Top Five Beginner Digital SLRs

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Nikon D5100 Beginner Digital SLR

I included the Nikon D5100 the last time I updated this beginner DSLR guide. It’s back again because it’s right in the performance / features / pricing sweet spot. You trade the D3200’s 24-megapixel sensor for a versatile tilt-swivel LCD display that’s perfect for self-portraits, low-angle photos, working on a tripod and video. And personally, I’d rather have the D5100’s proven 16-megapixel sensor because the lower resolution means photos are easier to process and I save money on memory cards and hard drives.

Article: Why You Should Buy The Nikon D5100 >>

  • Street Price: approximately $799 with 18-55mm kit lens
  • 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 1920 x 1080 full HD video
  • Continuous auto focus in movie mode
  • Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 64000 – expandable to ISO 25,600 (Hi-2)
  • Burst: 4 FPS
  • 3-inch 921k-dot tilt-swivel LCD

Note: Nikon recently announced the D5200 (Nikon D5200 intro article), an updated version of the D5100 with a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, a better auto focus system and a faster burst rate. Unfortunately, the D5200 isn’t being offered in North America – yet. So if you like the D5100’s design but want more, you might wait a bit to see if the D5200 becomes available. I expect the D5200 to sell for about $800 to $900 with a lens if and when it shows up here.

next cameraCanon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D >>


Sony Alpha SLT-A37
Alpha SLT-A37

Nikon D3200

Nikon D5100

Canon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D
EOS Rebel
T3i / 600D

Pentax K-30



About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Thien says:

    Olympus E-PL1 FTW!

  • Photo-John says:

    You like the E-PL1 huh, Thien? Do you think it’s an adequate DSLR replacement? I know you have a DSLR, too. How much do you use it now that you have the E-PL1?

  • derek says:

    Wish I could field test the Sony Alpha SLT-A33 to see how it performs against the A100 I’ve been using for the past three years. I had really good results with some minor peeves with the Alpha A100 and would like to see how the technology has improved up to this point.

  • Photo-John says:

    I’m really curious about the A33 image quality and performance, too. It’s quickly moving to the top of the list of cameras I’d like to review next. There’s no doubt that it’s better than the A100 since the A100 is over 4 years old now and Sony has been making some of the most innovative cameras on the market in the past couple of years.

  • chris says:

    @ derek,

    I compared it to my A550 and had to return the A33. Mine might be a fluke, but the A550 not only had better focus accuracy, but it never overheated. The A33 overheated after using it about 30 minutes in 75-80 degree weather, nothing extreme temperature wise. I would be afraid to use it in anything warmer. While the image size was the same, I had a 2 in 10 shot ratio of spot on focus compared to the A550. This may be ok for portraits, not good when needing to crop the image (where every pixel counts). Last straw was the auto focus during video recording. I found no way to control it for objects running across your focus path. If ANYTHING runs across it, the lens cycles to gain focus. There is no way to program the camera to allow a 1 second pause for light poles, children, or team-mate players that block the shot for a second. The overheat and non-controllable auto focus forced me to return to carrying a camera and video camcorder. Note: also, as a matter of prefference, the A33 never felt right in my hands due to it’s small size. Sony should have kept a traditional size camera and filled it with heat sinks or something. :)


  • Fivish says:

    I bought the top rated bridge camera of 2005. It was rubbish. Then I bought the Nikon D40 in 2008. WOW!!!
    Now I have been a Nikon man since 1975 with the Nikkormat FT2, Nikon F301, Nikon F601. But the D40 is brilliant.

  • sonny says:

    It is not about the camera. It is about the person using it. We’ve heard about that a million or so times. But the underrated Sony is way too efficient that users of traditional gear do not believe it since they haven’t tried it.

  • jason says:

    Olympus makes some great cameras.I think if I were to pick one for someone starting I would say go with the E-30 though, as it is an actual SLR. And since it has been out a while can be had for about the same as a newer pen.pick up the 14-54 2.8 and you have an amazing camera that will last you through the beginner stages and far beyond.a nice fair to have in a body its dual control knobs- one for aperture and one for shutter. It has a solid AF system as well. Compared to the rebel series and the entry level Nikos the quality its
    significantly higher as well.

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