Best DSLR Cameras 2018

Mike Prospero ·
Reviews Editor, Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag
Updated

After testing dozens of DSLRs based on photo quality, ease of use and features, our top pick is the Nikon D3400. 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.

Best Overall

Nikon D3400

This is an excellent entry-level DSLR; Not only does it take great photos, but it lasts a long time on a charge, and has helpful in-camera guides for newbies.
View on Amazon
Best Under $1,000

Nikon D5600

A very capable mid-level DSLR, the D5600 has a large articulating touchscreen and Nikon’s SnapBridge technology makes it easy to transfer photos wirelessly to your smartphone.
View on Amazon
Best Under $1,500

Nikon D7500

Designed for advanced-enthusiast photographers, this DX-format camera boasts top-notch image quality, blazingly fast performance. It can also record video in 4K, but autofocus in this mode could be better.
View on Amazon
Best Overall
While it has the same excellent 24.3-megapixel sensor as last year’s D3300, the Nikon D3400 has nearly double the battery life than its predecessor, as well as SnapBridge, which lets you transfer files from the camera to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
A camera that lets you grow, the beginner-focused D3400 has guides to explain its more advanced features, but will shoot great photos in almost any situation. The D3400 is surprisingly light, even with its kit lens. It has a 3-inch LCD, which is not articulated and doesn't have touch-screen capabilities. Video resolution tops out at 1080p/30 fps, and there’s no microphone jack, but video was generally good. And battery life, at a rated 1,200 shots, will keep you going for a day or more.
Pros
  • Great image quality
  • Good in low light
  • Solid set of practical and creative features
Cons
  • No external microphone jack
  • Lack of dust-cleaning mechanism
  • No auto-exposure bracketing
$399.95Amazon
Read the full review
Best Under $1,000
Like its predecessor, the D5600 sports a 24-megapixel camera and large 3-inch articulating touch screen, which makes tapping to focus (stills and video) and snapping a photo with a single touch a cinch.
The D5600 lacks an Optical Low Pass Filter (which prevents moire, but softens images), and as a result, delivers very sharp and detailed photos. There’s no 4K video (1080p/60 fps is the max), but the camera has stereo mics, as well as a 3.5mm jack for even better audio. Sharing your snaps is easy with the inclusion of SnapBridge, which lets you transfer photos to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Lastly, the D5600 is rated for up to 820 shots, good for a day’s worth of photography.
Pros
  • Responsive performance
  • External microphone jack
  • Very good battery life
Cons
  • Minimal manual control for video
  • No 4K video
  • Sometimes-fussy Wi-Fi
$699.95Amazon
Read the full review
Best Under $1,500
By combining the innards of its pro-grade D500 with the more compact body from its mid-range DX-level cameras, Nikon's 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, and a handy 3.2-inch tilting LCD display. A larger buffer also lets you capture up to 47 RAW photos in a single burst. We like the D7500’s deep grip, and its external controls and dials are conveniently located. ADL (Active D-Lighting) helps bring out details in the shadows, and it has a wide ISO range from 100-51,200. The D7500 can record 4K video up to 30 fps (and there’s an external microphone jack), but the camera employs a 1.5x crop in video mode, and continuous autofocus wasn’t as smooth as we’d like. Like all of Nikon's recent cameras, the D7500 sports the company's Snapbridge technology, so you can use Bluetooth, NFC and built-in Wi-Fi to for super simple photo sharing.
Pros
  • Speedy continuous shooting
  • Fast autofocus
  • Responsive touch screen
Cons
  • No dual card slots
  • 4K video cropped
  • AF erratic in video capture
$1246.95Amazon
Read the full review

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.

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:

  • Expect to spend $500 for a good DSLR. At this price, you can get a good entry-level camera with a kit lens. Step up to $1,000, and you’ll start to see features such as an articulating touchscreen and faster performance. In the $1,000 to $1,500 price range, you’ll start to see 4K video, better autofocus, and more professional-style features.

  • Kit or Body Only? You can purchase most DSLRs as body-only, or with a so-called kit lens. If you’re just starting out, a kit lens package is the best option, as it will be useful in most shooting situations. If you’re upgrading your DSLR, then getting the body only may make more sense. Lenses purchased separately generally offer much better performance, but will cost more. Both Nikon and Canon make dozens of lenses for their cameras. Here’s a list of all of Nikon’s lenses, and here’s a list of all of Canon’s lenses.

  • APS-C or Full-Frame Sensor? DSLRs come with one of two sensor types: APS-C or Full-Frame. The former, found on entry-level and lower-cost DSLRs, are about half the size of full-frame sensors, and don’t produce as high-quality an image. However, full-frame cameras are much more expensive, generally costing upwards of $2,000 for the body alone.

MORE: How many megapixels do you really need?

  • Consider an older model. Even if a DSLR is a few years old, it's generally less expensive, but still a powerful camera with lots of features and capabilities. It just may not have the latest or newest features. For example, it might have a full-frame sensor, but lack Wi-Fi for transferring photos to your phone wirelessly. Consider which features are important to you and the type of photos or video you capture.

  • Skip extended warranties. All cameras, particularly DSLRs, are very reliable. Additionally, most DSLR lenses come with warranties that will cover various problems.

DSLRs: A Mini Buying Guide

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.