Best DSLR Cameras

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

78 Models Considered
42 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
188 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best DSLR cameras

Last Updated July 2019
By Kyle Schurman

If you are serious about your picture taking, or you want to get serious about your picture taking, at some point, you will want to move away from your phone and graduate to a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. These devices are high-tech image-capturing wonders that are often designed with both the amateur and pro in mind.

Your primary consideration is finding a camera that not only meets your level of experience but can grow with you, as well. Having software and settings that can lead you from automatic to manual picture taking is important if you want to grow in skill. You also want a well-built, ergonomic camera with quality image sensors and WiFi capabilities.

Any one of the cameras on our shortlist will make you happy, so feel free to pick one. If you want to dig a little deeper into camera terminology and learn a little more before choosing which one of our choices suits you best, keep reading.

 

About the author

Kyle Schurman is an expert photographer and has been researching and writing about electronics topics for the past 15-plus years. Having just the right hardware to meet your needs – and then knowing how to use it properly – is the key to becoming a great photographer.


Kyle Schurman  |  Writer
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.

DSLR considerations

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 list, we took many factors into consideration, including the following.

Image quality

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.

Features

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.

Skill level

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.

Price

Depending on the features included in the camera, DSLR prices vary. The cameras in our product list range in cost, but we believe that each is worth its asking price.

TESTING DSLR CAMERAS

We spent 42 hours researching 78 DSLR cameras before picking our top 5. We then purchased our favorite model and tested it in our lab.

DSLR categories

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.

Entry level DSLR cameras

These are entry-level DSLR cameras aimed at those new to DSLR photography. They have low price points and are relatively easy to use.

Consumer/hobbyist DSLR cameras

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.

Prosumer DSLR cameras

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.

EXPERT TIP

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.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

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.


Staff  | BestReviews

Traits

The Canon 5D Mark IV is for expert photographers and intermediate camera artists who are looking to improve their craft. When you consider the sheer power and versatility it affords, the Canon 5D's price really is an incredible value.

DSLR models

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.”

DID YOU KNOW?

DSLR cameras use interchangeable lenses. This means you can change the performance of the camera by using a different lens.

DID YOU KNOW?

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.

Characteristics

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.

Image sensor explained

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.

Image sensor size

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.

Full-frame image sensors

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.”

Crop-frame image sensors

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.

EXPERT TIP

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.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

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.


Staff  | BestReviews

Attributes

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.

Other DSLR terms to know

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.

Burst rate

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

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.

Build quality

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.”

Ergonomics

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.”

Image processor

The image processor is the computer chip inside the DSLR that moves data and controls the camera’s speed.

DID YOU KNOW?

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.

Ease of Use

Possibly our favorite Canon Rebel T5 feature is its on-board user guide. This handy feature instructs owners how and when to use the camera's various customizable settings. The guide makes this camera the best DSLR for beginners.

ISO

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.

Lens

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.

Lens mount

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

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.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Vukan
    Vukan
    Post Production Editor

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