If you’re looking to take your photography game to the next level, you’ve probably considered making the jump from your smartphone or point-and-shoot to a digital single lens reflex camera, more commonly called a DSLR. Due to the ability to switch out lenses and adjust every setting imaginable, DSLRs are the tool of choice for many new and seasoned photographers alike, even as mirrorless cameras are stealing more and more of the show.
The core feature of a DSLR is the optical viewfinder, which uses a mirror to let you see directly through the lens on the camera (see our DSLR explainer for more information). The latest DSLRs offer stronger performance and features than earlier models, as well as the ability to capture high-quality videos. So if you’re in the market for a new DSLR or looking to trade up, here are our current favorites.
At a glance
|Nikon D850||Best DSLR camera overall||4.5 out of 5|
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV||Best full-frame DSLR camera||4 out of 5|
|Nikon D7500||Best APS-C DSLR camera||4 out of 5|
|Canon EOS Rebel T7i||Best budget DSLR camera||3.5 out of 5|
Nikon D850 – Best DSLR
Why should you buy this: It’s a versatile, strong DSLR for photos and videos.
Who’s it for: Someone who wants the best of the best in the world of full-frame DSLRs.
Why we picked the Nikon D850:
If you had to buy just one DSLR, make it the D850. Nikon packed this camera with so many features that it’s the most versatile DSLR you can buy. The 45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor should satisfy a wide range of photographers, and support for 4K (UHD) at 30p makes it a capable video camera.
The 153-point autofocus system inside the D850 is fast and accurate with the ability to capture up to 7 fps in burst mode and up to 9 fps in burst mode when Nikon’s battery grip is added. The body of the camera is weather-sealed and works alongside Nikkor lenses to keep the elements away from the fragile internals of the camera and lenses.
Nikon put its Snapbridge 2.0 wireless connectivity system in the D850, which uses Bluetooth to handle low-level functions with a smartphone, like transferring downsized photos you can use for the web, or upload to the cloud. Another advanced feature is support for XQD flash memory, which is quicker than the fastest SDXC card – handy for sports and action photographers.
Ultimately, its image quality won us over. As we said in our review, the D850 is at the top of its class with no signs of aging anytime soon — it’s one of the best digital cameras you can buy — and Nikon pulled out the stops in creating its flagship full-frame DSLR.
Read our full Nikon D850 review
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – Best full-frame DSLR
Why should you buy this: This versatile full-frame camera delivers fast autofocusing and 4K.
Who’s it for: Enthusiasts moving into full-frame
Why we picked the Canon 5D Mark IV:
Full-frame cameras tend to be well-built across the board, and there are many excellent options, but Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV is our pick. For the price, you get a lot of Canon’s latest tech inside a camera body that isn’t much larger than midrange APS-C DSLRs – great for sports photographers who need to run around or carry multiple cameras. In our hands, the camera felt comfortable to hold, especially during one full day of shooting, from morning to night. The 5D Mark IV is a full-frame camera that will appeal to pros and enthusiasts, particularly those moving into full-frame for the first time.
Besides a newly developed 30-megapixel full-frame sensor and the latest image processor (Digic 6+), the 5D Mark IV uses a 61-point autofocus system and Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system, which provides fast autofocusing when in live view mode. The camera also introduces Dual Pixel RAW, which lets you correct focusing errors afterward. Even in the dark of morning and night, we thought the autofocusing was fast. The camera also has faster continuous shooting, at 7 fps (unlimited when shooting in JPEG), and it’s the first 5D-series model to include Wi-Fi/NFC and GPS. Dual card slots (CompactFlash and SD) lets you write RAW to one and JPEGs to another simultaneously, or use both for redundancy.
The 5D Mark II launched the trend of DSLR filmmaking. Although the 5D-series is no longer the standard bearer, Canon brought 4K video capture to the 5D Mark IV. The camera shoots very good videos, particularly at Full HD 1080 at 60 fps, but 4K video is cropped and the camera does not support 4K-output via HDMI, so videographers may find the 5D Mark IV limiting for a 4K workflow.
Canon’s latest 5D is a stellar, versatile full-frame camera that will suit many photographers, whether on the go or in the studio. While it has some nitpicky cons in video, it’s also a strong camera for videography. If you want a camera with faster burst speed, you should look at the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II or Nikon D5. For high-resolution stills, the Canon EOS 5DS is better suited for portrait work. For everyone else, the 5D Mark IV is our go-to.
Read our full Canon 5D Mark IV review
Nikon D7500 – Best APS-C DSLR
Why should you buy this: Impressive performance with professional-level durability.
Who’s it for: Photo enthusiasts who want professional features without the price.
