Buying a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera can be a daunting task for any potential buyer. With so many brands and models out there, you’re bound to face some difficulty researching and ultimately making the right choice. Luckily, we’ve made this complete shopping guide to help you pick the perfect camera.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about DSLRs—from what distinguishes a DSLR camera to the pros and cons of using one, the best features to watch out for, and a series of purchase criteria that will help you assess each option with confidence.

Key Facts

  • DSLR cameras, or digital single-lens ‘reflex’ cameras, have the ability to produce higher-quality images than digital point-and-shoot or compact cameras, in part because they offer the photographer more control over the settings involved in capturing a picture. Nonetheless, better control and quality often comes with a higher price tag.
  • Because of their specialized capabilities, DSLRs are a great choice both for photography enthusiasts and professionals as well as amateurs looking to take the next step in photography.
  • The camera body you select is only half of the equation. Equally or even more important is the lens you use with your DSLR. It’s often the case that a DSLR will come with an entry-level lens, so you may want to look into buying a better one separately.

Ranking: The best DSLR cameras on the US market

In the following section, we provide you with a ranking of five superb DSLRs that are currently available on the US market. We’ve picked a range of cameras that offer both a good value for your money and the quality you seek.

No. 1: Nikon D3500

This Nikon D3500 is easy to use, compact, and fast—a popular option for those who want to take a step up from their smartphones or point-and-shoots. With an image sensor that’s 15 times larger than a typical phone, the difference will be clear in beautiful, 24-megapixel images that have rich detail and color.

The D3500 is light enough to take with you on any adventure or to your favorite event, where all you need to do is switch it on automatic mode and shoot away. Then, Nikon’s free SnapBridge app makes it easy to share your best pictures or 1080p Full HD videos in an instant.

No. 2: Canon EOS Rebel T7

The Canon EOS Rebel T7 is another solid entry-level DSLR that offers all the essential features at an affordable price. A bright optical viewfinder, large LCD-screen and on-board feature guide make shooting with this camera a breeze, and the 24 megapixel images it produces will impress all.

The Rebel T7’s super-fast autofocus system and wide ISO range mean you’ll never miss that perfect shot, and sharing it with your friends and family is just as easy with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC technology. You won’t want to leave the house without this camera by your side.

No. 3: Nikon D7500

The Nikon D7500 won’t disappoint with its top-quality images, 4K Ultra HD video, and powerful 51-point auto focus system. A 180,000-pixel RGB sensor can detect human faces, and the built-in flash uses in-camera scene analysis to provide to the perfect lighting for your subject.

Meanwhile, the rugged design and long-lasting battery mean this camera is a great travel companion that can put up with whatever conditions you might face along the way. Furthermore, the tilting 3.2 inch touchscreen makes it easy to shoot at high or low angles and quickly browse images on the go.

No. 4: Nikon D850

With a whopping 45.7 megapixels and Nikon’s first back-side illuminated (BSI) FX-format full-frame image sensor, the Nikon D850 is a professional’s dream, offering superior resolution and unparalleled dynamic range. The photographs you produce with this high-end camera will burst with color and detail.

The D850 focuses in an instant—and in any lighting situation—with an ultra-accurate autofocus system that keeps up with fast moving subjects even in the darkest settings. Confirm your focus with Focus Peaking on the D850’s tilting, touchscreen LCD and transfer beautiful shots straight to a smartphone or tablet using the SnapBridge app.

No. 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a top-of-the-line option with phenomenal performance and a wide range of the most-desired DSLR features. With this camera, you’ll be shooting high-resolution photographs or 4K videos with the camera’s 30.4 megapixel, full frame sensor and an unbeatable 61-point autofocus system.

No matter the task at hand, the 5D Mark IV will handle it with reliable ease. The ISO ranges from 100 to 32000, allowing for smooth low light shooting, and Dual Pixel Raw files offer ample room for adjustments in post-production. A 3.2-inch, 1.6 million dot Clear View LCD screen also provides a bright, sharp display that facilitates speedy operation in any setting.

