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Building on dozens of hours of researching and testing DSLRs from various companies, as well as the combined expertise of multiple Wirecutter editors and contributors, we’ve created this guide to help you replace your broken or outdated Canon DSLR, upgrade to a fancier body if you’ve outgrown the camera you own or find the right Canon DSLR if you don’t want to consider other brands.
If you’ve outgrown your beginner DSLR, or if you own a midrange Canon DSLR that you’d like to upgrade, Canon’s EOS 80D is a good choice – provided that you already have enough Canon lenses that you don’t want to switch to a different brand. If you’re stepping up from a beginner Canon DSLR, the 80D gives you weather sealing to protect against dust and rain, plus longer battery life, faster bursts and a quicker top shutter speed for capturing action. If that beginner DSLR is older than the T7i, you also get an autofocus system that covers more of the frame with more AF points. If you’re replacing an older midrange DSLR (say, a 60D or 50D), the new autofocus function will greatly improve your shooting experience – especially for capturing video. If, however, you own a 70D, which has Dual Pixel autofocus, the improvements will be comparatively minor, so you should hold off on upgrading.
Our link above leads to the camera body alone because we’re assuming that you already own the lenses you need. If you want a new version of the kit lens, and if you plan to shoot video (which you should, because this model includes Canon’s STM technology for quiet AF during video capture), opt for the 80D kit instead.
If you own a beginner DSLR from Canon and aren’t feeling limited by its capabilities, our suggestion is to replace it with the EOS Rebel T7i. While it isn’t our top pick for a beginner DSLR if you don’t already own lenses, it remains a good choice if you’ve already spent enough money on Canon lenses that you prefer to stick with the Canon system. The T7i should be similar in size and weight to your previous DSLR body, while also offering an upgrade in some of its features. Compared with the EOS Rebel T5i, the T7i has a higher-resolution sensor with better low-light performance, five times as many focus points and Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus for smooth and accurate autofocus when you’re shooting video. Our link above is to the camera body alone because we’re assuming you already have a kit lens as well as a few others. But if your kit lens has seen better days, you may want to opt for the Rebel T7i kit instead.
If you’re looking for a Canon full-frame DSLR, the EOS 6D Mark II is the natural starting point. It produces great-looking images, even when shooting in dim lighting, has Canon’s Dual Pixel AF for smooth and accurate autofocus when shooting video and has the same great autofocus system as the EOS 80D when shooting stills. Its touchscreen flips out to the side and can tilt all the way forward to make shooting at odd angles much easier. But, you should know that Canon’s full-frame DSLRs use different lenses (EF instead of EF-S) than the other picks in this guide. In fact, using an EF-S lens with a full-frame EF body can damage the camera.
If you haven’t owned a DSLR before and are open to buying any brand, this is not the guide for you. Take a look at either The Best DSLR for Beginners, The Best Midrange DSLR or The Best Mirrorless Camera. Those guides outline the best camera for the money regardless of camera brand. This guide is for people who already own enough Canon-mount lenses to make it cost-prohibitive to switch to a different brand of DSLR, or who have another reason to consider only Canon.
In the process of making our DSLR guides, we’ve used cameras from all the different camera brands. So although we’ve determined which of those is best for most people who aren’t currently invested in a particular camera brand’s lenses, we also can speak about which camera bodies from a particular brand make the best replacements for a broken or outdated camera. What outdated means is up to you, though we tend to think that if a camera still works and you enjoy using it, you have no real reason to replace it.
In general, we tend to prefer the image quality that Nikon has been delivering with its DSLRs. Compared with Canon’s efforts, Nikon’s exposure decisions tend to provide images that need little to no retouching and eke out a little more detail when you’re shooting in low light. The differences are small, though, so if you’re inclined toward Canon for other reasons, that may outweigh our minor complaints.
