Mid-Level DSLR Roundup
On the surface, it’s sometimes hard to tell the differences between entry-level and mid-level DSLRs. Though some mid-level DSLRs are physically larger than entry-level models, they’re not always larger—and even when they are it’s often not by much. Not until you pick them up, peer through the finder and fire off a few frames do you begin to appreciate the heftier, more solid feel of the camera, and inevitably the camera’s quicker AF and shutter-response times. In addition to feeling beefier in the hand, mid-level DSLRs are also sealed more efficiently against the elements than entry-level DSLRs.
Mid-level DSLRs share many attributes common to pro-level DSLRs including: JPEG, RAW and JPEG+RAW still capture; HD and Full HD video capture; accessory battery grips featuring secondary vertical command dials and shutter releases and a spare battery (with the exception of the Nikon D5100 and Sony A580); and ports for plugging in higher-quality external stereo microphones.
Each of the cameras in this roundup contains an APS-C format (1.5x or 1.6x) imaging sensor and records imagery onto SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. A few of the following cameras also feature dual memory card slots for an added measure of speed and shooting flexibility. If you currently own and are more accustomed to using an entry-level DSLR, depending on the make and model, you also might notice a brighter, wider-field image in the viewfinders of these mid-level cameras.
Sony Alpha A580
The Sony Alpha A580 is one of three mid-level DSLRs currently available from Sony. It’s also the only conventional Sony DSLR in that Sony’s other two mid-level DSLRs, the Alpha SLT-A55 and SLT-A65, are cameras of a different technological ilk.
The Sony Alpha A580 features a 16.2MP APS-C (1.5x) Exmor CMOS sensor, which is supported by a BIONZ image processor. The Alpha A580 sports a 3.0-inch tiltable (90°) 921,000-dot LCD with Quick Auto Focus Live View and offers 95% viewing area through a pentaprism viewfinder (and 100% on LCD). Other advanced features found on the Alpha A580 include an ISO range of 100-25,600; JPEG or RAW capture at up to 7 frames per second; Full HD 1080/60i video capture; a 15-point, Eye-Start AF system; dual memory card slots (Memory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG and SD/SDHC/SDXC); and up to 1,050 exposures per battery charge.
Advanced imaging technologies found in the Sony Alpha A580 include Auto HDR capture, a Handheld Twilight mode for capturing sharp images under the lowest of lighting conditions, a Sweep Panorama Mode for ultra wide field of view landscape photography, and Built-in SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization. The Sony Alpha A580, which is compatible with the Sony VG-B50AM Vertical Battery Grip (holds two NP-FM500H lithium-ion batteries and enables easier vertical shooting via a second shutter release and exposure command wheel), is available as body only or with an 18-55mm kit zoom lens. It’s compatible with all Sony Alpha A/Minolta AF optics as well as all Sony Speedlights and Sony Alpha A-series accessories.
Sony Alpha AST-A55
The Sony Alpha SLT-A55 is one of Sony’s new fixed translucent pellicle-mirror cameras that, among other things, enables full time, blackout-free image viewing and uninterrupted AF when shooting stills and video, with zero image blackout. Both the LCD and EVF support Live View and display 100% of the total image area.
Featuring a 16.2MP backlit CMOS sensor and a choice of composing and reviewing stills and video on a 3.0" 921,000-dot tiltable LCD or a high-def 1.44 million-dot Tru-finder Electronic Viewfinder, the Alpha SLT-A55 captures JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW stills at up to 10 frames per second as well as Full HD 1080/60i video with stereo sound (via the camera's built-in mic, or for better quality audio, use an optional external stereo mic).
For capturing mind boggling wide field imagery, the Sony Alpha SLT-A55 can capture 3D Sweep Panoramas for ultra wide field of view landscape photography. There’s also Auto HDR image capture and a Handheld Night Shot Mode for shooting under the lowest lighting conditions. Other features include a built-in GPS; a 15-point Phase detection AF system; Built-in SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization (works with all Sony/Minolta AF optics); and a built-in onscreen Help Guide.
The Sony Alpha SLT-A55 accepts both Memory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, is compatible with all Sony Alpha A-series and Minolta AF optics, and is available as a body only or with the choice of an 18-55mm or 18 to 250mm zoom lens.
Sony Alpha AST-A65
In addition to a refined, gen-2 body design, an all-new 24.3MP backlit CMOS sensor, and an even higher-definition (2.359 million-dot) Tru-finder Electronic Viewfinder, the Sony Alpha SLT-A65 is a noteworthy step up from the already impressive specs and features found on Sony’s SLT-Alpha A55.
Featuring the same fixed translucent pellicle mirror blackout-free AF system, Auto HDR image capture, 15-point Phase detection AF system, 3D Sweep Panorama mode, Handheld Night Shot mode and lens compatibility as earlier Sony SLT-series DSLRs, the SLT-A65 also features shutter-lag times as short as 0.05-second and built-in GPS functionality. The Sony Alpha SLT-A65 accepts both Memory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, and is compatible with all Sony Alpha A-series / Minolta AF optics. The Sony Alpha SLT-A65 is available as a body only or with an 18-55mm kit zoom lens.
