Which DSLR?

The holiday shopping season is upon us. Despite rumors of the DSLR's death, B&H is currently showing 261 DSLR choices you can choose from. Sure, various kits and body+lens choices are inflating that number. Still, plenty of choices remain out there to buy. So which should you get?

I'm going to make a huge assumption right up front (and so should you, otherwise you're on the wrong site and should be looking at my similar sansmirror article): you're comfortable with sticking with a DSLR for awhile, and you want one to last for several years.

That tends to suggest two additional things:

  • You want as much camera as possible.
  • You probably will be moving up in camera from what you have.

Canon and Nikon together sold tens of millions of DSLRs during the last 20 years. If your current DSLR is pre-2010, I'm pretty certain that all current models at the same level or higher are a big step up; your choices are broad and many. If your current DSLR is more recent, things become more complicated; image sensors got to the point where they record the randomness of photons almost perfectly, and improvements no longer come in dynamic range and image quality, but in features and other types of performance.

In browsing through all the DSLRs still available, you'll find a lot of crop sensor product at prices for US$400 to US$800, I'm not feeling a lot of love for them (neither are customers; this is where the biggest part of the market contraction has been happening). These low end models tend to be Rebels/Kiss models from Canon, or D3xxx/D5xxx models from Nikon. While competent, I consider them as "beater cameras" that produce good image quality, but suffer from build quality, reduced feature sets, and often have poor viewfinders. I'd say this: if you're considering a camera in this price range, don't restrict yourself to a DSLR. Consider spending a bit more and look closely at the mirrorless Canon M6 Mark II, Fujifilm X-T30/X-S10, Nikon Z50, or Sony A6100. 

For crop sensor DSLR users I'd argue that there really are only three models that are "long-termers," i.e. cameras that I'd buy now and be happy to explore for the next few years. Those three are the Canon 90D, Nikon D7500, and the Nikon D500. (If there are any Pentax users still reading this site, the only model currently on the market that makes any sense to me is the KP, but frankly it lags these other three.) I'd also suggest that you be aggressive about picking up crop sensor lenses now, because I think your choices for buying new are going to start disappearing. A couple years down the line, you might only be able to mostly find used optics to add to your camera.

Full frame still has some warhorses available still hanging on (Canon 6D Mark II, Nikon D750), but these don't feel like long-termers to me any more. If you're considering these cameras because of price, I suggest you look closely at the Canon RP and Nikon Z5, or maybe a Z6 or Sony A7 Mark III if the price is right.

If you're looking to move up to or in full frame, then there are three DSLR cameras that still make plenty of sense to me: the Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D780, and the Nikon D850. That last one is still one of the most well-rounded full frame cameras you can buy, regardless of DSLR/mirrorless. Interestingly, for those Canon shooters wanting to take a flyer on something a bit different, the 50mp 5DS R is still fire sale priced at US$1499 [advertiser link]. 

At the highest end, the sports/PJ cameras, I split on my recommendation: I'd tend towards the mirrorless Canon R6 rather than the 1DX Mark III, frankly. With the money you save, start buying the top RF lenses. You're not giving up any image quality and your not giving up much, if anything, in focus performance. Nikon users don't have a mirrorless equivalent that comes nearly as close to the D6, though the Z6 II can suffice for some.

So that makes my primary DSLR recommendations for this holiday season [all links to B&H]:

If you're considering a DSLR not on that short list, I'd say you need to have a really good reason to do so. Of the enthusiast/prosumer DSLRs that remain, the six I just listed are ones that I could still see myself using two, three, or more years from now. (Note: the D850 and perhaps the D7500 or D500 may still see an update). 

If you just want me to answer "what's the best all-around DSLR I can buy today" my answer hasn't changed in several years: the Nikon D850. That camera is a well-made, well-rounded camera that creates image files that, while large in size, are a delight to work with. These days, it's even priced aggressively for what it does. Even though I don't use mine as much as I've done in the past, it stays in my gear closet and is a camera I know I can turn to for almost any job.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com


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