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Offering stellar image and video quality, the Nikon D3400 is a relatively inexpensive DLSR that offers a feature-rich set. Featuring a 24.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor and shooting at ISO settings of 25,600 and 1080p/60fps video, the D3400 is an entry-level dream. Weighing just .87 pounds without the included 18-5mm lens, the D3400 is both compact and light enough to carry as your daily DSLR. Additionally, as a Nikon DSLR, there are years of best-in-class Nikkor lenses available to interchange with the included lens.
The D3400 has added additional features such as Bluetooth and SnapBridge for easy sharing/pairing with five smart devices and a three-inch display that offers quick viewing right when a photo is captured. When it comes to photo results, the D3400 is sufficiently fast at focusing and continuous shooting at 5fps, which is important for anyone trying to snap a photo of pets or kids. The battery life is around 1,200 shots.
Canon’s Rebel series is best known as an entry-level DSLR and for good reason. The budget-price point on the 3.2-pound Canon EOS Rebel T6 makes it an easy step up from the point-and-shoot camera world. The introduction of an 18.0-megapixel CMOS Digic 4+ image sensor, ISO shooting up to 6,400, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC connectivity and swappable lenses make the price jump over point-and-shoot cameras easy to swallow. Add in a nine-point autofocus system for quick action shooting along with Full HD movie capture and the T6 continues to show why you’ll never think twice about giving up the point-and-shoot.
For the foodies around us, a dedicated “Food” option on the mode dial highlights the type of casual photography the T6 excels at. It might sound like a crazy addition, but the idea for the T6 was that casual photographers don’t know how to properly adjust manual settings, so this mode auto-corrects the scene prior to you pressing the shutter button. Previewing the image works great on the three-inch LCD, which offers additional control functionality for adjusting images both before and after shooting. With a selection of more than 60 adjustable lenses from Canon, 500 shot battery life, and a wallet-friendly price tag, the T6 is one of the best options a DSLR beginner can purchase today.
With continuous shooting at ten frames-per-second, the 1.9-pound Nikon D500 is an outstanding selection for photographers who love shooting the outdoors or sporting events. Featuring a 20.9-megapixel CMOS sensor, EXPEED 5 image processor and native ISO shooting up to 51,200, the D500 is one of the best DSLR and DX cameras on the market today. The addition of a tilt 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD adds to the overall value with an easy-to-use interface that’s best utilized in live preview after a shot has been captured or during video capture.
While the somewhat smaller megapixel count of 20.9 might scare off some beginners looking for the biggest number, the D500 is a fantastic all-around camera that’s not limited to just one type of shooting style. Additionally, the inclusion of 4K video at 30fps is an excellent feature to showcase best-in-class video quality. Throw in a weather-sealed body, comfortable frame, dual-SD card slots and enough battery life for 1,240 shots and the D500 shows itself to be a camera that’s well worth the price of admission.
Released in 2014, Sony’s Alpha A77 II remains one of the best APS-C cameras available today with a 24.3-megapixel sensor that takes some of the best shots on the market years after its release. Featuring 12 frames-per-second continuous shooting, 79-point autofocus detection and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, the A77 tips the scales at just over $1,500. The highly-rated autofocus system excels at capturing anything that moves, including sports, wildlife and active children. Weighing 1.4-pounds, the rugged magnesium alloy body is both durable and lightweight, but still offers weather-resistant protection against the elements.
The three-inch rear LCD offers three-way tilting that excels at assisting photographers with framing shots exactly the way they should be captured. The inclusion of a built-in flash and integrated hot shoe allows easy expansion of lighting options to capture photos in any condition. Lighting aside, the camera has Full HD 1080p video capture, and the battery life is around 480 shots (lower if video is used).
Packed into a body that’s built for tackling the elements, the Pentax K-1 offers an eye-popping 36.4-megapixel CMOS sensor with 33 autofocus points, shake reduction, Full HD video recording and even a GPS system for location tracking. Weighing 2.22 pounds, the weather-sealed body offers excellent photo results alongside its packed-to-the-brim feature set. In an interesting design twist, the K-1 lacks individual function controls on the body of the camera itself and instead has a function dial with direct access to nine frequently used options such as ISO sensitivity, Wi-Fi and exposure compensation.
One of the best aspects of the K-1 is the 5-axis image stabilization that essentially helps stabilize the camera to aid in correcting any movement. Additionally, a 3.2-inch LCD can be tilted to 44 degrees down, 90 degrees up and 35 degrees left and right. Features aside, battery life is rated at 760 shots, which is average for a DSLR (and that number will fluctuate with video capturing).
