The 8 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
Nikon D780 at Amazon
This is a great all-rounder that would work well in the hands of a beginner, or a seasoned pro.
Best Budget:
Nikon D3500 at Amazon
If you're looking for a great shooter, or even a backup camera that won't break the bank, this is a great option.
Best Crop Sensor DSLR:
Canon EOS 90D at Amazon
If you're interested in a crop sensor camera, the Canon EOS 90D is a very solid choice.
If you are a nature lover and want to take your camera outdoors, the Pentax K-1 Mark II is a great choice.
If you'd rather shoot with a full-frame camera, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a great mid-range choice.
Best Autofocus:
Sony a99 II at EBay
The Sony a99 II has been around since 2016, but it's still a go-to for photographers and that's mostly because of Sony's amazing autofocus.
If you're looking for a top of the line performer, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is an awesome option.
Best Medium Format:
Pentax 645Z at Amazon
If you're a medium format fan, this camera offers you an amazing combination of specifications and value.

The best DSLR cameras give a photographer the most control over their shots. You can adjust the details of your shot including exposure, focus, bokeh, and more. It helps you capture the shot you want, without necessarily relying on automatic settings. Maybe you just want to grab some higher-quality photos than your smartphone can manage? Whatever the case, a DSLR might be a good choice for you.

There are various categories that DSLRs can fall into. Appropriately, we have a list of the best DSLR cameras for beginners and the best professional cameras which also includes a number of DSLRs. Here, we want to put together a more general list that covers a range of use cases, budgets, features, and more. So read on for our picks.

Best Overall: Nikon D780

The Nikon F78 is our pick for best overall camera
What We Like
  • 24.5MP

  • Quick autofocus

  • Large ISO range

  • Bluetooth

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • No built-in flash

Our favorite DSLR camera has to be the Nikon D780. It's Nikon's successor to the equally great D750 but adds on a lot of features missing from the previous model. You'll get Bluetooth, a touchscreen, and a wider ISO range. Plus you get a 24.5MP full-frame sensor, EXPEED 6 processing. EXPEED is a multi-processor system that can work in parallel on multiple instructions/operations. That means your photos can be processed quickly and efficiently. EXPEED 6 is Nikon's latest version of the processor.

Some other features you get with this camera include an ISO range of 100-51,200, 12 fps, Dual SD slots for memory, and a 51-point autofocus system. You'll also get 2,260 shots per battery charge, which is almost double the previous generation. This camera is one of the best out there, so it comes with a premium price tag. 

The camera can shoot 4K UHD and has a tough, weather-sealed build. We don't recommend swimming or anything, but it can stand up to a bit of rain. The large ISO range we talked about before makes this camera especially suited to low-light conditions. That's doesn't quite make up for the lack of built-in flash, but flash modules are easy enough to add on later. All told, this is a great all-rounder that would work well in the hands of a beginner or a seasoned pro.

Resolution: 24.5MP | Sensor Type: Full-frame | Max ISO: 51200 | Optical Zoom: 0 | Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth

Best Budget: Nikon D3500

The Nikon D3500 is our pick for Best Budget Camera
What We Like
  • Great price

  • Long battery life

  • Very compact

  • Guide mode

What We Don't Like
  • No touch screen

  • Limited to 1080p at 60fps

If you're working within a budget, the Nikon D3500 is a great choice for beginners, but even professionals will find a lot to like in this shooter. The D3500 first came out in 2018, but there's still a lot to like here including a 24MP sensor, a shooting speed of 5 fps, and an ISO range of 100-25,600. You also get a longer battery life and lower bodyweight from its predecessor, the D3400.

The step up from a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone camera to a DSLR can be pretty big. What probably sets this camera apart from many of its contemporaries is the "Guide mode" you can enable which will help you learn the camera's more advanced features. There's no touch screen, but Nikon set out to make the controls and menus as intuitive as possible. If all else fails, the Auto mode will get you a great snap without having to adjust anything.

The camera is limited to shooting 1080p video, which is not ideal. But if you're looking for a great shooter or even a backup camera that won't break the bank, this is a great option.

Resolution: 24.7MP | Sensor Type: APS-C | Max ISO: 25600 | Optical Zoom: 3x | Connectivity: Bluetooth

I’ve shot with this camera and enjoy it for its lightweight size and its controls, which are easy and intuitive to navigate.” — Katie Dundas, Tech Writer

Best Crop Sensor DSLR: Canon EOS 90D

The Canon EOS 90D is our pick for best crop sensor camera.
What We Like
  • 32.5MP sensor

  • Quick auto-focus

  • Great image quality and RAW support

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

  • No in-body stabilization

If you're interested in crop sensor cameras, the Canon EOS 90D is a very solid choice. Crop sensor cameras tend to be more lightweight and affordable compared to their full-frame counterparts. The Canon EOS 90D is the best of those around. You get a 32.5MP CMOS sensor, an ISO range of 100-25,000, and a DIGIC 8 image processor which is just one generation old. Images captured with this camera are beautiful, especially in RAW mode.

