Top Five Beginner Digital SLRs

Buying Guides DSLR Featured

If you’re frustrated with the image quality, speed and auto focus of your point-and-shoot camera it’s probably time to think about investing in a DSLR. There’s a huge difference between a compact camera and a DSLR. Digital SLRs give you more control, improved performance and much better image quality as well as the versatility of interchangeable lenses. The most noticeable differences are low light image quality and auto focus performance. With a digital SLR you’ll be able to focus and shoot in low light situations like candlelight and nightclubs; and you’ll be able to use continuous auto focus to capture photos of your pets, kids and friends in action. In this guide you’ll find what I believe are the five best affordable entry-level digital SLRs. You can’t go wrong with any of them but there are a couple that I think stand really stand out. Read on to find out which ones – you might be surprised.

Top Five Beginner Digital SLRs

Take me straight to the cameras >>

A few years ago an entry-level digital SLR would cost you around $1000 and then you still had to buy a lens. Now you can get a DSLR with a lens for well under $1000 – there’s even one camera in this guide that currently sells for $500 with a lens. All the cameras in this guide also capture full 1920 x 1080 HD video as well as excellent quality still photos. So they aren’t just less expensive – you get a lot more now when you buy a digital SLR, too. I realize $500 or $700 might seem like a lot of money to a lot of you. And it is a big chunk of cash. But consider the real value of your photos. Aren’t photos and videos of your family vacation, baby’s first birthday cake and high school graduation worth two or three hundred extra dollars?

Last year I included a couple of interchangeable lens “compact system cameras,” a.k.a. “mirrorless cameras,” in this guide just so people would know they’re an option. I decided to leave them out this year though, because they really deserve their own buying guide. However, for those who aren’t aware of this new and growing camera category, compact system cameras are an excellent digital SLR alternative, offering 80% or more of the quality and performance of a DSLR in a smaller package – and often for less money. If you want to learn more, check our Compact System Cameras Forum and Compact System Cameras Reviews.

With no further ado, let’s take a look Top Five Beginner Digital SLR Cameras. The cameras are in no particular order and were chosen based on popularity, price, features, performance, our member reviews and my own experience. If you have your own favorite camera or disagree with any of my choices, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of each page. Your comments, questions and recommendations will make this a richer, more useful article.

first cameraSony Alpha SLT-A37 >>


Sony Alpha SLT-A37
Alpha SLT-A37

Nikon D3200

Nikon D5100

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

Pentax K-30



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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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