Entry-Level DSLR

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In the process of trying to organize the dozens of DSLRs we sell at B&H into their respective price and performance categories for our 2010 Holiday DSLR roundup, it was impossible to not notice how much bang you get for your hard-earned bucks these days—and in a choice of formats and colors, no less.

On the surface, a novice might  understandably have a hard time differentiating between a $500 DSLR, a $1000 DSLR or $2000 DSLR based on the specs and features of most DSLRs. But differ they do, and in this first installment of a three-part series of DSLR roundups, we'll discuss the specifics of entry-level DSLRs and how to choose the best one for your particular needs and budget. And the good news is, regardless of which camera you decide to go with, they're all pretty darn amazing!

Canon

Canon currently offers a trio of entry-level APS-C format (1.6x) DSLRs starting with the Canon EOS Rebel XS, which is available in a choice of two kits—one with an 18-55mm IS lens and the other with both an 18-55mm IS and a 75-300mm tele-zoom. The EOS Rebel XS features a 10.1MP CMOS sensor, a 2.5" LCD, a 35-zone TTL metering system and a maximum burst rate of up to three frames per second.

Next up is the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, which sports a 15.1MP CMOS sensor, a 3.0" LCD, ISO expandability to 12,800, a 35-zone TTL metering system, a DIGIC 4 image processor, a maximum burst rate of 3.5 frames per second and the ability to shoot 1080p HD video. The EOS Rebel T1i is available as a body only, with an 18-55mm IS lens or in a choice of two dual-lens kits—one with an 18-55mm IS and a 75-300mm tele-zoom and another with an 18-55mm IS lens and a 55-250mm IS tele-zoom.

The top-of-the-line Rebel is the EOS Rebel T2i, which features an 18MP CMOS sensor, HD 1080p HD video capture, a 3.0" (1.04 million-dot) LCD with Advanced Live View, a 63-zone TTL metering system, a DIGIC 4 image processor, a maximum burst rate of up to 3.7 frames per second and Eye-Fi Menu Status Indicator support. The Rebel T2i is available in a number of configurations including body only, with an 18-55 IS lens, a longer 18-135mm IS lens and two dual-lens kits—one with an 18-55mm IS and a 75-300mm tele-zoom and the other with an 18-55mm IS lens and a 55-250mm IS tele-zoom.

Features all of Canon's EOS Rebels share include compatibility with all Canon EF and EF-S optics, Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System, Live View, RAW+JPEG, a shutter-speed range of 1/60th–1/4000th-second (x-sync 1/200th-second), 95% image coverage through the camera's eye-level pentamirror, SD/SDHC memory card compatibility and a lengthy list of image-enhancing Picture Styles.

Nikon

Nikon also features a trio of APS-C format (1.5x) DSLRs for entry-level camera seekers starting with the Nikon D3000, which is available with an 18-55mm VR zoom lens as well as in a selection of two-lens kits containing an 18-55mm VR and 55-200mm VR tele-zoom or 18-55mm VR and a 55-300mm VR lens.

Standard features include a 10.2MP CCD, a 3.0" LCD, RAW+JPEG still capture, SD/SDHC memory card compatibility, 95% image viewability through the camera's eye-level pentamirror, 30 seconds to 1/4000th-second shutter speed range (x-sync 1/200th), iTTL flash compatibility, in-camera editing and scene controls, Eye-Fi compatibility, up to 500 exposures per battery charge and full functionality with Nikon AF-S and AF-I optics (limited compatibility with Type G, D and AF-series Nikkor optics).

The Nikon D3100 features a 14.2MP CMOS sensor, full 1080p HD video capture,  a 3.0" LCD with Live View, RAW+JPEG, an 11-point AF system, built-in HDMI ports for playing back stills and video on your HDTV, a half-dozen Automatic Exposure Scene Modes, ISO sensitivity expandable to 12,800, an EXPEED 2 image processor, Active D-Lighting, a built-in Nikon Guide Mode for on-the-fly help, in-camera Image Editing, a Scene Recognition System in Live View and compatibility with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards.

The shutter-speed range of the Nikon D3100 is 30 seconds to 1/4000th-second, with a flash-sync speed of 1/200th-second.

 In addition to the standard Nikon D3100 and 18-55mm VR kit, Nikon's D3100 is available in a number of body/lens configurations including an 18-55mm VR / 55-200mm VR kit, an 18-55mm VR / 55-200mm G-series Nikkor, an 18-55mm / 70-300mm VR kit, and a three-lens kit containing an 18-55mm, a 55-200mm and a 70-300mm VR lens. As with the Nikon D3000, the D3100 offers full functionality with Nikon AF-S and AF-I optics (limited compatibility with Type G, D and AF-series Nikkor optics).

