Best DSLR camera 2021: 10 great cameras your definitive guide to the best

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  • Post last modified:September 5, 2021

Try to search for the best DSLR you can buy? You’ve landed in the right way. We’ve rigorously tested all of the biggest DSLR releases over the last decade, and ranked them in this regularly updated guide. So whether you’re looking for your first DSLR or a new professional workhorse, you’ll find your ideal match below.

There’s no doubt that the focus of the big camera manufacturers is now on mirrorless cameras, rather than DSLRs. The two traditional DSLR giants – Nikon and Canon – are now funneling all their resources into full-frame mirrorless models, which means their best DSLRs are now unlikely to be succeeded.

But on the plus side, this means that DSLRs now offer even better value than before, particularly if you don’t mind buying lenses second-hand. DSLRs remain the cheapest way to get a camera with a viewfinder, and they still have a couple of big advantages over their mirrorless counterparts: namely, their handling and battery lives.

Whether you want a brilliant beginner option or a top-end professional powerhouse, there’s a DSLR for you. Choosing which one is best for you, though, will depend largely on what kind of photographer you are, where you are on your creative journey, and how far your budget goes.

The very best DSLR cameras in 2021 offer features that are right up there with the top mirrorless models – from class-leading 4K video to image stabilization to cutting-edge connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, beginners may find the handling and button layout of a DSLR more accessible, while the right DSLR will give hobbyists the performance and versatility they need to grow as photographers – plus the lens options to match.

If you want to learn more about the key differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras, be sure to read our Mirrorless vs DSLR feature. Already sure that a DSLR is for you? We’ve picked out our favorite DSLR cameras for every type of photographer, at every price level, and listed them below.

Our top pick for the title of best DSLR right now is the Nikon D3500. A perfect choice for beginners, it offers an excellent range of features, unlocks Nikon’s healthy catalogue of lenses, and it’s affordable, too. On the other hand, experienced enthusiasts with deeper pockets will likely favor the Canon EOS 90D – our favorite of the mid-range models, with a high pixel count, top-class image quality and uncropped 4K video to match.

But that doesn’t mean either model is the ideal DSLR for you. Whether you want a world-beating all-rounder, something more basic on a budget, or a camera that’s somewhere between the two, the list below is where to look. Read to the end and you’re sure to find a DSLR that ticks all of your boxes.

There’s no doubt that the focus of the big camera manufacturers is now on mirrorless cameras, rather than DSLRs. The two traditional DSLR giants – Nikon and Canon – are now funneling all their resources into full-frame mirrorless models, which means their best DSLRs are now unlikely to be succeeded.

But on the plus side, this means that DSLRs now offer even better value than before, particularly if you don’t mind buying lenses second-hand. DSLRs remain the cheapest way to get a camera with a viewfinder, and they still have a couple of big advantages over their mirrorless counterparts: namely, their handling and battery lives.

Whether you want a brilliant beginner option or a top-end professional powerhouse, there’s a DSLR for you. Choosing which one is best for you, though, will depend largely on what kind of photographer you are, where you are on your creative journey, and how far your budget goes.

The best DSLR cameras in 2021:

Nikon D7500

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Spee

Intermediate

D7500

APS-C CMOS

20.9MP

51-point AF, 15 cross-type

3.2" tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots

4K

Max continuous shooting speed 8fps

Fancy the Nikon D500 but don’t fancy the price tag? Well, if you’re prepared to make a few compromises here and there, the D7500 is what you should be looking at. It’s packed with the same 20.9MP sensor as its more senior stablemate, and also matches it in offering 4K video recording. 

Nikon has also furnished it with the same 180k-pixel RGB metering sensor and the tilting screen on the back is just as large at 3.2 inches in size, although not quite as detailed, and it’s all wrapped up inside a weather-sealed body. 

On an even tighter budget? There’s also the older 24.2MP Nikon D7200, which continues to offer great value – if you can find it on sale. 

Nikon D780

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Intermediate/pro

D780

Full-frame CMOS

24.5MP

51-point AF, 15 cross-type

3.2" tilting touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots

4K

Continuous shooting speed 12fps

The D780 is effectively a hybrid of a full-frame DSLR and a mirrorless camera like the Nikon Z6. This makes it a fine (if relatively expensive) option for anyone who wants to combine the benefits of both. 

Building on the solid foundation of the D750, which will remain on sale (see below), the D780 has the same 273-point on-chip phase-detection autofocus system as the Z6, but also brings an impressive 2,260-shot battery life, if you prefer to shoot through its optical viewfinder. 

