We have reviewed 12 beginner-level SLR cameras. The best comes from Nikon D3200 and Canon EOS 800D. The camera convinces with excellent equipment, very good autofocus, and good image quality.
The Nikon D5600 delivers even better photos. As a result of its properties, the Canon EOS 800D still wins the medal for the best upscale entry-level DSLR.
Hardly any other camera class is so competitive and equipped with so many different camera models as that of digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) up to around $1000 including a kit lens. And this despite the fact that more and more buyers are turning to mirrorless system cameras.
The Great Advantage of a DSLR
You can change the lens. In this way, the camera is fit for every subject, such as a wide landscape or portrait photos of your loved ones. Mirrorless system cameras can do that too, but DSLRs are superior to them in some ways.
For example when it comes to battery life or autofocus – this is where more expensive system cameras catch up with DSLRs. In addition, you get a relatively large image sensor with many (often 24) megapixels and thus good image quality, which is consistently more limited by the inexpensive kit zoom lens supplied than by the camera itself.
1. Nikon D3200 Digital SLR Camera
The D3200 is the ideal entry-level camera in the DSLR class. The manufacturer offers a barely manageable number of lenses. The D3200 has a full 24 megapixels. The new entry-level Nikon is particularly well equipped. In the test, however, the enormous resolution shows advantages and disadvantages.
The enormous resolution proves to be a double-edged sword in the test. The top is clearly the maximum resolution of 1,711 line pairs per image height at ISO 100. That is even a tad more than Sony can get out of the more expensive Alphas and about a quarter more than the entry-level models D3100 and EOS 1100D. However, the resolution of the D3200 drops by 200 line pairs per image height at ISO 400.
The level of detail in image areas with fine details and weak contrasts drops sharply with increasing ISO number. Even at ISO 800, the laboratory results fall below the 50 percent mark. The dynamic range is 9.3 to 7.7 f-stops (ISO 3,200) but in the green area.
2. Nikon D3100 DSLR Camera
After the classy, compact Coolpix P7000 stormed to the top of the camera best list, the new entry-level DSLR D3100 also gained a lot of places and left many of the weaknesses of its predecessor D3000 behind. It also support multiple range of lenses compatible with D3100.
Nikon has revised or simply replaced many areas of the camera for progress. It starts with the image sensor, which is now a CMOS chip that has a resolution of 14 instead of ten megapixels. The current processor Expeed-2 takes over the image processing. The combination enables a light sensitivity between ISO 100 to 3,200, with Boost even ISO 12,800 are possible.
We can report an overall good performance in terms of image quality. The resolution reaches the maximum with the lowest light sensitivity with 1,375 line pairs per image height. Up to and including ISO 3,200, the resolution remains at around 1,200 line pairs.
These are decent values, higher than the predecessor, but less than the D90, which only has a resolution of 12 megapixels. We noticed the rather high loss of detail in image areas with weak contrasts on the D3100. In these areas, the measured resolution drops by half at ISO min, and the effect becomes even more apparent with greater light sensitivity.
3. Canon EOS 800D Digital SLR
Together with the Canon EOS 77D, our review winner Canon EOS 800D delivers the best autofocus in the test field, top equipment, such as WLAN and Bluetooth, as well as a quick burst speed – with the Canon EOS 800D you do not compromise.
With everything, it remains easy to use, Canon has made sure. And the sensor delivers good image quality. In addition, with this camera, you benefit from the immense range of lenses and accessories that Canon has to offer.
4. Nikon D5600 DX-Format Digital SLR
The Nikon D5600 scores with the best image quality in our test. You have to cut back on the autofocus, the viewfinder image is slightly smaller than that of the Canon competition and the connection via WLAN to the smartphone did not always work well in our test. The range of interchangeable lenses is similar to that of Canon.
5. Sony Alpha A68 Digital SLR Camera
When it comes to video and fast continuous shooting, no other camera can beat the Sony Alpha 68. It has an electronic viewfinder instead of a classic DSLR viewfinder. It is not quite as brilliant, but larger than all the other viewfinders in the test field.
Another advantage of the concept: In “Live View” mode, the Alpha 68 offers by far the fastest autofocus – important for video recordings. And an external microphone can be connected. But it lacks GPS and WLAN.
6. Canon EOS 2000D DSLR Camera
The EOS 2000D is Canon reduced to the essentials – and so brought out a DSLR for value hunters. The cheapest camera in the test field also has 24 megapixels, and WLAN and NFC are also on board.
