Guide To The Best DSLR Cameras On The Market

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In today’s modern world of APS-C and Full Frame sized cameras there are two big subgroups fiercely rivaling each other: mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

The difference, as you might have guessed, lays in the fact that the former lacks a mirror in their construction, allowing for a smaller, lighter body.

Basically, these cameras continually operate in what’s familiar to DSLR users as “Live view” mode. But everything has pros and cons.

Although mirrorless cameras have come a long way in last two years, and the most powerful (and the most expensive) of them – Sony A7R II – is arguably the best camera in the world, it’s hard to disagree with Fuji’s point:

2 cans of bear

There are still those among us who are not willing to sacrifice the more robust feel, a wider lens selection, more control, as well as the additional features (which you might not need for 99.9 percent of the shots, but then there’s that 1 shot in a thousand when a DSLR unique feature saves the day) that a DSLR has to offer.

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So, without further delay let’s see what is out there on the market today so that you can determine the best option for you.

Best budget camera: EOS100D (Rebel SL1)

Canon EOS100D

This camera will be a perfect choice if you’re on a tight budget or just getting into the DSLR camera world. Priced at $399 for body only it’s significantly cheaper than any other camera that can offer an APS-C sized sensor. True, it’s not a perfect sensor by any means but it’s still the better option than 1” and Micro 4/3 sensors, which can only be found as an alternative in this price-range.

This sensor allows the capture of surprisingly useful images even at higher ISOs and the body is very compact. A unique body texture also feels nice in hand and a good quality LCD with touchscreen is a useful thing to have. And let’s not forget Canon's domination in the lens world, which means you can get nice lenses for bargain prices. For instance, if you want to get into portrait photography and are on a budget, pick up the EOS100D (Rebel SL1) for $100 50mm F/1.8 and you’re good to go. You get decent sharpness and a nice blurred background – all you need to start with portraiture.

Canon Rebel SL1
Canon EOS100D specs
Dimensions117 x 91 x 69 mm (4.61 x 3.58 x 2.72″)
Weight407 g (0.90 lb / 14.36 oz)
Sensor sizeAPS-C
Resolution5184 x 3456 (18MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 30p
720/60p
Continues shooting3 fps
Color depth* 21.8 bits
Dynamic range* 11.3 Evs
Low-light performance**843 ISO
DxOMark score 63
DPReview Score78%
Price $399 Buy-With-Amazon
*DxOmark measurements

**Low-light performance is a DxOmark measurement which indicates maximum usable ISO. Above the value provided significant increase in image noise occurs

 

Best camera for under $1000: Nikon D5500 (Pentax K-3 II as a runner up)

These are really good for the price. Both cameras can boast about it's 24MP APS-C sensor with great dynamic range (which is really good for landscape photography and any other scene with high contrast) and it's capabilities in terms of video. The differences come at the autofocus capabilities and size: Nikon, just like you would expect from any Nikon camera, excels in this, despite having a somewhat low resolution metering sensor.

Pentax, on the other hand, cannot quite keep up with it here despite having a larger body. Also, Nikon has such nice features such as a touchscreen which can be used for focusing when shooting in live-view (there is no such focusing possibilities in Pentax). However, the live-view, is generally better in Pentax as it, unlike Nikon, can offer exposure simulation. The same is true for ergonomics and handling in general. This helps Pentax narrow the gap with Nikon and the reason why it makes our list. Although it’s not so much the fact that K-3 II has something extraordinarily amazing in its body design, as much as the fact that it just doesn’t lack any of those things you would’ve expected from a DSLR for professional work. For instance, it has a water-sealed body, great ergonomics with many customizable buttons, good continuous shooting performance of 8.3 fps and image sensor stabilization – all very nice features that are found in more expensive DSLRs and absent from D5500 with its small image buffer, small buttons and lack of a second control dial.

