For decades, the DSLR (digital SLR) has been the top choice for anyone who wants to take their photography to the next level. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, a DSLR offers three key ingredients: manual controls, excellent picture quality and interchangeable lenses.
Mirrorless cameras are another option of course. They’re smaller (in most cases at least), mechanically simpler and, like DSLRs, they take interchangeable lenses. If you want to know more about how they compare, read this: Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: 10 key differences. Or, if you want to know more about different camera types in general, check out our step-by-step guide: What camera should I buy?
1. Nikon D850
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
3. Nikon D500
4. Nikon D7500
5. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
1. Nikon D850
High resolution meets high speed
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.4MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Stunning image qualityExcellent performanceSlow Live View AF speedSnapBridge connectivity
If you’re looking for the ultimate DSLR right now, then the Nikon D850 is it. This full-frame monster of a camera might be pricey, but for the cash you get a stunning camera that won’t disappoint. The huge 45.4MP sensor delivers images with stunning detail and noise performance even at high ISOs, while the highly sophisticated 153-point AF system is borrowed from Nikon’s flagship D5. Add in 7fps burst shooting and a host of advanced features, wrap it in a durable magnesium alloy body and you’ve got a camera that’s pretty much at the top of its game for any subject you want to shoot. A brilliant piece of kit.
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
One of the most complete DSLRs we’ve seen
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Stunning performanceAdvanced AF systemExpensive compared to rivals4K video options limited
Canon’s EOS 5D series of cameras has a rich heritage – the original EOS 5D bought full-frame photography to the masses, the Mark II unleashed Full HD video capture for the first time on a DSLR, and while the Mark III became a firm favourite amongst photographers. The EOS 5D Mark IV pretty much tweaks and improves on everything before it, with a new 30.4MP sensor and advanced 61-point AF system. A brilliant DSLR that was until recently our top pick, but the arrival of the D850 means it slips a place down to number two.
3. Nikon D500
Nikon’s baby D5 is perfect for the action photographer
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Stunning 153-point AF systemRugged, metal bodyRelatively low pixel countVideo still limited
Nikon has taken its flagship D5 DSLR and most of its high-end features and distilled all of this into a smaller, but still very durable metal body. The full-frame sensor is replaced by an 20.9MP APS-C sized chip that allows the D500 to shoot at a rapid 10fps and deliver a great high ISO performance. A brilliant all-rounder with a brilliant 153-point AF system means it excels at fast action like sports and wildlife photography, but still has the chops to shoot landscapes and portraits. If the cost is a bit steep, then take a look at the D7500. It sits below the D500 and inherits many of its tech, including the 20.9MP sensor.
4. Nikon D7500
Nikon’s enthusiast DSLR is a brilliant all-rounder
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
Excellent 20.9MP sensorPowerful 51-point AF systemOnly one SD card slotLive View focusing slow
Cheaper than the D500 and while it doesn’t offer quite the same pro-spec performance, the Nikon D7500 packs in the same excellent 20.9MP sensor, but in an even more compact and affordable body. The new camera may not get the 153-point AF system from the D500, but the enhanced 51-point system in the D7500 still puts a lot of rival systems in the shade, while the 4K video capture, tilt-angle touchscreen display and 8fps burst shooting are some of the highlights. The D7500 is bound to be a tempting prospect for both new and existing users. Alternatively, take a look at the 24.2MP D7200 – it may have been surpassed by the D7500, but it’s still one of the best enthusiast DSLRs out there.
5. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
As fast as pro DSLRs but priced for amateurs, the 7D Mark II ticks all the boxes
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Autofocus: 65-point AF, 65 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Expert
Tough buildHybrid AF and 10fps shootingExpensive for an APS-C cameraCheaper EOS 760D has more pixels
Just like D500, the EOS 7D Mark II borrows many of its features from its big brother, the EOS-1D X (that’s now been replaced by the EOS-1D X Mark II), bringing 10fps shooting and a professional autofocus system to the amateur market. Now you can shoot action and sports like the pros, but at a price within the reach of enthusiasts. The EOS 7D Mark II isn’t just a high-speed specialists, it’s a terrific all-round camera. It’s tough, with an alloy body and weather-sealed controls, it has a great sensor with an advanced dual-pixel hybrid autofocus system, and it’s a powerful video camera too.
