You may be surprised at the cameras you can buy for under £200. Sure, they may not be the most up to date, but remember that we were all happily using these cameras just a few years ago. The resolutions of most of these camras will still make a good A3 print, and the shooting speeds will still be good enough for wildlife shots.
What has improved since is the dynamic range of camera sensors, as well as LCD screens and the inclusion of additional features, such as Wi-Fi or different shooting and scene modes. But if you are after a second camera body, be it as a backup or for a particular project, or if you are buying your first DSLR, then you may be able to save yourself some money. You could even save yourself enough money to buy yourself an extra lens or two.
Here we have selected six different DSLRs varying in age and features, but all of which are available for less than £200. As usual, pay attention to where you are purchasing your camera from. While buying online can net you a bargain, make sure you are buying from a reputable seller. Obviously, auction sites or classified adverts can be very enticing, but buying from a retailer with a bricks and mortar address can at least offer you some peace of mind should something go wrong. Some used equipment retailers will even offer a warranty of six months or longer.
So consider which features you want and which you need, and you may just be able to grab yourself a bargain that will serve you well.
What to Look for
Press all the buttons and dials and check that none of them are sticky or broken.
Fire the shutter at a range of shutter speeds and check that all of the blades return to their place correctly.
Look inside the camera for dust and dirt. It is a good indicator as to whether a camera has been looked after.
Older batteries may not hold their charge. It may be worth factoring in the cost of a new one.
When buying from a reputable retailer you have the reassurance that they should have checked the camera thoroughly when they purchased it. However, it is always worth quickly running your eye over the camera and checking some of the basics. This is even more important when buying from an individual. If you can take along a memory card, try shooting some test images so that you can double-check that everything is working.
This also gives you the opportunity, on some cameras, to work out how many times the shutter has been fired. Most shutters will be fine for 50,000+ images, while some will be good for more than 400,000, but you won’t know if the camera has taken 100 images or 100,000 just by looking at it. To check the shutter count, take an image with the camera and then use one of the methods below.
Check the shutter count
Nikon and Pentax
The shutter accutations can be usually be found in Nikon or Pentax JPEG or raw files. It is contained within the Exif data, so can even be checked in the ‘File Info’ option in Adobe Photoshop. Scroll thorugh the data and look for Image Count. Alternatively, upload an image to www.camerashuttercount.com.
Canon doesn’t always add the shutter accuation count to Exif data, and when it does it can
be listed in different places depending on the camera. Try uploading an image to try www.camerashuttercount.com, but you may have better luck trying www.eoscount.com.
For Sony Alpha and NEX cameras, upload the last image with the camera to www.camerashuttercount.com, or alternatively try www.tools.science.si/index.php, which has been designed specifically for Sony Alpha and NEX cameras, though I used it with mixed success.
DSLRs under £200 – Canon EOS 40D
Canon EOS 40D
Price: £200 body only
Although a veteran in the Canon line-up, the EOS 40D still packs a punch
Sensor 10.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS
Focus points 9
ISO range 100-3200 (extended)
LCD 3in, 230,000-dot-resolution TFT display
Memory card CF
Size 145.5 x 107.8 x 73.5mm
Launched in 2007, the Canon EOS 40D is a distant predecessor of the current Canon EOS 70D. Upon release it was pitched as an advanced enthusiast DSLR sitting above the entry-level Canon EOS 400D and below the semi-professional Canon EOS 5D. The EOS 40D can now be picked up for around £200 body only and just £300 with a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 kit lens.
At the heart of the camera is an APS-C-sized, 10.1-million-pixel sensor that is capable of capturing 14-bit raw files as well as JPEGs. A modest native sensitivity range of ISO 100-1600 is offered, which is expandable to ISO 3200. Although not a huge range, for many situations this should be ample and the resulting images are detailed and clear. The EOS 40D can shoot at a respectable 6.4fps, and it can write a total of 75 consecutive Large/Fine JPEGs to the CF card. This makes it an interesting option of anyone wanting to shoot wildlife and sports images.
However, while the frame rate is enough for this kind of shooting, the nine AF points featured will limit the camera somewhat. Having said that, the autofocusing is reasonably fast considering its age.
The Canon EOS 40D has quite a respectable resolution of 24lp/ph, which is as you would expect for a DSLR with a 10.1-million-pixel resolution. Slight moiré patterning is visible with the typical rainbow band of colour, though it is not as prominent as in the Pentax K-r.
