Digital SLR cameras are among the cream of the crop. Image and video quality are outstanding, features continue to advance year after year, and they have the most varied selection of lenses. But the market is large, ranging from full frame (professional cameras with massive sensors) to a host of mid-range and budget models. Below we break down the top DSLRs on the market in 2019, including leading options from brands like Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony. For more background information, see our DSLR comparison table and buying advice below the picks.

Best Overall DSLR

1. Nikon D850 ($2,797)

Nikon D850 DSLR cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 858 sq. mm
Megapixels: 45.7
What we like: Exceptional image and video quality.
What we don’t: Heavy and expensive. 
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon FX (Full Frame) Lenses

There’s always jockeying for the podium among top professional digital DSLRs, and brand loyalty and timing certainly play a role. But for 2019, the Nikon D850 is an absolute powerhouse of a camera that runs laps around the competition. Compared to Canon’s leading model, the 5D Mark IV below, the D850 has better resolution (45.7 megapixels vs. 30.4), superior autofocus, faster buffering speeds, and a significantly longer battery life, among other things. The 5D Mark IV weighs a little less and has built-in GPS, but given that both cameras have been similar in price, we favor the D850 in a big way. 

The big question for many photographers nowadays is whether to go mirrorless. Nikon’s own Z7, which was released last year, has the same resolution as the D850, more focus points, and weighs considerably less at 23.8 ounces. On the flipside, the D850 has an optical viewfinder and a far more extensive collection of FX lenses to choose from (Nikon currently offers six Z-mount lenses with a few more on pre-order). And for those looking to save on a full-frame DSLR, Nikon’s D750 below has fewer megapixels at 24.3 and a trimmed-down feature set, but currently is a great value at just under $1,200. 
See the Nikon D850


Best Semi-Pro DSLR for Enthusiasts

2. Canon EOS 90D ($1,199)

Canon EOS 90D DSLR cameraCategory: Enthusiast
Sensor size: 337 sq. mm
Megapixels: 32.5
What we like: A feature-packed and extremely well-rounded DSLR.
What we don’t: Shooting speed and autofocus can’t match the Canon 7D Mark II below.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Canon 80D

Dating all the way back to the Canon 10D in the early 2000s (that camera had 6.3 megapixels, for reference), this series has been a mainstay in Canon’s lineup. Essentially, if you’re in the market for a semi-pro DSLR that offers many more bells and whistles than entry-level models like the Rebel series, the new Canon 90D is an excellent choice. Aside from the crop sensor, this camera pretty much has it all: advanced autofocus, fast shooting speeds, 4K video, weather sealing—we could on and on. It’s also a fun camera to play with in terms of manual controls, which helps take your photography and artistic expression to the next level. 

The Canon 90D was released in 2019 and replaced the popular and longstanding 80D. What are the notable improvements? The latest version got a boost in megapixels from 24.2 to 32.5, shoots 4K video, has faster continuous shooting at 11 frames per second, and comes with a longer battery life. With the 80D currently selling for around $1,000, we think the improvements probably are worth the extra $200, but the older model still is very viable. And it appears that Canon has discontinued the 7D series, making the 90D its flagship crop-sensor DSLR.
See the Canon EOS 90D


Best Budget DSLR

3. Nikon D3500 ($397 with 18-55mm lens)

Nikon D3500 cameraCategory: Entry level
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.2
What we like: Bargain-basement price. 
What we don’t: Limited feature set and the kit lens isn’t great. 
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon DX Lenses

The Nikon D3500 may feel a bit out-of-place among higher-end models built for enthusiasts and professionals, but at less than $400 with a kit lens, it’s a tremendous value. For first-time DSLR owners and those on a budget, the D3500 might be everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s easy to use with a host of automatic shooting modes, compact and lightweight at just over 15 ounces, and the image quality will far surpass your smartphone or point-and-shoot, especially if you upgrade from the kit lens. 

