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If you’re looking to get serious about photography, you may want to consider a DSLR camera, which helps you capture much higher quality photographs, shoot in lower light situations and easily shoot fast moving objects. Plus, because a lot of DSLR cameras have Wi-Fi capability, they integrate the convenience of smartphone shooting, meaning you can easily review photos on your smart devices.
There are hundreds of DSLR cameras on the market right now and it can be challenging to pick a model that both suits your purpose and fits your budget. To help you navigate this vast and often complicated world of cameras, we consulted a professional photographer and a technology expert — each of them have worked in the industry for over a decade. Alongside their tips for photographers, the experts recommended the best camera right now for both beginners and professionals.
To start your search, first define your purpose, advised David Hume Kennerly, who served as White House photographer for Gerald R. Ford and won a Pulitzer Prize for his images of Vietnam. “The trick is not to use a great amount of gear, carry what you need, and know how to use it,” he explained.
SKIP AHEAD Best DSLR cameras
What is a DSLR camera?
DSLR stands for “digital single lens reflex,” referring to the camera’s combination of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor, explained Tony Northup, a professional photographer and author of “Stunning Digital Photography.” The single-lens reflex (SLR) camera was first used in film cameras and equips a mirror.
The term “reflex” in SLR and DSLR refers to a mirror on the inside of the camera body that reflects the light coming in from the lens into an optical viewfinder. It is the mirror that allows photographers to compose and see their photos. When a photographer decides to take the photo and presses the button, the mirror flips out of the light path, allowing light to pass through the receptor and the image to be captured, Northup elaborated. This same mirror system is used in DSLR cameras, but instead of creating an image on a roll of film, DSLR cameras store visual information on a memory card.
Best DSLR cameras 2021
Recommended by professional photographers who actively use them in the field, here are the six best DSLR cameras to consider, some best suited for beginners and others for more experienced shoppers.
Best DSLR cameras for professionals
Featuring more complicated features like image stabilization and higher imager processors, these are the best cameras for professional photographers, according to our experts.
Northup recommended this model from Canon, which he used for his professional shoots. “The camera features a 50.6 Megapixel sensor and produces really detailed images,” Northup said. This model brings a series of upgrades to the previous model, 5D Mark III – higher resolution images with the 50.6MP sensor and the ability to store more visual information with Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors. The camera has garnered a 4.5-star average from over 200 reviews from B&H Photo reviewers.
Designed for professional photographers and serious hobbyists, this Nikon model features an Expeed 5 image processor, allowing photographers to create high resolution still images and full-frame 4K UHD video. And it is this processor and 45.7MP full-frame CMOS sensor that made the Nikon model a worthy contender in the world of DSLRs, according to Sagi Shilo, creator of YouTube gear review channel Tech Gear Talk. “The solid magnesium alloy weather-resistant body offers additional protection and the large optical viewfinder provides an excellent field-of-view,” he added. The camera has a 4.8-star average from over 500 Amazon reviewers.
Best DSLR cameras for beginners
Often priced below $1,500, these cameras include LCD touch screens, mic inputs and mid-tier sensors – all the basic functions needed for an emerging photographer, our experts said. Additionally, beginner cameras (like the ones on this list), usually come with a kit lens, meaning you can save a couple of hundred dollars from having to buy a lens. These cameras are the best DSLRs for those just starting out in digital photography, according to experts.
If you’re looking for a camera that can easily capture your children’s sports games, Northup recommended this camera from Nikon, which has a 4.9-star average from over 300 B&H Photo reviewers. “The D7500 has an amazing autofocus system that stretches corner to corner and a real 8 frames per second for catching your favorite athlete in action,” he said. Additionally, the D7500 is incredibly versatile. Nikon offers a 200-500 lens that you can add to the camera body to make it suitable for wildlife photography, too, Northup said.
Shilo also included this model in his list of best DSLR cameras, and added, “The weather-sealed body is important when working in challenging conditions.” Other notable features include the tilting LCD touch screen, 51-point autofocus system and 4K video ability.
Another camera recommended by both Shilo and Northup is the T8i, which has a 4.7-star average from over 300 Amazon reviewers. Shilo recommended the camera for its high frame rate (7.5 fps with 40 continuous RAW images), while Northup likes its “sophisticated video autofocus.”
“The camera is equally suited to stills and video, so if you want to capture your kids' sports and start a YouTube channel, Canon is your best bet,” Northup added. The camera also features a flip-forward screen, built-in Wi-Fi capability and 18-55mm kit lens.
Even though DSLR cameras can easily sell for a few hundred dollars, there are some affordable options, including this model from Canon that costs less than $700. Shilo recommended this model for the entry-level photographer as it comes with the easy-to-use 18-55 lens. The SL3 also offers a Clean HDMI out, which means you can easily live stream from the device. Not to mention, the model has earned a 4.8-star average rating from over 800 Amazon reviewers.
Best DSLR camera for videographers
There are many professional cameras on the market that can also shoot high-quality video, featuring mic inputs and higher frame rates. These are the best for shooting video, according to experts.
For those looking for a DSLR camera that can also record quality video in 1080p, Northup advised the Canon 6D Mark II. Two notable features he points out: built-in image stabilization, which makes videos less blurry, and the up to 60fps frame rate, allowing photographers the ability to create sharper, clearer images. “The 6D Mark II is the world’s greatest hybrid camera, suitable for both professional stills and video,” he added. Not to mention, the camera is also Wi-Fi enabled, meaning you can automatically upload photographs to your computer, phone or tablet. The model has a 4.8-star average rating from over 800 Amazon reviewers.
DSLR camera: Benefits and limitations
DSLR cameras are not the only camera models worth considering in the professional camera space. Mirrorless cameras, increasingly popular over the past decade, use the camera’s sensor to capture light from the lens and display it on an electronic screen, Northup explained.
In terms of pricing, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are pretty much the same, with beginner models starting at $500 and professional models costing as much as $2,000. At the end of the day, there is no one superior camera — instead, it comes down to the personal preferences of the photographer and what features they value over others, experts noted. The DSLR’s mirror, however, does give an edge over mirrorless cameras (and, of course, over smartphones). There are some other benefits as well:
- Longer battery life, compared to mirrorless cameras. Because mirrors reflect the composition back to the photographer, DSLR cameras draw little power from the battery, Northup pointed out.
- Wider variety of accessories. Since DSLR cameras have been around longer, they allow for a greater selection of accessories like flashes, grips and lenses.
- Autofocus technology is a major advantage DSLRs have over smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras — it helps you shoot any type of moving subjects, for example.
- Digital sensors of DSLR cameras are more advanced than point-and-shoot cameras, which is especially helpful in low-light situations. And because DSLRs equip larger sensors than your smartphone, they’re able to process more light.
- Interchangeable lenses mean DSLR cameras are also versatile in how and what they capture.