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Digital SLR Cameras on a Shoestring

November 14 2009

Remember when it wacamera 2s common to drop $500 to $700 on a nice digital point-and-shoot? These days, with the same money, you can pick up a digital SLR camera. These aren't professional models or the very best that current technology has to offer, but for the photo enthusiast on a budget—or even the avid family photographer—they can be a big leap forward. With larger sensors and generally faster performance than snapshot models offer, these cameras provide plenty of tools to photographers who prefer a camera with more than one button. And if you save your pennies, you can increase their flexibility and image quality in the future with additional lens and accessory purchases. But which to buy from this year's models, continue reading for my take. 

  • For the best overall value for the money, the Pentax K200D hits all the right notes with a dust- and weather-resistant body, sensor-shift image stabilization, and other premium features. Its biggest weakness is not-terribly accurate colors and a tendency to underexpose, which can be overcome with some tweaking.
  • For the best photo quality, the relatively old Canon EOS Rebel XS still delivers, especially in low light, and its kit lens is the best of the group. It does have some operational annoyances, though, such as hard-to-see AF points in the viewfinder and no spot meter, and it lacks in-body image stabilization.
  • For the first-timer friendliest, the Nikon D3000 provides a guided shooting mode that can help you get up to speed. But it also has the most limited feature set of the bunch—there's no exposure or flash exposure bracketing, for example.
  • Though it's not a clear winner in every race, the Pentax K2000 seems to have the best overall performance of the group. However, its out-of-the-box photo quality and feature set can't match most of the other models for the money.
  • For a cheap model that fulfills the DSLR promise—better performance, photo quality, and flexibility than a point-and-shoot—the Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 should garner its share of fans.

Keep in mind that only a couple hundred dollars more will buy a lot more camera; generally, models one price class up usually supply Live View shooting, and occasionally video capture, as well as better performance and photo quality.

For slightly more money (the $500 - $700 range) you can get a DSLR model  that generally delivers better performance and photo quality then the slightly cheaper counterparts, and don't cost much more, even equipped with a kit lens.

  • For the best overall value for the money, my pick is the Nikon D5000. It's got a wealth of features, including an articulated LCD and video capture capability, in addition to great performance and photo quality.
  • For the best photo quality, the T1i and the D5000 are tied. The T1i delivers better video, however, so for overall image quality it takes a slight lead.
  • For one of the least expensive weather-sealed bodies available, last year's Pentax K20D is your only choice.