Best DSLR Cameras | 2020 Buyer’s Guide

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DSLRs are the leading selling cameras in the world. They took over the market at the beginning of the 21st century and have not slowed. They provide the user with easy movement of pictures from the camera to other devices. They allow for photo editing and sharing anywhere you have your computer set up – sometimes even from the camera itself.

Lenses can be used to enhance your photos. Settings can be customized in DSLR cameras more often than in SLRs. Not to mention, you get near-instant gratification concerning how the pictures look. 

Best DSLR Cameras - Buyer's Guide
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

A DSLR or digital single-lens reflex camera is a digital camera that combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor. The difference between a DSLR and other digital cameras boils down to the design scheme.

That being said – an SLR (single-lens reflex camera) is a camera that uses a mirror and prism system that allows the photographer to view through the lens and see exactly what will be captured. This can get very technical. I love research, but I prefer someone to tell me exactly what I need to know and to explain it in terms that I can understand. So, I’ll try. 

Before SLRs were invented, cameras had two optical paths within them. One went to the film – obviously… if not, where would we get pictures from? And the other path went to whatever the photographer used as the viewfinder. This left a lot of room for error, especially in low light or low speed photography.

Think about it – as the photographer, you’re looking at the subject from a optical path that provides you with a different angle than the path that will actually be sending light information to the film.  

SLRs on the other hand allow photographers to have a single optical path for both the film and the viewfinder by using a roof pentaprism situated in the optical path between the reflex mirror (going to the film) and the viewfinder (going to the photographer).  I could go further, but I really just wanted the basic idea for this particular article.

I wanted to understand the basics of how this technology works. With this technology came other advancements in cameras, such as through lens light metering, semi-auto and then full-program auto-exposure, and finally autofocus. These advancements came all through the 20th century and by the 1990’s some viewfinders were being replaced with LCD (liquid crystal displays) and soon digital SLRs would become the new normal.  

That being said, on to DSLRs. The main difference between SLRs and DSLRs is simply that digital technology has replaced film. The optical path leads to a digital sensor to create digital images that can be stored on memory cards and transferred electronically from one device to another through various means.

It can be argued that photo editing suites in this day and age make the quality of a digital photo equal to that of a film photo. This versatility and the steady lowering of price has led digital single-lens reflex cameras to largely replace their SLR forebears in the 21st century.


I’m a beginner. And while I was looking for my own camera and accessories, I began writing up my research to share with others like me. This led me to write these articles sharing what most photographers – both amateur and professional – feel are the top picks among today’s cameras and accessories.   

I’ll list them below, with relevant information. If you want the statistics of each camera, you can always click our links to go to the retailer website where you prefer to shop. I felt it was more important to share the opinions of those who had used the equipment.

You should purchase your chosen products from wherever you feel most comfortable purchasing camera products. I always look over reviews from multiple sources before I make a decision on a purchase. I share the most relevant information on my website, but it’s by no means a full endorsement. Be your own advocate, know your product, ask questions of the seller, get information in writing, and be clear on warranty limitations.

Beginners to Enthusiasts

Nikon D3500

What caught my attention about this one, besides the fact that it was promoted by several websites and photographers? Most of them said this was a great DSLR camera for beginners looking to move beyond what a smartphone could do for them. That is precisely what I was looking for! 

The sensor doesn’t use a low-pass filter, so the quality of your shots will be better. Can make it on 5fps – which is fine for not a lot of action. It has a fixed LCD screen and the auto focus feature isn’t optimal. It has Bluetooth file transfer that is extremely limited (when you transfer to a phone, it has lower resolution than a typical selfie). 

78% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Critical reviews are a warning to us all – buyer beware. Make sure the Nikon warranty covers the camera in your country, if you plan to get one. Also be careful to purchase from a reputable dealer who has stored cameras in appropriate conditions, or they may not last as long as they should. 

Price Range: The camera sells for about $369 but you can purchase it with kits that include lenses, bags, cleaning supplies, and memory cards for upwards of $600.

Nikon D780

This product seems to replace the D750 and most customers love the upgrade. They applaud the 12fps continuous shooting and the ease of using the tilting touch screen and Wifi over Bluetooth + application. The controls are spread on both sides of the camera, so that may be annoying for one-handed use. 

If you love Nikon, you can use the lenses you already have for this camera. It’s lightweight compared to many DSLR cameras as well. 

