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There aren’t many new DSLRs hitting the market these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find plenty of classics on the shelves. In fact, the choice is still so broad, that deciding the best one for you can be pretty overwhelming.
Fortunately, we’ve been testing DSLRs for a while now and have ranked our top picks for the best beginner DSLRs here – covering the major manufacturers, namely Canon, Nikon and Pentax – to help you find the right match.
What’s the best beginner DSLR you can buy right now? We think that title goes to the Nikon D3500. It has everything a learner photographer needs: a handy Guide Mode to explain key settings, great handling, a huge selection of lenses, and excellent image quality. It’s also one of the most affordable ways to buy a camera with a built-in viewfinder.
Why buy a DSLR over a mirrorless camera? DSLRs continue to offer some advantages over their mirrorless counterparts, particularly when it comes to handling and battery life. Plus, they remain the only cameras to feature true optical viewfinders (one that displays the actual scene as viewed through a lens, rather than a digital recreation).
If those features are more important to you than the latest autofocus or compact form factors, then an entry-level DSLR is likely the way to go.
It’s worth noting that manufacturers have practically stopped making new DSLRs now – Sony has pretty much phased out its A-mount DSLRs, while Canon has discontinued its 7D line – but that doesn’t mean the DSLR format is dead. Both Canon and Nikon continue to offer a wide range of entry-level DSLR models, with extensive lens catalogues to match.
With fewer fresh models hitting the shelves, beginners will usually find the best value in slightly older options like the Nikon D5600 and Canon EOS 80D. These might not offer cutting-edge technology, but they tick most of the important boxes for beginners, without breaking the bank. For this reason, we’ve included both current and older models in our guide below.
Lastly, it’s worth considering that Black Friday is rapidly approaching, which means we’re likely to see some strong Black Friday camera deals throughout November. If you’re thinking of buying a DSLR, it might be worth holding fire until mid-November, when the first deals will start appearing.
The best beginner DSLRs in 2021:
Nikon may not have announced any new entry-level DSLRs for a while, but the D3500 remains an excellent option for those new to photography. It picks up from where the D3400 left off, but with a handful of extra perks. Unlike power-hungry mirrorless models, the major advantage of this camera is battery life.
You can keep going for 1,550 images between charges, which is way ahead of most other DSLRs, while the 24MP sensor delivers excellent image quality.
Nikon has also revised the body and control layout, not only to make it nicer to handle but easier to use too, while the Guide Mode takes the first-time user’s hand and walks them through all the key features in a way that makes everything easy to understand. We love it – and if you’re just getting started, we reckon you will too.
The Canon EOS Rebel T8i (know as the EOS 850D outside the US) has now officially taken the baton from its Rebel T7i / EOS 800D predecessor, with stock of the latter tricky to find. This new model isn’t a huge upgrade, with the most notable addition being a 4K video mode that’s somewhat hampered by frame-rate restrictions. Still, the Rebel T8i / EOS 850D remains one of our favorite all-round DSLRs for beginners.
You get a Dual Pixel phase-detection AF system, which is fast, reliable and works just as well for video as it does stills. Its button layout is also very considerate, while the vari-angle LCD screen handles really well.
As long you ignore that headline of 4K video, which involves a crop and the loss of phase-detection autofocus, it remains a fantastic option for anyone who is starting a photography hobby and prizes DSLR advantages like battery life and handling.
The EOS Rebel SL3 – also known as the Canon EOS 250D and EOS 200D Mark II – is one of the more recent additions to this list. In fact, it’s one of only a handful of beginner models announced in recent years. As its name suggests, it picks up from where the Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D) left off, adding a fresh processing engine and 4K video recording on top of a collection of smaller extras.
There may be lots of competition from entry-level mirrorless cameras right now, but if you like the traditional handling of a DSLR – including an optical viewfinder – and the flexibility of that articulating screen, the 250D remains one of the most attractive and affordable models available right now.
Here’s another beginner DSLR that is holding its own against the rise of mirrorless cameras. The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T8i / EOS 850D (see above).
Key advantages over the D3500 include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front for vlogging but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi, and a healthy range of additional control on the inside.
Sure, you pay a little bit more for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space, it makes sense to go for the D5600 – it’ll be a reliable companion for years to come.
There’s no doubt that the newer Canon EOS 90D (below), which is the EOS 80D’s successor, is the superior all-round DSLR in terms of power and features. But the EOS 80D currently sits higher in this list due to the impressive value it offers – right now, you can find it for almost half the price of its newer sibling.
