Today’s manufacturers have flooded the entry-level segment with appealing options. But, so much so, that’s now potentially difficult for first-time buyers to determine which camera is best for them. There are many factors to consider, such as price, performance, and ease of use.
And if you’re upgrading from a point & shoot or compact, the best options will change based on what features are most important to you. In this list, we’ve compiled a list of the most budget-friendly, feature-rich options DSLR cameras for beginners from various manufacturers in today’s market.
Table of Contents
To give you confidence knowing which, out of the dozens available, are the top contenders now.
Canon EOS Rebel T100 / EOS 4000D
Canon’s Rebel T100 is Canon’s latest stripped back entry-level DSLR that sits below their T7. And the camera Canon aims as the perfect step-up from a smartphone. It features an 18-megapixel CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 4+ image processor, 1080p full HD video up to 30 fps, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 9-point AF system, where the central-most post is cross-type compatible. Battery life is average for the class at 500 shots per charge. But, at 436 g with the battery and SD card installed, it’s one of Canon’s lightest SLRs around, almost as light as their SL3. And the camera obtains Canon’s Creative Auto Mode, which allows users to achieve the desired look by merely swiping sliders to change background blur. And this mode virtually removes any need to understand the camera settings involved with getting specific aesthetics to images.
Overall, Canon’s Rebel T100 is arguably the cheapest SLR on the market to date. And while simple, it’s hard for budget-conscious users to complain here about the performance it offers for this price.
Nikon’s D3500 marks the latest entry into the D3000 series. And it’s a camera that Nikon aims squarely at beginners looking for an upgrade over a smartphone. Initially released in the fall of 2018, it features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, the EXPEED 4 image processor, 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps, and Bluetooth connectivity.
It uses an 11-point autofocusing system with 3D and Dynamic tracking, a combination Nikon typically reserves for their higher-end professional models. 3D tracking allows the camera’s AF points to work together, dramatically increasing the camera’s precision when tracking subjects. It’s also one of a few entry-level cameras to remove the Anti-Aliasing (AA) filter from the sensor, giving the camera resolving power that closely matches Nikon’s flagship D500. And its battery life is class-leading, easily delivering 1,550 shots per charge.
Overall, while the D3500 is a simple camera, it provides outstanding image quality and remains Nikon’s top entry-level option to date.
The Pentax K-70 is a camera Pentax pitches towards the outdoor photography market. Initially released in the summer of 2016, it features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aliasing filter, 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps, and image stabilization. It also has a 3.0-inch fully articulating screen, time-lapse, HDR, multi-exposure, 6 fps burst shooting, a microphone input, weather sealing, and wireless connectivity.
It uses an 11-point hybrid autofocusing system, where 9 of these points are cross-type compatible. This system melds traditional contrast and phase-detection systems together, improving accuracy. Though, battery life is average at 480 shots per charge. However, Pentax equipped this camera with in-body image stabilization, which compensates for camera shake. Plus, it has their Pixel Shift Resolution Mode, which uses the stabilization to combine four images in-camera for ultra-fine details and better colors, a rare feature in this class.
Overall, the Pentax K-70 is a solid and well-built camera for enthusiasts that’s packed with innovative features. Pentax is known for delivering high-end features typically reserved for premium models into the entry-level segment. And the K-70 is surely no exception. Combined with its Pixel Shift Resolution mode and weather-sealed design, it’s quite an appealing choice for aspiring nature or landscape shooters.
Canon EOS 77D / EOS 9000D
Canon’s 77D is the unofficial successor to the incredibly popular T6S and is a camera Canon offers as an extra option in their lower mid-range lineup. Initially released in the spring of 2017, it features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 7 image processor, 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps. And it also has a 3.0-inch fully articulating touchscreen, digital stabilization, a microphone input, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 45-point all cross-type autofocusing system with Canon’s renowned Dual Pixel CMOS AF for smooth and confident focusing. And it was officially the first Rebel series camera to obtain this high-end feature. Battery life is okay for the class at 600 shots per charge. However, where this camera shines is its excellent user interface, which is straightforward and easily mastered. And it delivers an autofocusing system that provides excellent subject tracking, which makes cinematic rack focusing as simple as tapping on the screen.
