Best DSLR Cameras of 2021 | Reviews and Buying Guide

Updated on July 5, 2021
best DSLR cameras

DSLR cameras are popular with amateur and professional photographers. We review the best DSLR cameras of 2021 and give tips for choosing the best DSLR cameras for you.

What Is A DSLR Camera? 

Taking photographs has always been something that people love to do; they are the perfect way to capture special memories, funny moments, and people from the past. Looking back at photos is something that evokes huge waves of emotion – happy and sad – and is a way to keep the past alive. It’s no wonder that cameras have become more and more important as time has gone on and we live much less connected (physically at least) lives.

Those images are so much more than just a bit of fun; they have significant meaning. A smartphone will take some good pictures, and it can connect to Bluetooth devices and the internet, but there is something special about using a ‘real’ camera to get those great images. 

A DSLR (which stands for digital single-lens reflex) camera is one of the very best ways for amateurs and professionals alike to take photos and make memories. It’s an abbreviation that everyone will have heard of – it’s become almost synonymous with cameras over recent years – but it’s not something that most understand. In simple terms, a DSLR camera is one type of camera among many different digital cameras that has changeable lenses. 

A DSLR camera is ‘digital,’ which means it doesn’t take film. It’s ‘single-lens,’ which means one lens is used for framing, focusing, and photographing. And it’s ‘reflex,’ which means you can see an exact optical view of whatever it is you’re taking an image of, thanks to a mirror that directs light towards the viewfinder. And that’s it, although it’s so much more than this too. 

Why You Should Trust Us 

Yes, there are lots of different websites that offer advice and recommendations about the best this, that, or the other. You might even have already looked at some of them, especially when it comes to choosing the best DSLR cameras for your needs – after all, these pieces of equipment aren’t cheap, and you want to make sure you’re selecting the right one; seeing views from a different angle always helps. With that in mind, why should you trust us? 

To begin with, we’ve reviewed many hundreds of different pieces of equipment from laptops to tablets to, of course, cameras and much more. We’ve looked at every brand out there, we’ve seen all the good and the bad, and we know what it takes to impress our readers. In other words, we know what we’re talking about. 

As well as this, if you look through our reviews, you’ll find that they are entirely honest. If we don’t like something, we’ll say so. If something particularly impresses us, we’ll talk about that too. No matter whether you’re an amateur or a professional, whether you’re a student or a business owner, we’ll give you all the information you could want to review, compare, and understand the tech that you’re looking for. 

Finally, we’re committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy tech in the right way. We want you to have the knowledge you need to make the right choice. 

Recommendations for Best DSLR Cameras for October 2021

  • Nikon D3500 – This entry-level DSLR may not have all the high-tech specs that some other cameras do, but they aren’t necessary; for beginners, there isn’t much that can beat this big name. 
  • Sony A7R II – With some of the best image quality around in a relatively compact camera, these feature-packed full-frame cameras will always impress. 
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – A professional camera for those who like their DSLRs to be jam-packed full of features, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a cut above. 

Reviews of the Best DSLR Cameras for October 2021

The Best DSLR Cameras for Beginners

Nikon D3500

Nikon D3500
This entry-level DSLR may not have all the high-tech specs that some other cameras do, but they aren’t necessary; for beginners, there isn’t much that can beat this big name.

Specs:

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Nikon  | DXScreen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner

Pros 

The Nikon D3500 offers some of the very best image quality in this particular class of camera. The more you use it, the more you’ll appreciate just what it can do, especially with the DX crop frame sensor in place. In fact, the full-frame DSLR itself is exceptional, especially when you think of how this camera is aimed at beginners. 

When it comes to value for money, some DSLR cameras can leave a lot to be desired, but the Nikon D3500 won’t leave you wondering what you paid for. It’s at the lower end of the DSLR price range to begin with, and you can choose various bundles that will help you build the ultimate photographic kit. 

The Nikon D3500 has been designed with the user in mind, which isn’t always the case – some DSLR cameras are much more focused on the aesthetic or the tech. With this, however, the grip is comfortable, and the body fits well in the hand and when it’s up to the face. 

There may only be 11 points on the autofocus system, but this doesn’t slow anything down; the Nikon D3500 is accurate and focuses quickly. It also has increased image stabilization compared to its predecessors and that’s why it made it on our list of the best DSLR cameras.

Cons 

More advanced users might not like the D3500 as much as some other cameras since there are very few customizable buttons. The Fn button has gone entirely. 

