The best DSLRs still outstrip any other camera for quality. And despite fewer releases in recent years, they are the go-to tool for photographers from beginners all the way up to professionals.
There’s still a massive market for DSLRs. Although mirrorless cameras are a popular trend among many creatives, pros and novices, they’re not the only thing manufacturers care about these days. Fans of the traditional camera type will be happy to know that there’s still plenty of excellent DSLRs on the shelves to choose from.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to make your first step into taking photography more seriously, or you’re already a working pro, you should be able to find a DSLR that will more than meet your needs.
There's no such thing as the single “best” DSLR camera, however. After all, no two DSLR users have exactly the same needs. Getting a top-spec, top-dollar pro-level DSLR makes absolutely no sense for somebody just starting out, while somebody with more experience would easily be frustrated by an entry-level model. On the other hand, if you sit somewhere in the middle, a mid-range all-rounder is probably ideal for you.
Looking for something a little more pocket-friendly? Take a look at our best compact camera guide. For those that still want creative control, without the need to change lenses, our best travel camera guide has some superb options.
The best DSLR camera you can buy in 2021
Our pick for the best DSLR is the Nikon D850. It’s a full-frame work-horse that also shoots 4K video. What’s not to like? An alternative is the Canon EOS 90D, the best APS-C option out there with a great battery and superb handling.
Most manufacturers – even those that were a little hesitant at first to join the mirrorless revolution – have been concentrating on newer technologies. That said, there have been some interesting new releases, often utilizing some of those newer technologies. For example, Nikon’s latest full-frame DSLR, the Nikon D780 could easily be compared to the Nikon Z6 mirrorless model (more on that below).
The Canon EOS 90D, another new(ish) model, also can easily fit into the “all-rounder” bracket for those looking for something capable of doing a bit of everything. Much like the Nikon D780, it shares some of its technology with a mirrorless model - in this case, the Canon EOS M6 Mark II.
For beginners, good options include the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 and the Nikon D5600, both of which are just a little over $500.
If you’re somebody new to serious photography, the classic DSLR holds a lot of appeal. They look like “real” cameras, and thanks to being older technology, they aren’t generally as pricey as their mirrorless rivals.
The best DSLRs you can buy in 2021
The slow march against the DSLR by the mirrorless battalion has been held off by the incredible D850. The camera, responsible for more DSLR sales than probably any other model at the moment, is a superb all-rounder for the professional who shoots a little bit of everything.
Advanced enthusiasts will also get a kick out of how well it handles a variety of different subjects. With a high-resolution 45.4MP sensor, 4K video capture, a 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, a 153-point / 99 cross-type AF system that pretty much just nails it every time, and a sturdy body, you won’t be disappointed with what the D850 can deliver.
See the Best Nikon D850 deals
If you find yourself lusting after a D500, but don’t quite have the funds available, consider the D7500 instead.
It shares many of the same specifications as its older brother, including the same sensor and processor combination but with a few compromises to help keep the price lower.
A chunky and nicely textured body makes the D7500 a nice camera to hold and use. And, it comes with some modern touches like a fully articulating touchscreen to satisfy those used to smartphones.
The trade-off for the lower price includes an autofocusing system that’s not quite on par with the D500 – though it’s still very good. It also doesn’t shoot as fast with only 8fps, but it’s still very usable for those who don’t shoot action every day.
One of the very few DSLRs to make its debut in 2019, this mid-range model is an update from the once very-popular 80D.
If you’re still very much interested in DSLR photography and you already own an entry-level Canon model, this is the obvious step up for you. It’s also not a bad option for those looking to move up from some entry-level mirrorless cameras.
DSLRs still have mirrorless rivals beat when it comes to battery life, with the 90D giving you a whopping 1300 shots per charge. That makes it ideal for situations where you can’t stop to charge.
There’s also a host of other appealing features here such as a super high-resolution 32.5-megapixel sensor, uncropped 4K video recording and an optical viewfinder that offers a 100% view of the scene.
The D780 is, in many ways, a Nikon Z6 (mirrorless) camera inside a traditional DSLR body. It’s clearly been designed for those who crave the traditional handling and feel of a DSLR camera. If you have a whole cabinet full of DSLR lenses, you’re also more likely to crave a DSLR for your next model, too.
Here, we’ve got something very impressive. It uses the same sensor and processor as the Z6, but thanks to the larger body, there’s room for dual memory card slots as well as a lot more direct control dials and buttons. There are also nifty features like 4K video recording, charging via USB and 12fps shooting.