So, to sum up: if you’re after the best image quality and focusing abilities in class your choice is obviously the Nikon D5500. If the general feel of ruggedness, great ergonomics and versatility are more important to you – then you’ll be better off with Pentax K-3 II.

Nikon D5500Pentax K3-II
Dimensions124 x 97 x 70 mm (4.88 x 3.82 x 2.76″)  131 x 100 x 77 mm (5.16 x 3.94 x 3.03″)
Weight420 g (0.93 lb / 14.82 oz)800 g (1.76 lb / 28.22 oz)
Sensor sizeAPS-CAPS-C
Resolution6000 x 4000 (24MP)  6016 x 4000 (24MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p1920x1080 60i/30p
Continues shooting5 fps8.3 fps
Color depth* 24.1 bits 23.6
Dynamic range* 14 Evs13.6
Low-light performance**1438 ISO1106 ISO
DxOMark score 8480
DPReview Score79%n/a
Price $750 Buy-With-Amazon$750 Buy-With-Amazon
*DxOmark measurements

**Low-light performance is a DxOmark measurement which indicates maximum usable ISO. Above the value provided significant increase in image noise occurs

 

Best camera for $1000: Nikon D7200

Nikon D7200

Simply put, this is the best APS-C sized camera out there. It features an amazing 24MP sensor which can rival in all characteristics but high ISO performance with high-end full-frame sensors. And I mean it. For instance, in terms of dynamic range, according to DxO Mark, it’s the second best they have ever tested! Only Nikon D800 tops it. But great things only start here. Despite of what you might think, this camera is not hard to tame. In fact, it will work great both as a point-and-shoot and as a professional instrument. Due to it’s top-of-the-class ergonomics it’s a joy to shoot with as it allows you full control over any feature you might need at your fingertips. Autofocus also deserves mention; with 51-point coverage, which also is utilized for spot-metering, it’s quite snappy and precise. Plus it is also extremely impressive when it comes to subject tracking and can keep up with 6 frames per second in continues shooting mode.

Of course no camera is ideal and D7200 is not an exception here. For example, having more cross-type focus points in the outer area of the sensor wouldn’t hurt, or the ability to shoot uncompressed 14 bit RAWs (instead of 12 bit) in continuous mode. Furthermore, many of the inherent issues with the Nikon have not been fixed, although these fixes should have been made to the 2015 line-up. I am refering to things just as the lack of aperture control or exposure representation in movie or live-view modes, limited and an unreliable wi-fi companion app, jerky autofocus in movie mode and slow one in live-view. These are not crucial problems by any means, but they are not hard to fix either. Why Nikon didn’t do so is a mystery to me. Perhaps, they left them intentionally to not lure customers from their more expensive full-frame cameras.

Either way, for its price of ~$1000 for body only and $1400 with a lens kit, you can’t go wrong with this camera. It’s not only the best for its price, it’s also ultimately the best DSLR camera you can buy for less than $2000 and the best value in photographic world. In fact, I believe it will also make a good second/vacation camera for people who already own a Nikon full-frame camera as it is a superbly light and compact camera, and the 1.5 crop factor is great for a wild-life photography. If I were out shopping for a best DSLR camera today, this would be the first camera I’d turn my attention to.

Nikon D7200 specs
Dimensions136 x 107 x 76 mm (5.35 x 4.21 x 2.99″)
Weight675 g (1.49 lb / 23.81 oz)
Sensor sizeAPS-C
Resolution6000 x 4000 (24MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p
Continues shooting6 fps
Color depth* 24.5 bits
Dynamic range* 14.6 Evs
Low-light performance**1333 ISO
DxOMark score 87
DPReview Score84%
Price$1200 Buy-With-Amazon
*DxOmark measurements

**Low-light performance is a DxOmark measurement which indicates maximum usable ISO. Above the value provided significant increase in image noise occurs

 

Best camera for $1000-2000: Nikon D610 (Canon 6D as an alternative)

Nikon D610

Nikon D610 is the best entry-level Full frame camera. Its sensor is even more capable than that of APS-C sized D7200, especially in low-light photography (one of the best DSLR cameras in the world in this respect) and dynamic range, but the autofocus is not quite there. It has some nice additional features making it worthy professional instrument such as the dual SD card slots and the built-in flash that can be used with a triggering command unit. Surprisingly, for a Nikon camera, the video quality output, as well as the out-of-camera JPEGs, are of good quality.