The biggest area in which Canon can claim an advantage over Nikon or Sony is in its Dual Pixel CMOS AF system for shooting video (or framing stills through the camera’s LCD). Canon calls it dual because, while most image sensors use one light-gathering photodiode per pixel, Canon’s sensor uses two per pixel. The paired diodes allow the sensor to work for phase-detection autofocus, the same type of AF that DSLRs have used since before photography went digital. This type of AF is considered superior to the contrast-detection systems that some DSLRs, including Nikon’s, use for video.
Aside from the AF, the differences between Canon and other camera brands tend to be minor. Compared with Nikon lenses, Canon lenses twist in different directions on the body when you’re attaching or detaching them. Similarly, the default directions of the dials for the exposure settings function backward from one brand to another. These days any DSLR lets you switch the directions of these dials, but if you don’t like digging through menus, you might just want the dials to turn the way you’re used to from the get-go.
We’re not loyal to any camera brand over another, but if you have a special place for Canon in your heart, that’s fine. After all, we also think that all cameras are good cameras.
Our pick for a midrange DSLR: EOS 80D
If you’re looking to upgrade from one of Canon’s Rebel cameras to a midrange DSLR, or if you’re looking to replace an older midrange model, such as a 60D, the Canon EOS 80D is our recommendation. For people who are buying their first DSLR and don’t care about brand, we currently recommend Nikon’s D7200 in our midrange DSLR guide because of its exceptional image quality (especially at high ISO settings), dual memory card slots and battery life of 1,100 shots per charge (compared with 960 for the 80D). However, we also call out the 80D as the best choice for people who plan to shoot video often, because its Dual Pixel autofocus system works better than Nikon’s AF.
One reason we suggest this model for video is that the touchscreen can flip out to the side of the camera and tilt up and down to let you shoot at high and low angles more easily and tap the screen to set the focus. If a camera’s screen doesn’t tilt, getting many of those shots while you’re capturing video can be harder. This flexibility can also help when you’re capturing stills. The 80D also has a well-designed set of controls with two command wheels to make it easier to use the camera while you’re shooting in manual exposure mode.
Another advantage for video shooters is Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF for precise autofocus when you’re shooting video or framing still images on the LCD screen (aka live view shooting). When this feature debuted in the 70D (you can see it in action in the video above), Imaging Resource called it “a rare, groundbreaking innovation,” noting that “this technology finally puts true camcorder-like performance into an HD-DSLR”. A bit later, the review says that “when using Live View for still shooting, the advanced autofocusing felt nearly as fast as traditional viewfinder shooting under most scenarios.” On top of that, whereas the 70D’s live view autofocus could track moving subjects only while in video mode, the 80D brings this continuous-focus capability to still images as well – with good results, as DPReview reports.
The one drawback to the 80D for video capture is the fact that it can’t shoot 1080p video at 60 frames per second – instead it limits you to 30 fps. This restriction might not matter much to you if you don’t shoot video of fast-moving subjects, but if you do, 60 fps capture can provide smoother results or let you incorporate half-speed slow motion into your video using editing software. In addition, the 80D cannot record 4K footage, but that is typical of DSLRs in this price range.
At 7 fps, the 80D’s burst rate is fast enough for sports shooting, and its image buffer lets you capture up to 110 JPEGs in sequence before the burst rate slows down. That should be more than enough to make a fun GIF of a friend or a child goofing around.
The 80D’s Wi-Fi lets you use the camera with Canon’s Camera Connect app to transfer images to your phone for sharing on social media. It also lets you control the camera with your phone. You can’t change as many settings as you can with some other camera brands, such as Olympus or Panasonic, but you can tap for focus and change the most important functions, such as shutter speed, aperture or white balance, and you can trigger the shutter for taking stills or start and stop video recording.
The 80D’s battery gives you a very respectable 960 shots per charge. That should be enough for a day’s shooting, but if you aren’t diligent about charging, an extra battery is always nice.
