Why you lot should trust us
I’yard a photojournalist, a author, and a professional photographer, and I have a broad range of experience researching, testing, and writing about photography trends, techniques, and tools—including in my role as mobile-imaging editor at DPReview. I also teach photography to students of all ages, and I have firsthand knowledge of the most common points of confusion for fledgling photographers. I’ve written a few iterations of this guide over the past five years and accept hands-on experience with all the top contenders in this category,
Who this is for
If yous’re frustrated with the limitations of capturing photos or videos with your smartphone and are interested in learning the ins and outs of how a camera’due south settings can touch on resulting images, you should consider getting either a beginner-level DSLR or a mirrorless photographic camera.
DSLRs take much larger imaging sensors than budget point-and-shoots and smartphones (which ways ameliorate performance with less calorie-free and the ability to capture a wider range of lights and darks in a single image), more manual controls (to let you fine-melody how your photos will look), and the versatility of interchangeable lenses for different subjects (which provides more options for capturing the perspective yous want). They also permit you utilise loftier-power flashes and then you can control your lighting conditions, and virtually DSLRs today tin fifty-fifty tape impressive HD video footage—amend than your quondam camcorder—with external microphones for a soundtrack that matches your images. DSLRs fifty-fifty give you more options after you lot’re washed shooting, since they tin record what is known equally a raw image, a larger type of file that stores more data than a JPEG, which you tin edit with Photoshop, Lightroom, or other image-editing software to become the best result possible.
Great budget DSLRs—like our height pick in this guide—can even teach you to be a better photographer, walking you through the process of shooting in various modes by providing helpful hints and guides embedded in their control menus.
Why non only buy a mirrorless camera?
That’south a very, very practiced question. Choosing betwixt a mirrorless photographic camera and a DSLR might be tough, as they provide very dissimilar sets of strengths and weaknesses—and they both take excellent photos. But when deciding you lot should know that mirrorless cameras are the future and camera makers are putting their resources into developing them rather than trying to brand significant advances with DSLRs.
Generally speaking, a mirrorless camera will be significantly smaller and lighter than a DSLR, but with equivalent prototype quality. Mirrorless cameras tend to accept more modern feature sets that include touchscreens, Wi-Fi integration, and focus assist when shooting video, and they by and large run on the more affordable side. Just they tend to have a bombardment that lasts hundreds of fewer shots. Their modest size means shooting for long periods, which tin potentially be uncomfortable for your easily; you have fewer lenses to choose from; and yous’re limited to electronic viewfinders (some people prefer optical ones), if you even go a viewfinder at all. If you came of age using digital cameras and you’re accustomed to holding your camera out from your body and looking at the screen, rather than up against your eye, you might not miss a viewfinder. And a portable, calorie-free camera that you lot’re likely to take with you everywhere could be a better friction match than a bulkier DSLR, which you might end up just leaving on a shelf. Honestly, for a beginner, a smaller, lighter mirrorless photographic camera makes a lot of sense over a DSLR.
However, if you have some past feel with Canon or Nikon systems, or some DSLR lenses at your disposal, it might make sense to continue downward that path rather than learning a new camera language birthday or building your lens library from the ground up. Or maybe you prefer a more sizable photographic camera in paw.
How nosotros picked
We spent hours researching DSLRs that had been identified as elevation upkeep picks by the top photography sites in the world—DxOMark, DPReview, Photography Weblog, CNET, and more than. Nosotros also pored over client reviews on Amazon, B&H, Adorama, and other summit retailers, and we drew on our own years of feel with trends in photography.
An entry-level DSLR has to be able to exercise a lot these days. Here are some of the things we looked for:
Fantabulous prototype quality:
Images should exist abrupt and articulate (fifty-fifty when shot in depression low-cal), have accurate-looking colors, and take a broad dynamic range (then that you tin can come across detail beyond your image, in both the darkest shadows and brightest highlights).
Easy to employ:
Even someone who has never tried a circuitous camera before should be able to apace acquire how to handle it. The best beginner DSLRs accept some explanation of camera shooting modes and other features built in so that yous can learn every bit yous explore the menus and modes.
You’ll probably beginning out using your DSLR like a indicate-and-shoot in fully automatic mode, but the photographic camera should have transmission controls and so y’all can step up to using them equally you better your skills.
You should be able to connect your camera and your smartphone so you can transfer images off the camera and share them with friends online quickly.
Long battery life:
Most beginner-level DSLRs don’t have the best battery life, so you’ll end up having to behave an extra battery or two. We favored cameras that can last longer than 1,000 shots betwixt charges.
If a camera is too big or also heavy, you won’t exist inclined to take information technology with you. We looked to keep the camera size smaller than 5 inches wide and the weight to about a pound.