What do you sacrifice by going with a DSLR in this price range? As cost goes down, features tend to go away. For example, the autofocus on the D3500 is fairly basic, the rear LCD isn’t a touchscreen, nor does not it swivel, the camera is not weather-sealed, and it doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi. That said, the APS-C image sensor is the biggest selling point here, which is what makes the difference in terms of creating great photos and videos. For another uber-popular budget DSLR, see the Canon Rebel T6 below. 
See the Nikon D3500


Best of the Rest

4. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV ($2,499)

Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 864 sq. mm
Megapixels: 30.4
What we like: Canon’s leading DSLR lives up to the hype.
What we don’t: The D850 above is so impressive that it overshadows the 5D.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses

The 5D Mark IV is Canon’s leading full-frame DSLR and a superb all-around camera. With it, you can create top-notch stills and videos, including 30.4 megapixels of full-frame resolution, 4K, and just about all of the advanced features and functionality you’ll find on any pro-level camera. We’ve used the 5D series for years and its image quality, feature set, and durability are among the cream of the crop. Why is it ranked here? It has fewer megapixels and focus points than the Nikon D850 above, as well as a shorter battery life. The truth is that it’s more than enough DSLR for most people, but the D850 is hard to beat. 

Who should buy the 5D Mark IV? It’s Canon’s top full-frame DSLR not built specifically for action (that would be the 1DX Mark II). In addition, the 50.6-megapixel 5DS R below is a nice choice for serious professional landscape and portrait photographers who can afford expensive lenses, but most people won’t be able to take full advantage of the sensor. And the 6D Mark II is great from a value perspective but doesn’t offer the image quality or features of the 5D Mark IV. The good news is that for just about every type of photographer and budget, there is a Canon camera to match. 
See the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV


5. Nikon D5600 ($697 with 18-55mm and 70-300mm lens)

Nikon D5600Category: Entry level +
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.2
What we like: More features than the D3000 series. 
What we don’t: The Canon Rebel T7i shoots better video. 
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D5500

If you’re looking for a step up from the Nikon D3500 above, the D5600 has been called an “advanced beginner” DSLR and rightfully so. Compared to true entry-level models, you get a nice jump in features like touchscreen functionality, a titling rear LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, and, perhaps most importantly, better autofocus. We like both cameras and there aren’t major differences in terms of image quality, so the choice mostly comes down to whether you value the added features mentioned above. 

Perhaps the best comparison for the D5600 is to the Canon Rebel T7i below, which shoots better video but is not quite as good for stills. The Nikon weighs less and has better battery life, whereas the Canon shoots faster and has image stabilization for video. If you have an existing collection of Nikon or Canon lenses, the choice is easy. For those starting from scratch, both are top-tier DSLRs in this entry-level-plus category, although the Nikon is considerably cheaper, which is why we give it the nod here. 
See the Nikon D5600


6. Canon EOS 6D Mark II ($1,199)

Canon 6D Mark II DSLR cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 861 sq. mm
Megapixels: 26.2
What we like: A relatively inexpensive full-frame camera from one of the best in the business.
What we don’t: Video shooters may want to spend up for the 5D series.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses

Here’s a fun one: if Canon’s 5D Mark IV above is too rich for your blood, the 6D series offers a much more reasonable entry point into the full-frame market while still packing a healthy punch. For around $1,200, you get 26.2 megapixels of resolution, which is ample for most people and uses, a decently fast autofocus system, weather sealing for travel and the outdoors, and touchscreen functionality on the rear LCD. All are solid features that make the 6D Mark II a really nice value, and particularly for still photography (the 5D series admittedly is much better for video).

The Canon 6D Mark II currently is our favorite “budget” full-frame camera, beating out the older Nikon D750 below. Both are viable semi-pro options with similar resolutions (the 6D Mark II has 2 more megapixels) and frame rates (6.5 frames per second), but the Canon feels more modern with its touchscreen, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, and newer processor. And we still have a soft spot for the original Canon 6D, which is selling for a bargain-basement price with the release of the newer model. 
See the EOS Canon 5D Mark II


7. Nikon D750 ($1,197)

Nikon D750 DSLR cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 861 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.3
What we like: Roughly half the price of the D850. 
What we don’t: Getting a little long in the tooth, and we expect a successor to hit the market relatively soon. 
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D750

Similar to the Canon 6D Mark II above, the D750 is Nikon’s lesser-expensive pro-level camera designed for those without massive budgets. Most importantly, you get a full-frame image sensor with 24.3 megapixels of resolution along with a burst rate of 6.5 frames per second, weather sealing, dual memory card slots, and built-in wireless. From a value standpoint, it’s a nice way to get your foot in the door of the full-frame market at a reasonable price point. 

