISO range matching its older sibling, the D6 seems set to be the new low-light king.

Nikon D6: video features

The Nikon D5 was the first Nikon DSLR to be capable of recording high-definition 4K/UHD movies in-camera, and the D6 carries on in that tradition. However, the camera was built for stills and, like the D5, offers 4K/30p video, albeit with focus peaking and an MP4 recording option.

Nikon D6: card slots and connectivity

Dual memory card slots are pretty much a given. The Nikon D5 can be bought with either 2x XQD slots, or 2x CF slots, but Compact Flash is pretty old hat now, so Nikon has made both slots in the D6 compatible with XQD and CFExpress. This backward compatibility is perfect for those who already have a stack of XQD cards in their possession, considering how expensive CFExpress cards are.

A USB-C port is available for quick wired transfer of files, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also available. However, that's never really quick enough for the pros who need to deliver images with the shortest turnaround time possible. For them, there's a 1000BASE_T Ethernet port for wired transfer which, according to Nikon, is now 15% faster than the one on the D5.

On paper, the Nikon D6 doesn't sound as quick as the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III, however we're yet to test both cameras extensively and see how they do against each other in the real world. We look forward to pitting them against each other in the arena and we'll share our thoughts with your as soon as we've done so.

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Best beginner DSLR cameras 2020: 7 cheap DSLRs perfect for new users

Ready to take a photographic step up from your smartphone? Here's our guide to the best beginner DSLRs you can buy right now.

Smartphones and mirrorless cameras may have come a long way in recent years, but the DSLR is far from dead. A DSLR – or a digital single-lens reflex camera – offers both greater shooting power and control than a phone, and superior handling and battery life to a mirrorless camera.

They're also still the most affordable way to get a camera with a viewfinder. That viewfinder, which on a DSLR uses a mirror to reflect light directly to your eye, is the main difference between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Most manufacturers are now focusing on the mirrorless approach, which means relatively few new DSLRs are hitting the shelves these days. On the plus side, this means first-time buyers have a range of keenly-priced DSLRs to choose from, along with the occasional newer model like the Canon 90D that includes some of the latest mirrorless features.

The difference between advanced models, such as the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III, and more basic variants is the amount of control offered to users. Beginner DSLRs tend to be more limited when it comes to features, modes and custom settings, but still offer plenty to keep budding photographers busy.

In the market for a photographic upgrade? The traditional heavyweights of the genre, Canon and Nikon, still offer the best choices, thanks to their DSLR heritage and extensive lens collections to match. And, with many recent models offering only slight upgrades over their predecessors, it’s worth exploring older options to find the best value. These are our top picks.

Best beginner DSLRs 2020 at a glance:

  1. Nikon D3500
  2. Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D
  3. Nikon D5600
  4. Canon 90D
  5. Canon EOS Rebel T7/ 2000D / EOS 1500D
  6. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D / EOS 200D Mark II
  7. Pentax K-70

The Best DSLRs for beginners in 2020:

Nikon D3500

Nikon may not have announced any new entry-level DSLRs for a while, but the D3500 remains an excellent option for those new to photography. It picks up from where the D3400 left off, but with a handful of extra perks. Unlike power-hungry mirrorless models, the major advantage of this camera is battery life. You can keep going for 1,550 images between charges, which is way ahead of most other DSLRs, while the 24MP sensor delivers excellent image quality. Nikon has also revised the body and control layout, not only to make it nicer to handle but easier to use too, while the Guide Mode takes the first-time user's hand and walks them through all the key features in a way that makes everything easy to understand. We love it – and if you're just getting started, we reckon you will too. 

The EOS Rebel T7i (known as the EOS 800D outside the US) still sits at the top of Canon's entry-level EOS DSLR range, despite being a few years old now. Sporting a 24.2MP sensor that delivers an improved high-ISO performance over older models, the Rebel T7i's autofocus also gets a boost, now with a 45-point arrangement that's backed up by excellent live view AF system. There's also newly designed graphical interface that will certainly make this camera even more appealing to new users, although if you need 4K video then you're better off looking at the EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D (see below) or a mirrorless model.

Nikon D5600

Here's another model which is still holding its own against the rise of mirrorless. The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D (position 2). Key advantages over the D3400 and D3500 include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front for vlogging, but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. Sure, you pay a little bit more for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space it makes sense to go for the D5600 so that it stays with you for years to come.

Canon EOS Rebel T7 / Canon EOS 2000D

Canon’s 90D might be the last enthusiast-level DSLR the company ever makes – and if so, it’s going out with a bang. The versatile 90D packs a high-resolution sensor which, paired with Canon’s Digic 8 imaging engine, offers the enticing prospect of uncropped 4K video at 30fps. Color reproduction is superb and there’s plenty of detail in both stills and video, aided by a new 216-zone metering system – though noise can be an issue above ISO 8000. A deeper grip means the 90D is also really comfortable in the hand, while a joystick makes selecting from the Dual Pixel CMOS AF points a cinch. Battery life is a boon, too, with 1,500 shots possible on a single charge. It's possibly a bit too much camera for an absolute beginner (both in price and features), but there's no doubt it offers a lot of room to grow into. Either way, the 90D proves that DSLRs still have a place in the mirrorless world.

