Why y’all should trust u.s.
I’m a photojournalist, a writer, and a professional photographer, and I have a wide range of experience researching, testing, and writing almost 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 immediate noesis of the most common points of confusion for fledgling photographers. I’ve written a few iterations of this guide over the past 5 years and accept hands-on feel with all the acme contenders in this category,
Who this is for
If y’all’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’s settings can impact resulting images, you should consider getting either a beginner-level DSLR or a mirrorless camera.
DSLRs accept much larger imaging sensors than budget point-and-shoots and smartphones (which ways better performance with less lite and the ability to capture a wider range of lights and darks in a single paradigm), more manual controls (to let you fine-tune how your photos volition wait), and the versatility of interchangeable lenses for different subjects (which provides more options for capturing the perspective you want). They also let you use loftier-ability flashes so you tin command your lighting conditions, and nearly DSLRs today tin fifty-fifty tape impressive HD video footage—better than your old camcorder—with external microphones for a soundtrack that matches your images. DSLRs even give y’all more options after you’re done shooting, since they can record what is known as a raw image, a larger blazon of file that stores more data than a JPEG, which you tin can edit with Photoshop, Lightroom, or other image-editing software to get the best effect possible.
Great budget DSLRs—like our pinnacle option in this guide—can fifty-fifty teach y’all to be a amend photographer, walking you through the process of shooting in various modes by providing helpful hints and guides embedded in their control menus.
Why non just buy a mirrorless camera?
That’s a very, very skillful question. Choosing between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR might be tough, as they provide very different sets of strengths and weaknesses—and they both take first-class photos. But when deciding you should know that mirrorless cameras are the hereafter and camera makers are putting their resources into developing them rather than trying to brand meaning advances with DSLRs.
By and large speaking, a mirrorless camera will be significantly smaller and lighter than a DSLR, but with equivalent image quality. Mirrorless cameras tend to accept more modern feature sets that include touchscreens, Wi-Fi integration, and focus aid when shooting video, and they more often than not run on the more affordable side. Just they tend to accept a bombardment that lasts hundreds of fewer shots. Their small size means shooting for long periods, which tin potentially be uncomfortable for your hands; you take fewer lenses to choose from; and you’re limited to electronic viewfinders (some people adopt optical ones), if y’all even get a viewfinder at all. If you came of historic period using digital cameras and you’re accustomed to belongings your camera out from your trunk and looking at the screen, rather than upward against your heart, you might not miss a viewfinder. And a portable, light camera that you’re probable to take with you everywhere could be a better match than a bulkier DSLR, which yous might cease upwards merely leaving on a shelf. Honestly, for a beginner, a smaller, lighter mirrorless 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 keep down that path rather than learning a new camera language altogether or building your lens library from the ground up. Or maybe you lot prefer a more sizable photographic camera in mitt.
How nosotros picked
We spent hours researching DSLRs that had been identified as pinnacle budget picks by the tiptop photography sites in the world—DxOMark, DPReview, Photography Weblog, CNET, and more than. We likewise pored over customer reviews on Amazon, B&H, Adorama, and other top retailers, and we drew on our own years of feel with trends in photography.
An entry-level DSLR has to exist able to practise a lot these days. Here are some of the things we looked for:
Excellent image quality:
Images should be precipitous and clear (even when shot in low calorie-free), have accurate-looking colors, and accept a wide dynamic range (and then that you tin see particular beyond your image, in both the darkest shadows and brightest highlights).
Piece of cake to employ:
Even someone who has never tried a complex camera earlier should be able to quickly learn how to handle it. The all-time beginner DSLRs take some explanation of photographic camera shooting modes and other features built in then that you can learn as you explore the menus and modes.
You’ll probably start out using your DSLR like a betoken-and-shoot in fully automatic mode, simply the camera should have manual controls so you tin can step up to using them equally you amend your skills.
Y’all 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:
Near beginner-level DSLRs don’t have the best bombardment life, and then you’ll end up having to carry an extra battery or 2. We favored cameras that tin can concluding longer than 1,000 shots between charges.
If a camera is too large or besides heavy, you won’t exist inclined to take it with you. We looked to keep the camera size smaller than five inches broad and the weight to near a pound.
