DSLR cameras have long been the preferred tool of amateur and professional photographers, with a wide variety of choices that cater to almost every skill set and budget. While they've ceded some of their market dominance to mirrorless cameras in recent years, there's still no shortage of traditional DSLRs that deliver a versatile overall performance.
It's worth noting that a camera's overall performance can vary drastically depending on what kind of lens you use. Your lens influences the amount of light entering the camera, an image's depth of field, autofocus behavior, and stabilization performance. That's without mentioning the physical aspects of your lens: a larger lens with a longer zoom length and a wider maximum aperture might make it easier to take the kind of photos you want, but it could make your camera more of a hassle to carry around. For the sake of consistency and user-friendliness, we currently test a camera with its standard kit lens.
We've tested over 65 cameras, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best DSLR cameras. These picks were selected not only based on their overall performance but also their feature set and price. If you'd prefer a mirrorless alternative, you can take a look at our list of recommendations for the best mirrorless cameras, the best cameras for beginners, and the best cameras.
The best DSLR camera we've tested with a full-frame sensor is the Nikon D780. This versatile camera has an excellent build quality, with a premium, sturdy construction and buttons that provide good tactile feedback. It's suitable for all kinds of hand sizes and grips, and it feels comfortable to use. The menu system is also fantastic, with a shortcut menu to quickly access frequently used settings.
Its full-frame sensor delivers amazing image quality. It has good dynamic range, and images look incredibly sharp and relatively noise-free even at higher ISO levels. Its maximum shutter speed is fast and should be well-suited to capturing fast-moving action like sports. It also has exceptional autofocus, with an impressive face tracking success rate, so it can quickly and reliably ensure that moving subjects stay sharp.
Unfortunately, its continuous shooting speed is only okay, as it can only capture a max of eight frames per second in its high-speed continuous shooting mode. On the upside, it has a large buffer size and a virtually instantaneous buffer empty time, so that shouldn't slow you down if you prefer to shoot in burst mode. Overall, this is a great option if you're looking for a full-frame DSLR.
If you'd like a full-frame DSLR that's a little more affordable, consider the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. It can't record 4k video like the Nikon D780, and its continuous shooting speed is a tad slower, but it's cheaper and offers slightly better JPEG image quality, as well as a fully articulated screen to give you more flexibility to shoot from unconventional angles. The menu system is easy to navigate, with a guide mode to walk novice users through its features, and it feels comfortable to use and adjust settings on the fly. While its autofocus system only does a decent job of tracking moving subjects for photography, it's excellent at keeping moving subjects in focus while recording video. Battery life is also decent, although it doesn't support USB charging.
Get the Nikon if you want the best DSLR with a full-frame sensor and 4k video capability. If you want to save some money, though, the Canon is a good alternative.
The best DSLR camera that we've tested with a crop sensor is the Canon EOS 90D. It feels comfortable to use, with a large textured handgrip and a fully articulated touchscreen that lets you shoot from different angles. It also sports a 32.5 MP sensor for detailed, high-resolution images. While it doesn't support USB charging, it has an excellent battery life that should last through long days of shooting.
Its overall JPEG image quality is good, with an impressive dynamic range to bring out a wide array of details in both shadows and highlights. Photos are also relatively noise-free, although sharpness declines at higher ISO levels. Also, its RAW noise handling capability is just okay, so it's not as well-suited to nighttime photography or very low light. Its autofocus system is also good, especially when it comes to tracking moving faces. Autofocus is also remarkably effective when shooting video, and overall video quality is good in 4k and decent in FHD.
That said, this camera doesn't have in-body image stabilization, and its digital stabilization feature isn't very effective at smoothing out camera shake when shooting 4k or FHD video without a tripod. Still, this camera's solid image and video quality and excellent autofocus system make it one of the best crop-sensor DSLR cameras for most people.
If you want something a bit more portable, check out the Canon EOS Rebel SL3. It doesn't have as robust a feature set as the Canon EOS 90D, with a slower continuous shooting speed, slower max shutter speed, and inferior video capability, but it's remarkably portable and lightweight for a DSLR camera, and it's considerably cheaper while still giving you access to Canon's wide selection of DSLR lenses. It has a fully articulated screen to help you take selfies or make vlogs. Its 24.1 MP sensor delivers decent image quality and noise handling capability, and its autofocus system does an okay job of tracking moving subjects for photography. That said, it performs remarkably well when shooting video, and while the camera doesn't have as many frame rate options, it delivers excellent overall video quality in brighter lighting conditions, despite having worse low light performance.
Go with the 90D if you want a DSLR camera with a more robust feature set, but if you're looking for a small, lightweight DSLR, the Rebel SL3 is a good alternative.
If you're on a budget, the best DSLR that we've tested for most people is the Nikon D5600. It's a decently constructed APS-C camera with a simple design, comfortable handgrip, and intuitive menu system. It has a built-in flash and a fully articulated touchscreen to help you shoot from different angles. Nikon also offers a wide array of DSLR lenses to choose from, which you can invest in with the money you save by going with a more affordable model like this one.
It has a 24.2-megapixel sensor and delivers great overall image quality with excellent dynamic range and good noise handling capability when shooting in JPEG. Its RAW noise handling capability is okay, though noise starts to become visible at moderate ISOs, meaning it's not as well-suited to shooting in very dim conditions. Still, it has a decent autofocus system that does an excellent job tracking moving subjects. Also, its advertised photo battery life is fantastic, though this can vary with settings and usage.
Unfortunately, this camera can't record 4k video, and its video features in general are limited. It can record 1080p video at up to 60 fps, so it can capture smooth fast action, down to more cinematic-looking 24fps video. However, FHD video quality is disappointing, and its autofocus system performs poorly for video. Despite that, this is still one of the best beginner DSLRs that we've tested and should be a good choice for those on a budget.
If you'd prefer a camera that's even easier to use, check out the Nikon D3500. Its autofocus system isn't as effective as that of the Nikon D5600, and its screen is fixed, giving you less flexibility when composing shots through Live View, but it's affordable and has a unique 'Guide' shooting mode that helps novice users grasp the fundamentals of photography. It's a simple camera with an APS-C sensor, but it delivers impressive image quality with relatively little visual noise. Unfortunately, it's similarly lacking when it comes to video features since it can't shoot in 4k and offers middling FHD video quality. However, it has an even longer battery life that should easily last through a day of shooting depending on settings and usage habits, although it doesn't support USB charging. It's also compatible with all the same lenses the D5600 is, so it's a good option to grow with as a photographer.
Get the D5600 if you want a more robust autofocus system and a fully articulated screen, but if you're a total newcomer to photography and want simplicity and an extensive guide mode, the D3500 is a good alternative.
Oct 01, 2021: Replaced the Nikon D3500 with the Nikon D5600 as the 'Best Budget DSLR' and made the Nikon D3500 an 'Easier To Use Alternative'. Added the PENTAX K-3 Mark III to Notable Mentions.
Sep 02, 2021: Verified accuracy and availability of picks; no change to recommendations.
Aug 06, 2021: Restructured picks and moved the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D5600 to Notable Mentions. Added the Nikon D3500 as 'Best Budget DSLR Camera'.
Jul 08, 2021: Reviewed accuracy and availability of picks; no change to recommendations.
Jun 08, 2021: Verified availability and accuracy of picks; no change to recommendations.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best DSLR cameras for most people to buy, according to their needs. We factor in the price, feedback from our visitors, and availability (no cameras that are difficult to find or almost out of stock in the US).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews for DSLR cameras. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There is no single perfect camera. Personal taste, preference, and shooting habits will matter more in your selection.