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 system. 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.
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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. 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 beginner DSLRs for all budgets, or if you’ve decided that mirrorless cameras suit your needs more you can view our top beginner mirrorless cameras here.
Once you’ve made your mind up you can always start researching which lenses to buy for your new camera! Of course, if you’re not sold on the idea of a DSLR you can always choose a digital compact or mirrorless system.
The Age Old Debate: Canon vs Nikon
Let me get this out of the way first. Photographers can get very opinionated on the decades old debate that is Canon vs Nikon. They’ll tell you about all the autofocus points on their new Canon, or the low-light capabilities of the Nikon D850, but let’s clear something up:
It will make very little difference which you choose!
It’s true. Both Canon and Nikon cameras are capable of producing world-class DSLR bodies. Both have models suited to every photographer’s need, and both offer a huge variety of lenses. 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. The one advantage I can definitely endorse Nikon for is their backwards compatibility though. The fact they haven’t changed lens mount means you can use old vintage lenses on your modern body, so there are some real bargains to be found.
Why Not Another Brand?
To be clear, Canon and Nikon aren’t the only manufacturers of DSLRs capable of producing excellent cameras. There are plenty, but I would always recommend going with one of the big two, just 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 your first DSLR camera system!
Nikon D3400 with 18-55mm lens
- SnapBridge Bluetooth Connectivity
- 24.2MP DX Format CMOS Sensor
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 the latest in the line. Design-wise it has changed little and offers very beginner-friendly learning modes to get you started.
As far as image quality goes it’s hard to argue with their 24.2MP sensor, and versatile autofocus system. The most recent iteration has added in bluetooth capability as well, although some might be put off by the fact it doesn’t have a touchscreen. This does keep the price at an affordable sub £450 range though, and it’s a great starter camera.
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 EOS Rebel T6 / 1300D with 18-55mm lens
- 18.0 MP APS-C CMOS Sensor; DIGIC 4+ Image Processor; 3.0" 920k-Dot LCD Monitor
- Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 30 fps; 9-Point AF with Center Cross-Type Point
Canon’s beginner friendly line of DSLRs is, as you would expect, a similar level of offering to the Nikon D3xxx line. The EOS 1300D is their budget friendly option coming in at well under £400 with lens includes.
For that you get a slightly lower but still more than acceptable 18MP resolution sensor that delivers fantastic image quality. In addition it also has WiFi and NFC connectivity to make sharing your images that little bit easier, and whilst there is still no touchscreen it does keep the price admirably low.
Nikon D5300 with 18-55mm lens
- Wholesale Photo is a NIKON AUTHORIZED DEALER - Founded in 1971. Includes FULL NIKON 1 YEAR LIMITED WARRANTY.
- 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor; EXPEED 4 Image Processor; 3.2" 1.037m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen; Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
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 comes in at just over £500 new, and it uses Nikon’s excellent 24.2MP sensor to produce fantastic image quality and also boasts a maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600, which is 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.
Canon EOS Rebel T6i / 750D with 18-55mm lens
- 24.2 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor, ISO 100–12800 (expandable to H: 25600)
- EOS Full HD Movie mode helps capture brilliant results in MP4 format. Brightness Control Adjustable to one of seven levels
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 750D 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, and 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.
Nikon D5600 with 18-55mm lens
- AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens
- SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with NFC
We’re venturing into the upper echelon of beginner friendly DSLRs here, but if you’ve got the £700 budget for it it is well worth it!
For the first time in this list, the Nikon entry has brought itself into the modern era with an articulating 3.2-inch touchscreen with fantastic usability. One of the biggest upgrades over previous Nikon D5xxx models is the introduction of Nikon Snapbridge, allowing you to wirelessly transfer your photos between camera and smartphone.
As far as the technicalities go it’s more of the same. 24.2MP sensor with excellent quality, fast EXPEED 4 image processor, and a native ISO running up to 25,600. There are also some more advanced features included as well, such as a timelapse function for the more advanced photography enthusiast. Unfortunately for videographers, Nikon have opted for only a 1080p video recording resolution rather than the almost as-standard 4k resolution.
Overall the Nikon D5600 is a great camera and offers a host of small upgrades on it’s predecessors, but there is a hefty price tag and it is lacking in a couple of areas.
Canon EOS Rebel T7i / 800D with 18-55mm lens
- 242 Megapixel CMOS (APS C) sensor
- Built in Wi Fi, NFC and Bluetooth Lens used: EF S 18 55 millimeter f/4 56 IS STM (at focal length of 55 millimeter)
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.
- 20.9MP DX Format CMOS Sensor.Viewfinder:Eye level pentaprism single lens reflex viewfinder
- EXPEED 5 Image Processor;Monitor Size: 3.2 inches diagonal
This is right at the end of the expensive side of the spectrum when it comes to cropped sensor cameras, but if you’ve got the budget and want a camera that will last for years then this could be the way to go.
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, and in camera timelapse capabilities.
There you have it, seven of the best entry-level DSLR cameras for any beginner in the photography world. 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 a mirrorless system, which we’ll have a guide for in the near future.
Did you choose from one of these cameras? If not what was your first DSLR? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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.