The best digital SLR camerais always going to be able to outdo point and shoot cameras in terms of image quality and performance speed. These advanced cameras allow you to change lenses to meet different photography needs, and they provide the ability to fully control the camera’s exposure manually, which is great for more experienced photographers. So, if you’re looking for the best possible image quality in a digital camera, there’s no question you’ll achieve it with a DSLR camera.
There’s also no question that the best DSLR cameras in 2019 represent the hottest part of the digital camera market. Manufacturers are slowly abandoning the compact camera portion of the market, and to separate themselves from the smartphone camera market, they’re focusing on top DSLR camera designs.
A DSLR isn’t a necessity for every photographer, mainly because of its high cost and large size. Point and shoot compact cameras or a compact camera can be easier to use at a lower price, while also fitting in a pocket or purse, which may fulfill simple photography needs better than the large DSLR. Still, if a desire for top-notch image quality trumps all other factors, you’ll want to read through our 2019 DSLR camera guide.
Top DSLR for 2019
#1 Pick Nikon D810 – Editor’s Choice/DSLR For Video
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Best image quality you’ll find in a consumer level DSLR
The Nikon D810 is one of the best DSLR cameras on the market right now, providing high-end features at a reasonable price point. With a 36.3 MP full frame image sensor, the D810’s image quality is extremely impressive for an intermediate-level DSLR. You can shoot in JPEG, RAW, or TIFF image formats, which gives this model some versatility.
The D810’s autofocus system is accurate and fast, and you can shoot at a burst mode of between 5 and 7 frames per second. The D810’s battery life is well above average. Nikon gave photographers quite a few customization options through numerous buttons and dials with this model, which may make the D810 a bit too powerful for some photographers. But if you have some photography experience and you can fit this model in your budget, it’s going to impress you.
#2 Pick Canon EOS Rebel T6i – Best For Beginners
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Inexpensive DSLR camera provides well above average image quality.
Canon’s Rebel DSLR cameras have been popular for more than a decade among those seeking a first advanced interchangeable lens camera. And the Rebel T6i offers some significant improvements over its predecessors, including 33% more resolution and faster burst mode performance than the T5i. Canon added built-in Wi-Fi with the T6i, which also features an articulated display.
#3 Pick Pentax K-S2 – DSLR Under $500
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Weather proofed coating makes this DSLR a rugged performer.
Pentax might not be as well known as Canon and Nikon, but this long-time camera maker has plenty of great digital SLR offerings.
The Pentax K-S2 offers a weatherproof design, which protects it against minor weather problems. It really feels well-built and sturdy, which you don’t always find in the low-priced area of the DSLR market. It offers an articulated display screen and can shoot at speeds up to 5.4 frames per second.
#4 Pick Canon EOS 5Ds – Professional-Level DSLR
Price: Check Price | Image Sensor Size: Full Frame | Resolution: 50.6 MP
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Pros will appreciate the outstanding image quality in this DSLR.
Even though you’ll have to drop a few thousand dollars on the Canon EOS 5Ds DSLR camera — and that’s for the body only — you’ll receive top-notch image quality and the type of camera performance that will appeal to advanced photographers. It has both a CF and SD memory card slot, 5 frames per second burst mode in the RAW image format, and a 61-point autofocus system, all of which will appeal to advanced photographers. If you’re a newcomer to the DSLR world, the 5Ds might be more camera than you want to tackle right now. But once you have some experience with DSLR photography, this Canon model is one that’s a great option if you have the budget for it.
#5 Pick Nikon D3300 – Compact DSLR
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Very versatile entry level DSLR with great price point too.
The Nikon D3300 represents one of Nikon’s most basic DSLR cameras, yet it will serve a photographer seeking a first DSLR well. Nikon gave this model a Guide mode, which can walk you step by step through using some of the camera’s settings, which is a great beginner-level feature. It has an APS-C sized image sensor with 24 megapixels of resolution, yielding strong image quality. If you have smaller hands, the D3300 is a nice option, as it’s a little smaller and lighter than most other DSLR cameras. It would have been nice if Nikon had given this model a touchscreen display or built-in Wi-Fi, but keeping those features out of the D3300 maintains a price below $500.
Guide to Lenses
Interchangeable Lenses: Unlike a point and shoot camera, the lens on a DSLR is removable and replaceable. Different lenses offer different capabilities, whether it’s the ability to shoot over long distances, extremely sharp closeups, or wide open apertures.
Focal Length Guide. If you’re unsure what type of focal length you need in a lens, remember that a focal length of around 50mm is considered close to matching human vision. Anything higher than 50mm is more of a telephoto lens for shooting over long distances. Anything lower than 50mm is considered more of a wide angle lens. And there are zoom lenses available for DSLR cameras, which offer a range of focal lengths, such as 18-50mm or 70-200mm. A lens that offers just one focal length, such as 50mm, is called a prime lens.
