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Best beginner DSLR cameras 2022: top entry-level choices for new photographers

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
The Nikon D3500 DSLR on a grey background
(Image credit: Future)

Welcome to our guide to the best beginner DSLRs you can buy. DSLRs may have now been superseded by mirrorless tech, but they continue to be a fine way to learn the photographic ropes. They're also the cheapest way to buy a camera with a built-in viewfinder, which means they often represent great value. We've spent countless hours testing every new DSLRs over the last decade and have boiled down our findings into this ranked list. (Looking for a more general guide to the best beginner cameras? Check out our separate buying guide on that).

Because it's now rare to see new DSLRs hit the market, the recommendations in our guide below are all well-established models. If you're looking for the latest autofocus technology, compact form factors and burst-shooting speeds that venture above 10fps, then we'd point you in the direction of our guide to the best mirrorless cameras. But if good handling, great value, creative controls, long battery lives, optical viewfinders and a huge range of lenses are your priorities, then the affordable classics below are well worth considering.

What's the best beginner DSLR you can buy right now? We think that title goes to the Nikon D3500. It has everything a learner photographer needs: a handy 'Guide Mode' to explain key settings, great handling, a huge selection of lenses, and excellent image quality. A great alternative, though, is the similarly-priced Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D / 200D Mark II. Or, for those with a larger budget, the Canon EOS Rebel T8i / Canon EOS 850D, which arrived in 2020.

It's worth noting that manufacturers have practically stopped making new DSLRs now – Sony has pretty much phased out its A-mount DSLRs, while Canon has discontinued its 7D line – but that doesn't mean the DSLR format is dead. Both Canon and Nikon continue to support a wide range of entry-level DSLR models, with extensive lens catalogues to match. 

With fewer fresh models hitting the shelves, beginners will usually find the best value in slightly older options like the Nikon D5600 and Canon EOS 80D. These might not offer cutting-edge technology, but they tick most of the important boxes for beginners, without breaking the bank. For this reason, we've included both current and older models in our guide below.

The best beginner DSLRs in 2022:

Nikon D3500

(Image credit: Future)
The best overall DSLR for beginners

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon DX
Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent image quality
+
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
No touchscreen control
-
Bluetooth but no Wi-Fi

Nikon may not have announced any new entry-level DSLRs for a while, but the D3500 remains an excellent option for those who are new to photography. It picks up from where the D3400 left off, but with a handful of extra perks. Unlike power-hungry mirrorless models, the major advantage of this camera is battery life. We found that it could keep going for over 1,500 images between charges, which is way ahead of most other DSLRs. In our tests, the 24MP sensor also delivered excellent image quality. 

Nikon also revised the body and control layout of the D3500 compared to previous generations, which we think makes it nicer to handle and easier to use. The useful Guide Mode also takes the first-time user's hand and walks them through all the key features in a way that makes everything easy to understand. We still love the D3500 – and if you're just getting started, we reckon you will, too. 

Canon EOS Rebel T8i / 850D

(Image credit: Future)
The best premium DSLR for beginners

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 7fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Good image quality
+
Speedy, reliable autofocus

Reasons to avoid

-
Plasticky build
-
4K video limitations

The Canon EOS Rebel T8i (know as the EOS 850D outside the US) takes the baton from the popular Rebel T7i / EOS 800D, which is now tricky to find. This new model isn't a huge upgrade, with the most notable addition being a 4K video mode that we found to be hampered by frame-rate restrictions. Still, the Rebel T8i / EOS 850D remains one of our favorite all-round DSLRs for beginners. 

You get a Dual Pixel phase-detection AF system, which in our tests was fast, reliable and great for video. Its button layout is also very considered, while the vari-angle LCD screen handles really well. As long you ignore that headline of 4K video, which involves a crop and the loss of phase-detection autofocus, it remains a great option for anyone who's starting a photography hobby and prizes DSLR advantages like battery life and handling over the latest mirrorless tech. 

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D

(Image credit: Future)
Best budget DSLR for beginners

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 4K
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Nice JPEGs straight from the camera
+
Cheapest DSLR with 4K video

Reasons to avoid

-
9-point AF system is dated
-
Heavy rolling shutter in 4K

The EOS Rebel SL3 (also known as the 250D and 200D Mark II, outside the US) isn't Canon's cheapest DSLR, but we think it offers the best blend of features, performance and value around. For a start, it's the smallest and lightest DSLR with an articulating screen, which means it isn't an intimidatingly large as some of its rivals. It also adds a fresh processing engine and 4K video recording to its Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D) predecessor.

