Are you a pixel connoisseur? Do you like to know you’re getting the maximum detail from every shot? Do you want the freedom to be able to recompose or cheat some digital zoom with a bit of canny cropping? Whether you know it or not, you’re a sucker for a high-resolution shooter.
These cameras are a far leap from the 10MP sensors we were toting 10 years ago, with everything on this list counting at least 20 Megapixels on its image chip and coming in at a – albeit relative - bargain.
The best cheap DSLR cameras with super high resolutions shortlist:
What to look for when shopping for your new camera
There are usually a couple of things to keep in mind when you’re looking to invest in any camera.
Higher resolutions also mean higher image file sizes. Your 45MP camera will be burning through SD cards twice as fast as a 24MP will – don’t leave home without a 32GB card at least. You may also usually notice a bit of a drop in continuous shooting speed due to shifting huge files, though many of the mirrorless options can combat this with an electric sensor. That said, don’t let that put you off unless you’re looking to shoot sports-style photographs with fast-moving subjects.
The sensors on this list won’t quite boast the same quality when shooting in low light compared to lower resolution sensors of the same generation. There’s a whole science around pixel size that we won’t bore you with, and it’s often pretty negligible… but just be aware and you’ll generally be limited to a lower ISO by about a stop. You can also help the camera’s low-light performance by using a lens with a big aperture, such as f2, f1.4 or f0.8.
Without further ado, these cameras represent the best mix between value for money and high resolution. Whether they’re the last generation, APS-C or even Micro Four Thirds, there’s something for every budget-conscious shooter here.
The best cheap DSLR cameras with super high resolutions:
Canon EOS 90D
Canon's mid-range DSLR boasts a brand new 32.5MP APS-C sensor that offers a 1.6x crop factor over full-frame. This represents one of the biggest resolutions offered by Canon and easily the biggest to make its way into an APS-C – alongside its sister, the M6 MkII. At over £1,000, it might not sound cheap, but it’s on the low end for this amount of pixels and presents a good value option if you want to buy the latest generation of tech. You also get a decent ISO range of 100-25,600, a rapid 10fps continuous shooting speed and vibrant, crisp images. You can also buy from the pool of Canon's wide range of lenses for all budgets. Finally, the brilliant Dual-Pixel AF system gives you a traditional focus system using the viewfinder or a mirrorless experience through the LCD.
ISO and Autofocus
Looking through the viewfinder, you'll get access to 45 cross-type phase-detection AF points. Not class-leading, but good enough to get most jobs done. If you're happy using the rear screen, you can set your AF point virtually anywhere, with Canon saying there are 5,481 AF positions. There's even an attempt to add face tracking to the viewfinder, which works to a fashion, though isn't as good as mirrorless advances. There's iTR focus tracking, which is respectable, though not the best for the price. In terms of ISO, packing so many MP onto an APS-C sensor does put a slight strain on higher ranges. ISO 100-1600 is solid, with plenty of detail. However, you will notice noise creep in from ISO 3200. That said, you'll have no problems with anything in good light, and the sensor returns sharp, vibrant results.
The 90D has seemingly incorporated the 7D MkII's sports acumen and allows you to shoot at a very respectable 10fps thanks to the Digic 8 processor. You get access to 4K video at 30fps and 1080P to 120fps. There's no in-built image stabilisation, though you can use the Movie Digital IS, which crops your image to add some stability. Being a DSLR you'll get stellar battery life, with each charge managing around 1300 shots in ideal conditions – a huge boon.
|• Great battery life||• AF tracking isn't class-leading|
|• Excellent range of lenses available||• ISO is respectable, though isn't best on this list|
|• High resolution for an APS-C DSLR|
Related: The best Canon lenses for portraits
The Panasonic G9 pretty much contains everything you'll ever need for photography in a sub-£1k package… if you're happy with the occasional caveat. First off, it isn't a traditional high-resolution offering. In fact, the 2X crop of the Micro Four Thirds sensor only offers 20.3MP. However, it gives a lot more in other areas. One is that this camera comes with the benefit of a rapid 20fps continuous shooting speed using the electronic shutter or 6K Photo. There's also a High-Resolution Shot mode that takes multiple images and stitches them together to create a mammoth 80MP equivalent image that increases the detail massively… as long as everything stays perfectly still! The M43 sensor means every lens gives you double its stated focal length (50mm is a 100mm equivalent if it were on full-frame) and the lenses are great value for money.
ISO and Autofocus
It comes with a 225-point DFD (Depth From Defocus) contrast-detection AF system that does a decent, though not award-winning, job. It also struggles a little in the dark, but that’s not unusual for an AF system. It's very respectable in daylight, and can happily be used for tracking shots – a perfect mix with the highspeed capture. Likewise, the ISO doesn't quite hit the high notes of the latest full-frame offerings, but you're going to be happy between ISO 100-6400, you'll find a solid amount of detail among the noise. One thing to note, however, is that if you're using the high res mode you'll need to be tripod-mounted, so setting a slower shutter speed will counteract the need for higher ISOs.