Sony

Sony currently has the Sony Alpha a390 as its entry-level contender. Designed around a 14.2MP APS-C (1.5x) CCD sensor, Sony's Alpha a390 features a tiltable 2.7" Clear Photo LCD with Live View and Quick Auto Focus, an integrated onscreen Help Guide, 2.5 frames-per-second burst rates, an anti-dust system, an Easy Shooting mode Selector and SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization that enables sharp imagery with all Sony and Minolta AF optics.

The shutter-speed range on the Alpha a390 goes from 30 seconds to 1/4000th-seond with an x-sync of 1/160th-second. The Sony Alpha a390 comes with an 18-55mm lens.

Pentax

Pentax has two able-bodied, entry-level DSLRs, and they're both available in colors other than black. The Pentax K-x is available as a body only (black only) or in kit form, with an 18-55mm lens, an 18-55mm and 50-200mm lens or an 18-55mm and 55-300mm lens.

The Pentax K-x features a 12.4MP APS-C format (1.5x) CMOS sensor and can capture stills as JPEG and/or RAW as well as 720p HD video. Other features include a 2.7" LCD, built-in shake reduction, True HDR imaging, a shutter-speed range of 30 seconds to 1/6000th-second with a top flash sync of 1/180th-second, continuous burst rates up to  4.7 frames per second, an 11-point SAFOX VIII AF system, a stainless steel chassis and up to 1900 exposures per charge.

As for color choices, the Pentax K-x is available in black, red and white.

A real eyebrow-raiser is the  Pentax K-r, which along with a 12.4MP CMOS sensor, features a burst rate of up to 6 frames per second, ISO expandability up to 25,600, 720p HD video capture, JPEG and/or RAW stills, in-camera True HDR imaging, a top shutter speed of 1/6000th-second, in-camera filter affects, infrared data transfer (IrSimple) a 3.0" (921,000-dot) LCD with Live View, up to 1900 exposures per charge and SD, SDHC, SDXC memory-card compatibility. The Pentax K-r is also one of the few DSLRs available with a non-zoom kit lens, which in this case is an smc Pentax-DA 35mm/2.4 (52.5mm equivalent).

Like the Pentax K-x, the shutter-speed range is 30 seconds to 1/6000th-second and the top flash-sync speed is 1/180th-second.

The Pentax K-r is available in a choice of black (body only, 35mm/2.4 lens, 18-55mm, 18-55mm and 50-200mm and 18-55mm and 300mm) , red (with 18-55mm only) and white (also only with 18-55mm).

Olympus

Weighing in at a scant 16.76 ounces (body) is the Olympus E-620 (body only or with a 14-42mm lens), a FourThirds-format (2x magnification factor) DSLR that features a 12.3MP High speed Live MOS imaging sensor, a 2.7" swivel-based LCD with Live View, in-camera dust reduction, a shutter range of 2 seconds to 1/4000th-second (flash sync 1/180th), a 7-point Twin AF system,  RAW and/or JPEG, up to 4 frames-per-second continuous shooting, wireless TTL flash (with Olympus FL-50R and FL-36R speedlights), and multiple exposure capability.

The Olympus E-620 also features in-camera image stabilization that functions with the full range of FourThird-format prime and zoom lenses ranging from 8mm fisheye to 300mm (600mm equivalent).

Other features found in the Olympus E-620 include 13 Scene-Select Modes, Face Detection (up to 8 faces) Shadow Adjustment Technology, 5 metering modes and 6 in-camera Art Filters.

Panasonic

Another FourThird-format DSLR is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10, which ships with a Lumix G Vario 14-42mm lens (28-82mm equivalent). As with all FourThird-format DSLRs, the DMC-G10 is both compact and lightweight and features a 12.1MP Live CMOS sensor, a Vari-Angle 3.0" LCD with Double Live View (100% image view on the LCD and in the Live View Finder), 720p HD video at 30 frames per second, Intelligent Auto mode, Intelligent Scene Selector and Intelligent ISO Control.

The shutter-speed range of the DMC-G10 is a full 60 seconds thru 1/4000th-second with a top sync speed of 1/160th-second. 

The Lumix DMC-G10 also features MEGA O.I.S, which smooths the bumps when shooting under lower-than-desirable lighting conditions with all FourThird-format optics, which are available in a variety of prime and zoom lenses with a focal range of 8mm fisheye to 300mm super telephoto.

