If you decide you want to take up photography as a hobby or even as a profession, then sooner or later you're going to want to move up to a camera that takes interchangeable lenses – and even though mirrorless cameras are grabbing all the headlines right now for most folk that means 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 some 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, we’ll now list our favorite DSLR cameras right now. We’ll start off with the best all-round cameras for most photographers, then take a look at a couple of cheaper options for novices to get started with before taking a look at full-frame camera models, and more specialized choices for sports and action that require a professional camera.
1. 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 that’s a minor drawback in a camera as good as this one.
Read more: Canon EOS 80D review
2. 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
3. Nikon D3500
The perfect DSLR for beginners 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 Nikon D7500 and Canon EOS 80D are way more than you need, then the Nikon D3500 could be just the ticket – especially as it ranks as our best Nikon camera. 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
4. 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, but the previous model is still on sale and we still really rate it, especially if the prices fall.
Read more: Canon Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D review
5. Nikon D500
A professional DSLR without the professional price tag
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
The Nikon D500 is at the top end of the price scale compared to other APS-C format Nikon models, but it’s still way cheaper than the company’s full frame D5 model. It’s designed to offer much of the speed and robustness and all of the autofocus performance of the D5, but in a much more affordable body – all because it uses the smaller APS-C sensor format. The D500 is ideal for amateurs looking for pro sports/shooting capabilities, and pros who need a second backup camera. With its 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.
Read more: Nikon D500 review
6. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Canon’s high-speed sports/action DSLR matches the Nikon D500
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
Needless to say, Canon has its own super-fast enthusiast DSLR for sports and action fans. The EOS 7D Mark II is older than the Nikon D500 and there are rumors that there is an EOS 7D Mark III in the pipeline. In the meantime, though, this camera offers enthusiasts a route into pro-level sports photography without having to pay thousands for a professional full frame camera like the EOS-1D X Mark II. The EOS 7D Mark II matches the 10fps continuous shooting speed of the Nikon D500, and a powerful a 65-point wide-area autofocus system with ‘Intelligent’ tracking in AI Servo mode – though it can’t match the D500’s 4K video capability.
7. 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
In the debate about Canon vs Nikon, it’s easy to forget there’s still a third DSLR maker in the fight. Admittedly, Pentax’s market-leading days are behind it, but its range-topping APS-C format camera, the Pentax KP, is still worth a close look. It 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 Pentax K-1 Mark II, autofocus is disappointingly slow in Live View mode. 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
8. Nikon D850
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. Nikon D750
Going full frame doesn’t have to be expensive
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. 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.
Read more: The best Nikon D750 deals right now
11. 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
12. Pentax K-1 Mark II
Don’t forget Pentax! Its one and only full-frame DSLR is 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
13. 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
We can’t talk about the best DSLRs on the market without mentioning the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. Built like a tank and almost as heavy, it nevertheless has sublimely natural handling, thanks to its built-in vertical grip and meticulously duplicated control buttons and dials. Like its rival the Nikon D5, (below) it sacrifices megapixels for outright speed – a blisteringly fast continuous drive rate of 14fps, rising to 16fps in Live View mode. This makes the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II the tool of choice for many professional sports and wildlife photographers, especially as the fast drive rate is backed up by a 61-point autofocus system that’s superb at tracking moving subjects. The price puts it way beyond the reach of most amateurs, but for many pro photographers, this or the Nikon D5 are the only tools for the job.
14. 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. 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.