You’ll hate me for saying this, but it’s the one you can afford. It’s not necessarily the gear you have, but the person taking the time to storyboard the composition, framing the shot, lighting and your post-processing skills in Lightroom. You’ll be surprised the amount of fixes Lightroom can achieve. Over exposed? Fixed. Need better lighting? Fixed. It goes on and on.
Want the current leader of the market? You can’t go wrong with the Nikon D850. Some say wait for Nikon and Canon’s entry into the mirrorless market, but if you prefer the sturdiness of a DSLR, it’s hard to go wrong with what is actually a better performer than Nikon’s actual flagship, the D5.
For those wanting the best bang for your budget, I did come up with a completely subjective list of the best DSLR cameras on the market.
Budding photogs on a budget can’t go wrong with the Nikon D3500. Features to price ratio, it stomps over Canon’s offering. It is an APS-C (crop sensor) camera, but you can achieve great shots. Better to find out if you like the hobby at less than $500 versus a full-frame that hits well above $1000.
You’ll get faster speeds, better frames per second and overall a better camera than the D3500. It becomes about your goals with the camera. Entering video? Both are your entry-level packages that shoot above their cost.
Mid-range for me is still in crop sensor territory. The best in this category is the Nikon D500. It’s a professional camera at an enthusiast cost. Dual card slot. Ten frames per second. 4K video (serious crop here) and every feature you’d expect to see in a pro-level full-frame in a smaller package. Honestly, there’s no point to a D5 when the D500 does essentially the same thing for a fraction of the cost.
When the Nikon D850 was in the rumor stages, not one thought the feature set would come at such a discount. You are getting the speed of a Nikon D5 along with a 45.7MP BSI sensor. All for $3300. Not sure if Nikon had a stroke at the keyboard when entering the price, but damn. Why spend $6000 for a D5 when this is simply better.
Canon fans will want to jump to the 1DX Mark II, but hang on. It’s the same deal as Nikon. You’re overspending when the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Same price as the D850, but lacks the megapixel count. Where it lacks that, it more than makes up for it with Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system. And 30.4MP is nothing to scoff at.
I’m all for the best camera, but both the Nikon and Canon full-frame flagships are outdone by cheaper full-frame offerings. Especially in Nikon’s case.
What is a DSLR?
Curious about what the letters stand for? DSLR in long form is a digital single-lens reflex camera. It combines the mechanism of the old school single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor over traditional film. While mirrorless is creeping up, the DSLR remains the most popular interchangeable lens camera system.
What is APS-C (crop sensor) camera?
Cameras are termed by their sensor size. An APS-C or crop sensor uses (approx) a 28.2mm X 23.6mm size while full-frame uses 43.2mm X 36mm. The difference is what is known as the crop factor. Take a Nikon D500 for example. Slap a 35mm on the body, and it’s not really a 35mm. The crop factor for Nikon is around 1.5, turning that 35mm into 52.5mm lens.
Can I use Full-Frame lenses on crop sensor cameras?
Yes. Yes. And a triple side of yes. So much is made of this on the internet. In fact, I’d recommend you starting to incorporate full-frame lenses into your crop sensor bag. That way when you upgrade, you’re good to go. The amount YouTube minutes and words on blogs debating this is staggering.
Nikon vs. Canon
The battle of the titans. Nikon has had a few financial woes, but the past two years have been dominated by their launches. First the D500 and now the D850. Canon has this weird refusal to put 4K into their mid-range cameras which is just off considering they pioneered video in DSLRs and their dual pixel AF would be perfect for 4K.
You’ll have hardened supporters on both sides claiming this or that is the best. It comes down to what you’re comfortable with.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless?
A couple of years ago, the answer would be DSLR. Today? There are arguments to be made for both. Sony and Fujifilm have really stepped up to the plate in getting mirrorless to the forefront. Sony innovates and releases new bodies with reckless abandon. The a9 is a legitimate contender as a pro-level body. Ready to see a Sony a9r so we can really kick off the pixel wars between the major players. And don’t sleep on Fujifilm and the X-T3. People love this camera. And Now Nikon and Canon have entered the race with two mirrorless bodies, the Nikon Z6 & Z7, and the Canon EOS-R & EOS-RP.
