Best entry-level DSLR 2015: what to look for, which to buy

We help you choose a great camera without spending a fortune

Your first DSLR needn t cost a fortune

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. It's easy to blow big bucks on a DSLR, but entry-level models can often be had for little more than a premium compact camera. 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 shoots, especially if you're still learning.

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: 24.2 | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 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

The D3300's 24.2 megapixel sensor resolves bags of detail with minimal image noise up to ISO 3200, and also produces decent results at higher sensor sensitivities. 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 touch-screen display or Wi-Fi connectivity, but Nikon does make a cheap plug-in Wi-Fi adaptor.

Read the full review: Nikon D3300

Nikon D3200

2. Nikon D3200

Big performance for a tiny price; grab one whilst you can

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

High-resolution sensor
Guide mode
Non-collapsible lens
Iffy screen colours

Is your budget too tight even for the D3300? Then take a look at its predecessor instead. Although the Nikon D3300 has technically replaced it, the D3200 was a huge upgrade over its predecessor and consequently its specs are still competitive today. Shop around and you'll find it selling for a steal. You'll have to settle for Nikon's non-retractable 18-55mm kit lens, and its sensor isn't filter-less like the D3300's, but that's no biggie when you've got 24.2-megapixels to play with. The D3200 also matches its replacement's impressive 5 frames-per-second continuous shooting speed, which is pretty nippy for a budget DSLR. There's no built-in Wi-Fi but, like the D3300, it'll take the same inexpensive plug-in Wi-Fi adaptor.

Read the full review: Nikon D3200

Canon EOS 750D

3. Canon EOS 750D (Rebel T6i)

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

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch articulating touch-screen, 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 Canon 750D is new and still rather pricey, but its new 24.2-megapixel sensor delivers stunning image quality with impressively low noise levels at high ISO sensitivities. The 750D also receives much-improved autofocus and exposure metering systems over Canon's older 700D, as well as built-in Wi-Fi with NFC pairing. Although outwardly similar to its 700D predecessor, that does mean you get the same articulating, touch-sensitive screen to enjoy. Assuming the 750D's price tag falls in line with that of the Nikon D5500, the Canon is our preferred choice thanks to more comprehensive controls and marginally superior image quality.

Nikon D5500

4. Nikon D5500

Choosing between Canon and Nikon is tougher than ever

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touch-screen, 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 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. This latest addition to the series is bang up-to-date and is the first Nikon DSLR to get touch-screen control, plus 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 24.2-megapixel, non-anti-aliased sensor, though. It may be pinched from the older D5300, but it still delivers excellent image quality.

Read the full review: Nikon D5500

Nikon D5300

5. Nikon D5300

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

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

Pixel-packed, 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, but unlike the equivalent Canon 700D, the D5300 is still a contemporary camera. It shares the same 24.2MP sensor with an identical maximum ISO 25600 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 touch-screen 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 750D – the D5300 is still a smart buy.

Read the full review: Nikon D5300

Canon EOS 700D

6. Canon EOS 700D (Rebel T5i)

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 touch-screen, 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 700D next to the 750D and you'll struggle to tell them apart, as the new camera inherits the 700D's excellent ergonomics and class-leading touch-sensitive screen. Even the good old button controls are more comprehensive than on rival Nikons, making the 700D intuitive to use, regardless of your ability. However, the 700D's sensor can trace its roots back to the 550D 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 700D's slashed price does make it a tempter, but the 750D is a more future-proof choice.

Read the full review: Canon EOS 700D

Canon EOS 1200D

7. Canon EOS 1200D (Rebel T5)

Canon's cheapest DSLR faces stiff competition

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18 | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 460,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Low price
Good image quality
Slow live view focussing
No touchscreen or Wi-Fi

The 700D is currently a bargain, but the EOS 1200D is cheaper still. Nikon currently boasts some terrific budget DSLRs, and the 1200D is Canon's response. It's the cheapest way to buy into a new Canon DSLR system, but the 1200D is slightly more cheap than cheerful. Its 18MP sensor is getting on a bit and while still good, it can't match the 24.2MP device in the Nikon D3300. The 1200D's 3fps continuous shooting speed is also leisurely compared to the Nikon's 5fps rate, and where that camera includes built-in help guides, you'll have to resort to downloading Canon's versions through a separate smartphone app. But for Canon fans, the 1200D is a still an effective camera at a reasonable price.

Read the full review: Canon EOS 1200D

Pentax K 50

8. Pentax K-50

The perfect starter DSLR for adventure photography

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 16.3 | 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.

Sony Alpha a58

9. Sony Alpha a58

Not strictly a DSLR, but the a58's alternative tech has its benefits

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 | Lens mount: Sony A | Screen: 2.7-inch articulating, 460,800 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Good EVF
Decent low light performance
Low screen resolution
Not touch-sensitive

It's easy to get lured in to the fierce rivalry between Canon and Nikon, but don't ignore Sony's compelling SLT (single lens translucent) cameras like the a58. SLT technology means you get an electronic viewfinder (EVF) rather than a conventional optical one, but the a58's EVF is bright and clear. However, the technology really shines when it comes to autofocussing in live view, which is far faster than comparable SLRs (the a58 is always in live view, effectively). Another bonus is the super-fast 8fps continuous shooting speed. Sony is concentrating on compact system cameras now, but the a58 is still out there and is a real bargain.

Read the full review: Sony Alpha a58

Pentax K S1

10. Pentax K-S1

If bling is your thing, here's a dream come true

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5.4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p

In-body image stabilisation
Fashion-conscious design
Noisy kit lens
No Wi-Fi

Thought the K-50 was a bit different from the norm? Think again! Pentax has gone all-out to make the K-S1 stand out by giving it illuminated controls arranged in an offbeat layout, plus a dazzling array of body colour schemes. But there's substance beneath the style, as this is another very capable Pentax DSLR. Its 20-megapixel sensor has no anti-aliasing filter for sharper images, and these are kept crisp with Pentax's excellent sensor-based Shake Reduction system. Unfortunately the K-S1 is let down by a noisy kit lens, whilst those funky looks will cost you a slight premium.

Read the full review: Pentax K-S1