With standout photography and video quality, the 1.49-pound Nikon D7200 is an excellent choice for everyone, from the amateur to the advanced photographer. The mid-range magnesium-alloy DSLR includes a 24.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS image sensor, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, ISO up to 25,600, weather-sealing against light rain and dust, as well as a 100 percent field of view with the optical viewfinder. On the rear of the camera, the 3.2-inch LCD works great in just about every lighting condition, though the omission of variable angles is notable.
Out of the box, image quality is superb with accurate colors and pleasing images with plenty of detail. With the addition of a 6fps shooting capacity, full HD video capture and an excellent autofocus system with 51 high-density focus points, the D7200 excels at just about everything, especially for the mid-range price point. A single battery charge supports more than 1,110 images before requiring a recharge with that number fluctuating based on the amount of video you’re capturing. With a selection of more than 80 compatible lenses, solid performance and dozens of exciting features, this is a great choice.
The mid-range 3.8-pound Canon EOS 80D offers a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, a 45-point autofocus system, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, plus Full HD 60fps video. The excellent photographic results are no surprise given Canon’s typical quality, especially if you adjust some manual controls for fine-tuning. The body of the camera itself is a little bulkier than the Nikon D7200, but a lot of photographers will enjoy having a larger grip and body to work with during lengthy shooting sessions.
The variable-angle, three-inch touchscreen allows the display to adjust to multiple positions and you can use your finger to tap on a specific focus point. Moreover, there’s also a smaller LCD display on the top to quickly check or change basic settings and controls. The biggest upgrade itself is the 45-point autofocus that offers outstanding shots when coupled with the optical viewfinder and focusing area selection modes. Additionally, the battery is rated at 960 shots, which is a good number to get through a day’s worth of shooting without video capture.
Pentax may not have the brand recognition of Canon and Nikon, but it more than makes up for that with its incredibly durable hardware. In addition to its dustproof and weather-resistant construction (as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit), the two-pound K70 offers in-body image stabilization, built-in Wi-Fi and a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor with an ISO range up to 102,400. Additionally, the K70 offers full 1080p video capture at 30, 25 and 24fps (plus 6 fps continuous shooting for easily capturing moving subjects).
Despite its all-plastic build, the K70 feels great in the hand with easy-to-use controls, a .95x optical viewfinder and a three-inch variable-angle LCD display offering a quick review of captured shots. An added mode for night vision offers a red overlay to the LCD to help maintain vision during nighttime shooting, and the outdoor viewing option brightens the LCD during daytime. Additionally, the included battery offers an average performance of around 480 shots before being exhausted.
Released in 2014, Canon’s EOS 7D Mark II still leads the pack as one of the best DSLRs on the market. It features a 20.2-megapixel camera, ISO up to 16,000, a 65-point autofocus system, high-speed continuous shooting up to 10fps and Full HD video capture. In fact, its age is only a real limitation if Wi-Fi, 4K video capture and a variable-angle LCD display are at the top of your shopping list for a DSLR.
Weighing just 2.01 pounds, the Mark II feels a little clunky, but the overall magnesium alloy build is fantastic. Improved water sealing offers a little extra peace of mind if you’re trying to capture photography in less than perfect weather conditions, which makes it a great choice for wildlife or action photographers alike. The ten frames-per-second continuous shooting allowing for easy capturing of quick moving subjects, specifically action shots. As for battery, you'll be able to get up to 670 images per charge (less with video).
Picture quality - Picture quality all comes down to the image sensor. There are two kinds of sensors: CCD and CMOS. CCD sensors are pricier but have better light sensitivity, whereas CMOS sensors can be cheaper but can have more image noise. For under $2,000, you should be able to buy a quality camera with an image sensor of 18 to 24 megapixels.
Connectivity - It’s easy to scoff at the subpar quality of (some) smartphone cameras, but you have to admit they make it seamless to share photos in real time. Luckily, quality and convenience is no longer a sacrifice you need to make with a standalone camera — more and more manufacturers are equipping their models with built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or NFC connectivity, making it simple to upload your photos to Instagram or back them up on the go.
Compatibility - When you buy a DSLR with an interchangeable lens, you pretty much get locked into the manufacturer's hardware ecosystem — for example, Nikon lenses can’t be used on Canon cameras and vice versa. If you already have a few lenses from one brand, you may want to do your wallet a favor and stay within the family.