Finding the best DSLR for you can be a tricky business. Not only do you need to consider factors like performance, usability and price, there's the added complication of whether or not you have existing lenses. Luckily, our guide is here to help you decide, whether you need a beginner-friendly DSLR or a professional workhorse.
Because we've been testing DSLRs for many years, we have an in-depth knowledge of all the best options for every type of photographer – and also which models offer the best value. In this guide, we've reduced all of those testing hours down to one simple list for every type of photographer.
So how you know which is the best DSLR for you? Our current all-round favorite is the Nikon D850, which is one of the most complete cameras we've ever tested, even with the arrival of the Canon 1DX Mark III. But it's certainly not the right choice for everyone.
For beginners, one of the best choices right now is the Nikon D3500, which combines everything that's great about DSLRs – great handling, an incredible battery life and excellent image quality – in an affordable, user-friendly package.
With so many great mirrorless cameras around, though, you may be wondering if a DSLR is the right choice at all. The basic difference between the two is that the former lack the mirror common to DSLRs, replacing the optical viewfinder with an electronic equivalent called an EVF. This brings benefits like reduced size and weight, albeit at the expense of value for money and battery life.
While mirrorless is where most camera manufacturers are headed, there are still many good reasons to go for a DSLR, whether you're a beginner or pro. They remain the cheapest way to get a camera with a viewfinder, while for pros the best DSLRs offer native lens choices and autofocus talents at longer focal lengths that mirrorless cameras still can't match.
If you want to know more about how they compare, read our Mirrorless vs DSLR: 10 key differences feature. But if you’re already happy that the superior handling and battery life of a DSLR is for you, then here’s how to refine your choice down to the right model.
Best DSLR camera 2020 at a glance:
- Nikon D850
- Nikon D3500
- Canon 90D
- Nikon D7500
- Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D
- Nikon D780
- Canon EOS 6D Mark II
- Nikon D750
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- Pentax K-1 Mark II
The best DSLR cameras in 2020:
1. Nikon D850
Still top dog after all this time
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.4MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
It's hard to think of another DSLR that wows like the D850 does. It's on the pricey side for sure, but this is justified by excellent image quality, bags of features and a rugged, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. The 45MP sensor is one of the highest in terms of resolution in any DSLR, while the 7fps burst mode is unusually high for a camera with such a sensor. Add to that a cracking AF system, wonderful handling and great 4K video, and it's versatility should be easy to appreciate. Like the sound of the D850, but want to go mirrorless? Well, while not strictly a mirrorless version of the D850, Nikon's newer Z7 mirrorless camera shares the same 45MP resolution as the D850, but features some clever tech of its own, including an all-new lens mount.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D850 review
2. Nikon D3500
Basic but brilliant for first-time DSLR users
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
At the opposite end of the spectrum to some of the full-frame DSLRs here, the D3500 is super affordable, has one of the sharpest APS-C sensors out there, and a neat retracting kit lens. A word of warning: there are two versions of this lens, and it's worth spending the extra $20/£20 and getting it with VR, Nikon's image stabilization system. It's proof that you don't have to pay a fortune to get a great camera, and we say its value for money makes it just as impressive as much more advanced (and much more expensive) alternatives. The controls are designed to be simple for novices, and in the right hands it's a match for cameras costing far more. If you're looking to get more creative with your photography, and looking for your first DSLR, the Nikon D3500 is hard to beat.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
3. Canon EOS 90D
A shot of power to the double-digit EOS line
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 32.5MP | Autofocus: 45-point AF, 45 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
The EOS 90D is quite the step forward for the EOS DSLR line, being the first model of its kind to sport a 32.5MP sensor. Also helping to split it from the previous EOS 80D is 4K video recording, which is thankfully uncropped, while a fresh processing engine and faster burst shooting also feature. The 1300-shot battery provides far more juice than what you can get from the average mirrorless camera, while protection against dust and water is also welcome to see. While modern mirrorless cameras, such as Canon's own EOS M6 II that shares the same sensor, rub some of the appeal away from cameras like the EOS 90D, by focusing on improving everything from resolution and burst rate to video and more, the company has at least made this a strong and versatile camera for anyone that prefers the DSLR shooting experience.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 90D review
