Choosing the best DSLR becomes a lot easier when you decide what kind of user you are. We pick three DSLRs which are great for beginners because of their features, value and ease of use. Enthusiasts will want a DSLR that's a step up from their old camera, and pros will want high-resolution full frame cameras built to last. We've split our buying guide into three sections to cater for each type of user.
But isn't everyone these days saying that you should buy a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR? It's true that the best mirrorless cameras now offer the same kind of features, lens choice and image quality, usually in a smaller body, but DSLRs still have advantages of their own. In fact the DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate looks set to rumble on for a long time yet.
A cheap DSLR camera is still just about the most affordable way to get into proper photography – and remember that every DSLR has a viewfinder, where that’s unusual on low-cost mirrorless cameras. In fact, you can find DSLRs on our list of best cheap camera models of all types.
DSLR have a chunkier design which many photographers prefer. This allows more space for external controls and makes the camera easier to grip and better balanced when using longer lenses – especially some of the large telephoto lenses for Canon.
Some people prefer the look of an optical viewfinder over a digital one, and you don’t get the ‘lag’ effect that can make following moving subjects trickier with a mirrorless camera. You also get much better battery life.
So if we’ve convinced you a DSLR might be the right kind of camera for you, take a look at our list to see what we think are the best buys right now (or, if you're still not decided, take a look at our guide to the best camera for beginners). There are lots of really good DSLRs for enthusiasts, and we've picked four of the best. Finally, if you're in the market for a professional camera, we list three top choices that combine professional features, handling and ruggedness with resolution and an affordable price tag.
1. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D
This novice-friendly Canon DSLR comes with touch control and 4K video
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
Canon does make a couple of cheaper DSLRs than this one, notably the 18-megapixel EOS 4000D and the 24-megapixel EOS 2000D, but we reckon they’re too cut down in features and build quality and we’d recommend paying just a little bit extra for the EOS Rebel SL3 DSLR (sold as the EOS 250D in Europe). Why? Because it has a vari-angle touchscreen on the back and a sensor with Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, so the autofocus in live view is really snappy. We also love the fact that you can start from a simple Guided user interface when you’re still learning, and then switch to the standard setup when you feel more confident and want more control. The Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D is a replacement for Canon's older Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D, adding 4K video and better live view autofocus. This is a DSLR that can beat mirrorless cameras at their own game!
Read more: Canon Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D review
2. Nikon D3500
The perfect DSLR for beginners, students and anyone on a budget
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon F (DX) | Screen: 3in, 921,000 dots | Max burst speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
If the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D is just a little too expensive, then the Nikon D3500 could be just the ticket – especially as it ranks as one the best Nikon cameras right now, as well as one of the best cameras for beginners. Beginners are often worried about DSLRs being complicated, but the Nikon D3500 has a brilliant ‘Guide’ shooting mode that acts as a fully interactive tutorial on photography, delivered via the rear LCD screen. The rear screen is fixed, and you’re limited to full HD video rather than 4K, but the 24-megapixel sensor delivers super-sharp images and the retracting 18-55mm kit lens is rather good too. The D3500 is small, light, cheap and very good.
Read more: Nikon D3500 review
3. Canon EOS Rebel T100 / EOS 4000D
A bare-bones outfit that really strips back the cost
Type: DSLR | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 2.7in fixed, 230,000 dots | Max burst speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p (Full HD) | User level: Beginner
Nobody wants to buy an expensive camera only to discover that photography’s not for them. You can limit the risk with this remarkably cheap DSLR and kit EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III lens, it’s well suited to beginners, with the same ‘intelligent’ full auto shooting mode and feature guide as you’ll find in pricier Canon cameras. The ‘Quick’ menu is typically intuitive, and there are plenty of scene modes as well as more advanced shooting modes. There’s also a Creative Auto mode to help you progress from ‘basic zone’ to ‘creative zone’ modes. The 18MP image sensor is a little lacking in megapixels compared with most current DSLRs, and there are more serious cutbacks in other areas. We wouldn’t expect a touchscreen at this price, but the rear LCD is disappointingly small and low in pixel count. Ultimately, it’s a very basic camera but a sensible bargain-basement buy if you just want to dip your toe in the photographic water.
