If you're a novice photographer looking to upgrade to a DSLR camera, the number of options on the market may feel a bit intimidating. It can be tempting to look at cameras packed with lots of premium features off-the-bat, but it may be more helpful to start with a more affordable model. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's unique build, menu system, and selection of lenses before investing a lot of money.
It's worth mentioning that a camera's overall performance can vary depending on the lens you use. The lens affects how much light enters the camera, so it helps determine an image's depth of field and autofocus and stabilization performance. Also, lenses add some weight to your camera, making them harder to bring with you on the go. We currently test our cameras with their standard kit lens, so this article will focus on cameras that retail for under $1,000 with their kit lens included.
We've tested over 50 cameras, and below, you'll find our recommendations for the best DSLRs for beginners. You can also look at our recommendations for the best DSLR cameras, the best digital cameras, and the best mirrorless cameras for beginners.
The best beginner DSLR camera that we've tested is the Canon EOS Rebel T8i. This crop-sensor DSLR has a relatively lightweight construction and an ergonomic design, making it comfortable to use for long shooting sessions. Its menu system is simple to navigate and features a built-in guide mode to explain some core features. You can navigate the interface using its fully-articulated touchscreen; it's large, sharp, and bright enough to be seen clearly under direct sunlight.
Out-of-the-box image quality is very good, with a relatively wide dynamic range and good noise handling capability even at moderately high ISO levels; image sharpness does slightly degrade as you step up ISO. Fortunately, its autofocus system also does a fantastic job of tracking moving subjects in photography and FHD video. Battery performance is acceptable overall and should provide enough power for over 100 minutes of video, though this is highly dependent on your usage habits and choice of settings.
Unfortunately, while this camera can record 4k video, its capabilities in this regard are limited, as you can only record at 24 fps with a severe 1.51x crop. Video autofocus performance in this resolution is poor, and you're likely to notice a substantial degree of camera shake if you're shooting handheld video. In addition, video quality in both FHD and 4k is somewhat noisy and soft. Still, if you're looking for an easy-to-use DSLR for shooting stills, this is a great choice.
If you're looking for something slightly more affordable, consider the Nikon D3500. Its features are more limited than the Canon EOS Rebel T8i, as it can't record video in 4k and has a less robust autofocus system, but it's a bit cheaper and offers better overall image quality. Photos have amazing dynamic range and stay sharp and detailed even at higher ISO levels. While it doesn't have a fully articulated screen like the Canon does, its menu system is easy to navigate, and it has a built-in guide mode function that walks novice users through its features and the basics of photography. It's also relatively lightweight.
If you want a more advanced feature set and fully articulated screen, go with the Canon. But if you don't mind going back to basics to save a bit of money, the Nikon is a great alternative for beginners.
The best beginner DSLR camera that we've tested for travel photography is the Nikon D5600. This APS-C camera feels fairly well-built and is relatively portable. It's particularly lightweight for a DSLR, so it's ideal for travel and should feel comfortable for long days on the go. It also has a fully articulated screen, giving you more flexibility to shoot from unconventional angles.
Image quality is great, delivering photos that have excellent dynamic range and that stay sharp and relatively noise-free at higher ISO levels, so you can shoot in low light without sacrificing too much quality. It lacks in-body image stabilization, but its kit lens does a fantastic job of reducing camera shake, which is great when taking photos without a tripod. Its continuous shooting speed is limited, but it has a virtually instant buffer empty time, so you can shoot without interruption.
While it's a good option for photos, its video features are more limited. It can't record 4k video, and its FHD video quality is disappointing. There's noticeable grain and lack of sharpness. Its autofocus also does a poor job of tracking moving subjects in video. That said, it works decently well when taking photos. All things considered, this camera's lightweight design and impressive image quality make it a good DSLR option for travel.
If you want to record videos, the best DSLR camera for beginners is the Canon EOS Rebel SL3. This crop-sensor DSLR delivers decent FHD video quality out-of-the-box, particularly in well-lit environments. Its autofocus system also does an exceptionally good job of tracking moving subjects in FHD, even as they move in and out of frame.
This camera has an exceptionally intuitive menu system that you can easily navigate with either its physical controls or by tapping on its sharp, bright, fully-articulated touchscreen. There's even a guide mode to explain some core features. The camera itself is comfortable to use for extended periods thanks to its large handgrip and relatively lightweight, compact construction. It also has a wide variety of ports and inputs, with dedicated microphone and headphone jacks and a clean HDMI feature for using an external recorder without any overlays getting in the way.
Unfortunately, this camera's video recording capabilities are notably inferior when shooting in 4k. It can only record this resolution at 24 fps with a severe 1.54x reduction in the field of view. Autofocus and video stabilization performance are quite poor compared to when the camera is recording in FHD. Still, the camera's relatively compact size, fully articulated touchscreen, and decent video quality in FHD help make it one of the best DSLR cameras that we've tested.
Aug 06, 2021: Moved the Nikon D3500 from 'Cheaper Alternative' to the 'Best Beginner DSLR for Travel Photography' to 'Cheaper Alternative' to the 'Best DSLR Camera for Beginners'.
Jun 09, 2021: Confirmed that all main picks are still in stock and represent the best choice for their given category.
May 19, 2021: Ensured that all picks are still in stock and represent the best choice for their given category.
Apr 28, 2021: Confirmed all picks are in stock and still the best recommendations for our users. Minor changes to the text were made for consistency and accuracy.
Apr 07, 2021: Verified that all main picks are still in stock and represent the best choice for their given category.
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 under $1,000. 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.