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The SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) is among the most popular category of cameras, both by amateur photographers and professionals. Whether for the ergonomics or for the reliability many choose to rely on this kind of product. But which one to choose? In this guide, we want to offer you a selection of the best SLRs currently on the market.
Which one to buy
As mentioned above, the SLR is not the only category to consider if you want to buy a quality camera. The mirrorless and compact segments have both grown substantially in recent years. But SLR cameras, also called DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) incorporate three unique features that cannot be found in other product families: an optical viewfinder, solid ergonomics, and a long battery life.
In fact, in an SLR camera, the images observed in the viewfinder come directly from the lens through a system of mirrors, the pentaprism. Thanks to this system it is possible to have a clear view of the scene that is framed, a peculiarity appreciated especially by the most experienced photographers. The pentaprism is responsible for the larger dimensions of the SLR, which, on one hand, can be cumbersome, on the other they also guarantee good ergonomics unattainable by smaller cameras, and a much safer grip. Finally, the presence of a larger body allows integrating more capacious and reliable batteries.
The characteristics to be taken into account when choosing an SLR camera can vary widely, ranging from the construction quality to the type of sensor, from the ease of use of the software to the ability to record high-resolution video. Some of these variables depend on the brand that designs them, others on the price range of a specific model.
An always important aspect is the sensor, a photosensitive chip that has the same function of the film in analog cameras. We are led to believe that megapixels are the main feature of a good sensor, and therefore that a camera with a bigger number of megapixels is substantially preferable to one that has less. This can be true in some cases, but the correlation is far from absolute. Megapixel indicates the maximum resolution that a sensor is capable of capturing, but not the quality of the image. In fact, a larger photo does not always correspond to more details: instead, we need to evaluate the type and quality of the sensor. SLRs generally use two types of sensors, Full Frame, I.e. sensors that have the same size as the classic 35mm photographic film (26mm high by 36mm wide), or ASP-C (Advanced Photo System, Type-C), with a crop factor of 1.5x compared to Full Frame (or 1.6x in the case of Canon). They cost less and are used in low-end or mid-range cameras, while FF sensors are mounted in the top of the range ones, providing more details, as well as a better image noise resistance when shooting at higher ISO values.
ISO sensitivity is another important element of differentiation. In fact, under certain low light conditions, you need to raise the ISO level to get a usable shot. In general, support for higher ISO values is a good feature as it allows the camera to “see” in extreme conditions. But at the same time, shooting at high ISO levels, generates grain, image noise that can ruin a photo. Normally, larger sensors behave better with high ISO sensitivity levels, but the results vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
In addition to the sensor, the shutter speed must also be considered. In fact, those who are interested in sport or nature photography will have to orient themselves on devices that allow a high burst of images, usually above 10 fps, so as not to lose any movement. Another important factor of differentiation is video performance. By now all SLRs offer the possibility to record video, but only some models sport a 4K resolution. Last but not least, it is important to have good autofocus while recording since it allows the camera to quickly and accurately identify the subject, and to keep focusing on it as long as it is necessary.
In this guide, we will list the SLRs that in our opinion offer the best quality to price ratio. We are going to start with the low-end models, and gradually move to mid and high-end devices leaving the professional range for last.
In the lower end, we find cameras suitable for those who approach the world of photography for the first time or want to upgrade from a compact model. They have a small size and weight, and almost always are sold bundled with an 18-55mm lens kit.
Mid-range cameras are perfect for both experienced photographers who want to shoot better photos, and for beginners who want to start with a more performing device, without spending an arm and a leg.
The high-end models of this guide are for advanced users and most of them also shoot good video footage. They are recommended for those who know what they look for and desire a solid camera body, that they complement with an ecosystem of lenses and accessories that will allow them to make the most of their camera.
Finally, we have the professional segment that consists of the flagship models of each manufacturer. These devices integrate all the latest technological developments and have prohibitive prices for the enthusiast crowd.
