Nikon has officially stopped making its D3500 and D5600 DSLRs. This is a slight shame for consumer choice, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't consider buying one of those cameras.
In fact, if you prefer the larger grips, handling and superior battery lives of DSLRs, not to mention their sizable lens catalogues, then this might be one of the last times you can buy models like the D3500 and D5600 new.
They're still on sale, but Nikon says there'll be "no more incoming stock". So if you want an affordable, beginner-friendly camera and would prefer to buy new rather used, we'd suggest picking one up sooner rather than later.
Mark Wilson, Cameras editor
The best DSLR cameras are a fantastic investment for digital photographers. Whether you're an experienced shooter, a pro photographer, or a novice, a top-notch DSLR is an excellent tool for shutterbugs who want to truly understand photography and further hone their abilities.
On one side, new DSLRs are a rare bred these days, with mirrorless cameras taking over due to their compact form factor and powerful performance. On the other, traditional DSLRs will help you get back to and master the basics, even if you go for one of the best beginner DSLRs.
We’ve reviewed just about every DSLR on the market, rigorously looking at a range of factors including build quality, ease of handling, video specs, and naturally, image quality. So, who best to help you whittle down the extensive list and help you choose the best DSLR for your type of photography?
At the top of our list is the Nikon D3500, a very capable camera that's affordable and great for beginners, thanks to its straightforward controls, easy-to-follow guide mode, and a great sensor. If you have a more flexible budget, the oldie-but-goodie Canon EOS 90D is an excellent choice with its great range of impressive specifications, or the full-frame Nikon D780.
No matter the type of photographer you are, it's a great idea to invest in one of the best DSLR cameras. Take a look at our top picks below.
The best DSLR cameras 2022
While experienced photographers should look further down this list for their DSLR match, the Nikon D3500 is the ideal choice for beginners who are looking to sharpen their photographic skills. Despite its age, the D3500 still has one of the finest APS-C sensors out there, and also comes with a neat retracting kit lens. Talking of this lens, it's worth spending the extra $20/£20 and to get the 'VR' version (Vibration Reduction), as this is Nikon's image stabilization system.
In our tests, we were impressed by the Nikon D3500's battery life and its ease of handling. Most importantly, the results delivered by the camera's excellent sensor were top-notch.
The D3500 is proof that you don't have to pay a fortune to get a great camera. Its controls are designed to be simple for novices, and in the right hands it's a match for cameras that cost a lot more. If you're looking to explore manual controls and benefit from a sensor that's far superior to any you'll find in a camera phone, the Nikon D3500 is certainly hard to beat.
Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
If you’re buying your first DSLR camera on a tight budget, a simpler, slightly older model is the way to go. Canon’s entry-level EOS Rebel T7 (known as the 2000D outside the US) fits that bill: the specs won’t blow anyone away, but we found it easy to use, it gets the basics right and, because it’s a few years old, offers fantastic value.
There are several compromises, of course. Burst shooting is limited to a lazy 3fps and the dated autofocus system features just nine points. Live View focusing is sluggish and you’ll need to look elsewhere if you want a touchscreen. And, as you’d expect, the plasticky shell does not feel premium.
But there are good points for beginners, too. We felt the control layout is logical and easy to use, and battery life is solid. There’s video recording too, albeit limited to 1080p. More importantly, in our tests the 24.1MP sensor produces images with a good level of detail and decent dynamic range, while noise-handling performance is solid. If you’re looking to buy a good DSLR on a shoestring, the EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D is well worth considering.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D review
The EOS 90D is quite the step forward for the EOS DSLR line. It's the first model of its kind to sport a 32.5MP APS-C sensor, which is a generous amount of resolution for both cropping and making large prints. Unlike the earlier 80D, it also has uncropped 4K video recording, while a new processing engine and faster burst shooting are also highlights. The 1300-shot battery provides far more juice than you'll get from the average mirrorless camera, while protection against dust and water is also a bonus.
In our review, we were impressed by the versatility of the 90D. It's an excellent all-rounder for those who like to photograph a broad range of different subjects.
It's worth weighing up whether the benefits of a mirrorless alternative to the EOS 90D, like the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, might appeal to you. The M6 Mark II is smaller, cheaper and offers faster burst shooting. But by focusing on key areas like battery life, handling and a fully articulating rear screen, Canon has made the EOS 90D a strong and versatile alternative for anyone who prefers the DSLR shooting experience.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 90D review
The D780 is effectively a hybrid of a full-frame DSLR and a mirrorless camera like the original Nikon Z6. And while it's still relatively expensive, the D780's slight price drop since it landed in 2020 means it's now our top pick for anyone who wants to combine the benefits of mirrorless tech and DSLRs.
Building on the solid foundation of the D750, which will remain on sale (see no.8), the D780 has the same 273-point on-chip phase-detection autofocus system as the Z6. However, it also brings an impressive 2,260-shot battery life, if you prefer to shoot through its optical viewfinder.