How we tested
For our latest update, I compared the Nikon D3500 directly against the Canon Insubordinate SL3, our two top contenders from our current inquiry combined with past hands-on testing. I also compared images and video from our previous upgrade pick, Canon’s EOS T7i, with our results from this circular of testing.
I did a lot of comparison shooting with each camera in everyday situations in Seattle and while visiting Sun Valley, Idaho, focusing mostly on our two puppies thanks to social-distancing measures. I observed each photographic camera’s user interface, autofocus, special features, overall treatment, menu layouts, and battery life. I connected each camera to my smartphone to see how rapidly you could beginning to share images.
Our pick: Nikon D3500
If you lot’re ready to advance your camera skills and purchase your first DSLR photographic camera, the Nikon D3500 is the best choice for a beginner. Its best-in-class 24-megapixel sensor can capture sharp images with loftier dynamic range, meaning both vivid and dark areas will show details, and it excels in depression-light situations. It’southward particularly like shooting fish in a barrel to use, has a Guide Mode to help yous larn, plus transmission controls that you lot tin grow into, and connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth. Small and light plenty to deport all day, it also has a battery that tin terminal through long shoots.
The Guide Mode cleverly coaches beginners to choose their shooting situation while offering instructions about how the camera will perform in each scenario. The easy performance style offers simple explanations for when to use settings such equally Night Portrait and Moving Subjects. If you select the advanced Guide Style functioning, yous’ll have more than control in a setting like Soften background, which prompts yous to select your f-stop in aperture priority mode. As your photography skills grow, y’all can take off these grooming wheels to explore full manual controls and offset shooting in raw.
Y’all tin can easily use Nikon’south SnapBridge app to connect the camera to your phone and harness the camera’south Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity to continuously keep the images yous shoot downloading to your phone, as long every bit they are smaller than full-resolution raw files. Once this pick was set up, images seamlessly downloaded to my iPhone each time I turned on the photographic camera. You tin can too use the app to control the camera remotely. Nigh other cameras will allow you lot control the camera wirelessly merely don’t send all the images you shoot to your phone. Instead you have to select which images you want to transfer after they’re shot.
The D3500 has truly impressive bombardment life—1,550 images per accuse—a whopping 350-prototype increase over its predecessor and a previous summit selection in this category, the D3400. That should easily equate to days of shooting before the battery needs to be recharged.
The camera’south lightweight and meaty size is disquisitional for a new user who might be graduating from a pocketable smartphone to their first interchangeable-lens DSLR. If a camera feels crushing, it’s difficult to develop the addiction of always bringing it with you. Hither, the D3500 shines by weighing only 615 grams with the kit lens—or nearly as much as your grande latte. It’s one of the lightest DSLRs y’all can find.
The D3500 comes with Nikon’south collapsible AF-P 18–55mm Nikkor lens, which helps proceed the photographic camera’south size downwardly when not in use. Information technology uses a stepping motor to achieve speedy, ultraquiet focusing—something peculiarly useful in video mode. The D3500 tin smoothly shoot full HD video at 1080/60p, and a half press of the shutter button while filming helps to keep your subject in focus.The kit lens is basically the same as you’ll get with any DSLR of this level, but when it comes to continuous focusing during video capture, Catechism’s Dual-Pixel AF doesn’t require a one-half button press to maintain focus.
Photo: Erin Lodi
The D3500 boasts a outburst rate of 5 frames per second, which should be sufficient for virtually basic fast-action photography and is equally fast as you can expect from any camera in this category.
The D3500 offers an 11-point autofocus system, which should do a slightly better chore at keeping your subjects in focus when shooting through the viewfinder than the Canon Rebel SL3’southward 9-indicate organization. In our easily-on testing we did not find whatever noticeable deviation.
Flaws but non dealbreakers
We couldn’t stop trying to tap the D3500’s stock-still LCD screen. Most of the competition has either slightly higher-resolution LCDs (i,044,000 dots to the 921,000 on the D3400), hinged screens, or touchscreens (or some combination of the above). For the price and paradigm quality, we still settled on the D3500 as our top choice, just if y’all’ll mostly be shooting video or in live-view way, or if retraining your brain non to tap a glowing digital screen feels insurmountable, you might want to take a look at the Canon SL3.
While the D3500 can capture loftier-quality 1080/60p video, this camera is non designed with the videographer in mind. Although the non-rotating, not-touchscreen brandish is likely the greater hindrance to filming, the D3500 besides neglects a microphone jack.
