Enthusiast level DSLRs give you the flexibility to shoot a myriad of different subjects, but without the very high asking prices of professional level cameras.
In this piece, we’re going to take a look at some of the best mid-range DSLRs currently on the market. They all feature APS-C sized sensors, and are aimed at enthusiasts who need a workhorse camera that is good for shooting lots of different types of subjects.
It’s a well-stocked area of the market, and there’s any benefits to this level of DSLR over the entry-level models on the market. These include better build quality, more functionality, better customisation options and extra useful features such as 100% viewfinder.
Here’s a look at some of the best that are currently available.
Best enthusiast DSLRs
Street price: £749 (body only)
At the time of release, Nikon claimed that the D7200 was its best APS-C model to date.It’s got a 24.2 million pixel resolution, with no anti-aliasing filter over the sensor for increased detail resolution.
The main upgrade from the D7200’s predecessor (the Nikon D7100) is the addition of a 51-point autofocusing system, which utilises a Multi Cam 3500 II autofocusing system. There’s also an Expeed 4 processor, as well as the addition of NFC along with Wi-Fi.
As we’ve already said, mid-range DSLRs tend to be for photographers who have a range of needs. They like to experiment with different genres of photography, ranging from sports and wildlife, to landscapes, portraits, street, and all the different genres in between.
To cater for those types of audiences, the D7200 offers a lot of features. It can shoot at 6fps, or 7fps when using a 1.3x crop mode, which should be appreciated by sports and wildlife shooters. It’s also weather sealed, which should be appealing to landscape photographers who spend a lot of time outdoors.
Portrait and macro photographers are likely to be drawn in by the detail resolution promised, as well as the many different autofocus points. Low light lovers will also be impressed by 15 of those focus points being the more sensitive cross-type AF points. The central point goes even furhter, being able to focus at up to -3EV – that’s the equivalent of shooting with just the moon as a light source.
Overall, it’s also a well-built and solidly feeling camera, so you’ll feel like your investment in the body is worth it.
Of course image quality is the main concern, and the D7200 performs very well. Colours are great, while there’s plenty of detail and noise is kept to a minimum throughout the camera’s native sensitivity range.
- 24.2 MP sensor
- 51-point AF system
- 6/7fps shooting
- Fixed, non touch-sensitive screen
- Top sensitivity setting can only be shot in JPEG
Street price: £1729 (body only)
Nikon’s new flagship APS-C camera has been in the making for quite some time. The D300S was announced in 2009, so the company really kept fans of this end of the market waiting.
What did they get after all that time? A new 20.9 million-pixel CMOS DX-format (APS-C) without an optical low pass filter for increased detail resolution, an EXPEED 5 image processor which facilitates 10fps shooting with a 200-shot buffer when shooting JPEG or 14-bit lossless compressed raw files.
Not only that but there’s a native sensitivity range of ISO 100 – 51200 which is expandable down to 50, but up to an astonishing 1640000, which pushes it ahead of the D7200. Now it is the D500 which Nikon claims to be its best APS-C offering, and it’s not hard to see why.
More enticing features include the Multi-CAM 20K autofocus module which is used in the top-of-the-line full-frame D5, which means it has 153 AF points which cover most of the frame. 99 of these AF points are of the cross-type variety, and you can focus down to -4EV with the central point, or -3EV (moonlight levels) with all the other points.
The rear screen has 2359k-dots and is touch sensitive. It’s also tilting, which is useful for many awkward to frame shots, but not portrait format images. The optical viewfinder provides 100% coverage of the frame and offers an impressive 1.0x magnification.
4K is the new buzzword right across the camera market, and Nikon has included the ability to shoot it with the D500. Unlike the D5, which can only shoot 4K for five minutes at a time, the D500 allows more flexibility with 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
As with the D7200, there’s a high build quality on offer here, but a number of other features which elevate it quite some way above the D7200. You do pay a premium for that, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in image quality (without stepping up to full-frame), then the D500 could be the camera for you.