Nikon DSLR Cameras
One of the titans of the industry alongside Canon, Nikon has a variety of cameras to fit any budget. Getting your feet wet in photography? The Nikon D3400 is your cheapest route. All in? The Nikon D850. There’s a more expensive D5, but it’s hard to recommend it based on the cheaper, more feature-rich D850.
We will kick it off with an overview of the full-frame DSLRs and wind it up with the APS-C lineup.
While Nikon categorizes the D850 as its mid-range full-frame, its features scream top-of-the-line professional camera. Recently announced, it is a powerhouse in every sense of the word. It steps up the megapixel count from the D810 to a 45.7MP BSI CMOS sensor. It has the lowest base ISO of any camera on the market at 64, and can handle nine frames per second with the battery grip. It hits seven without.
In a way, you are getting the D850 and a D500 in one package. It’s crop mode samples down to the resolution of the D500. At full resolution, the buffer handles 51 images in 14-bit lossless RAW or 170 frames in 12-bit lossless RAW. Those who love to hold the shutter release button can take comfort in that.
Autofocus is the same system from the D5 shoved into the D850. It allows you to autofocus in -4 EV giving it exceptional low light performance. Video capabilities hit 4K uncropped and 120fps at 1080p. Was hoping to see 60fps at 4K, but not happening with this camera. All for $3299. Why pay $6500 for a D5? And that’s why the D5 is being left off the list.
The Nikon D750 is labeled as an advanced entry into full-frame DSLR cameras. At the price, you may start to wonder if you stick with the crop sensor D500 (same price) and enjoy more features. If full-frame is your goal, it’s a solid body (Nikon has had recall issues with the camera, so make sure you’re getting a newly manufactured one).
On the feature side, it has a 24.3MP CMOS sensor capable of 6.5 frames per second and shoots video at 1080p, Zero 4K here because the rumor is the D750 is getting replaced in 2019. That doesn’t mean sleep on the camera. It won numerous awards such as the best DSLR system on the market in 2015. The lower price allows you to stock up on quality lenses.
APS-C (Crop Sensor)
2017 was the year of the Nikon D500. And go ahead and tack on 2018. It took everything in the D5 and pushed it into a smaller package. Everything you need in an action/wildlife camera is right here. The autofocus is the same Multi-CAM 20K autofocus system found in the D5 and D850.
Resolution is at 20.9MP CMOS sensor without an optical low pass filter all powered by the EXPEED 5 image processor. The same dual card slot (XQD and SD) system found in the flagships is inside the crop flagship of Nikon. It allows for ten frames per second for those shutter animals who love the clacking noise of a DSLR.
Low light is no issue with the cameras absurd ISO range. Granted, no one is shooting at ISO 1,00,000, but it’s there if you want to give it a shot. At a price of $1899, I’d say it’s the second best camera Nikon is offering right now. If you’re not snapping up the D850, the D500 is one hell of a camera.
Imagine a baby D500. Lose a few features, drop the price and that’s the Nikon D7500. It haves the price down to $1250, but you do lose a few features. It keeps the same sensor, but you are down to 8 frames per second versus 10. It does keep the 4K video capability, but like the D500, the crop factor comes into play in a hurry.
One spot where it was a bit of a shock was the lack of a dual slot memory card setup. The previous generation of the 7000-series had this, but you’re down to one SD slot. Still, if you want D500 capabilities with money left over for lenses, the D7500 is a solid choice.
Aspiring Youtube vlogger? The D5600 is for Nikon what the 80D is for Canon. What makes the camera great is the articulating touchscreen flips out and allows you to see yourself while recording. One issue is that it’s capped at 1080p. For the price of $546, it’s expected. You do see a bump in megapixels to 24.2.
The D5600 is a great step in the beginner crop sensor format. It offers tons of features for a great price. It’s the same fps the true entry-level at five frames per second. It’s a fun camera to shoot with. Not crazy expensive to the point you want to baby it.