Overall, in many ways, Canon’s 77D is a modern and budget-friendly version of their incredibly popular 80D. It obtains much of the advanced semi-professional features in a lightweight and compact package. Yet, it stays at the affordable Rebel series price-point, which is perfect for beginners. And it remains a step above the more basic Rebel camera, without the back-breaking demands of a pro-level camera.
Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D
Canon’s Rebel T7i is yet another smashing release in the Rebel lineup of entry-level SLRs that continues the lasting tradition and principles behind the line. Initially released in the spring of 2017, it features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 7 image processor, and 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps. It also has a 3.0 fully articulating touchscreen, electronic image stabilization, HDR, time-lapse movies, a microphone input, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 45-point all cross-type AF system with Canon’s acclaimed Dual Pixel CMOS AF, a similar setup to the 77D. And it marked the second camera in the Rebel lineup to obtain this high-end autofocusing system. Though, its battery life is average for the class at 600 shots per charge. However, Canon’s equipped this camera with the Feature Assistance interface, which explains both simple and advanced features with easy-to-understand graphics. The camera also offers a full touch user interface that is easy to navigate and simple to master.
Overall, Canon’s Rebel T7i inherits much of the capabilities and functionality as the higher-end 80D. Yet, it’s budget-friendly and affordable, which makes it more attractive for beginners.
Nikon’s D7500 is the company’s latest model in the semi-professional D7000 series and the budget-friendly alternative to the flagship D500. Initially released in the summer of 2017, it features a 20.9-megapixel CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aisling filter, the EXPEED 5 image processor, 4K UHD video up to 30 fps, and 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps. It also has a 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, digital stabilization, weather sealing, headphone and microphone inputs, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 51-point phase-detection AF system, where 15 are higher-end cross-type points. The updated processor gives this camera Face-Detection and 3D-tracking, which provides the best subject tracking performance in the series to date. Battery life is also excellent, and the camera offers 950 shots per charge. Nikons even installed a tilting touchscreen that supports full menu navigation and settings adjustment, making navigation easy. Yet, with full weather sealing and continuous shooting speeds of 8 fps for 100 images, it quickly outpace rivals in power.
Overall, the Nikon D7500 is the hidden gem in Nikon’s lineup. It provides the speed and power of their flagship, but in a far more affordable package. And it gives users an attractive way to get the best from the D500, without its demanding price.
Canon EOS 90D
Canon’s 90D is the long-awaited replacement to the insanely popular EOS 80D and a complete overhaul in capabilities. Initially released in the fall of 2019, it features a 32.5-megapixel CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 8 image processor, 4K UHD up 30 fps, and 1080p up to 120 fps. It also has a 3.0-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 10 fps bursts, weather sealing, and headphone and microphone inputs.
It obtains the confident 45-point all-cross type autofocusing system for composing through the viewfinder. However, unlike recent release, it receives the best iteration of Canon’s Dual Pixel AF to date, which now offers a total of 5,481 selectable AF points. These two systems combine to create the best focusing camera Canon has outside of their flagship 1DX. It also debuts the world’s first 32.5MP sensor, making it the highest-resolution APS-C camera outside of Canon’s M6 Mark II. Plus, Canon’s even equipped the camera with uncropped 4K video and full HD 120 fps, for super slow-motion. And even with its performance, the battery life is excellent at 1,300 shots per charge.
Overall, Canon’s 90D stands tall as a prime example of a camera that blends the lines between traditional DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It’s a game setting release from Canon and sets a new definition of what’s possible from an SLR camera. It adds notable upgrades over the successor and is easily the best release of the series to date.
Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D
Canon’s SL3 is their latest entry into the Super Lightweight category in the Rebel lineup. And it’s a camera they situate just below the T7i. Initially released in the summer of 2019, it features 24.1-megapixel CMOS, the DIGIC 8 image processor, 4K UHD video up to 24 fps, and 1080p full HD video up to 60 fps. It also has a 3.0-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 4K time-lapse, electronic image stabilization, a microphone input, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 9-point autofocusing system with a central cross-type point. And it obtains Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF, now with eye-detection for pleasing portraits. Battery life is also excellent at 1,070 shots per charge. And, this new model also gains Canon’s Creative Assist, Feature Assist, and the Shooting Mode Guide, combining for thorough explanations of virtually every shooting setting. Yet, while fully featured, the SL3 is currently Canon’s smallest and lightest DSLR to date.