And despite coming out in 2016, it’s still a very capable camera for beginners. For a start, the combination of a 24.2MP sensor and 45-point autofocus system ensure you get reliably good photos and focus.
There’s a guided menu system that’s easy to navigate, and on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to transfer images wirelessly if needed. The only downside is that the 80D’s kit lens is a tad soft around the edges, so we’d recommend buying the body on its own and a better lens separately.
This is one of the cheapest DSLRs in Canon’s current line-up, which also makes it a very cost-effective way to get access to an endless assortment of lenses, flashguns and other accessories. Its low price tag means it understandably lacks some of the fancy tricks of its bigger brothers – like a flip-out LCD, 4K video and so on – but there’s still a very good level of physical control on offer.
And, most importantly, image quality from the 24MP sensor is sound. It’s designed very much with its target audience in mind, with a Feature Guide to help you understand everything, and battery life is also better than many mirrorless models at this price point – still a key advantage of DSLRs. Wi-Fi, NFC and Full HD video recording round off the specs, making it a well-rounded first-time option.
The Canon 90D might be the last enthusiast-level DSLR the company ever makes – and if so, it’s going out with a bang. The versatile 90D packs a high-resolution sensor which, paired with Canon’s Digic 8 imaging engine, offers the enticing prospect of uncropped 4K video at 30fps.
Color reproduction is superb and there’s plenty of detail in both stills and video, aided by a new 216-zone metering system (even if noise can be an issue above ISO 8000). A deeper grip means the 90D is also really comfortable in the hand, while a joystick makes selecting from the Dual Pixel CMOS AF points a cinch.
Battery life is a boon, too, with 1,500 shots possible on a single charge. It’s possibly a bit too much camera for an absolute beginner (both in price and features), but there’s no doubt it offers a lot of room to grow into. Either way, the 90D proves that DSLRs still very much have a place in the mirrorless world.
If you’re making your first foray into DSLR ownership, you don’t necessarily need a camera that can do everything. And if you’re looking for something very basic but very affordable, Canon’s 4000D (also called the 3000D in some markets) is a decent first choice.
There’s a lot about the 4000D that seems dated alongside the latest entry-level models. The 18MP sensor and DIGIC 4+ processor are both aging, as is the modest 9-point autofocus system, which has been in Canon’s catalogue since 2009.
The LCD display likewise feels long in the tooth, with a 2.7-inch diagonal and 230k-dot resolution, while Live View performance is a little sluggish. Finally, the polycarbonate shell feels understandably cheap.
But it’s not all bad: the button layout is easy to navigate for new users, battery life is strong at 500 shots and image quality is solid, with noise handled fairly well. Those upgrading from a smartphone or compact should find results decent, with a fair amount of detail and a good level of saturation, while Picture Style presets enable easy tonal tweaks. To more experienced buyers, the 4000D will feel like a step back in time, with older components and unremarkable performance.
But if affordability is your key criterion, you might be able to look past the limited feature set and see some wallet-friendly potential.
Although it’s a few years old now, the Pentax K-70 remains a good value option for those who want something different from the ‘big two’ DSLR manufacturers. It’s a particularly good choice if you have a stash of old Pentax lenses gathering dust in a basement. The K-70 has a very useful articulating screen, while the hybrid live view autofocus system makes it an actual practical alternative to using the viewfinder.
Possibly our favorite thing about the K-70 is its tough credentials, which is typically lacking from entry-level models. If you’re keen to take lots of pictures outdoors – such as landscape shooting – being able to rely on it not being destroyed by inclement weather is a big bonus.
One slight disappointment is the kit lens which is often bundled with the camera – while it offers a much longer focal length than most others here, it can be a little soft in places.
If you don’t need the 4K video mode of the newer EOS Rebel T8i / EOS 850D, then this predecessor offers potentially better value – if you can find somewhere that has it in stock. If not, then it’s still worth considering second-hand versions, because the Rebel T7i (or EOS 800D outside the US) is still a very fine beginner DSLR. Of course, this camera is four years old,
so some of its specs (like 6fps burst shooting) look a little dated, but the Dual Pixel autofocus performs excellently for Live View snapping, while image quality remains impressive. The finish is a little plasticky, but the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D has all the handling benefits of a DSLR and the battery life to match, with a quoted stamina of 600 shots per charge.