Production & Filmmaking
February 21, 2021

The Best DSLR Cameras for 2021

By Josh Edwards 12 min read

Cameras have never been better or cheaper than they are today. Additionally, filmmaking is more accessible than ever, and it's never been easier to get your work out there and seen. So, what's stopping you? No matter where you are in your career, count yourself lucky to live in 2021--truly a golden era of filmmaking! 

Strangely, however, there are some potential downsides to this newfound accessibility. With so many camera options, trying to choose the right model when you're looking to buy a new one can feel a little overwhelming. YouTube is swamped with reviews of all the new, shiny cameras being released almost daily--each one claiming it's the 'perfect DSLR for you.' So, how do you pick? 

To help you out, we've put together a quick guide and a list of contenders for the best DSLR camera for 2021.

What is a DSLR camera?

Standing for 'Digital Single-Lens Reflex', the DSLR camera uses the same design as the past 35mm film cameras.

Once the light has passed through a DSLR lens, it hits a mirror angled at 45 degrees and bounces straight up into a viewfinder. Looking through the viewfinder, you'll see exactly what the lens is seeing at that moment. No digital processing involved.

When you click the shutter, the angled mirror swings out of the way and reveals the image sensor behind it, making a satisfying 'ker-chunk' noise. The light hits the sensor, and voilà, you have your photo.

Why DSLR?

Despite the predictions we've been hearing for years from certain corners of the industry that 'mirrorless cameras will kill DSLRs and take over,' we're still waiting for that dreaded day to come. In 2021, DSLR options are still going strong for several reasons, including their low-light capabilities, rugged build and pleasing ergonomics, great battery life, autofocus, and variety of lens options. 

For more on this great debate, check out our article about DSLR vs. Mirrorless, which discusses the merits of both and which one is best for you.

Things to look out for

Before we get into the list, there are a few things you should look out for when picking out your DSLR:

Price: When on the hunt for the best DSLR camera, remember that the most expensive camera does not equate to the best photos, films, and video. While more money will generally ensure higher quality and more features, there are lots of other factors to consider here. If you do your research, you could walk away with a camera that does everything you need it to do without breaking the bank.

Interface and controls: The best DSLRs are the ones that offer you everything you need but remain relatively simple and easy to come to grips with. You want to make sure your DSLR camera provides all the features you need and 'feels right.'

Autofocus: While shooting manual is really important (it will improve you as a filmmaker by sharpening your eye), autofocus (AF) in 2021 is a must. Not every DSLR nails AF, so take the time to research and test each system, as well as weighing how important autofocus is for you and the work you're doing.

Sensor size: Whichever DSLR you opt for, you want it to be great at what it does. Image quality is always going to be important, and sensor size is a huge factor in determining the quality of imagery your camera will deliver. The larger the sensor, the more light it can capture and the more information it can record. The more information that goes to the camera's image processor, the greater the resulting image's dynamic range. This means your shadows and highlights capture more details, resulting in better image quality.

Lens options: Knowing you have a broad array of lenses to choose from is a big deal when picking a new DSLR. From wide to telephoto, lenses are almost as important as the DSLR itself! Take the time to research each brand and understand what lenses are available to you with each.

Now that you know what to look for, let's take a look at our contenders for the very best DSLR camera for 2021.

Nikon D3500

Megapixels: 24.5 | Resolution: 6000 x 4000 | Sensor: CMOS | Autofocus: 11-point AF | Screen type: 3-inch fixed screen | Video resolution: 1080p full HD | Viewfinder: Pentamirror | User level: Beginner

Nikon D3500 one of the best DSLR cameras for 2021

Image by 昼落ち

The Nikon D3500 is basic, and that's why it's perhaps the best DSLR camera for beginners. Think of it as the camera you're looking for when upgrading from shooting on a smartphone. It offers an excellent combination of image quality, a lightweight body, and advanced menu systems, all packaged at an affordable, accessible price.

Pros

Cons

Long battery life

A little basic for some users

Very affordable price

No touchscreen or LCD tilt

Built-in user guide and menu that’s very user-friendly

No 4K option for video

Nikon D5600

Megapixels: 24.2 | Resolution: 8256 x 5504 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Autofocus: 39-point AF | Screen type: 3.2 fully articulated tilted touchscreen | Video resolution: 1080p full HD | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | User level: Enthusiast/intermediate</

nikon d5600 dslr camera

Image by Michael Kramer

In short, the Nikon D5600 is the big brother of the D3500. It's right up there as one of the best DSLR cameras in 2021. Despite its polish and high quality, it remains very easy to master and use. Boasting more power than the previous option, additional features such as a fully tilting, articulate touchscreen and impressively fast autofocus, it's a great choice at the current price point.