Our pick for a beginner DSLR: EOS Rebel T7i
Although we recommend Canon’s EOS Rebel T5i for budding videographers in our DSLRs for beginners guide, Canon’s EOS Rebel T7i is a good choice if you want to step up from that model without paying the higher price, or dealing with the larger size, of the EOS 80D. The T7i’s 24-megapixel sensor captures a bit more detail than the the T5i’s 18-megapixel sensor. And this model is the first Rebel camera to use Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus technology, which makes video capture easier. Plus, its main AF system has five times as many autofocus points as that of the older model. The newer sensor, together with the T7i’s newer image processor, also gives this camera better low-light performance than the T5i has.
The biggest advantage of the T7i is its new autofocus system. With 45 cross-type AF points for shooting stills through the viewfinder, the T7i represents a notable upgrade from the T5i’s nine-point system. It covers a wider area of the frame, but more important, the extra points help when you’re using tracking AF on a moving subject, such as a football player or a seagull. And because the T7i has the same Dual Pixel technology as the 80D, it works just as well when you’re shooting video or taking photos in live view mode.
Thanks to the T7i’s Wi-Fi, you can use this camera with Canon’s Camera Connect app to transfer images to your phone or control the camera with your phone. You can’t change as many settings as you can with some other camera brands, such as Olympus or Panasonic, but you can tap for focus and change the most important functions, such as shutter speed, aperture or white balance, and you can trigger the shutter for stills or start and stop video recording.
The tilting and swivelling LCD touchscreen lets you change focus by tapping what you want to focus on, and it’s helpful when you want to shoot video or stills at very high or low angles. If a camera’s screen can’t at least tilt, properly framing a shot at such angles is much harder. The T7i shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, which is enough to make relatively fast-moving subjects appear smooth in your video. And as we previously noted, Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system gives you smooth, accurate autofocus when you’re shooting video or framing stills using the LCD screen. Videographers will also appreciate Canon’s STM lenses, which use stepping motors for silent, vibration-free AF to avoid noise in the audio track during video recording.
The T7i’s 6 fps burst shooting is fast enough for you to get fun shots of amateur sports, and if you use a UHS-I SD memory card, you can shoot JPEGs until your card fills up. Even if you use a slower memory card, you can shoot up to 190 images before the burst starts to slow down.
With a battery life of 600 shots per charge, you should be able to make it through an afternoon of shooting. That said, if you’re not careful to recharge often, you may want to carry an extra battery in your camera bag.
Our pick for a full-frame DSLR: EOS 6D Mark II
Though we don’t tend to recommend a full-frame camera to most people because we don’t feel that the extra cost is worth it for everyone, if you still really want to get one we think that the EOS 6D Mark II is a great choice. It captures images at a high enough resolution to make great-looking prints larger than 13 by 19 inches even if you turn the sensitivity up as high as ISO 6400 in order to shoot in dim lighting. The camera is comfortable to hold, and thanks to its tilting screen that flips out to the camera’s side, you can easily snap a picture with it held above your head or all the way down near the ground. Plus, between its touchscreen controls and physical buttons, it’s easy to change any important settings as you shoot.
If you do plan to frame your images using the touchscreen instead of the optical viewfinder, or if you plan to shoot video, the 6D Mark II model’s Dual Pixel autofocus will prove very helpful. Other DSLRs tend to focus slower than, and not quite as smoothly as, Canon’s models that include Dual Pixel AF. When using the optical finder to frame your images, the 6D Mark II uses the same 45-point AF system as the EOS 80D. It focuses quickly and does a good job of tracking subjects when shooting bursts.
Like the other picks in this guide, the 6D Mark II has built-in Wi-Fi so you can use it with Canon’s Camera Connect app to transfer images to, or control the camera with, a tablet or smartphone. You can change shutter speed, aperture and white balance, as well as start or stop video recording or trigger the shutter to snap a photo. You can also tap the screen to change your focus point. That said, some other camera brands, such as Olympus and Panasonic let you change many more setting through their apps.
