The 8 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021

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The Rundown
Best Overall:
Nikon D780 at Amazon
This is one of the best all-around cameras you can buy today, perfect for a beginner, or even a seasoned pro.
Best Budget:
Nikon D3500 at Amazon
If you're a beginner looking to get your feet wet, or if you're a pro looking for a great backup camera, this is a great choice.
Best Crop Sensor DSLR:
Canon EOS 90D at Amazon
The EOS 90D is a great camera and very versatile in a variety of situations.
If you're looking for a camera you can take to the great 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 Walmart
That makes the Sony a99 II capable of capturing fast-moving action like racing, wildlife, or sports in sharp, vibrant detail, even in low-light.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is one of the best cameras you can buy.
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 do several things that your phone camera cannot do. That includes allowing you to zoom in, change the focus, and really fine-tune the shot you're going for. Some even have remote shooting capabilities. You can choose different lenses and filters (lens filters, not Instagram filters) to create just the photo you're trying to take. Most DSLR cameras have really good automatic settings, but as you become more refined in your craft, you might want to take control of some of those things. 

There are various categories that DSLRs can fall into. Appropriately we have a list for the best DSLR cameras for beginners or best professional cameras which also includes a number of DSLRs. For this list, we wanted to take a more holistic approach and find the best quality and value for your dollar. Some things to look for in DSLR cameras include battery life, the type of lens they use, ISO range, and connectivity options including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It's a lot to take in, so our experts have looked at dozens of DSLRs on the market for you to take a look at.

Best Overall: Nikon D780

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

  • Quick autofocus

  • Wide ISO range

  • Bluetooth connectivity

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • No flash

Right off the bat, our favorite DSLR is the Nikon D780. It's the successor to another favorite of ours, the Nikon D750. This time, Nikon added a lot of features that were missing from the previous model including Bluetooth, a touchscreen, and a wider ISO range. Additionally, you get a 24.5MP full-frame sensor and 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.

The IOS range of this camera is particularly impressive at 100-51,200, which makes this camera an excellent performer in low-light conditions. Other features include 12fps, Dual SD Slots, and a 51-point autofocus system. You can get up to 2,260 shots on a full battery, almost doubling up the previous generation. Overall, this camera is one of the best out there, so it earns its hefty price tag.

On the video front, this camera shoots at 4K UHD. It has a tough, weather-sealed build that's suitable for rain, but not swimming. Despite the wide ISO range, we'd still like to see a standard feature like flash built-in, but flash modules are easy enough to add. We even have a list of the best camera flash modules you can buy. In short, this is one of the best all-around cameras you can buy today, perfect for a beginner, or even a seasoned pro.

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

What We Like
  • Good price

  • Great battery life

  • Compact

  • Helpful Guide mode

What We Don't Like
  • No touch screen

  • Limited to 1080p at 60fps

The Nikon D3500 is a great option for beginners on a budget, but there's a lot to like for professionals as well. Though it came out almost three years ago, it's still a strong option with a 24MP sensor, top shooting speed of 5fps, and a respectable ISO range of 100-25,600. Compared to the previous generation, the D3400, you also get lower body weight and longer battery life.

DSLR cameras can be challenging to grasp, but Nikon addresses that with a "Guide mode" you can enable which teaches you the cameras' more advanced features. There's no touch screen, which is unfortunate, but Nikon designed the controls and menus to be as intuitive as possible. If necessary, auto mode will get you a great snap without any user intervention. 

Video is limited to 1080p, which is not great in 2021. But if you're a beginner looking to get your feet wet, or if you're a pro looking for a great backup camera, this is a great choice.

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

  • Super quick auto-focus

  • RAW support

What We Don't Like
  • Fairly Heavy

  • In-body stabilization missing

Crop sensor cameras are a different category in the DSLR department. They tend to be more lightweight and affordable, so if that's where your interest lies, check out the Canon EOS 90D. It's the best crop sensor DSLR around. You get a 32.5MP CMOS sensor, an ISO range of 100-25,000, and a DIGIC 8 image processor. The DIGIC 8 is one generation old, but the difference is negligible. The quality of the images that this camera can capture, especially in RAW mode is pretty high.

The Canon EOS 90D improved from its predecessor by adding a higher resolution, wider ISO range, and 4K video capability. You can also get 1,300 shots on a single battery charge. The EOS 90D is popular among sports and wildlife photographers due to its 45 point autofocus system and Intelligent tracking and recognition features. The wide ISO range also helps with low-light photos, even though in-body stabilization is missing. 

