If you are looking to break into professional photography or simply want a camera that can take stunning images of your friends or family, inexpensive DSLR cameras are quickly becoming the go to product to use. While they may not offer the same wealth of options as some of the highest end cameras, they are more than capable of producing images that can rival those of all but the most expensive pieces of equipment.
However, figuring out which DSLR camera is right for you can be tricky. That is why we have put together a helpful buyer’s guide so you know what to look for. Then, we provide a list of 5 of the best dslr camera under 500, so you have a solid reference of what is available.
The sensor is arguably the most important part of a DSLR camera. The size and quality of the sensor will directly impact the overall image quality of the shot. Granted, understanding other settings can improve image quality as well, but all things equal, larger and better sensors will produce superior shot image quality.
For DSLR cameras, sensors will generally come in one of two sizes: APS-C and Full Frame. As the name suggests, full frame is the largest sensor size for DSLR cameras while APS-C sensors are a little bit more than half the size of full frame sensors. However, this affects more than simply the shot’s cropping size.
The size of the sensor will generally determine how much light the camera can capture which translates to sharper, more detailed images. However, the larger the sensor size, the more expensive the camera, so you will need to balance what you actually need before investing in a camera with the largest sensor.
DSLR cameras come with one of two types of sensors: CMOS or CCD. These two types of sensors function differently in such a way that there is a clearly superior type--the CCD. However, the gap between the types of sensors is quickly narrowing--even if the difference is cost is not.
Ultimately, the CCD makes a direct conversion from analog to digital signals. This allows for a more accurate signal translation and reduces the amount of image noise--especially in low-light settings. Of course, CCD sensors have been around far longer than CMOS sensors, the latter of which will likely soon catch up to the more mature sensor.
Despite what manufacturers say, megapixels are not the most relevant factor when choosing a camera--regardless the camera type. While there are some notable exceptions to this premise centered specifically around different niches of photography, the overwhelming majority of photography types do not require the most megapixels.
That being said, if you intend to shoot large frame shots, like landscapes, or extreme close up shots, like with bird or certain floral photography, you will want to make sure your camera offers a large number of megapixels. However, unless you plan to blow your images up for large prints, most other types of photography do not require megapixels beyond the 16 mp range.
It is also important to note that not all megapixels are created equally. Showing once again why the sensor is one of the more important components of a DSLR camera, larger sensors are able to better translate the light of the pixel, producing superior image quality with less grain in lower light conditions.
For an amateur photographer, the exposure settings are not necessarily all that relevant. Find a camera with automatic tuning functions and a wide range of exposures, and you should be able to take excellent photographs without too much input or specialized knowledge on your end.
However, professional photographers and dedicated enthusiasts will require a camera with a wealth of exposure settings that each offer a wide range of options and a fully manual control. The three primary exposure settings of a camera are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.
The aperture of your DSLR camera will ultimately determine how much light is allowed to pass through the lens and onto the sensor. However, unlike the sensor itself, the aperture will shift in size to produce a different image style without inherently affecting the image’s quality.
Aperture is measured in f-stops with the rating displayed in f/”#”, like f/22 or f/3.1. It is important to note that the larger the number after the “f,” the smaller the aperture. In terms of quality, the widest range of apertures is generally considered the best with exceptionally small apertures being necessary for incredibly focused and detailed images.
Shutter speed, and its importance, will often matter more depending on the type of photography you shoot. The slower the shutter speed, the more light is exposed to the sensor. However, a slower shutter speed will also often result in blurred images if the subject is moving.
If you simply want to take a family photo at a holiday gathering indoors, you can leave the shutter speed on a lower setting to take a better shot in the lower light conditions. However, taking a picture at a child’s sporting event will almost certain require a quick shutter speed to prevent the details of the moving subjects from blurring together.
ISO will affect how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Keep in mind, this feature provides a range to allow different settings--much like the other qualities of a camera’s exposure. As such, the maximum and minimum ISO sensitivities are key qualities to look for.
Much like aperture and shutter speed, the ISO sensitivity affects how much light your sensor can read. However, unlike the prior two qualities, the ISO sensitivity does not control the light before it hits the sensor and instead alters how the sensor responds to the light.
Ultimately, the ISO sensitivity can help most in the extreme light settings where your subject is either extremely bright or exceptionally dim. Regardless, a good rule is use as low of an ISO sensitivity setting as you can to prevent image noise and produce a sharper shot.
The Canon T6 is a solid DSLR camera, but it definitely feels like it comes up a bit short when compared to the Nikon models. A large part of this is that the Canon is priced similarly to the Nikons but does not offer quite as good of specs.
