While compact system (mirrorless) cameras have eaten into their market share to an extent, SLRs remain the weapon of choice for many enthusiast photographers. It's not hard to understand why; enthusiast-level SLRs offer near pro-levels of performance at an affordable price, are relatively to easy to use, and give access to a massive range of lenses and accessories. Indeed, some enthusiast SLRs rival pro-spec models, blurring the boundary between the two.

Many photographers prefer the reassuringly chunky feel and build quality of SLRs, as well as the more traditional optical viewfinder and fast, phase-detection autofocusing. Enthusiast-level SLRs include both APS-C and full-frame sensors; to recap, a full frame sensor is the same size as 35mm film negative 'frame.' This means that its light sensitive photosites (pixels) can be larger than those on APS-C format sensors, so more light can enter them – which can mean better dynamic range and less noise in low-light shooting. APS-C sensors are physically smaller and are subject to a focal length multiplication factor (the so-called 'crop factor) in comparison to full-frame cameras.

That said, APS-C sensors in the best enthusiast SLRs still offer high resolution, and lenses for APS-C cameras are cheaper than their full-frame equivalents.

Here are some of our favourite enthusiast-level SLRs.

Canon EOS 6D

EOS 6D

  • Sensor size: Full frame
  • Pixel count: 20.2Mp
  • Screen type: 3-inch LCD, 1,040,000 dot
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 4.5fps
  • Maximum video resolution: 1080p

The Canon EOS 6D is a great example of a compact full-frame camera, weighing in at almost 200g less than its bulkier big brother, the Canon 5D Mk III. It's built to last though, with front and back sections made from sturdy magnesium alloy. In many ways, the handling and build quality is similar to the APS-C format Canon 60D, but there are some significant differences. As with the 5D Mk III, the 6D lacks a pop-up flash; while most serious photographers would only use a flashgun anyway, built-in flash can come in handy for wirelessly triggering off-camera flash units or basic fill-in flash in strong sunshine. The 6D also lacks a vari-angle/touchscreen LCD, which is a frustrating omission.

What the 6D lacks in mod cons it makes up for in resolution, and it packs a 20.2Mp full-frame sensor that's almost the match of the one in the 5D Mk III. It's got the same Digic 5+ image processor, too. Compromises have been made with the autofocus, however. The 6D gets by with only 11 AF points, and only the centre point is cross type. Connectivity is good, with both onboard Wi-Fi and GPS (though the latter quickly drains the battery). High ISO performance is impressive and there's a good range of advanced shooting features, but if the restricted AF options are a worry, you might be better off stumping up for the full-fat 5D Mark III.

Read our full Canon 6D review

Nikon D610

D610

  • Sensor size: Full frame
  • Pixel count: 24.3 Mp
  • Screen type: 3.2 inch LCD, 921,000 dots
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6fps
  • Maximum video resolution: 1080p

Nikon's D600 was initially welcomed as a cheaper and in many ways more practical alternative to the 36Mp behemoth that is the D800/D800E, but dirty sensor issues soon rained on its parade.

The updated version, the D610, is very much the camera that the D600 should have been. An updated shutter mechanism seems to have stopped the mystery gunge appearing, and you're getting all the benefits of full frame – detailed wide-angle shots and fine depth of field control – at a reasonable price.

The larger photosites on its sensor give the 610 greater dynamic range and cleaner images at higher ISOs than the D7100, even though it can't resolve more detail. With a part-magnesium alloy body, the D610 is tough enough for demanding use, and weather seals mean you can keep shooting when the heavens open.

As with the D800, there are plenty of direct control buttons, which make adjusting key settings a lot easier. The downsides are the lack of onboard Wi-Fi, and the absence of a touchscreen/vari-angle screen is also disappointing on a camera at this price. Still, the D610 has become significantly cheaper since it launched, making it a very attractive first full-frame SLR for Nikon fans.