A word about Canon 6D

Canon 6D

Now, D610 is an excellent camera by all measures. And if you're out there shopping for a new camera in this price-range without any other limitations – this is the one to get. But in some situations you pick the lens and then grab whatever camera goes with it. Or you might have a whole collection of Canon glass at home and so will not be very excited about selling it all off and getting Nikon's alternatives (some of which do not exist, like that exceptional Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8). So, for those of you in a situation like this, the best option is a Canon 6D.

It has great autofocus with excellent low-light focus sensitivity from central AF points, impressively quiet shutter in 'silent' mode, nice connectivity features such as a built-in GPS and wi-fi, and probably the best built-in raw convertor which allows you to get staggering jpegs straight out of camera. And although the dynamic range of sensor lags behind that of D610 up until ISO 1600, if you shoot JPEGs you will actually see more of it in your photos due to the amazing processing algorithms.

The most disappointing drawbacks for professionals will probably be the absence of a dual-card SD slot, a slow burst rate, unsophisticated Auto ISO mode, and a slightly lower resolution than that of all its full-frame peers.

But other than that, it's an extremely capable camera which can definitely produce magazine worthy pictures

Nikon D610
 Canon 6D
Dimensions141 x 113 x 82 mm (5.55 x 4.45 x 3.23″)145 x 111 x 71 mm (5.71 x 4.37 x 2.8″)
Weight850 g (1.87 lb / 29.98 oz)770 g (1.70 lb / 27.16 oz)
Sensor sizeFull-frameFull-frame
Resolution6016 x 4016 (24MP)5472 x 3648 (20MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 30p
1280x720 60p
1920/1080 30p
1280x720 60p
Continues shooting6 fps4.5
Color depth* 25.1 bits23.8 bits
Dynamic range* 14.4 EVs 12.1 EVs
Low-light performance**2925 ISO 2340 ISO
DxOMark score 9482
DPReview Score87% 83%
Price $1500 Buy-With-Amazon $1400 Buy-With-Amazon

 

Best for sports for $1000-2000: Canon 7D Mark II

Canon 7D Mark

Now, Nikon’s D610 and D7200 might be the best overall cameras but when it comes to shooting sports- they’re having a hard time matching 7D’s outstanding autofocus performance. It can burst at 10 frames per second keeping good track of the moving subject, even in a low-light (central AF points are sensitive up to -3 EV) making it professionally good. Speaking of low light, high ISO performance is also quite good scoring at 1082 in DxO Mark metering. This is just slightly less then Nikon D7200 or Pentax K-3 and higher than almost any other APS-C camera.

The camera body is also built to last, offering great ergonomic layout very similar to that of 5D Mark III. Where it lacks the most is in it's modern technologies and the sensor’s dynamic range. Therefore, you will not find a tilting LCD, touchscreen, wi-fi or zebra warnings for overblown areas of the image, but you probably don't need these features for sports photography anyway. What you do need though, is a good lens; and Canon has plenty to choose from. Even the kit 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is a good value and all around lens. Or you could pick Tamron’s SP 70-200 f/2.8 which will give you more zoom, sharpness and almost 4 times more light at the long end.

