While mirrorless cameras are increasingly popular among consumers, there's still a lot to love about the traditional DSLR, from optical viewfinders that give you an unfiltered view of your subjects to unrivaled battery performance to ergonomics that have defined the shooting experience for generations of photographers. You can also generally find DSLRs for cheaper, especially when looking at the used market. While it can be tempting to go right for a high-end model, it's important to get a handle on the basics when you're just starting out, which is why we've tailored our list around affordability and ease of use.
We've bought and tested over 75 cameras in our lab, and below you'll find what we think are the best entry-level DSLR cameras. If you think you'd prefer a mirrorless camera, you can also take a look at our picks for the best mirrorless cameras for beginners. Or, if you're looking for something more advanced, check out our recommendations for the best DSLR cameras or the best cameras for photography.
If you're completely new to photography, we recommend the Nikon D3500. It's affordable, lightweight, and its simple controls and intuitive menu make it a relatively easy jump from your smartphone. You won't find too many bells and whistles here, like 4k video capability or a flip-out screen. However, the main reason this is our top pick for beginners is its interactive 'Guide' shooting mode, which walks you through all the basics of photography, so you can learn about different camera settings and their effects as you shoot.
Beyond that, it also has an excellent high-resolution APS-C sensor, so you don't have to sacrifice image quality, either. It's compatible with both Nikon DX and FX lenses, giving you a wide range of quality lenses to upgrade to as your skills grow. Battery life is also fantastic, so it can easily last multiple days of shooting. If you're just starting out and don't know your aperture from your ISO, the D3500 is still one of the best beginner DSLR cameras you can get, thanks to its small size, simple design, and unique guide mode.
Moving up the entry-level ladder brings you to the Nikon D5600, which uses the same excellent sensor as the Nikon D3500 and adds some quality-of-life features like a fully articulated screen and a more advanced autofocus system. That said, it doesn't have the 'Guide Mode' of the D3500, so you're mostly on your own when it comes to learning the ins and outs of photography.
It still has the same easy-to-use menu system and simple controls, so it's accessible to newcomers. It has the same lens mount, so you can use the same lenses that you would with the D3500. Still no 4k video here, but it's a great option for those primarily interested in photography. Bottom line: if you don't mind losing out on the guide mode—maybe you already know a thing or two about cameras—and you're willing to stretch your budget a little bit, the D5600 will be a great fit.
At the higher end of entry-level cameras, there's the Canon EOS Rebel T8i. Canon has included just about everything you could want in a beginner camera and then some, making this a great camera to grow into as a newbie photographer. It's compatible with any of Canon's EF and EF-S lenses, so you can also easily upgrade lenses as your skills grow.
Unlike the Nikons above, it can record 4k video. It has a fully articulated touchscreen like the Nikon D5600, but you also get more buttons and control dials. However, there's no 'Guide' shooting mode like on the Nikon D3500, so the controls might be more intimidating to navigate if you're just getting started. Still, this camera has the most advanced autofocus system of any camera on this list (although it still pales compared to newer mirrorless alternatives) and a solidly quick burst rate, making it a good choice for sports or faster subjects, as well as other kinds of photography.
While DSLRs aren't exactly known for their portability—especially compared to mirrorless cameras—you can still find some relatively portable DSLRs. The Canon EOS Rebel SL3 is part of Canon's entry-level SL series, which is designed to be small and lightweight. The SL3 is similar in size to the Nikon D3500 mentioned above, and while it's pricier and doesn't have a dedicated Guide Mode, it's newer and offers more features.
That includes a fully articulated screen and 4k video capability, though, like the Canon EOS Rebel T8i, it's limited by a heavy crop in 4k. Still, its sensor can capture high-quality photos, and though it doesn't have the most advanced autofocus, it's more than suitable for day-to-day photographs. Ultimately, this is a great choice if you want something portable with a little more oomph than the D3500, and you can get by without a dedicated Guide Mode.
Jan 12, 2023: Reviewed picks for accuracy, with minor adjustments to clarity of text.
Nov 15, 2022: Minor tweaks to text for clarity.
Sep 16, 2022: Overhauled article to better reflect user needs and market conditions.
Jan 31, 2022: Changed the Nikon D3500 from an 'Easier-To-Use Alternative' to the 'Easiest-To-Use DSLR For Beginners'.
Dec 02, 2021: Checked that picks were still accurate and available; no change to recommendations.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best DSLR cameras for beginners 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'd like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews for interchangeable-lens DSLR cameras, arranged in order of ascending price. 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.