What's your budget? Entry-level DSLRs are nothing to sneeze at: They deliver beautiful images in expert tests and even the most basic models offer robust manual controls, full HD video and more. Enthusiast DSLRs (which start at around $800 for the camera body only, or around $1,000 in a kit with a normal or telephoto lens) satisfy serious shutterbugs with faster shooting speeds, more sophisticated features and sturdier bodies. Though not covered in this report, true professional grade DSLRs ($2,000 and up) are the top of the line; they have the toughest bodies and the biggest sensors, and are the fastest shooters.
Are you a beginner? You'll probably find an entry-level DSLR easiest to learn on. The best ones have helpful built-in "guide modes" to walk you through the process of shooting a photograph. These teach you exactly how to do something -- like set a shallow depth of field for a portrait -- and why it's important.
Do you need a lens? Entry-level DSLRs usually come bundled with a versatile zoom lens. More advanced DSLRs are often sold body-only (though some are available in bundled packages) because buyers have often been shooting with DSLRs for a while and already own at least one lens.
Do size and weight matter to you? Pro DSLRs tend to be bulky and heavy, up to 3 pounds without the battery and lens. Beginner and mid-range DSLRs usually substitute smaller sensors and lighter bodies weighing 1 to 2 pounds (16 ounces to about 30 ounces), which can make them more comfortable to carry around all day.
Do you need a rugged camera? Most weather-sealed DSLRs that can shrug off beach sand and shoot in rainstorms start at about $800; however, some newer budget models boast impressive weather-proofing features. Metal bodies preferred by pros to endure the knocks of all-day, everyday use start at about $1,000. But you don't have to spend that much; even the cheapest entry-level DSLRs' plastic bodies are sturdy enough for normal use, experts say.
How many megapixels do you really need? Most DSLRs -- even the priciest pro models -- have 16 to 24 megapixel sensors. Experts say that's more than enough to create gorgeous, sharp, detailed images, even if you blow up big prints. That said, don't get too hung up on the megapixel rating. "We've always pointed out that simply cramming lots of pixels onto a sensor does not mean your camera will take great pictures," the experts at ConsumerReports.org say, adding that other factors, such as lens quality and sensor size (not resolution) play a bigger role.
Do you shoot fast action? Pro sports photographers use incredibly fast, incredibly expensive DSLRs that can capture up to 20 fps. But even the slowest DSLRs in this report can shoot 5 fps, which is actually still pretty fast.
Do you shoot in dim light? A broad ISO light sensitivity range can help you get great shots at night or in shadowy rooms without busting out the flash or tripod.
Do you need to shoot for long stretches without recharging? If so, look for a camera with a higher capacity battery. Some of the DSRs in this report have batteries that are rated to take 1,000 shots, or more, before needing to be recharged, while others will peter out at well less than 200 shots.
Do you need to instantly back up your images? If you're a pro shooting for clients, this can be crucial. Look for dual memory card slots; Compact Flash (CF) or XQD cards work faster than Secure Digital (SD) cards. Dual card slots let you save every image to both cards, just in case. Or you could designate one card to automatically take the overflow when the other fills up, or segregate your JPEGs and RAW files, which can be handy even if you're not a pro. Additionally, some DSLR models have built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, allowing users to connect to a smartphone or tablet to their camera to easily send photos to their mobile device.