Canon 7D Mark II specs
Dimensions149 x 112 x 78 mm (5.87 x 4.41 x 3.07″)
Weight910 g (2.01 lb / 32.10 oz)
Sensor sizeAPS-C
Resolution5472 x 3648 (20MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p
Continues shooting10 fps
Color depth* 22.4 bits
Dynamic range* 11.8 Evs
Low-light performance**1082 ISO
DxOMark score 70
DPReview Score84%
Price $1500 Buy-With-Amazon

 

Best camera for $2000: Nikon D750 (Canon 5D mark III as an alternative)

Nikon D750

If you’re serious about your photography and do not want to compromise on anything but still want a good value – Nikon D750 is the camera to get. It’ll offer most of what Nikon D810 can and even more. For instance, it has better low-light autofocus and all-around performance than D810. If you don’t need top charting resolution and the dynamic range of D800 (which most likely you don’t), D750 makes for a better overall camera. Add to this savings of about $700 and it should be no-brainer which camera to get.

Ergonomics is excellent (you even have a tilting screen), many pro features (such as dual SD card slot), dynamic range is great, and the ISO sensitivity is outstanding.

As of the drawbacks, they are mostly "family-inherited": slow AF in live view, smartphone companion app offer almost no control over camera features and the 8 way controller on the back is somewhat mushy. Also, compared to the D810, you’ll have a smaller buffer which somewhat limits continuous shooting capabilities, narrower focus point layout and limited number of cross-type AF points.

Whether the deliverance from those cons are worth almost $1000, you can decide for yourself.

A word about Canon 5D Mark III

Nikon D750

Again, there are times when you pick a camera body, and then there are times when you choose a body based on the lens you need to work with. And best Canon can offer in this price range is 5d Mark III.

And it is really a worthy camera. It offers speedy 6 fps burst with a good buffer size,  excellent build quality, extensive customization of controls, great LCD  and AF system, dual SD slot and great battery life.

What's not so great is the JPEG output quality even at base ISO and sensor performance which is not all that surprising given that the camera was released in 2012.

Nikon D750
Canon 5D Mark III
Dimensions141 x 113 x 78 mm (5.55 x 4.45 x 3.07″)152 x 116 x 76 mm (5.98 x 4.57 x 2.99″)
Weight750 g (1.65 lb / 26.46 oz)950 g (2.09 lb / 33.51 oz)
Sensor sizeFull-frameFull-frame
Resolution6016 x 4016 (24MP)5760 x 3840 (22MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p1920x1080 30p
1280x720 60p
Continues shooting6.5 fps6 fps
Color depth* 24.8 bits24 bits
Dynamic range* 14.5 Evs11.7 Evs
Low-light performance**2956 ISO2293 ISO
DxOMark score 9381
DPReview Score90%82%
Price$2000Buy-With-Amazon$2500Buy-With-Amazon

 

Ultimately best ($2000+): Nikon D810

Nikon D810

What is there to say except that this is the golden standard on the market? As well as one of the most expensive and best DSLR cameras. The Nikon D810 has chart leading sensor performance in all domains, extremely capable autofocus and all the features imaginable. The only area where it’s not really good, considering the price, is video capabilities - mirrorless and Canon cameras still lead the way there. But it’s good enough to take a 1080p video of an event for a photo-journalist, which then can be confidently broadcast on TV.

Note of caution for more casual shooters: 36 megapixels are not a joke and to get the most of it you not only need a superb lens but a steady hand or tripod as well. Vibration due to motion is definitely quite a common occurrence with this camera but that is just the physics of high-resolution photography. You just need to develop caution when dealing with a 36 megapixel sensor, just as you would need to for driving a 1000hp supercar.

