The 8 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Digital SLR (DSLR) has become one of the dominant formats in the age of digital cameras. These cameras typically have interchangeable lenses and vary widely in their features, capabilities, and price point. If you’re just starting out with DSLRs — maybe you’re looking to upgrade to something more powerful than your phone camera — there are lots of great beginner models that automatically adjust the camera’s more complex settings so you get great photos without having to make many adjustments. (If this sounds like you, also check out our list of the best DSLRs for beginners.) 

The more advanced cameras on this list feature a plethora of high-tech features, from complex autofocus systems that intelligently track motion and color, to multi-axis internal stabilization, to 4K video recording capabilities and blindingly fast continuous shooting speeds. Today’s processors and machine learning technologies can simplify challenging shooting scenarios and capture moments that simply would not be caught by older cameras. If you’re a professional photographer, we recommend checking out our list of the best professional cameras which features several DSLRs. 

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro, we’ve done the research to find the best models for all kinds of photographers.

Best Overall: Nikon D780

What We Like
  • Great for video

  • Advanced AF software

  • Large ISO range

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

It’s a bit of an investment, but the Nikon D780 is the best DSLR around. Whether you’re shooting video, photographing fast action, dealing with low-light environments, or capturing a time lapse, this camera combines a 24.5MP full frame sensor with cutting-edge software and the newest EXPEED 6 processor to take the guesswork out of complex or high-speed shooting scenarios. It’s a jack of all trades and provides a full set of features for videographers that are often underdeveloped on other DSLRs, including full 4K resolution, advanced image processing, and both slow-motion and time-lapse recording features. 

The D780 has an ISO range of 100-51,200 that’s expandable up to a dazzling 204,800, making it capable of capturing low-light scenes with next to no noise. The 51-point algorithm-based autofocus system tracks subjects in real time via the optical viewfinder. It even has a software-based “Live View” mode that utilizes a 273-point AF system and silent shooting at 12fps. Set your shutter speed anywhere between 1/8000s (extremely fast action) and 15 minutes (long-exposure astrophotography). With this robust set of features, the D780 positions itself as a fantastic option for all kinds of photographers.

Best Budget: Nikon D3500

What We Like
  • Great for beginners

  • Smartphone compatible

  • Intuitive controls

What We Don't Like
  • Limited customizable settings

  • No 4K video

The Nikon D3500 is a great starter DSLR that’s intuitive, easy to use, and affordable. If you want to try DSLR photography without investing in a super expensive camera, the D3500 has quite a bit more power than the average smartphone camera and is a great way to up your photography game. With a 24-Megapixel sensor and a 100-25,600 ISO range, you can get crisp, professional-looking photos that will set your social media apart. It doesn’t have 4K capabilities at this price point, but it can record full HD video at up to 60fps.

The D3500 is extremely user friendly, making it a great option for those who have never used a DSLR before. The buttons and menus are intuitive and easy to use, and the comprehensive “Auto” mode will choose the right settings for you so you get the perfect shot every time. It even has a “Guide” mode that can teach you how to use the more advanced features. This camera is also compatible with the free SnapBridge app that can instantly transfer the photos you take to your phone, ready for editing and sharing.

Best Crop Sensor DSLR: Canon 90D

What We Like
  • Enhanced 32.5MP sensor

  • ISO range expandable to 51,200

  • Fits APS-C size lenses

What We Don't Like
  • Not a full-frame sensor

  • Produces very large image files

The 90D is a great mid-range camera that falls in the middle ground between Canon’s beginner DSLRs and their ultra-expensive professional models. Though it lacks a full-frame sensor, the 90D packs a lot of cutting-edge tech into a crop sensor body and is compatible with APS-C size lenses. It features a powerful 32.5-Megapixel CMOS sensor, an ISO range of 100-25,000 (expandable to 51,200), and a DIGIC 8 image processor that reduces noise to almost nothing even in low-light situations.

Action photographers will love the continuous shooting at 10fps and 45-point autofocus system that deliver crisp, high-resolution images even with moving subjects. Videographers will love being able to record 4K videos at up to 30fps. With all this high-resolution media, some users have complained that the camera produces files so big it’s hard for their computer to process, so keep that in mind if editing is a priority.  But overall, the 90D is a great option If you’re looking to upgrade — and especially if you want to use your existing lenses.

Best Rugged: Pentax K1 Mark II

What We Like
  • Ruggedized body

  • Built-in image stabilization

  • 36.4MP resolution

What We Don't Like
  • Not the best for video

If you seek out the perfect shot in all kinds of weather conditions, the Pentax K1 Mark II has a rugged magnesium alloy build that is both dust and moisture resistant so it can go wherever you go. The glass on the CMOS sensor is even designed with ultrasonic vibration to remove dirt and dust that could ruin your photos. Inside, it comes packed with even more features for outdoor photographers. The full-frame sensor with 36.4-Megapixel resolution is paired with a powerful image processor to create beautiful, sharp images even in low light.

