Looking for the best DSLRs? We’ve picked out the finest DSLRs we’ve tested, with beginner and advanced models from Canon, Nikon and Pentax.
The best DSLRs are still some of the best cameras you can buy. Mirrorless may be where all the new tech is, and where the professional models are dominating, but there’s still a place for the humble DSLR. We’ve picked out our absolute favourite DSLRs we’ve tested in this guide, with representation from the big three of the market: Canon, Nikon and Pentax.
You may be wondering what the difference is between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. We’ve gone into it in detail in our guide to DSLRs vs mirrorless, but in brief, DSLRs have an internal mirror mechanism that allows them to field an optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras don’t (hence the name), and therefore rely on an electronic viewfinder. It used to be the case that DSLRs were also more rugged and weatherproof than mirrorless cameras. This isn’t really the case any more, with mirrorless having caught up in this department, but a good DSLR is generally still an excellent outdoor camera.
The other big advantage of DSLRs, however, is one that’s getting truer with every passing year: they’re cheaper. As more new fancy mirrorless models arrive, the discounts on DSLRs stack up, and this is especially the case on the second-hand market.
We’ve picked our favourite DSLRs from the past decade for this list, some that can be bought new, others than can be picked up for cheap if you don’t mind buying use. We’ve got representation from Canon, Nikon and Pentax here – make sure once you’ve picked your camera that you pick up some of the best Canon EF lenses, best Nikon lenses or best Pentax lenses, depending on your choice.
Before we get into the list, let’s look in a little more detail at how you might go about choosing the right DSLR for you.
How to choose the best DSLR: sensor sizes
There are two main sensor sizes to be aware of when choosing a DSLR. These are APS-C and Full-Frame.
APS-C sensors are smaller – they’re sometimes referred to as ‘crop sensors’, and give a 1.5x (Nikon), or 1.6x (Canon) view when compared to full-frame.
What this crop factor means is the lens you have on the camera has a longer effective focal length. For example, a 100mm lens on a Nikon APS-C DSLR will give you an effective focal length of 150mm due to the 1.5x crop factor.
Full-frame sensors give a similar sensor size to 35mm (36x24mm) film, hence being called full-frame, as the full-frame sensors are roughly the same size as the frame of a 35mm film.
Usually with full-frame DSLRs what you see through the viewfinder, and certainly the rear LCD in a Live View setting, is exactly what the full-frame sensor is seeing.
So, whether you like the benefits of the APS-C format or prefer to shoot full-frame, if you’re in the market for a DSLR we can help. Here’s our round-up of the best DSLRs you can buy.
Best beginner DSLR: Nikon D3500
At a glance
- 24.2MP APS-C sensor
- ISO 100-25,600
- 1080p Full HD video at up to 60fps
- 11-point AF system
- 3-inch, 920K-dot LCD screen
- Around £449 / $649 with 18-55mm VR lens
Nikon’s entry-level DSLR hits a rare sweet spot of capability versus affordability (at £399 body only). It sports a 24MP APS-C sensor with a sensitivity range up to ISO 25,600, and can shoot at a more than reasonable 5 frames per second.
Its Guide Mode makes the camera easy to use for beginners, while full manual control is also available – so this is clearly a camera that you won’t outgrow as your photography skills develop. As we said in our review, this is a camera that does pretty much everything beginners will need it to. There’s no weather-sealing, and no vari-angle screen, but otherwise this is a really solid package.
Although the sensor has the same effective 24.2MP resolution as Nikon’s earlier D3400 and D5600 cameras, the sensor in the D3500 is an updated version. It does away with an optical low-pass filter to help to maximise the ability of the sensor to resolve fine detail images.
The D3500 is also notable for its a great body design, deep grip and an intuitive layout of controls that make it straightforward to use. You’ll also find a range of Nikon lenses available, with Nikon ‘DX’ lenses being specifically designed for the the camera’s APS-C sensor.
- Superb battery life
- Beginner-friendly modes
- Good image quality
- No vari-angle LCD
- Not weather sealed
Best lightweight DSLR: Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3
At a glance
- 24.1MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25,600
- 4K video at 24/25fps
- 9-point AF (3,975-point AF in Live View)
- 3-inch, 1040K-dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD screen
- 449g (body with battery)
- Around £600 / $749 with 18-55mm IS lens
One of the smallest DSLRs around, the EOS 250D strikes a great balance between portability and usability… not to mention a stunning AF system when in Live View! It’s the smallest and lightest DSLR with a multi-angle screen; weighing in at just 449grams with battery and measuring 122x93x70mm.