What are the shortcomings of the Nikon D750? It was released a number of years ago and realistically is fairly dated at this point. You don’t get more modern features like 4K video, touchscreen functionality on the rear LCD, or built-in image stabilization. Rumors are circulating about a potential D760—or whatever the new model might be called—which would make sense given the D850 above (the D750 essentially is a trimmed-down Nikon D810). But nothing concrete has been announced, leaving Nikon fans in wait.
See the Nikon D750


8. Canon EOS Rebel T6 ($375)

Canon Rebel T6Category: Entry level
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Megapixels: 18
What we like: Considerably cheaper than Canon’s “i” series.
What we don’t: At this price point, we still prefer the Nikon D3500 above.
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF-S Lenses

In Canon’s popular Rebel line, models like the T7i and T6i offer a healthy number of features and are great for aspiring videographers, but there are less expensive options to choose from. The Rebel T6 (no “i”) is a stripped-down entry-level DSLR with fewer megapixels, a simpler autofocus system, and a fixed rear LCD that doesn’t tilt, among other things. But at around $400 with an 18-55mm lens, it’s a well-built and easy-to-use DSLR from one of the best in the business.

Who should buy the Canon Rebel T6? At the end of the day, it’s a viable budget option for those who plan on shooting mostly still photography. Many of the features on the pricier “i” versions like the tilting LCD and STM kit lenses are designed with video in mind, and therefore aren’t huge sacrifices for those capturing stills. However, we don’t love the drop in megapixels, which is one the primary reasons we think the Nikon D3500 above is the more attractive option in this price range. 
See the Canon EOS Rebel T6


9. Nikon D500 ($1,497)

Nikon D500 cameraCategory: Mid-range
Sensor size: 369 sq. mm
Megapixels: 20.9
What we like: Blazing-fast speed and 4K video.
What we don’t: Very pricey for a crop sensor camera.
Lenses: Best Lenses for Nikon D500

We neglected to include the ultra-pricey, full-frame Nikon D5 on this list, which costs around $5,500 and is designed specifically for professional action shooters. However, you can get similar speed and functionality in a much cheaper package with the D500. This is Nikon’s fastest DX-format camera and shoots a whopping 10 frames per second, making it a great option for sports and wildlife. The D500 even has the same advanced autofocus as the full-frame Nikon D5 and shoots 4K video—it’s Nikon’s first crop-sensor camera to do so.

The major downside with the D500 is the price. At around $1,500 for the camera body, you’re spending about the same as the full-frame Nikon D750 or Canon 6D Mark II, and we would take either over the D500 because of the full-frame image sensors. Unless action photography is your highest priority or you already have a collection of DX lenses, we think there are better values to be had. But the Nikon D500 does fill a niche for action shooters who don’t mind the crop sensor.
See the Nikon D500


10. Canon EOS Rebel T7i ($799 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel T7iCategory: Entry level +
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.2
What we like: Tons of features and the camera shoots excellent video. 
What we don’t: Pricier than the Nikon D5600 above. 
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF-S (APS-C) Lenses

Canon’s Rebel series has become synonymous with entry-level DSLRs, and the T7i is the flagship model. Compared with the Rebel T6 above, the T7i has a far superior autofocus system, articulating touchscreen, double the burst rate at 6 frames per second, and a number of video-centric features. If you have the budget, the Rebel T7i is a feature-packed entry-level DSLR that should not disappoint, and particularly for aspiring videographers. 

The biggest downside of the Canon Rebel T7i is cost. $800 is a lot to spend on an entry-level camera with a kit lens, and it’s around double the trimmed-down Rebel T6 above, for example. And unless you are specializing in video, a camera like the Nikon D5600 above is available in a kit with two lenses (an 18-55mm and 70-300mm) for about $100 less. All in all, we like the Rebel T7i and you won’t find an entry-level DSLR with better features or more functionality, but it’s the value (or lack thereof) that results in a mid-pack finish here.
See the Canon EOS Rebel T7i


11. Pentax K-70 ($647 with 18-55mm lens)

Pentax K-70 DSLR cameraCategory: Entry level +
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.24
What we like: One of the only entry-level DSLRs with weather sealing.
What we don’t: Heavy and limited lens options.

