There are lots of things to think about when you're choosing a DSLR so we'll guide you through the choices and help you find your perfect camera.
The key is to figure out what you really need. Do you want a good all-rounder that can handle all kinds of photography and even video? Are you looking for an affordable entry into 'proper' photography and pro camera features? Do you need a camera designed for high-speed sports photography, or a high-resolution DSLR for high-quality commercial work?
UPDATE: 2018 is being touted as 'the year of mirrorless' but DSLRs aren't done yet, as a lot of photographers still prefer the size, optical viewfinder – and battery life! – of the DSLR design. We've updated our guide and our comments to reflect the latest camera news from Photokina and we've added in links below to other buying guides, just in case you want to look at some cheaper, simpler or (gasp) mirrorless alternatives.
When it comes to the overall best DSLR camera, the Nikon D850 is at the top of our list. It's a fantastic all-rounder with exceptional image quality and 4K video too. Nikon has been busy with its mirrorless cameras this year, but the D850 was such a big step forward it's still ahead of the curve even now. However, it's a pretty big camera and has a price tag to match its specs, so we've included lots of alternatives in our list.
If your big thing is landscape or architectural photography, you'll want a full-frame camera that goes large on megapixels to deliver the greatest levels of fine detail and texture.
But for shooting fast action or in low-light conditions you'll want a smaller megapixel count to yield relatively low-noise images, even at very high ISO settings. Dropping the sensor resolution improves image noise and also offers faster continuous shooting speeds.
Regardless of megapixel count, full-frame DSLRs give you an advantage if you need a shallow depth of field. They're ideal for blurring the background in portraiture and still-life photography.
For sports and wildlife, a DSLR camera with a smaller APS-C-format image sensor can be a better fit. The 1.5x crop factor (1.6x for Canon) gives you greater ‘effective’ telephoto reach, without the need for monstrously large and heavy lenses.
They might not have the glamour of full frame models, but APS-C cameras are cheaper, lighter and can offer almost the same features – they're certainly the smart choice if you're on a budget.
1. Nikon D850
This Nikon delivers high-megapixel photography with an impressive turn of speed
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Lens mount: Nikon FX | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional
The legendary Nikon D800 and D810 set a new benchmark in high-resolution Nikon DSLRs and the Nikon D850 pushes things even further, raising the resolution from 36.3MP to 45.7MP. It has the same high-tech metering module fitted to Nikon's high-end D5 and D500 DSLRs, as well as an upgraded autofocus system with 153 instead of 53 points, and an increase in maximum continuous shooting speed from 5fps to 7fps. You can boost the drive rate to 9fps if you add the optional MB-D18 battery grip and EN-EL 18b battery. 4K movie capture is yet another upgrade. The ultra-high resolution means image quality can start a bit noisy at very high ISO settings, so if low-light shooting is your thing, the Nikon D5 and D750 could be a better choice.
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
As an all-rounder, this is Canon’s best full-frame camera
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional
The EOS 5D Mark IV is Canon’s all-time best DSLR camera if you want a reasonably high megapixel count without sacrificing too much in the way of continuous drive speed, and clean, noise-free image quality at very high ISO settings. A newer design than the Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R cameras (at number 7 in this guide), key improvements include 4K movie capture, a touchscreen interface, relatively quick Live View autofocus thanks to the Dual Pixel CMOS AF image sensor, and f/8 compatibility in regular focusing with all 61 AF points, instead of just the central point. It features the classic EOS 5D control system, which is intuitive and easy to live with, and the image quality is simply stellar.
Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV vs Nikon D850
3. Nikon D750
An excellent full-frame Nikon all-rounder at a highly competitive price
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Nikon FX | Screen: 3.2in tilting screen, 1,229,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/professional
If you need really clean, low-noise images more than – even at high ISO settings – more than you need outright resolution, the Nikon D750 is a better choice than the D850 (at number 1 in this list). It’s also only about half as much to buy and, while it uses a mix of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate body panels instead of having a full metal jacket, it still feels pretty robust and well-made. The 51-point autofocus system is highly proficient and metering is very reliable. The camera is no slouch, although it lacks the outright speed of most up-market Nikon cameras, with the shutter speed and drive rate topping out at 1/4000sec and 6.5fps respectively. The layout of buttons and dials is more consumer than pro level, but the D750 is still Nikon’s most appealing and affordable all-rounder for many photographers.
Read more: The best Nikon D750 deals right now
4. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
The revamped Mark II edition of Canon’s full-frame EOS 6D is an affordable option for enthusiasts
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 6.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast
The original EOS 6D dates back to 2012, so the EOS 6D Mark II was a long time coming. The megapixel count rises from 20.2MP to 26.2MP, delivering greater resolving power but slightly more image noise at high ISO settings. The autofocus system goes from 11 points (one cross-type) to 45 points (all cross-type), and the new sensor has Dual Pixel CMOS AF for improved Live View and movie autofocus. Maximum continuous drive increases from 4.5fps to 6.5fps, while handling has also improved, with a vari-angle touchscreen and 5-axis stabilisation for movie capture. With the addition of NFC and Bluetooth, the EOS 6D Mark II is also better connected. All in all, it’s a cracking an affordable all-rounder... though it doesn't shoot 4K video, only 1080p.