Image quality is among the best around, while its 4K video skills are boosted by the inclusion of modern features like Face and Eye detection. As a new DSLR, it’s currently a little pricey, but if that isn’t an issue for you, then it’s one of the best full-frame all-rounders you can buy.

Nikon D3500

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner

D3500

APS-C CMOS

24.2MP

11-point AF, 1 cross-type

3.0-inch, 921,000 dots

1080p

Max continuous shooting speed 5fps

At the opposite end of the spectrum to some of the full-frame DSLRs on this list, the Nikon D3500 is super affordable, has one of the sharpest APS-C sensors out there, and a neat retracting kit lens. A word of warning: there are two versions of this lens, and it’s worth spending the extra $20/£20 and getting it with VR, Nikon’s image stabilization system. 

It’s proof that you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a great camera, and we say its value for money makes it just as impressive as much more advanced (and much more expensive) alternatives. 

The controls are designed to be simple for novices, and in the right hands it’s a match for cameras costing far more. If you’re looking to get more creative with your photography, and looking for your first DSLR, the Nikon D3500 is certainly hard to beat.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner/enthusiast

EOS 6D Mark II

Full-frame

26.2MP

45-point cross-type

3" articulating touchscreen, 1040K dots

1080p

continuous shooting speed 6.5fps

Although it’s a full-frame DSLR, the entry-level EOS 6D Mark II is impressively user-friendly. While the chassis can feel rather plasticky, the 26MP sensor housed within is stellar, and offers Canon’s trusty Dual Pixel CMOS AF system when using live view mode. 

With 45 AF points to choose from and a burst speed of 6.5fps, there’s plenty you can capture – including some decent wildlife shots as well. It’s not quite fast enough for speedy trackside racing shots, but it does surprisingly well for most anything else. 

The rear touchscreen also offers tap-to-focus and tap-to-shoot for anyone missing a joystick, but despite that the 6D Mark II is reliable, produces great results and is still a favorite amongst enthusiast photographers.

Nikon D750

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Intermediate

D750

Full-frame CMOS

24.3MP

51-point AF, 15 cross-type

3.2-inch tilting, 1,229,000 dots

1080p

max continuous shooting speed 6.5fps

With the recent launch of the Nikon D780 (above), should full-frame fans still consider the D750? The answer is yes, because the D780 isn’t a replacement for this camera, more a pricier alternative for those who want the latest mirrorless tricks in DSLR form. 

If you’re looking for a good value full-frame DSLR that’s almost half the price, then this 24MP model remains a great option. That sensor still produces top-quality results, particularly at high ISO settings, and you also get a very decent 6.5fps continuous shooting speed, together with a handy tilting screen. 

As it’s an older model, there’s no 4K video or a touchscreen, but if you don’t need these, then the D750 offers very good value that lets you put extra money towards a lens or two.

Nikon D5600

Basic Info

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner/intermediate

D5600

APS-C CMOS

24.2MP

39-point AF, 9 cross-type

3.2" vari-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000

1080p

max continuous shooting speed: 5fps

Launched in 2018, the well-equipped Nikon D5600 remains an appealing mid-range package for both beginners and more experienced users. It might lack a stand-out skill, but its combination of a 24.2MP sensor, an articulating touchscreen, a decent 39-point AF system and neat proportions mean it’s still well worth a look.

The D5600’s polycarbonate shell fits nicely in the hand and is comfortable to grip, while the streamlined button layout proves uncluttered and easy to use. The articulating touchscreen is less effective for autofocus control, but flick to the viewfinder and you’ll find the AF system solid, fast and accurate.

With the same sensor as the D5500 before it, images are reliably excellent. The high resolution offers plenty of detail, while images captured at lower ISO sensitive are clean, with little noise – and it’s only at ISO6400 that quality starts to suffer. Dynamic range is also impressive, aided by a matrix system that copes well with a range of lighting situations.

And while 5fps burst shooting isn’t as fast as mirrorless rivals, an 820-shot battery life towers over most. So, while no single feature of the D5600 will blow you away, it’s nevertheless a solid all-rounder that’s more affordable than ever.

