If you’ve been shooting with a compact-style, or even a smartphone, camera for a while but are now wanting to progress your photographic journey with a more advanced camera, then a DSLR might be for you.
When you pick up and use a DSLR you’ll see that image quality is vastly better when compared with a compact camera and you’ll also have access to many more manual controls. The low light performance of DSLRs is also much better than what compact cameras and smartphones can offer, too. Plus, you can change lenses when using a DSLR, something you won’t have had the option to do with a point-and-shoot and even though lenses are available for smartphones, the quality won’t be anywhere near that of what the interchangeable lenses for DSLRs can offer.
As you’ll probably be new to shutter speeds and apertures, you’ll be happy to hear that DSLRs do also have auto modes to help you out until you’re more proficient in using your new DSLR.
Cost is another consideration as you probably don’t have a spare £1000/$1300 to spend on a new camera so all of the DSLRs we have listed here can be purchased for around £500/$650. There are a couple which are a bit more money but it shouldn’t take you too long to save up the extra £100/$130. Some are also purchased as a ‘kit’ where you get a standard 18-55mm lens supplied with the camera. The lens covers a decent amount of focal lengths until you have the money, or the need, to purchase other lenses such as wides, macro lenses and telephotos. Eventually, you will probably also want to buy a flash gun, tripod and other accessories.
You may want to consider purchasing a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR as they’re much smaller in size or if you’re not sure which camera is for you, take a look at our camera buying guide.
The Nikon D3400 was actually designed as an entry-level, easy-to-use DSLR that has a good price point and produces excellent images. The kit lens performs reasonably well and is quite compact and you can also share photos instantly with your smartphone but you can’t get them online directly from the camera as Wi-Fi isn’t built in. There are some limitations, such as the inability to shoot remotely, but if you can live without this, the Nikon D3400 is a great first DSLR to own thanks to its good handling noise performance and impressive battery life, amongst other things.
For even less money, you can pick up the older D3300 which arrived before the D3400 did.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £389/$506
- Pros: Good handling, good noise performance, impressive battery life, built-in guides (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Slow live-view focus and shutter response, Remote shooting not possible, No auto panoramic mode, No HDR mode
Canon EOS 200D
With a gap of four years, the EOS 200D offers a significant update since the 100D, with a 24mp sensor, white priority white balance (great for product shots), improved continuous shooting speed (5fps), improved battery life (650 shots), impressive Live view focus performance, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and a new vari-angle touch-screen.
The 200D is ultra-compact for a DSLR when used with the Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, and this makes the camera a great tool to pick up and take with you everywhere you go, compared to a larger DSLR.
We can see this camera being popular with beginners, as well as those looking for a compact second camera body.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £599/$779
- Pros: Excellent image quality and colour, good battery life, great screen, impressive Live View focus (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Only one command dial, only 9 AF points
Weatherproofed DSLRs don’t usually come cheap but the Pentax K-70 is reasonably priced and weatherproof so you can keep shooting in all conditions (so long as you have a weatherproof lens). Shake reduction is built in along with Wi-Fi and a hybrid live view autofocus system that means you can quite happily use the screen rather than the viewfinder when framing. Image quality is let down by the 18-135mm kit lens, which can give soft images, and a prime lens is recommended to get the best out of the camera but overall, it’s a really good camera for its price point.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £599/$770
- Pros: Good colours, excellent noise performance, built-in Wi-Fi, Dual-axis electronic level, Pixel Shift Resolution (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Live view focus and shutter response could be quicker, 18-35mm lens isn’t great
Canon EOS 1300D
The EOS 1300D entry-level DSLR from Canon was released just over a year ago and it’s reasonably priced, produces decent quality images and features Wi-Fi as well as NFC so you can easily transfer photos to your smartphone. While the Canon EOS 1300D doesn’t offer the fastest continuous shooting or the highest resolution sensor, it offers a good range of white balance options and good colour reproduction. Plus, when you factor in its connectivity and good price point, it makes an excellent first DSLR.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £319.66/$416
- Pros: Price, Wi-Fi, NFC, easy to use, good battery life, good colour reproduction (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Poor ISO range, only 3fps continuous shooting, entry level kit lens lacks IS