6. Nikon D750
A full-frame DSLR with performance, versatility and value
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Intermediate
Good 24MP full frame sensorTilting screen, handy for videoNikon D610 is cheaper stillOne of the older Nikon DSLRs
Like the look of Nikon’s D850 further up the top, but don’t want to shell out quite that much, then look no further than the 24MP full-frame D750. It doesn’t have that magnificent 45.4-megapixel sensor that the D850 does, but its 24-megapixel alternative still delivers top quality results, especially at high ISO settings. The D750 also features a decent 6.5fps continuous shooting speed, a handy tilting screen and a pretty attractive asking price.
7. Nikon D3400
The D3400 is basic but brilliant
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 11-point AF, 1 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Terrific 24MP sensorExcellent value for moneyBasic external controlsMaybe too small for some hands
At the opposite end of the spectrum to some of the full-frame DSLRs here, the D3400 is cheap as chips, has one of the sharpest APS-C sensors there is and a neat retracting kit lens. It’s proof that you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a great camera, and we say its sheer value for money makes it just as impressive as much more advanced (and much more expensive) alternatives. It has a great 24MP sensor and although the controls are designed to be simple for novices, in the right hands the little D3400 is a match for cameras costing far more. A great DSLR for the first-time user.
8. Canon EOS Rebel T7i / Canon EOS 800D
A compelling combination of top-notch ergonomics and a superb sensor
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 45-point AF, 45 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Impressive featuresEasy to useNo 4K videoPlastic finish
Costing a bit more than the Nikon D3400, but offering quite a bit more in the way of features, the Canon EOS Rebel T7i (known as the EOS 800D outside the US) is a great entry-level DSLR. The new sensor impresses, as does the 45-point autofocus system backed up by excellent live view AF, while the newly designed graphical interface will certainly make this camera even more appealing to new users. The absence of 4K video and the quality of the exterior materials disappoint, but this aside, if you’re looking for a well-rounded and easy to use camera for your first DSLR the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D is certainly a very good bet.
9. Nikon D810
Nikon’s full-frame favorite combines sky-high resolution with solid build and value
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 36.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Expert
Handling and image qualityGood value for a pro cameraBeaten for resolution by the 5DSModest continuous shooting speed
Now overshadowed by the D850, the D810 is still a great buy. It’s built like a tank, it handles beautifully and it doesn’t cost the earth – well, when compared to competition that is. While the 36.3MP resolution has been eclipsed by the Canon EOS 5DS and Sony Alpha A7R II, it still delivers stunning results with huge amounts of detail. If you’re into sports, action and wildlife photography, the modest 5fps burst shooting might be a bit restrictive, but otherwise, the D810 is still a great DSLR that’s now better value than ever.
Pentax’s first full-frame DSLR has a lot to offer
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 36MP | Autofocus: 33-point AF, 25 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilting, 1,037,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 4.4fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert
Impressive featuresCompetitive priceSlow AF systemDated menu system
The K-1 offers a rugged build and a full-frame sensor at a relatively affordable price. It’s not cheap, but it compares favourably with the likes of the Nikon D810, Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Sony Alpha 7R II. Pentax’s Pixel Shift Technology is clever, and it’s great that the company has managed to produce a mode that can be used when the camera is handheld, although the impact is subtle. Less of an all-rounder than the 5D Mk III, the K-1 makes an excellent camera for landscape, still life and portrait photography, or any genre that doesn’t require fast autofocus and which benefits from a high pixel count for detail resolution.