Introduction to Entry-Level DSLR Cameras
When I first became interested in photography, I was incredibly excited to purchase my first DSLR. To the extent that I almost didn’t really think straight, and just wanted one, no matter how good or bad it was (stupid, I know…)
It wasn’t easy deciding upon my first ever DSLR, which is why I thought I would put together this in-depth article running down what I believe to be the best beginner entry-level DSLRs. Along with why I genuinely believe they are worth your attention when you’re trying to scout out your first DSLR purchase.
Generally, for your first Digital SLR, I would tend to stick to new cameras. I know you can likely get a better bargain by going second hand. However, I’m going to assume that your knowledge on spotting good/bad deals on the used DSLR market is going to be slim. Especially when it comes to lenses. You don’t know how the past owner has treated it until you get it in your hands, by which time, it can be a bit too late, and you’ve wasted your money. You don’t want to be put off photography before your journey has even begun!
I have created several sections to this post. Directly below, I’ve created an in-depth breakdown of each of the entry-level DSLR cameras I have chosen for you, and then below that, I’ve put every choice into a concise table which shows and compares the attributes of each camera. This comparison table should help your decision, but bare in mind that something which looks good ‘on paper’, isn’t always the best option.
So, now that the introduction is over with, sit back, and enjoy the read!
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 13.9 oz.
What I Liked: Incredibly easy to use, even for a beginner. All the menus and options are relatively straightforward, and you can be taking photos within 5 minutes of opening the box.
What I Don’t Like: It isn’t exactly an upgrade from the D3300 in all aspects. It comes with improvements, but also sacrifices.
The Nikon D3400 is Nikon’s flagship entry-level DSLR for 2017. It comes in at just under $500, and come with Nikon’s 18-55mm kit lens. Many will criticise kit lenses. However, my recommendation would be to learn about your camera and experiment with the kit lens that comes with any of the cameras you buy. This will allow you to adapt as a beginner photographer and learn exactly what route you would like to go down. For example, you may wish to become a portrait photographer, in which case you may lean towards getting a 35mm prime lens for your Nikon.
As noted above, the Nikon D3400 isn’t exactly an upgrade from the D3300. It is more a case of choosing the one which suits you more. For example, the D3400 comes with wireless bluetooth photo transfer. This means that you can get your photographs to your phone almost instantly once they have been taken. This is great for someone who maybe loves uploading photos to social media. However, it must be noted that unless you have plenty of spare storage on your mobile device, this is going to fill up your storage quickly. I have a ‘small’ 16GB iPhone 6, and I constantly have to delete photos because my storage is full. The battery life of the D3400 is also better than the D3300, which is the main reason I would choose it over the D3300. However, saying that, I have included the D3300 in this list too, so have a read of what I’ve said about that before you make any decisions, as it may suit your requirements more.
Sensor size: 357 sq. mm
Weight: 15.1 oz.
What I liked: Incredibly similar to the D3400, but cheaper
What I didn’t like: I use instagram a lot, so the lack of connectivity compared to the D3400 is an ‘L’ in my books
As promised, the Nikon D3300 is also in my list of the best beginner DSLR cameras. Also, as I’ve already stated, it isn’t too dissimilar to the aforementioned Nikon D3400. The notable differences, and why you may choose the D3300 over the D3400 is that the D3300 comes with an external microphone jack. Therefore, if you plan to do a lot of video (specifically with sound), then the D3300 is going to be the obvious choice here.
There’s also the fact that the D3300, being the older camera, is slightly cheaper than the D3400. Now, if you’re a bargain hunter, and the differences between the cameras mean very little to you, then obviously the D3300 is going to be the optimal choice for you.
Other notable differences are the weaker battery life on the D3300, however, it has a superior flash in strength compared to the D3400. Therefore, if you feel as though you will be using the flash heavily, then stray towards the D3300. That’s not to say the D3400 flash is bad. The D3300’s is just better.
If your choice came down to between the D3300 or the D3400, I would ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I regularly shoot in low light conditions? (Choose D3300)
- Am I on a budget and want to spend as little as possible? (Choose D3300)
- Am I a savvy instagramer/social media whizz (Choose D3400)
- Do I always want the newer/recently released gadgets? (Choose D3400)
Overall, you’re not going to go wrong with either. However, these two cameras aren’t the only choices on the menu today! Read on, maybe you’ll soon forget about them.
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
What I Liked: It has a fantastic sensor in it, and if it’s your cup of tea, the touch screen is rather good.
What I Didn’t Like: Pricetag for a beginner DSLR is a little steep, and I felt as though it could look a bit more expensive for the price (plasticy)
This is the latest in Canon’s entry-level range, being the replacement for the T6i (which is coming up soon on this list!). The sensor delivers improved performance compared to the T6i and the auto-focus is also slightly better.
