Upgrading to a digital SLR is a very exciting prospect. The image and video quality that DSLRs produce is outstanding and the learning curve is much quicker than you might think. Below are our picks for the best entry-level DSLRs of 2017, all of which are relatively easy to use with a range of both automatic and manual shooting modes. Many people start with a kit lens—18-55mm is the most common—and you can add prime or zoom lenses at the focal lengths of your choosing for even better results. For more background information, see our entry-level DSLR comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 13.9 oz.
What we like: A great value in an entry-level DSLR.
What we don’t: Only minor improvements over the D3300.
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon DX Lenses
For 2017, the D3400 is Nikon’s flagship entry-level DSLR and a great value at around $500 with a kit lens. Most importantly, you get a 24.2-megapixel APS-C image sensor, Full HD 1080p video, and a host of automatic shooting modes that make this camera easy to use straight out of the box. All in all, it’s a great starter option for those new to the world of DSLRs.
It’s worth noting that the D3400 is very similar to the older D3300 below. The most notable addition is Nikon’s SnapBridge technology for transferring images and videos wirelessly to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The D3400 also got a boost in battery life and is slightly lighter. With a $50 increase in cost over the D3300, it’s a close call but we like the extended battery and connectivity options (the WU-1a wireless adapter is around $30 on its own and adds more bulk to your camera bag).
See the Nikon D3400
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 19.6 oz.
What we like: The best video quality in the entry-level field.
What we don't: Pricey.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Canon T6i
At the top of Canon’s entry-level lineup is the popular Rebel T6i. This DSLR represents a noticeable jump in price from the D3400 above (in reality, the T6i is more comparable to the D5500 and D5600 below). The positives come with improved video quality—Canon DSLRs are known for video—and STM lenses that focus smoothly and quietly. We also appreciate the autofocus and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, which is preferable to Nikon’s SnapBridge app.
It was great that Canon finally bumped the megapixel count to 24.2 on the T6i from 18 on the T5i, which helps make it much more competitive in that regard. In deciding between Canon and Nikon for an entry-level DSLR, we like Canon for those who plan on shooting a decent amount of video and Nikon for still photography. For cheaper options from Canon without as many bells and whistles, there are four additional Rebel models on our list with the basic T5 at the bottom at under $400 with a kit lens.
See the Canon Rebel T6i
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 14.2 oz.
What we like: A nice step up in features from Nikon's D3000 series.
What we don't: Still behind the Canon T6i above in video performance.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D5500
For a step up in features and functionality over our top pick, the Nikon D3400, we categorize the D5500 as entry-level plus. The image sensor and megapixel counts on these two cameras are the same, but the D5500 comes with a more advanced autofocus, a swiveling rear LCD with touchscreen functionality, and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC (instead of just SnapBridge on the D3400). To us, the improved autofocus matters a lot—it’s one of the main points of differentiation between cheaper and more expensive cameras. The LCD is a nice addition too, and particularly if you shoot video.
It’s worth noting that at the end of last year Nikon released a new version of this camera, the Nikon D5600 below. We ranked the D5500 higher, however, because we don’t think the newer model merits the $100 jump in price. Yes, you get the addition of Bluetooth via SnapBridge, and the camera has a built-in time-lapse feature and the ability to control auto ISO more easily. But the D5600 is effectively the same camera as the D5500 but for $100 more. It’s slightly heavier too, which pushed us over the top.
See the Nikon D5500
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 21.8 oz.
What we like: Weather resistant and a good value.
What we don’t: Pentax lens selection is limited.
When choosing an entry-level DSLR, most people stick to well-known brands Canon and Nikon. However, for those just getting into outdoor and landscape photography, the Pentax K-S2 offers a very unique feature in this price range: weather resistance. It’s the cheapest weather resistant DSLR on the market—this technology usually is saved for prosumer and full-frame cameras—and the only such model on this list. In terms of performance, you can expect similar image quality and autofocus as a camera like the Nikon D3300, and the K-S2 even has built-in Wi-Fi, which the D3300 does not. What are the downsides? The KS-2 is relatively heavy at over 21 ounces, and you don’t get the extensive and highly esteemed lens collections that Canon and Nikon offer. Lens selection matter a lot, in our opinion, which brings the KS-2 down the earth.
See the Pentax KS-2
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
Weight: 15.1 oz.
What we like: The same image and video quality as the D3400 for $50 less.