The EOS 250D’s Dual Pixel AF system offers 3,975 user-selectable focus points across the whole screen when shooting in Live View mode – a very impressive feature on a budget DSLR. The camera has a 24MP APS-C sensor and offers 4K video recording. The 250D’s DIGIC 8 processor also supports a range of improvements in Live View AF, along with Eye AF, an Auto Lighting Optimizer, a Digital Lens Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority.
It’s equipped with a novice-friendly Guided Mode and image quality is very good, delivering vibrant colours and plenty of fine detail. The vari-angle touchscreen makes composing, focusing and shooting very straightforward, or you can shoot via a traditional optical viewfinder, with its more basic 9-point AF.
Other notable features include in-camera editing for both JPEG and RAW files, along with Canon’s well-implemented Bluetooth 3 and Wi-Fi connectivity for pairing the camera with smartphones (via the Canon Camera Connect app), which lets you to share images and control the camera remotely. Entry-level DSLRs face fierce competition from compact mirrorless models these days, but the EOS 250D remains a fantastic little camera.
- Impressively comprehensive autofocus
- Useful Guided Mode
- Vari-angle LCD
- 4K 25p video isn’t great
Best DSLR for travel: Canon EOS 850D / Rebel T8i
At a glance
- 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-51,200 (extended)
- 7.5fps continuous shooting
- 4K video recording
- Fully articulated touchscreen
- Around £999 / $749 body-only
This may be an unusual thing to say, but Canon probably doesn’t want you to buy this camera. The firm would probably much rather you pick up one of its similarly specced (and similarly priced) APS-C mirrorless options, like the EOS R7 or EOS R10. And indeed, there are many compelling reasons to do so – however, the EOS 850D is still widely sold, and remains a compelling option for those who want a lightweight, travel-friendly camera in the DSLR format.
The EOS 850D (or Rebel T8i in the US) was something of an anomaly even on release. When we reviewed the camera in 2021, our technical editor remarked that it was the first time he’d had cause to review a new DSLR since 2017. Still, the EOS 850D brought a lot of likeable features to the table, many of which make it feel a lot more up to date than some of the older DSLRs on this list. Face-detection autofocus while using the viewfinder is very welcome, as is the faster 7fps burst rate, not to mention the addition of 4K video (albeit with that infamous Canon crop).
The fact that it’s able to benefit from recent technology also means that Live View focusing on the 850D is much better than most other DSLRs. In fact, the EOS 850D is arguably better to use in Live View than it is with its rather small and inaccurate viewfinder. This is… odd for a DSLR, especially given that viewfinders are meant to be their big USP.
While it’s not quite as slimline as the EOS 250D, the EOS 850D only weighs 515g and packs in a lot more features. This makes it a great choice for travel, and you shouldn’t have too difficult a time picking up a few lightweight EF lenses to go with it. This alone makes it a much better buy than the camera that was its mirrorless equivalent at the time, the EOS M50. And also, frankly, the RF-S lens selection for the R7 and R10 is still currently pretty poor, making the EOS 850D a really quite compelling alternative.
- Lightweight and travel-friendly
- Sophisticated autofocus system
- Works well in Live View
- Poor, rather bland viewfinder
- Rear control dial a bit small and fiddly
Best DSLR for enthusiasts: Canon EOS 90D
At a glance
- 32.5MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25,600 (expandable to ISO 51,200)
- 10fps continuous shooting (11fps in Live View)
- 220k pixel RGB+IR metering sensor
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Eye Detection AF
- 3-inch, 1040K-dot LCD screen
- Around £1,250 / $1,199 body only
The EOS 90D has been designed to excel at all genres of photography and video, but is particularly handy for sports and wildlife photographers who demand a camera that can rattle out a continuous burst and resolve excellent detail from a high resolution 32.5MP APS-C CMOS sensor.
This well-made camera can shoot at 10fps with autofocus tracking when using the viewfinder and 11fps when using Live View with fixed AF, and there’s also Canon’s Eye Detection AF with tracking for stills and movies. You can also record 4K video (using the full width of the sensor) at 25/30p or Full HD video at up to 120fps, which is great for shooting slow-mo sequences.
The EOS 90D incorporates a 220,000-pixel RGB+IR exposure sensor, which helps it to dissect and analyse scenes effectively for consistent and accurate exposure metering. Evaluative metering is linked to all AF points, with partial and spot metering covering approximately 6.5% and 2% of the viewfinder respectively.
A rear 3-inch, 1040k-dot vari-angle (which aids creative framing and composition) touchscreen displays a good, clean feed to assist composition and video recording in Live View. Images are well displayed in playback mode too. Colours are faithful and you get four thumbnail views to quickly search through hundreds of images on the memory card. As we said in our review, an extra card slot would have been nice, but otherwise there isn’t much to fault on this excellent camera.
