The Best DSLRs for Beginners

A photo of the Nikon D3500 DSLR on a dramatic black background.
herukru/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to photography, DSLRs are the gold standard. They take high-quality images that are perfect for work, family gatherings, and artistic endeavors, and their interchangeable lenses provide a level of flexibility that isn’t available on a point-and-shoot or smartphone. Thankfully, an entry-level DSLR allows anyone to shoot stunning images, even beginners who are on a budget. Here are the best DSLRs for beginner photography.

Keep in mind that these are DSLRs, not mirrorless cameras. Both types have their perks, and many photographers believe that mirrorless is the future, so you might want to read about mirrorless cameras if you haven’t already.

Update, 9/12/21: Checked content for accuracy. Updated link for Nikon D3500, Nikon D7500, Canon EOS 80D, and Pentax K70.
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Before Buying a Camera

Cameras are a big investment, especially if you’re in it for the long haul. So before we look at the best beginner DSLRs, let’s go over some important information and tips to make shopping easier.

  • Brands Are Forever: Every camera brand uses a unique lens mounting system, so Canon lenses won’t fit on a Nikon body or vice versa. Whichever brand of DSLR you buy is probably the brand that you’ll stick with for most of your life, so don’t be afraid to spend a little extra if you like one more than another (Nikon and Canon are equally great, so this mostly comes down to personal preference). That said, if you already own some lenses, or you know someone who can loan you a cool lens, be sure to buy a compatible body!
  • Full Camera Kit, or Just the Body?: DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, so you aren’t limited to just one shooting distance style of photography. Still, choosing between a wide-angle, “normal,” telephoto, or macro lens is difficult, especially when you’re a beginner. That’s why most entry-level DSLRs come with an all-purpose lens, called a kit lens, which has a narrow aperture and a decent zoom. There’s just one problem—kit lenses tend to produce lower quality images than standalone lenses. If you’re already familiar with photography, I suggest buying a camera body without the kit lens and shopping for a lens that suits your style. If you’re new to photography, it’s best to stick with the kit lens until you get a feel for what you’re doing or what style of photos you’re most interested in.
  • Megapixels Aren’t Everything: A camera’s megapixel count determines the resolution (not necessarily the quality) of its photographs. As a beginner, you shouldn’t worry about comparing the megapixel count of two cameras, as the difference in this price range is negligible. Megapixels only become a serious selling point when you get into professional cameras or specialist photography (and even then, other factors are often more important).
  • Learn the Jargon: Anyone can take a DSLR, set it to Auto mode, and shoot killer photos. But there’s a lot of science behind photography, and a basic understanding of that science can help you shoot better photos or shop for equipment (especially lenses) in the future. Here are some important terms, along with links to in-depth articles on our sister site, How-To Geek.

Bear in mind that you might not need a DSLR. Point and shoot cameras are cheaper, smaller, and easier to manage than DSLRs cameras, but the photos they produce are much higher quality than what you get with a phone camera. If you just need to take decent pictures for work or a hobby, a point and shoot may be the way to go.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, let’s check out the best beginner DSLRs! If you need more in-depth info on buying your first DSLR, check our detailed guide over at How-To Geek.

Best Overall: Canon EOS Rebel T7i

The Canon EOS Rebel T7i.
Canon

Canon’s EOS Rebel T7i is one of the most popular DSLRs for a reason. It’s affordable, easy to use, and it has modern features like Wi-Fi connectivity and a touchscreen. More importantly, the EOS Rebel T7i produces stunning high-quality images and shines in sports, wildlife, or action photography thanks to its 6 FPS burst mode and advanced autofocus system.

Here are the EOS Rebel T7i’s specs:

  • 24MP APS-C Image Sensor
  • 1080p 60 FPS Video Recording
  • ISO of 100 to 25,600
  • 45-Point Cross-Type Autofocus (A feature from Canon’s more expensive 80D camera)
  • 6 FPS Burst Shooting
  • Dual Pixel Autofocus (For sharp video in sports or action settings)
  • Tilting Touchscreen Display
  • Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth (For accessories and file transfer)
  • Built-in Flash
  • Weather-Sealed Body
  • RAW Image Support (For nuanced editing)

We picked the EOS Rebel T7i as our “best overall” beginner DSLR because it’s such an accessible camera. Not only does it have modern features like a touchscreen and wireless file transfer, it also features an updated user interface that tells you how each camera setting works, removing some of the guesswork for novice photographers.