Overall, Canon’s SL3 offers substantial improvements over the SL2 with a brand new sensor, 4K video, and superior battery life. And while it’s the smallest EOS camera to date, its performance rivals it’s bigger and bulkier siblings.
Nikon’s D5600 is the advanced entry-level option and the flagship in the D5000 lineup. Compared to the D3000 series, it adds advanced features and functionality that makes it more tailored towards enthusiasts looking to hone their skills. But, not so advanced, it’ll overwhelm beginners. Initially released in the spring of 2017, it features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aliasing filter, the EXPEED 4 image processor, and 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps. It als has a 3.2-inch fully articulating touchscreen, time-lapse, a microphone input, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 39-point autofocusing system, where 9 are the higher-end cross-type compatible points, increasing accuracy. And unlike the more straightforward D3000 series, it features a fully articulating touchscreen. This touchscreen provides superior versatility when shooting, and combined with Nikon’s excellent touch interface; it creates a very intuitive navigating experience. Battery life is also great for the class, and the camera provides 820 shots per charge.
Overall, while the D5600 is simple and straightforward, it’s not basic. It provides significant upgrades over its predecessor, the D5500 with added connectivity, time-lapse recording, and a polished touch interface. Yet, it remains just as easy to operate, with its practical control set that’s comprehensive but easily masted.
Canon EOS Rebel T8i
Canon Rebel T8i is the latest release and the current flagship in the Rebel lineup and the successor to the T7i. Initially released in the spring of 2020, it features a 24.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 8 image processor, 4K UHD up to 24 fps, and 1080p full HD up to 60 fps. It also has a 3.0-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 4K time-lapse, 7 fps bursts, a microphone input, and wireless connectivity.
It uses a 45-point all cross-type AF system with face detection and Eye-Detection. And its updated metering system now brings Face Detection tracking to viewfinder shooting, a new addition that’s quite rare for DSLRs. Canon’s also added vertical video support, a niche feature aimed at vloggers that provides easy sharing to Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok. And the camera offers excellent battery life at 1,240 shots per charge.
Overall, Canon’s T8i is their most advanced EOS Rebel yet. It provides refreshing improvements in the tried and true 24MP package in faster bursts, better video, and upgraded autofocusing. And it packs a healthy amount of advanced features in a budget-friendly price point.
DSLR Camera For Beginners Buyers Guide
What should I look for when buying a camera?
Before we cover the details and the individual factors to consider, it’s important to understand that buying a camera is more than meets the eye. When you purchase a device, you inevitably enter its entire ecosystem of lenses and accessories. And for many photographers, this becomes permanent given the expenses involved with changing systems.
Sadly, though, some ecosystems offer more versatility than others. And not all offer proper cross-compatibility through adapters or even dedicated third-party support. So it pays long-term dividends to research each of your options before deciding on a particular brand. Doing so will ensure you find the right ecosystem that’s best suited to your needs without any long-term costs.
Several factors combine to decide the quality of images the camera produces. But as your skills develop, you’ll gradually become less reliant on the device itself. However, there are still several key takeaways to know.
Firstly, the most important aspect of image quality is sensor size. The larger the sensor, the more light it collects, and the better the low light performance. Most entry-level DSLRs have sensors that are 1.6x larger in size than a smartphone. And this becomes one of the main reasons that new photographers eventually upgrade.
Next is manual aperture control. Controlling the aperture manually lets you alter the background blur to create a soft out-of-focus area behind the subject. And this capability is a key advantage over most of today’s smartphones. Lastly, image stabilization. Image stabilization reduces any handshake while you’re holding the device at arm’s length.
Without stabilization, a mild shake at the wrong moment ruins a perfect image. This feature comes in two forms, optical or electronic. But, generally, an optically stabilized lens produces superior results.
Ease of Use
Mastering photography takes time, and the last thing you want when starting is a complicated camera that’s challenging to learn. And a sophisticated menu and user interface only make photography more intimidating. So a beginner’s camera must offer straightforward and easy-to-use controls, so you can quickly master the basics. As such, look for devices with a layout and controls that make sense to you. And look for options with plenty of automatic modes to help simplify capturing great images so that you can start with confidence.
