We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Digital single-lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, represent the cream of the crop in the digital camera market. As smartphone cameras take control of the entry-level portion of the market, DSLRs grow in appeal at the upper end. Anyone who wants a camera that can create high-quality photos would be wise to consider a DSLR camera.
DSLR cameras aren’t just for professionals; they’re for inexperienced photographers as well. At BestReviews, we wanted to find the best selection of DSLRs for both professionals and hobbyists. We sifted through hundreds of DSLR camera models to find the top five available on today's market.
Our goal is to give readers the most accurate information available about the products they’re considering. To avoid the chance of a skewed review, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Instead, we conduct independent research and purchase our test products with our own funds.
There is something for almost everyone on our shortlist, which incorporates a range of prices and skill levels. Please feel free to click on any of the products above for more information. And if you’d like to learn more about the world of DSLR cameras and photography, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Although most DSLR cameras share similar looks, there are quite a few differentiating features that separate them. In evaluating each of the cameras in our product matrix, we took many factors into consideration, including the following.
A simple approach to analyzing any camera is the evaluation of its photographic quality. To find the best of the best, we did just that.
Matt graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, then went on to become the founder and CEO of Computer Repair Doctor, a phone repair, computer repair, and laptop repair company with locations throughout the United States. Matt and his team of tech doctors are experts in consumer electronics of all types – there is no device they can’t fix!
To deal with different photographic situations, you must be able to make adjustments on the fly. In reviewing various DSLR cameras, we examined each product’s feature set and the degree to which it would (or would not) maximize versatility.
DSLR cameras use interchangeable lenses. This means you can change the performance of the camera by using a different lens.
People of all ability levels can now pick up a camera and capture high-quality images. Some DSLRs even provide a bit of “hand holding” to aid users. As mentioned above, our research included the evaluation of entry level, hobbyist, and professional-grade DSLRs.
Depending on the features included in the camera, DSLR prices vary. The cameras in our matrix range in cost, but we believe that each is worth its asking price.
You’ll sometimes see DSLR cameras sold as the “body only.” This means no lenses are included with the purchase. You’ll have to purchase lenses separately.
The first thing you need to know when shopping for a new DSLR camera is that every model won’t fit the needs of every photographer.
For example, some cameras carry too many features — and too high of a price tag — for some photographers. And experienced photographers probably wouldn’t want a simple DSLR that fails to offer advanced manual control features.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame
Beginning with its full-frame 30.4MP image sensor and extending to its incredible versatility, the Canon 5D Mark IV does it all. An interchangeable lens mount lets users take full advantage of Canon’s impressive line of glass. Photographers are treated to a rich selection of features. Take, for example, the 61-point autofocus system: it's fast and accurate, and users love it. The ability to compare side-by-side photos on the fly – and assign a star rating to each – is another unique feature that owners love.
These are entry-level DSLR cameras aimed at those new to DSLR photography. They have low price points and are relatively easy to use.
These are mid-range DSLR cameras that appeal to both inexperienced and intermediate-level photographers. They have plenty of features for manual control. They’re nice “bridge” cameras for those looking to move up from an entry-level DSLR.
Camera lenses will usually fit several different camera bodies. Determining whether a lens fits a particular body depends on the lens mount of the DSLR camera. The lens mount and lens must be compatible.
High-level photographers will be looking for DSLRs in this category. These cameras have the largest image sensors and the fastest image processors. They also tend to carry the highest price tags.
Expensive semi-pro/pro DSLR cameras typically have more advanced features than most beginners can handle. Therefore, it’s tough for a beginner to justify paying a high price for one of these models.
Investing in an expensive camera — and then never using it because it’s too complicated, too heavy, or not right for what you want to use it for — is an unfortunate problem experts like Matt often see. Don't get one that's too impractical or complicated for what you will use it for.
A zoom lens on a DSLR camera is one that can record images at different focal lengths. A prime lens can only record at one focal length.
Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, Minolta, Fujifilm, and Sony all made DSLRs in the early days. But as of today, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, Fujifilm, and Sony have stopped making DSLRs. They now focus on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Minolta no longer makes cameras at all.
Nowadays, Nikon, Canon, and Pentax still offer DSLRs. Nikon and Canon are the two largest makers. Some photographers prefer one brand of DSLR over another, but this is a personal preference. It has little to do with features and performance. “Nikon is not better than Canon; Canon is not better than Nikon," says Matt. "They are all just tools. A better camera will not make a better photographer. It’s the driver, not the car.”
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Canon EOS Rebel T5 18-55mm SLR
We love the Canon Rebel T5; talk about an affordable camera! DSLRs are the future of digital photography, and there aren’t many cheaper options on the entry-level market. Image quality is excellent, which derives from the T5's 18MP image sensor. Photographers enjoy the freedom to use different lenses and a variety of focal lengths. With a burst speed of just three frames per second, we can’t recommend this camera for freelance sports photographers. But for the T5's target demographic – the beginner – it’s more than enough.
When it comes to understanding DSLR cameras, you must first start with the image sensor.
The image sensor is a computer chip that measures the light from the scene. It then turns that measurement into the digital bits used to create the photograph.
