The Best DSLR Camera for Beginners(Nikon D3500)
If you’re frustrated with the limitations of capturing photos or videos with your smartphone and are interested in learning the ins and outs of how a camera’s settings can affect resulting images, you should consider getting a beginner-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
The Nikon D3500 is the best DSLR camera for a beginner looking to step up their photography skills. It offers outstanding image quality for its price and a truly useful Guide Mode that helps you learn along the way. It boasts excellent battery life, easy smartphone connectivity, 1080/60p video with silent autofocus, and intuitive controls in a highly portable and lightweight body.
The Nikon D3500’s 24-megapixel sensor can create images with pleasing colors, and its Guide Mode has insightful explanations of camera modes and operations. Its battery lasts far longer than the competition’s and it’s lightweight and portable enough to carry anywhere. Connecting the Best DSLR Camera for Beginners to your smartphone is easy, so you can share what you shoot quickly. It shoots 1080/60p video too.
Who should buy this
DSLRs have much larger imaging sensors than budget point-and-shoots and smartphones (which means better performance with less light and being able to capture a wider range of lights and darks in a single image), more manual controls (which let you fine-tune how your photos will look), and the versatility of interchangeable lenses for different subjects (which means more options for capturing the perspective you want).
They also let you use high-power flashes so you can control your lighting conditions, and most Best DSLR Camera for Beginners today can even record impressive HD video footage—better than your old camcorder—with external microphones for a soundtrack that matches your images. DSLRs even give you more options after you’re done shooting since they can record what is known as a RAW image, a larger type of file that stores more data than a JPEG, which you can edit with Photoshop, Lightroom, or other image-editing softwares to get the best photo possible.
Great budget DSLRs—like our top pick in this guide—can even teach you to be a better photographer, walking you through the process of shooting in various modes by providing helpful hints and guides embedded in their control menus.
Generally speaking, a mirrorless camera will be significantly smaller and lighter than a Best DSLR Camera for Beginners, but with equivalent image quality. Mirrorless cameras tend to have more modern feature sets that include touchscreens, Wi-Fi integration, and focus peaking, and they generally run on the more affordable side. But they tend to have a battery that lasts fewer shots. Their small size means shooting for long periods can potentially be uncomfortable for your hands,
you have fewer lenses to choose from, and you’re limited to electronic viewfinders (some people prefer optical ones) if you even get a viewfinder at all. If you came of age shooting digital cameras and you’re used to holding your camera out from your body and looking at the screen, rather than up against your eye, you might not miss a viewfinder. And a portable, light camera that you’re likely to take with you everywhere could be a better match for you than a bulkier Best DSLR Camera for Beginners that you might end up leaving sitting on the shelf. Honestly, for a beginner, a smaller, lighter mirrorless camera makes a lot of sense over a DSLR.
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However, if you have some past experience with Canon or Nikon systems or some DSLR lenses at your disposal, it might make sense to continue down that path rather than learning a new Best DSLR Camera for Beginners language altogether or building your lens library from the ground up. Or maybe you prefer a more sizeable camera in hand.
If you’re looking to replace your current Best DSLR Camera for Beginners and want to be able to continue using the lenses you have, check out our guides for the best Nikon Best DSLR Camera for Beginners.
An entry-level DSLR has to be able to do a lot these days. Here are some of the things we looked for:
- Excellent image quality: Images should be sharp and clear (even when shot in low light), have accurate-looking colors, and have a wide dynamic range (so that you can see detail across your image, in both the darkest shadows and brightest highlights).
- Easy to use: Even someone who has never tried a complex camera before should be able to quickly learn how to handle it. Best DSLR Camera for Beginners has some explanation of camera shooting modes and other features built-in so that you can learn as you explore the menus and modes.
- Manual controls: You’ll probably start out using your Best DSLR Camera for Beginners like a point-and-shoot in fully automatic mode, but the camera should have manual controls so you can step up to using them as you improve your skills.
- Smartphone connectivity: You should be able to connect your camera and your smartphone so you can transfer images off of the camera and share them with friends online quickly.
- Long battery life: Most beginner-level Best DSLR Camera for Beginners don’t have the best battery life, so you’ll end up having to carry an extra battery or two. We favored cameras that can last longer between charges.
- Portable: If a camera is too large or too heavy, you won’t be inclined to take it with you.
If you’re ready to advance your camera skills and purchase your first Best DSLR Camera for Beginners, the Nikon D3500 is the best option for a beginner. Its best-in-class 24-megapixel sensor can capture sharp images with high dynamic range, meaning both bright and dark areas will show details, and it excels in low-light situations. It’s particularly easy to use, has a Guide Mode to help you learn, plus manual controls that you can grow into, and connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth. Small and lightweight enough to carry all day, it also has a battery that can last through long shoots.
The Guide Mode cleverly coaches beginners to choose their shooting situation while offering instructions about how the camera will perform in each scenario. The easy operation mode offers simple explanations for when to use settings such as Night Portrait and Moving Subjects. If you select the advanced Guide Mode operation, you’ll have more control in a setting like Soften background, which prompts you to select your f-stop in aperture priority mode. As your photography skills grow, you can take off these training wheels to explore full manual controls and start shooting in RAW.
You can easily use Nikon’s SnapBridge app to connect the camera to your phone, and harness the camera’s Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity to continuously keep the images you shoot downloading to your phone, as long as they are smaller than full-resolution RAW files. Once this option is set up, images seamlessly downloaded to my iPhone each time I turned the Best DSLR Camera for Beginners on. You can also use the app to control the camera remotely.
The D3500 has a truly impressive battery life—1,550 images per charge—a whopping 350-image increase over its predecessor and our last top pick in this category, the D3400. That should easily equate to days of shooting before the battery needs to be recharged.
The camera’s lightweight and compact size is critical for a new user who might be graduating from a pocketable smartphone to their first interchangeable-lens DSLR. If a camera feels burdensome, it’s difficult to develop the habit of always bringing it with you. Here, the Best DSLR Camera for Beginners shines by weighing only 615 grams with the kit lens—or about as much as your grande latte.
The D3500 comes with Nikon’s collapsible AF-P 18–55mm Nikkor lens, which helps keep the camera’s size down when not in use. It uses a stepping motor to achieve speedy, ultraquiet focusing—particularly useful in video mode. The Best DSLR Camera for Beginners can smoothly shoot full HD video at 1080/60p and a half-press of the shutter button while filming helps to keep your subject in focus.
The D3500 boasts a burst rate of five frames per second, which is sufficient for basic fast-action photography needs but slightly slower than the 6 fps burst rate of our upgrade pick.
If you do start to experiment with new lenses on the Nikon Best DSLR Camera for Beginners, beware: this camera offers no automatic sensor cleaning. This common mechanism can help remove dust that makes its way to the sensor when switching lenses, which will display as dark spots on your image. D3500 owners will need to be extra cautious about when and how they swap lenses to avoid any sensor dust.