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Although visually understood as “the type of camera the pros use,” DSLRs comprise a wide-ranging genre of cameras with numerous options available for all skill levels. Offering significantly more control while photographing than nearly any compact point-and-shoot camera available, DSLRs are a tried-and-true design that blends an air of intuitiveness and familiarity with the most current and up-to-date designs available in the world of camera design. And in specific regard to the models mentioned here, this is a current lineup of DSLRs that strive to be equally as friendly and welcoming to the novice photographer without sacrificing the image quality all photographers have grown to expect.
Canon is one of the most versatile and expansive systems to begin with and, as such, it offers a choice of two entry-level DSLRs, along with an intermediate DSLR for users looking to upgrade or begin with a slightly richer set of features. The EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR is the current entry model and also happens to be one of the smallest DSLRs available from any manufacturer. Weighing slightly more than 13 oz and measuring 4.6 x 3.6 x 2.7", this camera is an ideal option for photographers looking to have a camera with them at all times. It features an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 image processor, which together combine to avail a top native sensitivity of ISO 12800, 4 fps continuous shooting rate, and full HD 1080p/30 movie recording. A 9-point phase detection system incorporates a central dual cross point for added precision and, when working in live view or recording movies, the Hybrid CMOS AF system takes control and pairs both phase- and contrast-detection focusing methods for accuracy and speed. Despite its small stature, the SL1 still features a large 3.0" Clear View II LCD with 1,040k-dot resolution, and the LCD is also a touchscreen for intuitive menu navigation, as well as Touch AF focusing control.
Moving up in Canon’s EOS lineup, there is a pair of DSLRs, the Rebel T6i and Rebel T6s, which differentiate themselves from the SL1 in many ways, yet share a similar compact form factor. Both cameras feature a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor, DIGIC 6 image processor, and a 3.0" 1,040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD. The two DSLRs also share the ability to record full HD 1080p/30 video, a continuous shooting rate of 5 fps, expandable sensitivity to ISO 25600, and built-in Wi-Fi with NFC. A 19-point all cross-type AF system offers speed and accuracy during still shooting, while the Hybrid CMOS AF system benefits video and live view shooting applications by combining phase- and contrast-detection focusing methods. While the same in most regards, the T6s does stand out among the two with its inclusion of a top LCD panel for settings review, a Quick Control Dial for faster settings adjustment, and a horizontal level for ensuring consistently straight horizons while shooting.
Progressing from the Rebel series of DSLRs, Canon’s next stop is the EOS 70D. Featuring a 20.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+ image processor, the 70D has a continuous shooting rate of 7 fps, native sensitivity to ISO 12800, and full HD video recording at 30 fps. And, like the T6i/s, the 70D has a 3.0" 1,040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen. Its all-cross-type phase-detection autofocus system has been expanded to 19 points, but even more noteworthy is the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system that can be employed when working in live view. Introduced with the 70D, this unique focusing system is able to track moving subjects more effectively with virtually no focus hunting. When coupled with the Touch AF control, this system works well in conjunction with the Movie Servo AF mode to enable rack focusing and smooth focus transitions for more dynamic video recordings. Among other features found in the 70D, it also sports built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless image transfer and remote camera control.
In regard to Nikon, there are two featured DSLR models that are ideally suited for those just learning, as well as those already well versed in the basics of photography. The entry-level option is the D3300, which is paired with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II lens. A 24.2MP DX-format CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor form the central imaging components, which enable shooting up to 5 fps, expandable sensitivity to ISO 25600, and full HD 1080p/60 video recording. A unique feature among entry-level DSLRs is the D3300’s omission of an optical low-pass filter, which helps to garner increased image sharpness and resolution compared to models featuring an OLPF to counteract the effects of moiré. Even with this filter removed, however, the processing capabilities of the EXPEED 4 serve to negate the false colors and artifacting in order to maximize the benefits of removing this commonly used filter. This stout set of features is backed by an 11-point autofocus system, external microphone input, and a 3.0" 921k-dot LCD monitor for clear, bright image review and live view monitoring. Also serving newcomers to photography, this model incorporates a dedicated Guide Mode that helps familiarize one with the variety of features throughout the entire camera system.