Overall, the EOS 90D is a great camera and very versatile in a variety of situations. It's a little on the heavy side, but the features it brings make it worth the weight and the price.

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 weather resistant

  • Built-in stabilization

  • 36.4MP

What We Don't Like
  • Poor video capture

  • Fairly Heavy

If you're looking for a camera you can take to the great outdoors, the Pentax K-1 Mark II is a great choice. The body is a durable magnesium alloy that is both dust and water-resistant. It's especially suited for outside because of the Ultrasonic vibration mechanism that prevents dust and dirt from settling and collecting on the 36.4MP CMOS sensor.

The camera's in-body stabilization is called Shake Reduction II technology. It's a five-axis stabilization mechanism that helps, among other things, clear up photos taken while moving. Adding to the outdoors category, the camera has a built-in GPS and compass which helps you track celestial bodies in the night sky. An ISO range of up to 819,200 is exceptionally high.

All of these features come at a cost in weight and poor video capture. The body itself weighs over two pounds, which doesn't sound like a lot until you take this camera hiking. But if you're looking for a durable camera for some outdoor shooting, 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
  • Lots of connectivity

  • Accurate focusing

  • Tilting screen

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K video

  • Tops out at 6.5fps

Full frame cameras are great for taking in a full scene and getting great bokeh and low light performance out of a camera. The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a great mid-range choice for full-frame cameras. Canon improved this camera over its predecessor in a number of key ways including a 26.2MP sensor, higher ISO range, and improved autofocus. You also get a couple of wireless connectivity options in the form of NFC and Bluetooth for fast photo transfer to your phone.

Unfortunately, your shooting tops out at just 6.5fps and there's no 4K video capture which is a little silly in 2021, but you get a good ISO range of 100-40,000 and a 45 point autofocus system which includes five different modes of subject tracking. You also get a tilting  LCD screen on the back which makes it easier to frame up your shot.

We particularly like the live view focusing. When you switch to live view, you can see exactly what the sensor sees and magnify it so you can ensure your focus is tack sharp. That way you can make sure you have the best shot 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
  • 42.4MP sensor

  • Focus is sharp

  • 12fps continuous shooting

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Not great battery life

The Sony a99 II has been around since 2016, which makes it a little long in the tooth, but it's still a solid pickup for professional photographers. The autofocus is just that good. Sony uses what it calls Hybrid Phase Detection Autofocus which uses two different sensors to detect moving subjects and keep the focus locked on them at all times.  Those two sensors are a 79-point AF sensor and a 399-point focal plane sensor working together. 

That makes the Sony a99 II capable of capturing fast-moving action like racing, wildlife, or sports in sharp, vibrant detail, even in low-light. It's quite pricey, but it's a camera that professionals swear by, especially considering the increase in sensor size over the previous generation. The camera captures 4K, can shoot at 12fps, and has a five-axis stabilization system which helps reduce camera shake. Add to that compatibility with any of Sony's a-mount lenses and the rugged weather-sealed body and you have a camera that is a standby for professionals.

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

  • 4K/60fps

  • Wide ISO range

What We Don't Like
  • 20.1MP sensor

  • Very Pricey

  • No-tilt LCD screen

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is a top-of-the-line performer in every way. Despite only carrying a 20.1 megapixel CMOS sensor and lacking a tilting LCD screen, the camera really brings it with a wide ISO range of 100-102,400. You can take a photo in just about any lighting situation. You also get zippy processing and autofocus controls, allowing you to capture some truly amazing photos and video.

The ISO range in particular is impressive going all the way up to 102,400. ISO is your camera's ability to brighten or darken a photo, depending on your lighting conditions. The camera also comes with 20fps of continuous shooting and a 191-point autofocus array for seamless action shots, including with moving subjects. 

This camera also shoots 4K video at 60 fps or 5.5K RAW Video files. It also has the latest DIGIC X processor, which is 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
  • Lots of detail

  • Good price

  • HD video

What We Don't Like
  • Slow continuous shooting

  • Hefty

Medium format cameras are making a comeback in the photography space. Medium format cameras are capable of capturing high levels of detail with larger sensors. This allows you to capture and print large, high-resolution photos.

The Pentax 645Z is an expensive camera, but considering the medium format space, it's actually fairly inexpensive for the category. Seriously, medium format cameras are expensive. This particular camera has a 51.4MP CMOS sensor and a 100-204,800 ISO range. Both of those allow the camera to capture amazing detail, even in low-light situations. 

Like most medium format cameras, this one is bulky, but the tilting LCD screen helps you get the shots you're looking for from any angle. You can also shoot HD video with this camera which is not common for medium format cameras. 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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