Pentax doesn’t have the brand recognition of Nikon or Canon, but its DSLRs are competitive pretty much across the board. In addition to the weather sealing that Pentax is known for (you’ll have to spend considerably more to get weather sealing from other companies), the K-70 is a very solid digital SLR. You get in-body image stabilization, which the Canon T7i and Nikon D5600 above both lack, along with impressive low-light performance and customizable twin dials that allow for easy manual operation.

What are the downsides of the K-70? First and foremost, the lens offerings from Pentax are much more limited than other leading brands. The weather sealing also adds weight to the camera making it relatively heavy, and you don’t get touchscreen functionality (the T7i and D5600 both have touchscreens). All in all, we think it’s a very close call between the leading DSLRs at this price point, and Pentax is right in the mix. And for an even cheaper weather-sealed option, see the Pentax KS-2.
See the Pentax K-70


12. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 ($649 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel SL3 DSLR cameraCategory: Entry level
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.1
What we like: Good image quality in a compact package. 
What we don’t: If you’re looking for the smallest possible form factor, go mirrorless. 
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF-S Lenses

For a compact DSLR in the terms of the smallest possible form factor, the Canon SL3 is an intriguing option. Essentially, the camera is very similar in build to the mirrorless M50, featuring a 24.1-megapixel image sensor, 4K video, and an optical viewfinder. Why go with a DSLR in this circumstance when its mirrorless counterpart weighs less and provides nearly identical image quality? One reason is that you have a collection of existing Canon EF-S lenses, which is a quick way to make that decision. And the other is the aforementioned viewfinder—optical is easier on the eyes and arguably more accurate than the electronic viewfinders found on today’s mirrorless cameras. 

All told, we like the Canon SL3, but it feels like the novelty of this series has worn off. Since the original SL1 hit the market a number of years ago, mirrorless cameras have emerged in a big way, and you can now get a quality interchangeable-lens set-up that is lighter and takes up less space than even the SL3. For example, Canon’s own M50 weighs 13.7 ounces for the camera body, and the M100 is just 10.7 ounces. Yes, the weights and form factors of the lenses often are comparable, but mirrorless wins out in the size department. 
See the Canon EOS Rebel SL3


13. Canon EOS 5DS R ($3,699)

Canon EOS 5DS R cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 864 sq. mm
Megapixels: 50.6
What we like: The most megapixels of any DSLR on this list. 
What we don’t: Lack of video features and high price. 
Lenses: 10 Great Canon EF (Full Frame) Lenses

For landscape professionals and others who demand the very best in terms of image quality, the Canon 5DS R offers the most megapixels of any DSLR on this list. You get a whopping 50.6 megapixels to be exact, which surpasses the high-end Canon 5D Mark IV above by an impressive 20.2 megapixels and beats the Nikon D850 by 4.9. For those who prioritize image quality above all else, it’s the highest-resolution digital SLR on the market in 2019, and you’ll have to go medium format to get higher. 

Why is the Canon 5DS R ranked here? The camera bucks the hybrid trend and is designed primarily for still photography, and it’s lacking video-centric features like headphone sockets and an HDMI output. In addition, the megapixel count was more of a standout when the camera was released a few years back, but the current competition is stiff from the Nikon D850 (45.7 megapixels) and mirrorless Sony a7R IV (61 megapixels). Both of those cameras are more well-rounded overall, as is the 5D Mark IV. 
See the Canon EOS 5DS R


14. Nikon D7500 ($797)

Nikon D7500 DSLR cameraCategory: Mid-range
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Megapixels: 20.9
What we like: Weather sealing and 4K video.
What we don’t: Fewer megapixels than the older D7200. 
Lenses: 10 Great Nikon DX Lenses

For fans of Nikon who don’t want to spend up for the D500, the D7500 offers plenty of features and functionality at a better price point. Compared to the D5600 above, this is more of an enthusiast or semi-pro camera with a more advanced autofocus system, faster shooting, better low-light sensitivity, and weather sealing (that’s a really nice feature for outdoor and travel photographers). It’s true that the D7500 actually has fewer megapixels than the older D7200 (20.9 vs. 24.2), but the reason is perfectly understandable. The D7500 uses the same image sensor as the high-end D500, which means speeds of 8 frames per second and 4K video.

