A Buyer’s Guide: DSLR Cameras

DSLR camera review

Beauty. Pure beauty.

It is very difficult to recommend a DSLR camera without knowing exactly what kind of photography you’re going to do, your budget, and if you have already invested in lenses from a specific manufacturer.  However, I do want to provide some VERY GENERAL principles on what camera you might consider.

If you’re shopping for a camera and you aren’t “up” on the current models available, I think the following table will be helpful for you to decide what to buy.  This table was most recently updated on April 4, 2012.

Under $600 Nikon D3100 (Will be replaced soon) Canon T3 Nikon D3100 for its low-noise abilities for low-light situations, but this camera is going to be updated SOON.
Under $950 Nikon D5100 Canon T3i (Will be replaced soon) Nikon D5100 wins for low light capabilities, but that LCD on the T3i is fantastic!
Under $1,500 Nikon D7000 (Fantastic!) Canon 60D Nikon D7000 for low light capabilities, but 60D is great for video.
Under $2,000 Nikon D300s (VERY old) Canon 7D (Getting old) Canon 7D is the CLEAR winner–even though it’s getting old.  Both cameras will be replaced in Summer 2012.
Under $3,000 Nikon D800 (Brand New) 5D Mark III (Brand new) Depends on what you shoot.  D800 for studio work and most portraits, 5DIII for video, sports, and wildlife.
Your left kidney Nikon D4 (Brand new) 1DX (Brand new) Depends on what you’re using it for.

UPDATE: Some readers have commented that they wish this article would talk about brands other than Canon and Nikon as well.  There are MANY good cameras other than the Nikons and Canons.  Sony and Pentax also make great cameras (as well as other manufacturers).  I fully believe that in the next few years, they will become mainstream and see wide adoption.  Often they are cheaper camera bodies right now, but Sony and Pentax simply don’t have the selection of lenses nor the cheaper third-party accessories available.  The reason I don’t recommend them right now is simply that there isn’t much room to grow into the selection of lenses and accessories like you can with a Canon or Nikon.  If you keep your photography simple and don’t plan on going pro or needing a bunch of lenses or accessories, then you’d be happy with virtually any Sony or Pentax Camera.



  1. Eric

    I got rid on my Nikon D2x a few years ago and went Sony. Currently I use an A900, 24.6 mpix, full frame with in body stabilisation which means that all those great old Minolta lenses are stabilised. The top end Sony lenses as well as the Zeiss are as good as any Nikon or Canon. Please don’t restrict your recommendations to the big two, after all Sony is No3 in DSLR sales.

  2. Bushtography

    Eric, I thought I’d actually read a couple of months ago that Sony had over taken Nikon in sales (Just checked and it looks like that might have been for the UK market and not globally).

    The Canon vs Nikon argument seems to be ever raging and this article (along with the differences one) seem to be as good as any at attempting to give some generalised reccommendations.

  3. Paul

    I was a fellow “Nikonian” for many years, but have recently defected. In my search for an upgrade to my trusted but aging D80, I was trying to decide between the D7000 and the 5100, leaning toward the 5100 due to my growing interest in video (and the primary reason for an upgrade). Then I happened upon the Panasonic GH2. I took a chance and now consider this unit to be the coolest camera on the planet for amatuer/enthusiast level shooters with any interest in video. I have found the size, ergonomics, and image (especially hd video) quality to be a revelation and am having more fun than ever with then hobby. I still own the Nikon and some nice lenses but it sits in the closet most of the time now.

  4. Jane McGregor

    Any comments on OLYMPUS E-620. I am enjoying it but am still in the learning phase with DSLRs… It’s like instantly becoming a pilot after driving a bicycle (referring to point&shoot)!!!!! I have always been an OLYMPUS fan… I owned an OM-1 SLR and loved it. I am really inspired by the 22 things to do to improve photography skills. Thanks for any comments/suggestions about my new camera.

    1. Author

      Olympus made some good cameras, but they no longer produce new DSLRs. The company is in bankruptcy. I’m not sure that I’d recommend sinking a lot of money into their system anymore…. Head to higher ground with Nikon or Canon :-)

  5. John Edwards

    I have just purchased your book “Improve your Photography: How Budding Photographers can get Pro Results” (Kindle version from Amazon) and am finding it great, easy to follow and very helpfull

  6. Jim Jennings

    Not sure how all of this works. i’m 74 and don’t use the net that much. I shoot with a Nikon D-200 and need to upgrade. I shoot landscapes and always on a tripod, cable release, mirror up ect. don’t need video. The D-700 is probably what I need, but I’m thinking that it will be replaced shortly. I do local high end shows, but it is not about making money. I have a passion for recording landscapes and wish to be the best I can be and share this with others. I have the good glass from Nikon so swithcing brands is not an option. Any advise? Thanks Jim jennings

  7. Silvia

    Hi Jim,

    I haven’t found any comments on Pentax cameras; are there any reviews I might have missed please? Could you give your opinion on this brand?