Some enthusiasts were disappointed that it didn’t offer more upgrades from their D750 – especially considering the price point. To counter that, other reviewers were actually very pleased by the differences and happy to pay the cost. Some upgrades included:  Fast live view autofocus, 900 sec min shutter speed in manual exposure mode, 1/8000 sec max shutter speed, -7eV low light focus in live view, 2 memory card slots, and all images seem to have a reduction in noise. 

A big change? The D780 has a 24.5-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) FX-Format full-frame CMOS sensor, which no longer has contrast-detect AF points on the sensor. In its place, you’ll find the more robust 273-point phase-detect AF system, which works in live view and for movies as well as still imaging. It also boasts an EXPEED 6 processor. It can record full-frame 4K video at 30fps. So, this camera is not just meat for photographers, but for videographers as well. 

88% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Keep in mind this is a relatively new product (released January 2020) so the review percentages may still be a bit skewed. The main complaint? No stabilization. One person misses the built-in flash, but comments that the better weather sealing is compensation – especially for those shooting outdoors. 

Price Range: $2200 – $2799 and kits are available. 

Canon EOS Rebel SL3/250D

Most people were happy that this camera was simple to use and overall had a great function.  Again, the Canon EOS Rebel (EOS Kiss or EOS XXXD in other regions) is a great starter DSLR camera. That’s what it’s most widely sold as and it’s interface is very user-friendly.

The price point is very reasonable. However, some users felt Canon overcomplicated a few things in this release. For the price, people are willing to work with the cropped sensor, especially when you consider that so many Canon lenses work with this camera. Therefore, if you already owned a Canon rig, you probably have plenty of lenses to choose from to compensate the sensor.   

80% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Several negative reviews came because Canon removed the Universal hot shoe pin from their ETTL II camera flash hot shoe mount atop the SL3. Although the hot shoe can still fire-off canon flash products, all third party flash and strobe products that require the universal pin to function are no longer compatible.  

Price Range:$499 body only up to $799 depending upon what kit you purchase.

Canon EOS 90D

Though this camera could be considered a semi-pro camera, it has enough basic features to make hobbyists comfortable with it. Therefore, I’d leave this one to advanced amateurs – people who have some experience in photography. 

With this addition to the series, the sensor has improved, the fps has increased dramatically (11fps compared to the 80D at 7fps) and the weight of the device has lessened with each new model. This model also has a greater video resolution with 3840×2160 vs. 1920×1080 – if that’s important to you. This model has built in Wifi and Bluetooth and can be controlled via your smartphone. There are over 300 native lenses available for the lens mount. 

Some reviewers would have preferred an upgrade to another Canon product and not this series (70D, 80D, 90D…). They wound up disappointed by that. However, I found that the cameras they placed on pedestals were a bit out of range compared to this DSLR camera. We’re talking the 5D Mark IV & the 7D Mark II – both of which are listed higher up on the semi-pro to professional side of this set of reviews. Another critical area is the missing stabilization, however, many Canon lenses come with optical image stabilization. 

85% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Keep in mind that the lowest star reviews were mainly about product defects/manufacturer defects, not issues with the camera itself. There were a few reviewers that found some inconsistencies with auto-focus and video shooting. The overall complaints were few and far between, but this was a recurring theme, so be aware of differences between this camera and others that might be better suited to your needs. 

Price Range: $1199 for camera to $1629 depending on the kit you want with it. 

Nikon D5600

According to C/Net this camera is excellent for it’s price point, but geared more toward a family camera base than anything else. It has an APS-C sized sensor and has better photo quality than some of its peers (including the Canon T7i). Details are sharper on the Nikon D5600.

According to C/Net, this camera is excellent for its price point but geared more toward a family camera base than anything else. It has an APS-C sized sensor and has better photo quality than some of its peers (including the Canon T7i). Details are sharper on the Nikon D5600.

The 5fps is small compared to other DSLR cameras in the price range and it’s still not recording video at 4K, but these might not be what you need, anyway.  It has a built-in flash and also an external accessories mount. The LCD touchscreen is fully articulated. 

It allows for an external stereo microphone, which was a bonus. However, one reviewer said it didn’t have a remote trigger and you have to use the Nikon app for downloads and it’s less than user friendly.  

When compared to its predecessors, the design hasn’t changed much at all, except that it got heavier since the last model in the series. Something of a criticism to the camera is it’s small control panel size, which might be difficult for larger hands. There’s no image stabilization, no SF micro adjustment, no environmental sealing, and limited bracketing range. 