Sony Alpha SLT-A77
Sony’s top gun SLT series camera is the Sony Alpha SLT-A77, which physically is a beefy upgrade from its smaller Sony SLT series cameras. Featuring a 24.3Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, a 3.0-inch 921,600-dot OLED tilting LCD and a second-generation translucent mirror viewing system with a 2,359,000-dot electronic viewfinder, the A77’s body is made from rugged magnesium alloy and is well sealed against the weather.
The phase detection AF system on the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 is fast and accurate and shutter release times are as short as 0.05-seconds. Other features found on the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 include JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW still capture; 1080/60p/60i full HD video capture; a top ISO of 12800; a built-in GPS; dual media slots; a 3D Sweep Panorama mode; and up to 12-frame-per-second still capture. There’s also an accessory battery grip that allows for twice the usual battery life and a vertical shutter release and command dial.
Canon EOS 60D
Canon’s EOS 60D features an 18MP APS-C (1.6x) CMOS sensor, which is supported by a DIGIC-4 image processor, a 3.0" 1,040,000-dot Vari-Angle LCD, and a bright pentaprism viewfinder that displays approximately 96% of the total image area (the camera’s LCD displays 100% of the total viewing area).
The EOS 60D can capture JPEGs, RAW or JPEG+RAW stills at burst rates up to 5.3 frames per second for up to 58 large JPEGs or 16 RAW stills. It also has a shutter range of 30 seconds to 1/8000-second and a top flash sync of a comparably short 1/250-second.
Other worthy features found on the Canon EOS 60D include an enhanced iFCL 63-Zone Dual-Layer Metering system and 9-point AF system; an ISO range of 100-6400 (expandable up to ISO 12800); compatibility with Canon’s Battery Grip BG-E9 (holds a spare LP-E6 lithium-ion battery and allows for comfortable shooting in vertical position); and the full range of Canon EF and EF-S optics, Canon Speedlites and other Canon accessories. The Canon EOS 60D accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC/Eye-Fi memory cards and is available as a body only or with a choice of a Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS USM or a Canon EF-S 18-200mm kit lens.
Canon EOS 7D
For photographers requiring even higher performance levels without having to step up to Canon’s heavyweight professional DSLRs, the Canon EOS 7D features the same 18MP APS-C (1.6x) CMOS sensor found in Canon’s EOS 60D, albeit supported by dual DIGIC-4 image processors, for super fast image processing and eight-frame-per-second burst rates.
In addition to a 3.0" 920,000-dot TFT LCD, the EOS 7D also features an Intelligent Viewfinder that, like the camera’s LCD, features 100% image viewing and a transparent LCD for overlaying important exposure data, grids and dual-axis Electronic Level Display.
The Canon EOS 7D captures JPEGs, RAW or JPEG+RAW stills as well as Full HD video (1920 x 1080/30p) and has an ISO range of 100-6400 (expandable to ISO 12800). The EOS 7D also features a 19-point AF system; a magnesium-alloy chassis with weather- and dust-resistant seals along all body panels and control buttons; an Advanced Movie mode with manual exposure control and selectable frame rates; and an input for an optional higher-fidelity stereo microphone.
The Canon EOS 7D is compatible with Canon’s Battery grip BG-E7 (containing dual LP-E6 lithium-ion batteries or six AA batteries for extended shooting times) as well as Canon’s Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E5A.
The Canon EOS 7D is available as a body only, or with a Canon 28-135mm IS USM lens or a Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS lens, and is compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S optics, Canon Speedlites and other Canon EOS camera accessories.
The Nikon D5100 is one of the smaller, more compact DSLRs in the mid-level DSLR category. Starting with a 16.2MP DX-format CMOS and an EXPEED 2 image processor, the D5100 features a 3.0" 921,000-dot Vari-angle LCD; a bright pentamirror with 95% image coverage; JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW stills at up to four frames per second; HDR capture; an 11-point AF system with 3D Tracking; and Full HD 1920 x 1080/30p video capture with full-time AF and mono sound.
Other features include an ISO range of 100 to 25600; post-capture distortion corrections; Quick Retouching and editing for stills and video; Active D-Lighting; D-Movie; Selective Color; Miniature effects; High Key mode; a Low-light Night Vision mode (monochrome-only); a 1/8" external mic jack for stereo sound; an HDTV- HDMI output interface; and up to 660 exposures per battery charge.
Nikon’s D90 was the first DSLR to feature HD video capture and it’s still going strong. Featuring solid, weather-resistant construction, the D90 contains a 12.3MP DX-format CMOS sensor, which is supported by an EXPEED image processor, features a 3.0" 920,000-dot LCD (100% viewing area) and a pentaprism that displays approximately 96% of the total image coverage.