A great feature is the 3-inch 1040k-dot vari-angle rear LCD that flips out and lets you see yourself – ideal for vlogging. Also, thanks to a recent firmware update, you can film 4K video at 60fps and achieve internal 10-bit video, as well as 1080p at a super-slow mo 180fps. You'll get dual SD card slots and 6K Photo, a mode that allows you to export 18MP stills from a 4K video – ideal for action. Finally, there's a brilliant 6.5-stop image stabilisation system, which allows you to create smooth hand-held videos or shoot at slower shutter speed while getting sharp shots. It’s also weather-sealed.
|• High-Resolution Mode||• Low-light ISO and AF performance are not the best|
|• Fast burst shooting||• High-Resolution Shot mode requires the target to be still|
|• Excellent video features|
Related: The best Panasonic lenses
Canon EOS M6 II
Three words describe the EOS M6 II: bargain, bargain, bargain. Technically it's the same 32.5MP gubbins as the 90D above, albeit with some different pros and cons. Let's start with the bad. There's no viewfinder as standard. You'll have to shell out extra for an attachment if you don't want to be stuck on the rear LCD. Also, the battery life is limited, only offering 305 shots (though this is common for mirrorless). The native M-mount lens line-up also struggles to get the most details from the pixels, so third-party lenses are the way to go here. However, on the plus side, the image is crisp and full of detail. The colours look great and the 143-point Dual-Pixel AF is brilliant, especially when tracking faces or action.
ISO and Autofocus
The 143-point AF system does a very impressive job at grabbing focus – even better at tracking. Though there's no viewfinder, if you don't mind using the LCD you can take advantage of face- and eye-tracking for portraits or turn your hand to wildlife and action photography. The ISO is respectable, offering a maximum of 25,600 for low-light shooting. You'll be happy with clean images up to ISO 1600, though the downside of packing in so many pixels to a smaller sensor is a slight jump in noise at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. Of course, as a carry-round, this won't be an issue and you'll breeze through most casual situations. Otherwise, there is an onboard flash to help out in the really dark moments.
Thanks to being mirrorless, you can reach speeds of 14fps for continuous shooting or even 30fps with Canon's RAW Burst Mode. The screen flips up to 180 degrees for selfies or vlogging using the 4K or 1080p 120fps video modes. It's also incredibly lightweight, tipping the scales at only 408g! On the flip side, this means the rear is very compact, and while many controls are easily accessed through shortcuts, we do miss the presence of a focus-point selection switch, which now happens mostly via the 3-inches LCD.
|• Compact body||• The native lens range is limited and struggles with resolution|
|• Highest resolution APS-C||• No viewfinder as standard|
|• Impressive AF||• No image stabilisation|
The Pentax K-1 doesn't have the highest resolution of all the cameras in this round-up, but it’s an excellent all-rounder and very competitively priced for a full-frame camera. Just be aware that to get it nowadays, you’ll have to be comfortable purchasing used units. It’s worth the investment, however, as the sensor offers a 36.4MP resolution, which is easily big enough to create A2-sized prints, as well as enjoying the other benefits of cameras with high pixel counts. And, like most of the other contenders here, the K-1 is free from an optical low-pass filter, which allows it to maintain maximum image clarity and sharpness. If you want to capture smaller resolution files and save space on your memory cards, you can set the K-1 to shoot in the 15MP APS-C Crop Mode. Built into the sensor is Pentax's 5-axis Shake Reduction II mechanism, so you can shoot up to five stops slower without encountering a camera shake.
ISO & autofocus
Partnering with the sensor is a PRIME IV processor, and this lets the K-1 shoot up to 4.4fps for 70 JPEGs or 17 RAW files. This burst rate is only fractionally behind the pace of the Canon, Nikon and Sony offerings. The processor also allows for an ISO range of 100-204,800. To set the focus, the K-1 employs the SAFOX 12 AF system, which uses 33 points, 25 of them being the superior cross-type AF sensors.
The K-1 also lets you shoot movies, and you can record Full HD (1080p at 60fps), but there's no 4K video capability. There is Wi-Fi though, so you can connect with your smartphone or tablet for remote operation or easy transfer of images. The built-in GPS isn't just for location data - it works with the sensor's stabilisation unit to follow the movements of the stars in the sky, allowing for longer and more detailed exposures of the heavens.