As a general rule, the larger the image sensor, the better the photograph quality. Not surprisingly, DSLRs with larger image sensors also tend to cost more.
DSLR cameras tend to excel at low-light photography. This occurs because the DSLRs contain image sensors of a larger physical size than simple cameras.
Measuring 24x36 mm in size, full-frame image sensors are the largest available in cameras produced for everyday use.
Nikon uses the term “FX” to identify cameras with full-frame sensors, while Canon just calls them “full-frame.”
Most DSLR cameras offer both automatic and manual control shooting modes. Beginners generally like to stick with auto mode. Experienced photographers tend to use manual control modes more often.
Crop-frame image sensors are smaller than full-frame image sensors. Nikon uses the term “DX” to identify cameras with crop-frame sensors.
The size of a crop frame sensor is listed as a “multiple factor.” Nikon DX sensors have a 1.5x factor, while Canon crop-frame sensors are available in both 1.3x and 1.6x factors. The 1.3x factor is the largest sensor, while 1.6x is the smallest sensor.
DX cameras are generally considered more consumer/hobbyist and FX cameras more semi-pro and prosumer. These markets are starting to get some crossover though, with entry-level full-frame cameras and advanced crop-frame cameras becoming more prevalent.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Nikon D750 FX
Nikon D750 owners are enthusiastic about the beautiful stills and videos they're able to produce with this camera. Some mention a lens flare problem, which is actually caused by an issue related to the shutter However, the manufacturer is aware of this concern and offers free corrective maintenance. Considering its price, the D750’s tech specs are nothing short of robust. It features a 24.3 MP, full-frame sensor that we absolutely love. Customers swear by its ability to shoot in low light.
Beyond the image sensor, it’s important to understand certain terms related to DSLRs. Knowing the jargon associated with DSLRs will help you successfully choose a model that will meet your needs.
The burst rate of a DSLR camera refers to how many photos it can record in a short time. This measurement is often provided in frames per second, or FPS.
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens that allows light to travel through it and strike the image sensor.
Lenses with wider apertures are considered to be of higher quality.
The aperture of the lens is designated by an f-stop number. A lower f-stop number equals a larger or wider aperture, which can be a little confusing.
Many DSLR cameras offer flash units that are built into the camera body. You also can attach a larger flash to the camera via the hot shoe.
Some DSLR cameras are made primarily of plastic, while others have a magnesium aluminum alloy body. The latter type of camera body is sturdier and better protected against falls. Such DSLRs will cost more, though.
“I had a camera with a plastic body fall from waist height onto a carpeted floor,” Matt says. “The outer shell and mirror housing cracked, rendering it inoperable. I’ve had a camera with a magnesium alloy body roll off a moving car onto cement with no issues besides some scratches on the surface.”
Weather-sealing is another important aspect of build quality. Having a camera body sealed from light rain or dust can be beneficial for those who shoot photos in harsh conditions. These weather-sealed DSLR bodies are not waterproof, but they are better off than models with no weather seal.
“I’ve had damaged gear from weather as simple as heavy fog,” Matt says. “Weather-sealing is a good thing.”
DSLR cameras can record video as well as still images. Some DSLRs have a maximum video recording resolution of Ultra HD (or 4K). Others are limited to HD resolution video.
All DSLR cameras share a similar look, but different models have different ergonomics. The body design differences are subtle, but they affect how you use the DSLR. “How does it feel in your hand?” Matt asks. “You’ll never use it if it’s uncomfortable to hold or carry.”
The image processor is the computer chip inside the DSLR that moves data and controls the camera’s speed.
The ISO setting of the digital camera determines the image sensor’s sensitivity to light. A higher ISO number makes the sensor more sensitive to light, allowing for better success with low-light photography. But using extremely high ISO also leads to loss of image quality the higher you go.
With a DSLR camera, you can change the lens you’re using to change the capabilities of the camera. (Fixed-lens cameras cannot change lenses.) Some DSLR camera bodies are sold with one or two lenses included; these are called kit lenses. You also can purchase extra lenses for your DSLR camera. Typically, kit lenses are fairly basic and cover a standard focal range. Many users will go on to purchase additional lenses of a higher caliber or for a more specific use after a while.
The lens mount is the part of the DSLR camera body to which you’ll connect a lens. It’s the large circle on the front of the DSLR body.
Lens manufacturers create lenses that fit a particular mount. So even though one type of lens mount will work with multiple lenses, each lens will fit only one type of lens mount.
Resolution refers to the number of pixels a camera can record. Pixels are tiny squares of color. When you look at a digital photograph with strong magnification, you can see the individual dots. But when looking at the photograph at a standard magnification, your eye naturally blends the pixels.
Resolution for DSLRs is measured in megapixels, or MP. This number refers to the millions of pixels in the photo. Don’t just pick a DSLR based on the largest number of megapixels, though.
“Megapixels aren’t everything,” Matt says. “Physical sensor size is also important. This is why the pictures from your 12MP DSLR look far better than the pictures from your 12MP phone camera.” The phone camera has an image sensor that’s physically much smaller than the DSLR.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.