How we tested
For our latest update, I compared the Nikon D3500 direct against the Canon Rebel SL3, our 2 top contenders from our electric current research combined with past hands-on testing. I too compared images and video from our previous upgrade pick, Canon’s EOS T7i, with our results from this round of testing.
I did a lot of comparison shooting with each camera in everyday situations in Seattle and while visiting Dominicus Valley, Idaho, focusing mostly on our two puppies thanks to social-distancing measures. I observed each camera’s user interface, autofocus, special features, overall handling, menu layouts, and battery life. I continued each camera to my smartphone to see how quickly you could start to share images.
Our pick: Nikon D3500
If you’re fix to advance your camera skills and buy your first DSLR photographic camera, the Nikon D3500 is the best option for a beginner. Its best-in-form 24-megapixel sensor can capture abrupt images with high dynamic range, meaning both vivid and night areas will testify details, and it excels in depression-light situations. It’s particularly piece of cake to use, has a Guide Mode to help you learn, plus manual controls that you can abound into, and connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth. Small and light enough to comport all twenty-four hour period, it also has a battery that can final 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 operation mode offers simple explanations for when to use settings such equally Night Portrait and Moving Subjects. If you lot select the advanced Guide Mode functioning, you’ll have more control in a setting like Soften background, which prompts you to select your f-stop in aperture priority mode. Equally your photography skills grow, you can take off these preparation wheels to explore full manual controls and start shooting in raw.
You can easily use Nikon’southward SnapBridge app to connect the camera to your telephone and harness the photographic camera’south Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity to continuously keep the images you shoot downloading to your phone, as long every bit they are smaller than full-resolution raw files. Once this option was gear up up, images seamlessly downloaded to my iPhone each time I turned on the photographic camera. You can also utilise the app to command the photographic camera remotely. Most other cameras will let you lot control the camera wirelessly but don’t transport all the images y’all shoot to your phone. Instead y’all have to select which images y’all want to transfer after they’re shot.
The D3500 has truly impressive battery life—1,550 images per charge—a whopping 350-epitome increment over its predecessor and a previous top pick in this category, the D3400. That should easily equate to days of shooting before the battery needs to exist recharged.
The camera’s lightweight and meaty size is critical for a new user who might be graduating from a pocketable smartphone to their offset interchangeable-lens DSLR. If a camera feels burdensome, it’south difficult to develop the habit of always bringing it with you lot. Hither, the D3500 shines by weighing simply 615 grams with the kit lens—or about equally much every bit your grande latte. Information technology’s ane of the lightest DSLRs you lot tin can find.
The D3500 comes with Nikon’s collapsible AF-P xviii–55mm Nikkor lens, which helps keep the camera’s size downward when not in utilize. It uses a stepping motor to achieve speedy, ultraquiet focusing—something particularly useful in video manner. The D3500 can smoothly shoot full HD video at 1080/60p, and a half press of the shutter button while filming helps to proceed your subject in focus.The kit lens is basically the same as y’all’ll get with whatever DSLR of this level, but when information technology comes to continuous focusing during video capture, Catechism’s Dual-Pixel AF doesn’t require a half button press to maintain focus.
Photo: Erin Lodi
The D3500 boasts a burst charge per unit of 5 frames per second, which should be sufficient for most basic fast-activity photography and is as fast as you lot can await from whatever photographic camera in this category.
The D3500 offers an 11-indicate autofocus system, which should do a slightly better job at keeping your subjects in focus when shooting through the viewfinder than the Canon Insubordinate SL3’s 9-signal organization. In our hands-on testing we did non observe any noticeable difference.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
We couldn’t stop trying to tap the D3500’s stock-still LCD screen. Near of the competition has either slightly college-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 image quality, nosotros notwithstanding settled on the D3500 as our top choice, but if you’ll mostly be shooting video or in live-view fashion, or if retraining your brain not to tap a glowing digital screen feels insurmountable, y’all might want to take a wait at the Canon SL3.
While the D3500 tin capture high-quality 1080/60p video, this camera is not designed with the videographer in listen. Although the non-rotating, non-touchscreen display is likely the greater hindrance to filming, the D3500 as well neglects a microphone jack.
