DSLR cameras, or digital single-lens reflex cameras, are still some of the most popular types of camera around. With a strong visual resemblance to classic film SLRs, DSLR cameras are some of the most ruggedly built and dependable shooters around. They’re interchangeable-lens cameras, meaning there is an extensive range of DSLR lenses to choose from, no matter which brand of DSLR you use.
There’s also an extensive ecosystem of accessories available for your DSLR digital camera body, including tripods, bags, filters and more. We’ll dive into the best brands of DSLR and give you a few recommendations for which models to choose if you want to shoot stills, video or a bit of both. But if you're still not sure, be sure to check read our in-depth digital camera round-up and buying guide.
Digital SLR cameras are designed to meet the needs of photographers and videographers at all ability levels. Whether you’re a total beginner, a seasoned professional or something in between, there will be a DSLR out there for you.
What defines a DSLR? There are a few key criteria that mean a camera qualifies as a DSLR. The main one is a mirror system that enables an optical viewfinder, giving you a real-time eye-level view of the scene before you. While users of mirrorless or compact cameras have to rely on an electronic viewfinder or Live View on the LCD screen, DSLR shooters can view a scene in real-time.
As mentioned, DSLRs also have interchangeable lenses, meaning you can pick your own optics. This does mean you have to factor in some extra cost, and add the price of your chosen DSLR lenses to the DSLR camera body-only price.
DSLRs also tend to be more rugged than other types of camera, with good weatherproofing. This varies by model, so always check before you buy, but it’s a decent rule of thumb that outdoor photographers should consider using a DSLR.
DSLRs have good-sized sensors, which improves their dynamic range compared to a smartphone or cheaper compact camera. Expensive professional models will be full-frame, but even beginner DSLRs tend to be at least APS-C. If you’re finding all this terminology a little confusing, check out our DSLR camera buying guide.
Frequently asked questions
- Can DSLR lenses be used on mirrorless cameras?
Not natively, but there are mount adapters that allow for lenses from different systems to work with different cameras. Be aware that attaching a lens this way often means that certain features like autofocus will not work.
- Is a bridge camera a DSLR?
A bridge camera has a fixed lens and no optical viewfinder, and is classed as a type of compact camera. They are deliberately styled to visually resemble DSLRs however, so the confusion is understandable!
- Can you shoot video with a DSLR camera?
Emphatic yes! DSLR video capture has been getting better and better. The Canon EOS 5D series kickstarted something of a DSLR video resolution in the late 2000s and early 2010s, to the point where there were plenty of Hollywood blockbusters that included DSLR shots! Examples include 2012’s Avengers Assemble and 2014’s Whiplash. These days, DSLRs still shoot fantastic video and are the camera of choice for many filmmakers and video content creators.
- Is it better to have more megapixels?
Potentially, but not necessarily. More megapixels mean more detail in an image, allowing you to get better results from cropping in, and print in larger formats. However, if you don’t need this level of detail, more megapixels can cause more noise (unwanted visual artefacts) in an image.
Video users prefer lower megapixel counts on larger sensors, as they obviously don’t need to worry about printing. It’s all about personal preference and what you’re going to use the camera for!
- Can you use a DSLR camera body as a webcam?
You can! Though, depending on your camera, it might take a little technical know-how. Refer to the manufacturer for more info on your specific model.
The main producers of DSLR cameras are Canon, Nikon and Pentax. Let’s quickly run through what these brands have to offer.
Canon is possibly the best-known name in DSLRs, and produces cameras for users of all abilities. It’s easy to get confused by all the letters and numbers in its camera names – the general rule of thumb is, the fewer numerals a camera has between “EOS” and “D”, the more sophisticated and expensive it is. So, the Canon EOS 2000D is a camera for beginners, and the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III is a camera for professionals.
Best beginner Canon DSLR:
Canon EOS 250D. A great starter camera that lets you grow into it, with useful guide modes to help learn the basics.
Best professional Canon DSLR:
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. Quite simply one of the most capable cameras ever made.
Best Canon DSLR for video:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. The latest in the line that kicked off the DSLR video revolution (more on this below), with class-leading 4K video capabilities.
Nikon is one of the most popular and enduring manufacturers of DSLRs, beloved by amateurs and professionals alike. Its incredible range of F-mount lenses is one of the best and most comprehensive in the world. Like Canon, Nikon produces cameras for every user from beginner to professional. Once again, the general rule is that fewer numerals in the name equals a more advanced camera.
Best beginner Nikon DSLR:
Nikon D3500. This is one of the best starter DSLRs full-stop, the perfect buy for a photography student.
Best intermediate Nikon DSLR:
Nikon D850. A full-frame wonder that’s great for all genres of photography.
Best professional Nikon DSLR:
Nikon D6. The full-frame flagship for working professionals, with peerless image quality and speed.
Best Nikon DSLR for video:
Nikon D780. A cutting-edge DSLR that inherits its powerful AF system from mirrorless cameras.
A more affordable option for budget users, Pentax Ricoh specialises in cameras with extensive weatherproofing. They’re a good choice for outdoor and landscape photographers.
Best beginner Pentax DSLR:
Pentax K-70. A user-friendly DSLR with a wide array of imaging tools and scene modes.
Best intermediate Pentax DSLR:
Pentax KP. Lightweight and compact, but with powerful imaging technology.
Best professional Pentax DSLR:
Pentax K-1 Mark II. The full-frame flagship of the Pentax range.
Don't forget the accessories!
The best DSLRs can be made even better with accessories! Some are completely essential – you need a good memory card to store your image and videos, for instance. DSLR users also need to make sure they have the lenses they need for whatever type of photography or videography they’re planning.
Other good choices include a tripod, which provides camera stability and enables techniques like long exposures, which aren’t possible shooting handheld. You can check out the full range of camera accessories here.