Best entry-level DSLRs 2016: What to look for and which to buy

We help you choose a great beginner DSLR without spending a fortune

If you've outgrown your point-and-shoot camera and feel like you're ready to take your photography to the next step, then an entry-level DSLR is the obvious choice. You might also want to consider a mirrorless camera as an alternative, although you won't find one with a viewfinder at the same price as a DSLR.

If you are thinking about a mirrorless camera, then you might want to read this: Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: 10 key differences. Or, if you're not sure what kind of camera you need at all, then read our easy to follow guide to camera types: What camera should I buy?

DSLRs deliver a big step up in image quality from a compact camera, far more manual control and the ability to change lenses to tackle a huge variety of projects. Obviously, the more features you want, the more you'll pay, but do you actually need them? Our top camera is one of the cheapest on the market, but still offers impressive performance and image quality, plus enough features to handle most assignments, especially if you're still learning.

DSLR bundles

If you're buying your first DSLR, it makes sense to go for a 'kit', which generally includes the camera body along with an 18-55mm lens. This covers a broad zoom range, perfect for everything from landscapes to portraits, but that's just the start.

The key advantage of DSLRs over compact cameras is that you can add to your kit with, for example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, a flashgun, and other accessories - to make the most of whatever types of photography you're into.

Canon and Nikon offer the largest collections of DSLR lenses, but Pentax and Sony also offer decent ranges. You're not limited to own-brand lenses either, with the likes of Sigma, Tamron and Tokina selling quality lenses at prices that are often lower than the camera manufacturers' own equivalent lenses.

Nikon D3300

1. Nikon D3300

It's not the most expensive entry-level DSLR, but we think it's the best

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Great image quality
Guide mode
Fixed screen
No built-in Wi-Fi

Nikon's D3400 might have replaced it, but the D3300 is still our top pick. Why? Unless you want improved connectivity, then the D3300 is pretty much identical to the D3400 and quite a bit cheaper. The 24.2MP sensor resolves bags of detail and like much like pricier Nikon DSLRs, it does away with an anti-aliasing filter to maximise image sharpness. This is also a very easy camera to live with. Its clever Guide Mode is a useful learning tool that gives real-time explanations of important features, whilst the collapsible 18-55mm kit lens is great when you're on the go. It's a shame you don't get an articulated touchscreen display or Wi-Fi connectivity, but Nikon does make a cheap plug-in Wi-Fi adaptor if that's a deal-breaker for you.

Read the full review: Nikon D3300

Canon EOs 750D

2. Canon EOS Rebel T6i / Canon EOS 750D

A compelling combination of top-notch ergonomics and a superb sensor

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Terrific sensor
Wi-Fi with NFC
Average battery life
Only 95% viewfinder coverage

Nikon doesn't have the top spots in our line-up all to itself because by paying more cash will get you a lot more camera. The EOS Rebel T6i (Called the EOS 750D outside the US) packs in a 24.2MP sensor that delivers stunning image quality with impressively low noise levels at high ISO sensitivities. The Rebel T6i also receives much-improved autofocus and exposure metering systems over Canon's older T5i / 700D, as well as built-in Wi-Fi with NFC pairing. Although outwardly similar to its T5i predecessor, that does mean you get the same articulating, touch-sensitive screen to enjoy. It pips the Nikon D5500 to second place thanks to more comprehensive controls and marginally superior image quality.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel T6i / Canon EOS 750D

Nikon D5500

3. Nikon D5500

Choosing between Canon and Nikon is tougher than ever

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

High-res, non-anti-aliased sensor
Touch-sensitive articulating screen
Slow live-view focussing
No GPS

The D5500 competes directly with Canon's EOS Rebel T6i / EOS 750D at the upper end of the entry-level DSLR market. Where Nikon's D3000-series cameras are designed as cost-conscious introductory DSLRs, the D5000-series is preferable if you want to get more creative. The D5600 has just been announced, but isn't available in the US at the moment, while there's actually not that much different from the D5500. The D5500 sports a touchscreen control and there's also built-in Wi-Fi – but it's a pity GPS hasn't been carried over from the D5300, and live view autofocusing speed is no faster. There isn't much wrong with the D5500's 24.2MP, non-anti-aliased sensor, though, and while it may be pinched from the older D5300, it still delivers excellent results.

Read the full review: Nikon D5500

EOS 760D

4. Canon EOS Rebel T6s / Canon EOS 760D

Like the EOS 750D, but with better handling and a second LCD

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Great touchscreen
Excellent sensor
AF point selection fiddly
Expensive

Just to confuse matters, Canon launched two updates to the EOS Rebel T5i / 700D - the EOS Rebel T6i / 750D and the T6s / 760D. Internally at least, the EOS Rebel T6i / 750D and T6s / 760D are very pretty much identical, but it's the exterior controls where differences start to appear, notably the addition of a rear thumbwheel and top plate LCD display. Features which only normally appear on Canon's higher end enthusiast models. For newer users, the T6i is the better bet, but if you're looking for lightweight DSLR with a comprehensive set of features, then you won't go wrong with the T6s.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel T6s / Canon EOS 760D

D5300

5. Nikon D5300

No longer Nikon's latest and greatest entry-level DSLR, but almost

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

High-res, non-anti-aliased sensor
GPS built in
Slow live-view focussing
No touchscreen

The D5300 was around for little more than a year before the D5500 technically replaced it. It shares the same 24.2MP sensor with an identical maximum ISO25,600 sensitivity as the D5500, whilst the D5300's EXPEED 4 image processor and 39-point autofocus system have also been carried over to its replacement. Whilst the D5300 doesn't sport fancy touchscreen control, you do get GPS instead. The D5300's 600-shot battery life has since been beaten by the D5500, but it'll still outlast a Canon T6i / 750D. All in all, it may not be the latest entry-level DSLR, but the D5300 is still a smart buy.