The Nikon D3500 is paired with a collapsible 18–55mm f/three.five-v.6 VR lens, which allows for keeping the camera meaty when non in use but also requires you to push a push button on the lens to rotate the lens before using information technology. A helpful on-screen prompt will remind you of this each time you turn on the photographic camera if the lens isn’t already extended. (You can opt to go out the lens extended, but and then you also lose that scrap of compactness.) This is a chip annoying but as well a addiction y’all’d probable form rapidly and is hands remedied by upgrading to better lenses in the future, which is, after all, the point of a camera with interchangeable lenses. We offering a beginner’s guide to “The Offset Nikon Lenses Y’all Should Purchase”.
If y’all do start to experiment with new lenses on the Nikon D3500, beware: This camera offers no automatic sensor cleaning. This common mechanism can help remove dust that makes its mode to the sensor when switching lenses, which will display as dark spots on your image. Owners of the D3500 will need to be ultracautious about when and how they swap lenses to avert any sensor dust.
Upgrade pick: Catechism Insubordinate SL3
If you lot’re more interested in video than stills, or if you prefer a rotating touchscreen—which can be especially useful when shooting video and when focusing on fast-moving children and pets—the Catechism Rebel SL3 is a ameliorate, though slightly more expensive, choice.
Though the SL3 merely offers a 9-point autofocus organisation when shooting with the viewfinder, in Live View y’all tin select from 3,975 focus points on its very responsive touchscreen. Live View also uses Catechism’due south Dual Pixel autofocus technology to proceed moving subjects in focus when shooting stills or video: simply tap to select your bailiwick and the photographic camera keeps focus locked as the subject moves, or fifty-fifty as yous move 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 Photographic camera Connect app, which offers footstep-past-step instructions. It took only a few seconds to start downloading images to my iPhone, even raw files. Y’all can also shoot remotely using the app. Unlike our main pick, you lot tin can’t accept the camera send all of your images to your telephone as they’re captured.
Photo: Rozette Rago
The standard kit lens paired with the SL3 is the EF-S 18–55mm f/iv–5.6 IS STM, a typical inexpensive zoom lens for everyday shooting. This lens should serve you well for shooting in bright conditions and is so serenity that information technology won’t interfere with sound when y’all’re shooting video, only equally you abound in your photography knowledge and interest, you’ll likely want to invest in a improve lens. (See our guide to “The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy.”) Though EF-S lenses aren’t equally capable as their counterparts designed for total-frame DSLRs, they are considerably less expensive and lighter. Together, the SL3 and its kit lens weigh merely slightly more than the Nikon D3500, merely the combo is portable enough that you can easily vesture it on your body all day, or stuff it into a handbag or backpack easily.
Photo: Erin Lodi
Though the SL3’s battery life of 1,070 shots per charge (almost 500 less than the D3500) should acquit you lot through days of shooting stills through the viewfinder, shooting video and in Live View will quickly deplete your battery. Nosotros e’er recommend carrying a spare battery in your camera bag.
Our previous upgrade pick, Catechism’s EOS Insubordinate T7i, hasn’t dropped much in toll, and though it offers a more than effective Dual Pixel autofocus system, nosotros think the SL3 offers a better value in this category. The Canon Rebel SL3 as well has significantly better battery life at i,070 images per charge versus 600 from the T7i, and it’due south smaller and lighter, making it all the more than portable.
Canon’s Rebel SL2 is the Nikon D3500 camera’s closest competitor in scale, but it still outweighs our selection 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 reward in both portability and accessibility. The Catechism’s outdated nine-point autofocusing arrangement may also hinder your ability to notice focus rapidly when shooting through the viewfinder. For a better beginner experience (at a better price), the Nikon D3500 beats out the SL2.
We also considered older Canon models, such equally the EOS Rebel T6i and T5i, as well every bit the SL2, only the newer features and handling of the SL3 pushed information technology to the top of our list.
Nikon’due south D5600 offers a few more features than our top pick, like a fully rotating, higher-resolution LCD screen and a much amend 39-point autofocus system, merely it can’t compare with the value of the D3500 or the 4K video capabilities of the lower toll Canon Insubordinate SL3.
We considered only did not test Pentax’southward Thousand-lxx. Its command system is geared toward more than-avant-garde shooters, and in DPReview’s test of the camera Samuel Spencer notes that the AF system—especially during continuous AF and tracking AF—is disappointing. Also, at 1½ pound, information technology’s on the heavy side, and its battery life of 410 shots per charge is lackluster.