But while the T7i is quite accessible and shoots amazing photos, it costs a few hundred dollars more than the Nikon D3500, which offers a near-identical photo quality and has a few perks of its own. You should consider both cameras before pulling the trigger, although I highly recommend the T7i if you don’t know squat about cameras or plan to shoot sports and wildlife (again, the T7i’s autofocus system is lightning fast).

Best Overall Beginner DSLR

Canon EOS Rebel T7i

Canon's EOS Rebel T7i offers incredible image quality and a sports-ready autofocus system for a reasonable price. It also sports modern quality-of-life features and has a beginner-friendly interface.

Another Favorite: Nikon D3500

The Nikon D3500.
Nikon

Nikon’s D3500 isn’t just an incredible value; it’s also one of the best entry-level DSLRs available today. It’s simple, easy to use, and produces stunning images that stand up to the more expensive Canon EOS Rebel T7i. That said, the D3500’s lower price tag comes with a few trade-offs.

Here are the Nikon D3500’s specs:

  • 24MP APS-C Image Sensor
  • 1080p 60 FPS Video Recording
  • ISO of 100 to 25,600
  • 11-Point Autofocus System
  • 5 FPS Burst Shooting
  • Fixed LCD Display (No touchscreen)
  • Bluetooth (For accessories and file transfer)
  • Built-in Flash
  • RAW Image Support (For nuanced editing)

As you can see, the Nikon D3500 stands up to the more expensive EOS Rebel T7i in most situations. Both cameras use a 24MP APS-C sensor, both shoot full HD video, and both share a 100 to 25,600 ISO (the standard for “beginner” cameras). I would also argue that the D3500 looks cooler than the T7i, but that’s a bit subjective.

The D3500 only falls short when it comes to quality-of-life features like Wi-Fi connectivity or touchscreen controls, and unfortunately, its slower autofocus system can’t keep up with the T7i when shooting sports or action photography. It’s up to you to decide whether these features are worth the money or not.

I should also point out that Nikon sells a D3500 bundle with a standard zoom lens and a telephoto lens, which is useful for scenic photography, wildlife photography, and even portraiture. The bundle only costs a couple hundred dollars more than the standard D3500 kit, and if you’re a beginner, it’s the most affordable way to start experimenting with lenses (aside from buying an old camera body and a new lens, which we’ll get to later).

Another Favorite Beginner DSLR

Nikon D3500

The Nikon D3500 stands up to the Canon EOS Rebel T7i for a fraction of the cost. It shoots amazing photos, and it’s by far the best value in cameras today. That said, the lower price comes with some trade-offs in quality-of-life features and autofocus speed, so choose wisely!

Best Upgrade Pick: Nikon D7500

The Nikon D7500.
Nikon

Looking for something a little more substantial? The popular Nikon D7500 costs just a few hundred dollars more than the Canon EOS Rebel T7i, but its specs are comparable to some professional cameras (namely the Nikon D500). Not only that, but the D7500’s advanced autofocus system and exceptional ISO settings make it a contender in any situation, even if you’re shooting sports or night photography.

Here are the Nikon D7500’s specs:

  • 20.9MP APS-C Image Sensor
  • 4K 30 FPS or 1080p 60 FPS (4K video is also cropped, unfortunately)
  • ISO of 100 to 1,638,400 (Better quality in low-light or dark scenes)
  • 51-Point Autofocus System
  • 8.1 FPS Burst Shooting
  • Tilting Touchscreen Display
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • Built-in Flash
  • Weather-Sealed Body
  • 50-Shot RAW Buffer and 100-Shot JPG Buffer (The buffer allows you to take pictures quickly without waiting for the camera to “catch up,” which is usually an issue with cheaper DSLRs.)

While the aforementioned Canon EOS Rebel T7i and Nikon D3500 can fulfill most photographers’ needs, the D7500 takes things a step further with its advanced image sensor, lightning-fast autofocus system, flexible ISO settings, and premium quality-of-life features. You can wander into nearly any situation with the D7500 and trust it to take good photos or videos, which is surprising for a camera at this price.

Wait, you don’t like Nikon? If you’d prefer a Canon camera, check out the Canon EOS 80D, which offers a level of photo quality and flexibility that’s comparable to the D7500.

Best Upgrade DSLR

Nikon D7500

You can take the Nikon D7500 into any situation and trust it to take good photos. Not only does it feature an advanced image sensor, but has exceptionally fast autofocus and shines in low-light situations thanks to its high ISO support.

