The 8 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
Nikon D780 at Amazon
Thanks to its large ISO range, the Nikon D780 particularly excels when shooting in low-light.
Best Budget:
Nikon D3500 at Amazon
Due to its useful features and low price, it’s a good way to learn the ropes of DSLR before investing in a more premium camera.
Best Crop Sensor DSLR:
Canon EOS 90D at Amazon
The 90D is a fantastic choice for intermediate photographers looking for a step up from an entry-level camera.
It’s built strong, with a durable and rugged magnesium alloy build that’s both dust and moisture resistant.
It’s one of the brand’s more affordable full-frame DSLRs, making it a good midrange option.
Best Autofocus:
Sony a99 II at EBay
The camera uses both a 79-point AF sensor and a 399-point focal-plane AF sensor to capture fast motion like never before.
The Mark III is squarely aimed at professionals or hobbyists with the expertise to use this camera to its full potential.
Best Medium Format:
Pentax 645Z at Amazon
This camera isn’t made for action photography or video—with a low shooting speed, it’s better suited to fashion or landscape photography.

Many photographers love shooting with digital SLR (DSLR) cameras. A DSLR camera gives you complete control of your shot, as it lets you adjust key elements including exposure, focus, and bokeh. If you’re new to DSLR photography and are upgrading to something more powerful than your smartphone, there are plenty of cameras that offer both manual and automatic settings, making it easy to take the shot. If this sounds like you, also check out our list of the best DSLRs for beginners

Or, if you’re more experienced, you might be shopping for an advanced camera with features such as complex autofocus systems, multi-axis internal stabilization, or 4K video. 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 DSLR cameras on the market. We’ve reviewed cameras based on a range of factors, including price, size, features, battery life, and ease of use.

Best Overall: Nikon D780

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

  • Quick and effective autofocus

  • Large ISO range

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Lacking built-in flash

One of the top DSLR cameras at the moment is the Nikon D780—if your budget allows, it’s a fantastic choice for both photo and video. Whether you’re shooting astrophotography, quick action shots, or low-light conditions, the D780 can handle it with ease, thanks to a 24.5MP full-frame sensor, EXPEED 6 processing, and a wide ISO range of 100-51,200—all at up to 12fps.

The D780 is Nikon’s replacement for the D750, but with a lot of notable additions, including Bluetooth, a touchscreen LCD, a wider ISO range, and almost double the battery life. Users will also appreciate the dual SD slots and the comfortable, easy-to-grip body. 

Focus and tracking are a breeze, as the D780 has a 51-point autofocus system, plus a software-based “Live View” mode that uses a 273-point AF system. Combined with 4K UHD video and a tough, weather-sealed build, you’ll find the Nikon D780 a fantastic all-rounder for just about any type of photography. However, thanks to its large ISO range, it particularly excels when shooting in low light. The result is vibrant, accurate video and photos, with plenty of versatility. Pro photographers are sure to appreciate the generous 2,260 shots per charge, too.

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
  • Affordable price makes it great for beginners

  • Long battery life

  • More compact than most DSLRs

What We Don't Like
  • No touchscreen controls

  • Limited customization options

The Nikon D3500 might be designed as the brand’s entry-level model, but even more experienced photographers will find something to like in this camera, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Due to its useful features and low price, it’s a good way to learn the ropes of DSLR before investing in a more premium camera.

Although it’s been around since 2018, the D3500 still more than holds its own, thanks to a 24MP sensor, a 100-25,600 ISO range, and a shooting speed of 5fps. In the D3500, Nikon took the popular D3400 model and gave it some improvements—mainly a longer battery life and a slightly lower weight. 

Learning to use a DSLR can be a steep learning curve if you’re used to your smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera, so Nikon has made the buttons and controls as intuitive as possible. There’s a ‘Guide’ mode to help you learn the camera’s more advanced features, but you can always switch to ‘Auto’ mode as well, where the camera will automatically select the right setting for your shot. With the inclusion of Bluetooth, it’s also easy to either shoot remotely or transfer images to your phone with the free SnapBridge app.

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
  • Enhanced 32.5MP sensor

  • Fast auto-focus

  • Beautiful image quality, especially in RAW

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

  • No in-body stabilization

Crop sensor cameras like the Canon EOS 90D take high-quality photos, but tend to be more affordable and lightweight than full-frame cameras. Thanks to its impressive features such as a 32.5MP CMOS sensor, an ISO range of 100-25,000, and a DIGIC 8 image processor, the 90D is a fantastic choice for intermediate photographers looking for a step up from an entry-level camera.

This model replaced Canon’s 80D with a raft of improvements, including a higher resolution, wider ISO range, increased shooting speeds, and the addition of 4K video. It also offers a decent battery life, giving users about 1,300 shots per charge. 

The 90D stands out for its 10fps, 45-point autofocus system, and Canon’s EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition system, which recognizes faces—all of these features mean it’s a top choice for action photography such as sports or moving wildlife. With a wide ISO range, it also handles low-light situations beautifully. While it’s a heavier camera, something to keep in mind if you want to pair it with larger lenses, it’s still a top choice for crop sensor fans.