Pros

Cons

Great image quality

No 4K

Touchscreen, tilting LCD

More expensive than the D3500

Very fast, accurate autofocus

No dust or weather sealing 

Nikon D850

Megapixels: 45.7 | Resolution: 6000 x 4000 | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Autofocus: 153-point AF | Screen type: 3.2-inch diagonal tilted touchscreen | Video resolution: 4K | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | User level: Professional/expert

nikon d850 dslr camera

Image by Gdonpadlan

The Nikon D850 is the 'big daddy' of the DSLR world, sitting on top of the pile. It comes packed with a tonne of versatile features, including incredibly fast autofocus, a rugged weather-sealed build, 4K video (the first of the Nikon DSLRs to offer this), and brilliant battery life. In summary, the D850 has often been described as the best DSLR ever produced. Unsurprisingly then, the price tag fits the bill.

Pros

Cons

High ISO performance

Very expensive 

Wide dynamic range

Live view AF speed is a little slow

Incredibly fast AF speed

30 minute video clip limit and no 4K @60fps

Pentax K-70

Megapixels: 24.2 | Resolution: 6000 x 4000 | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Autofocus: 153-point AF | Screen type: 3.2-inch diagonal tilted touchscreen | Video resolution: 4K | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | User level: Professional/expert

pentax k-70 dslr camera

Image by joergens.mi

The Pentax K-70 is a left-field option when compared with the usual mainstream suspects of Canon and Nikon. However, we think it is a fantastic DSLR. Pentax is well known for introducing high-end features (typically seen in more expensive, premium models) to the lower entry-level. What we love most is the weather-sealing and really strong, rugged build quality--features often missing when it comes to other DSLRs at this price point. If you're shooting outdoors in the elements a lot, this could be perfect.

Pros

Cons

Competitive price

Video specs not quite as good as other competitors

Solid, rugged build that’s perfect for shooting outdoors

Continuous autofocus in video is pretty poor

Anti-shake capabilities

Lens options are not mainstream like Canon or Nikon, etc.

Canon EOS Rebel T8i/EOS 850D

Megapixels: 24.1 | Resolution: 6000 x 4000 | Sensor: CMOS | Autofocus: 45-point AF | Screen type: 3.0-inch fully articulated tilted touchscreen | Video resolution: 4K (cropped) | Viewfinder: Optical Pentaprism | User level: Enthusiast/intermediate

canon dslr camera

The Japanese model of the EOS 850D. Image by 昼落ち 

The dizzying number of DSLR options on offer from Canon can be overwhelming. However, the Canon 850D really stands out as one of the best DSLR cameras going into 2021. As expected from Canon, the image quality is fantastic--really sharp and clear. Additionally, you've got the option of shooting in 4K, which is always useful (although it's heavily cropped on the sensor). There are some interesting additional features such as Face Detection tracking in viewfinder shooting--a new addition that's quite rare for DSLRs. In general, the autofocus on this model is brilliantly fast.

Pros

Cons

4K resolution

Expensive

Touchscreen, tilting LCD

Plastic build can feel a little cheap

Quick and reliable autofocus with face and eye detection

Certain 4K limitations with frame crop

Canon EOS 90D

Megapixels: 32.5 | Resolution: 6960 x 4640 | Sensor: CMOS | Autofocus: 45-point AF | Screen type: 3.0-inch fully articulated tilted touchscreen | Video resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160) | Viewfinder: Pentaprism | User level: Enthusiast/intermediate

canon eos 90d dslr camera

Image by TPatSS

Pros

Cons

4K resolution (uncropped, up to 30p)

Very pricey

Touchscreen, tilting LCD

A little bulky and heavier compared to other options

Good, solid build and weather sealing

No image stabilisation

Although a little pricey, the Canon EOS 90D is a prime competitor for the best DSLR camera for 2021. Along with compatibility with Canon glass (especially useful for improving on low-light shooting), it's packed full of features such as the high-resolution sensor, tilting touchscreen, and smooth, speedy performance. Moreover, it punches heavier than the Canon EOS 850D in its ability to shoot 4K completely uncropped, making full use of that nice, big sensor.

 

About Josh

Josh Edwards is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK), and industry writer in the Blade Ronner Media Writing Collective. He's passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.

 

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