With mirrorless cameras now taking over the market, you may wonder if a DSLR camera is worth it. They absolutely are! Whether you don’t have the budget to go mirrorless just yet, prefer an optical viewfinder to an electronic one, or just don’t want to swap out your collection of DSLR lenses, it’s very much still worth buying a DSLR.
DSLR cameras still have the advantage of longer battery life than their mirrorless counterparts, and later models can shoot impressive video almost on par with a mirrorless SLR. You also get the advantage of a larger used market, and a wider variety of branded or third-party options to choose from with a DSLR.
So what should you look for in a DSLR? For first-timers looking to get into photography, this can be a challenging question. Stat sheets can sound impressive but may not tell you much about how a camera will actually perform in your hands.
There are a few things you should consider when making your purchase. What’s your skill level? What are you looking to make with this camera—photos, video, or both? What’s your budget? Are ergonomics and the way a camera feels in the hand important to you? Do you already have experience using a particular camera system, and are you willing to switch to another one if you find a great option?
The DSLRs chosen here are all a good balance of price and functionality for each particular category. There are beginner options for less than $1K, and pro cameras for nearly $3K. What you’ll end up getting depends on personal preference, what you can afford, and what the best tool is for the job you’re going to do.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, you’ll find something to interest you in this list. Let’s get started.
Best DSLR Camera Overall: Nikon D850
- ✓ Amazing resolution
- ✓ Fast shooting
- ✓ Solid body with weather sealing
- ✓ Wide variety of compatible lenses
- ✗ Pro camera price tag
- ✗ Good but not the greatest for shooting video
If you’re looking for a monster of a DSLR that can handle pretty much any shooting situation you can think of, the Nikon D850 is it. Nikon’s successor to the popular D810 has 45 megapixels of power, a sturdy magnesium body with weather sealing, and compatibility with a range of excellent lenses.
Released in 2018, the D850 is a few years old at this point but still produces excellent images. Its ISO range goes all the way down to 64 for impressive dynamic range, allowing for clean images with a lot of room to edit when shooting RAW. It’s also Nikon’s fastest-shooting DSLR, so sports and wildlife photographers will find a lot to like here.
The D850’s high resolution also makes it great for portrait work but in-studio and on-location. It’s got the same large, bright optical viewfinder as the D810, a plus for any kind of shooting you do.
All that said, if you’re just starting out or only plan to take your camera on the occasional vacation, you should probably go with something else. Just the body will run you about $3K brand new, and still over $2K used.
Other DSLRs like the D750 and Canon 6D would be cheaper, better for occasional use, and make great full-frame learner cameras. The D850 also isn’t the most advanced video option Nikon has, though it does still shoot fantastic-looking 4K footage.
Best DSLR Camera Overall
The Nikon D850 is a powerful professional-level camera that can hold up to just about any shooting scenario.
- ✓ Good price point for entry level full frame with relatively modern tech
- ✓ Improved processing from the 6D
- ✓ Tilt-flip LCD screen
- ✓ Good enough image quality for pro work
- ✗ Can’t shoot fast enough for sports, wildlife, or fast action
- ✗ Slow autofocus
The Canon 6D Mk II is the company’s successor to the popular entry-level full-frame DSLR, the 6D. It includes pretty much all the features that made the original 6D great with slightly updated tech, and it’s a great deal for the money.
At $1,400 for the body, the 6DII delivers the image quality of a full-frame sensor without breaking the bank. If you’re looking to learn to shoot in manual mode but don’t want to or can’t shell out 5D camera money, this one is for you.
The 26.2-megapixel sensor paired with Canon’s lenses will easily get you professional-looking images fit for delivering to clients, social media, or even making decently sized prints. If you’re a vlogger, or into self-portraits, the 6Dii also has a tilt-flip LCD touchscreen to help frame your shots.
This camera can shoot at six frames per second, which is fast enough for things like travel photography and portraiture. If you’re looking to shoot sports or wildlife though, The EOS 6DII isn’t the perfect investment.
