Best Entry Level DSLR Camera

With so many different makes and models of consumer DSLR available, it can be difficult to work out which will be the best entry-level DSLR to buy. Of course, you’ll find lists of the best entry-level DSLR cameras all over the internet. In practice though, blindly following the recommendations of an “expert” who knows nothing about your personal photographic needs is only likely to end in disappointment. Ask yourself, the best for what? The best for whom?

What matters is that it’s the best for you. And only you can know what this means in practical terms. There’s certainly no point in paying out for extras that you won’t use, merely because somebody somewhere told you that a particular camera is “the best entry level DSLR.” What makes the best entry-level DSLR for one person might not even allow you to take the kind of photos you want to take at all.

For this reason, we’ve put together a guide designed to equip you with the knowledge to work out for yourself which will be the best entry-level DSLR for your own needs. Don’t worry though, in this article we also recommend a few of what we consider to be the best entry-level DSLRs for serious photography enthusiasts out there today.

So take a look at our recommendations by all means, but also read through our guide detailing what to look for in a camera, to be able to choose for yourself the best entry-level DSLR for your photography and budget.

What Makes for the Best Entry Level DSLR?

Choosing the best entry-level DSLR for your needs is a three-stage process. As we see it, the first of these three criteria, image quality, is non-negotiable: if you’re serious about photography, then you’re serious about image quality. Everything else is a luxury.

So when it comes down to it, what we’d recommend as the best entry-level DSLR is always going to be the camera offering the best image quality to price ratio. You need good quality images at a price you can afford.

Of course, extra features might make taking certain kinds of shots quicker and easier to achieve. But if you’re serious about photography, you’ll find a way shoot them anyway – no matter how inconvenient it might be.

Conversely, if the files your camera produces are too poor quality to do anything with beyond just sharing them on social media, it doesn’t matter how quick and easy that camera is to use, or even how great a photographer you are: the photos will still suck technically.

For sure, once image quality has been dealt with, there are still other important criteria to consider. We divide these considerations up into the essential (stage 2), and those that are merely useful luxuries (stage 3).

Let’s take a look at the three stages in turn.

Stage 1: Image Quality

What do we mean by image quality? Several factors are contributing to the quality of an image. The main ones to consider are:

• Image resolution
• Image Size
• Sharpness
• Dynamic range
• File format

While other factors such as color rendering will also vary from camera to camera, these can, for the most part, be adjusted in post-production. Conversely, there’s very little, if anything, you can do about the above five factors once the photo has been taken. This means that you need a camera that correctly captures images right from the start.

Of the five criteria above, four depend in part on the camera’s sensor. The first thing to consider then is the type of sensor that the camera uses. Some DSLRs use full frame sensors. These sensors are effectively the same size as the negatives produced by old 35mm analog film cameras. Others have smaller “cropped” sensors and produce smaller files accordingly.

Even just a couple of years ago, a list of the best entry-level DSLRs would likely not include any full frame models. This was simply because they were too expensive to be anything but a pro or prosumer level option. Leaving even serious beginners to choose between a variety of less well-endowed DSLRs with weedy little-cropped sensors.

Thankfully that’s all changed, and if you’re willing to go for an older model, or forego a few luxuries, full-frame DSLR photography has now become much more accessible. This is excellent news for those wanting to produce good quality photographic images on a budget. And if you can afford a full frame model, we’d definitely recommend it.

Why Full Frame?

It’s pretty simple: the bigger the sensor, the bigger the file, the better the image quality. True, if you will mostly be displaying your photos online and just making the occasional small print, then full frame is probably overkill. But if you think that you might one day also want to print your photos up quite big, say for an exhibition, then you should absolutely go for a full frame camera.

As important as this is, there’s also another reason why more serious photographers tend to prefer using full frame cameras: they are capable of producing photos with a much narrower depth-of-field. For portrait photographers looking to blow out everything but the subject’s eyes to a buttery smooth blur, narrow depth-of-field is essential. The same for purveyors of #foodporn, who often like to selectively focus on a drop of olive oil or a flake or of grated truffle, while the rest of the image rapidly falls off into swirling bokeh.

This can’t be done on a camera with a small sensor other than by means of post-production trickery. And even when such effects are done well in Photoshop, they still tend not to be all that convincing looking.

All in all then, whatever your photographic needs, the first criteria to look at when considering which will be the best entry-level DSLR to buy is whether it has a good sensor that produces sharp, noise-free images, with a broad dynamic range.

Finally, given the importance of image quality, it goes without saying that you should only consider purchasing a camera capable of shooting images as uncompressed RAW files.

