If you’ve outgrown your point-and-shoot camera or are no longer satisfied with the snaps you get from your smartphone, and feel like you’re ready to take your photography to the next level, then an entry-level DSLR is the most obvious choice.
You may also want to consider a mirrorless camera as an alternative, although you won’t find one with a viewfinder at the same price as a DSLR.
If you are thinking about a mirrorless camera, then you might want to read this: Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: 10 key differences. Or, if you’re not sure what kind of camera you need at all, then read our easy-to-follow guide to camera types: What camera should I buy?
Entry-level DSLRs deliver a big step up in image quality from a compact camera or smartphone, offering far more manual control and the ability to change lenses to tackle a huge variety of projects. Don’t worry though – there are also a host of auto modes to help you out until you’re comfortable with the more creative controls.
Obviously, the more features you want, the more you’ll pay, but do you actually need them? Our top camera is one of the cheapest on the market, but still offers impressive performance and image quality, plus enough features to handle most assignments, especially if you’re still learning.
If you’re buying your first DSLR, it makes sense to go for a ‘kit’, which generally includes the camera body along with an 18-55mm lens. This covers a broad zoom range, perfect for everything from landscapes to portraits, but that’s just the start.
The key advantage of DSLRs over compact cameras is that you can add to your kit with, for example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, a flashgun, and other accessories, to make the most of whatever types of photography you’re into.
Canon and Nikon offer the largest collections of DSLR lenses, but Pentax and Sony also offer decent ranges. You’re not limited to own-brand lenses either, with the likes of Sigma, Tamron and Tokina selling quality lenses at prices that are often lower than the camera manufacturers’ equivalent lenses.
Nikon’s D3400 might have replaced it, but the D3300 is still our top pick. Why? Unless you want improved connectivity, then the D3300 is pretty much identical to the D3400 and for now at least, is just that bit cheaper. The 24.2MP sensor resolves bags of detail and like much like pricier Nikon DSLRs, it does away with an anti-aliasing filter to maximise image sharpness. This is also a very easy camera to live with. Its clever Guide Mode is a useful learning tool that gives real-time explanations of important features, whilst the collapsible 18-55mm kit lens is great when you’re on the go. It’s a shame you don’t get an articulated touchscreen display (you’ll want the D5600 if that’s what you’re after) or Wi-Fi connectivity, but Nikon does make a cheap plug-in Wi-Fi adaptor if that’s a deal-breaker for you.
Read the full review: Nikon D3300
Nikon doesn’t have things all to itself because paying a bit more cash will get you quite a lot more camera. The EOS Rebel T6i (Called the EOS 750D outside the US) may have just been superseded by the EOS Rebel T7i / 800D, but due to the fairly hefty price difference, the older model edges it here. It also means there’s a chance to track down a good deal on this great entry-level DSLR. Featuring a 24.2MP sensor that delivers stunning image quality, there’s a solid AF system, built-in Wi-Fi with NFC pairing and a articulating, touch-sensitive screen that’s a enjoy to use.
Nikon’s latest entry-level DSLR is almost identical in specification to the D3300 – our top pick here, but adds Nikon’s SnapBridge bluetooth connectivity to transfer images directly to your smart device to make it that much easier to share image. The D3400 is a very good entry-level DSLR, with a range of features to appeal to new users. One of the newest cameras here means the D3300 is a bit better value for money at the moment, but the price of the D3400 has dropped quite a bit since its launch late last year. If you opt for this over the D3300, you won’t be disappointed.
Read the full review: Nikon D3400
The D5600 replaces the D5500 and competes directly with Canon’s EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D at the upper end of the entry-level DSLR market. Where Nikon’s D3000-series cameras are designed as cost-conscious introductory DSLRs, the D5000-series is preferable if you want to get more creative. The D5600 sports a large 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen, and while the live view focusing speed could be quicker, the 39-point AF does an excellent job. There isn’t much wrong with the D5600’s 24.2MP sensor either, delivering excellent results, while the logical control layout of the D5600 makes it easy to use.