The 6D Mark II isn’t made to be a professional-level video camera, but it can record 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second. The footage isn’t quite as sharp as you’ll get with much more expensive full-frame cameras, but it’s perfectly fine for sharing on social media. The 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens we recommend is one of Canon’s STM lenses. STM stands for stepping motors, which move the glass elements in the lens for autofocus. Unlike Canon’s other lenses, STM lenses are quiet and create very little vibration so you won’t get an annoying hum in the sound of your videos when the camera focuses.
At 6.5 fps, the 6D Mark II model’s burst rate is enough to get good shots of amateur sports. If you shoot JPG images, you can capture 110 shots before the buffer fills up and the burst slows down. Bigger RAW files will fill the buffer after 18 shots, but that’s still enough for almost three seconds straight at the top burst speed.
You should be able to shoot for a whole day on one battery given that a full charge should last for 1,200 shots. This is one area where the larger size of full-frame bodies tends to pay off.
Our main complaint about the 6D Mark II is that it has only one memory card slot. We tend to think that if you’re looking to get a full-frame body, you’re advanced enough that you’ll appreciate the peace of mind, or organisational advantages, that come with dual card slots.
What about Canon EOS M mirrorless cameras?
Canon’s EOS M mirrorless cameras don’t perform as well for the price as those from other manufacturers, so we don’t recommend them if you’re looking for that type of camera. Worse yet, their bodies use a different lens mount than the company’s DSLRs. Although it makes sense to have a different lens mount for a camera that doesn’t need to accommodate a physical mirror, the bigger problem is that Canon has not made enough lenses for the system: currently the lineup has only seven lenses.
Canon’s mirrorless bodies offer better performance than when the company began making them, so perhaps they will be more competitive in the future. But if Canon fails to add a lot more lenses, it’s hard to foresee a time when these mirrorless models will overtake those of other brands in terms of overall system utility.
About Canon lenses
If you’re reading this guide, we’re assuming you already own some Canon lenses. Just in case you ended up with those lenses without buying them yourself, here’s some info about Canon lenses so you can know which lenses work with which camera bodies, and what to look for if you want to get quiet autofocus while shooting video with Canon’s newer bodies.
The main thing you need to know is the difference between Canon’s full-frame (called EF) and APS-C (called EF-S) lenses. You can identify which type you have by looking at the front of the lens to see if EF or EF-S is printed before the millimetres (mm) number or range. EF lenses project an image large enough to cover a full-frame sensor, while EF-S lenses project a smaller image but one that can cover the smaller APS-C–size sensors in the camera bodies we recommend most people buy.
Both types of lenses can physically attach to any of Canon’s EOS bodies, but you could damage a full-frame body if you try to take a picture with an EF-S lens attached. That’s because the rearmost piece of glass in an EF-S lens extends a bit farther into the camera body than the equivalent piece of glass on an EF lens. If you try to take a picture, the mirror inside the camera might smash into the back of the EF-S lens. This doesn’t happen on an APS-C body because the mirror is smaller in size and those camera bodies are designed to work with them.
If you’re asking yourself why Canon would make lenses that could mount on all of its cameras even though that’s likely to result in damage, we’re just as confused as you. This is not the case with APS-C lenses from other camera companies. Other companies tend to let you shoot with APS-C lenses on full-frame bodies, but crop the images down as though they had been shot on an APS-C body.
EF lenses also tend to be larger and more expensive than their EF-S counterparts. Occasionally it makes sense to use one or another type of EF lens on an APS-C body, but EF-S lenses are usually the more economical option. If you’re considering a new lens along with your new camera body, we have some great suggestions in our guide to the first Canon lenses you should buy.
If you want to shoot video and don’t want autofocus noise to infect your audio, look for Canon lenses with STM in the name, such as the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. An STM lens uses stepping motors to focus instead of the ultrasonic motors (USM) that other Canon lenses employ. The stepping motors are much quieter and don’t generate as much vibration, so your soundtracks shouldn’t be marred by errant whirs.