    Thank you,

  8. Natasha

    I have the pentax K10D. I bought it a few yrs ago at a camera shop and now I am guessing I should have bought a Nikon or Canon. Which off camera flash should I use? Will the YN560 work on a pentax?

  9. Peter

    I’ve been a latent photography for far too long. Recently I decided to jump from the negative and return to my love. I have been confused about whether to jump ship over to a Canon because of the stunning video quality, and was a little upset that Nikon wasn’t reclaiming it’s rightful place at the top of the DSLR throne. Then came the D4. Wow!!! http://www.shortform.com/oceanguy/thephotographychannel/watch/4246552_nikon-d4-guided-tour-part-1-hd
    I cant wait for Zacuto to get there hands on the new Nikon D4. I won’t be able to afford it for about 2 years, but it looks like its about to flatten the 1D and 5D MarkII combined. It kicks arse but is definitely in the black market kidney price range!!!

  10. Ben

    I was into film cameras for a few decades and used several Minoltas. I was never disappointed in their ruggedness, optics, and overall quality. My fellow cameraphiles generally went with Nikons though I never really understood their devotion as my pictures were not dissimilar from their camera’s product. Were I to have gone with a different camera than my Minolta, it wouldn’t have been a Nikon. Voigtlander or Leica were far better IMHO. I lost my last Minolta 35 to the ocean. I entered the digital age by purchasing a Canon G3. No interchangeable lenses was a letdown for me. Mid 2011 I purchased a Sony A390 since it had the Minolta mounts and I had several lenses from the old 35. They worked because they were Minolta-Rokkors. I also purchased a fantastic 35-105mm zoom at an estate sale for $7.00!
    I’ve not looked back or regretted the purchase. And to this day I still find it hard to understand the Nikon love affair.

  11. Dimitra

    I just HATE it when people always talk about Nikon and Canon…
    Nothing personal of course! :)
    The site is amazing and REALLY helpful, thank you!
    But I thought the article would have been about general instructions on deciding which DSLR is good and not only for Nikon and Canon users…
    I’m using Pentax for 5 years almost and these guys are just hard-workers!

  12. Ben

    Dimitra, I, too, thought the article should have dealt with some general recommendations for the person seeking to enter the DSLR age rather than become a sales pitch for Nikons or Canons.
    It’s somewhat disappointing because there are other very good to excellent DSLRs aside from Nikons & Canons. AS you point out your Pentax is just fine for your needs.
    Just as with large format film cameras, the debate raged around Rollieflexes, Bronicas, Mamiyas, and Hasselblads. All when there were perfectly good alternate choices (I had a Yashica Mat 124G) that were far more affordable.
    The theory is that more costly cameras have better optics, etc. But how much better are they for the average user that would warrant a greater outlay? For my money, I’ll stick with my Sony A390. I could have jumped into their more expensive lines, but justifying the expense versus my actual use did not make a lot of sense.
    A comparable Canon would have cost me anywhere from $300 to $600 more. Nikon has to be in that range as well.
    When I shopped for my DSLR I read numerous articles & virtually every single one compared every other camera against Nikons & Canons…with phrases like, “It’s not a Canon, but it does the job.” They talked about spherical aberration, etc., as if it means the world to Joe Traveler whose main interest is only making sure he gets a shot of his kids at Disney World or in the ocean at Myrtle Beach. IMHO 80% to 90% of us fall into that category. We’re not fashion, sports, food, or wedding photographers. We’re just taking pictures. That’s all.

  13. Tony

    Jim, First thanks for all of the great tips and tricks. I’ve learned a lot and appreciate your input on topics and also the critiquing of people’s photos. I made the step to the DSLR realm about 2 years ago with a Canon t2i. I’ve considered going to a 60D or possibly 7D, but as you stated the 7D is getting old and I was wondering if there are any rumors on the horizon for an updated model in that range. Thanks!