As with all of the Canon range, the video is superior to that of comparable Nikons. However, this unit lacks the ability to produce 4K video, which one might argue should be included at this price point. Speaking of the price point, this is likely going to be at the very peak of any beginner’s price range when looking for an entry-level DSLR. I was sceptical to include the T7i on this list, as the price point leads me to question whether it truly can be called a “Beginner Camera”.
If you want to splash the cash, this is a great camera!
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 19.6 oz.
What I Liked: Fantastic video quality. There’s a reason this camera is heavily used by YouTubers
What I Didn’t Like: That price tag! Eurgh!
Let’s start off with the positive things. The Canon is fantastic for creating video. Therefore, if you’re not even that interested in photography, and find yourself to be more of a videographer, then this may be the entry-level DSLR for you. However, that great video comes at a price! In addition to the video, it could be argued that the NFC and Wifi capabilities is smoother and a bit better than Nikon’s Snapbridge system (bluetooth photo transfer).
The T6i competes with the D3300/3400 more in the megapixel department than its prior iteration (the T5i), by bumping the megapixel count up to 24.2.
I tend to lean towards Nikon in the Canon vs Nikon debate for still photography. However, it isn’t difficult to lean towards the Canon T6i when you have video in mind. It is superior to the Nikon entry-level range, plain and simple. However, saying that, if the price tag on this Canon is just a bit too much (I could understand why), then I’ve also included some other Canon option in this list. It is hard to make a decision for a whole population when it comes to price, as everyone will have a different budget. I know for me, when I was choosing my first DSLR, this was way out of my target price range, considering I wasn’t even sure if photography was for me. However, that’s not to say that you will be in the same position as I was.
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 14.2 oz.
What I Liked: An improvement upon the D3000 series
What I Didn’t: Significant price jump, and still inferior to the Canon T6i’s video performance
First of all, the megapixel count and the sensor on the D5500 is the same as that on the D3400. However, the Nikon D5500 comes with an advanced auto-focus, a ‘swivel’ LCD which is a touchscreen, Wifi and NFC.
Firstly, the swivel LCD. This is great for those of you who may be taking video. However, at this price, I would struggle to choose the D5500 over the Canon T6i. The Canon is just better in this regard, and isn’t much more expensive. However, if you’re looking for a more premium beginner DSLR and your focus is going to be on still photography, I would be leaning towards the Nikon D5500 at this stage.
There is also a newer D5600. However, I’m not entirely convinced it is worth the jump in price, which is why I haven’t included it in this list. However, you can find it here if you wish to find out more about it.
The key improvement here over the D3400 is the advanced auto-focus, which is arguably the main feature which takes this from an average beginner DSLR, to a top tier entry-level DSLR.
The question here is likely to be, “Is the jump up in price over the D3400/3300 worth it?”. If you’re a complete beginner, I would argue that you’re better off going with one of the cheaper options, but perhaps I’m just being your online parent here, and worrying that you might get bored of your new toy after a week. The D5500 is better, there’s no doubt about it. However, it’s also almost $300 more expensive. The decision is in your hands!
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 21.8 oz.
What I Liked: Completely water and dust resistant
What I Didn’t Like: Limited online aid for Pentax and limited Lenses
The first thing that caught my eye with the Pentax K-S2 was the fact that is is water resistant. I can only imagine the awesome rainy day shots you could take with this camera. Some fantastic dreary day street photography could definitely be had! However, saying that, it isn’t on the cheaper end of the spectrum of this list, and unless rainy day photography is going to be your niche, the limited support towards Pentax would sway my decision elsewhere.
It could be said that once you choose a brand, often you will stick to it. Quite often, people are either Canon or Nikon people, with the few straying towards other brands. That’s not to say other brands aren’t just as good, it’s just that perhaps the support for them isn’t as strong. For example, the benefit for me personally of using a Nikon, is that I know people in my personal life who also use Nikon, and therefore, we can borrow each other’s lenses, and we know each other’s’ cameras inside out and can advise each other. However, if I had got a Pentax, while a great camera, I wouldn’t have had that luxury.
However, saying that, if you want to get into outdoor and landscape photography, then this may be the golden ticket for you. It is hard to argue that any of the aforementioned cameras would suit that job better than the Pentax K-S2. Honestly, if outdoor photography is your passion, I would choose the Pentax over the others, despite the downsides I mentioned.
Sensor size: 332 sq. mm
Weight: 14.4 oz.
What I Liked: It’s pretty small and portable…for a DSLR
What I Don’t: Showing it’s age
When the Canon SL1 was initially released a few years ago, it was a great camera. Arguably, if we went back a few years and I made this article then, it would likely be much closer to the top of this list. However, it is aging, and unfortunately the brand new price isn’t improving much. Currently, at the date of this article, it is sitting at just below $550, which makes it more expensive than the newer and arguably better D3000 range. However, the prices do often change, and if it dropped below the $500 mark, it could become a closer contender. While I didn’t recommend going second hand, this may be an option here.