Read more: Canon EOS Rebel T100 / 4000D review
4. Canon EOS 80D
It’s powerful, versatile and affordable and one of the best all-round DSLRs
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
This is the best Canon camera for photographers who already know the basics and want to move on to a camera that offers both image quality and versatility without costing a fortune. The EOS 80D has a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, so unusually for a DSLR it offers speedy autofocus in live view shooting using the screen on the back of the camera, not. Just in regular viewfinder shooting. The vari-angle screen adds to its versatility, making it easy to take pictures at all sorts of odd angles, and with a continuous shooting speed of 7fps, it’s pretty handy for sports and action too. The EOS 80D doesn’t shoot 4K video, alas, only 1080 full HD, but if you're more interested in stills than video, that's not going to be a problem.
Read more: Canon EOS 80D review
5. Nikon D7500
Nikon’s answer to the Canon EOS 80D is fast, powerful and effective
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
Nikon fans looking for an all-round equivalent to the do-it-all Canon EOS 80D should take a look at the Nikon D7500. Also designed for enthusiasts, it offers a slightly faster 8fps continuous shooting speed, a proven 51-point autofocus system and the ability to capture 4K video. It has a tilting rear screen rather than the fully-articulated design on the EOS 80D and relies on slower contrast AF in live view mode, but if you do most of your shooting through the viewfinder these will be small points. The D7500 also has a lower resolution (20MP vs 24MP) but in real-world shooting its high-performance sensor delivers images which are just as sharp as the Canon’s. Either camera is a great all-round buy for photo enthusiasts.
Read more: Nikon D7500 review
6. Nikon D750
Going full frame doesn’t have to be expensive and the D750 is old but good
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
Full frame DSLRs tend to cost a lot more than amateur-orientated APS-C models, but that’s often because they’re aimed at a professional audience that requires other features too. In fact, you can upgrade to a full frame system without spending a fortune with the Nikon D750. It’s been around for a while now, but that just means users have had more time to appreciate its value for money, high image quality, especially at higher ISO settings, and all-round versatility. It's also grown a lot cheaper over time! The 51-point autofocus system is highly proficient and metering is very reliable, and it can shoot at a respectable 6.5fps in continuous shooting mode. The D750 is still Nikon’s most appealing and affordable all-rounder for many photographers and a great buy for enthusiasts who want to step up to full frame photography – it's one of the ten cheapest full frame cameras you can buy right now.
Read more: The best Nikon D750 deals right now
7. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Canon’s entry-level full frame camera gives you a lot for your money
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
We like the Nikon D750, but the EOS 6D Mark II is a newer model with some very impressive features of its own. The 26-megapixel sensor is good rather than great, but it does have Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, so the live view autofocus is very good – the 45-point viewfinder AF system is pretty good too, though the focus points are all clustered towards the centre of the screen. The EOS 6D Mark II can capture images at 6.5fps in burst mode, just like the Nikon D750, but sneaks ahead with its extremely useful vari-angle touchscreen display.
Also read: Canon EOS 6D Mark II review
8. Nikon D850
Truly the high-water mark for high-resolution full frame DSLR cameras
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
So far we’ve been looking at APS-C format DSLRs because they offer the best compromise between features, quality and price, but if you’re ready for a step up in image quality then a full frame DSLR is the next step. The Nikon D850 is an expensive camera to be our top full frame choice, but its capabilities put it in a class of its own. Its 45.7MP resolution is spectacular, it has the same high-tech metering and autofocus modules fitted to Nikon’s high-end D5 and D500 DSLRs, as well as an upgraded autofocus system with 153 instead of 53 points, and can capture images at 7 frames per second – or 9fps with the optional MB-D18 battery grip. Amazing video also makes it one of the best 4K camera choices around.
9. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon’s full frame all-rounder is massively popular with pros
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. On paper, its features look unspectacular compared to the Nikon D850’s, but for many pros the 30MP resolution is more than enough – and the 4K video makes it regarded as the best camera for filmmaking by many users (even if there is quite a severe crop factor). Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF gives the ESO 5D Mark IV perky autofocus performance in live vie and video modes, too. It’s proved itself versatile, robust and reliable – all major plus points for pro photographers.
Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV vs Nikon D850
10. Pentax K-1 Mark II
Pentax makes only one full-frame DSLR, but it's a cracker!
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, though the 33-point autofocus system does feel dated, and Live View autofocus is poor. Even so, this camera gives you a lot of features and performance for the money.
Read more: Pentax K-1 Mark II review
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