  14. Abhay James

    Hey Jim,

    I’ve just ordered the D800 to replace my old D80, and I think it’s the best DSLR money will buy right about now. Esp if you need detail, detail and lots of detail. I considered getting the D800E, but wasn’t sold on it. I like to shoot ultra wide lenses and love the Tokina 11-16 I have on the D80. I wanted to ask…could I possibly use the 11-16 Tokina on the D800? I’m sure there would be some vignetting at the lower range but I read Ken Rockwell say it would work very well as a 14-15-16mm on FX.
    I also have a 70-200 VRii f/2.8 which should do justice to the D800, but I love ultra wide lenses.
    Thanks for listening to my rant,


  15. Kathy

    So helpful! I have a Nikon D80 and I want to update. This was SO HELPFUL. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  16. Edward M. O'Brien

    @Jane McGregor – another OLY user !! Thought I was the only one !! @Jim – after investing in my 50-200 f2.8-3.5 zoom, its cost kind of sealed me in to Olympus, for now. I have the e-620 as my main body, with my old e-500 as a backup, and the fl-50r flash. I’m looking at their 12-60 f2.8-4 that, from what I hear , is really good glass ! Any suggestions – (besides the switch to Canonikon )?

  17. Al Gonzalez


    Your thoughts on the new Canon Powershot G1X. I was looking at it as an alternative to my bigger/heavier DSLR. Good reviews, so far, but $800 for a fixed lens. Opinion?

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      It looks like an amazing camera for someone who really wants to travel light, but in a head to head comparison against even the cheapest DSLR, this thing would get destroyed. What I’m saying is that it’s a great second camera or a camera for someone who wants to travel a lot and isn’t a pro, but I still don’t see these cameras as DSLR replacements.

  18. Sean

    I was fortunate to recieve a T3i for Christmas and have non stop been experimenting and playing since. (This is my first DSLR. Did AP photo in college and HS and actually got paid for some work but that was back in %&$*# (a few years ago) As I master my digital skills more.. do you feel this is a model that professional/paid results are possible? PS your site has been INVALUABLE!

  19. J Heater

    I have a Sony @290, do you know anything about it. and any suggestions about it, would be greatly appreciated.

  20. Shawn

    I too have purchased “Improve your Photography: How Budding Photographers can get Pro Results. On Kindle and I am learning so much! I’m going to be taking one of your online classes also. Thanks for helping budding photographers like me!

  21. Debbie

    I have the canon 60d and was thinking of up grading to the 7d after reading a few comme ts, do you think I should wait, I have too much. Money invested in canon lens to change to Nikon
    Thanks foe helping beginners like me

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      I anticipate that the 7d will be upgraded this Summer. I don’t think it’s a great time to be buying that camera.

  22. Shashank Ramesh

    Hi Jim,
    I am planning to buy my first DSLR n i am totally confused between the Canon 600d and the canon 60d.I hear rumours about an upgrade for 600d,should i wait till then?
    Basically i intend to do a lot of street,nature and landscape photography.
    Request u to also kindly let me know ur take on Nikon d5100 with the Canon 600d!

  23. ups backup machine

    Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

  24. social networks

    Very interesting details you have mentioned , thankyou for putting up. “I’ve made a couple of mistakes I’d like to do over.” by Jerry Coleman.

  25. shalini

    Just curious, if there is a reason why Nikon 90D is not in the list of camera’s here? Is that something you would recommend for a photographer with a budget higher than for Nikon5100 but lower than for nikon d7000

  26. Bruce

    If someone is looking at getting into photography as a serious hobby or vocation it is not the camera but the camera system that is important. Anything will work for a portrait studio but for sports, wildlife, product, commercial, fashion, wedding, T&I, macro, and nature photography the camera is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in generating quality images on a reliable and consistent basis. For example the Canon cameras and lenses have been notoriouly bad in terms of autofocus accuracy. Anyone wanting to incorporate flash is going to have many more options with Nikon than Canon and get much more consistently accurate mixed light exposures and white balance. I started with Pentax but switched to Nikon to do underwater photography as all the underwater strobes had a Nikon only connection. I used both Nikon and Canon pro gear for wedding photography as each new generation of cameras would favor one system over the other and I all cared about (and my clients) was results.

  27. Northstar

    I own a nikon D5100, and am completly comfortable with it. In arabic we have a saying that is:” give the bread to the baker, even if he eats half of it” meaning everything has got its person who knows the ins & outs of it, and if i can give examples, then when i need a car then its a mercedes, and a mobile phone is a nokia, and a fax machine is panasonic, and a TV is sony and so on…..and definetly a camera is NIKON.
    So what i want to say to people who are talking about Canon and the likes, you have every right to do so and to express your opinion, but am sure at the end of the day, when you put your head on the pillow and want to sleep, you will certainly know the mistake you have done, and if you dont dare to say that you have mistaken with your tongue, there is no way you will fight your Conscience.

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