For video, this camera shoots 1080p HD with Canon’s solid video codec, good enough for something like YouTube or if you’re learning to shoot video. If you’re looking for something more advanced, you’ll want to grab a DSLR that’s made to shoot video.
Best Budget DSLR Camera
Canon 6D MKII
A good entry-level full-frame camera that’s compact enough to take with you and powerful enough for many pro shooting scenarios.
Best DSLR Camera for Beginners: Nikon D3500
- ✓ Cheap price for a quality beginner DSLR
- ✓ Simple controls and easy startup make learning the camera easy
- ✓ Great image quality for the price
- ✓ No frills means longer battery life
- ✗ Won’t give you the dynamic range of a full-frame sensor
- ✗ Not as feature-rich as it’s full-frame counterparts
While many people would recommend starting on a full-frame camera if you can swing it, there are some great options in the crop sensor (APS-C) market, too. Case in point—the Nikon D3000 series.
The D3500 is Nikon’s latest iteration of its entry-level APS-C offering. Since it’s a beginner camera with a smaller sensor than a full-frame DSLR, you won’t get as much image resolution or dynamic range, but it’s still an excellent tool for learning the basics of photo and video on a DSLR. Smaller and lighter than a full-frame, Nikon has plenty of excellent lenses in their DX line you can pop on this camera for some quality images.
This camera comes with a respectable 24.4 megapixels, around the same as a full-frame camera like the D750. It records HD video, has Bluetooth connectivity, and works with Nikon’s Snapbridge app.
You can grab a body and kit lens for just under $900. If you go refurbished, it’s even cheaper. The D750 is a camera that you can pick up and start making decent images within a relatively short amount of time, making it perfect for beginners.
Best Beginner DSLR
This APS-C sensor DSLR camera is perfect for beginners to learn the basics without breaking the bank.
Best DSLR Camera for Video: Nikon D780
- ✓ Standard image resolution good enough for pro work
- ✓ The same autofocusing system as the Z6
- ✓ No-crop 4K video
- ✓ Great price for its feature set
- ✗ Not as powerful as higher-level offerings like the D5
Nikon’s D780 is the long-awaited update to their much-loved D750, a camera considered an all-around workhorse by many pro photographers. Released in 2020, it’s the newest camera on this list and, by extension, has the newest tech inside.
The D780 delivers everything people loved about the D750, with some noticeable improvements. On the video front, it has basically the same autofocusing system as Nikon’s mirrorless Z6 camera when in live view mode. That means eye and face tracking as well as some of the best live view autofocus you’ll find in a DSLR—it’s basically the Z6 with an optical viewfinder.
This camera can switch between still and video shooting with nearly zero buffer, making it great for hybrid shooters that need to toggle between modes on the fly. It also shoots a 4K video without needing a crop.
Add to that a durable, weather-sealed body and this camera could easily be your new all-rounder, not just for video.
- ✓ Compact and easy to take around for a DSLR
- ✓ Good stills, decent video
- ✓ Easy to use
- ✗ Slow autofocus, especially for full-frame
- ✗ Not the greatest video codec
The 6D MkII‘s balance of price, compact design, and features make it not only a great budget camera but a good travel shooter. Easy to pack away with enough power to produce data-rich RAW files, the 6DII would make a lot of sense to take on your next trip.
This is a camera you can put a 35mm lens on, set to auto, and shoot your heart out even if you don’t know anything about the finer points of DSLR shooting. The video codec isn’t as good as other Canon DSLRs like the 5D series, but it’s an attainable full-frame for those who might otherwise be priced out of the market.
One caveat, however, is that the autofocus on this camera is pretty slow, and all the autofocus points are in the center of the frame. If you’re trying to catch something in focus at the edges of your frame, it can get cumbersome.
If you can afford it, you could spring for something like the Canon 5D MKIV instead. It’s larger than the 6DII but more feature-rich. It also has better autofocus and takes better HD video. You can get a used body for between $1,700 and $1,900.
Best DSLR Camera for Travel
Canon 6D MKII
Light, compact, and easy to use, the EOS 6D MKII is a camera you can easily pick up and shoot with while traveling.