 It does have plenty of native lenses available, any F-mount lense dating back as far as the 1960’s will work. However, it does not have an internal focus motor, so no autofocus with older model AF lenses. More modern lenses (1990s and beyond) should be fine. Also, just because the camera doesn’t come with stabilization, doesn’t mean the lense doesn’t have it. There are over 100 Nikon lenses that have optical image stabilization. 

81% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. A lot of hobbyists love that it’s easy to bring with you for your fun whether it’s for nice looking shots or videography. Users who had other cameras, especially those with Nikons weren’t complaining about the camera so much as the lack of upgrades from its predecessor and competing cameras.

It’s a great entry-level DSLR camera with lightweight, ergonomic style, and simple menus and buttons. Some people had issues with the software, but I didn’t get any detailed examples. Several of the low star reviews were for manufacturer’s defects and missing pieces – which is not really a mark against the camera itself.  

Price Range: $529 – $896 depending on what kit you choose.

Canon EOS Rebel T7i

When compared to other cameras, this model really doesn’t stand out, however, it’s mentioned because it’s very popular with home camera enthusiasts. It delivers what you want from the next step up from your smartphone.

It doesn’t match the Nikon 5600 for photo quality, but it definitely is better when it comes to video focusing, thanks to improvements based on feedback from users of previous models. It’s the first camera in the series to come with a 45-point, all cross-type AF within the Optical Viewfinder itself, a Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection, and Digic 7 Image processor. This gives photographers who have an interest in experimenting beyond the program mode a chance to do so. 

It seems in this series, Canon takes technology from other, older series models and simply incorporates them. That being said, it doesn’t support continuous autofocus or auto exposure, so when you shoot by burst, only a few of the shots will be in-focus. This is a let-down considering all of the new technology in the DSLR camera.

On the bright side, a Bluetooth remote control for this camera. Also, what makes this camera a favorite among amateurs is the “easy” interface. It doesn’t offer new options compared to the last model in the series, however, the interface is cleaner, and more user friendly, with explanatory text. For this purpose it’s a solid choice,  but if you already know your way around a camera enough, you might opt for an older model in this series, and save a bit of money. 

86% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. FYI, a lot of the negative reviews were based on other things within the kits that the camera came with. Also, some were posting low star reviews because they wanted the camera to come with features that it doesn’t come with (and doesn’t advertise) – which is not a strike against the product, in my opinion – it’s something these people should take up with the company.

There were repetitive legitimate concerns about the transfer of data from the camera to any outside computer or cloud server. Whether it was the application used or the inability to translate, there were several of these complaints about the camera. 

Price Range: $699 for the base and up to $999 for a kit depending on what you want

Semi-Pro to Professional

Nikon D850

Released in 2017, the Nikon D850 is made to be a professional photographer’s camera. Fans enjoy using this camera whether their goal be meticulous macro filming to landscape shots. People couldn’t say enough about the quality of the pictures taken with this camera. It has a tiltable LCD touch screen.

Compared to previous products in the series, it has a larger sensor 46MPFull-frame, higher fps at 7fps, and weighs a bit more. It has built-in wifi, Bluetooth, but you can also transfer data using an HDMI or USB 3.0 port. As with a lot of these DSLR cameras, there is no image stabilization, but there are so many lenses that offer optical image stabilization, you don’t necessarily miss that. It also has weather sealings and can work with native lenses that both do and do not have comparable seals. 

About the video capabilities, this camera has all of the bells and whistles of their D5 model and then some.  It has the Expeed 5 processor so that both still and video are helped out. It has 4K UHD/30p and 24p video, in-camera 4K time-lapse movies, and 4:2:2 clean UHD output via HDMI. Not to mention, it has 8K time-lapse capture, focus peaking (but only for 1080p shooting) and  120fps HD slow-motion capture which plays back at 24fps. So, wow – videographers, take a look. 

91% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Almost every negative rating was for manufacturer defect that is being worked on, poor customer service by Nikon, and one woman who is very annoyed that the company chose all male photographers for representing this product. In another forum, some meant their reviews to be 4 and 5 stars, but the program only allowed one star. This is why you should always check beyond the numbers. But still – these numbers are fantastic.  

One user had a legitimate grouse with the fact that the custom settings couldn’t be saved, which costs a lot of time. Also, there has been a suggestion that the QUAL button be disarmable from the menu. Some users warn about a drop in quality in low-lighting. Which is odd, considering the illuminated buttons on this camera make you think it’s made for low light filming.