What we don’t: Less battery life than the D3400 and slightly heavier.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D3300
For the deal hunters out there, you won’t find a better value than the Nikon D3300. Released a few years ago, the D3300 is strikingly similar to the new D3400 above yet costs $50 less. You get the same image sensor, processor, burst rates, and video speeds, with the newer camera adding Bluetooth connectivity and improved battery life. It’s not all good, however: the increase in battery life comes at the expense of the flash, which is weaker on the newer model thereby saving power.
It’s a really close call between these two excellent entry-level DSLR models. If you frequently shoot indoors in low light and require flash, the D3300 is a better choice. If the $50 matters—it is about 10% of the total cost of the camera—it’s pretty easy to get over the lack of Bluetooth connectivity (you can always add an adapter as an add-on if need be).
See the Nikon D3300
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 14.4 oz.
What we like: Small form factor.
What we don’t: A few years old and counting.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Canon Rebel SL1
We really liked the Canon SL1 when it was released a few years ago. At that time, it was the lightest DSLR on the market and serious competition to the growing class of mirrorless cameras. Now it feels a little long in the tooth, with an 18-megapixel image sensor and relatively simple autofocus system that has been surpassed by the Rebel T6i. The SL1 still is a solid entry-level camera from Canon, but at this price point we give the nod the Nikon D3400.
In the current landscape, perhaps the most direct competitor to the Rebel SL1 is the Rebel T6. Compared with the T6, the SL1 offers touchscreen functionality, faster shooting, and better low light performance. But the tipping point for us is the kit lens: we like the 18-55mm STM offered with the SL1 over the 18-55mm IS II offered with the T6. You can save $50 with the latter, but for our money we prefer the SL1.
See the Canon Rebel SL1
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 20.2 oz.
What we like: Great image quality for the price.
What we don’t: The camera body is heavy and the kit lens is subpar.
Sony gets more credit for its mirrorless camera lineup than its DSLRs, but the latter is nothing to scoff at. At the entry-level end of the spectrum we like the Alpha a58, which shoots the fastest on this list at 8 frames per second and has some of the best autofocus for both stills and videos. At just over $550 with a kit lens, the Alpha a58 is well priced and even comes with features like a tilting LCD screen.
Two notable shortcomings of the SLT-A58 are low light performance and the 18-55mm kit lens, which isn’t up to the standards of the kit lenses offered from Canon and Nikon. And for those looking to add specialty zoom or prime lenses, Sony just doesn’t have the extensive lens offerings of Canon’s EF-S or Nikon’s DX collections. But if you want to shoot action photography on a budget, the a58 is a great way do so.
See the Sony Alpha a58
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 20.5 oz.
What we like: Pretty close to the whole package in an entry-level DSLR.
What we don’t: Fewer megapixels than the T6i and competing models from Nikon.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Canon T5i
Before the release of the Rebel T6i, we had the T5i at or near the top of this list (we even kept it there when the T6i was $200 more expensive). But the gap in price has lessened and the T6i offers enough in the way of upgrades that we have bumped the T5i down. Our most important consideration is the resolution of the image sensor: the T5i is 18 megapixels vs. 24.2 megapixels on the T6i. In addition, the T5i has a less advanced autofocus system and lacks built-in Wi-Fi.
These issues aside, the Rebel T5i currently is $150 less expensive than the T6i with the same kit lens. It’s a quality all-around DSLR that excels for stills and videos, and Canon is known for its easy-to-use functionality. We don’t think you’ll regret going with the T5i, it’s just a question of whether the upgrade is worth it to you.
See the Canon Rebel T5i
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 16.4 oz.
What we like: A really nice feature set.
What we don’t: $100 more than the D5500 and with very few changes.
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon DX Lenses
For those who have the budget, we’ve always liked Nikon’s D5000 series: you get more features and performance than the 3000 series at a reasonable price point. But unlike the new D3400, which is only $50 more than D3300 and has better battery life, we can’t get on board with ranking the D5600 higher. It’s still a quality entry-level DSLR that can go head-to-head with anything from Canon, but the $100 price difference over the D5500 is not justified in our opinion.
As mentioned above, the D5600 adds SnapBridge connectivity, a built-in time-lapse feature, and easier auto ISO control. But it feels like most or all of that could have been accomplished via a firmware update and not an entirely new camera model. Many consumers are waiting for 4K to hit the entry-level end of the DSLR market like it has with mirrorless cameras (see the Panasonic Lumix G7), but until something of that magnitude, we’re sticking with the D5500.
See the Nikon D5600
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 17.1 oz.
What we like: Considerably cheaper than the T6i.
What we don’t: At this price point, we prefer the Nikon D3300.