The Nikon D90 captures JPEG or RAW stills at up to 4.5 frames per second as well as 720p HD video clips. The D90 has an ISO range of 100- 6400 and features an Auto Active D-Lighting mode; a 420-pixel Nikon 3D Color Matrix Metering II system; can capture up to 850 exposures per battery charge; and can geo-tag images when used with the optional GP-1 GPS unit. Available as a body only or with an 18-105mm Nikkor VR lens, the D90 is compatible with Nikon’s SU-800 Wireless Commander (for use with applicable Nikon Speedlights), the Nikon MB-D80 battery grip, as well as the full range of Nikon FX and DX-format optics, Speedlights and other D90-compatible Nikon accessories.
The Nikon D7000, which is available as a body only or with Nikon 18-105mm DX VR zoom lens, is designed around a 16.2MP DX-format CMOS sensor, which is powered by Nikon’s latest EXPEED 2 image processor. The D7000 has a 3.0" 920,000-dot LCD as well as a glass pentaprism that allows for 100% viewing of the total image area. Stills can be captured as JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW at burst rates up to 6 frames per second. The D7000 can also capture 1080p Full HD video with mono sound; stereo sound is possible when you tap in an optional stereo mic.
Other features found on the Nikon D7000 include a 2,016-pixel Nikon 3D Color Matrix Metering II system; dual SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slots; up to 850 exposures per battery charge; and compatibility with Nikon’s MB-D11 battery grip; Nikon’s SU-800 Wireless Commander; the optional GP-1 GPS unit; the full range of Nikon FX and DX-format optics and Speedlights; and other D7000-compatible accessories.
The Olympus E-5 is the Four Third entry in our professional DSLR product roundup. Designed around a 12.3MP Four Third format CMOS sensor, the E-5 can capture up to five frames per second (JPEG or RAW) as well as 720p video with mono sound (or stereo sound when using an optional stereo microphone).
As one would expect from a flagship camera, the Olympus E-5 is built on a solid chassis and has tough, weatherproofed body panels to keep out the elements. It offers 100% of the total viewing area on both the camera’s 3.0-inch 920,000-dot LCD and its optical viewfinder. The camera’s LCD also features a dual-axis swivel mount that allows you to aim the LCD at pretty much any angle to facilitate shooting in awkward circumstances. Other features include wireless flash control with dedicated Olympus flashguns; dual memory card slots (CompactFlash and SD/SDHC/SDXC); and compatibility with the full lineup of Olympus Four Third format optics.
The Pentax K-5 is a compact, surprisingly feature-packed DSLR that sports a stainless-steel chassis; a weather sealed magnesium alloy body enclosure; and a 16.3MP APS-C format CMOS sensor that can capture JPEGs or RAW, or DNG stills at up to seven frames per second; advanced HDR image capture; and 1080p HD video capture at 25 frames per second.
For composing stills and video clips, the Pentax K-5 offers you a choice of a 3.0" 921,000-dot LCD or an all-glass pentaprism, both of which display 100% of the total image area. Other standard features found on the Pentax K-5 include a built-in shake reduction image stabilization system that works with all Pentax smc and SMCP optics; an 11-point AF system; a 77-segment metering system; an ISO range of 80-51200; a built-in electronic level display; and an input for an optional external stereo mic.
|Sensor (APS-C)||LCD||Viewfinder / Coverage||Stills||Video||Max. Burst Rate||ISO Range|
|Sony Alpha A580||16.2 Mp||3" Tiltable 921,000 - dot||Pentamirror / 96%||JPEG, RAW||1080 / 60i||up to 7 fps||up to 25,600|
|Sony Alpha SLT-A55||16.2 Mp||3" Tiltable 921,000 - dot||1,440k EVF / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 60i||up to 10 fps||up to 12,800|
|Sony Alpha SLT-A65||24.3 Mp||3" Tiltable 921,000 - dot||2,359k EVF / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 60p / 60i / 24p||up to 10 fps||up to 16,000|
|Sony Alpha SLT-A77||24.3 Mp||3" Tiltable 921,600 - dot||2,359k EVF / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 60p / 60i||up to 12 fps||up to 12,800|
|Canon EOS 60D||18 Mp||3" Vari-Angle 1,040k - dot||Pentaprism / 96%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 30p||up to 5.3 fps||up to 12,800|
|Canon EOS 7D||18 Mp||3.0" 922,000 - dot||Pentaprism / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 30p||up to 8 fps||up to 12,800|
|Nikon D5100||16.2 Mp||3" Vari-Angle 921,000 - dot||Pentamirror / 95%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080 / 30p||up to 4 fps||up to 25,600|
|Nikon D90||12.3 Mp||3.0" 920,000 - dot||Pentaprism / 96%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||720p||up to 4.5 fps||up to 6400|
|Nikon D7000||16.2 Mp||3.0" 920,000 - dot||Pentaprism / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||1080p||up to 6 fps||up to 25,600|
|Olympus E-5||12.3 Mp||3.0" 920,000 - dot||Pentaprism / 100%||JPEG, RAW, JPEG + RAW||720p||up to 5 fps||up to 6400|
|Pentax K-5||16.3 Mp||3.0" 921,000 - dot||Pentaprism / 100%||JPEG, RAW (PEF, DNG), JPEG + RAW||1080p||up to 7 fps||up to 51,200|
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding mid-level DSLR cameras, please post them in the Comments section below. We’re always pleased to hear from you.