Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are some of the most reliable and consistent shooters out there. Because DSLRs tend to have the largest image sensors, they enable you to capture photos of the best quality, especially in low light. Plus, you'll be able to produce beautiful large prints. In other words, what you see through the optical viewfinder is what you'll get.
Our top DSLR pick under $500 is the Nikon D3300, as it offers great image quality and approachability for those on a budget or those looking to invest in their first DSLR. For photographers who want to step up, we recommend the Nikon D5500 ($846). We've also picked alternatives for each price bracket, since many of you may already own several lenses for either Canon or Nikon.
Advantages that DSLRs have over other cameras generally include a fast autofocus, larger sensors (which lets you make larger prints), and a much wider selection of lenses, flashes and other accessories. As such an established technology, DSLRs can provide entry-level models that are generally cheaper than equivalent mirrorless or bridge-camera options.
Keep in mind that DSLRs — and their lenses — are typically larger than most other cameras, which makes them less convenient for those who want to travel light. Also, many DSLRs are not as good as mirrorless cameras when it comes to video, as they lack autofocus in this mode, or, if they do have it, the noise from the lenses can drown out any audio. That said, there are some DSLRs that excel at shooting video, too.
With a few exceptions, all DSLR cameras come with a one-year warranty, though you can usually purchase additional coverage from the manufacturer.
With that in mind, here are our favorite DSLRs.
Alternative: Canon EOS Rebel T5 ($499)
Although it has a more limited ISO range than the Nikon D3300, the 18-megapixel APS-C sensor in the Rebel T5 takes great photos for the money. Newbies will also like the easy-to-use controls and the ability to capture 1080p/30fps video, though autofocus could be faster.
Alternative: Canon EOS Rebel T6s ($849)
Canon's new Rebel T6s offers a speedy hybrid autofocus system that makes capturing moving subjects easy, whether it's shooting stills or videos. It takes gorgeous pictures with its 24.2-MP sensor and kit lens, and can record video at 1080p/30 fps. A flip-out tilting LCD helps when shooting from awkward angles.
Alternative: Nikon D7200 ($1,199)
Advanced amateur photographers already invested in Nikon lenses will find the D7200 much to their liking. Its magnesium alloy frame is weather-sealed against rain and dust, and it has a microphone jack, for those who want better sound when recording video at up to 1080p/60 fps.
MORE: Nikon D7200 Review
Alternative: Sony Alpha 77 M2
While its video autofocus still trails the superb Canon EOS 70D, the Sony Alpha 77 M2 was able to track fast-moving subjects. It can also shoot 12 frames per second for up to 5 seconds, and has a record-setting 79 focus points.
MORE: Sony Alpha 77 M2 Review
With a new 4D Focus system that features 79 autofocus points, the Sony Alpha 68 is poised to help you take clearer, sharper images — even photos of rapidly moving subjects or images taken in low light. Its wide ISO light sensitivity range of ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 makes it suitable for nighttime shots, and the tilting 2.7-inch LCD helps you frame shots at odd angles. For just $599 (body only), the 24-megapixel APS-C Alpha 68, which is compatible with all of Sony's A-mount lenses, is one of the company's more affordable advanced cameras, too.
Aimed at videographers and semi-pro shooters, the Canon EOS 80D features a revamped autofocus system that will lock on to subjects faster, and more smoothly, than its predecessor, the EOS 70D. The 80D also has a 24.2-MP CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 6 image processor, and an ISO range of 100-16,000, but it can't shoot video in 4K; 1080p/60 fps is the max. The EOS 80D will be available in March for $1,199 (body only) or $1,799 with Canon's new EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens.
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