Shootout: The 6 Best Entry-Level DSLR Cameras

A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) is a massive leap upward in terms of flexibility and quality, not to mention price, when it comes to your photography. Being able to swap out lenses turns the body of a DSLR into an array limited only by what you can afford. This type of camera is generally appealing to professionals, but often a daunting purchase for someone acclimated to compact cameras or taking snapshots with their phone. When you’re a beginner, it’s important that the DSLR you choose be an easy entry point, but also able to grow with you as your skills develop.

A DSLR shouldn’t just be simple to operate if you’re a greenhorn, it should also have a reasonable price point. If you have a few thousand dollars to drop on your hobby, that’s great, but in all honesty it won’t make you a better photographer and you’ll be buying a lot of features that you’ll almost assuredly never use beyond the first few times you play with it. To keep expenses down and give you all the easy bells and whistles required, we’ve found the 6 best entry-level DSLR cameras for anyone.

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Pro: Firm, solid, and hard to hurt
Con: Terrible for shooting video

Training Wheels: This is basically the beater car you learned to drive on in DSLR form. It has a weatherproof body that can stand up to some pretty serious adventure without letting you down, and comes in a snappy array of colors that make it a nice accessory. The body feels sturdier than you’ll get with anything close to this price, and the dials are similarly constructed with easy use, comfort, and reliability in mind. The focus options for manual, semi-manual, and automatic are excellent for those starting out and easy to learn. The included TAv mode is useful for the rookie in that it allows you to choose the shutter speed and then it selects the ISO sensitivity. You can also flip it and change the ISO while it shifts your aperture and shutter. It gives you a sense of ideal settings in a fun way. The odd part is that the only drawback to this camera is the disappointing photos and color saturation.

Purchase: $419

Nikon D3300

Nikon D3300

Pro: User-friendly mode display
Con: No built-in WiFi

Quick and Clean: Focusing primarily on image quality, the D3300 is a strong example of what a basic DSLR should be. Using a 24-megapixel sensor that’s anti-aliasing and free of filters, you’ll get sharp images that aren’t noisy or busy, even when shooting JPEG’s. Even at ISO 6400, you can still get usable pictures, depending on the subject, though above that point they’re going to be a desaturated wreck. Ready to power up, hit a focal point, and shoot in about half a second, there isn’t much lag in the performance even when shooting in dim light. The light body and plastic grip feel a little cheap, but hold up reasonably well and are simple and comfortable for hands that aren’t adjusted to the heftier camera body.

Purchase: $497

Sony Alpha A58

Sony Alpha A58

Pro: Focuses extremely fast
Con: View screen is horribly low-res

Powerful Pretender: We’re going to confess right now, that this is a SLT (single lens translucent) rather than a standard DSLR, but for the money and performance, it’s close enough that you won’t quibble once you give it a try. The SLT means it has an electronic viewfinder, rather than an optical one, which is better for giving an expansive view on less-expensive cameras. When focusing in live view, it snaps right in rather than taking the additional time common among DSLR’s, giving a better point-and-shoot feel to the camera that will appeal to the impatient learner and captures moving subjects more easily. The sensor is a nice 20.1 MP Exmor HD APS that takes very clear shots, even if the 2.7 inch screen leaves more than a little to be desired. The fact it’s a little older means you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Purchase: $508

Nikon D5300

Nikon D5300

Pro: Less than half a second to shoot
Con: Tends to underexpose if you aren’t careful

Constant Companion: If the shutterbug has bitten you hard and you find yourself taking a couple of snapshots everyday, then we suggest you pay a little more and get a really long-term camera that will go the distance. For the money, we lean toward the D5300, but take a look at the D5500 if you’re serious about pursuing your picture-taking passion. This is the least expensive camera you can buy that doesn’t use an optical low-pass filter on its sensor, which makes your pictures bright and clear. WiFi is baked right in and the LCD is nothing short of stunning. For quicker autofocus, this uses Nikon’s enhanced Expeed system which gets the shot faster and smoother than the competition and even predecessors in its own line. There’s a lot to love and tons of room to expand with this purchase.

Purchase: $579

Pentax K-S2

Pentax K-S2

Pro: Stellar stabilization
Con: No guide to help true newbies

Feature-Rich: Ideal for the person that has already done their due diligence and spent ample time with a lesser camera, the K-S2 makes its bones by offering features that aren’t going to be new to those who have previous photography experience, but if this is your first camera ever, you’re going to need a lot of YouTube videos and WikiHow articles to help you along. The viewfinder is fairly adept for a low-level DSLR, which is rare. Easy on-board WiFi and NFC make syncing this to other devices a snap and sharing photos as easy as point and click. Using a 20 megapixel filter, the quality of still images is crisp, with autofocus grabbing your subject rapidly, while you can also employ manual focus should you so desire. The only real weakpoint is the video, which stumbles.

Purchase: $599

Canon EOS 750D Rebel T6i

Canon EOS 750D Rebel T6i

Pro: 19-point autofocus
Con: Limited viewfinder

Comfort Fit: You can save a little money and go with the Rebel T5i and still be getting a nice camera for beginners, but if you really want more room to grow and develop, we think the T6i is a better buy overall. For one, you get a gorgeous touchscreen that makes navigation, focus, and finding your shot markedly easier, as is combing through the expansive menu options. Even with your ISO cranked up, the 24.2-megapixel sensor delivers quality images that aren’t muddled with noise. Using the EOS Full HD Movie mode, videographers can shoot to their heart’s content and get smooth motion capture that runs in true 1080p and can be saved in mp4 format. WiFi connectivity and NFC make it worth the extra cash all by themselves.

Purchase: $749

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