- Excellent AF system
- High speed shooting, deep buffer
- Weather sealing
- 4K Video
- Relatively “low” resolution when compared to other cameras
- Need to invest in XQD cards for the best speed performance
Canon EOS 70D
Street price: £697 (body only)
The 70D is a couple of years old now – making it prime for upgrade – which is probably reflected in its relatively bargain friendly current asking price.
It has a 20.2 million pixel Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor at its heart, with the dual pixel technology designed to boost AF speeds when shooting in live view, or recording video. Not only that, but the 19 AF points which the camera offers across the frame are all the more sensitive cross-type, which boosts it ahead of its predecessor the 60D, which only had a more modest 9 points.
The image processor is the Digic 5+, the same as found in the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. That facilitates a burst shooting speed of 7fps, along with an ISO range of 100-12,800. That’s expandable up to 25,600 if you need it.
Design of the 70D is pretty similar to the 60D, as we’d probably expect, and it also feels reasonably similar to the 7D. If you’re upgrading from an entry-level camera, the 70D feels better balanced when compared with its smaller siblings, with special mention given to the bulky, textured grip. Controls on the rear of the camera are a little more streamlined when compared with the 60D, which is probably good news for those with a little more experience than beginners.
In use, the AF system is great, while the touchscreen comes into great use when using Live View. Image quality is very pleasing, with great colours and pleasing exposures. Detail is nicely rendered, with noise not becoming an issue until ISO 3200.
If you’re coming up from a beginner Canon DSLR, this is likely to be very tempting – providing a great bridge between the lower specced cameras and full-frame or even more advanced APS-C models.
- 19 AF points all cross-type
- Touch sensitive screen
- Wi-Fi built in
- Relatively few AF points
- Viewfinder only offers 98% coverage
Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Street price: £1179 (body only)
Just as Nikon’s D500 is at the top of Nikon’s mid-range, the 7D Mark II is at the top of Canon’s. If you’re a wildlife or sports photographer, it’s one that will probably appeal to you over the 70D thanks to its high frame rate of 10fps, and 65 point, all cross-type AF point system.
Along with those features, there’s a 20.2 million pixel sensor, which at APS-C size means you need to add a 1.6x crop to any lenses you may own – a 100mm lens, for instance, becomes a 160mm – that can also be beneficial to wildlife and sports photographers who need to get closer to the action.
There are two Digic 6 processors which makes for speedy camera usage, and the 10fps also comes with an impressively large buffer. You can shoot for an unlimited number of frames (until your memory card runs out) if shooting JPEG only, or 31 raw images.
While the viewfinder is 100%, making it better than the 70D’s, the screen, which is a 3-inch, 1040-k dots is both fixed and without touch sensitivity – which is a shame. There’s also a disappointing omission of Wi-Fi functionality, which seems a little remiss in this day and age.
Aside from those, relatively small, problems, the 7D Mark II has a very robust body, with weather sealing which should keep it nice and safe in all manner of weathers. There’s also been a slight reworking of the buttons on the back of the camera to make it slightly nicer to use than its predecessor.
In terms of image quality, this is another high performer, with beautiful colours and pleasing exposures. Detail is well resolved, with the amount its capable of resolving dropping from around ISO 800 and above. Images remain clean of noise until around ISO 1600.
Which camera system you choose will likely depend on which one you had as a beginner. If it was a Canon, you’ll probably stick with it. That said, there’s plenty here to keep you satisfied for your next step up, with a good range of features which appeal to many different types of photographer.
- Quick AF system
- 100% viewfinder
- Fixed, not touch sensitivity screen
- No inbuilt Wi-Fi
Pentax K-3 II
Street price: £769 (body only)
The K-3 II sits at the top of Pentax’s APS-C range, and as such, it has plenty of features which reflect that.
It as a 24.35 million-pixel CMOS sensor, along with 27 AF points, 8.3fps shooting speed, and a 86,000-pixel metering system. One of the most appealing aspects of the camera is “Pixel Shift Resolution” mode, which allows you to capture very high resolution images, which is ideal for still life and macro subjects.