The Nikon D3500 is paired with a collapsible 18–55mm f/3.five-v.6 VR lens, which allows for keeping the camera meaty when not in use but also requires you to button a push on the lens to rotate the lens before using it. A helpful on-screen prompt will remind you of this each time y’all plow on the camera if the lens isn’t already extended. (You tin can opt to leave the lens extended, merely then you besides lose that bit of firmness.) This is a bit annoying just besides a habit y’all’d likely form quickly and is easily remedied past upgrading to ameliorate lenses in the future, which is, after all, the point of a photographic camera with interchangeable lenses. We offer a beginner’s guide to “The First Nikon Lenses Yous Should Buy”.
If you do offset to experiment with new lenses on the Nikon D3500, beware: This camera offers no automatic sensor cleaning. This common machinery can help remove dust that makes its way to the sensor when switching lenses, which will display as dark spots on your prototype. Owners of the D3500 will need to be ultracautious virtually when and how they swap lenses to avoid any sensor dust.
Upgrade choice: Catechism Insubordinate SL3
If yous’re more than interested in video than stills, or if you lot adopt a rotating touchscreen—which can be especially useful when shooting video and when focusing on fast-moving children and pets—the Canon Rebel SL3 is a better, though slightly more expensive, option.
Though the SL3 but offers a 9-point autofocus system when shooting with the viewfinder, in Live View you can select from 3,975 focus points on its very responsive touchscreen. Live View also uses Catechism’s Dual Pixel autofocus engineering to continue moving subjects in focus when shooting stills or video: simply tap to select your discipline and the camera keeps focus locked as the subject field moves, or fifty-fifty every bit y’all movement the camera. The fully rotating touchscreen makes shooting from any angle easy—including selfies or videos starring you—and the SL3 tin shoot up to 4K video while our main pick tops out at 1080/60p video.
Connectivity is simple via Canon’s Camera Connect app, which offers step-by-step instructions. It took only a few seconds to commencement downloading images to my iPhone, even raw files. Yous tin also shoot remotely using the app. Different our primary option, you can’t have the camera transport all of your images to your phone as they’re captured.
Photo: Rozette Rago
The standard kit lens paired with the SL3 is the EF-S 18–55mm f/four–v.6 IS STM, a typical cheap zoom lens for everyday shooting. This lens should serve you well for shooting in vivid conditions and is so quiet that information technology won’t interfere with audio when you’re shooting video, just as you grow in your photography knowledge and involvement, you’ll likely want to invest in a ameliorate lens. (See our guide to “The Commencement Catechism Lenses You Should Buy.”) Though EF-Southward lenses aren’t as capable as their counterparts designed for full-frame DSLRs, they are considerably less expensive and lighter. Together, the SL3 and its kit lens counterbalance just slightly more than than the Nikon D3500, simply the combo is portable enough that you can easily wear it on your body all day, or stuff it into a purse or haversack easily.
Photograph: Erin Lodi
Though the SL3’s battery life of ane,070 shots per charge (nigh 500 less than the D3500) should carry you through days of shooting stills through the viewfinder, shooting video and in Live View volition quickly deplete your battery. We always recommend carrying a spare battery in your camera bag.
Our previous upgrade selection, Canon’south EOS Rebel T7i, hasn’t dropped much in price, and though it offers a more effective Dual Pixel autofocus system, we think the SL3 offers a ameliorate value in this category. The Catechism Rebel SL3 also has significantly better battery life at 1,070 images per accuse versus 600 from the T7i, and it’s smaller and lighter, making it all the more portable.
Canon’due south Insubordinate SL2 is the Nikon D3500 camera’due south closest competitor in scale, but it still outweighs our pick when paired with a comparable kit lens. Its Feature Assistant suggestions can’t compete with the dedicated Guide Mode instructions the D3500 provides, giving our top selection an advantage in both portability and accessibility. The Canon’s outdated ix-indicate autofocusing organization may also hinder your ability to find focus quickly when shooting through the viewfinder. For a meliorate beginner experience (at a meliorate price), the Nikon D3500 beats out the SL2.
We also considered older Catechism models, such as the EOS Rebel T6i and T5i, as well as the SL2, but the newer features and handling of the SL3 pushed it to the top of our list.
Nikon’s D5600 offers a few more than features than our superlative pick, like a fully rotating, college-resolution LCD screen and a much amend 39-point autofocus organization, but it tin’t compare with the value of the D3500 or the 4K video capabilities of the lower toll Canon Insubordinate SL3.
We considered just did not test Pentax’southward Thousand-70. Its control system is geared toward more than-advanced shooters, and in DPReview’s test of the photographic camera Samuel Spencer notes that the AF system—especially during continuous AF and tracking AF—is disappointing. Also, at 1½ pound, it’s on the heavy side, and its battery life of 410 shots per charge is lackluster.