Also read: Canon EOS 6D Mark II review
5. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Canon’s top full-frame DSLR for action, sports and wildlife photography
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 14/16fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
Built like a tank and almost as heavy, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II nevertheless has sublimely natural handling, thanks to its built-in vertical grip and meticulously duplicated control buttons and dials. Like the competing Nikon D5, (see number 11 in this list) it sacrifices megapixels for outright speed. This means outright resolving fine detail isn’t this DSLR camera’s strong point, but it offers a blisteringly fast continuous drive rate of 14fps, rising to 16fps in Live View mode. This makes the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II ideal for shooting sports and wildlife, especially as the fast drive rate is backed up by a 61-point autofocus system that’s superb at tracking moving subjects. Images remain impressively noise-free even at very high ISO settings, making this one of the best pro DSLR cameras you can buy right now. Mirrorless rivals may match or beat it for continuous shooting speeds, but DSLRs like the EOS-1D X II still rule the roost – for now – at following fast-moving subjects.
6. Nikon D7500
This high-performance Nikon APS-C camera retains beginner-friendly controls
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
The Nikon D7500 packs most of the best specifications and features from the pro-grade Nikon D500 into a smaller and lighter consumer-class body. As such, it has a more enthusiast-level control layout, and the body shell is based on carbon-fibre composite, rather than including magnesium alloy parts. However, you get the same 20.9MP image sensor and EXPEED 5 processor, a 1/8000sec maximum shutter speed and 4K video capture capability as in the D500. There’s virtually nothing to choose between the two cameras in terms of image quality, but the D500 has a downgraded 51-point rather than 153-point autofocus system, and autofocus at f/8 is limited to a single AF point rather than 15 points, which can be an issue if you shoot with tele-converters. The maximum drive rate is also slower, but still pretty brisk at 8fps. The D7500 is an extremely well-judged balance between cost and features for enthusiast photographers and has a weighty balance with bigger lenses that mirrorless cameras don't quite match.
Read more: Nikon D7500 review
7. Canon EOS 5DS/5DS R
A 50.6MP image sensor makes this the best Canon DSLR for capturing fine detail
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 50.6MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | Screen: 3.2in, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/professional
Based on the highly popular but now superseded EOS 5D Mark III, the Canon EOS 5DS bumps up the megapixel count from 22.3MP to a whopping 50.6MP. It’s Canon’s best DSLR camera for resolving fine detail and texture, making it better suited to stills-only photographers. The EOS 5DS R goes further still, cancelling the anti-aliasing effect of the optical low-pass filter to enable even greater resolving power, although there’s an increased risk of moire patterning and false colour. Both versions of the camera have an upgraded smooth-action shutter unit to avoid resolution being degraded by camera vibrations. The downsides of all the extra megapixels include a relatively limited ISO range with increased image noise at high ISO settings and a sluggish 5fps maximum drive rate. The 5DS/5DS R isn’t a video or sports camera, so if you need a pro DSLR that's more versatile, try the EOS 5D Mark IV, above.
8. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
A super-speedy, pro-grade APS-C-format camera for sports and wildlife photography
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/professional
Similar to the EOS 5D series of cameras in design and robust magnesium alloy build, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is Canon’s top-grade APS-C format DSLR. As with the 6D Mark II, the second edition of the EOS 7D was five years in the making and represents a significant upgrade over that model. A real go-faster camera for action shooting, it has a 65-point wide-area autofocus system with ‘Intelligent’ tracking in AI Servo mode, and rapid 10fps continuous drive. Dual DIGIC 6 processors help with the fast throughput of data, and the buffer is big enough to enable top-speed shooting for 31 frames in its Raw mode, or enough JPEG images to fill your memory card. As usual with ‘fast’ DSLRs, however, there’s a drop in megapixel count, this time to 20.2MP. Is the EOS 7D II due for an upgrade? It is starting to lag behind its rivals, just a little, especially if you include mirrorless cameras in the mix.
9. Nikon D500
A super-fast Nikon APS-C-format camera that’s ideal for sports, action and wildlife photography
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional
With the telephoto-boosting 1.5x crop factor of Nikon’s DX (APS-C) format DSLRs, superfast 10fps drive rate and exceptional memory buffer capacity for up to 200 Raw files, the Nikon D500 is a spectacular camera for sports and wildlife photography. It’s solidly built as well, with pro-grade robustness and handling. Indeed, the layout of controls will be instantly familiar to photographers who have grown to love Nikon’s pro-class DSLR design ethos, so the shooting mode dial is replaced by a button cluster for quick access to important settings, like in the D5 and D850. Around the back, there’s a 3.2in tilting touchscreen with a mighty 2,359k-dot resolution, again matching the D850. The D500 is currently best sporty, pro-grade APS-C format DSLR on the market, edging ahead of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. It's built to last, and prices have stayed high to reflect that.