For photographers looking for a richer feature set and more versatile control, Nikon’s D5500 is the next model in line, and offers a number of distinct advantages over the D3300. The sensor and image processor remain the same—24.2MP DX-format CMOS and EXPEED 4—as well as the 5 fps continuous shooting rate and 1080p/60 video recording. From here, though, the D5500 adds a larger, higher-resolution 3.2" 1.04m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD screen, more expansive 39-point AF system with nine cross-type sensors, and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. The basic image quality specifications are quite similar between the two models, but the added functionality of the D5500 allows users greater control when working with a variety of subject types, as well as more efficiency for sharing imagery.
While recently Sony has clearly been focusing much of its attention on the mirrorless market, the company is still working toward developing its branch of unique DSLRs—or to be more correct, DSLTs. Right from the beginning, Sony differentiates itself in that its A-mount cameras feature a Translucent Mirror and electronic viewfinder, as opposed to the traditional swinging reflex mirror and optical viewfinder. The benefits of this technology include previewing any exposure effects or creative settings prior to exposure, the ability to utilize contrast-detection AF during shooting, and being able to work with the viewfinder during movie recording.
One of the most enticing A-mount options is the Alpha a77II, which features a rich set of forward-thinking technologies to benefit photographers of all skill levels. Pairing a 24.3MP APS-C-sized Exmor CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor, this camera has a top sensitivity of ISO 25600, continuous shooting up to 12 fps, and 1080p/60 video recording. Beyond these specifications, a 79-point phase-detection AF system, with 15 cross-type points, covers a broad area of the image frame to suit working with moving subjects and in mixed lighting conditions. As previously mentioned, the a77II incorporates a 2.4m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder in addition to a 3.0" 1.2m-dot LCD screen, which features a three-way tilting design to benefit working from high and low angles. Furthering viewing capabilities, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC support enable remote monitoring and camera control from mobile devices, as well as the ability to wirelessly share imagery between devices.
A manufacturer recently known for thinking outside of the box, especially in regard to its huge variety of styling options and customizable exteriors, Pentax has a duo of entry-level options, featuring a number of distinctions that separate themselves from the pack. The K-50 is the current pared-down model, and with it comes a 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor and PRIME M image processor that afford sensitivity to ISO 51200, 6 fps continuous shooting, and full HD 1080p/30 video recording. Differing from Canon and Nikon, Pentax DSLRs feature in-body image stabilization that effectively renders any mounted lens as “stabilized” to help minimize the appearance of camera shake. Furthermore, the K-50 is also characterized by its fully weather-sealed body design, for safely working in inclement conditions, and the ability to accept either a lithium-ion battery pack or readily available AA batteries with an optional battery holder. A 3.0" 921k-dot LCD enables clear live view monitoring and image review and the 11-point SAFOX IXi+ autofocus system incorporates nine cross-type points to benefit working in mixed lighting conditions.
Moving ahead, the more recently introduced K-S2 improves on a number of features for more controlled image making. This APS-C format DSLR ups the resolution to 20.1MP and also features the refined PRIME II image processor. A top sensitivity of ISO 51200 and 1080p/30 video recording remain the same and the continuous shooting rate gets a slight bump to 5.5 fps. Additionally, the K-S2 also features the SAFOX X 11-point AF system, a 3.0" 921k-dot vari-angle LCD monitor, and in-camera Shake Reduction image stabilization. One area that clearly separates the two cameras, however, is the inclusion of a user-controllable anti-aliasing filter effect; a feature borrowed from the flagship K-3-series of DSLRs. Effectively, the K-S2 does not feature an OLPF (optical low-pass filter), and uses this omission for greater image sharpness and resolution, but the moiré-reducing capabilities can be simulated with a feature that subtly vibrates the sensor to break up any aliasing or artifacting that certain scenes are prone to cause, such as when photographing against brick walls or with certain fabric types.