In many ways, the D7500 is a direct competitor to the popular Canon 90D above. The latter gets you a bump in megapixels at 32.5 and shoots faster, but the Nikon has superior low-light performance, weighs less, and comes in around $300 cheaper. In the end, both are outstanding crop-sensor DSLRs, and the choice often comes down to brand preference and what lenses you currently own.
See the Nikon D7500


15. Pentax K-1 Mark II ($1,797)

Pentax K-1 Mark II DSLR cameraCategory: Full frame
Sensor size: 864 sq. mm
Megapixels: 36.4
What we like: Impressive resolution and weather sealing for the price.
What we don’t: Limited lens options and subpar video.

For landscape and still photographers looking for a cheaper alternative to full-frame DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, the K-1 comes with few compromises. Ricoh-owned Pentax has long been known for its crop-frame cameras, which are strong on paper and competitively priced, and the trend continues with the full-frame K-1. This DSLR has 36.4 megapixels of resolution (just a hair more than the old Nikon D810), built-in image stabilization, and a sturdy aluminum alloy body that is sealed as well as any model on this list.

The biggest concern when choosing the K-1 over the bigger brands is the quality of available lenses. Pentax K mount (or FA) lenses are flat-out limited for the time being. The classic 24-70mm f/2.8 is available in a K mount and sold in a kit, although that lens and a couple others are essentially rebranded Tamron lenses. In addition, video quality and autofocus on the K-1 certainly aren’t up to the standards of other new full-frame DSLRs. But for still photographers seeking value in the full-frame market, the K-1 has its place.
See the Pentax K-1 Mark II

16. Sony a68 ($598 with 18-55mm lens)

Sony a68 DSLR cameraCategory: Entry level
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.2
What we like: Impressive autofocus and shooting speed for an entry-level DSLR.
What we don’t: Build quality could be better.

Sony is best known for its mirrorless cameras and premium point-and-shoots, but its current DSLR offerings are nothing to scoff at. The Sony Alpha a68 is case in point and a competitive DSLR at the entry-level end of the spectrum. This camera features an advanced autofocus system that performs extremely well for action photography, as well as built-in image stabilization to help offset camera shake. Add in a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, and the Alpha a68 is an intriguing competitor to popular DSLRs like the Nikon D5600 and Canon Rebel T7i.

Two notable shortcomings of the a68 are its mostly plastic build and lack of lens options. Durability isn’t a strong point of entry-level DSLRs in general, and the a68 is no exception, despite the rather hefty 23.8-ounce weight (the D5600 and T7i are considerably lighter). And unlike Nikon and Canon, Sony doesn’t have the same depth or quality of lens offerings for its DSLRs. But for those who value shooting speed and accuracy and don’t want to spend up for a semi-pro model, the Sony a68 is a nice option.
See the Sony a68


17. Canon EOS Rebel T6i ($584 with 18-55mm lens)

Canon Rebel T6i mirrorless cameraCategory: Entry level
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Megapixels: 24.2
What we like: Cheaper than the T7i and more features than the T6. 
What we don't: Autofocus has improved quite a bit on more recent models. 

As newer models hit the market, we still like to peruse the past-generation versions for good values. The Rebel T6i is exactly that: this entry-level DSLR currently is selling for under $600 with a kit lens, while the new T7i is around $800. How do they compare? Both cameras have APS-C image sensors with 24.2 megapixels of resolution, but the T7i has a better image processor, improved autofocus, a faster burst rate, and a longer battery life. We do appreciate those features and they may be worth it for some, but the T6i is a very capable camera at a good price. 