Nikon D850

Basic Info

Realeased

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

August 24, 2017

Expert

D850

Full-frame CMOS

45.4MP

153-point AF, 99 cross-type

3.2" tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots

1080p 4K Ultra HD

max continuous shooting speed: 7fps

Nikon designed backside-illuminated (BSI) full-frame image sensor with no optical low pass filter. 45.7 megapixels of extraordinary resolution, outstanding dynamic range, and virtually no risk of moiré. Up to 9 fps1 continuous shooting at full resolution with full AF performance 8k6 and 4k time-lapse movies with new levels of sharpness and detail; file system: DCF 2.0, exif 2.31, Pict bridge. Tilting touchscreen, focus shift shooting mode, outstanding battery performance, and much more; total pixels: 46.89 million 4K Ultra HD video recording, slow motion up to 120 FPS at 1080p

Extreme resolution meets extreme speed. When Nikon introduced the D800 and D800E, it set a new benchmark for DSLR image quality and super high resolution photography that approached medium format. Now, five years later, Nikon proudly introduces the next evolution in high resolution DSLRs, a camera that allows photographers to capture fast action in 45.7 megapixels of brilliant resolution. With remarkable advancements across the board – sensor design, auto focus, dynamic range, sensitivity, Speed light control, battery life, shutter and mirror drive mechanisms, Silent Photography in Live-View mode, focus shift capability and more. This is quite possibly the most impressive, well-rounded DSLR yet. GPS: GP-1 GPS Unit, GP-1A GPS unit. Operating Environment Temperature- 32 to 104 degree Fahrenheit (0 to 40 degree Celsius Humidity- Less than 85% (no condensation).

Canon EOS Rebel T7 / EOS 2000D / EOS 1500D

Basic Info

Realeased

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Autofocus

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner

EOS Rebel T7

Full-frame CMOS

24.1MP

9-point AF

3.0-inch, 920,000 dots

1080p

max continuous shooting speed: 3fps

If you’re buying your first DSLR camera on a tight budget, a simpler, slightly older model is the way to go. Canon’s entry-level EOS Rebel T7 (known as the 2000D outside the US) fits that bill: the specs won’t blow anyone away, but it’s easy to use, gets the basics right and, because it’s a few years old, offers fantastic value.

There are several compromises, of course. Burst shooting is limited to a lazy 3fps and the dated autofocus system features just nine points. Live View focusing is sluggish and you’ll need to look elsewhere if you want a touchscreen. And, as you’d expect, the plasticky shell does not feel premium.

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But there are good points for beginners, too. The control layout is logical and easy to use, and battery life is solid. There’s video recording too, albeit limited to 1080p. More importantly, the 24.1MP sensor produces images with a good level of detail and decent dynamic range, while noise-handling performance is solid.

If you’re looking to buy a good DSLR on a shoestring, the EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D is well worth considering.

Canon EOS 80D

Basic Info

Realeased

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Lens

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner

EOS 80D

APS-C CMOS

24MP

Canon EF-S

3-inch, 1,040K dots

1080p

max continuous shooting speed: 7fps

The more recent Canon EOS 90D (see no.2 above) is undoubtedly the better and more modern DSLR. But if you’re looking for a mid-range option on a budget then it’s EOS 80D predecessor is worth keeping an eye out for. This 2016 model is tricky to find new now, but if you find a restored or second-hand model, you’ll be rewarded with impressive quality from the 24.2MP sensor, which is ably backed up by a 45-point autofocus system. The latter is by no means cutting-edge, but it’ll ensure that you mostly get hits and can focus reliably in most situations. Throw in a guided menu system, and you have a good option for beginners looking for a camera they can grow into. A word of warning though: the 80D’s kit lens is a little soft in the corners, so we’d aim to buy it body-only and pick up a zoom lens separately.

Nikon D5300

Basic Info

Realeased

User level

Model

Sensor

Megapixels

Lens

Screen

Movies

Speed

Beginner

D5300

APS-C CMOS

24.1MP

Nikon DX

3.2" articulating, 1,037,000 dots

1080p

max continuous shooting speed: 5fps

It’s been on the market for some time but we still have a soft spot for the D5300 – and the fact that it can still be bought brand new is testament to just how relevant it continues to be. 

It provides first-time DSLR users with a stronger set of specs than the average entry-level DSLR, with a 3.2in LCD that flips all the way out to face the front, together with a 39-point AF system, Full HD video recording to 60p and 5fps burst shooting. 

 

Of course, none of that would matter if the image quality wasn’t up to scratch, but fortunately it is; the 24.1MP APS-C sensor has been designed without the optical low-pass filter to help as much detail to get into images as possible, and results at high ISO settings remain strong.

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