Shopping Guide: Everything you need to know about DSLR cameras

When buying a digital single-lens reflex camera, it is important that you consider a number of critical aspects before you decide to make a purchase. Don’t forget that there are various DSLR models and each one is designed for different uses and different types of photographers. Keeping this in mind, we will try to answer the most common questions that buyers have so that you can be well informed.

If you are considering a DSLR camera, this guide will help you figure out which one is most appropriate for you.
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What exactly are DSLR cameras?

DSLR cameras are simply the digitized version of what have long been known as SLR cameras, or sometimes just called ‘reflex cameras.’ In this type of camera, whether analog or digital, the photographer is able to directly observe the scene in front of them through an optical viewfinder. This prevents any sort of viewing error—known in the photography world as “parallax error”—which can take place in cameras where the viewfinder is not portraying the actual image that will be captured.

In reflex cameras, a mirror reflects the light coming through the lens and sends it to the viewfinder through a prism. This allows for the photographer to see exactly what the lens is seeing, and in turn allows for a more accurate or precise photograph. At the same time, DSLR cameras often have more advanced technology that contributes to the production of an image that is much higher quality than that of a basic point-and-shoot or smartphone camera.

How does a reflex camera work?

At the heart of any reflex camera is a titled mirror that sits in front of the camera’s sensor (in digital cameras) or film (in analog cameras). The mirror defines the path along which light will enter the camera, and it usually sits at a 45-degree incline, sending light to a prism and from there into the viewfinder.

When the camera’s shutter release is pressed, the mirror is quickly moved into a horizontal position and a shutter covering the sensor (or previously, film) opens, exposing the sensor and allowing light to strike it. The shutter then closes, covering the sensor, and the mirror goes back to its original position. In a DSLR camera, the just-captured image will then appear on the screen for you to see.

What are the advantages of using a DSLR camera?

DSLR cameras have a number of advantages that other cameras lack. Firstly, they often have a large digital sensor that allows you to capture much higher quality images than is possible with simpler cameras or smartphones. Another advantage is that DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, so you can change the lens according to the type of photo you want to take, or the setting in which you’re shooting.

DSLRs also allow you to change the camera settings manually, giving you more control over things like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance. Having such control is essential when photographers shoot in different lighting conditions or want a certain look or feel in their photos. A final advantage is that they are usually ergonomically designed to meet the needs of photographers in a range of environments.

What are the disadvantages of reflex cameras?

Reflex cameras also have some disadvantages. DSLRs are often much larger and heavier than other cameras, which can be a burden for those looking to carry their camera with them wherever they go. They are also sometimes more fragile and various parts can require special care. Most DSLRs are not suitable for extreme weather, although there are exceptions.

Advantages
  • What you see through the camera’s viewfinder is exactly what will appear in the final image.
  • DSLRs have a larger sensor, so you can get higher quality pictures.
  • They have interchangeable lenses.
  • They allow for more control over the various camera settings. For example, you can manually adjust the shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance.
  • There is almost no delay between the moment the button is clicked and the moment the photo is captured.
  • In low-light or dark conditions, DSLR cameras have features that allow you to capture images with less ‘noise’.
  • The start-up time of DSLR cameras is almost immediate, so you’re less likely to miss a perfect opportunity to capture a special moment.
  • They’re ergonomic and comfortable to hold.
  • They usually give the option of RAW format, which offers greater flexibility in post-processing.
Disadvantages
  • They are usually heavier and larger than other cameras.
  • They can be fragile and require special care.
  • They are not often suitable for use in bad weather conditions.
  • Given all the special functions and features they provide, DSLRs often cost much more than smaller, compact digital cameras.
  • The cost of various lenses presents another significant cost.

Is it worth buying a reflex camera?

For photography enthusiasts and professionals, this question has an easy answer. In our opinion, a DSLR is definitely worth buying, especially for those with the knowledge necessary to take advantage of its special features and perks. The difference in quality that you can get with a DSLR is incomparable.

Ansel AdamsFamous Landscape Photographer

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

Who should buy a DSLR camera?

