Ready to take a photographic step up from your smartphone? Here's our guide to the best beginner DSLRs you can buy right now.
Smartphones and mirrorless cameras may have come a long way in recent years, but the DSLR is far from dead. A DSLR – or a digital single-lens reflex camera – offers both greater shooting power and control than a phone, and superior handling and battery life to a mirrorless camera.
They're also still the most affordable way to get a camera with a viewfinder. That viewfinder, which on a DSLR uses a mirror to reflect light directly to your eye, is the main difference between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Most manufacturers are now focusing on the mirrorless approach, which means relatively few new DSLRs are hitting the shelves these days. On the plus side, this means first-time buyers have a range of keenly-priced DSLRs to choose from, along with the occasional newer model like the Canon 90D that includes some of the latest mirrorless features.
The difference between advanced models, such as the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III, and more basic variants is the amount of control offered to users. Beginner DSLRs tend to be more limited when it comes to features, modes and custom settings, but still offer plenty to keep budding photographers busy.
In the market for a photographic upgrade? The traditional heavyweights of the genre, Canon and Nikon, still offer the best choices, thanks to their DSLR heritage and extensive lens collections to match. And, with many recent models offering only slight upgrades over their predecessors, it’s worth exploring older options to find the best value. These are our top picks.
Best beginner DSLRs 2020 at a glance:
- Nikon D3500
- Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D
- Nikon D5600
- Canon 90D
- Canon EOS Rebel T7/ 2000D / EOS 1500D
- Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D / EOS 200D Mark II
- Pentax K-70
The Best DSLRs for beginners in 2020:
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.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D3500 review
The EOS Rebel T7i (known as the EOS 800D outside the US) still sits at the top of Canon's entry-level EOS DSLR range, despite being a few years old now. Sporting a 24.2MP sensor that delivers an improved high-ISO performance over older models, the Rebel T7i's autofocus also gets a boost, now with a 45-point arrangement that's backed up by excellent live view AF system. There's also newly designed graphical interface that will certainly make this camera even more appealing to new users, although if you need 4K video then you're better off looking at the EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D (see below) or a mirrorless model.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D review
Here's another model which is still holding its own against the rise of mirrorless. 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 T7i / EOS 800D (position 2). Key advantages over the D3400 and 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 so that it stays with you for years to come.
- Read our in-depth Nikon D5600 review
Canon’s 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 – though 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 have a place in the mirrorless world.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 90D review
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 that it understandably lacks some of the fancy tricks of its bigger brothers – 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.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D review
The EOS Rebel SL3, also known as the Canon EOS 250D, is the latest entry-level arrival to this list – indeed it's one of only a handful of beginner models announced in recent years. Like 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 mirrorless right now, but if you like the traditional handling of a DSLR – including an optical viewfinder – the 250D is one of the most attractive models available right now.
Although a couple of years old now, the K-70 remains a good value option for anybody who is not overly bothered by the main two manufacturers . Even better if you have a stash of old Pentax lenses gathering dust in a basement from manual days. It 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 favourite thing about the K-70 is its tough credentials – something which is typically lacking for entry-level models. If you're keen to take lots of pictures outdoors – such as landscapes – being able to rely on it not to be 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.
Sitting on top of Canon's entry-level DSLR pile, the EOS 80D is one of the older cameras from the camera maker, having been around since 2016. Despite that, it's one of the more 'advanced' beginner cameras, thanks to its feature set and specs, including a 24.2MP sensor with a 45-point autofocus system that's actually remarkably reliable. 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 kit lens that comes with the shooter is a tad soft around the edges, and we'd recommend buying the body only and a better lens separately.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 80D review
None of the above take your fancy? Here's another option to consider.
The EOS 77D is a slightly more advanced beginner DSLR, and it provides a few extra treats for those who feel they may outgrow more basic models before long. While we weren't too excited about it at the time of its release, the fact that it's spent some time on the market now means it can be bought for a much more agreeable price tag. On top of the bones of the EOS 800D, there's a top-plate LCD screen that gives you shooting options at a glance, as well as two control dials to make adjusting options faster. You also get some extras on the inside such as bulb and interval timers. If you can stretch to the EOS 80D that sits just above it, even better – otherwise, this would be a slightly more capable option than its more basic siblings.
- Read our in-depth Canon EOS 77D review
What should you look for when buying a beginner DSLR?
There are three main factors to consider when buying a beginner-friendly DSLR: the camera's size, screen and kit lens options.
If you're trying to learn your way around manual settings like aperture and shutter speed, which is one of the main benefits of a DSLR, then you'll ideally need a model that's small and light. This means you'll be more likely to take it out regularly and master those controls. The most beginner-friendly cameras, like the Nikon D3500 and Canon 250D, tend to be particularly small for DSLRs, so take a close look at those.
Looking to shoot lots of video along with your stills? DSLRs can be a cheap way to get into vlogging too, so make sure you look out for models with a vari-angle screen if you need this. These can help you shoot from different angles and also flip round to the front so you can check your framing while vlogging to camera.
Lastly, you'll want to consider lenses. As a beginner, you'll most likely be starting from scratch, which means it makes more sense to buy your DSLR with a kit lens. A word of warning here, though – most manufacturers offer two types of kits lens, one with image stabilization and one without. It's best to go with the image-stabilized kit lens, as you'll be able to shoot sharper images at slower shutter speeds.
While an 18-55mm kit lens will be more than enough to get you started, one of the big benefits of DSLRs is being able to add extra lenses for different kinds of photography. For example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, as well as high-quality macro options. You can also add a flashgun and other accessories, which help you to make the most of whatever types of photography you're into.
Still not entirely sure whether you need a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Don't forget to check out our Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: 10 key differences guide. Alternatively, if don't quite know what kind of camera you need at all, then read our easy-to-follow guide to camera types: What camera should I buy?
Should you buy a mirrorless camera over a DSLR? Watch our guide video below to learn more:
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- What camera should I buy?
- Mirrorless vs DSLR: 10 key differences
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