Compact cameras leave you cold. Point and shoot cameras are great little gifts to give that special someone in your life that is “soooo in to photography,” and mirrorless cameras are for snapping pics of topless girls at Mardi Gras, not serious photography. The poor fools that use such obviously inferior cameras wouldn’t know white balance from barrel distortion if it spit in their face. You need something more. You’re ready for something bigger, something more impressive, something that requires a Colombian coffee burro to carry it around. You’re ready for a DSLR camera and you don’t care who knows it.
Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) Cameras are what heavy hitting photographers use because they offer an avalanche of features, accessories, and lenses for use under the most abnormal of circumstances. Unlike other cameras, you buy a one when you intend on building a whole photographic system. The things to consider before you purchase are price, sensor, compatibility with other lenses and accessories, upgrades, size, and useful features. We’ve pumped all these variables into our Camera selector system and it spit out the 8 best DSLR cameras you can buy.
Hard-Core: DSLR’s have a reputation for being very much like the royal family of old. They are very refined, very erudite, very elegant, and also total and complete milksop sissies that will cry over a skinned knee. That is why Pentax built the K-30. Just to show that these shooters can still be as macho as a monster truck rally and as rugged as a demolition derby. All at a fair price. It has a 16 megapixels camera with an APS-C 23.7 x 15.7 mm sensor that is slightly better than comparably priced models, though the ISO is a little disappointing, topping out at 12800 unless specifically extended.
What the K-30 does have is a tough, masculine sensibility. The slightly knurled grip feels more like a tool handle than a camera and the weatherproof, freeze-proof body seems self-contained and ready for action. You’ll get a passable 6 frames per second and can shoot 1080p video if need be. Really, it is the camera you can toss into your backpack and is ready to snap up those lightning shots you’re going to take while hunting Grizzlies with your bare hands out in the Adirondacks and polishing your “Headbutt Champion” trophy. [Purchase: $430]
Canon EOS 100D aka EOS Rebel SL1
Little Feller: Canon is taking the fight to the mirrorless and the compact markets with the SL1 by proving that these cameras do not need to be gargantuan monstrosities. Not only is it small enough to fit into most standard laptop bags, it still produces high-quality photos using an 18 megapixel shooting resolution and an APS-C sensor that is 22.3 x 14.9 mm in size. The IOS can be boosted to 25600 if you are a low-light shooter or tourist.
The price tag is as wee as the chassis – at least when compared to other options on the list – and Canon doesn’t skimp on features. Thanks to the integrated hybrid CMOS AF II system, the auto-focus moves at lightning speed, even when using the viewfinder. It can avoid not only blurriness, but also captures contrast definitions. Video shooting is the only place where there can be fault found with the system as it only tips the scales at 4 frames per-second. Though slightly slower than larger models, the auto-focus still works wonders in capturing moving objects. [Purchase: $450]
Baby’s First dSLR: The D3200 is not technically the best in the D3k line, but from the D3300 on up, they are generally complicated clones of the D3200. This is the best camera to get if you are thinking about a dSLR but aren’t ready to sink the money you should have spent on tuition on a camera. It beats other models by being simpler, more affordable, and yet impressive enough to convert anyone ambivalent about a dSLR into a believer. The actual camera is a slightly larger 24 megapixel with a 23.2 x 15.4 mm APS-C sensor, which already puts it into an elite segment of the population when it comes to pure pixel power.
But it isn’t enough to blow anyone’s socks anywhere. What sets the D3200 apart from comparable models is the guide option built into the camera’s menu that will help walk you through using the viewfinder, employing the auto-focus, checking your aperture values, and all the other little bits and pieces that go into using a camera like a pro. Couple that with an unobtrusive price tag, and you have a gateway to the world of the new dSLR that will allow anyone to walk through with ease. [Purchase: $480]
Canon EOS 700D aka Rebel T5i
Old Glory: If you ever used a T4i (600D) and wished with all your heart that you could pay a few hundred dollars to buy a new one with an adorable, upgraded grip and a few upgrades to the video shooting features, then you are in luck. The T5i is the T4i with a few improvements. The only reason it makes this list is the Rebel line was so far ahead of its time that it still can hold water, but don’t expect it to break new ground. The APS-C 22.3 x 14.9 mm sensor attached to the megapixel camera is still respectable, so long as you don’t scroll up and realize that the EOS 100D gives you the same thing for less cost.
The true advantage comes when you look at the lens kits available for the T4i T5i. While Canon was busy not upgrading the body, they were producing a new EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM lens pack that will give any videographer a strange stirring in their southern compass. When coupled with the on-board Live View, you’ll be able to shoot true HD video with stellar focus even when switching subjects. If you plan on just shooting stills, your money is better spent elsewhere, but use the new lenses with the upgraded video options on the T5i and you have an entry-level camcorder to be proud of. [Purchase: $600]
Techno Treasure: Samsung’s normal trick seems to be taking a mediocre camera and then loading it up with so many technological bells and whistles that you can’t help but love it. Well, they did something more than that with the NX30. They made a truly good camera and then added bells and whistles to it for an experience to make geeks and shutterbugs alike sing their praises. Careful Samsung, keep this up and you might actually become a respected name in photography.