The Rebel T6i and T5i above are packed with features, but there are less expensive options in Canon’s line. The Rebel T6 (no “i”) is a stripped down version with fewer megapixels and a simpler autofocus. It also has a fixed LCD that doesn’t tilt, less ISO sensitivity, and the camera comes with an inferior kit lens. But at only $449 with an 18-55mm lens, the T6 gets you out the door with a current entry-level DSLR from one of the best in the business.
Who should buy the Canon Rebel T6? It’s a viable budget option for those who plan on shooting mostly still photography. Many of the features of the T6i including the tilting LCD and STM kit lenses are designed with video in mind, and therefore aren’t much of a sacrifice for capturing stills. However, we don’t like the drop in megapixels, which makes the Nikon D3300 above a more attractive option at the $450 price point.
See the Canon Rebel T6
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 14.3 oz.
What we like: Weather sealed and packed with mid-range features.
What we don’t: The priciest camera on this list.
Perhaps we have stepped up to the mid-range category with the K-70 from Pentax, but this DSLR is a very viable competitor to the Canon Rebel T6i and Nikon D5500. In fact, when you compare features and take away brand names, the K-70 is one of the most impressive cameras on this list. You get weather sealing, superior low light performance, built-in image stabilization, and a kit lens with more reach at 18-135mm. Taken together, that’s a whole lot of DSLR for under $900.
As discussed above with the Pentax KS-2 and Sony Alpha a58, Canon and Nikon offer the best lens selections and brands like Pentax certainly represent a step down in this regard. But given the extended range of the K-70 kit lens—18-135mm isn’t full coverage but much more complete than 18-55mm—you may not have to add lenses after all. The K-70 is not the conventional choice for an entry-level DSLR, but outdoor photographers with the budget should give it a serious look.
See the Pentax K-70
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 15.3 oz.
What we like: Bargain basement price.
What we don’t: Autofocus and slow burst rate.
At the bottom of Canon’s entry-level DSLR line is the Rebel T5. This camera isn’t loaded with features by any means, but is available for a bargain basement $400 with a kit lens, making it the cheapest option on this list. Why is it so inexpensive? First, the rear LCD screen doesn’t have touch functionality nor does it swivel. Second, the T5 has a slower burst rate than the T5i at 3 fps instead of 5 fps. Finally, the autofocus isn’t as advanced with only 1 cross-type focus point. But we love the price, which is comparable to some point-and-shoots that don’t offer nearly the same image quality.
If you’re comparing the T5 to the newer T6 above, the latter adds Wi-Fi and NFC to the mix along with a higher resolution LCD screen. We think the $50 probably is worth it, but if you don’t need connectivity, the T5 is a fine choice.
See the Canon Rebel T5
|Nikon D3400||$497||24.2||366 sq. mm||13.9 oz.||5 fps||No||No|
|Canon Rebel T6i||$749||24.2||332 sq. mm||19.6 oz.||5 fps||Yes||No|
|Nikon D5500||$747||24.2||366 sq. mm||14.2 oz.||5 fps||Yes||No|
|Pentax KS-2||$545||20.1||366 sq. mm||21.8 oz.||5.5 fps||Yes||Yes|
|Nikon D3300||$447||24.2||366 sq. mm||15.1 oz.||5 fps||No||No|
|Canon Rebel SL1||$499||18||332 sq. mm||14.4 oz.||4 fps||No||No|
|Sony Alpha a58||$559||20.1||366 sq. mm||20.2 oz.||8 fps||No||No|
|Canon Rebel T5i||$649||18||332 sq. mm||20.5 oz.||5 fps||No||No|
|Nikon D5600||$797||24.2||366 sq. mm||16.4 oz.||5 fps||Yes||No|
|Canon Rebel T6||$449||18||332 sq. mm||17.1 oz.||3 fps||Yes||No|
|Pentax K-70||$897||24.2||366 sq. mm||14.3 oz.||6 fps||Yes||Yes|
|Canon Rebel T5||$399||18||332 sq. mm||15.3 oz.||3 fps||No||No|
- What Makes a Great Entry-Level DSLR?
- Sensor Size
- Video Quality
- Other Features to Consider
- Getting Started
- Enthusiast and Full-Frame DSLRs
- What About Mirrorless?