The Canon EOS 90D stepped up from its previous generation with a higher resolution, wider ISO range, and 4K video. Canon also added some battery life getting up to 1,300 shots per charge. Add to that Canon's 45 point autofocus system, and Canon's EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition system which recognizes faces, the EOS 90D is popular among sports, wildlife, and low-light photography even though there's no in-body stabilization.

Overall, the EOS 90D is a great camera for a large number of situations. It's a little of the heavy side, but the feature-set it brings makes this a great contender.

Resolution: 32.5MP | Sensor Type: APS-C | Max ISO: 25600 | Optical Zoom: 0 | Connectivity: Bluetooth, WiFi

Best Rugged: Pentax K-1 Mark II

Pentax K-1
What We Like
  • Durable, weather resistant body

  • Built-in image stabilization

  • 36.4MP resolution

What We Don't Like
  • Poor video capture

  • Heavy

If you are a nature lover and want to take your camera outdoors, the Pentax K-1 Mark II is a great choice.  It has a durable, magnesium alloy build that is dust and moisture resistant. One neat part about the camera is the ultrasonic vibration mechanism that prevents dirt and dust from collecting on your CMOS sensor.

The camera has in-body image stabilization in the form of five-axis Shake Reduction II technology. It helps clear up photos that are taken while moving. Additionally, the camera has a built-in GPS and compass to help you track celestial bodies in the night sky. An increased ISO range helps here too. Unfortunately, the video capture of this camera is less than stellar.

All of these features come at a bit of cost as the camera weighs over two pounds, which doesn't sound like a lot until you're wearing it on a strap around your neck. But for a durable, outdoor camera with a 36.4MP sensor, the Pentax K-1 Mark II is hard to beat!

Resolution: 36.4MP | Sensor Type: Full-frame | Max ISO: 819200 | Optical Zoom: 1x | Connectivity: WiFi

Best Mid-Range: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

The Canon EOS 6D MArk II is our pick for Best Mid-Range camera.
What We Like
  • NFC and Bluetooth

  • Accurate Live View focusing

  • Tilting LCD screen

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K video

  • Tops out at 6.5fps

If you'd rather shoot with a full-frame camera, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a great mid-range choice. This camera is one of Canon's more affordable full-frame cameras. Canon brought a lot of improvements to the Mark II over its predecessor including a 26.2MP sensor, higher ISO, and better autofocus. One of the best additions has to be NFC and Bluetooth for quick photo transfers to your smartphone.

There's no 4K video capture here and burst shooting tops out at 6.5fps, which is unfortunate considering the price point, but you do get an impressive ISO range of 100 - 40,000 and a 45 point autofocus system with five different modes of subject tracking. All this comes through on the tilting LCD screen on the back which makes it a lot easier to get the angle you're looking for. 

One of our favorite functions is the live view focusing. When you switch to live view, you can see what the sensor sees and magnify it you can get tack sharp focus. It's a great way to make sure your photos look as good as possible before hitting the shutter.

Resolution: 26.2MP | Sensor Type: Full-frame | Max ISO: 40000 | Optical Zoom: 1x | Connectivity: Built-in WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth

Best Autofocus: Sony a99 II

Sony a99 II
What We Like
  • Great 42.4MP sensor

  • Sharp focus

  • 12fps continuous shooting

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Battery life is not great

The Sony a99 II has been around since 2016, but it's still a go-to for photographers and that's mostly because of Sony's amazing autofocus. It's one of the signatures of a Sony camera. Sony's Hybrid Phase Detection AutoFocus system uses two different sensors to detect and keep the focus on a fast-moving subject effortlessly. There's a 79-point AF sensor, and a 399-point focal plane sensor working together.

Any kind of fast-moving action like racing, wildlife, or sports can be captured with the Sony a99 II in sharp, vibrant detail, even in low light. It's very expensive, but it's a camera that photographers swear by, especially considering the almost 100 percent increase in resolution over the original a99.

The camera can also capture video at 4K, and continuous shooting at 12fps. The camera also has a five-axis stabilization system which helps reduce camera shake. You can use any of Sony's a-mount lenses attached to the rugged weather-sealed body.

Resolution: 42.4MP | Sensor Type: Full-frame | Max ISO: 25600 | Optical Zoom: 1x | Connectivity: WiFi, NFC

Best High-End: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

What We Like
  • 20fps continuous shooting speed

  • 4K video at 60fps

  • Incredible ISO range

What We Don't Like
  • Only a 20.1MP sensor

  • Extremely expensive

  • No-tilt LCD screen

If you're looking for a top-of-the-line performer, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is an awesome option. The camera has a 20.1 MP full-frame CMOS sensor, which is not the latest and greatest, and there's no tilt LCD screen. But the camera also comes with a huge ISO range, zippy processing, and autofocus controls. In short, this camera is capable of some amazing photos and video.