Why we picked the Nikon D7500:
The D7500 takes some of the power of the larger D500 and bottles it into a smaller, cheaper camera body. It boasts a very impressive 51-point viewfinder autofocus system with some of the best continuous tracking performance we’ve seen. Its 20MP sensor is down on resolution compared to some competing APS-C cameras, but that allows it to fire away at 8 frames per second for more than 50 exposures, all while keeping your subject in tack-sharp focus. This camera will make you feel like a professional sports photographer — for a fraction of the price.
Even for slower subjects, we found the D7500 produced absolutely gorgeous results. The sensor performs well at both high and low ISO, making this a suitable camera for landscapes as well as indoor or low light portraiture. And you can take it just about anywhere thanks to its durable, weather-sealed build.
The D7500 is also one of the first Nikons to get 4K video, and while quality is certainly decent, the contrast-detection only live-view autofocus pales in comparison to the viewfinder AF speed (not to mention, Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus). Still, if you want a very solid stills camera that can also shoot sharp video — with a bit of extra elbow grease required — the D7500 is a great choice.
Read our full Nikon D7500 review
Canon EOS Rebel T7i – Best budget DSLR
Why should you buy this: Performance, features, and ease of use loaded in an affordable package.
Who’s it for: First-time DSLR buyers
Why we picked the Canon EOS Rebel T7i:
The Rebel T7i may be going on 2 years old, but it remains Canon’s best Rebel. Built around the same sensor and autofocus systems as the more expensive EOS 80D, the T7i packs a serious punch for an entry-level camera. In our review, we found its 45-point viewfinder autofocus easily kept pace with planes competing in the Red Bull Air Race, while the on-sensor Dual Pixel Autofocus worked just about flawlessly for video and live view shooting. With a 7-frames-per-second burst rate, it also won’t have any trouble keeping up with your kid’s little league game.
But performance isn’t the only thing that makes the T7i a great camera. It also incorporates the new Feature Assistant menu system that guides novices through the various modes and exposure settings, offering illustrated explanations of aperture and shutter speed effects. This makes the T7i as approachable as it is powerful, and it is truly one of the most well-rounded cameras available for beginners and budget-conscious enthusiasts, alike.
Read our full Canon EOS Rebel T7i review
How we test
To find the best models, in addition to image quality, we factor in criteria such as speed, low-light strength, video performance, durability, and any unique features that help them one-up the competition.
Our selections are based on our long- and short-term testing, experience with earlier models, familiarity with the companies’ technologies, and consultation with industry experts, fellow journalists, and users. We also check out online forums, look at lab results (such as DxO), and read other third-party reviews. We look across the board – not just our own experiences – to find consensus on what we think are the best-performing cameras you can currently buy. We also look at list pricing to determine if a product is worth the cost, is available, and future proof enough to recommend. We may even recommend cameras that aren’t new, provided the features are still best-in-class.
The camera market evolves constantly, with manufacturers often introducing better models with new features. So, you can expect our picks to change, as well. But don’t worry: The models you see here will be with you for some time, and if we anticipate there could be better models in the horizon, we will state that upfront to help you decide whether you should buy now or wait.
What is a DSLR camera?
DSLRs remain the workhorse cameras for many photographers, from beginners to professionals. Paired with a strong lens, most modern DSLRs are capable of shooting terrific images. Advanced models offer stronger performance, more features, and better construction, but they’ll also command a higher price, naturally.
A DSLR is a type of camera that uses interchangeable lenses, and because of the similarity, it’s often confused for mirrorless cameras, which also use interchangeable lenses. DSLRs use mirrors to reflect light from the lens to the optical viewfinder (OVF); when the shutter button is pressed, a mirror flips up to allow light to hit the sensor. Mirrorless cameras do away with the mirror system and OVF (hence the name).
Because of the mirror, DSLRs tend to be bulkier than their mirrorless sibling. However, the OVF shows a more accurate picture (it’s an exact reflection of what you’re shooting), and performs better in low light. DSLRs also offer stronger autofocusing, as well as larger lens options and better battery life. Although many of the latest mirrorless cameras have caught up in performance, making many on par with DSLRs.
Canon and Nikon are the dominant DSLR manufacturers. You’ll also find strong options from Pentax (which has a loyal following) and Sony, but the majority of professionals use cameras and lenses from Canon or Nikon. Current DSLR, your camera options will be determined by your lens collections.
For more on the difference between a DSLR, mirrorless, or point-and-shoot camera, check our guide here. We also have tips on how to buy a camera, and if you’re buying your first DSLR camera, read up on how to select some lenses.
To learn more about the difference between the various sensors used by DSLR cameras, check our explainer here.
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