Read the full review: Nikon D5600
The EOS Rebel T7i (known as the EOS 800D outside) is an update to the EOS Rebel T6i / 750D. The resolution stays the same, but it’s a new design with an improved high ISO performance. The autofocus also gets a boost, now with a 45-point arrangement that’s backed up by excellent live view AF, while the newly designed graphical interface will certainly make this camera even more appealing to new users. The absence of 4K video and the quality of the exterior materials disappoint, but the biggest sticking point at the moment is the price compared to rivals. Until this drops (which it will), get the T6i / 750D and with the money saved, get a new lens or camera accessory.
The D5300 was around for little more than a year before the D5500 technically replaced it. It shares the same 24.2MP sensor with an identical maximum ISO25,600 sensitivity as the D5500, whilst the D5300’s EXPEED 4 image processor and 39-point autofocus system have also been carried over to its replacement. Whilst the D5300 doesn’t sport fancy touchscreen control, you do get GPS instead. The D5300’s 600-shot battery life has since been beaten by the D5500, but it’ll still outlast a Canon T6i / 750D. All in all, it may not be the latest entry-level DSLR, but the D5300 is still a smart buy.
Read the full review: Nikon D5300
Stick the EOS Rebel T5i / 700D next to the T6i / 750D and you’ll struggle to tell them apart, as the new camera inherits the T5i’s excellent ergonomics and class-leading touch-sensitive screen. Even the good old button controls are more comprehensive than on rival Nikons, making the T5i intuitive to use, regardless of your ability. However, the T5i’s sensor can trace its roots back to the T2i released in 2010 and it’s now outclassed in terms of noise suppression and dynamic range. The 9-point autofocus system is also dated and you don’t get Wi-Fi connectivity. The T5i’s slashed price does make it a tempter, but the T6i is a more future-proof choice. Now we’ve got the new EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D, expect to see this start to disappear from shop shelves soon.
Canon introduced the EOS Rebel SL1 (EOS 100D outside the US) to compete with the influx of mirrorless cameras and it was the smallest DSLR available when it was introduced in March 2013. It’s getting on a bit now (in fact, it’s just been replaced by the new EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D), but while the image quality hasn’t diminished, its price has, making it a good choice for anyone buying their first DSLR. Inside is Canon’s stalwart 18MP APS-C format sensor and 3.0-inch touchscreen that makes the SL1 easy to use, although there are fewer buttons and dials than on models like the T6i / 750D. Despite the SL1’s small size there’s a good chunky grip to make it feel comfortable and secure in your hand. Image quality is good, but the 24MP Nikon D3300 captures more detail.
The EOS Rebel T6 (known as the EOS 1300D outside the US) uses the same sensor as the camera it replaces, the T5 / 1200D, but it has a newer processing engine and this enables it to produce slightly better quality images. In reality you’re unlikely to be able to spot much difference at normal image viewing sizes though, so it’s not a real biggie. Where the EOS Rebel T6 does score over the T5 though is the connectivity department; its got Wi-Fi and NFC technology built-in. This means you can transfer images to your smartphone for super-quick sharing. You can also use your phone to control the camera remotely, which is ideal for taking group shots with you in the frame. The screen has also been upgraded from a 3-inch 460K dot unit to one with 920K dots, which makes images look much sharper.
Pentax is renowned for producing DSLRs with maximum bang per buck, and the K-70 is no exception. Weatherproof DSLRs that are rain and dust resistant usually cost a packet, but the K-70 offers this protection at a reasonable so you can shoot in all conditions. Just remember that you’ll have to partner it with more expensive WR (weather resistant) lenses to get the full benefit. Regardless of the lens you use, the new hybrid live view autofocus system – a first for Pentax – makes live view shooting an enjoyable and practical alternative to using the viewfinder. Pentax’s in-camera Shake Reduction system cuts camera shake and can even correct slightly skewed horizons. The only reason the K-70 isn’t higher on our list is Pentax’s relatively restricted lens range.
Read the full review: Pentax K-70
By Phil Hall
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