The ISO has a range of 100 - 102,400 and no, that is not a misplaced comma. ISO, put simply, is your camera's ability to brighten or darken a photo, and an ISO range that goes up to 102,400 means you can take a photo in just about any situation. The camera also has a 191-point AF array and 20 fps continuous shooting meaning this camera is also great for action shots with moving subjects. 

If video is your focus, this camera does not disappoint there either. You can shoot 4K video at up to 60fps or 5.5K RAW video files. It sports Canon's latest Digic X processor which also happens to be one of the fastest in the industry. Put simply, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is one of the best cameras you can buy, but you will pay for the privilege.

Resolution: 20.1MP | Sensor Type: Full-frame | Max ISO: 102400 | Optical Zoom: Not specified | Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth

The Canon 1D X Mark III is a favorite with professionals, for good reason: this full-frame beauty can capture just about any shot with ease, once you master the controls.” — Katie Dundas, Tech Writer

Best Medium Format: Pentax 645Z

Pentax 645Z
What We Like
  • High levels of detail

  • Good price, considering the category

  • Capable of HD video

What We Don't Like
  • Slow continuous shooting

  • Bulky

Don't worry, medium format fans, we did not forget about you. Medium format digital cameras are making something of a resurgence with large sensors capable of high levels of detail. One big reason is the ability to print out high-resolution photos.


The Pentax 645Z is our favorite in this format because while it's expensive, it's actually reasonably priced for this category. The 51.4 MP CMOS sensor and 100-204,800 ISO range combine to allow this camera to capture incredibly fine detail, even in low light, such as night time portraits.


This camera is bulky, as are most in this format. The tilting LCD screen helps in that regard, allowing you to frame your shot from any angle. Plus, you can shoot HD video with this camera, which isn't too common in this field. Overall, if you're a medium format fan, this camera offers you an amazing combination of specifications and value.

Resolution: 51.4MP | Sensor Type: Medium Format (>35mm) | Max ISO: 204800 | Optical Zoom: 1x | Connectivity: None

Final Verdict

Our overall top choice for DSLR cameras is the Nikon D780 (view at Amazon) for its wide range of useful features, ease of use, and versatility—you can take gorgeous images and video with this camera, no matter what type of photography you enjoy.

There's also the Nikon D3500 (view at Amazon). It is a budget-friendly camera with easy-to-use controls and long battery life, It's a great choice for beginning photographers, or as a reliable backup for seasoned pros.

About Our Trusted Experts

Katie Dundas is a freelance journalist and tech writer. She’s also an experienced photographer who frequently covers cameras, photography, and drones. 

Adam Doud has been writing in the technology space for almost a decade. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's playing with the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. When not working, he's a cyclist, geocacher, and spends as much time outside as he can.

FAQs

What does DSLR mean?

DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. This type of camera works when light hits a mirror inside the camera that’s angled at 45 degrees. The light goes into an optical viewfinder, showing you exactly what’s being seen. This differs from a mirrorless camera, which doesn’t use mirrors—instead, light passes directly to the camera lens. 

Why should you choose a DSLR over a mirrorless camera?

Mirrorless cameras are known for being lightweight and of high quality, so why purchase a DSLR? While both are great options, DLSRs tend to offer a longer battery life, a wider selection of lenses, and they have optical viewfinders, which are preferable to many photographers over digital. 

How can you learn how to use your new camera to its full potential? 

If you’re new to shooting in manual mode, have patience! It can take some time to fully master all of the controls of your new camera. Most cameras don’t come with much in terms of instructions, but you’ll find that most brands have tutorials on their websites or via YouTube. There are also plenty of online and in-person photography courses that focus on shooting in manual mode.

What to Look For in a DSLR Camera

Sensor Type

Most DSLR cameras either have a cropped sensor (like the APS-C) or a full-frame sensor, which is equal to 35mm. Cropped sensors, as the name implies, are smaller than the 35mm size, meaning the edges of your photo will be slightly cropped, creating a tighter field of view. Full frame cameras are more expensive, but they tend to give more depth of field, better low-light performance, and a better dynamic range.

The choice is yours, based on your budget, photography skills, and preferences.

Lens Compatibility

If you already have other cameras and lenses, it makes sense to purchase a camera that’s compatible with your other lens mounts. Lenses are a big investment, so many photographers tend to be loyal to one camera brand so that they can use their lenses interchangeably.

Weight and Size

If you’re going to be shooting all day or carrying around your camera as you travel, it helps to think about weight and size. Some DSLRs tend to be large and bulky, especially after adding on a large lens. Sometimes, a more compact camera can be more comfortable when traveling.

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