Read the full review: Nikon D5300

EOS 700D

6. Canon EOS Rebel T5i / Canon EOS 700D

Still fresh on the outside, if a little long in the tooth within

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18 | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Superb ergonomics
Touch-sensitive, articulating screen
Outdated sensor
No Wi-Fi

Stick the EOS Rebel T5i / 700D next to the T6i / 750D and you'll struggle to tell them apart, as the new camera inherits the T5i's excellent ergonomics and class-leading touch-sensitive screen. Even the good old button controls are more comprehensive than on rival Nikons, making the T5i intuitive to use, regardless of your ability. However, the T5i's sensor can trace its roots back to the T2i released in 2010 and it's now outclassed in terms of noise suppression and dynamic range. The 9-point autofocus system is also dated and you don't get Wi-Fi connectivity. The T5i's slashed price does make it a tempter, but the T6i is a more future-proof choice.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel T5i / Canon EOS 700D

7. Nikon D3400

A great entry-level DSLR, it just needs the price to drop a bit

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Superb battery life
Good single-shot AF
Pricey compared to rivals
No touchscreen

Nikon's latest DSLR is almost identical in specification to the D3300 - our top pick here, but adds Nikon's SnapBridge bluetooth connectivity to transfer images directly to your smart device to make it that much easier to share image. The D3400 is a very good entry-level DSLR, with a range of features to appeal to new users, but as it's the newest camera here, it's also one of the most expensive. For our money, we'd get the D3300 and the money we'd save, we'd invest in another lens or some essential photo accessories to get started. 

Read the full review: Nikon D3400

EOs 100D

8. Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / Canon EOS 100D

A cheap and very cheerful entry level camera

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Small size
Touchscreen control
Battery life rated at 380 shots
Fixed rather than vari-angle screen

Canon introduced the EOS Rebel SL1 (EOS 100D outside the US) to compete with the influx of compact system cameras and it was the smallest DSLR available when it was introduced in March 2013. It's getting on a bit now, but while the image quality hasn't diminished, its price has, making it a good choice for anyone buying their first DSLR. Inside is Canon's stalwart 18MP APS-C format sensor, a hybrid CMOS AF II variant which means that the focusing is faster than the T5 / 1200D when you're composing images on the main screen – though it's not especially quick. The three-inch screen is also touch-sensitive, which makes the SL1 easier to use thanks to Canon's excellent interface, although there are fewer buttons and dials than on models like the T6i / 750D. Despite the SL1's small size there's a good chunky grip to make it feel comfortable and secure in your hand. Image quality is good, but the 24MP Nikon D3300 captures more detail.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 / Canon EOS 100D

EOS 1300d

9. Canon EOS Rebel T6 / Canon EOS 1300D

Great camera that replaces the EOS 1200D

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch, 920,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Low price
Good image quality
No touchscreen
Slow live view focusing

The EOS Rebel T6 (known as the EOS 1300D outside the US) uses the same sensor as the camera it replaces, the T5 / 1200D, but it has a newer processing engine and this enables it to produce slightly better quality images. In reality you're unlikely to be able to spot much difference at normal image viewing sizes though, so it's not a real biggie. Where the EOS Rebel T6 does score over the T5 though is the connectivity department; its got Wi-Fi and NFC technology built-in. This means you can transfer images to your smartphone for super-quick sharing. You can also use your phone to control the camera remotely, which is ideal for taking group shots with you in the frame. The screen has also been upgraded from a 3-inch 460K dot unit to one with 920K dots, which makes images look much sharper.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel T6 / Canon EOS 1300D

Pentax K 50

10. Pentax K-50

The perfect starter DSLR for adventure photography

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 16.3MP | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Weatherproof
100% viewfinder coverage
Noisy operation
Fixed screen

Pentax is renowned for producing DSLRs with maximum bang per buck, and the K-50 is no exception. Weatherproof DSLRs that are rain and dust resistant usually cost a packet, but the K-50 offers this protection at a bargain price so you can shoot in all conditions. Just remember that you'll have to partner it with more expensive WR (weather resistant) lenses to get the full benefit. Regardless of the lens you use, Pentax's in-camera Shake Reduction system cuts camera shake and can even correct slightly skewed horizons. The only reason the K-50 isn't higher on our list is Pentax's relatively restricted lens range.

Read the full review: Pentax K-50

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photography Editor

With over ten years experience writing about cameras and photography, Phil is TechRadar's Photography Editor, writing and overseeing reviews of the latest camera gear, as well as looking after the photography tutorials and techniques you see here.