The body is comfortable in the hand, rugged and weatherproof, making it ideal for all types of environments. On the rear there's a 3.2-inch 1037k-dot LCD which tilts away from the body, to help with more challenging compositions. It's a very tempting option for anyone that's not already invested in a rival system.
|• 36.4MP full-frame sensor||• Slower frame rate than rivals|
|• Impressive native ISO range||• No 4K video functionality|
|• Attractive price||• Cheap for its specs, expensive for newcomers|
Sony Alpha 7 III
If you want a big resolution, but are put off by a heavy and bulky camera, then you should certainly consider the Sony Alpha 7 III. It has a slim CSC profile and weighs just 650g. Despite its diminutive casing, it features a 24MP full-frame sensor. Like most of the other cameras featured in this test, there's no optical low-pass filter present on the sensor, so images are as sharp as can be. The sensor comes with a 5-axis image stabilisation system, which detects movement during the exposure and shifts the sensor to compensate. This can allow you to shoot up to 4.5 stops slower than would ordinarily be possible without encountering the blur of camera shake.
ISO & autofocus
The imaging chip is supported by the BIONZ X image processor, and this gives the Alpha 7 III a native ISO range of 100-25,600, which can be expanded to ISO 50-102,400. The processor also provides the speed, and like both the Nikon and Canon contenders, the top shooting rate is capped to a respectable 5fps.
The Sony Alpha 7 III uses a Hybrid AF system to set the focus, and it features an enormous 399 AF points which cover 45% of the frame area. This makes it easy to lock onto and track moving subjects, even when set to record movies. While all the high-resolution cameras in our collection offer Full HD video recording, the Alpha 7 III is the only one here to offer 4K movie capture, which at 8MP is 4x the resolution of Full HD.
As this camera is a CSC there's no optical viewfinder present. There is, however, a 0.5-inch EVF (electronic viewfinder) that features the highest magnification of any EVF at 0.78x and a resolution of 2359k-dot, helping the images to appear large and bright. On the rear, there's also a 2.95in 1228k-dot LCD for those who prefer to frame using Live View. The Alpha 7R MkII also comes with NFC and Wi-Fi, so you can use your smartphone or tablet as a viewfinder and remote shutter release, and one-touch sharing lets you transfer your photos and videos from your camera to your smart device, so you can quickly display your images online.
As the Alpha 7 III uses either the EVF or Live View to frame up, it’s fairly power-hungry, so you may need a spare battery, as it's only set to last for 290 shots from a single charge.
The Alpha 7 III is extremely solid and has a rugged feel thanks to the magnesium alloy design. It offers some unique features and is competitively priced. While there are comparatively few lenses available for Sony full-frame CSCs, it is possible to use Canon or Nikon lenses with the aid of a converter.
|• 5-axis image stabilisation||• Poor battery performance|
|• 4K video|
|• Tiltable LCD touchscreen|
Related: The best Sony lenses
What does high-resolution mean?
In photography terms, resolution refers to the number of pixels – light sensitive areas – on a camera’s sensor. Each group of 1 million pixels is counted as a Megapixel and is directly linked to image size. A 24MP sensor will produce images that are 6000x4000 pixels in a 3:2 image ratio, whereas a 45MP sensor boosts this size to roughly 8000x5500, meaning more real estate.
Are there downsides?
Yes, kind of. Larger image sizes mean you’ll burn through storage at a faster rate since the files are bigger – especially RAW. You will also ned faster SD cards, so if you have an 8GB card with a 30MB/s transfer rate in your 45MP camera, it’s going to take longer between shots to copy images, as well as give you far fewer shots. In fact, a 64GB memory card will give you anywhere between 400-700 shots – half as many as a 24MP sensor - so if you like to take plenty of captures this is generally the sweet spot. Equally, because of the extra file size, these cameras will often come with a smaller buffer – the amount of shots that the camera can hold in its internal memory while transferring to the SD, so capturing action at 10fps may only give you a second or less of burst.
You will also notice that the ISO ranges are usually slightly smaller than lower resolutions, which is to do with the smaller effective area of the pixels, meaning they aren’t quite as adept at collecting light. However, in real-world terms, this won’t present an issue in 99% of cases.
Why do I want more Megapixels?
Put simply, detail! The larger image size means you will be capturing more information and will have the ability to crop more severely than at a lower resolution, without sacrificing image quality. This allows you to recompose a shot in the edit, as well as create a ‘digital zoom’ effect by cropping in your choice of image editing software.
Many high-resolution cameras also forgo the anti-aliasing filter. This is an element that sits in front of the sensor and adds a slight blur to your images to combat an unwanted effect called moiré – zig zags in tightly repeated patterns such as clothes or roof tiles. The plus side is that removing this filter allows for some incredibly sharp images – boom! Another reason is that companies tend to put their biggest tech advancements into these flagship models before they find their way into the rest of the range.
What to read next:
Kirk Schwarz is one of our resident tech experts. A tech-addicted photographer with more than a decade's experience, Kirk's used to putting new gear through extreme field-testing.
Subscribe to the What’s The Best Newsletter to keep up to date with more of the latest reviews and recommendations from Kirk and the rest of the What’s The Best team.