Canon EOS 4000D
The Canon EOS 4000D (Check on Amazon.com) is one of the cheapest SLRs on the market. It is the perfect camera to get started with as it allows you to learn how to manage the shooting parameters in a small and lightweight device. Thanks to automatic scenes, even those that have never used a similar camera before will be able to take good photos in any situation. The sensor is an 18-megapixel CMOS, accompanied by a 9-point autofocus system. It can record 1080p video at 30fps and can shoot 3fps bursts. This is also a smart camera and via a wireless connection, you can transfer your photos to your smartphone so you can easily share them with friends and family.
The Canon EOS 4000D is the best SLR to buy if you are interested in entering the world of photography on a budget. For the price, it can be a great gift, and it certainly ensures better photos than most smartphones.
If you have a low budget, you can also consider the Nikon D3500 (Check on Amazon.com) presented during 2018. It is equipped with an excellent 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, which ensures a good range of sensitivity for the price. It has an ISO sensitivity range of 100-25,600, which can ensure discrete photos even in low light conditions. This camera also has the ability to take bursts of images at 5fps. The 1080p and 60 frames per second videos are quite smooth. It weighs only 365 grams and mounts a non-rotating 3-inch LCD display. Plus, with Nikon’s Snapbridge companion app, you can instantly share shots with your other smart devices, or use your smartphone as an external monitor. Finally, the built-in battery guarantees up to 500 shots, a good result given the size of this camera.
The Nikon D3500 is recommended for those who want a discrete photographic performance even in low light conditions, or for those who need to take pictures of moving subjects and do not want to risk losing the right timing due to too slow a camera.
Canon EOS 200D
The Canon EOS 200D (Check on Amazon.com) was presented in 2017 as a mid-range offer, but thanks to the price at which you can find it currently it is a great option in the low end of the market. It mounts a 24.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor supported by a DIGIC 7 image processor (the same one mounted on the top-end models of the Japanese manufacturer) that can handle noise very well and guarantees quality photos full of details. It can take 5fps photo bursts, and record video at 1080p/60fps. It has a maximum sensitivity up to ISO 51.200, which helps a lot at night or indoors, along with the fast Dual Pixel autofocus system.
The Canon EOS 200D is the right choice for those looking to enter the SLR world but want more than an entry-level model. It guarantees mid-range performance, but at a lower cost.
The Pentax K-S2 (Check on Amazon.com) is a compact and handy SLR, but also kind of rugged as it is the only one in this price range that is moisture and dust resistant. The design hints at its ruggedness, and the device feels really robust when you hold it in your hand. You won’t be afraid to bring it with you in light rain, or at lower ambient temperatures than usual, conditions in which a non-tropical SLR is likely to suffer serious damage. It has a 20-megapixel stabilized APS-C sensor that works very well at high ISO, from 100 to 51,200. It has 11 focus points and is capable of shooting a burst at a maximum speed of 5.4fps. It also sports a swiveled screen (the first time for Pentax) and can record video at 1080p and 30fps. With the dedicated app you can transfer images and videos to your other devices or share them online, but also use your smartphone as an external display and shoot remotely.
It is the perfect option for those who want a camera to use in rather extreme conditions, without sacrificing image quality.
Canon EOS 800D
Do you want a medium-range SLR but without spending an arm and a leg? Then the Canon EOS 800D (Check on Amazon.com) is the right choice for you. Lightweight, easy to handle and with solid performance. The 24-megapixel ASP-C (crop factor 1.6x) sensor with which it is equipped guarantees excellent results and the 3” swivel touch screen with 1,040,000 points of definition is a pleasure to use. It sports the Digic 7 image processor that is also used in the top of the range Canon devices and is capable of 6fps bursts. It is not tropicalized, does not have a second memory card slot, and does not have sensor stabilization, but for the price, these are all absolutely acceptable shortcomings. It has an excellent video performance with a max 1080p resolution at 60 fps, with continuous focus during recording.
The Canon EOS 800D is a handy and convenient camera, perfect for use on the go. It is mainly recommended for those who approach the world of SLR photography for the first time but want a more advanced option.
