It’s also complicated by the fact that, while DSLR Camera are renowned for their flexibility and image quality, there are now a series of cameras that offer similar (and potentially greater) capabilities that are also worth considering.
So, while this roundup will focus on DSLRs (cameras with a mirror that redirects the image from the lens into an optical viewfinder), we’ll also recommend some mirrorless cameras that may be a better fit for you.
These also have interchangeable lenses and comparable image quality but tend to be a bit smaller and are often better adapted to shooting video.
The Nikon D3500 was launched back in 2018 as an evolution of Nikon’s best-selling line of digital cameras. We also rate it as one of the best Nikon Cameras right now, as well as one of the Best Nikon Cameras.
Novice photographers are often worried about DSLRs being complicated to use, but the Nikon D3500 has a brilliant ‘Guide’ shooting mode that acts as a fully interactive tutorial on photography, delivered via the rear LCD screen.
The rear screen is fixed, and you’re limited to Full HD video rather than 4K, but the 24-megapixel sensor delivers super-sharp images and the retracting 18-55mm kit lens is rather good too.
The D3500 is small, light, cheap and easy to use – all the qualities that will appeal to beginners. It might seem as if camera technology is advancing at breakneck speed right now.
Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D
Canon does make a couple of cheaper DSLRs than this one, but we reckon they’re a little cut down in features and build quality and we’d recommend paying just a little bit extra for the EOS Rebel SL3 DSLR (sold as the EOS 250D in Europe).
Why? Because it has a vari-angle touchscreen on the back and a sensor with Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, so the autofocus in live view is really snappy.
We also love the fact that you can start from a simple Guided user interface when you’re still learning, and then switch to the standard setup when you feel more confident and want more control.
This is the best DSLR for beginners keen to learn and experiment with new techniques – it’s also as good in live view mode as a mirrorless camera. We’re looking forward to trying out the new EOS 850D.
Canon EOS Rebel T100 / EOS 4000D
Canon has deliberately built the EOS Rebel T100 (EOS 4000D) down to a price, and we think they might have taken the cost cutting a fraction too far. It’s a decent camera, but only if you can get it for a lot less than the Nikon D3500, above.
The Canon is well suited to beginners, with the same ‘intelligent’ full auto shooting mode and feature guide as you’ll find in pricier Canon cameras. The ‘Quick’ menu is typically intuitive, and there are plenty of scene modes as well as more advanced shooting modes.
There’s also a Creative Auto mode to help you progress from ‘basic zone’ to ‘creative zone’ modes. The 18MP image sensor is a little lacking in megapixels compared with most current DSLRs, though, and there are more serious cutbacks in other areas. We wouldn’t expect a touchscreen at this price, but the rear LCD is disappointingly small and low-resolution.
The Nikon D780 takes the on-sensor phase detection autofocus of Nikon’s own mirrorless Z6 model to offer a DSLR with mirrorless camera live view performance – brilliant!
In fairness, Nikon has been a bit slow off the mark here, since Canon DSLRs have long used Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology to do the same thing. Essentially, the D780 is like a modernized, supercharged version of Nikon’s still popular D750 full frame DSLR.
The D780 doesn’t just have advanced live view AF – it also comes with a high-resolution tilting touchscreen display, 4K UHD video, dual UHS-II compatible memory card slots and continuous shooting speeds up to 12fps in live view mode. Combine that with its solid design and comfortable grip and you’ve got a camera that’s an instant classic.
APS-C format DSLRs offer the best compromise between features, quality and price, but professionals will demand a step up in image quality, and that means a full frame DSLR.
The Nikon D850 is an expensive camera (though prices are falling), but its capabilities put it in a class of its own. Its 45.7MP resolution is spectacular, it has a 153-point autofocus system, and can capture images at 7 frames per second – or 9fps with the optional MB-D18 battery grip.
Amazing video features also makes it one of the best 4K camera choices around – though the new Nikon D850 would be a better and cheaper choice for DSLR videographers. The Nikon D850 doesn’t have the new Nikon D780’s hybrid on-sensor autofocus technology, so its live view autofocus speeds are relatively pedestrian, but that scarcely puts a dent in the D850’s all-round appeal as arguably the best DSLR of all for professional photographers.
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