This is one of the cheapest DSLRs in Canon's current line-up, which also makes it a very cost-effective way to get access to an endless assortment of lenses, flashguns and other accessories. Its low price tag means that it understandably lacks some of the fancy tricks of its bigger brothers – flip-out LCD, 4K video and so on – but there's still a very good level of physical control on offer. And, most importantly, image quality from the 24MP sensor is sound. It's designed very much with its target audience in mind, with a Feature Guide to help you understand everything, and battery life is also better than many mirrorless models at this price point – still a key advantage of DSLRs. Wi-Fi, NFC and Full HD video recording round off the specs, making it a well-rounded first-time option.

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D

The EOS Rebel SL3, also known as the Canon EOS 250D, is the latest entry-level arrival to this list – indeed it's one of only a handful of beginner models announced in recent years. Like its name suggests, it picks up from where the Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D) left off, adding a fresh processing engine and 4K video recording on top of a collection of smaller extras. There may be lots of competition from mirrorless right now, but if you like the traditional handling of a DSLR – including an optical viewfinder – the 250D is one of the most attractive models available right now.

Pentax K-70

Although a couple of years old now, the K-70 remains a good value option for anybody who is not overly bothered by the main two manufacturers . Even better if you have a stash of old Pentax lenses gathering dust in a basement from manual days. It has a very useful articulating screen, while the hybrid live view autofocus system makes it an actual practical alternative to using the viewfinder. Possibly our favourite thing about the K-70 is its tough credentials – something which is typically lacking for entry-level models. If you're keen to take lots of pictures outdoors – such as landscapes – being able to rely on it not to be destroyed by inclement weather is a big bonus. One slight disappointment is the kit lens which is often bundled with the camera – while it offers a much longer focal length than most others here, it can be a little soft in places.


Canon EOS 80D

Sitting on top of Canon's entry-level DSLR pile, the EOS 80D is one of the older cameras from the camera maker, having been around since 2016. Despite that, it's one of the more 'advanced' beginner cameras, thanks to its feature set and specs, including a 24.2MP sensor with a 45-point autofocus system that's actually remarkably reliable. There's a guided menu system that's easy to navigate, and on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to transfer images wirelessly if needed. The only downside is that the kit lens that comes with the shooter is a tad soft around the edges, and we'd recommend buying the body only and a better lens separately.

Also consider…

None of the above take your fancy? Here's another option to consider.

The EOS 77D is a slightly more advanced beginner DSLR, and it provides a few extra treats for those who feel they may outgrow more basic models before long. While we weren't too excited about it at the time of its release, the fact that it's spent some time on the market now means it can be bought for a much more agreeable price tag. On top of the bones of the EOS 800D, there's a top-plate LCD screen that gives you shooting options at a glance, as well as two control dials to make adjusting options faster. You also get some extras on the inside such as bulb and interval timers. If you can stretch to the EOS 80D that sits just above it, even better – otherwise, this would be a slightly more capable option than its more basic siblings.

What should you look for when buying a beginner DSLR?

There are three main factors to consider when buying a beginner-friendly DSLR: the camera's size, screen and kit lens options.

If you're trying to learn your way around manual settings like aperture and shutter speed, which is one of the main benefits of a DSLR, then you'll ideally need a model that's small and light. This means you'll be more likely to take it out regularly and master those controls. The most beginner-friendly cameras, like the Nikon D3500 and Canon 250D, tend to be particularly small for DSLRs, so take a close look at those.

Looking to shoot lots of video along with your stills? DSLRs can be a cheap way to get into vlogging too, so make sure you look out for models with a vari-angle screen if you need this. These can help you shoot from different angles and also flip round to the front so you can check your framing while vlogging to camera.

Lastly, you'll want to consider lenses. As a beginner, you'll most likely be starting from scratch, which means it makes more sense to buy your DSLR with a kit lens. A word of warning here, though – most manufacturers offer two types of kits lens, one with image stabilization and one without. It's best to go with the image-stabilized kit lens, as you'll be able to shoot sharper images at slower shutter speeds.

While an 18-55mm kit lens will be more than enough to get you started, one of the big benefits of DSLRs is being able to add extra lenses for different kinds of photography. For example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, as well as high-quality macro options. You can also add a flashgun and other accessories, which help you to make the most of whatever types of photography you're into.  

Still not entirely sure whether you need a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Don't forget to check out our Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: 10 key differences guide. Alternatively, if don't quite know what kind of camera you need at all, then read our easy-to-follow guide to camera types: What camera should I buy?

Should you buy a mirrorless camera over a DSLR? Watch our guide video below to learn more: 

  • Turn your snaps into a beautiful photo book – we've picked out the best

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