An even tinier Panasonic DSLR well worth considering is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2, a mirrorless Micro-FourThird  format camera which in addition to a Lumix G Vario 14-42mm lens, features a 16.05MP Live MOS sensor, RAW+JPEG still capture, 1080p HD AVCHD Variable-Speed video, a 3.0" (460,000-dot) free-angle (180° side-to-side, 270° up & down) LCD, a High-Speed Three Core Processor (Venus Engine VI FHD), and a Live View Finder that contains 1,533,000-dots, for prismfinder-like image viewing.

Like its larger sibling, the shutter-speed range of the DMC-G2 is a full 60 seconds thru 1/4000th-second with a top sync speed of 1/160th-second. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is available in black, blue and red.

Add new comment

 Dear B&H:

Those of us who are not exactly newbies to photography, entry-level or not, would prefer it if you included the SENSOR SIZE in your descriptions.  Telling how many MPs each camera sports is not as important as the size of its heart.

Thanks.

Rowland Scherman          http://www.snapstour.com/

Rowland Scherman wrote:

 Dear B&H:

Those of us who are not exactly newbies to photography, entry-level or not, would prefer it if you included the SENSOR SIZE in your descriptions.  Telling how many MPs each camera sports is not as important as the size of its heart.

Thanks.

Rowland Scherman          http://www.snapstour.com/

Rowland,

I agree whole-heartedly with you, which is why I introduced each manufacturer's offerings as being 'APS-C' or 'FourThird' format cameras. If you mean I should have mentioned the physical size numerically in millimeters, I didn't, and am therefore guilty as charged.

Dear B&H/Allan Weitz,

I think you mean 1/4000th sec. top speed on the D3100 Nikon, not 1/400th. You might also mention that the 4/3 cameras have an image ratio closer to the traditional photo sizes of 8x10, 11x14, 16x20 etc. and so do not require as much cropping if these sizes are desired. It means you lose less of your "megapixels" on the final image, so you might find a lower megapixel camera rating is actually higher in the finished photo.

Physics guy wrote:

Dear B&H/Allan Weitz,

I think you mean 1/4000th sec. top speed on the D3100 Nikon, not 1/400th. You might also mention that the 4/3 cameras have an image ratio closer to the traditional photo sizes of 8x10, 11x14, 16x20 etc. and so do not require as much cropping if these sizes are desired. It means you lose less of your "megapixels" on the final image, so you might find a lower megapixel camera rating is actually higher in the finished photo.

Don't you hate typos? Our trusty proofreader will get on it as soon as he finishes his Maypo.

As for the 4/3-format ratio thing, you make a good point, though I doubt if you'd have any problems making decent (if not terrific) 8x10s, 11x14s, or 16x20s with any camera these days including a sharp, well-exposed image file from the average point-and-shoot.

The megapixel race is long over. It died when when manufacturers cracked the 8MP barrier. One of the finest pro cameras is the Nikon D3S, which is 'only' 12.1MP. It's the size of the pixel, not how many, and all of these cameras are comfortably adequate for making high-quality prints well beyond  16x20, cropped or uncropped.

Dear B&H,

I don't think sensor size, burst rates, top speed, flash sych rates really rank as important decision factors for complete newbies (at least without context and explaining why these COULD be important), top speed for instance doesn't realy matter - an inexpensive ($25-$50) ND filter will allow a shutter speed of 1/2000th sec where 1/8000th sec is appropriate and all cameras will comfortably handle this.

Here's my snapshot for newbies:

1. All of these cameras will produce excellent good-light (low ISO) results

2. The Canon and Nikon have reputations (and collaborated by reputable independent reviewers) for producing better pictures in low light (high ISO)

3. Canon and Nikon have more lens choices than the others combined,the Nikon won't auto-focus (& meter in some instances) with anything but newer lenses but the Canon will accept just about anything - ask yourself however how likely are you to buy older style lenses? if the answer is no then this factor doesn't matter

4. Some cameras (Sony, Pentax, Olympus) have built in shake reduction (your pictures will be less blurry at low shutter speeds) but generally these don't work as well at reducing blur as vibration reduction lenses (check out independent reviews for yourself) - Good basic VR lenses from Canon and Nikon are becomming ever more affordable but there is still a cost premuim again if you think you will basically stick with the kit VR lenses then this doesn't matter

5. Lens choices for micro 4/3rds (Panasonic G2) are very limited but getting better.

6. Don't be fooled into thinking any of these are an adequate replacement for a video camera video is mainly a gimmick on these cameras.

Basically if you're new(ish) to DSLR photography pick any of these and you will get decent results, the most important factor is how the camera feels in your hand, you need to go to a store and man-handle one if it feels right you won't be disappointed

TB