DSLR cameras—with their powerful sensors—are a good choice for all those who wish to take high quality photographs. In particular, these cameras are ideal for photography enthusiasts with some advanced knowledge and for anyone who wants to make the jump from amateur to professional photography.

What is the significance of a DSLR lens?

Besides the camera itself, the lens is probably the most important item among a photographer’s equipment. Some might say the lens is actually more important than the camera body. This importance comes from the fact that the lens is responsible for carrying the light to the sensor. As light passes through a lens, it undergoes changes and alterations. Those often-undesirable changes are minimized in higher quality—and usually more expensive—lenses.

Keeping this in mind, you can see why the lens is so critical to taking photographs and why you should choose a quality lens. Be aware that many DSLRs come with a lens included, but that lens is often relatively basic and entry-level.

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We suggest that you invest in higher quality lenses over time.

Which modes does a DSLR have available?

Each DSLR will offer a range of modes that you can use to capture your photographs. This will usually include an automatic mode, as well as a series of semi-automatic preset modes and a fully manual mode. Preset modes will be appropriate in different circumstances that the camera manual can help to define.

For those looking to have full control of the camera—and to produce the highest quality images—manual mode is key. Manual mode is, however, also the most complicated one to use and will require knowledge of some basic photography concepts and experience to master.

DSLR cameras produce higher quality images than most compact cameras.
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What types of stabilizers are used in DSLRs?

Image stabilization is necessary to correct the camera shake that occurs from small, involuntary movements by the photographer or even minor vibrations from the earth itself. These movements can affect the quality and sharpness of the image. Image stabilization is usually essential in two specific situations: when you’re using a very slow shutter speed or if you’re using a large telephoto lens.

In such situations, the image may turn out blurry or distorted if the camera doesn’t have the proper image stabilization. DSLRs use one of two stabilization systems to prevent those issues: the optical stabilizer or the mechanical stabilizer. The table below elaborates on each system:

Optical stabilizer Mechanical stabilizer
Uses This is commonly used by manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon, Leica and Panasonic. It has been utilized by camera brands including Sony and Olympus, as well as others.
Description Made up of a displacement system found inside the lens. Such lenses detect and adjust for camera movements automatically. Image stabilization is attained via adjustment of the image sensor.
Advantage Provides the benefit of being specifically tailored to each lens, though you will therefore require a separate stabilizer for each lens you use. Because stabilization takes place within the camera’s body, the camera stays stable regardless of the lens in use.
Performance Usually provides higher performance. Often, the performance is relatively lower.

Which accessories are needed for a DSLR?

A handful of important accessories will help you get the most from your DSLR camera. Some might even be necessary from the moment you purchase the camera, depending on what you plan to use it for. Others can be acquired over time and according to particular needs that may arise.

One of the most critical accessories is the memory card, which is necessary to store your images, and, of course, a good lens. Beyond those two items, some additional accessories you may want to purchase are external flashes, tripods, extra batteries, lens filters and remote shutter releases.

A handful of accessories can help you get the most from your DSLR camera.
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What care does a DSLR camera require?

As is probably clear by now, DSLR cameras are complex pieces of equipment and can be quite delicate. Storing and transporting the camera in a specialized bag or backpack will help you to protect it from unwanted moisture and dirt. When you’re using the camera, a neck strap is a good idea in order to avoid accidentally dropping and damaging it.

While owning a DSLR, it will likely be necessary for you to clean the sensor at some point. This can be done by a professional technician or at home, but special care will be needed to avoid damage. One final care requirement is to remove the battery if you’re not going to be using the camera for an extended period.

Shopping Criteria

When you’re ready to purchase your new DSLR, there are some important criteria you should consider. These criteria will help you to confidently make the right choice, at the right price.

  • Use
  • Sensor
  • Image resolution
  • Sensitivity (ISO)
  • Viewfinder and screen
  • Video capability
  • Brand

Use

The way you intend to use a camera is probably the most important criterion you should consider—and it will help you to decide if a DSLR is right for you in the first place. If you plan to exclusively shoot in automatic mode and are merely looking to collect some shots while on vacation, you might prefer a simple digital camera or polaroid camera instead of an expensive DSLR.