Because the Nikon D3500 is aimed at beginners and those who just want to take some good pictures without any fuss, there aren’t many extras included. It doesn’t have a time exposure mode, for example, and there’s no option to connect to wifi. 

The D3500 is very similar in spec to the Nikon D3400, which is less expensive. 

The Best DSLR Cameras for Enthusiasts 

Sony A7R II

Sony A7R II
With some of the best image quality around in a relatively compact camera, these feature-packed full-frame cameras will always impress.

Specs

Type: Mirrorless cameras | Sensor: Full-frame | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Lens mount: Sony E  | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,229k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2,359k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/professional

Pros 

Most of the good points related to the Sony A7R II are about its features, and one of those that many users love is the electronic optical viewfinder. This feature means that you can see your final image before you actually take the photo, saving you time and ensuring that you get the results you’re aiming for (literally). 

Something else that pays well with enthusiasts looking for the best DSLR cameras available is that this particular camera is small, at least compared to many others. When you look at the large size that seems to be so standard in DSLR, it can often seem like a downside. The Sony A7R II is smaller and easier to handle and store (and carry around), yet still packs just as big a punch. 

The image quality that you get from the Sony A7R II is unquestionably good even compared to others among the best DSLR cameras. In the end, the results of your photography have to be good, or it doesn’t matter how much money you spent on your DSLR; you will have wasted it. 

Cons 

The biggest issue with the Sony A7R II is the price. This is more than double the cost of some of the other best DSLR cameras, and it’s not going to be anything that someone on a budget is going to be looking for. This issue is intensified when you start looking around at auxiliary kit lenses because there are no cheap ones. 

There is also an issue when it comes to the battery – the issue being that it doesn’t last very long. This might mean that you have to bring multiple batteries with you on a shoot (something that will weigh you down), or you’ll need to invest in a portable charger. It really depends on how much you intend to use the camera, though; a family day out, and it should last fine. A fashion shoot, and you’ve got issues. 

For a camera that is so feature-heavy, the fact that there is only one SD slot is a strange oversight. Many photographers like to have the peace of mind knowing there is a backup made thanks to a second SD card. That isn’t going to happen with the Sony A7R II. 

The Best DSLR Cameras for Professionals 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
A professional camera for those who like their DSLRs to be jam-packed full of features, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a cut above.

Specs

Type: 36 x 24 mm CMOS | Total pixels: approx. 31.7 megapixels | Aspect ratio: 3:2 | Low-pass filter: Built-in/Fixed | Sensor cleaning: EOS integrated cleaning system | Color filter type: Primary color | Lens mount: EF (excludes EF-S / EF-M lenses) | Focal length: Equivalent to 1.0x the focal length of the lens | User level: Professional 

Pros 

As you might expect with such a professional camera, the image quality is second to none when comparing with even the best DSLR cameras; even the RAW files are wonderful. This excellent image quality really does stand out. The color accuracy is also fantastic, giving you the most true-to-life images that you could ask for among the best of the best DSLR cameras. 

What many people love about the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is that it is so fast. Switch it on, and it’s on – you don’t have to wait. That means if you see something you want to photograph, you’re not going to miss out due to a slow startup such as can be found in several others among the best DSLR cameras, even those at a professional level. This swiftness is continued when it comes to the autofocus and the shutter lag too, enhancing the usability of this DSLR hugely. 

The built-in features of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV are numerous. From wifi to GPS, there is almost nothing this camera can’t do for you. If this were the only DSLR camera you purchased, you would have more than enough tools and extras to suit your needs. 

The battery life is decent too. With much of today’s technology, not just cameras but almost everything, battery life can be a big issue. Thankfully with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, you can rely on the battery lasting for a good while (although having a spare is always a good idea, just in case). 

Cons 

There are many good things about this camera, but it’s not perfect. One issue is that the dual memory card slots use entirely different formats, which isn’t ideal. Most photographers will use just one format, so the second slot is virtually useless. 

The 4K video is a great addition, but there are sometimes issues with the playback; the high bitrate and the Motion jpeg codec can make it less smooth than you would expect. There is also a continuous recording limit of either 29 or 59 minutes, depending on what mode you are using. 

Some users find that when shooting low-contrast subjects, the low light AF system is somewhat disappointing. These problematic low-light situations can mean that some images simply can’t be taken. 