With built-in Wi-Fi articulated screen and weather sealing, the Pentax K-S2 is a very good buy. In fact, in its class, the enthusiast-orientated K-S2 is absolutely superb. It fits well in the hand, produces excellent images and as it’s partnered with a compact retractable lens, it takes up even less room in your kit bag. This is definitely a package for the enthusiast and represents extremely good value for money.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £578/$752
- Pros: Design, fold out screen, weather resistant, built-in Wi-Fi & NFC, value for money (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: No top screen, lower frame rate than the K-3, plastic outer shell
Canon EOS 750D
This entry-level DSLR does have a newer competitor (800D) but as the price jump to the 800D is quite considerable, the 750D is still worth considering. The Canon EOS 750D sports a 24MP sensor, good noise performance, a vari-angle screen and Wi-Fi as well as NFC is built-in. Colour reproduction is good and the fact that the screen is touch responsive is a nice bonus.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £553/$719
- Pros: 24MP sensor with low noise, 3inch vari-angle touch-screen, excellent colour reproduction (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Does not feature AF micro adjustment, lens aberration correction slows continuous shooting slightly
Sony Alpha SLT-A68
With the Sony Alpha SLT-A68, you get the same focusing system as found on the more expensive Alpha A77-II, but it does lack basics such as built-in Wi-Fi and a big screen. However, where the A68 scores well, is the inclusion of a top LCD screen and in-camera image stabilisation. It also has a good battery life, 79 AF points, with 15 cross-type sensors, and is sensitive down to -2 EV which makes the camera particularly good at focusing in low-light. There are many Sony mirrorless cameras that offer more but if you like the SLR design and are a Sony fan, the price could be attractive.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £529/$688
- Pros: Top LCD screen, good battery life, built in image stabilisation sensor, 79 AF points with wide coverage (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Lacks Wi-Fi, 2.7inch screen, Sony 18-55mm SAM II isn’t the best lens
The Nikon D5500 is capable of taking some very detailed and sharp photos. It’s definitely a camera you can grow into and if you are prepared to invest in additional lenses, then you should be able to get the best out of the camera. The ergonomic body isn’t too big and the large 3.2-inch touchscreen will be a welcomed feature for those used to using screens to frame their shots. Built-in wi-fi is something we all appreciate and this, combined with excellent controls and handling make it very good entry-level DSLR. Through in the compact 18-55mm VR II kit lens into the mix and you’ve also got a very reasonably priced DSLR for someone just dipping their toe into the DSLR pond.
If you have a little more money to spend, you might want to consider the Nikon D5600 which is a mid-range consumer DSLR and the update for the D5500.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £599.99/$780
- Pros: Built-in Wi-Fi, Large touchscreen, Easy to use, compact size, built-in assistance (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: No automatic panoramic mode, Slow live-view focus speeds, No GPS, 4-way controller buttons can’t be customised
Other Beginner DSLR Options
If you have a little more money to spend then the newer Canon77D may be worth considering and there’s also the Pentax K-3 Mark II which might be a couple of years old but it’s got a lot to offer.
Canon EOS 77D
The Canon EOS 77D is Canon’s update to the 760D and offers an improved design, with better handling making the camera more comfortable to hold. Focus speeds are good in both live view and normal shooting. Continuous shooting has been improved, along with the ISO range available. The user interface has been updated, and the touch-screen makes changing settings a breeze.
If you’re an enthusiastic photographer and can see yourself wanting direct control over the shutter and aperture speeds in manual mode, then the 77D is going to be the camera you will want over the 800D.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £829/$1078
- Pros: Excellent image quality and colour, improved handling, better battery life, improved continuous shooting (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: Strong crop with electronic IS on video (also softer)
The Pentax K3-II is another rugged, weather resistant DSLRs that offer outstanding image quality. Featuring Pixel Shift Resolution, GPS, in-body shake reduction, RAW and many more features, the Pentax K 3 II is certainly not lacking in plus points. However, one glaring factor is the lack of Wi-Fi which is a shame as competitors do offer this as standard in cameras of a similar price point.
- Price (At Time Of Writing): £875.03/$1138
- Pros: 24MP sensor, built-in GPS, weather sealed construction, backwards lens compatibility (plus others, see the review for more info)
- Cons: No Wi-Fi, no built-in flash unit
If you’ve found your perfect camera, don’t forget you’ll need a memory card to go with it and you’ll also need a bag to carry it in