Overall, this is a fantastic all-rounder for those who want a full-frame model that sticks to the traditional DSLR formula. Right now, you’ll pay a price premium for it over the Z6, but if you have a ton of lenses to bring with you, that extra investment will likely be worth it.
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 revered features of its predecessors but builds on it to offer up a seriously impressive camera. It has a 30.4MP sensor and comes with a new innovation called “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 other high-speed photography. For those types of photographers, the 1DX Mark IV may be a better choice. Just be prepared to shell out more for that one.
Perhaps 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 has a fast frame rate, which makes it ideal for sports, action and wildlife, but it can also handle landscapes, portraits and events with ease.
It’s primarily aimed at advanced hobbyists, but it’s good enough to be used by professionals – especially as a second camera.
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, do it.
There have been very few DSLRs announced in recent months and years, but the Rebel T8i is the answer for photographers who like a traditional way of shooting and are looking for their first “proper” camera.
Those looking for a strong set of new innovations won’t find that here, but you do get a solid set of specs, now with added 4K to get you started with.
You also get a strong battery life, an optical viewfinder (albeit on the small side), and a good vary-angle LCD screen. Most importantly, the Rebel T8i is capable of producing some lovely images.
If you’re not tied to a particular system, you might be better off going for one of the many mirrorless options out there, but if you’re convinced a DSLR is for you, the Rebel T8i is a solid starter option.
While you can probably find better mirrorless cameras than the Rebel SL3 (also known as 250D) at its price point, if you’re eager to stick with a traditional DSLR, this is a good one to go for.
If you’re looking for your first “proper” camera, but don’t want something too big, this also has the honor of being the world’s smallest DSLR to feature a touchscreen screen. At the same time, it has a good range of dials and buttons so it doesn’t feel too cramped.
On the downside, the viewfinder – which is optical – only offers a 95% view of the scene, so you could find some subjects just edging a little out. Plus, the 4K video recording is also subject to a crop, making it less than ideal for vloggers.
Still, if you’re mainly a photographer, this is a good choice to get you started.
The D5600 is an excellent option for your first DSLR, especially if you can stretch your budget to get some additional lenses to go with 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 that 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 24MP sensor, an articulating touch-sensitive screen and a 39-point AF system.
It took Canon five years to deliver an upgrade to its entry-level full-frame camera, during which time the camera market has become almost unrecognizable, with more compact system cameras, including full-frame models, than ever before.
Nevertheless, for those who like to stick to the tried and true way of doing things, the 6D Mark II is a good contender as your first full-frame DSLR.
You get a 26.2MP full-frame sensor, a much-improved AF system when compared to the original 6D, and a touchscreen. There are some things that seem to be lacking for a modern camera like 4K video recording, but if you’re more into your stills than your movies, this won’t be a deal-breaker.
This is not a particularly exciting model, but it performs well in a good range of situations. Plus, being compatible with a huge range of optics makes it a good choice if your mind is firmly set on the idea of the DSLR.
How to choose the best DSLR for you
When choosing the best DSLR for you, consider what it is you want to achieve with your photography. If you’re thinking about trading up from a compact camera or a smartphone to get more serious about your photography, an entry-level DSLR can really help boost your skills without costing a fortune.
On the other hand, if you’ve already been using a DSLR for some time and feel ready to take the next step, a mid-range option is a better fit. It’ll give you more space to grow and will elevate your photography even further.
Finally, if you’re a working professional or a high-level enthusiast, you’ll want the ultimate camera, which offers both fantastic image quality as well as an excellent, pro-level feature set.
Cameras like the Canon EOS Rebel T8i (also known as the EOS 800D) and the Nikon D5600 are excellent for beginners. There’s also the newer Canon EOS Rebel SL3 (also known as EOS 250D.) All of these models should give you a good balance of delivering better image quality than your phone can muster and a simpler operation so as not to overwhelm you at the beginning of your photography journey.
For more advanced features and operation, take a look at the Nikon D500, Canon EOS 7D Mark II and the Canon EOS 90D. These are superb all-rounders that can handle different types of photography - perfect for the hobbyist. If you want to consider something besides the two big hitters, take a look at the Pentax KP - particularly if you have a bunch of old compatible lenses at your disposal.
Full-frame DSLRs are generally found in the professional category, but for the enthusiast, you have options like the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. If you want the best of the best, look towards the Nikon D850, which is still the one to beat even three years after its release. There’s also the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or possibly the Sony Alpha A99 II as well.