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. 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?

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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,


  8. 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.

  9. 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 )?

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. J Heater

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

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