It’s also worth considering whether the model offers on-screen tips or guides during use. These will help explain and describe various settings, making the process even easier. And it’s usually an overlooked feature by most buyers, but one that certainly helps.
This is a consideration most beginners also end up overlooking. But the form factor and general size of the device are essential. Not all of these DSLRs are small and compact. And the last thing you want is to lug around an unnecessarily bulky one. So it’s important to investigate its form factor, weight, and ergonomics beforehand. Generally, most DSLRs weigh around 550g, which isn’t too heavy. But, if you want something more travel-friendly and compact, look for options around 400g like Canon’s SL3.
As you naturally master the basics, you’ll gradually want more control on how the camera captures images. And sadly, most automatic modes are somewhat limited in this regard. So, you’ll want to be on the lookout for devices that offer manual control over the exposure and focus settings. With these settings, you’ll have complete freedom to capture any image you want. And you’ll be able to do so without any artificial limitations. But careful not to look for unnecessarily complicated options, as you’ll inevitably have more factors to juggle while shooting. And that can slow down the workflow.
It’s also worth mentioning that while almost all cameras offer full manual control over the shooting process, not all do so easily and conveniently. The way they present these controls varies between manufacturers. Thankfully the best models find a way to strike a healthy balance between controls and ease of use.
There’s only so much you can do with a single lens, regardless of its optical greatness. And with time, you’ll naturally want to explore other perspectives and angles. That is the moment when an interchangeable lens system becomes critical. An interchangeable lens camera (ILC) lets you freely tailor its abilities. So now you can attach anything from wide-angle lenses for landscapes or telephoto lenses for sports and wildlife. The possibilities become endless, especially if you find adapters to use older vintage lenses. As such, an ILC, rather than a fixed lens device, is best for long-term versatility.
Body Only or Kit
You have two options when looking at beginner DSLRs. You can opt for the camera itself called “body only” or buy it as a part of a kit. With body-only listings, you only purchase the device itself. And doing so generally saves money. But, this is only an option for existing photographers who already have a lens to pair with the device. So since it’s likely that you won’t already have a lens ready, getting a body-alone option isn’t wise.
Instead, look for a kit bundle, which includes both the device and a variable zoom lens. Some kits also include an SD card, a card reader, and a tripod, which are nice bonuses. Together, these bundles will save you money and the hassle of finding these accessories separately. They’ll also remove some of the confusion involved with the setup process, namely, find the right SD card format and speed.
Features & Long-term Potential
Every camera varies in features, and most DSLRs generally have fewer features than comparable mirrorless cameras. So depending on how fast your photography skills improve, you may quickly want an upgrade. Even so, the best options will be ones with plenty of advanced features, so you have room for long-term growth. Below is a list of some practical advanced features that you may want to consider along with your search. Devices offering this list should be priorities if you want something capable and well suited for long-term growth.
- High Dynamic Range (HDR)
- 4K Video
- 4K Photo
- Slow-motion video
- Live Composite
- High Res Shot
- Focus Stacking
- Focus Bracketing
- Multiple Exposures
- Image Stabilization
- Vertical Video
- Live Streaming
Is Canon or Nikon better for beginners?
An age-old question indeed. But, in today’s market, things have changed. And gone are the days of DSLR ruling the market share. Instead, the DSLR titans of Canon and Nikon carry much smaller percentages of the market.
But to answer the question, neither is best. Both manufacturers have an excellent selection of beginner-friendly DSLRs. And each of their products are intuitive and easy to understand. But they’re not the only players in this arena these days. Both Panasonic and Fujifilm have equally strong options. So the best camera now comes down to personal taste and the form factor you enjoy most.
How Much Should I Spend on my First camera?
Everyone’s budget is different. But, it’s fair to say that most beginners don’t feel comfortable spending thousands on a new camera at first. After all, this is your first time trying photography, and you’ll want to ensure it’s something you enjoy long-term. Plus, you may not initially like the ecosystem you first enter. So maybe you’ll want to try another brand.
And it’s for these reasons why we recommend a starting price between $500-1,000. And even $1,000 in many cases is pushing it, especially for an entry-level DSLR. You can get plenty of power and functionality from DSLRs around the $500 mark, so no worries if you’re on a budget.
Last Updated on September 17, 2023 by Photography PX Published June 15, 2020