- Excellent image detail
- Uncropped 4K video
- Satisfying ergonomics
- One card slot
- Dated viewfinder AF system
Best DSLR for sports and action: Nikon D500
At a glance
- 20.9MP APS-C DX-format sensor
- ISO 100-25,600 (extendable to 50-1,640,000)
- 4K video (cropped), Full HD video at up to 60fps (full width)
- 153-point AF system
- 10fps continuous shooting
- 3-inch, 2.36million-dot tiltable LCD screen
- Around £1,050 / $1,120 (used) body-only
While this pro-quality APS-C camera (which came out back in 2016) is no longer considered to be ‘cutting edge’, it’s still a remarkably well-featured camera. Its 20.9MP DX-format sensor affords an impressive standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, and a frankly staggering extended range of ISO 50-1,640,000, with great noise performance.
It can shoot at 10fps, and keep going for at least 30 frames in RAW format, and 90 or more in JPEG mode, with an SD card. If you place an XQD card in the second slot, and it’ll keep shooting at full speed for 200 frames in RAW.
The D500 uses a 153-point AF system that covers almost the full width of the frame and around half its height. Metering employs a 180,000-pixel RGB sensor that also feeds subject-recognition data to the AF system. Nikon specifies that both systems will work in staggeringly low light: at -3EV for metering and at -4EV for autofocus.
The D500 gives the impression of being built like a tank. The magnesium-alloy body has a bombproof feel to it, and a well-designed grip means that it fits perfectly in your hand. Almost every square inch of the body is covered by buttons and dials, which give direct access to all the key functions – so much so, that there’s rarely any need to access the menus.
Overall, the D500 is one of the most accomplished crop-sensor DSLRs ever made and it shines best when it’s used as a conventional DSLR for shooting fast-moving subjects. When we first wrote our review, we found the price to be a stumbling block, but these days the D500 is available for much more reasonable outlays on the second-hand market.
- Excellent, reliable autofocus
- Does well at high ISO settings
- Well-optimised grip
- Quite heavy for APS-C
- Poor AF speed in Live View
Best value full-frame DSLR: Pentax K-1 Mark II
At a glance
- 36MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-819,200
- 1080p Full HD video at up to 60i
- 33-point AF system (25 cross-type points)
- 3.2-inch, 1,037,000-dot tilting TFT LCD screen
- Around £1,800 / $1,800 body only
Pentax has resolutely stuck with DSLRs, and this attractive camera (originally announced in early 2018) includes a 36MP full-frame sensor. It also features a flexible tilt-type LCD monitor, a SAFOX 12 autofocusing system with 33 sensor points (25 of which are cross-type points), an optical viewfinder offering 100% field of view, a weatherproof and dust-proof body, dual SD card slots, Full HD video recording and a built-in GPS module. It tops our list of the best Pentax DSLRs, and presumably will for a while yet.
The flagship K-1 Mark II features an anti-aliasing, filter-free design to help to optimise its image resolving power. It also comes with the 5-axis, Pixel Shift Resolution System II to help keep shots sharp when handheld. The Pixel Shift Resolution System II was an upgrade from the original K-1 system with a new mode that can be used when shooting handheld. Pentax’s parent company Ricoh claims the Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode can be used in conjunction with the camera’s shake-reduction mechanism to create high-resolution shots without any evidence of camera shake.
An incorporated accelerator unit was designed in the K-1 Mark II to help when shooting in low-light to produce images with low levels of noise and high detail. ISO sensitivity was also increased to ISO 819,200, with the promise of improved noise reduction even at such high ISO levels. In practice though, you’re best off not pushing it above 51,200, as images above this are simply too compromised to be useful.
The K-1 Mark II camera also benefits from the wide range of Pentax K-mount lenses that’s available. There are over 150 lenses made for the system, giving you incredible optical opportunities for shooting a wide range of subjects.
- Extremely solid weatherproofing
- Powerful ‘Shake Reduction’ stabilisation
- High-quality 36MP images
- Burst mode tops out at 4.4fps
- High ISO settings are unusable
Best full-frame DSLR for enthusiasts: Nikon D780:
At a glance
- 24.5MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-12,800 (extendable to 50-204,800)
- 51-point AF system (15 cross-type points)
- 12fps continuous shooting in Live View
- 3.2-inch, 2,360K-dot tilting touchscreen LCD
- Around £2,000 / $2,200 body only
On its arrival in 2020 the D780 was the long-awaited successor to the Nikon D750 and it showed that there was life in the DSLR yet. It’s superbly built with extensive weather sealing, handles brilliantly, and gives excellent results in any conditions. As we said in our full test and review of the D780, it will provide top-level service to photographers who want to keep using their F-mount lenses and still prefer an optical viewfinder.
