Buying a DSLR means you’ll be able to step up the quality of your images and video. That’s because DSLRs tend to include the largest type of image sensors, which let you capture sharp, detailed photos, especially in low light. DSLRs also accept a whole host of interchangeable lenses, from fisheye and wide angle to telephotos, which expand your creative potential and allow you to get the best photos or video footage of the bride and groom, the graduate, and others friends and loved ones at such occasions. Also, because there is tremendous competition in the interchangeable-lens camera market, it’s common to find great deals on buying a DSLR.
We tested dozens of DSLRs for amateurs and enthusiasts based on photo quality, ease of use and features. The best DSLR for beginners is the Nikon D3500, 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 D5600, which has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, making it easier to transfer photos from the camera. We've also picked alternatives for each price bracket, since many of you may already own several lenses for either Canon or Nikon.
The Nikon D7500 is the spiritual successor to the old Nikon D90, and offers enthusiast photographers the ability to shoot stunning stills and videos for less than $1,500. The D7500 uses the same Expeed 5 image processor as some of Nikon's more expensive full-frame cameras such as the D500, while also including continuous shooting at up to 8 fps, 4K video capture at 30 fps, and a handy 3.2-inch tilting rear LCD display. It also expands the ISO to 51,200, which means better quality low-light settings.
Latest News and Updates (January 2019)
- The Canon EOS Rebel T6, another great camera for novices, is available with an 18-55mm and 70-300mm lens for $399 ($350 off).
- The Canon EOS 80D, which is great for shooting video, is $1,049 ($300 off) with an 18-55mm lens.
- The Nikon D7200 with 18-55mm and 70-300mm lens is currently on sale for $896 ($653 off).
- The full-frame Canon EOS 6D Mark II is on sale for $1,699 ($700 off) with an EF 24-105mm IS STM lens.
While it has many of the same features as its predecessor including a 24.3MP sensor, the Nikon D3500 has a faster processor and a refreshed design that makes it easier to use, longer battery life, and the ability to control the camera (somewhat) from your smartphone via Bluetooth. A camera that lets you grow, the beginner-focused D3500 has guides to explain its more advanced features, but will shoot great photos in almost any situation.
The D5600 sports a 24-megapixel camera and articulating touch screen, which makes tapping to focus (stills and video) and snapping a photo with a single touch a cinch. The D5600 delivers very sharp and detailed images, and sharing them is now easier with the inclusion of SnapBridge, which lets you transfer photos to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
By combining the innards of its pro-grade D500 with the more compact body from its mid-range DX-level cameras, Nikon's new 20.9-megapixel D7500 is an enthusiast's ideal DSLR. In addition to the Expeed 5 image processor it shares with the D500, the D7500 sports continuous shooting at up to 8 fps, 4K video recording up to 30 fps and a handy 3.2-inch tilting LCD display. And like all of Nikon's recent cameras, the D7500 sports the company's Snapbridge tech, so you can use Bluetooth, NFC and built-in Wi-Fi to for super simple photo sharing.
When shooting video, the dual-pixel sensors of the EOS 80D lock focus on the subject you designate, keeping it sharp regardless of where it moves. Plus 45 autofocus points ensure that it can accurately track subjects moving in front of the lens. It's just too bad it doesn't shoot 4K video. A flip-out, tilting 3-inch touch screen lets you compose stills and video at a variety of odd angles, and a headphone and a mic jack will ensure you get the best audio.
How We Test DSLRs
To evaluate DSLRs, we use them in a variety of settings, including low light, outdoors, indoors, and more. We also photograph a number of subjects, such as people and pets, to see how well the camera captures skin tones. We generally use the kit lens that comes with the camera, to more closely emulate the same experience as consumers purchasing the camera.
In addition to still and video quality, we also rate the camera based on its ease of use: Are the physical controls easy to access, and are the menus logically laid out? Lastly, we evaluate the camera’s battery life and other features, such as wireless control.
Three Tips for Better DSLR Photos
One of the great things about owning a DSLR is that because they have so many controls and settings, you have the ability to dramatically change how you shoot, no matter what type of photos you take, whether it's portraits, nature, street scenes, or candids of friends and family. Additionally, DSLRs let you swap out lenses, which will almost instantly alter your shots. Here are three ways you can improve or change how you capture a photo using your DSLR.
1. Buy a prime lens.
A prime lens is an interchangeable lens that doesn't zoom, which some may consider a drawback. But there are a couple of reasons why a prime lens, like a Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM, might make a big difference. First of all, prime lenses are generally less expensive than zoom lenses. For example, the Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM is just $110. Second, and more importantly, the lens has an f/1.8 maximum aperture. That's a very wide aperture, which means you can produce pro-like effects with shallow depth of field by focusing only on your subject. Shallow depth of field will allow you to blur everything in front and behind you subject, but the subject itself will be sharp and in focus. So, if you're shooting a group portrait outdoors with a busy street scene behind them, the background details will have a wonderful blurred quality to them and won’t compete visually for your attention. It’s a powerful way to improve the composition of you images.
