What camera should I buy? Use our step-by-step guide

Digital SLRs offer big sensors and interchangeable lenses, and they mark the first step into 'serious' photography.

DSLRs are still considered the number one choice for 'serious' photographers, and they make great cameras for students too because they teach all the basic principles of photography without costing a fortune.

A DSLR is fundamentally different to the cameras covered so far because you can swap lenses. This is where digital cameras split into two main types.

So far we've been looking at so-called 'compact' cameras, though it would be more accurate to call them 'fixed lens' cameras, since they're often far from compact! This includes point-and-shoot cameras, action cameras, travel zooms, bridge cameras and high-end compacts.

But the second type is 'interchangeable lens' cameras, which is where you get into DSLR territory (and compact system cameras – more on these shortly).

Being able to change lenses really opens up a whole new world of photography. DSLRs often come with 'standard' zooms, or 'kit' lenses, which cover an everyday range of focal lengths, but you can also get telephotos, super-wide-angle lenses, macro lenses for extreme close-ups, fisheye lenses and fast (wide aperture) prime lenses for atmospheric defocused backgrounds.

DSLRs are perfect for anyone who wants to take their photography more seriously, not just because you can change lenses, but because they have large APS-C sensors that deliver much better quality than the smaller sensors in most compact cameras. You also get full manual controls, the ability to shoot raw files and an optical viewfinder that gives you a bright, clear view of the scene in front of the camera.

Pros: Interchangeable lenses; full manual controls; raw files; APS-C sensor for a big step up in quality.

Cons: Big and bulky compared to most compact cameras; focusing in 'live view' on the rear screen is comparatively sluggish on most models.

Our pick... Nikon D3400

Nikon's D3400 builds on the brilliant D3300, which was until recently our top pick. Sharing pretty much the same design and specification as its predecessor, the D3400 adds Nikon's SnapBridge bluetooth connectivity to transfer images directly to your smart device to make it that much easier to share images. The 24.2MP sensor resolves bags of detail, while the D3400 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. There's no touchscreen, but otherwise this is our favorite entry-level DSLR right now. 

Read our in-depth Nikon D3400 review