Canon uses an L to signify its premium lenses. You’ll typically find the letter appended to the aperture in the lens name, as with the EF 70-200mm f/4L that we recommend if you’re looking for a telephoto zoom lens. These lenses also have a red ring around the front, and the telephoto L lenses are a putty, off-white colour. (You’ve probably noticed sports photographers using them on the sidelines of various contests.) Canon’s L lenses are weather sealed and quite well-made, but with a few exceptions they aren’t always very affordable.
Canon also makes EF-M lenses. These fit onto the company’s mirrorless cameras and will not work with Canon’s DSLRs.
Older Canon lenses
If you have Canon lenses that aren’t EF or EF-S (say, if you inherited a grandparent’s Canon AE-1 from the 1970s), it doesn’t make sense to buy a Canon DSLR to try to use them. If you really want to use an adapter to mount them to a camera body, a full-frame mirrorless body (such as Sony’s A7 series) will give you the best results.
Things get more confusing if you’re looking at lenses made by Sigma, Tamron or other third-party manufacturers. In addition to making lenses designed to work on EOS DSLRs, they previously made lenses for Canon’s older, pre-EOS SLRs. This complicates matters if you’ve inherited or otherwise received old lenses that you know were used on Canon bodies. We suggest consulting a local camera shop or camera club, if one is in your area, or doing some Internet research to try to find out if those lenses will work on a current Canon body.
Canon introduced its EOS line of cameras in 1987. Most of the lenses for the film SLRs Canon made before then are FD or FL lenses. Those lenses won’t attach to a Canon DSLR without a complicated adapter (with a special lens element in it), and even then you’ll have to focus and adjust the aperture setting manually – and Canon bodies have occasionally been known to refuse to accept a lens mounted through an adapter. There are also some lenses made for the company’s first SLR, the Canonflex, called R lenses – these lenses are not easily adapted for use on EOS bodies.
If you have a Canon lens with screw threads on it, you have one of the lenses the company made for rangefinder cameras. These lenses aren’t easily adapted for use on EOS bodies. Mirrorless cameras don’t suffer such rejection issues with adapted lenses, but with some models, you must set them to operate without a lens in the menu before shooting.
We recommend Canon’s EOS Rebel T5i for video shooters in our guide to the best DSLRs for beginners, and if you’re looking to save money it remains a very capable camera. For this guide, we wanted a camera that represented a step up from that body, and the T7i offers meaningful upgrades to autofocus, image quality, and battery life compared with the T5i.
Canon’s EOS Rebel T6i is a decent upgrade over the T5i, with a higher-resolution sensor, better low-light performance and a 19-point AF system, compared with the T5i’s nine AF points. Ultimately, the T7i’s massive improvement to a 45-point system, as well as its addition of Dual Pixel CMOS AF, a big boon to video shooters, made us choose that model over the T6i for this guide.
The EOS Rebel T6s costs more than the 80D, uses a 19-point AF system and excludes Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and its battery life of 440 shots per charge is the same as the T6i’s and less than the T7i’s.
Both the EOS Rebel SL1 and EOS Rebel SL2 are extremely small in size for DSLRs and remain widely available, but neither model represents a significant improvement over the T5i or matches what the T7i offers. If size is your priority, consider switching to mirrorless.
Occupying the space between the T7i and the 80D is the EOS 77D, which has many of the same specs as the T7i, including its 600 shots per battery charge, but adds a second control wheel for easier manual shooting. We think shooters who are experienced enough for manual shooting would be better served by the 80D, or the EOS 70D if you’re looking to save money.
The EOS 7D Mark II boasts a 65-point AF system, 10 fps burst shooting, Dual Pixel CMOS AF and a shutter rated to last for 200,000 shots. But its battery life is only 650 shots per charge, and it doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi. If you want to be able to share your images on social media without using a computer, you’ll have to add a Wi-Fi adapter that occupies the camera’s SD card slot, leaving only the Compact Flash slot to record images. It’s better seen as a backup body for pros, rather than as a primary camera for hobbyists – most enthusiasts will be better served by the 80D at this price.
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