Why RAW?

Shooting in RAW will give you higher quality files to work with and offers more flexibility when it comes to the post-production stage than if you’d just shot JPEGs – which are by definition compressed files, and therefore contain less information. To make it onto our list of the best entry-level DSLRs, all cameras had to fulfill RAW-shooting criteria as the most basic requirement. So rest assured that you can go with any of our recommendations, safe in the knowledge that it is capable of shooting RAW files.

Stage 2: Other Essential Camera Features

Having grasped the importance of image quality and gained an understanding of the factors contributing to this, it should be evident that any camera that doesn’t produce great quality images is not a serious contender for the title of best entry level DSLR, and so should immediately be struck off your shortlist. But there are also other factors to consider. Let’s take a look at these.

Identify Your Needs

Every photographer will have different technical requirements. Make a list of the things you absolutely need to be able to do with your camera beyond simply shooting sharp, high-resolution photos with a wide dynamic range. This part is more difficult than section 1 because to answer this question you’ll already need to have a fairly clear idea of the kind of photography you might want to shoot beyond just “good photos.”

For example, when considering what you want to do with your camera, you might write something like “take it up mountains.” if that’s the case, then it’s evident that a degree of weather-sealing is going to be high on your list of priorities.

However, only you know precisely which mountains, what kind of weather conditions you’re likely to encounter on those mountains, and how often you plan on going there. The answers to these question will dictate whether weather-proofing is a section 2 (essential) or section 3 (just desirable) feature for you.

And what about video? Is this something you’re going to make a lot of serious use of? Or are you mostly just interested in shooting stills, with the occasional video here and there for fun? If video is a priority, then you’ll likely want a camera that shoots full HD, offers fast frame rates, and has a mic-jack for monitoring audio via headphones, etc.

Or maybe you’re more of a street shooter, grabbing images on the fly? Fast autofocus and an optical viewfinder providing 100% coverage are likely to be priorities here.

You’re the only person who will fully understand what kind of photos you want to shoot, and there will be some features you just can’t live without if you are to be able to do your thing. Which of the following do you believe are absolutely necessary?

• Weather-proofing
• High ISOs
• 4K video
• Fast AF
• Touchscreen
• Rotating LCD
• Dual SD card slots
• 100% optical viewfinder

Anything else you can’t live without?

Stage 3: Luxuries

Once you’ve identified the main criteria – the bare essentials – make a list of all the things you’d also like to be able to do: the features that would definitely make your life easier, but having to get by without them wouldn’t be the end of the world either. Now grade each item on the list from 1-10 in importance.

For example, in this section, I might write “transfer files from the camera to my laptop via WiFi.” That’s pretty handy and saves messing about with card readers. I’ll give it 8/10.

But thinking about things more carefully, how important is WiFi going to be for me in the long run? When it comes down to it, am I willing to pay out more money for this convenience? After all, it won’t make my photos any better. WiFi would be useful for sure, but if I could use that money to purchase a faster prime lens for shooting in low light instead – which very definitely would improve my photos – then maybe WiFi is only a 3/10 after all.

Or let’s say that in addition to photography I also want to do some vlogging. If this is the case, I might consider a rotating touchscreen pretty necessary, so I can see myself on the LCD and adjust focus while I’m filming. Maybe I’ll give that 10/10 (or I might even have listed it in stage 2 if it’s really that essential).

Alternatively, I might decide that, yeah, a fold-out touchscreen would certainly be pretty handy, but I could still film myself without it. So, in the end, I give it just 6/10.

On the other hand, you might have no interest in doing anything but shooting stills. And absolutely no selfies. So you’d give an articulating LCD just 2/10.

It’s all down to your personal needs and shooting style.

Again, this section is where you list the features that might be handy to have, but lack of them would not stop you from shooting good pictures. Some non-essential conveniences to consider include:

• Bluetooth
• Wifi
• GPS
• Built-in flash
• Fast continuous shooting rates

You’ll probably also want to add any of the features from Stage 2 above that you didn’t think were essential but which you might nonetheless find useful.

We recommend rating the features on your Stage 3 list in order of preference because it will help to clarify which is the best entry-level DLSR for your needs if you find yourself undecided between two or three different models. For example, let’s say you’ve narrowed down your choice to a couple of cameras fulfilling all of your criteria in Stages 1 and 2 but can’t decide which of these is the better camera for you. If you’ve numbered the luxury extras in Stage 3 in order of preference, you can now easily look at these ratings to work out which of the two cameras offers the overall best entry level DSLR solution for your photography.

