Best Enthusiast DSLRs 2013
If you already own an entry-level or even mid-range DSLR and have learned how to use it properly, then chances are you may well want something that offers a more advanced feature set and more in-camera customisation options - this is exactly where enthusiast DSLRs step in. Not only this but they also tend to be bigger and more durable with metal construction rather than polycarbonate the norm.
That said, even the best enthusiast DSLRs aren't quite up to the standards of professional-grade models though, which is mostly down to the fact that they employ APS-C sized sensors rather than the full-frame sensors of their pro-spec siblings. However, you can still expect the best enthusiast DSLRs to offer a much expanded feature set from what you'd find on an entry-level or mid-level model with things like off-camera flash control through the built-in flash and bracketing functions often included as standard. Typically, you'll also find that many enthusiast level models offer more in the way of physical buttons, allowing you to make quick changes on then fly without having to trawl through in-camera menu.
Conversely, you can also expect to see some of the more ‘fun' features that are often included with entry/mid-level DSLRs - digital effects filters for example - disappear from higher-spec models. While this isn't always the case it's fair to say that most manufacturers expect purchasers of enthusiast DSLRs to have one primary interest: using their camera to get the highest possible clean image quality, which they will often then process themselves using digital darkroom software such as Photoshop. One final thing top bear in mind is that many enthusiast DSLRs can be purchased as body-only, which means you can then pair them with lenses of an appropriate quality. You'll need to factor this into your budget when choosing one though.
If you think you're in the market for an enthusiast DSLR, then the good news is that there are plenty of excellent models on the market at present. To help you choose, we've even collected five of the best enthusiast DSLRs currently on the market. So, without further ado...
£1000 body only
At its heart the D7100 is built around a revised version of the 24.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor that's found inside the D5200, which is combined with the same EXPEED 3 image processor found inside the flagship D4 model. The APS-C sensor gives it a crop factor of 1.5x, which essentially means that a 50mm lens will behave like a 75mm one on a full-frame camera. In a neat twist the D7100 also allows you to shoot at 1.3x (at a reduced resolution of 15.4MP), which extends the same 50mm lens to 98mm in 35mm terms, making the D7100 an especially useful camera for telephoto work. Elsewhere you get a standard ISO range of ISO 100-6400 that can be further expanded to ISO 25600, a 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type points, 6fps continuous shooting and 1080p Full HD movie recording at 30fps. As you'd expect the D7100's in-camera menu is rich with customisation options too, meaning you can adjust all kinds of parameters to suit your needs.
WDC score: 90%
£800 with 18-55mm kit zoom
While the replacement 70D model is due to be released at the end of August, the three-year-old 60D remains as Canon's main enthusiast-level DSLR model for the time being. That said, it could be argued that the much newer 700D has it beat in terms of basic spec and features, even though the 700D is positioned as more of a mid-range model. That's not to say that the 60D is a bad camera though - far from it. Built around an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor and Canon's DIGIC 4 image processor, the 60D features a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400 that's further expandable to ISO 12,800 along with a 9-point AF system. The 60D's optical viewfinder offers 96% coverage, while on the back there's a 3-inch/1040k-dot LCD display. In addition to regular still image capture the 60D also offers a range of creative digital filter effects along with 1080p Full HD movie capture at 30fps. All in all, and despite showing its age, there's still a lot to like about the 60D.
WDC score: 91%
£800 with 18-55mm kit zoom
The K-5 II updates the two-year-old K-5 as the flagship model within Pentax's DSLR range. At a first glance the two models look remarkably similar, with both models sporting a rugged, weather-sealed exterior, a 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor and an 11-point AF system. Despite the apparent similarity a small number of improvements have been made to the newer model though. Chief among these is the K-5 II's SAFOX X autofocus module, which has been optimised to perform better in darker conditions. The 3-inch/920k-dot rear LCD display has changed too, with the newer model benefiting from gapless construction to cut down on reflections. Elsewhere though, the K-5 II largely carries on from where the K5 left off - not a bad thing, given that the original was a pretty decent camera in its own right. Sensitivity ranges from a standard ISO 100-12,800 (but can be further expanded to ISO 80-51,200), the optical viewfinder offers an impressive 100% view, continuous shooting maxes out at a healthy 7fps, and last but not least it's also possible to record 1080p Full HD movies at 25fps. One thing worth noting about Pentax DSLRs is that the image stabilisation technology is built into the camera (in the form of sensor-shift) which means you don't have to spend extra on stabilised lenses like you do with Canon and Nikon, which is a definite bonus for those on a budget.
WDC score: 90%
£1150 with 16-50mm kit zoom
Strictly speaking the A77 isn't actually a DSLR owing to the lack of an optical viewfinder, instead it's what Sony calls a Single Lens Translucent (SLT) camera. The basic difference is that instead of using a hinged mirror, SLT cameras employ a fixed semi-transparent mirror that lets some light pass through to the sensor while bouncing the rest to a phase-detection sensor in the roof of the camera. The upshot of this arrangement is that they are able to shoot much faster and the A77 duly clocks in with a top continuous shooting speed of 12fps - the highest in its class. And to make up for the lack of an optical viewfinder the A77 instead sports a high-resolution 2.36m-dot EVF. Internally, the A77 employs an APS-C sized 24.3MP CMOS sensor, which is again one of the highest in its class. Because the resolution is so high Sony has been able to build some useful Smart Teleconverter technology into the A77. This allows you to raise the crop factor to either 1.4x or 2x and still retain a fairly respectable overall resolution (12MP and 6MP respectively). If you like to shoot at longer focal lengths but don't have the money to buy expensive telephoto lenses then this is undoubtedly a bonus. In addition, the A77 also offers a standard sensitivity range between 100-16,00 that can be lowered to ISO 50. In addition you can also extend beyond the ISO 16,000 ceiling via Sony's own Multi Frame Noise Reduction technology, which blends multiple exposures into a single image to help eliminate unwanted noise.
WDC score: 92%
£1500 body only
Due to arrive in the shops at the end of August, the 70D is the successor to the two-year-old 60D we've listed above. That said, the two cameras couldn't be more different with the 70D being perhaps the most revolutionary DSLR Canon has released in several years. The newer model will come with an all-new 20.3MP CMOS sensor that has been completely re-engineered so that each individual light-capturing diode can be split into two, with one half recording the image and the other supporting phase detection autofocus. Canon calls this Dual Pixel CMOS AF (or ‘DPA' for short) and its benefits to video capture and still image capture in Live View are huge - in theory you can expect super-quick focusing in both, as well as the ability to focus without any issues in especially dim light. When not engaging the DPA technology you can also fall back on regular 19-point phase detection autofocus using the camera's 19 cross-type phase detection sensors. Elsewhere, the 70D boasts a top continuous shooting speed of 7fps, a vari-angle 3-inch/1040k-dot LCD display, 98% optical viewfinder coverage and, last but not least, built in Wi-Fi connectivity. In short, the new 70D promises to be a fantastically well-equipped enthusiasts' DSLR - be sure to keep an eye on WDC for a full review coming soon.
WDC score: 91%