If you’re looking to buy a DSLR in order to get more involved in photography or to further pursue a strong interest in the art form, the best option may be an entry-level DSLR specially designed for beginners. On the other hand, experienced photographers will look for DSLRs with the best features, performance and ample opportunities to control the image produced.

Sensor

The sensor is the heart and soul of any digital camera, since it’s the part that is responsible for capturing the light that ultimately makes a photograph. Size is a fundamental aspect of a camera sensor. Larger sensors will be able to process more information and produce a higher quality image. Keep that in mind as an important feature to consider when looking at DSLR cameras.

Most DSLR cameras currently feature an APS-C sensor—which is usually found in Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras—or the 4/3 sensor common in Panasonic, Olympus, Kodak and Leica brands. Nonetheless, some cameras will have a larger, full-frame (35mm) sensor. This is usually found in the most professional camera bodies.

Image resolution

When it comes to image resolution, people usually think of megapixels. The general rule is that more megapixels means a higher resolution and greater detail in the final image. However, the quality of a photograph is not only a reflection of the number of megapixels. It’s also determined by the size of the sensor, which can be even more important to image quality.

Cameras with larger sensors will usually provide a larger area per pixel, and this means higher quality as well as greater sensitivity to light. Still, you should be aware that pictures with more megapixels also take up more space on your memory card and computer, so you might need to invest in additional equipment in order to store all your images.

Cleaning your camera’s sensor is an important part of proper DSLR care.
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Sensitivity (ISO)

A camera’s ISO value indicates how sensitive a sensor is to the light that enters through the lens. Higher values will allow you to shoot in lower light. For example, an ISO of 3200 would be appropriate for night-time shooting, while a low value of 100 might be best for shooting in sunlight.

One negative aspect of high ISO values is that they will result in more ‘noise’ in your image. So you’ll want to be careful about selecting the best ISO value for both your lighting conditions and the amount of noise you feel is appropriate. Generally speaking, with a wider range of ISO values available on your camera, you’ll be able to shoot in a wider range of lighting conditions.

Garry WinograndAmerican Street Photographer

“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.”

Viewfinder and screen

Because the viewfinder allows you to see an image before pressing the shutter button, it is an essential feature to any camera. Optical viewfinders allow you to see exactly what you are going to capture through a system of mirrors that reflect the scene in front of you through the viewfinder. Electronic viewfinders will show you the image on an LCD or OLED screen.

There is a wide range of viewfinders available, and not all are created equal. The clarity and size of an image will vary depending on the specific model, so it’s best if you can test a few different options before you pick a camera to buy.

Video capability

These days, most DSLRs have the ability to capture video in addition to still images. If you’re looking at a camera with video recording capabilities, you should be sure to check what resolution it uses: HD, Full HD or 4K. We would recommend that you select a camera with at least Full HD video.

Brand

Nikon and Canon are the leading brands as far as DSLR cameras go. You may also find some good options from manufacturers Sony and Kodak. The brand you choose will likely be the one you stick with for many years, so choose carefully!

This is the case because any accessories you buy, such as lenses, may be linked to one specific brand. There are exceptions, as some lenses will work with multiple brands or with an adaptor, but these may not be the best lenses on the market.

Summary

DSLR cameras allow for the highest image quality, even if a photographer doesn’t have a ton of experience. They give plenty of room for control over specific settings and have features that compact or point-and-shoot cameras often lack.

Nonetheless, selecting the perfect DSLR for you can be particularly challenging. You should consider factors like intended use, sensor size, image resolution and ISO range before purchasing any DSLR. To help you in that process, this guide has detailed each factor and why it matters. Now, you can make a confident, informed decision when you go to buy your new camera.

Finally, if this article has been useful for you in your camera selection process, leave us a comment with your thoughts and share the article with your friends via social media.

(Source of featured image: Bartolomiej Pietrzyk: 102106313/ 123rf.com)

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