Canon has long been a leader in DSLR photography. Canon’s DSLRs have been used by everyone from total beginners to professional photographers and videographers. Open the bag of any photographer or videographer and there is a good chance you’ll find a Canon camera inside. Which Canon DSLR is the best for you depends on factors like how you plan to use it, your current knowledge of photography, what features are important to you, and of course, your budget. In this article we’ll take a look at the best Canon DSLRs on the market in 2016, outline which camera is ideal for you, and give you a rundown of our favorites. Get an idea of what’s right for you and find more of our favorites with our detailed guide for the best mirrorless cameras.
The 6 Best Canon DSLRs
Canon DSLRs: Beginner to Advanced
To get an idea of which camera is best for you it helps to know which features are available on different levels of cameras. An entry-level DSLR can take good pictures and may be great for people who are just getting into photography, but it may lack some features that professionals want. And while a professional-level DSLR excels at image quality and low-light performance, it may not have some of the automatic settings that help people who are just getting started. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the features in the different levels of Canon DSLRs.
Beginner Canon DSLRs
- Crop sensor
- Can be shot in manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic modes, making it easier for beginners to get started
- Often has fewer autofocus points, making autofocus slower and less accurate
- Typically slightly smaller, making them easier to hold
- Not as rugged as more advanced bodies
- Least expensive (under $1,000)
- Example: T6i
Intermediate Canon DSLRs
- May be crop sensor or full frame
- Has manual and semi-automatic modes
- Has increased autofocus points for better focusing capabilities
- May be larger and heavier than beginner bodies
- Typically more rugged than beginner bodies
- Moderately priced ($1,000-2,000), may allow room in the budget for better lenses and other accessories
- Examples: 80D, 7D Mark II, 6D
Advanced Canon DSLRs
- Full frame sensor
- Has manual and semi-automatic modes
- Has increased autofocus points for better focusing capabilities
- Larger cameras are heavier to hold but provide more control in the hands
- Improved ruggedness and weather sealing, built to stand up to the wear and tear of heavy use
- Most expensive ($2,000+)
- Examples: 5Ds, 5D Mark IV
#1 Canon 5Ds – The Best Canon Camera
($185 7 day rental, $3,400 retail, body only)
Professional photographers for whom resolution is king should look no further than the 5Ds. This camera’s 50.6 MP full frame sensor has almost twice as many megapixels as its nearest competitor, the 5D Mark III, making it the best Canon DSLR for photography (though now that the 5D Mark IV is out, this has changed a little). If the most important thing to you in a camera is the ability to take ultra high resolution images that can be printed crystal clear and extremely large, the 5Ds is the best bet.
Just because the 5Ds makes the top of our list due to its powerful sensor doesn’t mean that it’s superior in all ways. This camera is similar to the 5D Mark III (including video capabilities and autofocus system) but it doesn’t stand up quite as well when it comes to things like max burst rate and low light performance.
Photographers who are primarily concerned with taking really high-resolution photos will love the 5Ds because it gives the highest resolution photos in the Canon lineup. Photographers who want high-resolution images in a smaller, lighter package should also consider the Sony alpha a7RII full frame mirrorless camera, which shoots 42.4 MP photos. Those who care less about resolution and want faster burst speeds and higher ISOs may want to take a closer look at the EOS 1D X.
#2 Canon 5D Mark III – The Best Canon DSLR for Video
($129 7 day rental, $2,500 retail, body only)
The 5D Mark III is one of Canon’s powerful cameras for still photography and Canon’s best DSLR for video. While the 5D Mark III’s 22.3 MP sensor can’t hold a candle to that of the 5Ds, it is still powerful enough to be the choice of many professional photographers. Unless you’re planning on blowing up your photos to billboard size, those 22.3 MP are plenty! The 5D Mark III has a leg up on the 5Ds in some ways including its faster burst rate (6 FPS vs. 5 FPS in the 5Ds) and maximum ISO capabilities (25,600 vs. 12,800 in the 5Ds).
The 5D Mark III’s video capabilities make it a popular choice with serious videographers. With the ability to shoot 1080p video at 30 FPS and incredible low light performance, the Canon 5D Mark III shines when it comes to making movies.
This camera may be a little behind the video capabilities of cameras like Sony’s Alpha a7SII but it makes up for its lower video resolution and lack of a flip screen with things like fast autofocus, super sharp images, and the ability to take phenomenal stills photos.
#3 Canon 7D Mark II – The Best Canon Camera for Sports
($79 7 day rental, $1,499 retail, body only)
Photographers who primarily plan to shoot athletes, birds in flight, and other moving objects should look no further than the 20.2 MP 7D Mark II. This crop-sensor camera was designed to provide sports and wildlife photographers with all the tools they need to take amazing photos of objects in motion. With 65 cross-type autofocus points (more than any other camera on our list) and the ability to shoot still photos at burst rates up to 10 FPS, this is Canon’s best camera for capturing sharp images of quickly moving objects.