Nikon D810 specs
Dimensions146 x 123 x 82 mm (5.75 x 4.84 x 3.23″)
Weight980 g (2.16 lb / 34.57 oz)
Sensor sizeFull-frame
Resolution7360 x 4912 (36MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p
Continues shooting5 fps
Color depth* 25.7 bits
Dynamic range* 14.8 Evs
Low-light performance**2853 ISO
DxOMark score 97
DPReview Scoren/a
Price $3000
Buy-With-Amazon

 

Ultimate resolution: Canon 5DS R

Canon 5DS R

Now, if you need to print wall-sized images you have only two options: you can go for $40,000+ medium format camera or you can pick up the Canon 5DS R which will still offer you some maneuverability and be 10 times lighter to your wallet, despite having medium format worth 50 megapixel sensor. Truth be told, it’s not the best performing sensor in terms of color depth, dynamic range or ISO performance by any means, but neither are sensors in those medium format cameras. The key word here is resolution and neither Nikon’s D810 nor Sony’s A7R II can match it. Furthermore, Canon 5DS R can actually make full use of all those packed pixels, unlike D810 which suffers from extensive shutter and mirror shock causing the image blur, shooting on a tripod or not. And this is possible because Canon took a considerate approach and put its engineers’ brain-power to solve the issue: thus you have in-lens stabilization which help with the issue, instead of magnifying it the way the Nikon’s OSS does, mirror pre-up delay, ‘silent shooting’, and even live view’s electronic first curtain that illuminates the issue altogether.

All this is really great, but limited dynamic range, which is 2.4 stops narrower than that of Nikon D810, cannot allow Canon to become the best overall camera. On the other hand, the autofocus is good with precision that can rival with (and in certain cases even outperform) D810. Subject tracking is absolutely a different story, though.

In conclusion, 5DS R can be recommended over D810 in the genres of photography where you get the full control of light, e.g. portraiture (especially because Canon’s 70-200mm lens beats Nikon’s fair and square), studio or product photography. However, it will definitely not be good for travel, journalism or astrophotography. Landscapes are the biggest question. Here you need to decide if the extra 14MP of resolution are worth the extra time and hassle to set up the gradient filter on location or to do exposure bracketing to recover shadows in post-processing. Obviously, the answer will depend on whether you often print big images (and by big I mean more than 74 inches (187cm) on the long side) or not. If yes, then the Canon will be definitely the best pick for you.

Canon 5DS R specs
Dimensions152 x 116 x 76 mm (5.98 x 4.57 x 2.99″)
Weight930 g (2.05 lb / 32.80 oz)
Sensor sizeFull-frame
Resolution8688 x 5792 (51 MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 30p/1280x720 60p
Continues shooting5 fps
Color depth* 24.6 bits
Dynamic range* 12.4 Evs
Low-light performance**2308 ISO
DxOMark score86
DPReview Score83%
Price $3900 Buy-With-Amazon

 

Ultimate camera for sports ($6000): Nikon D4s

Nikon D4S

Nikon D4s is a world-renowned camera for both low-light and sports photography. This has to do with it’s optimized 16MP full-frame sensor which sacrifices resolution to sensitivity. It can produce virtually noise free images up to ISO 3074 and until recently was an unmatched number one (now Sony’s mirrorless A7s and 7R II have surpassed it) in this domain. But it’s only a start. It also has a blazing fast image processor with a virtually unlimited buffer (75 images) that allows it to shoot 11 frames per second and keep continuous autofocus on while doing so. Autofocus is another perk of this camera: it’s fast and unmatched by anything in low light.
It offers less dynamic range and color depth at base ISO than comparable full-frame cameras but still more than enough for getting the best sport and night images any other camera could produce.

Nikon D4s specs
Dimensions160 x 157 x 91 mm (6.3 x 6.18 x 3.58″)
Weight1350 g (2.98 lb / 47.62 oz)
Sensor sizeFull-frame
Resolution4928 x 3280 (16MP)
Video resolution1920x1080 60p
Continues shooting11.0 fps
Color depth* 24.4 bits
Dynamic range* 13.3 Evs
Low-light performance**3074 ISO
DxOMark score 89
DPReview Scoren/a
Price $6500 Buy-With-Amazon
   

About the Author

Denis ProtopopovLandscape, lifestyle and product photographer for the past 3 yearsView all posts by Denis Protopopov →

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