Nikon’s sub $500 entry-level DSLR. It won’t get the stunning specs of the D500, but if you’re introducing a friend or family member to photography, the D3400 is the kit you want. It doesn’t break the bank and more than holds it own with a 24.2MP sensor shooting at five frames per second. It’s a bit slower with the EXPEED 4 image processor, and the ISO numbers aren’t the best.
It can handle family video work at 1080p. Anything professional and you’ll want to expand your horizons towards the D500 or the D850. The camera is meant for beginners and doesn’t overload you with giant menu systems or dials and knobs on the body. You’ll see constant sales on the two-lens kit with the camera body. Take advantage when you see the deals pop around the holidays.
Canon DSLR Cameras
The other titan of the camera industry. Canon has its diehard fans much the same way Nikon does. Which is better? That will always come down the person behind the lens.
Canon EOS 1D X Mark II
The flagship of Canon with the specs to back it up. And a price to hammer home its position in the world of full-frame DSLR cameras. $5999 is the cost, but damn does it back it up with 14 frames per second and 170 image buffer using the CFast card.
Video fans can rejoice with the 4K at 60fps. It’s backed by a 20.2MP sensor with plenty of ISO range. It doesn’t have the crazy numbers of Nikon, but ISO one million is for marketing a big ass number, not usable in the real world.
Autofocus is a 61-point AF II system allowing -3 EV and f/8 compatibility. It does have the dual pixel AF which is in nearly every Canon camera. It’s why you see fans beg them to toss 4K into less expensive cameras, but Canon is Canon. They pioneered video in DSLRs and then let everyone else surpass them.
Canon EOS 5D Series
This is where I’ll side with the cheaper camera. The 5DS and 5DR both sport 50MP sensors, whereas the 5D Mark IV is in the range of 30MP. Why the 5D Mark IV? It’s more well rounded and does what the other bodies do at a cheaper price. 4K at 30fps. The Dual Pixel AF and seven frames per second of continuous shooting.
The AF system features 61 points with up to 41 cross-type sensors. Its low light performance allows it to be stopped down to -3 EV. I’ll list all of the 5D cameras below, but bang for the buck award goes to the Mark IV
The vlogger’s dream camera. Nearly everyone on YouTube has used it at some point in their career. The missing piece is 4K, but Canon withholds the 4K spec for its flagship cameras. No one knows why, but that’s the Canon way. What makes it great for video is the flip out touch screen, the 45-point all cross type AF (Dual Pixel AF) and the 24.2MP CMOS sensor.
Powering the camera is the DIGIC 6 image processor. At $1000+, it’s more expensive than the Nikon D5600, but don’t discount the capability of the Dual Pixel AF. It’s top notch, and maybe one day Canon will see fit to introduce a 4K variant of the 80D.
Canon EOS Rebel T7i
Think entry-level DSLR on steroids. It comes complete with the DIGIC 7 Image processor. It borrows the same AF system from the 80D, and the processor gives it virtually no lag if you are shooting in Live View and touch to focus.
Its connectivity is through both WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth. No need to rush home with your Instagram ready photos. Sync it to the Canon app and get your filters on standby. While priced a few hundred over the Nikon D3400, it is impossible to understate the value of the Dual Pixel AF.
DSLR Camera Lens Guide
Now that you have your DSLR, it’s time for the glass. Can’t be a photographer without solid lenses and there deals to be had. Just because there’s a massive price tag on a branded lens, doesn’t mean you can’t get the same results from a third party manufacturer at a price that’s wallet friendly.
Let’s break it down by figuring out the type of photographer you want to be and then go from there.
What type of shooter you are?
This matters. If you want to shoot street and architecture, a massive telephoto lens is a dead weight in your bag. You want extremely sharp lenses and wide angles. You’ll hear the crop factor in APS-C camera negates its ability to shoot street.
That’s completely bogus. Personally, I love the small form factor of a D500 with a wide-angle lens for street. It’s all about the footprint.
On the flip side, wildlife photographers want speed and the telephoto lenses. A 24mm is not a birding lens. Unless you have extremely cooperative birds. You can get away with 105mm primes but stick towards the 70-200mm.