Pentax’s Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode and five-axis Shake Reduction II (SR II) mechanism also reduce and correct for camera movements, meaning you won’t need to lug along a tripod on your next nature trek. And if you’re a night sky photographer, then you’ll be especially pleased with the K1 Mark II — it has a feature called Astro Tracer that incorporates built-in GPS and compass directionality to help you track and photograph celestial bodies. 

Best Mid Range: Canon 6D mark II

What We Like
  • Mid-range price

  • Full-frame sensor

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K video

  • Slower continuous shooting at 6.5fps

One of the brand’s less expensive full-frame DSLRs, the Canon 6D Mark II balances its more accessible price point with a slightly smaller sensor, HD instead of 4K video resolution, and an older processor. For most people, this is a solid compromise — you’ll get a 26.2-Megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with an ISO range of 100-40,000, plus a 45-point autofocus system with five different AF modes for different kinds of subject tracking.

The Digic 7 processor isn’t the newest, but it still produces solid low-light images. Combine that with a weather-resistant exterior and the always-popular adjustable touch screen, and the 6D Mark II presents itself as a formidable full-frame DSLR at a mid-range price.

Best Autofocus: Sony A99 II

What We Like
  • 42.4MP sensor

  • Dual AF sensors

  • 12fps continuous shooting

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The Sony A99 II made a splash when it was released in 2016 and still manages to feel cutting-edge this many years later. It’s autofocus system is especially innovative, featuring subject eye tracking, light sensitive features, and Sony’s 4D Focus system that incorporates algorithmic calculations of both space and time to anticipate and maintain focus on moving subjects.

The system also includes two separate sensors, a 79-point dedicated AF sensor and a second 399-point sensor that is able to capture and refocus on movement even when continuous shooting at 12fps. 

In addition to this advanced system, the A99 II features a stunning 42.4MP sensor for extremely high-resolution photos and excellent low light performance. The five-axis stabilization system even reduces camera shake so you can get sharper photographs and smoother video without a tripod. 

Best High End: Canon 1D X Mark III

What We Like
  • 20 fps continuous shooting speed

  • 4K video at 60fps

  • Cutting-edge Digic X processor

What We Don't Like
  • Very expensive

  • Bulky design

If you don’t mind a hefty camera with an equally-hefty price tag, the Canon 1D X Mark III is a photographer’s dream come true. The prohibitive pricing pushes it out of our “Best Overall” spot, but when it comes to pure functionality, we’re confident that this is the best DSLR out there — it’s a little mind-boggling how advanced this camera is. And while the 20.1MP CMOS sensor seems initially underwhelming, the processing power inside more than compensates for the smaller MP count.

This camera has an ISO range of 100-102,400 that is expandable to 50-819,200 equivalent, an absolutely huge range that allows for beautiful, crisp photos in just about any conditions you can imagine. It also has cutting-edge software to support intelligent autofocus across a 191-point AF array. Action photographers will love the 20fps continuous shooting capabilities that can be adjusted in 1-FPS increments, and a software-powered Live View that allows you to switch between mechanical and electronic shutter.

The Digic X processor is one of the fastest out there, allowing for extremely fast response and easy processing of large video files. Speaking of which, the 1D X Mark III can shoot 4K video at up to 60fps or 5.5K RAW video files. It’s an incredibly powerful and versatile tool for all kinds of photographers.

Best Medium Format: Pentax 645Z

What We Like
  • 51.4MP sensor

  • Captures high levels of detail

  • Affordable for this category

What We Don't Like
  • Not very versatile

  • Bulky design

Medium format DSLRs tend to be expensive and somewhat specialized cameras that are perfect for capturing extremely detailed images with a high level of color accuracy. This camera isn’t made for action photography or video — it’s better suited to product, fashion, and landscape photography. If you plan to print your photos, medium format cameras offer the kind of high resolution that doesn’t lose its quality at large sizes.

The Pentax 645Z sports a 51.4MP sensor and a filterless design that captures stunning high-quality images. It has a bulky but durable magnesium alloy build that is both weather- and cold-resistant. And while it isn’t the most portable or versatile DSLR, the Pentax 645Z is a fantastic medium format option that delivers an exceptional level of detail in every photograph.

About our trusted experts

 Emmeline Kasar is a former editor for Lifewire’s product round-ups and reviews. She is an experienced product researcher specializing in consumer tech.

Was this page helpful?