Canon EOS 77D
The Canon EOS 77D (Check on Amazon.com) is a high-end camera, but thanks to its current price we consider it the best mid-range option. One feature that immediately separates it from the crowd is the backlit secondary display, a feature most appreciated by professional photographers that use it to quickly control the shooting settings. It has many other strengths such as the fast 45-point Dual Pixel CMOS focusing system (all cross-shaped), and the mechanical stabilization integrated into the sensor, which helps a lot in low light photography. Its 24-megapixel sensor records 1080p/60 fps video and 6fps photo bursts. It is not as robust as Canon’s more premium models, but that also means that it has better portability.
Ultimately, the 77D is definitely the best mid-range SLR: it is a fairly advanced camera that can give you great satisfaction in terms of image quality. At the current price, it can also be an excellent option as a secondary machine.
Sony a77 II
If you have already tried a Canon or Nikon SLR in the past and are looking for something with a slightly different design and features, you should consider a Sony a77 II (Check on Amazon.com). This is not an SLR in the strict sense, because of the presence of an OLED electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one, but competes in every other way with the most current SLRs. It is one of the best options in the sports photography segment: in fact, the fast 79-point (15 of them cross) focus system, allows you to easily follow any subject, and thanks to the possibility of burst photos up to 12fps you won’t miss a thing. The image processor is the world-famous Bionz X, the same one mounted on the high-end mirrorless Sony a7 series.
From a constructive point of view, this camera can count on tropicalization against dust and moisture. There is also a bright 1,228,000 point LCD rear display that can be fully reclined on three axes, up to 180°, and is clearly visible even under direct sunlight thanks to the proprietary WhiteMagic technology. The 24-megapixel APS-C sensor can record 1080p/60fps video. Finally, it offers complete compatibility with Sony’s versatile A-mount lens system. This one is our recommendation to anyone who needs a solid and fast camera, to be used even in difficult weather situations.
The main feature of the Pentax KP (Check on Amazon.com) is its design, characterized by quality materials and traditional lines reminiscent of the style of the analog SLRs. It is also champion of ergonomics, thanks to the possibility of modifying the handle to better adapt it to the photographer’s hand. It is very compact, almost comparable to some mirrorless cameras, but without giving up a complete set of dials and function keys. The 24-megapixel APS-C sensor is capable of recording 1080p/30fps video and shooting 7fps bursts. A great advantage for those photographers who have been a long time fan of the Pentax brand is its compatibility with the traditional vintage lenses of the Japanese manufacturer, which significantly increases the versatility of this camera. Another plus is the 5-axis stabilization system integrated into the sensor, with Shake Reduction technology, which makes this KP one of the best options for night photography.
The Pentax KP is one of the best SLRs in terms of design and construction quality (it is also moisture and dust resistant, and can be used up to a minimum temperature of -10°), without sacrificing high-end performance.
The Nikon D7500 (Check on Amazon.com) is one of the most complete SLRs in the high end of the market. It has one of the best available ASP-C sensors (20 megapixels), capable of sensitivity up to 1,600,000 ISO: low light photos are not a problem with this machine, which manages to keep the image noise to a minimum even under the most difficult conditions. It is also the only one that offers the option to record video up to the 4K resolution, at 30 frames per second, and it lets you use an HDMI output without compression and an internal SD memory card simultaneously. Image processing by the EXPEED 5 processor is always reliable and returns detailed and easy-to-edit RAW and JPEG files with bursts of up to 8 fps.
An innovative feature is the RGB exposure metering sensor at 180 thousand pixels, which, coupled with the advanced scene recognition system, always helps you obtain well-exposed and balanced shots, even in the presence of moving or smaller subjects. If you are looking for a camera that will satisfy you in both photos and videos, the Nikon D7500 is a one way street in this price range.