At ISO 100, the Canon EOS 40D has an acceptable dynamic range of 12.11EV, which drops just fractionally to 11.98EV at ISO 200. In fact, even at ISO 400 it is still 11.21EV, only dropping significantly to 9.77EV at ISO 800. The dynamic range of the EOS 40D is certainly still acceptable, even if the camera is a few years old.
The Canon EOS 40D controls noise very well throughout its range. Once again, the raw files have default Adobe Camera Raw noise reduction applied, so there is even room for further improvement. Modern noise reduction software can clean up the noise much better than it could when most of the cameras on test were originally released.
DSLRs under £200 – Nikon D200
Price: £150-200 body only
A solid workhorse of a camera with controls that should be familar to Nikon users
Sensor 10.2-million-pixel, APS-C sized CCD
Focus points 11
ISO range 100-3200
LCD 2.5in, 230,000-dot-resolution TFT display
Weight 830g without battery
Memory card SD
Size 147 x 113 x 74 mm
The Nikon D200 was a hugely successful camera for Nikon, and its tough, hard-wearing construction and excellent ergonomics endeared it to enthusiast and professional photographers alike.
Many of the standout features of the D200 were borrowed from Nikon’s flagship camera at that time, the D2X, including the large 2.5in LCD screen and the advanced 11-point AF system. With a 10.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CCD sensor, the Nikon D200 is capable of producing good A4 prints, and can even make an acceptable A3 image. The metering system also tends to underexpose midtones to preserve highlight detail. This is good news for raw shooters, but JPEG photographers may want to take advantage of the Fine Tune Exposure custom function.
Nikon users wanting a cheap backup DSLR, or those with a full-frame body such as a D610 or D800 who want to take advantage of an APS-C-sized sensor crop, should consider the D200. However, you may want to factor in the cost of a spare EN-EL3e battery, as battery life for the D200 isn’t great.
Again, the Nikon D200 matches the other cameras in this round-up with very similar resolving power at almost every sensitivity setting. There is only a hint of moiré patterning, and like the D3100, the resolution chart images are a little soft, suggesting that a fairly strong anti-aliasing filter has been used.
The Nikon D200 is the oldest camera on test here, but the dynamic range of 12.08EV at ISO 100 is quite acceptable. It does drop away more dramatically than the other cameras, a sign of how things have improved over the years. At ISO 800-1600, it is around 1EV worse than most of the competition. With careful metering, the low sensitivity settings still have a good dyanmic range, but look out for underexposure.
One thing that the noise charts of the Nikon D200 revealed is that the camera is prone to underexposure, just as we said in our original test years ago. We ended up reshooting the greycard. The raw files, with default noise reduction applied, show that noise can be easily controlled up to around ISO 800. By ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, luminance noise and a hint of colour noise begins to show. Modern noise reduction makes a difference.
DSLRs under £200 – Nikon D3100
Price: £100-£140 body only
With user-friendly menus, the D3100 is an ideal camera for the first-time DSLR buyer
Sensor 14.2-million-pixel, APS-C sized CMOS
Focus points 11
ISO range 100-12,800 (extended)
LCD 3in, 230,000-dot-resolution TFT display
Memory card SD ,SDHC, SDXC
Size 124 x 96 x 74.5 mm
Announced in late 2010, the Nikon D3100 was the successor to the very successful entry-level Nikon D3000 DSLR. One of the big steps forward with the newer camera was the change in sensor. The D3000 features a APS-C-sized, 10.1-million-pixel CCD sensor, while the D3100 bettered it with a 14.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor.
Thankfully, other improvements to the camera mean the increased resolution doesn’t have an adverse effect on image quality. The Expeed 2 processor does a good job of reducing noise in the JPEG files and overall there is an acceptable level of noise in both raw and JPEG images throughout the native sensitivity range of ISO 100-3200.
When we tested the D3100, we hailed it as the best entry-level camera we had seen to date. The only drawback was that it was quite expensive at the time. However, less than four years later, this fantastic camera can be picked up for little over £100. It is worth taking note, however, that because the D3100 is an entry-level camera, it is built to a price. So it is therefore advisable to avoid buying heavily used models if you can.