It’s about what you want to shoot. Don’t just buy a ton of lenses to realize the same three remain in your bag and the others are expensive paperweights.
Don’t discount kit lenses
The kit lens. A photographer’s favorite foil. Personally, I consider a kit lens one of the greatest tools to teach and find your passion. It’s easy to get a 70-300mm lens to see if you prefer shooting on the 70mm side or more wildlife at 300mm. Toss in an inexpensive prime – 35 or 50mm, and it’ll open your eyes just how creative you can be.
Most crop sensor cameras come with a kit lens, and it’s not unusual to find a full-frame offering something similar. Use that to build your collection of lenses.
Lens Collection for Each Shooter
First up is a solid prime lens in the realm of 35-50mm. It’s a must-have in any bag. If you want to use branded lenses for your camera, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 or Canon 50mm f/1.8. Both range in price from $125 on the Canon to $200 for the Nikon. Both have sales nearly year around so pay attention.
Now another option. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art lens. It’s a bit more expensive, but the lens produces gorgeous quality. The entire Sigma Art Collection does in my book. Tapping down to 30mm means the crop multiplier on APS-C cameras means it holds at 40.5mm.
You have your prime on lock. Now it’s time to step into the world of wide angles. What’s great about wide angle lenses is it forces you to think versus just snapping pictures. You need to know the composition of what you want ahead of time. Once you’re used to the focal length, expect amazing results.
For wide angle, I’d recommend sticking to 24mm. Nikon and Canon both have f/2.8 variants, while the Sigma offering is an f/1.4 Art lens. Yeah, I love the collection. I really love the feel of the lens. You’ll pay a slight premium over the cheaper Nikkor and Canon lenses, but that’s only because we are in the cheaper tier of lenses. The Art collection directly competes with high-end Nikon and Canon glass.
Rounding out the collection is a solid semi telephoto prime. You’re thinking, wait, I thought no telephoto lenses. True, but that’s in regards to 300mm monsters. These will stay in the 85mm range. It’s the same as before, Nikon and Canon offer an 85mm f/1.8 while the Sigma Art offers an 85mm f/1.4. The lens offers the ability to take street portrait shots, and you can start to edge towards portrait and landscape photography.
The great thing about street and landscape is there is some overlap. The same wide angle lenses can be used here. Nikon and Canon both have f.2.8 variants, while the Sigma offering is a f/1.8 Art lens. You’re set with any of the three depending on what you want.
For a prime lens, you may already have one, but there’s another possibility to have both in one. The Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. And of course, my favorite lens manufacturer, Sigma, with its 24-70mm f/2.8. The variable zoom touches the wide angle standard of 24mm and gives you range to 70mm.
It’s all about the 85mm or the 135mm. It enables you to direct your model without violating their personal space. And they deliver excellent bokeh. Nikon has a great 85mm f/1.8 and does Canon’s 85mm f/1.8. Yep, Sigma is right there with the 85mm f/1.4.
Your primes and mid telephotos will come into play here too, so you can see the overlap between the styles of shooting.
Welcome to the land of telephoto lenses. Not sure I’d go on a safari with a 24mm wide angle lens to chase lions. One thing to note is these lenses get heavy in a hurry.
The top telephoto lens is either the Nikon 600mm f/4 or Canon 600mm f/4. And it comes with a steep price tag of either over $12000 or $11500. You better know you’re a wildlife photographer or paparazzi before purchasing this lens.
Calming down the price is the Canon 200-400mm or Nikon. Not quite the focal length of the 600mm but damn, what are you shooting at that range anyways?
A happy compromise on the 600mm lens is either the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 prime or the Canon 300mm f/2.8. The price is cut in half, and you have one hell of a robust lens in your bag or backpack at this point.
Wrapping the Best DSLR Cameras of 2019
I can’t stress enough you don’t have to buy the most expensive camera body or lens to get amazing shots. Photography can be an expensive hobby, but if you’re willing to trade a few features you can work around, it becomes no different than any other hobby in terms of cost.