10. Canon EOS 80D
A consummate all-rounder at the top of Canon’s ‘enthusiast’ range of APS-C-format bodies
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast
Whereas Canon’s EOS 7D Mark II APS-C format camera (number eight) is a speed specialist, the Canon EOS 80D is more of an all-rounder. It has a greater megapixel count of 24.2MP and a more relaxed but still quite speedy 7fps maximum drive rate. Both DSLR cameras have Dual Pixel CMOS AF, but the EOS 80D’s articulated touchscreen is much more intuitive for selecting autofocus areas in Live View and when shooting movies. The regular 45-point autofocus system is the same as the one used in the full-frame EOS 6D Mark II but, in the EOS 80D, the spread of points covers a larger area of the image frame. 27 of the AF points are available at f/8, instead of just one in the EOS 7D Mark II. Advanced features and slick controls make the EOS 80D well suited to enthusiast photographers.
Read more: Canon EOS 80D review
11. Nikon D5
Nikon’s top-flight professional camera for fast-paced action
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 20.8MP | Lens mount: Nikon FX | Screen: 3.2in touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 12/14fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional
A real powerhouse of a camera, the Nikon D5 is Nikon’s top-flight pro DSLR with rock-solid build quality to match. Like the competing Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, it has a built-in vertical grip that enables the duplication of controls for natural portrait-orientation shooting. The design also accommodates an oversized battery with the stamina for 3,780 shots from a single charge. Rapid drive rates keep up with the fastest sports and wildlife action, as well as enabling you to capture fleeting expressions or nail a definitive moment in unpredictable shooting scenarios. The frame rate tops out at 12fps but you can boost it to 14fps if you can live with the mirror being locked up after the first shot in a sequence. The flip side is that the megapixel count is relatively low by current standards, at 20.8MP. There are mirrorless full frame models that can match or exceed the D5's frame rate, but electronic viewfinder technology is still trying to catch up with the fluid, lag-free view of an optical viewfinder for fast-moving sports photography.
12. Pentax K-1 Mark II
The new generation of Pentax’s range-topping full-frame DSLR
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 36MP | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3in three-way-tilt, 1,037k dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 4.4/6.4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Enthusiast/professional
Typical of most Pentax DSLRs, the range-topping Pentax K-1 Mark II is solid and dependable, with a tough, weather-sealed construction. It also has highly effective sensor-shift image stabilisation system that works with any attached lens, unlike competing Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Better still, the 5-axis stabilizer can work in trick modes to deliver anti-aliasing correction, an increase in fine detail and texture based on Pixel Shift through multiple exposures, and even an Astrotracer mode to avoid stars appearing to streak through the sky. With a 36MP full-frame image sensor, the K-1 Mark II certainly gives you a lot of megapixels for the money, but the 33-point autofocus system feels dated, and Live View autofocus is poor. Continuous drive is sluggish at 4.4fps, but it’s boosted to 6.4fps in APS-C crop mode.
Read more: Pentax K-1 Mark II review
13. Sony Alpha A99 Mark II
High megapixel count meets fast drive rate in this full-frame Sony SLT camera
Type: SLT | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Lens mount: Sony A | Screen: 3in tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: OLED | Max burst speed: 8/12fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional
When is an SLR not an SLR? When it’s an SLT. Sony’s ‘Single Lens Translucent’ cameras have a fixed mirror that enables light from the lens to pass through to the shutter and image sensor, while simultaneously reflecting light to a dedicated autofocus module. With no flapping mirror, the full-frame Sony Alpha A99 Mark II is certainly a smooth operator, and somewhat unique in combining a fast 12fps drive rate with a high megapixel count of 42.4MP. The hybrid autofocus system combines a 79-point phase-detection module with 399 paired pixel sites on the image sensor. It’s highly accurate for static subjects but, considering the fixed mirror enables uninterrupted operation of autofocus during continuous shooting, the A99 II struggles more than you’d expect when tracking moving subjects. The A99 II’s key selling point is combining a high megapixel count with a fast continuous drive rate, though Sony's attention now seems to be on its mirrorless models rather than its ageing SLT range.
Read more: Sony A99 II review
14. Pentax KP
A high-grade Pentax APS-C camera that’s packed with smart features
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3in tilting screen, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | Max burst speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
Pentax’s range-topping APS-C format camera, the Pentax KP, has a tough, weather-sealed construction and a sporty 7fps continuous drive, along with a slightly odd maximum shutter speed of 1/6000sec. You can bump that up to 1/24,000sec by switching from mechanical to electronic shutter operation. Around the back there’s a tilting LCD but it’s not a touchscreen and, as in the full-frame K-1 Mark II, autofocus is disappointingly slow in Live View mode. Regular phase-shift autofocus has 27 AF points, all but two of which are cross-type. The KP’s image quality is impressive in terms of dynamic range and high-ISO image noise but, overall, the camera struggles to compete with similarly priced Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Its appeal lies largely in its rugged build, innovative photographic controls and Pentax heritage.
Read more: Pentax KP review
More buying guides
- The 8 best portrait lenses for Canon users
- The 8 best portrait lenses for Nikon users
- The 8 best flashguns you can buy right now
- The 8 best monopods you can buy right now
- The 8 best camera backpacks right now
- The 37 best photography accessories
- The 6 best LED light panels