Lens Mount Differences: Remember that every lens doesn’t fit every DSLR camera body. The threads on the lens barrel, by which you’ll screw the lens onto the camera body, must match. Each camera has a particular type of lens mount, which is the portion of the camera body where you’ll attach the lens. And each type of lens can work with a certain lens mount, so be sure any lens you want to purchase matches your DSLR’s lens mount.
Lens Compatibility. Do not assume that because the manufacturer of a particular lens and DSLR match up that you can use the lenses. Some camera makers will offer more than one type of lens mount within their family of DSLRs. Additionally, some third party lens makers will offer lenses for a particular DSLR, but perhaps not for every DSLR from the same manufacturer. Look at the name of the lens mount and lenses carefully and make sure they match exactly.
Can I Use Film Camera Lenses on a DSLR? This is a common question, as those who have invested in lenses on a SLR 35mm film camera may want to migrate those lenses onto a DSLR. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule regarding this. Check with the manufacturer of the DSLR camera you’re considering to see whether it can accept some film camera lenses.
2 Things to Avoid
Too Much Camera: For those who are new to digital SLR photography, you don’t need to spend a huge amount on the DSLR. Varying levels of DSLR cameras exist, ranging from entry-level models that cost a few hundred dollars to professional-level models for several thousand dollars. Unless you’re an advanced photographer, chances are good you won’t be able to take advantage of the features in a top-of-the-line DSLR. Stick with an entry-level DSLR when you’re just learning, and you’ll save some money, while ending up with a camera that won’t overwhelm you with features.
Not Enough Budget: Purchasing a DSLR is not like buying a fixed lens camera, because the cost of using a DSLR is far more than just the camera body itself. You must figure in the cost of interchangeable lenses, flash units, a tripod, and other add-on accessories that you must have. So don’t spend your entire budget on the camera body; save some money for the needed add-ons.
Image Sensor: A large image sensor in any digital camera should yield photos with better image quality versus a camera with a small image sensor. And within the DSLR class itself, varying sizes of image sensors are available, so pay attention to the physical size of the sensors of the DSLRs you’re considering.
Burst Mode: A fast performing DSLR is great for moving subjects, allowing you to record several photos per second. Pay particular attention to whether the camera greatly slows its burst mode when shooting in RAW versus JPEG shooting speeds.
Articulated Display Screen: We love to see a digital SLR camera with an articulated LCD screen, as it allows you to attach the camera to a tripod that may be low to the ground, while tilting the display screen upward to make it easy to frame the scene without having to stoop to use the viewfinder.
Read: Best Waterproof Camera
Most Important Features
- Image Sensor: As discussed in our What Is a Digital Camera article, the image sensor is key to a camera’s image quality. Image sensor sizes vary quite a bit in different levels of DSLRs, so try to pick a model with the largest sensor you can afford.
- Resolution: Digital SLR cameras are starting to appear with really large resolution numbers, which can give you great image quality and flexibility for editing photos later.
- RAW/TIFF Shooting: Using these advanced image formats will preserve image quality without compression, as occurs with JPEG formats.
- Maximum Burst Mode: Top-notch DSLRs should offer an ability to shoot several frames per second in burst mode.
- Movie Recording: High-quality movie recording is now an expectation with DSLRs.
- Autofocus System: The more autofocus points the DSLR can use, the more accurate its autofocus system will be.
- ISO Range: The ISO setting determines the image sensor’s sensitivity to light, so a high ISO allows you to shoot in low light conditions successfully.
- Articulated Display Screen: A digital SLR with a display screen that can tilt makes it easier to use these cameras with a tripod.
- Viewfinder Coverage: Some digital SLR viewfinders only show part of the scene, so you want a model that displays as close to 100% of the scene as possible.
- Lens Mount: A DSLR camera can only accept interchangeable lenses that match its lens mount.
Which DSLR Camera Is Best For You
Finding the best digital SLR camera for the money can be a challenge. It’s important to attempt to match your photography skill level to the type of DSLR camera you want to purchase. Photographers with limited experience don’t need to spend a few thousand dollars on advanced gear. An entry-level DSLR will serve the less experienced photographer well while he or she is learning about advanced photography.
That doesn’t mean that someone new to digital photography can’t purchase a digital SLR as a first camera. DSLR manufacturers are doing a great job these days of merging the advanced features of DSLR cameras with easy-to-use configurations. If you find that the best affordable digital SLR camera is outside your budget limit, look at our best digital cameras of 2019 for some ideas of great cameras, including both fixed lens cameras and some nice DSLR options.