We were impressed with its responsive touchscreen, speedy start-up time and excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, which also works when you're shooting 1080p video (though not sadly in 4K). Its 5fps burst shooting can't compete with the latest mirrorless cameras, so those who like to shoot sports or action should look elsewhere. But for our money, the EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D makes slightly more sense than Canon's super-budget DSLRs like the EOS Rebel T100 (also know as the EOS 4000D / EOS 3000D), if you can afford to pay that bit more.

Nikon D5600

Need a bit more power? The D5600 could be what you're after

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon DX
Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent image quality
+
Articulating touchscreen

Reasons to avoid

-
Slow Live View focusing
-
SnapBridge needs work

Here's another beginner DSLR that is holding its own against the rise of mirrorless cameras. The D5600 is a step up from Nikon's D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T8i / EOS 850D (see above). Key advantages over the D3500 include a large touchscreen that has a vlogging-friendly articulating design to flips round to the front, plus Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. 

In our tests, its 24.2MP sensor also produced very detailed images that didn't disappoint. In fact, despite the D5600's age, you'll likely need to upgrade to a full-frame camera to get better results. We also found the 39-point AF system to be decent, if a little dated, while some polished handling makes the D5600 a well-rounded entry-level DSLRs. You need to pay a little bit more for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space, it makes sense to go for the D5600 – it'll be a reliable companion for years to come.

Canon EOS Rebel T7 / Canon EOS 2000D

A no-frills entry-level DSLR at a bargain price

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 3-inch, 920,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 3fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Logically laid out controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Dated AF system
-
No touchscreen

This is one of the cheapest DSLRs in Canon's current line-up, which also makes it a very cost-effective way to get access to an endless assortment of lenses, flashguns and other accessories. Its low price tag means it understandably lacks some of the fancy tricks of its bigger brothers – like a flip-out LCD, 4K video and so on – but there's still a very good level of physical control on offer. 

Most importantly, we found the image quality produced by the 24MP sensor to be very sound. The camera is designed very much with its target audience in mind, with a Feature Guide to help you understand basic settings, while its impressive battery life is also better than many mirrorless models at this price point. Wi-Fi, NFC and Full HD video recording round off the specs, making it a well-rounded first-time option for those on a budget.

(Image credit: Future)
A feature-packed all-rounder that gives you lots of room to grow

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 32.5MP
Lens mount: EF/EF-S
Screen: 3-inch vars-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
Max video resolution: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
High-resolution sensor
+
4K video at 30fps

Reasons to avoid

-
No image stabilization
-
Not the cheapest option for beginners

The Canon EOS 90D might be the last enthusiast-level DSLR the company ever makes – and if so, it’s going out with a bang. The versatile 90D packs a high-resolution sensor which, paired with Canon’s Digic 8 imaging engine, offers the enticing prospect of uncropped 4K video at 30fps. 

In our tests, color reproduction was superb and there was plenty of detail in both stills and video. A new 216-zone metering system also helped in this department, even if noise did creep into images above ISO 8000. A deeper grip meant the 90D is also felt really comfortable in our hands, while a joystick made selecting from the Dual Pixel CMOS AF points a cinch. 

Battery life is a boon, too, with at least 1,500 shots possible on a single charge in our experience. It's possibly a bit too much camera for an absolute beginner (both in price and features), but there's no doubt it offers a lot of room to grow into. Either way, the 90D proves that DSLRs still very much have a place in the mirrorless world.

Canon EOS 4000D

(Image credit: Future)
A basic but very affordable option for beginners

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 18MP
Lens mount: Canon EF/EF-S
Screen: 2.7-inch, 230,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 3fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Logical control layout

Reasons to avoid

-
Small, low-res sensor
-
Dated 9-point autofocus

If you’re making your first foray into DSLR ownership, you don’t necessarily need a camera that can do everything. And if you’re looking for something very basic but very affordable, Canon’s 4000D (also called the 3000D in some markets) is a decent first choice. 

There’s a lot about the 4000D that seems dated alongside the latest entry-level models. The 18MP sensor and DIGIC 4+ processor are both aging, as is the modest 9-point autofocus system, which has been in Canon’s catalogue since 2009. The LCD display likewise feels long in the tooth, with a 2.7-inch diagonal and 230k-dot resolution, while we found Live View performance to be a little sluggish. Finally, the polycarbonate shell feels understandably cheap.

