by Alex Wrigley
If you’ve decided that you want to take your photography seriously and are looking for an upgrade from your smartphone or compact camera then the most obvious next step is a DSLR camera. Now, it’s certainly not the only option (more on the fast-growing mirrorless systems later) but it’s the step many photographers will want to take.
The choice available to the amateur photographer is enormous though, with dozens of models spread across multiple different brands and all with their own positives and negatives. For a beginner, it can be tough to even know where to start looking, but that’s why we’re here!
We’ve compiled a list of the very best DSLR cameras for beginners covering all budgets. Or, maybe you’ve decided that mirrorless cameras suit your needs? Check out our top beginner mirrorless cameras here.
Let me get this out of the way first. Photographers often have very strong opinions on the age old debate of Canon vs Nikon. Parties from both camps will tell you about the incredibly new autofocus system on their DSLR, or the low light capabilities of the competitor DSLR.
But let’s clear something up: It doesn’t really matter!
It’s true. Both Canon and Nikon produce some world-class DSLR cameras. Both have models suited to every photographer’s need (including some of the best beginner DSLRs out there), and both offer a huge variety of lenses. Simply put, just choose whichever one feels the best for you.
I personally shoot Nikon, but that’s just because that’s what I received as a present once and I’ve stuck with it due to investments in lenses. I can definitely endorse Nikon for their supreme backwards compatibility, which allows you to mount older vintage lens on your modern DSLR.
However, apart from that there is very little to choose between the two DSLR behemoths.
To be clear, Canon and Nikon aren’t the only DSLR manufacturers capable of producing excellent cameras. There are plenty, but in most cases I would recommend going with one of the big two, simply because of the huge range and availability of lenses and accessories. It just makes life easier going forward in your photography career.
Anyway, let’s get started and pick out the best beginner DSLR for you!
I started off with a Nikon D3100 back in the day and it was excellent. Nikon have continued that trend with their 3xxx series, with the D3400 being one of the newer models. Design-wise it has changed little, and the learning modes on offer make it a fantastic beginner DSLR camera.
As far as image quality goes it’s hard to argue with their 24.2MP sensor, and versatile autofocus system. The D3400 has added in bluetooth capability as well, although some might be put off by the fact it doesn’t have a touchscreen. This does make it a very affordable camera though, and the release of the D3500 drove the price down even further.
Overall it’s hard to find many flaws with the D3400. The 18-55mm lens it comes with is surprisingly good quality as well, even if the build quality does feel a little plasticky.
Canon’s line of beginner DSLR cameras, as you would expect, bring a similar level of offering to the Nikon D3xxx line. The EOS 1300D is firmly placed at the budget end of the spectrum – perfect for beginners on a tight budget.
For that you get a slightly lower, but still more than acceptable 18MP resolution sensor that delivers fantastic image quality. Additionally, sharing your images is made easier by the WiFi and NFC connectivity.
As with the Nikon D3400, there is no touch screen, but this does help to keep that price nice and attractive for beginner photographers.
Heading into the pricier realms of beginner cameras afford us a little more luxury in terms of the features available to us. The Nikon D5300 continues to use their excellent 24.2MP sensor with EXPEED 4 processor, and also boasts a maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600. Perfect for those who find themselves shooting in low light often.
It also introduces some fun new creative effects, but the biggest addition is the articulating LCD screen and integrated GPS along with WiFi.
The articulating LCD screen a massive help in certain situations, such as when shooting very low to the ground or for the selfie-takers among you. If connectivity is important to you the WiFi and GPS are large benefits as well, and Nikon’s upgraded battery lasts up to 600 shots.
The Nikon D5300 sits squarely in the mid-range price point at the moment, and if you want to spent the extra for the creature comforts I’d recommend it.
This is Canon’s answer to the Nikon D5300, and once again it’s a very capable camera and perfect for the beginner with a bit of extra cash to spend, costing almost exactly the same as the Nikon equivalent.
There are a few differences between the two though, with the Canon 750D offering a lower battery life than it’s Nikon counterpart but making up for this shortfall by integrating a brilliant articulating touchscreen to bring a touch of modernity to the realms of user friendly DSLRs.
The T6i doesn’t include in-built GPS though, and while the 24.2MP sensor is more than adequate it doesn’t quite live up to the quality of the Nikon D5300. The Canon also offers a lower maximum ISO of 12,800 compared to Nikon’s 25,600.
The choice between these two largely comes down to personal preference: The Canon offers a greater ergonomic experience while the Nikon is more convenient with the GPS and longer battery life, and marginally edges it in terms of image quality.
We’re heading into the pricier realms of beginner DSLR cameras now, and with that comes a little more luxury in terms of the features on offer.
The Nikon 5600 definitely gives the beginner photographer more room to grow into before needing an upgrade. Straight out of the box you can feel the improvement – excellent build quality, increased size and more ergonomic button placement.
When it gets to the technical stuff it continues to deliver. The 24.2MP sensor is the same as the D5300, with the D5600 also boasting a maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600, an improved 39-point autofocus system, and a battery that can last for over 800 shots.
A vari-angle touchscreen LCD increases the luxury, and in-camera features such as WiFi, timelapse capabilities and auto exposure bracketing allow for more experimentation.
Despite all these improvements, Nikon still only included 1080p video recording rather than the standard 4k offered by most manufacturers these days.
Overall, if you’re not constrained by a limited budget, the Nikon D5600 is definitely up there with the best beginner DSLR cameras. However, it does fall down when it comes to videography.
Into Canon’s high-end portion of the beginner DSLR market, and the Canon EOS 800D offers much of the same excellent quality as it’s Nikon counterpart at a similar sort of price.
A welcome addition is the improved 24.2MP sensor which rivals Nikon’s offerings, and their overhauled DIGIC 7 image processor promises a better high-ISO performance than it’s predecessors.
Not only that, but the native ISO now matches the 25,600 of the Nikon D5600, so Canon have definitely closed the gap in terms of image quality. Canon have also improved the autofocus system to a 45-point offering, and the new image processor promises an improved response from the autofocus system as well.
Everything else is much the same as Nikon have to give us, with Canon’s excellent interface and articulating touchscreen LCD still present (although it is 0.2 inches smaller than the Nikon D5600.) Like the D5600, disappointingly, the Canon EOS 800D doesn’t offer 4k video resolution though, which is a real drawback in this day in age.
On the balance of things there really isn’t much to choose between this and the D5600, so don’t be fooled into thinking that one is massively advantageous over the other.
This is right at the top of Nikon’s APS-C DSLR range, and it’s arguable whether it can even be considered a beginner DSLR camera. That being said, if you have the money to spend on the D500 it could last you for many years.
The Nikon D500 is arguably the best APS-C camera ever released. It’s 20.9MP sensor looks modest, but it delivers incredible high ISO results and the improved processor means you can shoot at 10fps for up to 200 frames. This is an absolute gem for sports or action photographers!
Not only that, but it comes with a host of other features such as 4k UHD video recording, a tilting LCD screen, built in WiFi and NFC, in camera timelapse capabilities, a native maximum ISO of 51,200 and a borderline ridiculous 153-point autofocus system.
There you have it, seven of the best beginner DSLR cameras for any photographer looking to enter the market.
All of them offer fantastic image quality, and the enduring brands of Nikon and Canon promise a wide range of lenses and accessories to use in the future.
Feel free to research other brands such as Fuji and Pentax, but just be aware of the reduced range in lenses going forward. Also, don’t forget about mirrorless options, which we’ve run through right here.
About Alex Wrigley
Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.