In comparing the T6i to the inexpensive T6 above, there are a host of differences. The T6i has more megapixels, superior autofocus, touchscreen functionality, and a faster burst rate, among other things. As we’ve said above, the T6 is really nice value for still photographers, but it definitely has its limitations when shooting moving subjects or video. If this sounds like you, the Rebel T6i is the more feature-rich and versatile option.
See the Canon EOS Rebel T6i


Digital SLR Comparison Table

DSLR Price Category Sensor MP Weight Burst 4K Weather
Nikon D850 $2,797 Full frame 861 sq. mm 45.7 32.3 oz. 7 fps Yes Yes
Canon EOS 90D $1,199 Semi pro 330 sq. mm 32.5 24.7 oz. 10 fps Yes Yes
Nikon D3500 $397 Entry level 366 sq. mm 24.2 12.9 oz. 5 fps No No
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV $2,499 Full frame 864 sq. mm 30.4 28.2 oz. 7 fps Yes Yes
Nikon D5600 $697 Entry level + 366 sq. mm 24.2 16.4 oz. 5 fps No No
Canon EOS 6D Mark II $1,199 Full frame 864 sq. mm 26.2 24.2 oz. 6.5 oz. No Yes
Nikon D750 $1,197 Full frame 861 sq. mm 24.3 26.5 oz. 6 fps No Yes
Canon EOS Rebel T6 $399 Entry level 332 sq. mm 18 17.1 oz. 3 fps No No
Nikon D500 $1,497 Semi pro 369 sq. mm 20.9 30.3. oz. 10 fps Yes Yes
Canon EOS Rebel T7i $799 Entry level + 332 sq. mm 24.2 18.8 oz. 6 fps No No
Pentax K-70 $647 Entry level + 366 sq. mm 24.24 24.3 oz. 6 fps No Yes
Canon EOS Rebel SL3 $649 Entry level 332 sq. mm 24.1 15.8 oz. 5 fps Yes No
Canon EOS 5DS R $3,699 Full frame 864 sq. mm 50.6 29.7 oz. 5 fps No Yes
Nikon D7500 $797 Semi pro 366 sq. mm 20.9 22.6 oz. 8 fps Yes Yes
Pentax K-1 Mark II $1,797 Full frame 861 sq. mm 36.4 32.6 oz. 4.4 fps No Yes
Sony Alpha a68 $598 Entry level 366 sq. mm 24.2 24.6 oz. 8 fps Yes No
Canon EOS Rebel T6i $584 Entry level 332 sq. mm 24.2 19.6 oz. 5 fps No No


Buying Advice

DSLR Categories

There are a wide range of DSLRs on the market, and you can spend anywhere from $300 for an entry-level model up to $3,000 or more for full frame. For the purposes of this article, we use the three categories below.

Full-frame (Professional) DSLRs
The vast majority of professional photographers use full-frame cameras, which have by far the largest image sensors at approximately 36 x 24mm. These cameras are the most expensive and the bulkiest but the image and video quality truly is outstanding. Those without significant photography experience should not necessarily feel intimidated by full-frame cameras—auto settings allow for easy operation, although many learn to use the manual functionality down the road. In 2019, you can expect to spend at least $1,200 and up for a new full-frame DSLR (the Nikon D750 is the cheapest on this list). 

Canon 5DS R with lens
The full-frame Canon EOS 5DS R | Wei Wei

Mid-range (Enthusiast) DSLRs
Crop sensor cameras (also called APS-C) are the most common type of DSLR. The image sensors are roughly 24 x 16mm (Nikon and Canon’s sensor dimensions vary slightly), and the cameras have a smaller field of view than full frame. Both mid-range and entry-level DSLRs have crop sensors, but the former are loaded with advanced features like fast shooting speeds, high-end autofocus systems, dual memory card slots, and just about every other bell and whistle you can think of. Enthusiast DSLRs can run as high as $1,500 for a model like Nikon's feature-packed D500. 

Entry-Level DSLRs
The best-selling DSLRs are found at the entry level end of the market. Models include Canon extremely popular Rebel series (the latest model is the EOS Rebel T7i), and Nikon's D5000 and D3000 series. The image sensors and megapixels in the entry-level class are similar to the enthusiast category but these cameras offer fewer advanced features (as the price gets lower features get stripped away). The good news is that you still get great image quality for the price and these DSLRs perform better and are less expensive than ever. Entry-level DSLRs generally cost between $350 and $800 with a kit lens included.

Sensor Size

Here at Switchback Travel, we praise sensor size over megapixels, which has a larger impact on image quality. As mentioned above, there are two main image sensor sizes to choose from when buying a DSLR:

Full frame DSLRs: 36 x 24mm = 866 sq. mm (or slightly smaller). 
Crop sensor DSLRs: (Nikon “DX” or Canon APS-C”): 24 x 16mm = 366 sq. mm (or slightly smaller in the case of Canon). 