But it’s not all bad: we found the button layout easy to navigate, while battery life proved solid in our tests at about 500 shots per charge. Even more importantly, we found image quality to be adequate, with noise handled fairly well. Those upgrading from a smartphone or compact should find results decent, with a fair amount of detail and a good level of saturation, while Picture Style presets enable easy tonal tweaks. To more experienced buyers, the 4000D will feel like a step back in time, with older components and unremarkable performance. But if affordability is your priority, you might be able to look past the limited feature set and see some wallet-friendly potential.

Pentax K-70

(Image credit: Pentax)
Rugged and great value – an impressive alternative to the big two

Specifications

Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Pentax K
Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 6fps
Max video resolution: Full HD
User level: Beginner

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and rugged
+
Anti-shake tech 
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Few autofocus points
-
Slightly soft kit lens 

Although it's a few years old now, the Pentax K-70 remains a good value option for those who want something different from the 'big two' DSLR manufacturers. It's a particularly good choice if you have a stash of old Pentax lenses gathering dust in a basement. The K-70 has a very useful articulating screen, while the hybrid live view autofocus system makes it an actual practical alternative to using the viewfinder. 

Our favorite thing about the K-70 is its tough build quality, which is typically lacking in entry-level models. If you're keen to take lots of pictures outdoors – such as landscape shooting – being able to rely on it not being destroyed by inclement weather is a big bonus. One slight disappointment is the kit lens which is often bundled with the camera – while it offers a much longer focal length than most others here, we found that it can be a little soft in places.

What should you look for when buying a beginner DSLR?

There are three main factors to consider when buying a beginner-friendly DSLR: the camera's size, screen and kit lens options.

If you're trying to learn your way around manual settings like aperture and shutter speed, which is one of the main benefits of a DSLR, then you'll ideally need a model that's small and light. This means you'll be more likely to take it out regularly and master those controls. The most beginner-friendly cameras, like the Nikon D3500 and Canon 250D, tend to be particularly small for DSLRs, so take a close look at those.

Looking to shoot lots of video along with your stills? DSLRs can be a cheap way to get into vlogging too, so make sure you look out for models with a vari-angle screen (like the ones on most Canon models) if you need this. These can help you shoot from different angles and also flip round to the front so you can check your framing while recording to camera.

Nikon D3500

(Image credit: Nikon)

Lastly, you'll want to consider lenses. As a beginner, you'll most likely be starting from scratch, which means it makes more sense to buy your DSLR with a kit lens. A word of warning here, though – most manufacturers offer two types of kits lens, one with image stabilization and one without. It's best to go with the image-stabilized kit lens, as you'll be able to shoot sharper images at slower shutter speeds.

While an 18-55mm kit lens will be more than enough to get you started, one of the big benefits of DSLRs is being able to add extra lenses for different kinds of photography. For example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, as well as high-quality macro options. You can also add a flashgun and other accessories, which help you to make the most of whatever types of photography you're into.  

Still not entirely sure whether you need a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Don't forget to check out our Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras guide. Alternatively, if don't quite know what kind of camera you need at all, then read our easy-to-follow guide to camera types: What camera should I buy?

Canon EOS 250D

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Canon vs Nikon: which is better for beginners?

Even though Pentax still makes DSLRs, Canon and Nikon rule the market with the most DSLR models under their individual belts. And they both compete in terms of feature set, image quality and price. So which brand's entry-level DSRLs is best for you?

That will be a personal choice. Both manufacturers have several excellent choices as you can see from our list above. Both have beginner DSLRs that are compact, easy to use and come with a plethora of lenses to support your growing passion for photography. A lot of them are also wallet-friendly, in case you're looking for a budget DSLR. 

The only points of difference between the two are the external button layout and internal menu setup – they're different on Canon and Nikon. That said, both are user-friendly, so the ultimate choice will come down to which one suits you best.

Canon EOS 250D

(Image credit: Canon)

How we test DSLRs

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 SD 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.

Where applicable, we also test the camera's different autofocus modes in different lighting conditions (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 (where necessary) 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.

Should you buy a mirrorless camera over a DSLR? Watch our guide video below to learn more: 

  • Turn your snaps into a beautiful photo book – we've picked out the best

Sharmishta Sarkar
Sharmishta Sarkar

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (yes, she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing cameras and lenses, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She also contributes to Digital Camera World and T3, and helps produce two of Future's photography print magazines in Australia.