An Easy-to-Use Interface
A key component of an entry-level DSLR is a user-friendly interface that allows you to start shooting great photos out of the box. Both Canon and Nikon are known for having exactly that and the two leading camera manufacturers have been honing the functionality of their entry-level DSLRs for decades. First, these cameras have large and bright LCD screens that are easy to navigate, with many newer models offering touchscreens. Second, the menu itself is easy for beginners to understand and accomplish everything they need to from viewing and uploading photos to changing camera settings. Third, and more on this below, the cameras have a number of automatic shooting modes for a range of subjects and conditions.
Automatic Shooting Modes
Entry-level DSLRs have a wide range of automatic shooting modes that can make the camera function like a point-a-shoot when you need it to. For example, the Nikon D3400 has the following automatic shooting modes: portrait, landscape, child, sports, close up, and night portrait. Instead of worrying about settings like shutter speed, exposure, and ISO, a simple dial on the top of the camera allows for quick composition in common scenarios with ideal camera settings for each. In addition, entry-level DSLRs have an “Auto” shooting mode that you can use for any situation. Most beginner DSLRs also have manual controls as well for those who want to experiment.
One of the most important factors in choosing an entry-level DSLR is price. The good news for consumers is that DSLR prices have fallen significantly over the past few years while resolutions and features have increased. You can expect to spend anywhere from $400 to $800 for an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens, depending on whether you want one of the newest models or don’t mind saving with an older model. This price range includes a kit lens, many of which are 18-55mm and make a good starter walk-around lenses. Depending on your budget, you also may want to add prime or zoom lenses at your desired focal lengths for even better photos and videos. Nikon shooters can see our article on 10 great Nikon DX lenses, and many of the models above have a link to lens recommendations in the specs.
In various articles on this site we trumpet the importance of the image sensor—the surface area that is used to collect light and other data for your digital photographs—over megapixels. Fortunately, in the entry-level DSLR category all of the image sensors are large and reasonably close in size. Canon’s APS-C image sensor, which is used in all of the Rebel series cameras, is 332 square millimeters. Nikon’s equivalent DX-format sensor is slightly larger at 366 square millimeters, but the difference is not enough to sway us one way or the other. Both sensor types are larger than almost all point-and-shoot cameras and many mirrorless cameras, which is why people continue to love digital SLRs.
Megapixels—the number of tiny dots on the image sensor—are a different story. There are discernable differences in the entry-level DSLR market that are enough to impact our buying recommendations. Nikon has led the megapixel charge, making the jump a few years ago from the D3100 (14.1 megapixels) to the D3200 (24 megapixels) and the D5100 (16.2 megapixels) to the D5200 (24 megapixels). Until the recent release of the Rebel T6i at 24.2 megapixels, Canon lagged behind with most of its offerings in the 18-megapixel range. The Rebel T6 and T5 still are at 18 megapixels.
Taking into account these slight but noticeable differences in megapixels and sensor size, Nikon’s lineup gets the nod in overall resolution. We expect all of Canon’s new Rebel DSLRs to have the same 24.2-megapixel sensor as the T6i or better, so that distinction may soon disappear (provided Nikon doesn’t make another jump as well).
If Nikon has a slight lead in resolution, Canon is known for superior video. Numerous factors influence video quality, including resolution, autofocus, and the lens you are shooting with, but over the years the majority of videographers have preferred Canon. It’s not that Nikon DSLRs shoot poor video—it’s actually quite good—but Canon takes the cake.
One current demonstration of Canon’s commitment to video is the STM kit lenses offered with cameras like the Rebel T6i and Rebel SL1. STM stands for Stepping Motor technology, and these lenses were designed for video with smooth and silent autofocus. You’ll notice that new Canon cameras like the Rebel T6i are offered only with STM lenses including the 18-55mm STM, 18-135mm STM, and 55-200mm STM. If you an aspiring videographer searching for a camera in the entry-level DSLR category, we recommend either the Canon T6i or T5i, both of which have the functionality and features to get you well on your way.
One more factor to consider in the video analysis is speed. None of the cameras on this list shoot 4K video, but all shoot 1080p and 720p at a variety of speeds. 30 fps and 24 fps are the most common shooting speeds in the United States (25 fps in Europe), but some entry-level DSLRs also shoot at 60 fps, which is used for slow motion footage. Surprisingly, the Canon T6i does not shoot 60 fps while cameras like the Nikon D3300 do (that’s one video notch for Nikon).
Often, improvements from one generation to the next involve the LCD screen on the rear of the camera. Screen resolution matters, but the most important distinctions in this category are touchscreen functionality and the ability to move or swivel. True entry-level DSLRs like the Nikon D3300 and Canon Rebel T5 have stationary LCD screens without touch functionality. On the other end of the spectrum, the LCD on the pricier Canon Rebel T6i is touch sensitive and can rotate 270 degrees. The LCD on the Nikon D5500 also is a touchscreen and features a 180-degree swivel. This type of advanced LCD functionality can make shooting videos and stills at tough angles much easier.