Although a little soft, the D3100 produces about the best resolution of the cameras in this round, which is quite impressive for a camera with a 14.2-million-pixel sensor. With a fairly consistent resolution of 24lp/ph, the D3100 resolves a fair amount of detail, though it does pale a little compared to current DSLR resolutions.
The 14.2-million-pixel sensor of the Nikon D3100 is the lowest of the DSLRs in this round up, by more than 0.5EV. At ISO 100 it is 11.57EV, which means that you need to be careful with highlight areas, and there isn’t much detail to be recovered from shadow areas. However, the dynamic range does hold its own and at ISO 400 it is still 11.13EV, which is on par with some of the newer cameras on test.
The Nikon D3100 grey card images show that the level of noise is roughly on a par with most of the other cameras on test. There is the merest hint of luminance noise at ISO 400, with luminance noise clearly visible at ISO 1600. At its maximum ISO 3200, there is a hint of magenta and green colour noise.
DSLRs under £200 – Pentax K-r
Price: £200 body only
The most recent DSLR in this test is still great for those starting out, and it shoots 720p HD video
Sensor 12.4-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS
Focus points 11 (9 cross-type)
ISO range 100-25,600 (extended)
LCD 3in, 920,000-dot-resolution TFT display
Drive 6fps (Hi speed)
Memory card SD, SDHC
Size 125 x 97 x 68mm
The Pentax K-r is one of the most recent DSLRs in this round-up, and as such some of the features are more in common with what you would expect from a contemporary entry-level DSLR. For this reason, those just starting out should give the K-r some serious consideration.
Its CMOS sensor has a 12.4-million-pixel resolution, so is more than capable of producing a good A3 image. Plus, its maximum sensitivity is ISO 12,800, expandable to ISO 25,600. And while the 16-segment metering system is a little underhwleming, there is plenty to shout about in the Pentax K-r.
It shoots HD video at a 720p (1280×720-pixel) resolution, and it features in-camera sensor-based image stabilisation, which will benefit any lens that is mounted to the camera – and with the Pentax K mount dating back over 30 years, there are plenty of lenses to choose from. Added to this is an intervalometer, making the K-r an excellent option for shooting time-lapse sequences.
Enthuiast photographers will also benefit from the fact that the K-r has the option to save its raw files in the Adobe DNG format, so there should never be any problem finding software to edit the files.
One problem that the charts clearly show is that the Pentax K-r suffers from moiré patterning. The colour moiré banding is very evident in these raw images, and it does mean that the resolution is fractionally lower than you would expect for a DSLR with a 12-million-pixel sensor.
Using the same 12-million-pixel sensor as the Sony Alpha 500, the Pentax K-r has a similar dynamic range of 12.71EV at ISO 100. However, looking at the dynamic range at ISO 200, the Alpha 500 has the edge by around 0.3EV. Above ISO 1600, the dynamic range of the Pentax and Sony cameras is remarkably similar. Overall, the Pentax K-r has a great amount of highlight and shadow detail at its minimum sensitivities.
As one of the most recent DSLRs in this round-up, the Pentax K-r performs well, though luminance noise does start to creep in at ISO 800. At ISO 3200, the images are a little noisy, though certainly still usable, particularly with the contemporary noise reduction settings in Adobe Camera Raw.
DSLRs under £200 – Sony Alpha 500
Sony Alpha 500
Price: £120 body only
Boasting decent specifications across the board, the Alpha 500 is a great all-rounder
Sensor 12-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS
Focus points 9
ISO range 200 -12,800
LCD 3in, 230,000-dot-resolution TFT display with tilt
Memory card SD, SDHC, MS Pro
Size 137 x 104 x 84mm
ThE Alpha 500 was among the last DSLR cameras produced by Sony before it switched to manufacturing DSLT cameras – these are cameras with a translucent mirror instead of a reflex mirror. The Alpha 500 was released as part of a trio of mid-range DSLRs from Sony. The Alpha 450 is the more basic of the three, with the Alpha 550 slightly more advanced.
With a 12-million-pixel sensor, the Alpha 500 has a good enough resolution for most situations. Images are processed by Sony’s Bionz processor, which enables the camera to shoot at 5fps in the Fine JPEG setting. The Alpha 500 also offers a host of other nice features, such as nine AF points with a cross-type point in the centre. It even features phase-detection AF when in live view. While the LCD screen is only 230,000 dots but it is articulated, making it good for shooting at low angles.