Having compiled a list of precisely what you are looking for in a camera, you are now in a much better position to ask the question “which is the best entry-level DSLR for me?”. Let’s now take a look at some of the more convincing options currently available.

The Best Entry Level DSLRs for the Serious Photography Enthusiast


#1 – Nikon D610

Nikon D610

+ Full frame
+ 24.3 megapixel FX sensor
+ Wide dynamic range
+ Weather-sealed
+ 2 SD slots
+ 100% optical viewfinder
+ Simple controls
+ 2nd top LCD
+ 39 AF points

No WiFi
Made of plastic
AF points all in center of frame
Non-articulating LCD

Somewhat simple, and lacking even quite standard modern features such as built-in WiFi, Nikon's D610 might have disappointed some of those who paid full dollar for it when it first came out. But at its current retail price, the D610 is an absolute bargain. Indeed, there’s likely no other full frame DSLR available for such a low price in today’s market. Hence why it takes pride of place at the top of our list of the best entry-level DSLRs for serious photography enthusiasts.

Sure, released five years ago now, the D610 is by no means a new camera. But then again, nor is a 1972 Linhof Master Technika: but that doesn’t stop a few dedicated photographers from throwing black cloths over their heads and producing truly amazing images with Linhofs even today.

As with analog photography some decades ago, the advancement of digital imaging technology has reached something of a plateau. While camera manufacturers keep trying to persuade the masses to buy into their latest bells-and-whistles advancements in other areas, those of us just interested in taking good pictures can pick up this great little full frame camera for about half of what it cost a few years back.

Yes, more modern DSLRs will shoot at higher ISOs. They’ll shoot at faster burst rates. They’ll come with more AF points. They’ll be built of some sturdy alloy instead of plastic. But they’ll also cost a lot more money.

If you have the extra money and want to spend it, fine: there’s certainly no reason not to go with one of the latest pro-level offerings. But this guide was written specifically for people who are:

(1) Only just starting to get serious about their photography
(2) Want to know which is the best entry level DSLR camera for producing images that won’t look embarrassingly noisy and pixelated in 20 years time
(3) Don’t want to spend a fortune.

The D610 is that camera.

If you’ve followed steps 1-3 above, by now you should have a clear idea of what you need from a DSLR, and what instead would just be useful to have. If your list of “needs” looks something like: amazing image quality; wide dynamic range; weatherproofing; dual SD slots for longer shooting; and a 100% optical viewfinder, then your search is over: Nikon's D610 is our number one recommended camera for best entry-level DSLR for the serious enthusiast.

Nikon D610 24.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
  • 24.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 39-point AF system (9 cross-type)
  • ISO 100-6400 expandable up to 25,600
  • 3.2 inch LCD with 921,000 dots
  • 1080/30p, 25p or 24p or 720/60p, 50p or 30p HD video (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)

#2 – Nikon D3400

Nikon D3400

+ Amazing price
+ High quality 24.2 megapixel image sensor
+ Small and lightweight
+ Full HD 1080p video at 60 frames per second
+ Bluetooth

Not full frame
No internal Wi-Fi
3-inch screen is non-touch, non-articulating
Only 95% viewfinder coverage
Only 11 AF points
Weaker flash than its predecessor, the D3300

The Nikon D3400 replaces it’s hugely popular beginner-level D3300. Although the D3400 doesn’t improve over its predecessor a great deal, it thankfully retains most of what made the D3300 such a good buy in the first place: a 24.2 megapixel image sensor, no anti-aliasing filter, and an incredible price.

Sure, compared to some of the other cameras we look at here, the D3400 is practically a toy. But let’s just say that it’s a pretty amazing toy.

The earlier D3300 got so much attention because it was one of the first entry-level DSLRs to do away with the anti-aliasing filter that was previously standard on cameras of this type, designed to reduce the occurrence of moiré patterning. An anti-aliasing filter also has the unfortunate side effect of making for much less sharp images. But Nikon realized that the risk of moiré becomes considerably lower as pixel-counts rise. Given that they’d equipped the D3300 with an amazing 24.2 megapixel sensor, the anti-aliasing filter could be safely ditched.

The D3400 produces the same ultra-sharp, AA filter-free 24.2 megapixel images as the D3300, but now you also have Bluetooth thrown in. Sadly though, to save battery power, Nikon made the bizarre decision to halve the potency of the D3400’s onboard flash. So if flash photography is a must, you’ll either need to buy an external unit (which is in any case recommended) or you might look to pick up a discounted D3300 instead.

