Holiday Helper: Entry-Level Digital SLR Cameras
When it comes to digital SLR cameras, there are several performance levels to choose from. There are the cheaper, entry-level SLRs which are priced under $1000 (generally including a lens).Then there are the more mid-level SLRs which generally don’t cost much over $1000 (without a lens).
Lastly are the high-end SLRs intended for more professional use, which can cost several thousand dollars. This basic buyer’s guide will be focusing on the entry-level SLRs, as anyone shopping in the mid to high-end range will likely have very specific requirements and models in mind.
Entry-level SLRs offer a great balance between function and simplicity, all while keeping things relatively affordable. Most entry-level SLRs will have many automatic functions similar to most point-and-shoot digital cameras while providing the image quality of an SLR lens and image sensor.
When shopping for an entry-level SLR (or any digital SLR for that matter), it’s important to remember that the number of megapixels should no longer be a deciding factor. Essentially every modern digital SLR camera (and certainly all those discussed in this guide) is capable of prints exceeding 48 by 32 inches. You’ll find that by sacrificing a few megapixels, you can gain some very useful features. Let’s take a look at two of the best SLRs in the entry-level range.
Canon EOS Rebel T2i
The Rebel T2i is one of the more expensive entry-level cameras, but it is also one of the most future-proof. It is the only camera on Canon’s entry-level line to support the new SDXC format memory cards, and it also has Canon’s newest Digic 4 image processor, both of which will serve well for years to come.
The T2i is also capable of recording movies in full 1080p HD at 30 frames per second, and also includes the expected features of a quality digital SLR camera: 18MP sensor, 3.7 shots/second burst mode, and a large range of picture formats and shutter speeds.
Canon also offers a slightly cheaper Rebel T1i, which uses the same Digic 4 processor as the T2i and has many of the same features. Compared to the T2i, the T1i has a 15MP image sensor (rather than 18MP), does not accept SDXC, records 1080p at 24fps (rather than 30fps), bursts at 3.5shots/second, and has a slightly lower spec light meter. If you feel these features are less important to you, the T1i is an excellent buy.
The Nikon D3100 is very similar to the Rebel T1i in terms of features, and can generally be found at a slightly cheaper price. Just like Canon’s entire entry-level line, the D3100 is very easy to use while still providing a suitable level of advanced settings for the more adventurous photographers. One benefit of the D3100 over the T1i is its compatibility with SDXC memory cards. T1i generally outclasses the D3100, albeit only slightly, and this is reflected in the D3100’s cheaper price tag.
The D3100 has a 14.2MP images sensor, the same 1080p recording capability at 24fps, and a slightly slower 3shots/second burst mode. Apart from this, the two cameras are extremely similar. When it comes to stationary photographs, such as scenery and long exposures, the D3100 and T1i are fairly equally matched; however, when shooting high action speeds, the T1i (and T2i) generally performs much better, not that any of them perform poorly.
A quick note on SLR Lenses: Part of what makes SLR cameras so great are their interchangeable lenses, but it is important to pay attention to which lenses are compatible with which cameras. If you have a large collection of SLR lenses, you’ll likely want to get a camera compatible with them. Canon’s SLRs use EF and EF-S mounts, and Nikon uses F-Mounts. If you have a collection of Minolta lenses, you’ll probably notice that Minolta cameras aren’t around anymore, but Sony’s digital SLRs use Minolta lenses.