Best Entry-level DSLRs 2013
Entry-level DSLRs: best for image-making control on a budget
‘Entry-level' DSLR cameras, as they're so often called, are ideally suited towards first-time DSLR users looking to take the step up from a regular compact camera and gain more control over their image making. The good news here is that the best entry-level DSLRs aren't necessarily ‘low spec' DSLRs at all; indeed many of the latest ‘entry-level' models are actually quite well specified. At the very least you can expect your new DSLR to come with an APS-C sensor that's around ten times larger than the standard 1/2.3-inch sensors found in most compacts. In addition, you can also expect the autofocus system to be faster and more flexible, with the optical viewfinder providing you with a window that allows you to concentrate on framing your image correctly. And, of course, even entry-level DSLRs benefit from being part of a system, which means you can build up a collection of lenses and swap them around as you see fit.
In addition to giving you full control over exposure settings, all of the best entry-level DSLRs can also record images as lossless Raw files. If you're looking to get serious about digital photography, then having a camera that can shoot Raw is pretty much essential because it gives you much more flexibility in a digital darkroom. This is because Raw files retain all of the data from the sensor - as opposed to JPEGs, which discard some data altogether and then compress what's left. You can, of course, still choose to shoot JPEGs with a DSLR though.
One important thing to bear in mind when choosing your first DSLR is that each of the manufacturers listed in our best entry-level DSLRs list uses a different lens mount, which means that once you've bought your first DSLR you're tied to that manufacturer's system. Nikon and Canon offer by far the largest choice of lenses and accessories, and while Pentax doesn't have as many lenses in its system, it does offer great value.
With all of that in mind, here are five of the best entry-level DSLRs currently on the market...
£320 with 18-55mm kit zoom
First released in 2011, the Canon EOS 1100D - also known as the Rebel T3i in the USA - continues to serve as the entry point to Canon's extensive DSLR system. Employing a 12.4MP CMOS sensor and a nine-point autofocus system, the 1100D is compatible with Canon's huge range of EF-mount lenses. Simple to use and capable of great results, it's a fantastic camera to learn the ropes with and build your DSLR skills, although given that it's a couple of years old now it is starting to lag behind some of the newer competition in terms of features. At around £280 with an 18-55mm kit zoom it's undoubtedly greatt value for money though.
WDC score: 89%
£380 with 18-55mm lens
Released earlier this year the A58 takes the highlights of the older A57 and A37 models and condenses them into a single new model. Strictly speaking, it isn't technically a DSLR - rather it's what Sony calls a ‘SLT' (Single Lens Translucent) camera. This basically means that it uses a fixed semi-transparent mirror that allows some light to the sensor and some to the phase detection sensor in the prism. The upshot of this is that the camera employs a 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder. The payoff for this is increased shooting speed, with the A58 able to shoot at a very healthy 8fps - making it great for capturing fast-moving action with. Fitted with a Sony-made 20.1MP HD CMOS sensor the A58 is capable of great image quality and can shoot 1080p Full HD movies too.
WDC score: 87%
£450 with 18-55mm lens
In recent years Pentax has earned itself a good reputation for releasing strongly featured entry-level DSLRs that offer great value for money. Having now discontinued the well-regarded K-r, the all-new K-500 becomes the latest model to plug the entry-level gap within Pentax's DSLR range. It's yet another strongly featured entry-level DSLR that's built around the same 16.28MP CMOS sensor that's employed by the mid-range K-30 although the K-500 lacks the water-resistant seals of its more expensive sibling. Elsewhere, the K-500 features an 11-point AF system (nine of which are cross-type sensors), a 100% optical viewfinder, a 3-inch/920k-dot rear LCD display on the back and the ability to shoot continuously at up to 6fps. Rounding things off are a generous range of built-in digital filters and image processing options along with 1080p Full HD movie capture.
WDC score: 88%
£380 with 18-55mm kit zoom
Released in the summer of 2012 the D3200 is a replacement for the older (and now discontinued) D3100. As such it comes with a number of fairly significant hardware and specification upgrades. The most striking of these is the 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor it employs - the highest resolution offfered by any entry-level DSLR currently on the market. This isn't the camera's only selling point however and other highlights include a 3in, 921k-dot LCD monitor, 1080p Full HD movie capture and an expanded Guide Mode that aims to help you learn the DSLR basics with by providing on-screen advice about all kinds of shooting conditions. While it won't learn everything for you, it does serve as a useful reference point that'll help you get to grips with your new camera. Better still, the price of a new D3200 plus kit zoom has fallen quite steeply in the past twelve months making it a much more attractive proposition.
WDC score: 90%
£550 with 18-55mm kit lens
Despite being a little bit more expensive than the other cameras listed in this roundup the dinky little Canon 100D is
well worth considering if your budget will stretch a little bit further. The big draw with the 100D is that it's by far the smallest DSLR on the market, which makes it well suited to those users with small hands as well as those looking for a ‘proper' camera that's a bit easier to carry around. It's a relatively new model from Canon that's built around an 18MP APS-C sensor and Canon's powerful DIGIC 5 image processor. It gets treated to a 9-point AF system, along with a 98% optical viewfinder and a 3-inch/2012k-dot rear LCD display. Maximum continuous shooting speed is 4fps, while 1080p Full HD movie recording at 30fps is also catered for. While it might be a small camera, the 100D is certainly not light on features, power or poise.
WDC score: 90%
TIP: Use Old Lenses
When choosing the best entry level DSLR for your needs, consider the old film-based SLR lenses you already have, because many will still work on digital models. Canon's EF-mount goes back decades, Pentax's K-mount is some 35 years old, Minolta lenses fit Sony Alpha and Nikon's F-mount is 60 years strong.
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