Again, we’ll repeat that this is a very basic camera. But that’s also what’s so great about: it’s a simple stripped down tool, with no distractions, and capable of producing great quality images.

It’s also well-suited to the beginner. Certainly not due to the rather lame shooting modes and effects that are bundled onboard, but rather because it displays a nice graphic explanation of aperture on the LCD as you change f-stops. This makes it much easier to get your head around the somewhat counter-intuitive idea that a higher f-stop number means a smaller diaphragm.

Of course, the 23.5 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor is very far from full frame. But then again, even the cheapest full frame camera will cost you over twice what you’ll pay for the D3400. If a full frame camera is out of your budget, and you can live without weather-sealing, WiFi, and a zillion AF points, this camera will get you up and running – shooting good quality images that will stand up to a high degree of enlargement without too much embarrassment.

For this reason, the D3400 comes only a very close second to the Nikon D610 in our list of the best entry-level DSLRs for the serious enthusiast. And if we were to narrow the criteria down to “best entry-level DSLR for photographers on a budget,” the Nikon D3400 would be our hands-down winner.

Sale
Nikon D3400 w/ AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
  • SnapBridge Bluetooth Connectivity
  • 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor
  • EXPEED 4 Image Processor
  • No Optical Low-Pass Filter. Bluetooth Specification Version 4.1. Wi-Fi Functionality-Eye-Fi Compatible
  • Native ISO 100-25600; 5 fps Shooting. Compatability information: C firmware v. 1.10 and later ( released August 31, 2016 )

#3 – Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

+ Full-frame
+ 26.2 megapixel sensor
+ Bright, articulating touch screen
+ Excellent AF
+ Small and light
+ WiFi
+ GPS
+ Bluetooth

Viewfinder coverage only 97%
Only 1 SD card slot
No flash
No headphone jack
No 4k video

Canon's EOS 6D Mark II is a fantastic, entry level full frame DSLR that makes a serious alternative to the camera occupying our #1 spot, the Nikon D610. Indeed, with a 26.2 megapixel CMOS sensor instead of the Nikon’s 24.3 megapixels, if anything Canon’s 6D Mark II offers even better image quality (although images made with the D610 display superior dynamic range). Also, those discouraged by the Nikon D610’s lack of WiFi capability will be relieved to hear that the EOS 6D Mark II has them covered.

But these points serve to illustrate why it is so important that you make your list of criteria before deciding which camera to buy. For example, although the addition of WiFi and an articulating touch screen might be enough to convince many that the 6D Mark II is a superior choice to the D610, the fact that the 6D Mark II only comes with one SD card slot and has no headphone jack will likely put off just as many people. Certainly, with no headphone monitoring capability and a lack of 4K video, the 6D Mark II is not the best choice for videography.

What it is a great choice for, however, is merely producing top quality photographs at a reasonable price. It’s also weather and dust sealed, smaller and lighter than many other Canon DSLRs, and comes with Canon’s excellent dual pixel AF system.

All things considered then, choosing the right camera is a highly subjective process: the D610 will be the best entry-level DSLR for some photographers, the EOS 6D Mark II will be the better choice for others.

Sale
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body – Wi-Fi Enabled
  • 26.2 Megapixel Full-frame CMOS Sensor
  • Optical Viewfinder with a 45-point All Cross-type AF System. Compatible Lenses: Canon EF lenses (excluding EF-S and EF-M lenses)
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection & Full HD 60p
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor, ISO 100-40000. GPS, Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth low energy
  • Vary-angle Touch Screen, 3.0-inch LCD

#4 – Canon EOS Rebel T6s (EOS 760D)

Canon EOS Rebel T6s

+ Rotating 3″ touchscreen
+ 2nd top LCD
+ 2 scroll wheel selection dials make navigation simple
+ WiFi
+ Super fast and accurate AF
+ 24.2 Megapixel sensor
+ Lightweight

Not full frame
Only 95% viewfinder coverage
Slow max video frame rate

In many ways, Canon's Rebel T6s (EOS D750 outside the US) is very similar to the Nikon D3400 – which takes second place on our list of best entry-level DSLRs. It’s a simple and easy to use cropped-sensor DSLR producing good quality images for the price. Where the T6s differs from Nikon’s budget-offering is that it also offers many of the non-essential features that Nikon had to do away with to price the D3400 so competitively.

In practice this means you get a bright, rotating touch screen; a second LCD on the top of the camera; and a couple of handy selection dials for changing key parameters. It also comes with a few more AF points and built-in WiFi. These additions make the Rebel T6s an extremely convenient and easy to use machine – considerably more so than its predecessor, the T6i. And from this point of view, the T6s is positively in another league to Nikon’s D3400.