There’s an in-body image stabilisation system, which gives you 4.5 stops of stabilisation. If you’re a fan of shooting in low light, or using slow shutter speeds while hand holding the camera, this is good news for image sharpness. There’s also an ISO range of 100 – 51,200, and there’s the ability to capture files in either JPEG or 14-bit raw formats. Interestingly, you can also shoot in Adobe DNG raw, which is a universal raw format which should work with all versions of photo editing software, including older versions – useful if you don’t want to upgrade your software any time soon.
A PRIME III processing engine gives you the capability to shoot at 8.3fps in Continuous H mode, with a buffer depth of 60 JPEGs or 23 raw images – handy if you want to shoot wildlife or sports images. Landscape photographers may be tempted by dust and weather sealing, as well as a working temperature between -10 and 40 degrees celcius. The body itself is constructed from magnesium alloy, which makes it strong without adding too much weight.
Enthusiast photographers may feel at home with the wide range of dials and buttons available on the K3 II, with a more comprehensive set than found on Nikon or Canon cameras.
To have a look at some of the downsides of the camera, there’s no Wi-Fi connectivity, while the rear screen is neither touch sensitive nor tilting nor articulating. On the plus side, the viewfinder offers 100% coverage.
Image quality competes well with the D7200 and Sony A77 II when looking at raw format files, which is not surprising considering the Pentax K-3 II has a Sony made sensor. There’s a great amount of detail present, even in images that don’t use the high resolution Pixel Shift Resolution mode – that’s great too, but being limited to static subjects lessens its usability. Sadly, JPEG images aren’t quite so good with clipping on bright colours. If you’re somebody who doesn’t want to do a lot of editing, it may not be the camera for you.
- 100% viewfinder
- Good range of buttons and dials
- 8.3fps shooting
- Not tilting or touch sensitive screen
- No Wi-Fi
- JPEG image quality not quite up to scratch
Sony A77 II
Street Price: £764 (body only)
Strictly speaking, the A77 II is not a DSLR. It’s DSL”T”, with the T standing for translucent. This means that rather than the mirror moving out of the way when you take a shot, it is translucent, allowing the light through it.
One of the biggest improvements for this camera over the original model, is the autofocus system. There’s a newly-developed phase detection AF which is complete with a centre-weighted algorithm which makes it better able to track moving subjects. This is supported by a 79-point AF set-up, along with 12fps and a large buffer (25 raw and JPEG files) – sports and wildlife photographers may be particularly drawn in by this model if they’re not Nikon or Canon loyalists.
There’s also a Bionz X processor, which boosts image quality by improving noise reduction and helps with better JPEG sharpening. The sensor is a 24.2 million pixel APS-C number, with the same resolution as seen on the original A77. There’s built in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, as well as the ability to add Sony Playmemories app to expand the functionality of the camera.
One of the side effects of using a translucent mirror is that the viewfinder can’t be optical. Therefore, the A77 II is the only camera in this group which features an electronic viewfinder. While once a dirty word for many, electronic viewfinders have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and actually feature many benefits over their optical counterparts. You can see exactly how your image will turn out as you make changes to settings, and with playback in the viewfinder, you can more quickly gauge whether or not you got the shot. It also offers 100% coverage and features a 2.3-million dot resolution.
The screen is a three-inch, tilting device with 1.23-million dots. While it benefits from a boost in contrast due to Sony’s “White Magic” technology, it doesn’t have touch sensitivity. There’s an abundance of physical buttons around the camera’s body, which should appeal to enthusiasts. There’s also weather sealing, which is good news for landscape and street photographers.
Images directly from the camera display a good level of vibrant colours, without needing too much work in post production. Exposures are pleasing, while noise doesn’t start to become problematic until ISO 1600, and even then only when pixel peeping at 100%.
Overall, Sony has produced a great alternative to the traditional DSLR manufacturers. While there may not be enough here to tempt loyal Canon or Nikon (or even Pentax) users away, if you’re not so set in your ways – or don’t have a range of accessories – already, then the newer DSLT technology could be appealing – especially if you like to shoot fast moving subjects.
- Fast AF
- 100% viewfinder
- Tilting screen
- Built in Wi-Fi
- Electronic, rather than optical viewfinder
- Very high ISO images not that impressive