An Alternative to the Big Two: Pentax K-70

The Pentax K-70 camera

Entry-level cameras have to cut corners—that’s why they’re cheap! Unfortunately, Canon and Nikon tend to cut down on things like image stabilization and viewfinder quality in favor of video quality, Wi-Fi, and other non-essential (albeit useful) features. And that’s where brands like Pentax come in.

The Pentax K-70 costs about as much as the Nikon D3500, but it offers some improvements in image quality and stabilization that should appeal to photography nerds (especially if you shoot manual). That said, the K-70’s video performance is lackluster, it’s missing some common quality-of-life features, and the lenses that are compatible with this camera, while high-quality, are rarely featured in local camera stores or pawn shops.

Here’s the Pentax K-70’s specs:

  • 24MP APS-C AA Filterless Image Sensor
  • Pentaprism Viewfinder (An exceptionally clear viewfinder)
  • In-Body Image Stabilization
  • 1080p 60 FPS Video Recording
  • ISO of 100 to 204,800 (Great for low-light or night photography)
  • 11-Point Autofocus System
  • 6 FPS Burst Shooting (Slower at high ISOs)
  • Fixed LCD Display (No touchscreen)
  • Wi-Fi (For wireless image transfer)
  • Built-in Flash
  • Weatherproof Body
  • RAW Image Support

If you’re just looking to do straight photography, then the Pentax K-70 may be the camera for you. A DSLR of this quality at this price is a rarity, and it’s an exceptional choice if you don’t mind using a camera that isn’t from Nikon or Canon. Also, because Pentax sells mid-range and professional DSLRs, you can comfortably upgrade your way through the brand’s ecosystem as you grow as a photographer (and keep your lenses along the way).

An Alternative to The Big Two

Pentax K-70

If you just want to shoot high-quality photos on a budget and don’t care about video or fancy touchscreen displays, then the Pentax K-70 might be the camera for you. It’s affordable, powerful, and produces images that put similarly-priced DSLRs to shame.

Or, Buy an Old Body and a New Lens

A photo of the Canon EOS 70D, an older DSLR.
The Canon EOS 70D, an older DSLR. Yang Zhen Siang/Shutterstock

A camera is only as useful as the photographer using it. But as we mentioned earlier, the kit lenses that come with entry-level cameras can limit the quality of your photos or prevent you from shooting in the styles that you care about. And while you could buy a nice lens with a new DSLR body, there’s a much cheaper way to break past the quality hurdle of an entry-level camera setup—buy an old DSLR body and fit it with a killer lens.

Generally speaking, any professional or mid-range DSLR made in the last 10 to 15 years will outperform today’s entry-level DSLRs in sports, wildlife, and low-light settings. But because they’re old, they aren’t great at shooting video (if they shoot video at all), and they often lack features like Wi-Fi or touchscreen controls.

I’ve covered this topic in a dedicated article, but here are a few old camera bodies to give you an idea of what we’re talking about:

  • Old Cameras: Professionals are always looking for the latest and greatest, so pro-grade DSLRs tend to tank in value after just a few years. Still, they’re tough as all hell and shoot killer photos. Old professional cameras like the Nikon D700 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II still sport impressive specs, yet they cost less than some entry-level camera kits. Plus, because their original owners are usually professionals, these old cameras are usually in pretty good shape.
  • Sorta-Old Cameras: Cameras that cost $700 to $1,000 in 2015 now sell used for around $300. A DSLR like the Canon EOS 7D or the Pentax K-3 is a nice option for someone who wants a tough camera with a high-megapixel CMOS sensor, modern SD card support (older cameras tend to use compact flash), and decent video support.
  • Newish Cameras: Newer DSLRs have features like Wi-Fi file transfer and high-res video recording. If those features are important to you, try hunting down a used Nikon D3500 or Canon EOS Rebel T7i body within the $300 range. (Ask around, one of your friends may own one and doesn’t use it.)

We have more in-depth info on mixing and matching camera parts, which is worth a read if you’re looking to go in this direction. Keep in mind that old camera bodies are not guaranteed to work and that you still need to pair your second-hand camera with a compatible lens.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is a writer for Review Geek and its sister site, How-To Geek. Like a jack-of-all-trades, he handles the writing and image editing for a mess of tech news articles, daily deals, product reviews, and complicated explainers. Read Full Bio »

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