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.


42 thoughts on “A Buyer’s Guide: DSLR Cameras”

  1. 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,


  2. 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.

  3. @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 )?

  4. Jim,

    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. 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.

  5. 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!

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

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. I’ve bought some of your books and found them so informative and easy to read as a new photographer . Thanks . However , it would be useful to see your reviews on mirror less cameras .

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