A wide array of professional-grade features. Exceptional image quality.
No built-in flash. Complex operation may be difficult for amateurs to navigate. Expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Easy to operate. Features are designed with the beginner in mind. Its APS-C size image sensor is more than adequate for many photography situations.
Serious photographers may find the image quality lacking.
Fantastic image quality. User-friendly features. Can change lenses/settings - very versatile. Affordable price.
No built-in WiFi capabilities. Some features lag behind its competitors.
Full-frame, 24.3-MP camera. Advantageous auto mode. Professional image quality. Shoots well in low light. Lots of features.
A complex camera with a steep learning curve for beginners. Some report lens flare issues but free corrective maintenance available.
24-MP sensor. Pristine image quality. Helpful shake reduction feature reduces blur. Lots of features for a mid-level camera. Robust weather-proofing. Impressively wide range.
Video quality is not on par with competitors. Longer start-and-shoot speed. No WiFi but can buy a memory card to enable it. Novice users may have difficulty learning how to use it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 product list range in cost, but we believe that each is worth its asking price.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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