9 best DSLR cameras to suit all budgets and abilities

·9-min read
We considered weight, autofocus, value for money, performance and feel (The Independent)
We considered weight, autofocus, value for money, performance and feel (The Independent)

The world of DSLR cameras has expanded hugely in recent years – although Nikon and Canon still rule the roost for many, the appearance of the excellent A-series cameras from Sony shifted the market, and there are now many models and types of cameras, including mirrorless SLR alternatives that are vying for the DSLR’s title.

That being said, a digital single-lens-reflex (SLR) is still the go-to for most people. The breadth of offering in terms of budget and their sheer availability means there’s always good deals to be had and excellent second-hand offerings.

Here we look at what you need to look for in a DSLR camera, which models will suit different styles and types of photography and offer up some options at the low, middle and top end of the DSLR price spectrum.

With the range of DSLR cameras out there, it’s quite easy to test them in like-for-like situations, measuring low-light, ISO performance, autofocus speed, LCD touchscreen response and general ergonomics like weight and feel.

We tested these models in a number of different environments, from day walking trips for landscape photography to more studio portrait setups.

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These are the best DSLR cameras for 2021:

  • Best overall – Nikon D3500: £449, Argos.co.uk

  • Best live view – Canon EOS 850D: £859, Currys.co.uk

  • Best light model – Canon EOS rebel 250D Mk II: £659.99, Argos.co.uk

  • Best for wildlife photographers – Canon EOS 90D: £1,349, Wexphotovideo.com

  • Best for mid-level full frame shooting – Canon EOS 6D MK II: £1,819.99, Canon.co.uk

  • Best budget buy – Nikon D5600: £529, Nikon.co.uk

  • Best for full-frame excellence – Canon 5D mark IV: £2,869, Parkcameras.com

  • Best for high-resolution stills – Nikon D850: £2,499, Jessops.com

  • Best for professional videographers – Sony A7S III: £3,799, Parkcameras.com

Nikon D3500

Best: Overall

  • Weight: 415g

  • Megapixels: 24.2

  • 4K Video: No

  • Autofocus: 11-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-25600

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle non-touchscreen

Perhaps one of the kings of the entry-level DSLR market, the D3500 provides a 24.2 APS-C sensor, a long battery life and a neat little guide feature that’s perfectly tuned towards the beginner photographer. A highly capable camera, albeit one that you may find has some limitations if you’re an experienced photographer. For the price, we’d highly recommend this for family holidays, candid shots and day-to-day snapping.

Buy now £449.00, Argos.co.uk

Canon EOS 850D

Best: Live view

  • Weight: 515g

  • Megapixels: 24.1

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: 45-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-25600

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

The three-digit line-up from Canon has had a long and distinguished history – back in the early 2000s the 300D was the first DSLR camera offered at a sub-£1,000 price point, and these easy to use, enthusiast-focused cameras have improved through the years and provide the perfect jump-up from a compact or a phone camera. The live view in particular is one of this camera’s strengths, however for future-proofing, we’d also recommend considering newer mirrorless alternatives that are lighter in weight and less bulky – the trend does seem to be going towards the mirrorless department for this price.

Buy now £859.00, Currys.co.uk

Canon EOS rebel 250D Mk II

Best: Light model

  • Weight: 449g

  • Megapixels: 24.1

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: Dual-pixel CMOS

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-25600 (expandable to 51200)

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

Billed as the world’s lightest camera with a moveable screen, the 250D Mk II is a diminutive package – we also liked the connectivity options that mean sharing images is a breeze with Bluetooth and built-in wifi. We would especially recommend this for newcomers to video making, as the ability to record 4K is great for this type of package at this price.

Buy now £659.99, Argos.co.uk

Canon EOS 90D

Best: For wildlife photographers

  • Weight: 701g

  • Megapixels: 32.5

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: 45-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-25600

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

This is a next-stage camera for amateurs who want to take more control over their picture making. The 90D doesn’t depart dramatically from previous incarnations of Canon’s two-digit product range, but an improved sensor, 32.5 megapixels and dual pixel autofocus through live view makes sure this camera stands out from earlier generations. Shooting up to 10fps makes it perfect for fast-moving sports and wildlife photography.

Buy now £1349.00, Wexphotovideo.com

Canon EOS 6D MK II

Best: For mid-level full frame shooting

  • Weight: 765g

  • Megapixels: 26.2

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: 45-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-40000

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

With 26.2 megapixels and a full-frame sensor, the 6D gets close to professional level photography capability in a smaller, more travel-friendly and lighter weight package. It comes with Bluetooth and wifi connectivity and its protective, professional-grade weatherproof sealing makes it a good option for landscape photographers and travel photographers. Twinned with the right lens, this is a compelling and highly versatile DSLR offering.