Often, users who are selling this camera are buying into a different system, so the Alpha 500
is commonly sold with a host of A-mount lenses. One of the advantages of the A-mount system is that it accepts old Konica Minolta lenses, which should allow potential buyers to pick up great-quality lenses for a very reasonable price.
Again, like the other 12-million-pixel cameras on test, the Sony Alpha 500 resolves around 22-24lp/ph. However, it does suffer from a slight shutter vibration that can blur shots. In fact, images at ISO 800 look almost as good in terms of resolution as at ISO 100.
The 12-million-pixel sensor of the Alpha 500 has the best dynamic range of the DSLRs in this test, slightly beating the Pentax K-r, which actually is using the same sensor. The 12.22EV dynamic range allows for a good amount of highlight and shadow detail, particularly when combined with current raw editing software. However, the range does drop quite rapidly, with a dynamic range of 9.83EV at ISO 800.
Noise is reasonably well controlled up to ISO 800, with just a hint of some speckled luminance noise in our grey-card images. Colour noise also starts to become visible, with a hint of purple and green bruising, which gets progressively worse as the ISO sensitivity increases. What is notable is that the Alpha 500 has a maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800.
DSLRs under £200 – Our verdict
It feels wrong to descibe some once-great DSLRs as ‘old dogs’, but there is still plenty of life in these cameras. What is quite evident is that current noise reduction techniques can actually get far more out of each of these cameras than the generation of software that was available at the time of their release. This is interesting as it changes some of our preconceptions as to how these cameras perform. It is a similar story with the dynamic range, with many of the DSLRs having a dynamic range that is only a little less than current models.
The cameras here are really just a taster as to what is available, hopefully serving to open your eyes to the availability of what was once cutting-edge technology at a fraction of their original price. While they don’t have all of the modern conveniences of some newer cameras, they are all still very usable for their primary purpose – taking photographs.
Personally, I like the D200, mainly for its handling. It is rugged and has the familiar feel of a Nikon DSLR. However, the Canon EOS 40D is equally good. Both of these enthusiast DSLRs would be good backup bodies to more current models. They would also be a lot of fun to have converted to infrared, or you could even try the slightly more risky task of removing the Bayer pattern array to convert it to infrared yourself. For more information, visit stargazerslounge.com/topic/166334-debayering-a-dslrs-bayer-matrix, but be warned – you may completely ruin your DSLR.
Nikon’s D3100 and Sony’s Alpha 500 are also good options, and both are almost staggeringly cheap, second-hand. However, it is the Pentax K-r that I feel has the most to offer. It shoots HD video, albeit at 720p, has a huge range of lenses, often available just as cheaply as the camera, and the image quality is great whether you are a novice or enthusiast.
We often get asked, ‘What is the best DSLR camera for a beginner?’ and while there is something nice about owning a new camera, there is equally something satisfying about saving a significant amount of money and giving an old camera a new lease of life.
Here are a few more second-hand DSLRs that are worthy of consideration
Price: £50-£80 body only
It may only have a 6-million-pixel sensor, a 1.8in, 180,000-dot LCD screen and a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600, but the D70 is an absolute bargain and can be found for well under £100. You can make good A4 prints from it and it is, of course, backed-up by a huge range of Nikon F-mount lenses. It has proved to be a popular camera for those wanting to convert a DSLR for infrared use, as it is easy to take apart to remove the hot mirror filter. Also look out for the D70S, which has a slightly improved screen.
Canon EOS 450D
Price: £200 body only
Launched at the beginning of 2008, the EOS 450D has a 12.2-million-pixel sensor and a 3in, 230,000-dot screen. Its maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600 is quite low, even for a camera of its generation, but it does feature a live view shooting mode. The nine AF points is somewhat limited, but the ability to shoot 3.5fps for 53 JPEG images should satisfy most entry-level photographers.
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro
Price: £300-£400 body only
Based on the Nikon D200, the FinePix S5 Pro features Fujifilm’s Super CCD sensor, with 6.17 million low-sensitivity pixels, and 6.17 million high-sensitivity pixels. The combination of high and low sensitivity pixels give the camera a very impressive dynamic range for a camera launched in 2006 – it has only been bettered by other manaufacturers in the last few years. As it uses a Nikon
F mount, there are plenty of compatible lenses available, if you can track down a camera.