Best entry-level DSLR 2016: 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

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.

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 Nikon D3300 review

Best Entry Level DSLR

2. 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.

Read the full Canon EOS 750D (Rebel T6i) review

Nikon D5500

3. 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 Nikon D5500 review

Nikon D5300

4. 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 Nikon D5300 review

Best Entry Level DSLR

5. 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 Canon EOS 700D review

Canon EOS 100D

6. Canon EOS 100D / Canon EOS Rebel SL1

A cheap and very cheerful entry level camera

Sensor: APS-C CMOS Megapixels: 18 Lens mount: Canon EF-S Screen: Continuous shooting speed: 4fps Max video resolution: 1080p: User level: Beginner/enthusiast

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

Canon introduced the 100D to compete with the influx of compact system cameras and it was the smallest SLR 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 SLR. 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 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 100D easier to use thanks to Canon's excellent interface, although there are fewer buttons and dials than on models like the 750D Despite the 100D'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 Canon EOS 100D review

Canon EOS 1300D

7. Canon EOS 1300D / EOS Rebel T6

Great camera that replaces the 1200D

Sensor: APS-C CMOS Megapixels: 18 Lens mount: Canon EF-S Screen: Continuous shooting speed: 3fps Max video resolution: 1080p: User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Low price
Good image quality
Slow live view focusing
No touchscreen

The 1300D uses the same sensor as the camera it replaces, the 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 1300D does score over the 1200D 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 Canon EOS 1300D review

Best entry level DSLR

8. Canon EOS 1200D

Get it while it's still around - a great shooter

Sensor: APS-C CMOS Megapixels: 18 Lens mount: Canon EF-S Screen: Continuous shooting speed: 3fps Max video resolution: 1080p: User level: Beginner/enthusiast

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

The introduction of the 1300D means the 1200D isn't likely to be available for much longer but while it is it's possible to pick up a real bargain. So if you're not concerned about being able to connect your phone to your camera via Wi-Fi or NFC, it could be the one to go for. The D1200 has the same 18Mp sensor as the 1300D and although it's getting on a bit, it's still good. That said, it can't match the 24.2MP device in the Nikon D3300 for capturing detail. The 1300D and 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

Read the full Canon EOS 1200D review

Pentax K 50

9. 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.

Read the full Pentax K-50 review

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 Pentax K-S1 review

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