Full-frame DSLRs have the largest sensors at roughly 36 x 24mm. Crop sensors are by far the most common, measuring approximately 23.5 x 15.6mm for Nikon’s DX cameras and 22.3 x 14.9mm for Canon’s APS-C. The good news is that large sensors are a big reason that many people choose DSLRs in the first place, and even a crop sensor camera is capable of producing professional-grade images that can be enlarged and hung on your wall. Professionals feel the extra cost of full frame is worth it, but most amateurs stick with crop sensor models. 

Full-frame image sensor
A large, full-frame image sensor


Megapixels matter, but not as much as marketers would lead you to believe. It’s the combination of megapixels and sensor size that determine image resolution. Many newer entry-level and mid-range DSLRs offer megapixels counts around 24, including popular models like the Nikon D5600, D3500, and Canon T7i. Canon made a jump from the T5i (18 megapixels) to the T6i (24.2 megapixels) to finally catch up with Nikon in that department.

The truth is that megapixels should merely be one factor of many when making a camera buying decision. It’s worth noting when major jumps were made, but most crop sensor DSLRs are comparable in megapixels and the small differences likely won’t make or break the quality of your photos.

At the top end of the DSLR spectrum, there is more megapixel variation. A big battle is between the full-frame Nikon D850 (45.7 megapixels) and the Canon 5D Mark IV (30.2), which represents a notable difference if you plan on enlarging photos for professional purposes. And a few years ago, Canon released the 5DS R, which boasts an incredible 50.6 megapixels. Those spreads matter much more than at the APS-C level. 

Nikon D810 Stockholm photo
Stockholm shot with the Nikon D810 | Magnus Johansson


With specs like megapixels and image sensor getting most of the attention, don’t overlook the importance of autofocus. Many cheaper digital SLRs cut costs with inferior autofocus, including the number of focus points and type (phase detection and contrast detection). An extraordinarily inexpensive DSLR like the Canon Rebel T6 ($399) has merely 1 cross-type focus point, while the Canon EOS 7D Mark II has a whopping 65 cross-type focus points. That’s a staggering difference between two APS-C cameras from the same brand.

Unfortunately, there aren’t hard-and-fast rules as to what constitutes great autofocus, but you can start with the number and type of focus points. Multiple focus points help improve accuracy, so the more the better. Contrast Detection is slower than Phase Detection, and cross-type sensors are more accurate than vertical line sensors. Understanding the full complexities of autofocus is worthy of a full article in itself, but generally you can expect the quality of the autofocus to correlate with the price of the camera. If a DSLR is an outlier to this rule, we will let you know in the write-ups above. 


Video is all the rage in 2019. In terms of video resolution, 1080p used to be the standard and some mid-range and high-end DSLRs like the Nikon D500 now offer 4K. Generally, cheap DSLRs shoot inferior video compared to mid-range and high-end models. Factors to consider include the quality of the autofocus, size and type of the image sensor, video speeds that the camera offers, and lenses that you intend to use. The audio capabilities of DSLRs also vary significantly as do the outputs.

Over the years, Canon DSLRs have been known for producing the best video. Nikon bridged the gap recently but the distinction remains. For example, the entry-level Canon Rebel series is best in class in terms of video quality, and Canon has geared its kit lenses accordingly by adding STM (Stepping Motor) technology for smooth and silent video focusing. In the enthusiast DSLR category, the Nikon D500 and Canon 7D Mark II shoot by far the best video with autofocus and speed that can challenge many full-frame cameras.

At the top end of the full-frame market, there is some divergence between video and still design. The 50.6-megapixel Canon 5DS R does not include video-centric features like headphone sockets or an HDMI output. We understand the rationale: many dedicated videographers have cameras specifically for that purpose. It’s a good idea to have separate models with higher resolution sensors like the 5DS R that aren’t as good for video.

Rear LCD Screen

It seems like every DSLR update includes a higher resolution LCD screen with more features. That’s a good thing, and we particularly like touchscreen functionality that allows you to navigate the camera’s settings with more than a simple thumb toggle. Some LCD screens tilt and articulate, meaning that they are moveable depending on the angle of your shot (this is really handy for video shooters). A tilting or articulating LCD screen does add weight to the camera, which is something to keep in mind. And many pro full-frame DSLR do not have tilting or articulating screens—this feature is most popular on consumer models for people use for hand-held videos. 