High-end and mid-range DSLRs have complex autofocus systems with tons of focus points. Unfortunately, this is one facet that gets simplified on cheaper cameras to make them more affordable. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules as to what constitutes great autofocus, but good places to start are the number and type of focus points. Multiple focus points help improve accuracy, so the more the better. In addition, Phase Detection is faster than Contrast Detection, and cross-type sensors are more accurate than simpler vertical line sensors. Understanding the full complexities of autofocus is worthy of a full article in itself, but generally you can expect autofocus to improve as you spend more for a DSLR. For example, the cheapest camera on this list, the Canon Rebel T5, has a very basic autofocus system with 1 cross-type focus point. The much pricier Rebel T6i has 19 cross-type focus points, which is quite a difference.
Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
As cameras continue to compete with smartphones as connectivity is more important than ever, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC are commonly found on new DSLR camera models. This functionality has become commonplace and we expect nearly complete proliferation over the next couple of years. Nikon’s latest generation of entry-level DSLRs like the D5600 and D3400 come with built-in Wi-Fi and/or SnapBridge (previous models require a separate WU-1a adapter). Canon’s latest Rebel model, the T6i, has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC (the T5i is able to connect with a special wireless memory card but not through the camera itself).
One thing to keep in mind when using built-in Wi-Fi is that transferring all of your photos all of the time can eventually take a toll on your camera’s processor. Don’t be afraid to use Wi-Fi, but if you have a cord handy and it’s convenient to transfer photos in that manner, doing so may help prolong the life of your camera.
The process of weather sealing a camera involves adding rubber sealing and housing on the body and around the buttons to make the camera more resistant to moisture and dust (both can be an absolute killer to your electronics). Unfortunately, aside from Pentax weather sealing technology hasn't yet trickled down to the entry-level category and you’ll need to spend up for an enthusiast DSLR like the Nikon D7200 or Canon 80D for this feature. For more options, see our list of weather-sealed DSLRs.
It’s very exciting when your DSLR arrives. First charge the battery, then read or skim the manual for a good baseline of information on how your camera operates. Both Nikon and Canon have a number of videos on their websites to help with the learning process, and the popular book series DSLRs for Dummies is another good option. Once you’ve done that, there is no better way to learn than taking the camera out for test shoots, even if it’s just in your backyard or on your street. Start on “Auto” mode to get a feel for how the camera operates and make sure to familiarize yourself with the menu and the basic functions that you’ll be using most (viewing and deleting photos, uploading, changing settings, etc.). All of the DSLRs above are meant for quick learning and taking great photos without prior experience.
Above the entry-level category are enthusiast and full-frame DSLRs, which offer better image quality and more features. Of course, these cameras are much more expensive too, not to mention the increased cost of lenses.
The good news is that enthusiast DSLRs have the same size image sensors as entry-level models. Why are these cameras more expensive? You get a larger feature set including things like superior autofocus, built-in image stabilization, faster burst rates, better video, weather sealing, and more manual controls. The step up to a full-frame camera gets you a much larger image sensor and just about every feature that professionals want.
Interestingly, if you have the budget and a serious interest in developing your photography skills, you can skip the entry-level category altogether. The reason is simple: even the best full-frame cameras have automatic shooting modes across the board, so you can just leave the camera on auto pilot until you learn the controls and features. This is the more expensive way to start but a viable option nevertheless. For a complete list of options across categories, see our article on the best DSLRs of 2017.
You may have heard the buzz about mirrorless cameras, which forego the internal mirror systems of DSLRs and therefore are more compact. Because the sensor sizes are in the same ballpark, they often are touted as offering the same image quality in smaller packages.
We’ve tested and written extensively about mirrorless cameras, and often use them for our own outdoor and travel photography. However, we can tell you that for our money, entry-level DSLRs are superior to entry-level mirrorless cameras. For example, when shopping for a camera under $500, we prefer the DSLR options to the mirrorless options. A camera like the Nikon D3400 at $500 has a larger image sensor than many mirroless cameras (Micro Four Thirds, for example), an optical viewfinder, Nikon’s easy-to-use functionality, and the kit lens is better than anything comparable in mirrorless. It’s when you’re shopping in the $500 to $1,000 price range and above that mirrorless becomes more attractive. But for beginners and those on a budget, we still prefer digital SLRs.
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