The D780 offers a 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor that gives excellent noise performance, as well as offering uncropped 4K UHD video recording, and an impressive ISO range from 50 to 204,800 (extended). On the rear of the camera you’ll find a 3.2-inch 2,360K-dot tilting touchscreen, and there’s also in-camera USB charging.
As well as having a low-pass filter to eliminate moiré and backside-illuminated structure to maximise its light gathering capabilities across its ISO range, the sensor has 273 on-chip phase detection pixels to enhance its focusing performance in Live View. Again, this is said to be crossover technology from the Nikon mirrorless camera line-up.
The D780 also deploys Nikon’s EXPEED 6 image processor which, amongst other things, helps to shoot at 7fps via the viewfinder. A shutter speed range of 30-1/8000sec should pretty much over all subjects and the 180K-pixel RGB sensor inherited from the D850 helps to feed info to the AF system for accurate and precise tracking of subjects. For DSLR fans the D780 offers a superb array of shooting options and choices for capturing all manner of subjects.
- Excellent Live View focusing
- Superb weather sealing
- Sensor performs well across the board
- No pop-up flash
- No joystick
Best high-resolution DSLR: Nikon D850
At a glance
- 45.7MP full-frame sensor
- 153-point autofocus system
- ISO 64-25,600 (expandable to 32-102,400)
- Up to 7fps continuous shooting
- 3.2-inch, 2.26million-dot LCD screen with touchscreen control
- Around £2,500 / $2,700 body only
This brilliant professional all-rounder DSLR provides a winning combination of high resolution and speed. Its 45.7MP full-frame sensor produces fine results at high ISOs and the autofocus is incredibly responsive and accurate. The build quality and handling should also satisfy the most demanding of users. It’s an absolutely sensational camera capable of tackling any type of subject.
The camera also offers excellent battery life and has an impressively low ISO speed of 32 available (extended), that goes up to 102,400 (extended). You can record 4K UHD video at 30fps, which uses the full width of the sensor.
The D850 inherited almost all of the AF features of the Nikon D5 DSLR that was primarily aimed at sports photographers, but the D850 is capable of capturing much more than sports action. It uses a backside illuminated sensor, which helps to increase the efficiency of the sensor, (thus improving low light performance), and improves peripheral image quality at the edges of pictures. It also has no anti-aliasing filter, which allows for finer detail capture in images.
The D850 still holds its head up very high amongst the best Nikon cameras (including mirrorless models), even though it launched back in 2017. Because Nikon put a lot of top-line technology into the D850 it remains a great choice for many photographers – wedding, sports, nature, fashion, portrait, landscape and more. In our full review and test, we summed up by saying, ‘The D850 is an absolutely sensational camera’, and that holds true in 2023. In full-frame DSLR terms, it’s still a star.
- Rugged, reliable, highly capable
- Excellent image quality
- Snappy shooting speed
- Touchscreen functionality limited
- Has held its price
Best professional DSLR: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
At a glance
- 30.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- Dual DIGIC 6 & DIGIC 6+ processors
- ISO 100-32,000 (expandable to 50-102,400)
- 7fps continuous shooting
- 61-point AF system (41 cross-type points)
- 3.2in, 1,620k-dot, fixed touchscreen LCD
- Built-in Wi-fi, NFC and GPS
- Around £2,800 / $2,700 body only
Canon’s workhorse EOS DSLR ticks all the right boxes for both enthusiast and professional photographers and continues the long-standing legacy of the groundbreaking 5D-series of cameras. It handles well, is built to a robust standard and saw the addition of long overdue features such as Wi-Fi, GPS and touchscreen LCD control.
The 30.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor gives excellent results, and autofocus is impressive for both Live View and normal shooting, thanks to the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. This sensor-based phase-detection AF system supports Servo AF when shooting stills in Live View, thus opening up the opportunities to pinpoint focus on a subject and track it as it moves through the frame, while the shutter button is half-depressed.
The camera has an ISO range of 100-32,000, which can be further extended to 50-102,400. The camera offers 4K video shooting at 24fps, 25fps and 30fps and up to 7fps continuous shooting is available, but that drops when you enable Dual Pixel Raw. During Dual Pixel Raw shooting, a single RAW file saves two images into the file. Thus Dual Pixel Raw files contain a normal image as well as parallax information, which can be measured and subject distance information extrapolated.
It’s the EOS 5D Mark IV’s 30.4MP sensor that steals the limelight. When we fully tested the camera, we found that the sensor’s performance at high ISOs, combined with its radically improved dynamic range, made it markedly better than its 5D Mark III when it came to returning high levels of detail to shadowed areas in post-production and shooting images with less noise in low-light.
- Hugely impressive dynamic range
- Robustly built
- Price has come down
- Vicious 1.74x crop on 4K video
- No clean HDMI out