LCD screen on digital SLR
The rear LCD on a Canon DSLR


Built-in Wi-Fi is a nice perk available on almost all new DSLRs, allowing you to transfer and upload photos and video to your device or social media platform directly from the camera (some even offer light in-camera editing). The software and Wi-Fi platforms vary, and some are easier to use and less buggy than others, but we like the option of using Wi-Fi. One thing to keep in mind: using Wi-Fi to transfer 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.

Weather Sealing

Some enthusiast and full-frame DSLR cameras are weather sealed for added protection from the elements (you can see our full list of weather-sealed DSLRs here). Weather sealing varies by model and there aren’t universal standards, but the process 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). Calling these cameras weatherproof or waterproof would be an exaggeration, but they can handle tough conditions well and are popular among those who frequently are out in the field shooting in inclement weather. 

Landscape photography Nikon D850
Landscape photography with the Nikon D850

Lens Types

When choosing a digital SLR camera, you’re also choosing a family of lenses that may stay with you for an extended period of time. If you buy a Nikon or Canon DSLR and start acquiring specialty lenses, you may want to upgrade your camera every few years, but with proper care the lenses should last for decades.

Just as Canon cameras offer superior video, Nikon glass is preferred by a small majority of professional photographers that we know. However, both brands have extensive collections of crop and full-frame lenses, including a wide range of zooms and primes. You can’t go wrong with either brand, but keep in mind that there are transaction costs associated with selling lenses and buying new ones. Many people start with one brand and stay with it for convenience and cost effectiveness. 

Nikon DSLR lenses
A number of Nikon FX lenses

Ease of Use

Some people are intimidated by the prospect of using a DSLR and instead stick with their point-and-shoot camera or smartphone. These worries are unfounded: DSLRs across the spectrum from entry level to full frame have automatic shooting modes that do almost all of the work for you. It’s also true that they have advanced and manual features that really can make your photography shine.

Our advice is to read the manual when you first buy a DSLR and watch the short introductory videos on its functionality. Before taking a big trip where you really want great photographs, head out for a test shoot to experiment and look at your results. You can always shoot with auto mode in a pinch, but it’s nice to have some fluency with things like shutter speed, ISO, and lens aperture. The process takes time, but with all of the available settings on today’s models, there is no reason to avoid taking the DSLR plunge. For a full list of beginner options, see our article on the best entry-level DSLRs.

A Note on Canon and Nikon Domination

It’s true that Canon and Nikon dominate this list. This is not the case in other camera categories (see our article on the best mirrorless cameras, for example), but Canon and Nikon flat out make the best DSLRs and have by far the largest collection of lenses. Both have been doing so for many decades and cameras from other manufacturers did not crack this list in any of our categories: full frame, semi-pro, or entry level.

If you are interested in looking elsewhere, Sony has an interesting collection of digital SLRs, including the crop sensor a68. Pentax makes a number of DSLRs that are known for their excellent weather sealing, but you’re dealing with a pretty limited collection of lenses. At the end of the day, both from a price and quality perspective, we think Canon and Nikon DSLRs make the most sense.

What About Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Cameras?

This is a question that just about every photographer must ask in 2019, and it’s getting tougher to answer with impressive mirrorless releases like the new Sony Alpha a7R IV. There is no doubt that mirrorless cameras have made inroads on the DSLR market—they forego the bulky internal mirror system for an all-digital design that is more compact. The lens options still are more limited than DSLRs but are expanding, and Sony has released a very attractive line of full-frame mirrorless cameras, and brands like Canon and Nikon are following suit.  

DSLR vs. mirrorless size comparison
The mirrorless Sony a7R III and Nikon D850

DSLRs have the most extensive selection of lenses and decades of experience to back it up. Mirrorless cameras are more compact but the cost savings is debatable, particularly when you add in lenses (all things considered, they could be more expensive than DSLRs). For personal and business use, we use both types of cameras. If you’re a top landscape professional looking to shave ounces, Sony’s a7 series is a great option. For most people, and particularly those on a budget, DSLRs still are an excellent choice. 
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