What Should You Look For When Buying A New DSLR? 

Sensor Size 

The sensor size might not be something that comes immediately to mind when you start to look for a new digital SLR, especially if you’re a beginner. Yet it can make all the difference, and it could be precisely what you need to know to make a good decision. In essence, the larger the sensor, the more light can be captured and the more information can be recorded – this means the final photographic image is clearer of better quality. 

Although this might not make much difference in standard images, when you are using the camera in bright conditions with lots of contrast, or when you’re using the DSLR in dim lighting, you’ll soon see that there is a vast difference. Small sensors will result in shadows and blown-out lighting, and very little detail. A full-frame sensor will give you a lot more to look at and much better results. 

Choose A Camera That Feels Right 

When you buy a DSLR, you are making a big commitment. Not only are you spending a lot more than you would on a standard digital camera, but you’ve got to buy a fair amount of gear to go along with it. From a bag to keep it safe to batteries to kit lenses and flashes and more, there’s a lot to carry around with you. This is why it pays to make sure the camera feels right in your hands. 

As we’ve mentioned above, the weight of the camera is crucial. Anything too heavy will be more of a burden than anything else, no matter how good the images might be. Too light, on the other hand, and it could feel much less substantial and even as though you shouldn’t have spent so much money. 

All being said, how the camera feels when you’re using it, carrying it, and holding it, is essential. The more you like it, the more you use it. If you don’t think it’s comfortable or it’s too heavy, or there are too many extras to think about, you’ll probably leave it at home and choose a different camera instead. 

Compare Viewfinders 

In a compact digital camera, the optical viewfinder isn’t necessary – you’ll use the LCD screen, and that will be good enough. That’s not good enough when you’re using a DSLR; the viewfinder becomes absolutely crucial because it’s by using the viewfinder that you’ll get the very best images. 

When you’re choosing the DSLR camera for you, it’s wise to compare optical viewfinders. It starts with comfort; as we’ve mentioned above, comfort is crucial when choosing a DSLR, and the viewfinder is part of that. If you hate looking through it because it feels wrong or you can’t see enough, you’ll never get the shots you’re hoping to. As well as comfort, you need to compare the different viewfinders between cameras. Some offer a much better view than others, and the clarity and color distinction needs to be checked out. 

Continuous Shooting and Autofocus Speed 

What are you going to be using your DSLR camera for? Knowing the answer to this question will help you to choose the right camera for your needs, and it might come down to the continuous shooting and autofocus speed. 

The faster this speed, the faster the camera can take photos. If you need to take action shots of fast-moving vehicles, runners, animals, and similar things, you’re definitely going to want fast continuous shooting and autofocus. If you are taking portraits or landscapes, a slower speed will be fine. Think carefully about what you need before making a purchase, as you don’t want to make a mistake. 

Live View and 4K Video 

What’s the live view, and why is it important? If you choose mirrorless cameras for your DSLR, you can see exactly the shot you’re going to end up with (barring any editing, of course) on the rear screen and through the viewfinder – they should match up perfectly. This makes it much easier to know that you’ve got the photo you want and need, so it’s often a good thing to look out for if your budget can handle it. 

As for video, most DSLRs will offer this option, but they won’t all offer 4K video. If video is important to you, go for the highest quality you can – the 4K for full HD video – or you’re sure to regret it when you look at the results. 

Understanding Lenses and Accessories 

Every camera will come with a vast array of different accessories. You don’t have to buy them all. What you do have to do is buy the ones you are going to need, and that’s particularly important when it comes to lenses. Although it’s simple enough to set any DSLR to automatic and click away, that’s not how a photographer will work. When you’re a professional or an amateur looking to grow, or even a beginner who wants to understand more about taking the best shots, it’s essential to know what kit lens does what. 

Once you do know, it’s then important to know that the camera you’re thinking of buying has those lenses available for it. If not, you’ll need to start the process again. The interchangeable lenses are one of the most important factors when choosing a DSLR camera. 

Conclusion 

Choosing a DSLR camera shouldn’t be too taxing as long as you’re aware of what you want it to do and what capabilities it has to achieve. Once you have that in mind, there are many different options for beginners, enthusiasts, and professionals to give you the ideal desired result. 

Article by:
Louie Lovoy
As the editor of Netbook News, when he's not editing articles on the latest tech trends, you can find him spending time with family and friends, cheering at his boys' little league games, or backpacking in the North Georgia mountains.

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