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 and strong weather-sealed body

  • Built-in image stabilization

  • Impressive 36.4MP resolution

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

  • It's over 2 pounds in weight

If you love shooting outdoors, the last thing you want is water damage to your valuable camera. Photographers who love shooting outside in the elements are sure to appreciate the full-frame Pentax K1 Mark II. It’s built strong, with a durable and rugged magnesium alloy build that’s both dust and moisture resistant. There’s even an ultrasonic vibration feature within the CMOS sensor to stop dirt or dust from ruining your photos.

When shooting outside, the Mark II’s five-axis Shake Reduction II works to stabilize shots taken while moving. Or, if you prefer astrophotography, the Astro Tracer feature uses a built-in GPS and compass to help you track and photograph celestial bodies. 

We love that the Mark II has a 36.4MP resolution—when paired with the camera’s fast processing, it makes it easy to take stunning, sharp photos, even in low light. Pentax gave the Mark II a number of upgrades over the previous K1 model, including a much wider ISO range and a new accelerator unit, which results in more accurate images and colors and less noise.

It’s worth noting that the Mark II is over 2 pounds, which is on the heavier side, although avid outdoor photographers are likely to accept the trade-off for the durability and impressive features this camera offers.

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 make it easy to quickly transfer photos

  • Adjust the LCD touchscreen to capture the perfect shot

  • Live View focusing is very accurate

What We Don't Like
  • Would be nice to see 4K video at this price point

  • Slower continuous shooting at 6.5fps


Ready to upgrade to a full-frame camera? If you want to take your photography to the next level, consider the Canon 6D Mark II. It’s one of the brand’s more affordable full-frame DSLRs, making it a good midrange option. It took five years for Canon to update the previous 6D model, in which time plenty of great features were added: While the 6D had 20MP resolution, the 6D Mark II has 26.2MP, plus a higher ISO, improved autofocus, and the addition of NFC and Bluetooth for photo transfer. 

While 4K video isn’t included, you’re still getting an ISO range of 100-40,000, a 45-point autofocus system with five different AF modes for different kinds of subject tracking, and built-in GPS, all in a durable and weather-sealed body. The vari-angle LCD touchscreen is a great feature as well, as you can position it as you like to capture just the right angle.

The 6D Mark II is sure to impress photographers looking to take vibrant, dynamic shots, as this camera is a great choice for just about any type of photography and makes it easy to learn how to master DSLRs and full-frame photography.

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
  • Fantastic 42.4MP sensor

  • Great at capturing fine details

  • 12fps continuous shooting

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Not the longest battery life

The Sony A99 II made a splash when it was released in 2016, but it still feels innovative and new, especially in regards to its autofocus (AF) system. Through Sony’s Hybrid Phase Detection AF System, the camera uses both a 79-point AF sensor and a 399-point focal-plane AF sensor to capture fast motion like never before.

If you’re planning on shooting things like wildlife, birds, sports, or motor racing, the A99 is a fantastic choice for capturing clear, vibrant details—even in low light. While there’s no denying that this is a high-end camera, the unique autofocus system makes it worth the expense. The A99 II replaced the A99 and is a far superior camera, with almost a 100 percent increase in resolution and a vastly improved AF system. 

The A99 also makes use of a 42.4MP full-frame back-illuminated sensor, shooting at 12fps and 4K video. A five-axis stabilization system is also included, giving your sharper photos and reducing camera shake. It’s a high-quality camera that would suit professional use, with a rugged, weather-sealed body and compatibility with all of Sony’s a-mount lenses.

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

  • New Smart Controller feature makes AF a breeze

What We Don't Like
  • Very high price point

  • No tilting LCD screen

If only the best will do, don’t miss the Canon 1D X Mark III. With top-of-the-line features and a price tag to match, the Mark III is squarely aimed at professionals or hobbyists with the expertise to use this camera to its full potential. While the 20.1MP full-frame CMOS might not seem amazing, the camera’s true power can be found in its huge ISO range, fast processing, and AF controls—giving you professional, jaw-dropping photos and video. 

This camera has an ISO range of 100 to 102,400, 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 and the Smart Controller mode, which makes it easier than ever to set your autofocus points.

For videographers, shoot 4K video at up to 60fps or 5.5K RAW video files. It’s all powered by a Digic X processor, one of the fastest in the industry. The Mark III is a powerful, versatile camera that we don’t think will disappoint—once you try it out, it might be hard to shoot with anything else.

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
  • Captures high levels of detail

  • Affordable for this category

  • Capable of HD video

What We Don't Like
  • Slow continuous shooting speeds

  • Bulky design

If you’re shopping for a medium format DSLR like the Pentax 645Z, you probably know that these cameras are specialized, known for their ability to capture extremely detailed images with accurate color. This camera isn’t made for action photography or video—with a low shooting speed, 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. Although medium format cameras are pricey, the 645Z is one of the most affordable out there. 

With an exceptional 51.4MP sensor and a wide ISO range, the 645Z is capable of capturing stunning, high-quality images, even at nighttime and in low light. The 645Z model replaced the 645D and has a CMOS sensor, while the previous model was CCD. The 645Z also has the added advantage of HD video and a tilting screen, making it easier to capture your shot. 

Most medium formats are larger, and the 645Z is no exception—it’s a durable and bulky magnesium alloy build, but it does have the advantage of being weather sealed. Overall, the 645Z is a fantastic medium format option that delivers an exceptional level of detail in every photograph.

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.

Or, consider the Nikon D3500 (view at Amazon). With a budget-friendly price, long battery life, and easy-to-use controls, it’s a great choice for both beginner and intermediate photographers.

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. 

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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