While I do really like this camera, it is incredibly difficult to promote the purchase of it at this price. It has a relatively simple auto-focus, and nothing overly fancy or forward thinking (in 2017 at least) due to it’s age. That’s why I would lean towards the cheaper D3300/3400 if you want to spend less, or look at the T6i if you want to stick to a Canon, and are willing to spend more.
Sensor size: 366 sq. mm
Weight: 14.3 oz.
What we like: Weather protection and some great mid-tier features
What we don’t: Up there in price with the Canon T7i
As with the Canon T7i, I was sceptical to include the Pentax K70 in this list. It isn’t cheap, and arguably has stepped over the line between entry-level and mid-tier. However, I thought I would include it for those of you who may be willing to spend a little extra money.
If you were to remove all the brand names from this list, and only look at the cameras and their features ‘on paper’, the Pentax K70 would likely be at the top of the list, or definitely in the top 3. It comes with a longer range kit lens compared to the competition on this list. It has inbuilt image stabilisation and very impressive low-light performance. However, I suppose that is what explains the high price point.
The same points apply to the K70 as I stated for the other Pentax on this list. The lens selection isn’t as impressive as what you will see from Canon and Nikon. For me, this is a deal breaker, as I like to have a large array of lenses for different purposes. However, if you have one specific niche, and the Pentax caters to that, then this won’t be an issue for you.
I would argue that this is the best higher entry-level DSLR for outdoor photographers, and should be a serious consideration for anyone who plans to take photographs in the wild outdoors.
Comparison of Models
I have compiled all of the cameras which I have mentioned in this article in a concise table below. If you would like any other details added to the table for comparison, please let me know. I’ve also tried to find the best deals possible online for each camera. Sometimes the best deal was a bundle which includes extras such as an extra lens, or bags and tripods etc. I’ll try and keep the pricing updated as often as I can.
[table id=2 /]
DSLR Buying Advice
I’ve tried to provide as much information as possible in this article without boring you to tears with too much detail. So, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.
The main aspects I would look for when it comes to finding your DSLR, is simply looking at the specs. When I made my choice, I just went for a rough idea of a specs to price ratio. I was trying to get the best bang for my buck, and I took all the specifications which would benefit me most into consideration. As I mentioned earlier, the wireless transfer of photos was a huge bonus for me, as I use social media heavily. While a microphone jack was an irrelevant feature for me. Also, a camera which was good at video, while a great asset, wasn’t particularly important.
Sit down, and think about exactly what you need. Try not to swerve towards a specific brand just because they’re better known than another brand, especially if on paper, the lesser known brand is just better for your usage.
Another factor to think about is ease of use. The main reason the D3400 is at the top of my list is because in terms of ease of use, it is fantastic. It has several different modes that allow you to treat it almost like a ‘point and shoot’, without having to fiddle with complex settings when you don’t have significant knowledge about photography.
Perhaps holding the actual camera you want to buy in your hands would help. Go down to your local electronics store, and see if they have a dummy model you could hold, and see if it fits you well. Often the reason that people choose between different brands is that the brand simply feels better in their hands. I know I prefer holding a Nikon than a Canon, but that is just personal preference.
Price point is also going to be an important factor in making your decision. At this stage, unless you’re 100% certain that photography is for you, I wouldn’t splash out on the very expensive models initially. There is definitely an element of diminishing returns when it comes to the price of DSLRs. You’re still going to get fantastic photo quality and a great result from the lower priced choices on this list. Just because you spend double the amount, doesn’t mean you will get double the final result. Think about that when you consider the more expensive options.
Quick Start Guide
So, you’ve bought your camera! Congratulations!
First things first, stick your battery in the charger provided with your camera, and while it charges, have a quick flick through the manual. Don’t make my mistake and attempt to handle it alone. For example, I attached my camera strap completely wrong first time, and almost dropped my brand new camera. I know reading manuals is boring, but give it a quick flick through. Also, assuming your new camera has plenty of pre-set options, it will give you an opportunity to find out what they do.
Now, I would go out for a walk, and just take photos. Some of them may be bad, some of them may be out of focus, but you will have the valuable opportunity to bond and learn how your camera reacts to different situations. You will build a natural approach towards taking photographs this way.
Then, I would get onto your computer/laptop and join the Photography Reddit and any photography forums you can find, and learn more about the art. There are plenty of friendly people who will be willing to help you with any questions you have.
Most importantly, enjoy it!
Alternative Camera Types
This whole article has been focussing on DSLRs. However, there are mirrorless alternatives. These cameras tend to be smaller and more compact than DSLRs, and have their benefits. For example, if you’re a candid street photographer, pointing a massive DSLR at someone walking along the street may get a negative reaction. While something more discreet may not be quite as obvious.
I think going for a DSLR is still the better option for a beginner. However, I’m going to write an article on mirrorless options in the near future as well, so stay tuned!
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below, and I will respond as soon as I can.