When it comes to image quality, the DSLR (generally) still reigns supreme. While there are plenty of excellent compact system cameras available, the traditionalists still prefer the look, feel and mechanics of an SLR camera.
Luckily, there’s lots of choice on the market, depending of course on what it is you’re looking for. Pretty much anybody who wants a DSLR, whether you’re a beginner, you’re at the high-end enthusiast or even professional end of the market, has an option available.
It’s hard to choose an outright winner in this category of cameras because no two consumers are the same. An entry-level camera is going to be no use to a working professional, while a top-level model is complete overkill for the new user. That said, if you sit somewhere in the middle and want a fantastic all-rounder, the excellent Nikon D500 is a superb choice.
How to buy the best DSLR
Before you consider a DSLR, think about what it is you’re hoping to achieve with your photography. If you’ve been considering trading up from your compact camera or smartphone because you want to take things more seriously, going for an entry-level type DSLR will help you to develop your skills.
If on the other hand you’ve already been using an entry-level camera for a while and are ready to the next step, the cameras at the enthusiast level are cameras you can grow with and produce some stunning results.
Finally, if you’re looking for something that really does offer the ultimate in both image quality and usability, the professional level cameras available today are capable of remarkable things.
For beginners, cameras like the Canon EOS 800D and the Nikon D5600 are a great balance between helping you get the best possible shots without having an overwhelming array of dials and buttons when you’re just starting out.
If you’re an enthusiast and want something a bit more complicated to get your teeth into, both the Nikon D500 and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II are fantastic all-rounder cameras that can handle all manner of different subject matters. If you’re happy to divert from the “big two”, the Pentax KP is also great as a mid-range option and is full of appealing specifications.
You only really get full-frame sensors if you head to professional territory. These ultra large sensors offer the best in image quality, while the cameras themselves are best for hands-on control. The best options in this area of the market are the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, the Nikon D810 and the Sony A99 II.
The 8 best DSLRs for you
1. Nikon D500
A super well-rounded DSLR that can help you get the best shots - no matter the subject
Quite probably the best APS-C DSLR currently available to buy on the market, this solidly built camera is the perfect choice for those who like to shoot a little bit of everything. It’s got a fast frame rate, which makes it ideal for sports, action and wildlife, while it can also handle landscapes, portraits and events with aplomb.
It’s aimed primarily at advanced hobbyists, but it’s easily good enough to be used by professionals - especially as a second camera.
It’s best if you can buy the camera with the 16-80mm kit lens, which is so much more than just your average kit optic, offering a wide f/2.8-4 maximum aperture range and producing high quality images.
2. Canon EOS 800D
This versatile beginner friendly DSLR is a great way to get into the Canon ecosystem
Canon updates its line of entry-level DSLRs fairly regularly, so you can almost always guarantee that the latest tech is available even for beginner models. The 800D (known as the T7i in the States) inherits some great specifications from those higher up in Canon’s line, including a snappy 45-point AF system. There’s also an excellent touch-sensitive articulating screen, a decent Live View performance, and, most importantly, high image quality.
If you’re looking for a solidly built and well-rounded entry-level camera, the 800D is the ideal choice - if you’re looking to tighten the purse strings a little more, the 1300D is also a great beginner friendly option.
3. Nikon D5600
One step up from Nikon’s most basic offering, the D5600 is a winner for social sharing
The D5600 is an excellent option for your first DSLR, especially if your budget can stretch to investing in some additional lenses to go alongside the kit optic.
One of the most interesting specifications of this camera is that it’s fitted with Snapbridge - that’s a low-powered always-on Bluetooth connection which automatically transfers your shots to your phone for instant sharing on Instagram etc. What could be better than impressing your friends with DSLR quality shots while on the go?
Aside from bragging rights, you get a high-resolution 24 megapixel sensor, an articulating touch-sensitive screen and a 39-point AF system.
4. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Lots of appealing features makes the 7D Mark II an obvious choice for enthusiasts who shoot a bit of everything
If you’re looking to trade up from an entry-level Canon model, the 7D Mark II could be the camera of your dreams. It’s a superb all-rounder which features a 20.2 megapixel sensor and a host of excellent features to suit a variety of needs.
It’s great for wildlife, sports and action photography with its fast 10fps shooting speed, while other subjects such as portraits and landscapes are also ideally suited for it. The 65-point AF system does an excellent job too, while the body is sturdy, well-built and is great to use.
On the downside, the screen is fixed and there’s no wi-fi built in. The latter is disappointing for both quick sharing of shots and for remotely controlling the camera.
5. Pentax KP
A good mid-range alternative for enthusiast photographers drawn to low-light photography
Another great alternative to Canon and Nikon mid-range options is the Pentax KP. The headline specification of this camera is its ISO 819,200 (native) sensitivity setting. Of course you may not want to actually use that top speed, but the performance at high ISOs is extremely good, especially for something with an APS-C sized sensor.
Other interesting specs include a Shake Reduction System and Pixel Shift mode which allows you to create super high-resolution images. For landscape and outdoor photographers, the fact that it’s weatherproof is also a big plus.
Negative points include the fact that the KP is not the prettiest camera on the shelf, and battery life is a little lacking for a DSLR.
6. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
A full-frame camera with a strong heritage and innovative technologies, perfect for the working professional
The 5D line of Canon professional cameras has long been respected and with good reason. The latest iteration of the successful model brings with it all the respected features of its predecessors, but builds on it to result in one seriously impressive model. It has a 30.4 megapixel sensor, and has a new innovation in the form of “Dual Pixel RAW” which allows you to shift the focus ever so slightly after you’ve taken the shot.
Ideal for weddings, portraits and commercial photography, the only let down of the 5D series is that it’s not particularly geared for action and high speed photography. For those type of photographers, take a look at the 1DX Mark IV - but be prepared to pay an extra premium for it.
7. Nikon D810
A high resolution full-frame sensor makes the D810 ideal for commercial work
Although the D810 is ageing in comparison with the other models in the group, it’s yet to be replaced by Nikon. That’s for a good reason - it’s an excellent camera and has a super high resolution 36 megapixel sensor. At the time of the camera’s release, that was the highest resolution available on the market, and although it’s since been surpassed by Canon’s 5DS 50MP beast, 36 is still more than enough for most commercial and advertising photographers. There’s also an advanced AF system, a 100% optical viewfinder and 5fps shooting.
On the downside, video is limited to Full HD so videographers may be left disappointed. Sports and action photographers are better served by the higher specced (and more expensive) Nikon D5, but, it for most other subjects, the D810 is an excellent choice.
8. Sony A99 II
A host of exciting features and specifications make this an appealing alternative for professionals
The majority of professional photographers use either Canon or Nikon models, but if you’re prepared to look outside traditional manufacturers you can actually find some extremely appealing alternatives.
One such option is the Sony A99 II which boasts a 42.4 megapixel full-frame sensor and is ideal for a huge range of different subjects. Not only does the high resolution make it ideal for commercial and advertising work, but it’s also got a fast frame rate which means you can use it for sports and action photography. There’s also 4K video recording and an adjustable LCD screen. While some people don’t like electronic viewfinders, it’s necessary here as the A99 II uses a translucent mirror design that can’t facilitate an optical viewfinder - but don’t worry too much, it’s really a very good one.
The biggest downside to this camera is a limited battery life - so make sure you stock up on spares.