4. Nikon D7500
Nikon's enthusiast DSLR is a still a brilliant all-rounder
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
Fancy the D500 but don't fancy the price tag? Well, if you're prepared to make a few compromises here and there, the D7500 is probably what you should be looking at. It's packed with the same 20.9MP sensor as its more senior stablemate, and also matches it in offering 4K video recording. Nikon has also furnished it with the same 180k-pixel RGB metering sensor and the tilting screen on the back is just as large at 3.2 inches in size, although not quite as detailed, and it's all wrapped up inside a weather-sealed body. On an even tighter budget? There's also the slightly older 24.2MP D7200 (above), which may have been surpassed by the D7500, but it's still one of the best enthusiast DSLRs out there.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D7500 review
5. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D
This beginner-friendly DSLR is a strong all-rounder
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
Canon's best budget EOS DSLR, the Rebel SL3 – also known as the EOS 250D – mixes a strong feature set with great handling, despite its small size. The Nikon D3500 (see above) is even smaller still, but lacks this camera's flip-out LCD screen, which is particularly handy if you want to shoot video. The Rebel SL3 also adds 4K shooting to its now discontinued predecessor, although this is cropped and rolling shutter is often noticeable. Still, it does offer pleasing JPEGs, a superb 1,070-shot battery life and compatibility with a huge range of EF lenses and other accessories that most mirrorless cameras lack. If those features are top of your camera wishlist, then this beginner-friendly DSLR remains a solid choice.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D review
6. Nikon D780
A bit pricey, but a superb full-frame all-rounder
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Lens mount: Nikon F mount | Screen: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/pro
The D780 is effectively a hybrid of a full-frame DSLR and mirrorless camera like the Nikon Z6. This makes it a fine (if expensive) option for anyone who wants to combine the benefits of both. Building on the solid foundation of the D750, which will remain on sale (see below), the D780 has the same 273-point on-chip phase-detection autofocus system as the Z6, but also brings an impressive 2,260-shot battery life, if you prefer to shoot through its optical viewfinder. Image quality is among the best around, while its 4K video skills are boosted by the inclusion of modern features like Face and Eye detection. As a new DSLR, it's currently a little pricey, but if that isn't an issue for you, then it's one of the best full-frame all-rounders you can buy.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D780 review
7. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
An entry-level full-frame DSLR that's a great all-rounder
Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Autofocus: 45-point cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040K dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
For an entry-level DSLR, the EOS 6D Mark II is pretty impressive and intuitively set up to make it user-friendly as well. Although the chassis can feel rather plasticky, the 26MP sensor housed within is stellar, and offers Canon's trusty Dual Pixel CMOS AF system when using live view mode. With 45 AF points to choose from and a burst speed of 6.5fps, there's plenty you can capture – including some decent wildlife shots as well. It's not quite fast enough for speedy trackside racing shots but it does surprisingly well for most anything else. The rear touchscreen also offers tap-to-focus and tap-to-shoot for anyone missing a joystick, but despite that the 6D Mark II is reliable, produces great results and is still a favorite amongst enthusiast photographers.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 6D Mark II review
8. Nikon D750
A full-frame DSLR with performance, versatility and great value
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Intermediate
With the recent launch of the Nikon D780 (above), should full-frame fans still consider the D750? The answer is yes, because the D780 isn't a replacement for this camera, more a pricier alternative for those who want the latest mirrorless tricks in DSLR form. If you're looking for a good value full-frame DSLR that's almost half the price, then this 24MP model remains a great option. That sensor still produces top-quality results, particularly at high ISO settings, and you also get a very decent 6.5fps continuous shooting speed, together with a handy tilting screen. As it's an older model, there's no 4K video or a touchscreen, but if you don't need these, then the D750 offers very good value that lets you put extra money towards a lens or two.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D750 review
9. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Still one of the most complete DSLRs we've seen
