Picking one of the best budget DSLRs is an ideal way to get into photography without spending a fortune. As the cost of living crisis exacerbates, everyone is feeling the pinch, but it’s important to remember that we can still enjoy our hobbies. It just pays to be smart about it, and make savings where you can.
DSLRs are a fantastic starting point for a budget-conscious photographer. They aren’t as fashionable nowadays as the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab), which are increasingly where the main technological advancements are being made. However, DSLRs are based on a tried-and-tested design that has been refined over several decades. With mechanical shutters and optical viewfinders, they provide an immediate and immersive shooting experience, and they often come with excellent weather-sealing.
Also, the fact that DSLRs have been around for so long, and are in many cases descended directly from even older analogue film cameras, means that the range of compatible lenses they offer is frankly enormous. Systems like Canon EF and Nikon F – which you’ll see a lot of on this list – have huge catalogues of compatible lenses, not to mention tons of accessories like tripods, ball heads and filters. Plus, with manufacturers’ focus on mirrorless systems, the lenses are only likely to get cheaper as time goes on. DSLRs aren’t just affordable up front – they are a smart budget choice for thinking long term.
You don’t get the super-fast autofocus systems of mirrorless cameras, nor the dizzying, high-resolution video specs. However, if you don’t need to be on the cutting-edge of imaging tech – and most people don’t – DSLRs are a superb camera choice. Here are the best budget models you can buy…
The best budget DSLRs
This is Canon’s most entry-level DSLR, designed to be a solid starting point for anyone’s journey into photography. As such, it is extremely basically kitted out – with just 3fps burst mode and a simple 9-point autofocus system, it’s not going to win any awards for speed.
The fundamentals, however, are solid – it’s got a 24.2MP APS-C sensor that produces images of decent quality for the price. In our review, we found that the EOS Rebel T7 (sold as the EOS 2000D in Europe) out-performed its entry-level rivals in image quality lab tests.
The EF-S lens mount means you have a huge catalogue of lenses to play with. This will be useful, as the kit lens bundled with the camera is not much to write home about. Fundamentally though, this budget DSLR does everything required to justify its price, and any starting photographer will find it a solid platform to learn on.
We’ve been recommending cameras in Nikon’s D3000 series for years. If your budget stretches to them – and this one is a more expensive prospect than the 2000D – then they’re the best beginner DSLRs you can buy. The D3500 comes with beginner-friendly tutorial modes to help users acclimate to its functions, but also has impressive imaging fundamentals, including a responsive autofocus system that can hold its own against mirrorless rivals. As we explained in our review, the D3500’s balance is so good, it’s probably the best beginner’s camera in all categories.
Now for the bad news – Nikon has recently announced that it is discontinuing several DSLR models (opens in new tab), including the D3500. It’s still widely available now, but that will change as more people snap them up, and prices may rise on the second-hand market. Our advice? Don’t wait!
The Canon EOS Rebel SL3 (sold as the EOS 250D in Europe) may not be the firm’s cheapest DSLR, but if you’re willing to pay the extra bucks, you do get quite a bit more for your money. Unlike the EOS 2000D, the EOS 250D sports a vari-angle touchscreen, an autofocus system that uses Canon’s Dual Pixel sensor technology, and the ability to shoot 4K UHD video. This is all quite a jump – and it comes in one of the smallest, lightest DSLRs on the market. Not bad!
The EOS 250D also costs a little more, generally speaking, than the Nikon D3500, and it’s more or less a matter of preference as to which one you go for. The clincher may be whether 4K is a deal-breaker for you – if you aren’t bothered about video, the cheaper camera may be the better bet. Otherwise, this is a superb choice.
Though it dates all the way back to 2013, the Nikon D5300 is still a really solid buy today, especially on the second-hand market where it can often be picked up pretty cheap, Its APS-C sensor impressed reviewers at the time for the quality of images it was capable of creating, and it still acquits itself well today. A shot that’s well-taken on the D5300 looks just as good as one taken on a much newer camera, and forward-thinking features like the vari-angle screen expand the camera’s usefulness.
One thing to note is that this camera is fairly light in terms of on-body controls. If you’re someone who likes to manually alter their settings between shots, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of hunting through menus, and this is made a bit worse by one omission on the camera – the lack of a touchscreen.
While this camera has joined the Nikon D3500 in being consigned to the discontinued graveyard, it’s still widely available, and makes for a great intermediate choice if you’ve got a slightly higher budget. The autofocus system is streets ahead of other cameras on this list, with 39 points, including 9 of the more accurate cross-type points, and it performs surprisingly well in Live View, which is great for video (no 4K though, sadly).
As noted in our review, we particularly love the design of the D5600, which blends the lightness of mirrorless with a DSLR’s graspability. An enthusiast DSLR without the bulk commonly associated with the term, this is a solid intermediate choice.
See full Nikon D5600 review (opens in new tab)
While Canon and Nikon may be the biggest names in DSLRs, don’t count out Pentax just yet. The brand’s revival by Ricoh has seen a run of quietly competent DSLRs, garnering a reputation for comprehensive weather-sealing that has made them popular among outdoor photographers, and they tend to be cheaper than equivalent cameras from the Big Two. The Pentax K-70 is a great choice for budget users who like to take their cameras out in rough conditions.
Something to be aware of is that the range of contemporary lenses is much slimmer than you’d get for EF or F mounts. K-mount may be old, but not many lenses are being made for it nowadays. The AF system also lags behind the advanced systems employed in Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
See full Pentax K-70 review (opens in new tab)