The 7D Mark II lacks the full frame sensor of the 5D Mark III but it makes up for it in its ability to shoot 1080p video at 60 FPS and easily lock focus on objects in motion. While the 7D Mark II is a camera that can be used and appreciated by just about anyone, it is the photographers that really need these super precise autofocus capabilities and fast burst speeds who will benefit from this camera the most.
The 7D Mark II’s closest competitor in the Nikon lineup is the fantastic D500, which offers higher video resolution, and more autofocus points but also retails for $500 more.
#4 Canon 6D – The Best Valued Full Frame Camera
($78 7 day rental, $1,400 retail, body only)
Photographers who want a full frame camera with a lot of features at a decent price will be well served by the Canon 6D. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is Canon’s lowest priced full frame camera—it is a good option for just about anyone. Whether you want to make the jump from a crop-sensor camera into full frame DSLR photography or you are looking for a powerful camera for taking crystal clear videos, the 6D has you covered.
This 20.2 MP camera shoots 1080p video at 30 FPS, has a max burst rate of 4.5 FPS for stills, and finds focus using an 11-point autofocus system. Those stats may pale in comparison to the robust offerings of the 5D Mark III but don’t be fooled—this is a really powerful camera at a very good price. The 6D is a camera that is accessible for beginners, good enough for pros, and has the ability to grow with you as you move further along with your photography. Sure, it may not be quite as good as the 5D Mark III, but it costs more than $1,000 less. An up and coming photographer who is looking to make major improvements to their kit (both body and lens) should consider putting that extra money toward a high-quality lens.
The 6D competes head to head with Nikon’s fantastic D610. The choice between the two may come down to personal brand preference and what gear you already own.
#5 Canon 80D – The Best All Around Canon Camera
($78 7 day rental, $1,200 retail, body only)
When you take into account things like video capabilities, autofocus points, frame rates, and cost, Canon’s 80D is the all around winner. This 24.2 MP crop-sensor camera has 45 cross-type autofocus points, takes 1080p video at 60 FPS, and shoots stills at a rate of 7 FPS. Because it was released more recently than some of the cameras on our list (like the 5D Mark III), it has features that are typically seen in newer cameras—including a flip screen and WiFi capabilities. Photographers, videographers, and vloggers who want a camera that perfectly strikes the balance between features and value love the 80D. This camera can do it all—and it is the best Canon camera under $1,200.
The biggest drawback of the 80D compared to others in the Canon line up is its lack of a full frame sensor. Photographers who really want a full frame camera should probably consider the comparably priced 6D—but they will be getting a slower autofocus system and fewer megapixels. The bottom line here is that intermediate level photographers who really want a full frame camera will love the 6D but those who place a priority on all the other bells and whistles will appreciate the 80D’s modern touches and versatility.
If you like the 80D and are willing to fork out a little more cash, consider Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 mirrorless camera which offers 4K video capability in a smaller package.
#6 Canon T6i – The Best DSLR Under $1000
($47 7 day rental, $749 retail, body only)
Canon’s Rebel line has long been the entry point for many aspiring photographers and the current model, the T6i, is the most powerful version yet. This is the best Canon DSLR for beginners who want to give photography a try and because it costs under $800, it is an affordable way to get started. The T6i is has a 24.2 MP crop-sensor camera and a 19-point autofocus system, making it a really good option in the entry-level market. A three-inch flip screen and the ability to shoot 1080p video at 30 FPS means that it’s also great for video. While the T6i can be operated in full manual mode, it also has fully and semi-automatic settings for those who are just learning their way around a camera. This may be the cheapest Canon DSLR on our list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a place in your bag!
The T6i’s closest competitor in the Canon lineup is the 80D and while it lacks the fast frame rates and robust autofocus system of its big brother, it also costs hundreds of dollars less. Photographers who are looking for the cheapest Canon DSLR that is still a highly capable piece of equipment should look no further than the T6i. Those who want a crop-sensor camera with faster autofocus and frame rates should think about picking up an 80D.
The T6i competes directly with Nikon’s D5500 and has a higher dynamic range, better performance at high ISOs, and a slightly lower price.
Picking the best DSLR from the Canon lineup can be a challenge and things get even trickier when you throw cameras made by other companies into the mix. Our complete comparison guide of the canon T5 vs T5i may help you weigh your options even more. You can also check out our Canon comparison articles featuring the 6D vs 5D Mark III, the 70D vs 7D, the Canon 5D Mark II vs 6D, or the Canon 7D vs 6D. With all the different options available, sometimes the best way to make a decision is by getting your hands on the cameras themselves. Renting a camera before you buy one lets you see which features you can—and can’t—live without. Whatever your photography goals are, there is the perfect camera out there for you. We hope that this guide made finding your next camera a little bit easier!