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Canon's EOS 5D series of cameras has a rich heritage – the original EOS 5D brought full-frame photography to the masses, the Mark II unleashed Full HD video capture for the first time on a DSLR, while the Mark III became a firm favorite among photographers for doing everything it did so well. The EOS 5D Mark IV pretty much tweaks and improves on everything before it, with a 30.4MP sensor and advanced 61-point AF system along with 4K video recording. There are now rumors that a 5D Mark V could arrive in 2020, bringing a 42MP full-frame sensor and the ability to shoot 4K video at up to 60p. It's unlikely to arrive before late 2020 at the earliest, though, so in the meantime we're happy to recommend the Mark IV, particularly with prices down at temptingly low levels.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review
Still one of the best options for sports and action photographers, the EOS 7D Mark II has performance and speed as its primary focus. To that end, it combines a 20.7MP APS-C sensor with Canon's excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF system for smooth autofocus in live view and during video recording, together with a 10fps burst shooting mode and a 65-point AF system. It also boasts excellent ergonomics and a rugged, weather-resistant body, which makes it a fine choice for anyone who tends to shoot outside in variable conditions, whether it's for sports, wildlife, nature or landscapes. It's an older model, and a more modern alternative would be the EOS 90D (position 5) but it's still worth thinking about if you don't need things like 4K video or super high-resolution images.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 7D Mark II review
10. Pentax K-1 Mark II
A great value alternative to Nikon and Canon
Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 36MP | Autofocus: 33 points, cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting LCD, 1,037K dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 4.4fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/Enthusiast
It's easy to forget that Canon and Nikon aren't the only DSLR manufacturers out there. Pentax has some of the most underrated shooters and the K-1 Mark II is one of them. The K-1 line was Pentax's first full-frame DSLR, with the headline feature of the second generation model being its 36MP sensor. It even boasts a maximum ISO sensitivity of an impressive 819,000, although we wouldn't recommend going that high if you want to avoid noise. Pioneers of in-body stabilization (IBIS), Pentax has installed a Shake Reduction II (SR II) system on board that goes well beyond handling camera shake. It may not have too many AF points or a great burst speed to match the competition, but the K-1 Mark II is a unique DSLR that's worth considering.
A brilliant entry-level option with plenty of growing space
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.1MP | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
It's been on the market for some time but we still have a soft spot for the D5300 – and the fact that it can still be bought brand new is testament to just how relevant it continues to be. It provides first-time DSLR users with a stronger set of specs than the average entry-level DSLR, with a 3.2in LCD that flips all the way out to face the front, together with a 39-point AF system, Full HD video recording to 60p and 5fps burst shooting. Of course, none of that would matter if the image quality wasn't up to scratch, but fortunately it is; the 24.1MP APS-C sensor has been designed without the optical low-pass filter to help as much detail to get into images as possible, and results at high ISO settings remain strong.
What should you look for when buying a new DSLR?
A DSLR remains the cheapest way to get a camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder (you’ll find most entry-level mirrorless cameras don’t have viewfinders). But what else should you consider when choosing one?
The main differences between an entry-level DSLR and a more advanced one are usually in the camera’s design, sensor and shooting features. Beginner DSLRs like the Nikon D3500 are often smaller than their more premium equivalents, which might be important to you, though this usually means a lack of weather-proofing and fewer manual controls.
The size difference is often also related to sensor size. More affordable DSLRs tend to have APS-C size sensors, while pro-friendly ones like the Nikon D850 are full-frame cameras. There is no outright ‘better’ sensor size, with each having their own advantages and drawbacks. To find out more about these, check out our Full-frame cameras: do you really need one? feature.
Not sure how to decide between a beginner DSLR and a mid-range model? Paying a bit more for the latter will usually get you increased shooting flexibility. The extra features you tend to get are improved continuous shooting speeds (handy for shooting sport or wildlife), superior high ISO performance (useful in lower light), and sometimes an extra memory card slot.
If you’re just looking to step up from your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, though, then an entry-level DSLR will give you the image quality boost and manual controls you need to grow into your new hobby. Finally, a quick word of advice if you don’t have any lenses – buy your new DSLR with a kit lens, as it’s cheaper to do this than buy them separately.