Mid-range enthusiast DSLRs offer more power, robustness and control than typical entry-level DSLR models. They’re great for shooting tricky subjects like sports or wildlife, thanks to having faster continuous shooting rates and more often than not, superior autofocus systems that features advanced tracking modes. Many also add weatherproofing for extra robustness and peace of mind.
Although enthusiast DSLRs don’t tend to offer more megapixels than their entry-level siblings, you’ll often get an increased ISO sensitivity range to help with low light shooting. While most enthusiast DSLRs are based around APS-C sized sensors, some models sport larger full-frame chips that are normally the preserve of pro-spec models. If you’re not quite sure what advantages shooting with a full-frame sensor brings, you can check out our guide to sensor sizes.
But just because these DSLRs are intended for enthusiast photographers, that doesn’t make them intimidating to shoot with. The additional controls positioned on the camera body can actually improve their ease of use, allowing you to access key settings quickly, without the need to dive into a menu regularly. Don’t worry though, most still include an automatic mode that’ll take care of everything for you if you want to learn as you shoot.
1. Nikon D7500
A brilliant all-rounder
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 922,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Movies: 4K
The Nikon D7500 packs in the same excellent 20.9MP sensor as the pro-spec D500, but in an even more compact and affordable body. It missed the highly impressive 153-point AF system enjoyed by the D500, but the 51-point system is still very good. There’s also 4K video capture, a tilt-angle touchscreen display and 8fps burst shooting, while the minor drop in resolution over the D7200 is worth the small sacrifice, particularly when it comes to sensitivity. There’s a low setting of ISO50, while the upper ceiling is a staggering ISO1,640,000. The D7500 is certainly a tempting prospect for both new and existing users.
2. Canon EOS 80D
An excellent choice for enthusiast photographers
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 45-point AF, 45 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Movies: 1080p
The EOS 80D typifies the attraction that DSLRs can still hold for enthusiast photographers. Sporting a fast and effective 45-point autofocusing system, while the clever Dual Pixel CMOS AF system for Live View focusing delivers snappy focusing speeds. The camera’s handling is excellent, promoting creative shooting as well as making setting adjustments quick and easy. It also has a high quality 24.2MP sensor that is able to capture a good level of detail while keeping noise under control. A great enthusiast DSLR that packs a decent performance.
3. Nikon D500
Nikon’s baby D5 is perfect for the action photographer
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Autofocus: 153-point AF, 99 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 4K
Nikon’s taken it’s flagship full-frame D5 DSLR and distilled many of it’s key features into a more compact body. The 20.9MP APS-C CMOS sensor is brilliant, delivering a stunning ISO performance, but it’s the rest of the D500’s pro specification that impressives. The 153-point AF system is simply stunning, capable as it is of getting moving subjects sharp in difficult lighting conditions, while the D500’s robust build means it’s more capable of withstanding heavy use than Nikon’s existing DX cameras. It can also shoot 200 raw files at 10fps, making it a brilliant choice for the serious wildlife or action photographer.
4. Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Canon’s top APS-C DSLR may be pricey, but it doesn’t disappoint
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Autofocus: 65-point AF, 65 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Movies: 1080p
Canon fans had to wait a long time for the EOS 7D Mark II, and though the original EOS 7D was ahead of its time, its replacement is a big step forward in every way. Its 65-point autofocus system (all cross-type) is state-of-the-art and copes well with moving subjects, plus you get quality weatherproofing that’s almost a match for the pro-level EOS-1D X Mark II. A new 150,000-pixel RGB and infrared exposure metering sensor helps produce accurately-exposed images with well-controlled noise levels, attractive colours and impressive detail. Unfortunately, all this tech doesn’t come cheap, but the EOS 7D Mark II is well worth the money.
5. Nikon D750
Ready to step up to a full-frame DSLR?
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch tilt-angle screen, 1,299,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6.5fps | Movies: 1080p
Full-frame photography used to be the preserve of professional photographers, but DSLRs like the Nikon D750 and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II (below) have made it a more realistic proposition for enthusiast photographers. The D750 packs in an excellent 24.3MP full-frame sensor, and while it might not sport the sophistication of the D500’s AF system or its robust build, the D750 is a very capable DSLR that paired with the right lenses will deliver excellent results.
6. Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Canon’s enthusiast-focused full-frame DSLR
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 26.2MP | Autofocus: 45-point AF, 45 cross-type | Screen type: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Movies: 1080p
With the full-frame EOS 6D Mark II Canon has certainly made some significant improvements over the ageing EOS 6D, packing in a host of new features including a fresh sensor, a faster processor, a much more credible AF system and a stronger burst rate. It’s a much more well-rounded and better specified camera than the EOS 6D, but it’s not without its issues. It will certainly please Canon users looking to make the move into full-frame photography, but others might be better served elsewhere.
7. Nikon D7200
The D7500 might have replaced it, but it’s still a great DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch screen, 1,299,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Movies: 1080p
The D7500 might have replaced the D7200, but don’t discount it. Packed with features, a decent performance and a excellent AF system, the D7200 is topped off with a cracking sensor to makes it an ideal camera for enthusiasts – especially if you already own some Nikon lenses. It might be getting on a bit, but this makes it an ever better buy.
8. Canon EOS 77D
Like the EOS Rebel T7i / 800D but with more control
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Autofocus: 45-point AF, 45 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Movies: 1080p
The EOS 77D shares pretty much and identical set of features as the entry-level EOS Rebel T7i (EOS 800D outside the US), but Canon has opted for a more distinctive and slightly larger design for the 77D to differentiate the two models. Don’t get us wrong, the EOS 77D is a very capable DSLR, but it’s a hard camera to get excited about. It does a lot of things well, but there’s nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd. If you want an entry-level Canon DSLR, go for the T7i / 800D, while those looking for something a bit more advanced should save their pennies for a bit longer and get the EOS 80D
9. Sony Alpha A77 II
A speed demon, yet also capable of great image quality
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Autofocus: 79-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3-inch screen, 1,229,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Movies: 1080p
By using ‘SLT’ (single lens translucent) technology, the Alpha A77 II’s fast and highly-sophisticated phase-detection autofocus system can stay fully operational in the camera’s live view and movie modes. It also helps enable a blistering 12fps continuous shooting speed. There are a few usability niggles with some controls and, though the screen articulates, it’s difficult to move and isn’t touch-sensitive. However, the A77 II does deliver high-quality 24.3-megapixel images with near-professional autofocus performance.
10. Pentax K-3 II
Pentax updates its top APS-C DSLR with a new ‘Pixel Shift Resolution’ mode
Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.4MP | Autofocus: 27-point AF, 25 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch screen, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 8.3fps | Movies: 1080p
The K-3 II has all the qualities of the original K-3, but comes at a higher price, and while the innovative Pixel Shift Mode is an innovative solution to a long-standing technical limitation with regular image sensors, the improvement in image quality is subtle at best. But the K-3 II has many other qualities, notably its rugged, weatherproof build, impressive 8.3fps continuous shooting speed and a sharp 24-megapixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter – though it can ‘simulate’ an anti-aliasing filter using its sensor shift system.
Panasonic Lumix G9
Meet the photographer-focused Lumix GH5
It might have slightly smaller sensor than its DSLR rivals, but don’t let that put you off. The Lumix G9 is a fabulous camera for the enthusiast photographer, packing in a wealth of features. These include up to 60fps burst shooting, a built-in 6.5 stop image stabilization and a large and bright viewfinder. This is all backed up by a wide range of Micro Four Thirds lenses.