(Pocket-lint) – Once upon a time, DSLRs were the be-all and end-all of the digital camera world. These days, mirrorless cameras are the dominant force, with most major camera brands forgoing the mirror in their flagship models.
Still, there’s a lot to love about DSLRs, and, if you prefer that old school SLR feel, rather than having a little digital screen in your viewfinder, then there’s no substitute. You can potentially save some cash, too, with budget DSLR options now being cheaper than ever before.
DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex, and these cameras have removable lenses so that different optics can be attached and provide a different view of the world. This potential variety allows you to start small and build up to more varied, sharper and desirable featured lenses as you go along.
So, whether you’re new to DSLRs, are looking to upgrade, know plenty about cameras already, or are considering a more pro option, this is where we round up the best DSLR cameras available to buy today.
What are the best DSLR cameras?
Our Top Pick: Best DSLR Camera
- High resolution 45.7-megapixel sensor
- Incredible battery life
- Superb dynamic range
- Autofocus is slow in live view mode
- On the pricey side
Equipped with a monstrous 45.7-megapixel sensor, the Nikon D850 pushed the boundaries of image resolution upon its initial release. In the right hands and with good quality glass, this camera is capable of producing crisp and highly detailed images. The dynamic range is almost unreal, too.
Little changes to the D850’s body compared to its predecessor’s also transform the user experience. Illuminated buttons, silent shutter mode, deeper grip and class-leading battery life all add up to something quite special.
We found that its only real shortcoming is that the live view autofocus speed isn’t as capable as Canon’s equivalent.
DSLR cameras we also recommend
The pricey megapixel-munching Nikon D850 won’t be for everyone. With that in mind, here are four other DSLR options that impressed us.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- Fantastic autofocus system
- Solid image quality
- Dual Pixel RAW re-focus
- No flip-out screen
- 4K video has limited file types
The 5D Mark IV is a deft balance between resolution, image quality, autofocus ability and control, seeing it stand head and shoulders above its predecessor and much of the competition, too.
It’s not cheap by any means but it’s got every base covered, and the 30-megapixel sensor is not only awesome in good light, but it also aces low-light conditions, as well.
In the present day, the lack of a flip screen feels very old fashioned, and the 4K video is no longer something that gives it the wow factor. Canon’s own mirrorless offerings now give us up to 8K video, for instance.
For photographers preferring an SLR system though, the 5D Mark IV still has a lot to offer, especially when paired with some of Canon’s industry-leading glass.
Canon EOS 2000D / Rebel T7
- Fantastic value for money
- Wi-Fi and NFC functionality
- No flip or touchscreen
- Basic feature set
We think the Canon 2000D could be the perfect option for those looking to upgrade from a smartphone camera to a DSLR platform. It’s cheap and cheerful, and its Wi-Fi functionality means you can transfer photos straight to a smartphone for editing and sharing.
You’ll get the benefit of interchangeable lenses, as well as a far larger sensor, which means better low light performance and real bokeh that doesn’t rely on AI trickery to cut out the subject.
Buying into the Canon lens system means you can take the lenses with you when you upgrade, which is probably inevitable, as the feature set is fairly limited on this entry-level body.
- Quick shooting with a large buffer
- Smaller and more manageable body size
- Very good autofocus
- High ISO features aren’t actually usable
- Limited angles on the flip screen
The Nikon D500 takes a lot of features from its larger sibling, the D5, but brings them to the APS-C sensor and a much more compact body. This makes it one of the most advanced and feature-rich APS-C bodies we’ve come across.
This translates into a whole heap of good things. The 21-megapixel sensor is backed up with the speedy Expeed 5 processing engine and can capture shots up to an extended sensitivity of ISO 1,640,000. Yup, that’s six figures. Although, in our testing, we don’t think you’re likely to want to go anywhere near that high.
What you get here is a pro-level DSLR, in a small package and at a much more stomachable price. Who wouldn’t love that?
Canon EOS 90D
- Highly capable autofocus
- High resolution
- 4K video recording
- Single SD card slot
- No in-body stabilisation
If you’re looking for an all-rounder when it comes to both still images and movie capture, then the 90D is still one of the best pure DSLRs to cater to such a crowd.
Where the 90D really excels is with its autofocus system. The Dual Pixel AF system – which uses on-sensor phase-detection via live view and a different phase-detection system through the viewfinder – is super-fast, whether you’re looking through the viewfinder or using the rear screen to compose your shots.
Elsewhere, the 90D ups the viewfinder ante with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get 100% field-of-view – something cheaper DSLR cameras often lack – while its Vari-Angle touchscreen remains one of its strong points, especially in a competitive world against mirrorless cameras.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours clicking shutter buttons and poring over the results before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides, including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the cameras we considered didn’t make our final guide.
These are the products we considered that ultimately didn’t make our top five selections, but they may still be worth considering for those who haven’t found a DSLR they like in the picks above.
How to choose a DSLR camera
There is a wide range of DSLRs on the market, designed for everyone from casual holiday snappers to seasoned professionals. That means it can be extremely hard to narrow down which one is right for you. Here are a few things worth thinking about before you decide on a camera.
What will you be using the camera for?
This will be the big deciding factor for most people, as different cameras are tailored toward different shooting styles. Some cameras offer extremely high burst rates for shooting sports, whereas others will give you a silent shooting mode to ensure that your shutter click doesn’t scare away any wildlife.
Think about how you will mainly be using the camera, and the specs that you should care about will quickly become apparent.
Which lenses will work?
For Canon it’s EF-mount (including EF-S), for Nikon it’s F-mount, for Pentax it’s K-mount. Sony has discontinued its line in favour of its mirrorless offerings. There are some additions and exceptions, but those are the current main three. Don’t fall into the trap by buying the wrong lenses just because the brand names match up.
What’s the deal with sensor size?
Entry and mid-level cameras typically have what’s called an APS-C size sensor. Some pro-spec cameras have full-frame sensors that, because they’re physically larger, need specific (typically pricier and more advanced) lenses that are capable of covering these larger dimensions.
A full-frame camera collects more light and this will give you better low-light performance and shallower depth of field in your shots. Unfortunately, they’re typically a lot more expensive than their APS-C counterparts and the same goes for the lenses too. So if budget is a concern, we’d recommend sticking with APS-C.
Which focal length lens should I buy?
There are plenty of things to consider with lenses and this all depends on the type of photography you are planning on doing. If it’s all about portraits you’ll want something around the 50mm or 75mm mark. If you are trying to snap that lion on the Savannah and don’t want to get eaten then you’ll want something with a long zoom, like 300mm or greater.
DSLR v mirrorless – which is best?
This all depends on what type of shooter you are. If you mainly care about video, then the mirrorless options offer far more for your money and you should certainly consider them before committing to a DSLR.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can typically find entry-level DSLRs for cheaper than their mirrorless equivalents. This will leave you with more to spend on lenses, arguably the best investment in the photographic world.
If you’re an old school film shooter and can’t resist the tactile sound of the mirror flipping away, then there really is no alternative. Luckily, there are still loads of great options – some of which you can explore in our other camera buyer’s guides.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
A camera system can be a hefty purchase, so we’ve tested all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up to daily usage. We’ve checked everything from image quality to battery life to make sure they’re up to the task.
As with any roundup, it’s not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we use these tests and the opinions of the experts on the Pocket-lint team in order to determine a small number of cameras to recommend.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are in-depth spec comparisons and marketing jargon; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each DSLR is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity.
Writing by Luke Baker.