Of course, you’ll pay more for these luxuries. And yet, as they both come with the same 24.2 megapixels cropped format CMOS sensor, photos taken on the rebel T6s will not be noticeably superior in quality to ones produced using the Nikon D3400. What you get for the extra money is greater convenience, not quality.

What’s more, the D3400 is actually slightly better for video, allowing as it does to shoot full HD up to 60p, compared with only 30p on the T6s.

All in all, though, this is a great little camera, capable of producing nice looking images, and without forcing the user to forego too many luxuries. The Rebel T6s is probably the best entry level DSLR available for those on a budget but still looking for a camera with lots of handy extra features.

Sale
Canon EOS Rebel T6s Digital SLR (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled
  • 24.2 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor, ISO 100-12800 (expandable to H: 25600)
  • EOS Full HD Movie mode helps capture brilliant results in MP4 format
  • High-speed continuous shooting up to 5.0 fps allows you to capture fast action.
  • 19-point all cross-type AF system allows superb autofocus performance
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

#5 – Nikon D5500

Nikon D5500

+ 24.2 megapixels
+ Big (3.2-inch) articulating touchscreen
+ Wi-Fi
+ 39 AF points

Not full frame
Poor live-view AF performance
Noisy AF
Only 95% viewfinder coverage

As with the Canon EOS Rebel T6s (#4 above), Nikon's D5500 is effectively just a full-mod-cons version of the much cheaper Nikon D3400 (#2 above). Easier to use, and offering plenty of useful extras such as WiFi and an articulating touch screen, but not actually capable of producing superior image files to the ultra-basic D3400.

With that said, a lot of us like a little luxury: it makes life more enjoyable, more fun, less hard work. Certainly, a touchscreen has its advantages, allowing you to quickly zoom in and check focus with a minimum of fuss. And WiFi makes transferring files super simple.

Also with full HD up to 60p, for anyone keen to shoot video it might at first glance appear that the D5500 makes for a better choice than Canon’s T6s (#4 above). However, whereas the T6s’ touch screen focusing performance is excellent, be warned that the D5500 struggles somewhat when focusing in live-view mode. And this despite offering twice the number of AF points to the T6s. Not only that, but AF on the D5500 is actually somewhat noisy, and therefore likely to be picked up by the camera’s built-in mic.

Conversely, where the D5500 comes out fighting stronger than the Rebel T6s is in low lighting conditions. So if you think you’ll be shooting a lot of long exposure night shots, or handheld images in gloomy locations, go for the Nikon D5500, as your photos will display less noise at high ISOs.

Nikon D5500 DX-format Digital SLR Body (Black)
  • 24.2 MP DX-format CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter (OLPF)
  • 39-point Autofocus (AF) system
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting
  • ISO 100 - 25,600
  • High resolution, vari-angle LCD with familiar, smartphone-like touchscreen for easy use

Conclusion

This article was written specifically for those getting more seriously into photography and wanting to be able to move from making pretty snaps to taking high-quality photos. Beyond merely recommending some of the best entry-level DSLRs currently on the market, we’ve also discussed the most important factors to take into consideration, so that you can decide for yourself which of these options will be the best solution for you and your photography.

There are faster and flashier cameras out there than those on our list of the best entry-level DSLRs. For example, with its pitiful 11 AF points, Nikon’s D3400 is a mere toy when compared with the latest pro-level cameras. But remember this: when autofocus was first invented, photographers had one single AF point to work with. Before that, they had none. Manual focus only.

By today’s standards, most analog film cameras were primitive tools. Like rocks in the hands of cavemen. And yet, the majority of the most famous photos taken in the entire history of photography were produced using just such cameras.

If photographers such as Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, and Henri Cartier Bresson could make such amazing images with little more than a metal box with a lens on the front, then with the advanced cameras available to us today, we’ve little excuse for not taking equally incredible shots. All that matters is that the images your camera produces are of a high enough resolution for your needs – whether that means making large-format prints or just uploading to 500px or Instagram.

Always will there be newer and better cameras coming on the market. There will be gear-heads screaming that such and such a camera isn’t any good because it doesn’t have X new feature. There will always be something else you can spend your money on in the hope that it’ll make you a better photographer.

But in reality, the only thing that will make you a better photographer is taking photographs. Lots of them. For that, you need a fully functioning camera capable of producing reasonable resolution files.

All of the cameras on our list of the best entry-level DSLRs will do just that.

Pick one, and go shoot.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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