We discovered in our review that 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 relatively new DSLR, it's still quite 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
Fancy the Nikon D500 but don't fancy the price tag? Well, if you're prepared to make a few compromises here and there, the D7500 is 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. In our tests, we were impressed by a number of things, including battery life, image quality and handling. It's a great all-rounder for those with a healthy amount of budget.
On an even tighter budget? There's also the older 24.2MP Nikon D7200, which continues to offer great value – if you can find it on sale.
Read our in-depth Nikon D7500 review
Canon's best budget DSLR, the Rebel SL3 – also known as the EOS 250D outside the US – mixes a strong feature set with great handling, despite its small size. The Nikon D3500 (see no.1) 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, as we discovered in our in-depth test, 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 compelling choice.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D review
Although it's a full-frame DSLR, the entry-level EOS 6D Mark II is impressively user-friendly. While 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 we discovered in our review that 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. 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
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, and 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, all of which we found to perform well in our tests. And with a 5D Mark V successor looking increasingly unlikely, it will continue to be one of the most compelling DSLRs at this price point.
Naturally, those 4K video options are a little limited, with the frame-rate topping out at 30fps and no options to shoot in a flat gamma profile. But if you're mainly looking for a powerful DSLR for stills photography, the EOS 5D Mark IV remains a surprisingly modern proposition, considering its age – and the fact that you can still buy it new is a testament to its popularity.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review
With the relatively 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. In our tests, we found that the 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
The Canon EOS Rebel T8i (know as the EOS 850D outside the US) is the successor to one of our favorite DSLRs for beginners. And while it's not a radical leap forward from the Rebel T7i / EOS 800D, a camera that's now difficult to find, it does offer a near-identical shooting experience that's built around Canon's excellent Dual Pixel phase-detection AF system, which we found to be a good performer in our review.
Other things we liked included the versatile, vari-angle LCD screen and comfortably familiar button layout make it a breeze to shoot with, and you also get 800 shots per charge when shooting with the viewfinder. The only real downside is that the 4K video mode still involves a crop and the loss of phase-detection autofocus, which means this is still very much a camera for 1080p video. If you don't mind that and prefer the advantages of DSLRs, including battery life and handling, then the Rebel Ti / EOS 850D is a fine choice to kick off your photography hobby.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T8i / EOS 850D review
If we're talking about the best DSLRs, then it's hard to walk past Canon's latest and greatest – the EOS 1D X Mark III. Designed specifically for the pros who need speed, performance and quality together in one neat package, the 1D X Mark III pretty much covers all it all. It can easily handle any situation you want, whether in the sports arena, shooting wildlife or for a photojournalist in a war zone.
A rugged body, blitzing 20fps burst speed, and AF system that we found can rival Sony's and image quality that really doesn't need a lot of post-production editing. And if you thought it was meant only for stills, think again. Its video prowess is handy too, with 4K/60p capture available on board.
All in all we were - as expected - extremely impressed with what the 1DX Mark III can achieve. The only downside? It's expensive (and possibly overkill) for the average photographer, but a worthy investment for a professional.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 1D X Mark III review
Launched in 2018, the well-equipped Nikon D5600 remains an appealing mid-range package for both beginners and more experienced users. It might lack a stand-out skill, but its combination of a 24.2MP sensor, an articulating touchscreen, a decent 39-point AF system and neat proportions mean it’s still well worth a look.
We thought the D5600’s polycarbonate shell fits nicely in the hand and is comfortable to grip, while the streamlined button layout proves uncluttered and easy to use. The articulating touchscreen is less effective for autofocus control, but flick to the viewfinder and you’ll find the AF system solid, fast and accurate.
With the same sensor as the D5500 before it, our tests show that images are reliably excellent. The high resolution offers plenty of detail, while images captured at lower ISO sensitive are clean, with little noise – and it’s only at ISO6400 that quality starts to suffer. Dynamic range is also impressive, aided by a matrix system that copes well with a range of lighting situations.
And while 5fps burst shooting isn’t as fast as mirrorless rivals, an 820-shot battery life towers over most. So, while no single feature of the D5600 will blow you away, it’s nevertheless a solid all-rounder that’s more affordable than ever.
Read our in-depth Nikon D5600 review
It's hard to think of another DSLR that wows like the D850 does, even after several years on the market. It's on the pricey side for sure, but this is justified by the things we discovered in our tests, including excellent image quality, bags of features and a rugged, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. The 45MP sensor is still 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 its 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
Alternatively: second-hand classics
The more recent Canon EOS 90D (see no.2 above) is undoubtedly the better and more modern DSLR. But if you're looking for a mid-range option on a budget then it's EOS 80D predecessor is worth keeping an eye out for. This 2016 model is tricky to find new now, but if you find a restored or second-hand model, you'll be rewarded with the impressive quality from the 24.2MP sensor we discovered in our tests, which is ably backed up by a 45-point autofocus system.