The camera is 20 megapixels and the sensor is a diminutive APS-C 23.5 x 15.7 mm. So far, so bland. However, when you add in the new DRIMeIV chipset that controls the hybrid auto-focus and processes your photos as well as drives the shutter speed and overall operation of the camera, you’ve got a shockingly fast dSLR that requires almost as little work as a compact camera but produces dazzling results. Naturally it comes with the standard Samsung navigation, Wi-Fi, one-tap picture sharing, and a lovely articulated LCD that is user-friendly. Equally good for geeks and regular users. [Purchase: $830]
Canon EOS 70D
Everyman: Believe it or not, we’re not Canon fan-boys, but with more and more brands leaving the market, or producing garbage, Canon is one of the few standouts. The 70D is the perfect mid-range camera for the enthusiast who might shoot the occasional wedding. It offers a 20 megapixels camera good for larger shots and an 22.5 x 15 mm APS-C sensor. It is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor that 60D thanks in a large part to the Dual Pixel CMOS auto-focus which takes much of the sting out of finding the correct contrast without any blur.
The 19-point phase-detection is exceptional whether shooting stills or video without losing background/foreground separation. When used in conjunction with the viewfinder, there isn’t a compact in the world that can find a shot faster or easier, and certainly none that come anywhere close to the same impressive image quality of the 70D. Despite its role as a “compact” when it comes to being able to handle both stills and video seamlessly with intuitive smoothness, very few pure-bred dSLR’s can do what the 70D can. [Purchase: $999]
Movie Buff: The A99 seems a little bit confused about what it wants to be. If you judge by only its still pictures, it longs to be a very nice mirrorless camera. If you judge by the way it handles video, it aches to spend its time on a movie set, hobnobbing with starlets and throwing food at its assistant. It employs a 2.3M dot OLED viewfinder which seems to be better suited toward tracking moving shots than it is for capturing a moment in time. The 24 megapixel camera with the full frame 36x24mm CMOS sensor seems great, but it just doesn’t produce the picture depth that you can find from other full frame cameras at the same price.
If you only use the A99 for stills, it will break your heart and leave you cursing Sony as you drown your sorrows in cheap vodka and cheaper women. On the other hand, the minute you fire up the video capture modes, you will see this puppy purr like a Porsche. Included in it is the Sony’s Quick Navi which is an interactive status panel made specifically for video capture. It will help you along the way to make the most of the 1080p video at 60 frames per second that the camera can pull off. It even has a mic, headphone jack, and HDMI port for uncompressed playback, allowing you to easily view and edit your black-and-white art film from start to finish. [Purchase: $2,300]
Canon EOS 1D X
Pros Only: Odds are, if you don’t know about the 1D X, you don’t need to know about it. It is not made for amateurs, for enthusiasts, or even for most professionals. It is for those that worship at the Holy Church of the Immaculate Exposure. It has a true to life full-frame CMOS 36 x 24 mm 100,000-pixel RGB sensor with 18 megapixel resolution that can shoot with 204800 ISO when boosted so you can finally capture those shots you were going to take at your summer home on the dark side of the moon. It also has true HD 1080p video shooting options that give you the option of time stamping for multi-camera productions.
It can shoot 14 frames per-second if you feel inclined to try to capture a speeding bullet for any reason. The auto-focus uses 61-Points to track subjects so that whatever your range or lighting, it will give you precisely what you are looking for. What you get will be much better than what you see. The entire camera seems built to last a lifetime with the shutter tested at over 400,000 uses without the need for replacement. Add in the DIGIC 5+ image processor that is on the bleeding edge of technology and you’ll remember why you hocked your engagement ring to buy it. Fiancé’s come and go. Photos last a lifetime. [Purchase: $6,800]
Honorable Mention: The D800 is for anyone that is a big picture person, literally. It has the largest megapixel resolution of anything else currently available at a whopping 36 megapixels. It uses a full frame sensor, which is absolutely necessary given that it is clearly meant to shoot nothing but panoramic landscapes, the gas giant planets, or Kanye’s ego.
For fine detail on massive scales the D800 has no rival, so it is only useful if you can’t sacrifice the smallest particular or need accurate pictures of landmarks. For the average user, it is way more photographic power than you will ever need. It is also a little light on features if you aren’t within the purview of it’s targeted base. It needs a boost just to get into the 25600 ISO range. When size matters, the D800 shines. The rest of the time, it fizzles. [Purchase: $3,000]