2. Adjust the exposure settings or shooting mode.
Changing lenses isn't the only way to alter how you capture a fall landscape or image. Another is to adjust the exposure settings, such as shutter speed or aperture, or change the shooting mode, by changing the camera to shoot in a landscape or night portrait scene mode. For example, you could try capturing running water in a fountain, river or waterfall using a very slow shutter speed, such as 1/2 of a second or 5 seconds or even longer, depending on lighting. (Be sure to put your DSLR on a tripod.) That will allow you to capture the motion of the water and give them a blurred, smooth and silky appearance. Or, try changing your DSLR's shooting mode: Many DSLRs now let you capture panoramic shots, which are ultra-wide landscape images that can capture a 180-degrees or more of a snowy landscape.
3. Try in-camera effects or shoot in RAW.
Many DSLRs also offer Instagram-like filter effects that let you alter the look of your images, right inside the camera. For instance, take a portrait and turn it into a black-and-white or sepia-toned work of art. Or, change your image into an illustration. Another option is to capture your image in RAW, which is a special image file format that produces the best quality images and provides you with maximum flexibility when editing your photos in image-editing software.
Quick Tips for Buying a DSLR
If you're in the market for a DSLR, there are definitely some great deals to be had out there, particularly for sales on DSLR kits with multiple lenses. Here's a short list of some things to consider when buying a DSLR:
- Even if a model is a few years old, it's generally still a powerful camera with lots of features and capabilities. It just may not have the latest or newest features. Consider which features are important to you and the type of photos or video you capture.
- Most models on sale won't include 4K-resolution video.
- You won't find most high-end or full-frame models on discount. Most will offer last-year's entry-level DSLR.
- Some models may lack Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, or all of these.
- Skip extended warranties: All cameras, particularly DSLRs, are very reliable. Additionally, most DSLR lenses come with warranties that will cover various problems.
- Do your homework: It's worth searching various tech and product review websites, which run lots of stories on tips for shopping.
- Don't be afraid to haggle: Haggling is essentially the process of negotiating with a vendor for a discount or better price. But it can also include other things, like free shipping or an accessory, like a memory card or camera bag. The trick is that it doesn't have to be confrontational. Being polite and friendly can be very persuasive when negotiating, and most importantly, effective. Since many stores, both brick-and-mortar and online, often lower prices all the time for sales, it's worth the effort. Just be sure to do your homework on which camera you're looking for and know the competitive landscape.
DSLRs: What you get for the money
Of any type of camera, prices for DSLRs range the most, from less than $500 to more than $3000. In between, there are a lot of options, from sensor size to shutter speed and more. While the number of megapixels isn’t that important—you can get 24-MP on almost any DSLR. But more expensive cameras will have larger full-frame sensors, which result in much better images, especially in low light. The following list is a short, general guide of what DSLR features you’ll begin to see at particular price points:
$400-500: In-camera RAW conversion, 3 or 4 frames-per-second burst
$500-700: Swiveling or articulating LCD, touchscreen LCD, 24 megapixels,
$750: Microphone jack, 7 frames-per-second burst
$1,000: 1/8000th top second shutter speed
$1,500: 4K-resolution video, ISO 51,200
$1,800: Full-frame sensor, 36 megapixels, no popup flash
Additional Shopping Advice
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.
If you're thinking about buying a new camera, the best times to buy are at the beginning and end of the year in January and December, and in the spring as new models hit the market, according to our sister site ShopSavvy. For more deals and advice on purchase timing, check out ShopSavvy's camera section.
The Essential Accessory: Four Ways an External Flash Can Expand Your Creativity
Most consumer-targeted DSLRs include an on-board popup flash, which can be useful in a pinch to provide some light in low-light settings. But it’s certainly not going to make the most of your advanced camera’s capabilities. For better quality and more versatility, you’ll want to be sure you have an external flash. They can vary in price, from as low as $150 to $600, but there are four major reasons why you’ll want to invest in one.
Greater Control and More Illumination: If you’ve been disappointed with your pop-up flash because it doesn’t provide enough illumination in various settings, than you’ll be pleasantly surprised with an external flash. Not only can you cast a more powerful light at your subjects, but you can often control other aspects of the flash, such as how wide or narrow the light is and the color of the light.
Avoid Red-Eye: An external flash is most often attached to the top of your camera. Because it sits higher above the lens than your on-board flash, you’re far less likely to get the dreaded red-eye effect when shooting portraits or candids.
Bounce the Light: One of the most powerful features of an external flash is that you can adjust its head so that it doesn’t directly light your subject. Instead, you can angle it so that the light bounces off the ceiling or a wall, which can generate a more pleasing and natural look, particularly with figurative subjects.
Use it Wirelessly: Both Nikon and Canon offer external flashes that can be controlled wirelessly from your camera. Additionally, depending on the external unit you’re using, you can use it in conjunction with your on-board flash. So, you can position your external flash, say, 12 feet away from you, to one side of your subject. Then, when you shoot, your subject will be illuminated from two directions—by your external flash and your on-board flash.
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