The latter is by no means cutting-edge, but it'll ensure that you mostly get hits and can focus reliably in most situations. Throw in a guided menu system, and you have a good option for beginners looking for a camera they can grow into. A word of warning though: the 80D's kit lens is a little soft in the corners, so we'd aim to buy it body-only and pick up a zoom lens separately.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 80D review
It might be over four years old, but Canon’s entry-level Rebel T7i (or EOS 800D outside the US) is still a very solid option for beginners. Some of its specs look a little dated next to the latest mirrorless options, such as 6fps burst shooting and video that maxes out at 1080p, but the Rebel T7i nevertheless offers plenty for photographers who are keen to get to grips with the heft and handling of a DSLR.
Its plastic finish definitely feels entry-level, but in our review, we still felt in our review that the Rebel T7i is solidly built with a nice, deep handgrip. It also serves up a user-friendly interface and excellent touchscreen control that make it a handy for experimenting with manual modes. Dual Pixel autofocus is also a highlight, performing reliably for Live View photography, while our tests showed that image quality overall is impressive – even if dynamic range could be better.
Add stellar battery life to the mix and the Rebel T7i shapes up as a stellar starter DSLR for stills shooting. It’s also better value than the newer EOS Rebel T8i / EOS 850D, which delivers modest upgrades for a not-so-modest price hike.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T7i / 800D review
How to choose the best DSLR for you
A DSLR remains the cheapest way to get a camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder (you’ll find many 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, which could see you keep the camera for longer and save you money in the long run. 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.
What is a DSLR camera exactly?
Like most modern cameras, a DSLR allows you to record still images to a memory card. What makes a DSLR camera different is the way that it directs light to the sensor inside. DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex camera. Breaking that down, the ‘digital’ refers to the sensor. This can be anything from a standard APS-C sensor, all the way through full-frame to the much larger medium format.
‘Single-lens’ is fairly self-explanatory: it means that DSLR cameras use one and the same lens to frame, focus and shoot photographs. Almost all cameras do this nowadays, but the terminology is a hangover from the days when retro rangefinder and twin-lens-reflex models used multiple lenses to achieve the different functions.
‘Reflex’ refers to perhaps the most important component of a DSLR camera. It means that a mirror inside the body directs the light which comes down the lens. When you’re framing a shot, this light is sent to the optical viewfinder, giving you a true analogue impression of the scene. But when you press the shutter button to start an exposure, this mirror will flip up. In an analogue SLR camera, this would expose the film inside. In a DSLR, it allows the digital sensor to capture the available light.
Besides the optical viewfinder, another benefit of this reflective system is that DSLR cameras have to be larger than their mirrorless equivalents. This might sound like a downside, but it means DSLR cameras can benefit from famously good ergonomics. DSLR cameras also support interchangeable lenses, so you can switch to more suitable glass when you need to shoot a different scene – from a prime lens to a zoom lens, for example. And because the format has been around for so long, you should have no trouble finding compatible lenses and accessories.
For a more detailed explainer on how DSLRs compare to their mirrorless counterparts, check out our in-depth Mirrorless vs DSLR comparison feature.
How we test cameras
Buying a camera these days is a big investment, so every camera in this guide has been tested extensively by us. These days, real-world tests are the most revealing way to understand a camera's performance and character, so we focus heavily on those, along with standardized tests for factors like ISO performance.
To start with, we look at the camera's design, handling and controls to get a sense of what kind of photographer it's aimed at and who would most enjoy shooting with it. When we take it out on a shoot, we'll use it both handheld and on a tripod to get a sense of where its strengths lie, and test its startup speed.
When it comes to performance, we use a formatted UHS-1 card and shoot in both raw and JPEG (if available). For burst shooting tests, we dial in our regular test settings (1/250 sec, ISO 200, continuous AF) and shoot a series of frames in front of a stopwatch to see if it lives up to its claimed speeds. We'll also look at how quickly the buffers clears and repeat the test for both raw and JPEG files.
In various lighting conditions, we also test the camera's different autofocus modes (including Face and Eye AF) in single point, area and continuous modes. We also shoot a range of photos of different styles (portrait, landscape, low light, macro/close-up) in raw and JPEG to get a sense of metering and its sensor's ability to handle noise and resolve fine detail.
If the camera's raw files are supported by Adobe Camera Raw, we'll also process some test images to see how we can push areas like shadow recovery. And we'll also test its ISO performance across the whole range to get a sense of the levels we'd be happy to push the camera to.
Battery life is tested in a real-world fashion, as we use the camera over the course of the day with the screen set to the default settings. Once the battery has reached zero, we'll then count the number of shots to see how it compares to the camera's CIPA rating. Finally, we test the camera's video skills by shooting some test footage at different frame-rates and resolutions, along with its companion app.
We then take everything we've learned about the camera and factor in its price to get a sense of the value-for-money it offers, before reaching our final verdict.