For instance, the Canon T6 features the second lowest ISO sensitivity range on our list--second only to the point and shoot Coolpix. With 100 to 6400 ISO sensitivity, you will be far more limited in terms of your low light settings without the use of a flash--something professional photographers avoid in a variety of niches if they can help it.
Still, the Canon is a decent product with a nice autofocus system that uses 9 points--keep in mind, a 7 point system is generally a standard “quality” autofocus system. Moreover, the Canon T6 also uses a high quality pentamirror viewfinder that displays a wealth of information for quick reference.
Though Pentax doesn’t quite have the brand recognition that Nikon and Canon boast, they produce good quality cameras that affordable and their K-S2 model is another good DSLR that can be found for under $500. Though the autofocus isn't that great with this camera, the image quality is comparable to the cost. The K-S2 features a crop sensor with 20 megapixels, and comes with an 18-55mm kit lens, a dedicated "selfie" mode and a Wi-Fi with dedicated Wi-Fi connect button.
One of the great features present on the K-S2 is the fact that it is weather sealed. In this price range, you will be hard pressed to find other cameras that offer that degree of durability. This will especially appeal to outdoor photographers who often have to deal with having their equipment exposed to the elements. Other features include wifi connectivity and a video mode that shoots at 1080p/30fps.
The Nikon D3400 is extremely similar to the D3300 is so many ways that you truly have to dig into the camera’s different features to figure out what sets one apart from the other. Unfortunately, this is not simply a matter of one product simply being better than the other--though, most of the differences do sway in favor of the D3400.
However, one of the more telling features absent from the D3400 that is included in the D3300 is the ultrasonic sensor cleaner. For amateur or even consumer photographers, the ability to clean the sensor without having to open up the camera was a godsend. Instead, the D3400 requires that you clean the sensor manually.
Still, the D3400 is not without improvement over the D3300. First, the native ISO sensitivity range has been increased from a native maximum of 12,800 to 25,600. Keep in mind, even though the D3300 could artificially be boosted, that did not work as well as a native 25,600 ISO sensitivity. Also, the D3400 features a bluetooth connectivity for easier sharing with smart devices.
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is actually fairly similar to the T6 in numerous ways. Specifically, a number of the objective measurables used to judge the quality of a camera are the same. Both offer a maximum still resolution of 18 megapixels and both have the same native aperture range. However, the SL1 definitely takes a step forward in terms of convenience.
First, the SL1 offers a 4 fps continuous shooting compared to the T6s 3 fps. While this may not seem significant, catching a quality action shot will definitely show its value in terms of the continuous shot speed--though, both of these are less than the Nikon D’s 5fps continuous shot speed.
Still, one of the nicer qualities of the SL1 is the fact that its viewfinder also doubles as a touch screen control. This can make changing the settings and scanning your images much easier. Unfortunately, the SL1 does not offer the same wifi connectivity as the T6, so you will still have to manually upload your images to external hardware to retrieve your photos.
The Nikon D3300 is a solid starting point for beginning photographers and amateurs alike. Its price point is more in line with the Canon’s on our list, but it offers most of the features that the D3400 does. Moreover, it provides one feature that no other product on our list comes with: automatic sensor cleaning.
Unless you are a professional photographer or have intentions of becoming one, this feature alone might make the Nikon D3300 the best dslr camera under 500 for you. Keep in mind, for all of the other cameras on our list, you must physically open the body to clean the sensor. While opening the body is not exceptionally difficult, the sensor is incredibly delicate and accidental damage is not out of the question.
Beyond the ultrasonic sensor cleaner, the D3300 also features a decent ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 12,800 with an upgradeable digital option of 25,600--however, it should be known that this upgraded option is not as good as a true 25,600 ISO sensitivity. Still, with 24.2 megapixels and and 1080p video recording, the image quality is stellar.
When looking for the best dslr camera under 500, your options are somewhat limited. That does not mean that there are no quality products available, but you will definitely need to identify which features are most important--since you are unlikely to get all of them. If ease of use is most important, the Nikon D3300 may be your best options, it had a self-cleaning system is incredibly convenient.
However, both the Canon’s and the Pentax have a feature of convenience that is increasingly important in our interconnected world: wifi connectivity. Keep in mind, the D3400’s connectivity is not nearly as robust and relies on an inferior Bluetooth signal transmission. Regardless, for those Instagram photographers, the Canon may be a better fit.
Hey there, my name is Matan, and I am the creator and editor of this site. I have been photographing for the past 14 years and my mission is to democratize this misunderstood art of taking and processing photographs I love.