Canon EOS 6D Mark II
The Canon EOS 6D Mark II (Check on Amazon.com) is the only high-end camera to mount a Full Frame sensor. The 26.2-megapixel sensor, together with a 45-point autofocus system (all cross-shaped) allows for precise and detailed shots with bursts of up to 6.5fps, while the ergonomics are typical of the Canon brand, so to say excellent. It is a robust camera, accompanied by an intuitive and effective arrangement of dials and buttons. It also sports a 180° swivel touch screen. You will also appreciate that it comes with an audio jack for an external microphone to enhance your audio recording quality during video shoots; unfortunately, there is no headphone jack, a feature most appreciated by professional video makers.
It is not very fast, so it is not your best choice for sports photography, but the performance in every other scenario is great. We say it again this is the only camera to mount a Full Frame sensor at this price, and therefore it is absolutely recommended for those who want to try out this type of sensor. 1080p/60fps video quality is great and given its relatively low weight and flip-up screen this is one of the best options for professional vloggers.
Pentax K-1 Mark II
Apart from industry experts, when someone talks about the best brand in the field of SLR cameras, the conversation always revolves around the Canon/Nikon duopoly. But those who started using a camera when they were still using film, know that the quality of a Pentax camera has always been very high. This is the case for the current Pentax flagship model (Check on Amazon.com), a beautiful SLR with classic lines equipped with a 36.4-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, without a low-pass filter, and stabilized on 5 axes. This allows you to compensate for flickering up to 5 stops, so you can get sharp images even if you make clippings in post-production. The philosophy of Pentax is perfectly seen in this K-1 II, designed to be used by professionals even in extreme conditions: it is in fact tropicalized against dust and moisture and works smoothly down to -10°C. It can capture photo bursts of 4.4fps and video at 1080p/30fps. It is perfect if you want to take pictures at night, thanks to the positioning of LED lights at various strategic points of the camera body. For starry skies lovers, the Astrotracer function calculates the movement of the stars thanks to the data provided by the integrated GPS module allowing you to get photos without the trail effect even at very long exposures.
The Pentax K-1 Mark II is the perfect top of the range for those who need a full-frame camera to use in particularly harsh conditions, or for those who take a lot of pictures at night.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (Check on Amazon.com) is a complete and versatile camera for the professional photographer. The 30.4 megapixels full-frame CMOS sensor is among the most detailed and sharp on the market, and the Dual Pixel autofocus system never fails to identify the subject you want to capture. It can take photo bursts of up to 7fps for up to 21 RAW files. It has a great display complete with touchscreen, but no tilting, and has space for two memory cards, one in the SD format and one in a compact flash. To address the lack of sensor stabilization, Canon has inserted a proprietary control system into the shutter mechanism, called the Mirror Vibration Control System, which works to eliminate the risk of shaky hands but does not have the same effectiveness as a five-axis internal stabilization system. In addition, the 30fps 4K videos have a 1.7x crop factor, so they don’t take advantage of the entire sensor. Despite these limitations, the end results are excellent, which is why many videomakers choose it as their main tool.
Although it has been on the market for a few years now, the EOS 5D IV still offers the best image quality among the Canon lineup. It is also among the most popular cameras for professionals, thanks to its reliability and image quality, and is considered one of the best SLRs in terms of versatility.
We conclude our guide for the best SLR with the Nikon D850 (Check on Amazon.com), an exceptional and powerful Full Frame DSLR that is perfect for your every photographic need. It’s the heaviest and largest machine in the professional segment, but this is the price for the feeling of great robustness and durability. It mounts a 45.7 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, which generates incredibly detailed images. Such a high resolution also has its drawbacks, because performance at high levels of ISO, although very good, may be lower than that of competitors; moreover, RAW files are extremely large, so you need to equip yourself with quality memory cards to fully take advantage of its potential.
The great strength of this machine is the automatic autofocus system, the absolute best in the SLR world. The sensor is capable of focusing on 153 points, 99 of them cross-shaped. It is also capable of capturing images with a very wide dynamic range, which is useful during post-production. Videos have a maximum resolution of 4K at 30 fps. The XQD memory card port allows you to capture bursts of 51 RAW photos without buffering at 7fps, which is an amazing result. White balance, sharpness, and detail are all points of strength for this camera. If you have a high enough budget and want the top of Nikon technology, this camera will make you happy.