Buying guide: best SLR for beginners

Our rundown of the greatest beginner SLRs on the market right now

Pentax K 50 colours

If you're a beginner or less experienced photographer who's keen to develop your skills, it's a great time to be buying an SLR – there's a wide choice of keenly priced cameras competing for your custom. Makers are eager to attract beginners in the hope of building loyalty, particularly as SLR users tend to upgrade their lenses eventually, or buy flashguns and other extras.

Ideally, you want an SLR that is easy to use, but one that you won't quickly outgrow as your skills and confidence develop. You also want a camera that gives you access to a wide range of lenses and accessories, but one that isn't so heavy and bulky that it becomes a chore to carry.

The good news is that there are plenty of cameras that fulfill these criteria. Just remember, while entry-level SLRs are well priced, you are going to need to get more lenses at some point. The 'kit' lenses supplied with most starter SLRs are workmanlike and enable you to experiment with different effects, but they are usually built down to a price.

Investing in some better quality lenses to go with your new camera will have a massive impact on the quality of your photographs.

With this in mind, here are our favourite SLRs for beginners.

Nikon D3300

Price (with 18-55mm VR II lens): £429/$596/A$727

  • Sensor size: APS-C
  • Pixel count: 24.2Mp
  • Screen type: 3-inch LCD, 921,000 dots
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 5fps
  • Maximum video resolution: 1080p

Nikon D3300

The D3300 is one of the best SLRs for beginners out there and you get a lot for your money.

The 24 million pixel sensor provides bags of detail resolution, and being able to crop into the image for extra reach (or to improve composition) is a big help. A higher pixel count can mean a greater risk of noise, but happily, the D3300 keeps it well under control. Noise only really becomes apparent at ISO3200 or higher and even then, it's at acceptable levels.

Another big advantage of the D3300 is its ease of use. The Guide Mode is a great learning tool for less experienced photographers, giving real time explanations of important functions and features. As with several other SLRs in Nikon's range, the D3300 does without an anti-aliasing filter, the idea being you get sharper, more detailed shots straight from the camera. Moreover, the 18-55mm lens collapses down to make it more convenient to carry, which will further widen this camera's appeal.

There are downsides, but they are minor disappointments rather than major issues. First, it's a shame the screen isn't articulated, and it isn't touchscreen either. The D3300 lacks built-in Wi-Fi too, a tad irritating considering this is not the cheapest starter SLR out there. Otherwise, though, the D3300 is a winner.

Read our full Nikon D3300 review

Canon EOS 100D (or Rebel SL1)

Price (with 18-55mm IS STM lens): £479/$599/A$749

  • Sensor size: APS-C
  • Pixel count: 18Mp
  • Screen type: 3 inch LCD, 1,040,000 dots
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 4fps
  • Maximum video resolution: 1080p

EOS 100D

Put off by the comparative bulk and weight of SLRs? This wonderfully light and compact starter SLR will change your mind.

Small really is wonderful with the 100D, as its diminutive frame houses a high-resolution 18 megapixel APS-C sensor and a sophisticated Digic 5 image processor. Both contrast detection and phase-detection autofocus are possible thanks to the hybrid COMS sensor, handy when shooting movies or accessing Live View.

The 100D is a very practical SLR, too. Continuous shooting is possible at up to 4 frames per second (that's JPEG and raw), while the ISO range now stretches to ISO 12,800 (up to 25,600 in expanded mode). The 100D is also easy to use, with a Scene Intelligent Auto System which analyses the scene you're shooting in real time, and a wide range of scene modes. A SCN setting on the main mode dial gives fast access to more sophisticated scene modes, and this works well with the touchscreen LCD – another benefit of this camera.