There were several reviewers that warned about battery life being below what they expected as well. Some customers hope that Nikon improves upon making the contrast-detect AF work faster in Liveview. 

Price Range: $2996 up to $4990 depending on the kit you purchase with it.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

I just want to say that this product has a lot of hype and approval found in reviews of other products! This seems to be the equipment by which other cameras are judged. I think that’s a testament to how much photographers and enthusiasts like this camera. 

This is Canon’s full-frame entry and it took the company five years to upgrade on the previous DSLR camera in the series. This is a favorite among portrait, fashion, and landscape photographers as well as videographers. Upgrades included a larger sensor (Dual Pixel CMOS) which adds better autofocus and resolution for Live View and color detection technology. The upgrades also helped with an updated metering system & 4K & HDR video.

In addition to Wifi, Cannon has added GPS for geotagging pictures. It has also improved upon its weather and dust sealing. 

One disappointment listed for a reviewer was that the ISO sensitivity range didn’t change, but to be fair, that’s not a complaint that many photographers would have considering what this Canon series already comes with. This camera also still has a low pass filter which can take away from sharpness and detail. 

85% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Some of the reviews have to do with people who got sold a refurbished product. Other reviews spoke to the kit products – not the camera. Hence, always look into the reviews and don’t just go by the numbers. Be sure you get what you are paying for. Buyer, always beware.

One reviewer commented that “It only supports mjpeg codec, and a 1 hour’s video uses over 220GB storage. It also crops the image in video shooting, so you need to change lenses when switching from still to video.” For many photographers and videographers, this is a deal-breaker, especially considering the price point. 

Price Range:$1975 – $2799 depending upon what you get in the kit.

Pentax K-1 Mark II

The only camera on this list that was promoted by multiple photographers and websites that is NOT a Canon or Nikon.  The Pentax K-1 Mark II seems to be well-liked for people who need a good piece of equipment for low-light filming.

The company also has listed a processing accelerator in the image path between the sensor and processor that supposedly optimizes the data. This overall means that it helps eliminate noise in your images. However, your battery will take a hit because of this. On average you may lose 300 shots per battery, so you might want to make sure you have some extras. 

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is sustainable for videography, but it’s not the best in class for it. 

If you play with the ISO, you can definitely get good quality shots even of sports in low-light. This camera comes with a mode called Pixel Shift Resolution. This feature creates a higher resolution image by combining auto capture while the sensor is offset. PSR uses color data to provide improved detail to the final image. It’s got a lower fps at 4.4fps than most other semi-professional to pro cameras. 

The LCD screen has a lot of movement, but it’s not a touch screen. The optical viewfinder has 100% field of view and real-time scene analysis system. Pentax has 150 native lenses that can be used on this camera. K-1 Mark II also has a Sensor based 5-axis Image Stabilization system which means that all of these lenses will be stabilized when used on it.

It has a Full-Frame Sensor like most professional DSLR cameras but there is a lack of an anti-alias/low-pass filter. This increases the sharpness and level of detail but can increase the moire effect. However, as a workaround, it has a mode that replaces the simulator for times when you need it.  

It’s also pretty hefty in weight at 1010g of those I’ve covered, only the Nikon D850 is heavier. But it’s still relatively small in size and easy to handle. It has built in Wifi and you can control a lot of the settings from a phone app along with GPS.  

94% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. A lot of reviewers, even those not giving 5-stars, comment about how durable this camera is and about the weather proofing. They also have great things to say about the ergonomics – even though it’s stout. The ISO is another feature reviewers love and the autofocus is apparently much better than previous models or even peer models.

Some of the lower reviews were not critical at all, which was surprising. One thing some had in common was warning people to not use a low quality lens with this camera, because the lens would drag down the quality of your pictures – the camera will be held back by it. And in some of the kits? You get lower quality lenses. So be aware. 

Price Range:$1796 – $2289 depending upon what you get with a kit.

Conclusion

Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional photographer, there is a DSLR camera for you. We always suggest doing your research first before you make any purchase, especially expensive purchases like these cameras. If you are wanting to learn more about which cameras are out there, then be sure to read our Basic Cameras article.

Rachel Adams

I have used a wide variety of cameras over the years and wanted to share my experiences and knowledge with my readers. I don't have a degree in photography and I don't do this professionally. So, if you were looking for a photography expert - sorry. But if you prefer a practical person who admits she’s been a noob to photography and has learned from good people and through trial and error? I’m here for ya!

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