Buy now £1819.99, Canon.co.uk

Nikon D5600

Best: Budget buy

  • Weight: 465g

  • Megapixels: 26.2

  • 4K Video: No

  • Autofocus: 39-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-25600

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

Although a step up from the D3500 featured above, the D5600 is very firmly in the budget, beginner friendly category, However, its decent autofocus system and range of flexibility in terms of shooting modes means that paired with the right lenses and accessories, it’s a good option those wanting to learn more about how a good DSLR camera works.

Buy now £529.00, Nikon.co.uk

Canon 5D mark IV

Best: For full-frame excellence

  • Weight: 800g

  • Megapixels: 30.4

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: Dual Pixel CMOS

  • ISO Sensitivity: 100-150000

  • LCD Monitor: Fixed touchscreen

Still one of the benchmarks professional cameras are judged against, the 5D range is now in its fourth incarnation and is better than ever. It might be a substantial investment, but for the money you get a touchscreen LCD display, a 30.4 Megapixel full frame sensor and the autofocus system lifted from 1D X Mark II, perhaps the holy-grail of all professional-level DSLRs out there at the moment. If you’re serious about taking your photography professional, this is the perfect purchase.

Buy now £2869.00, Parkcameras.com

Nikon D850

Best: For high-resolution stills

  • Weight: 1kg

  • Megapixels: 45.7

  • 4K Video: Yes

  • Autofocus: 153-point

  • ISO Sensitivity: 64-24500

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

With a massive 45.7 megapixels and a full-frame sensor capable of shooting 4K video with no crop factor, this is the perfect companion for photographers who need to shoot professional grade images at superb detail and high resolution. It’s also one of the most durable cameras out there – it’s made with a tough magnesium-alloy on the frame with in-built weather sealing. One of the best DSLRs out there that still falls within the remit of the consumer market.

Buy now £2499.00, Jessops.com

Sony A7S III

Best: For professional videographers

  • Weight: 1kg

  • Megapixels: 12.1

  • 4K Video: Yes at 120p

  • Autofocus: Phase-detection

  • ISO Sensitivity: 80-102400

  • LCD Monitor: Vari angle touchscreen

When Sony came out with its A-range a few years back, it shook the world, and opened up a whole new area of video recording for professional filmmaking teams. Non-cropped 4K footage up to 120p and a variety of clever codecs (pieces of code that interpret digital signals) mean that this is the best camera out there for quality and colour matching. This third edition of the A7S features an improved autofocus system – this is the very best camera out there for “run-and-gun” shooting or capturing additional professional grade B-Roll footage. High details stills shooters may want to look elsewhere, as it only offers up 12MP for stills and it isn’t really what it’s built for.

Buy now £3799.00, Parkcameras.com

DSLR cameras FAQs

What type of camera should I buy?

There are several different types of cameras: DSLR, compact, mirrorless, bridge and instant. The type of camera you buy will depend on a number of factors and what you want to use the camera for. If you’re looking for a professional photo, look to a DSLR, but for something a little more fun and informal, instant cameras can be your go-to.

  • DSLR camera: If you’re looking for a professional camera with the best possible picture quality, a DSLR camera is the one for you. They can be a little bulky, but you have greater options, for example, you can change the lenses to suit the type of photos you are taking. Often these types of cameras have a wide range of features (shutter speed, aperture).

  • Mirrorless camera: A great option if you’re looking for fantastic image quality and a range of lenses but want less bulk than a DSLR, mirrorless cameras are smaller in size but still produce excellent images. These models are best used for professional-level features, including video or continuous shooting.

  • Bridge camera: This type of camera is a great halfway point between a compact camera and a DSLR. A bridge camera does boast a number of advanced features but isn’t quite as advanced as DSLR or mirrorless cameras (although it is typically more affordable). A brilliant all-rounder for professional-looking shots at home.

  • Compact camera: Small enough to chuck in your bag and go, compact cameras have fixed lenses and offer good quality images at a cheaper price than the more high-end digital cameras. A good choice for beginners looking for an inexpensive point-and-shoot.

  • Instant camera: Where the other cameras here are digital, an instant camera relies on analogue and uses self-developing film to create developed prints shortly after you’ve taken them. These are best for taking fun pictures that are more relaxed, when you don’t mind them being a little imperfect.

The verdict: DSLR cameras

It’s worth looking carefully at exactly what you need your camera to do – many beginners and enthusiasts don’t need the bells and whistles of more expensive devices, and for these people, we’d recommend the Nikon D3500 as the perfect everyday shooter to learn the trade.

The Canon 6D is an excellent camera, and we’d recommend this option for more experienced photographers – the addition of a full-frame sensor in a small body is fantastic. For professional photographers and those needing the very best in the consumer market, in our opinion, nothing can quite beat the 5D Mk 4 for shooting stills.

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Looking for more camera inspiration? Read our guide to the best mirrorless models that are compact and user-friendly

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