The autofocus is a bit slow, however, and the viewfinder is small and comparatively dark. For less experienced photographers there is a particularly simple camera menu with a text guide.
Important Information About Entry-Level DSLRs
All camera manufacturers make sure to keep the price of their entry-level DSLRs as low as possible. It is obvious that you have to make compromises. But the differences lie in the details, the manufacturers put their red cross in different places.
For example, you save on the camera housing, which is usually not specially protected against splash water in this class. As long as you don’t plan to shoot in the pouring rain, that’s not a problem. However, if splash protection is important to you, take a look at the Pentax K-70. Not only is it sealed, but it also has the most robust built.
Manufacturers often build fixed components into their entry-level models instead of developing them from scratch – this also helps save costs. Or you can take an older model in the market while the successor is already available. Nikon has been doing it for a long time with the D5300, which was offered at a significantly lower price than the slightly improved successor D5600.
In addition, the very affordable cameras have a particularly simple autofocus module. Our price tip, the Canon EOS 2000D, for example, has to make do with only nine AF sensors. Our favorite and the even better equipped Canon EOS 77D, on the other hand, offer 45 AF sensors, the Sony Alpha 68 even has 79! The more AF fields a camera has, the more reliably it focuses on very small subjects and on subjects outside the center of the image.
The design of the viewfinder also helps with pricing. In almost all SLR cameras in our test field, the right-sided viewfinder image is generated by a mirror construction. Therefore, the viewfinder image is a bit dark and also small with the particularly cheap cameras.
Only the Pentax K-70 offers a more elaborate pentaprism. It is therefore way ahead if a good viewfinder is important to you. But the Nikon D3500 also offers a relatively large viewfinder, as does the Sony Alpha 68. Strictly speaking, however, it is not a single-lens reflex camera because its viewfinder image is generated electronically.
With cheap you have to live with compromises!
There are big differences in our test field in the series image speed. If you want to shot Filius playing sports or Fifi frolicking around, it should be 6 pictures per second. This is how fast our test winner and its sister model EOS 77D are; the Sony Alpha 68 even has 8 frames per second.
Landscape or vacation photographers can do without a high frame rate and should concentrate entirely on a camera with good image quality; the Nikon D5600, for example, would be suitable here.
Particularly good equipment is also expensive. The most expensive camera in our test field, the Canon EOS 77D, is not equipped with a shoulder display for anything. With it, a quick look at the top is enough to see how the camera is set. The new models also have WLAN or Bluetooth on board. You can pair these cameras with a smart device, for example, to control them remotely or to upload photos to the Internet.
There are no major differences in our test field in terms of image quality – neither in the photo nor in video recordings. All cameras are equipped with a 24-megapixel sensor so that you have high reserves for subsequent image sections. At best, there are noticeable differences when you have to shoot in low light at high ISO values. Then the Nikon models stand out a bit, the Nikon D5600 is recommended for the best image quality, but the Nikon D3500 is also good.
In terms of video, the DSLRs in the test field do not differ fundamentally either. They all master Full HD resolution, only one model can handle 4K: the brand new Canon EOS 250D. The Sony Alpha 68 is particularly suitable for video recordings, it offers the best autofocus when shooting videos. But the Canon EOS 800D and EOS 77D also have useful autofocus for video recordings on board.
High-Class and Affordable: Nikon D3200
The Nikon D3200 covers the field of view with 95 percent in the optical viewfinder. This gives you a rather small, if sufficiently bright view of your subject. The equipment brings plus points.
Nikon holds on to the non-slip, rubberized housing of the D3100 at the crucial points. The 3-inch display increases in resolution and now offers 921,000 subpixels in the D3200. This leads to a sharp image display that was previously not available in the entry-level DSLR class.
The autofocus system works with eleven measuring fields. However, the automatic reacts at the limit of snapshot suitability, as the shutter release delay of 0.53 seconds in daylight shows. It takes longer in twilight (0.88 seconds) or in live view mode (1.57 seconds).
Important for loyal Nikon users: Lenses for the D3200 must have their own AF motor, as with the predecessor D3100, there is no corresponding drive integrated into the camera body. The same applies to the image stabilizer.
Filming with an External Microphone:
As befits a modern DSLR, the D3200 can also film. This is possible in full HD resolution (1,080p / 24, 25, 30 frames per second) and with stereo sound. The focus sharpens continuously, albeit a bit rough.
However, depending on the lens used, you will hear this on the soundtrack. So it makes sense that Nikon has not only provided manual sound leveling but also allows the connection of an external microphone.
The D3200 also has an HDMI output and a connection for a GPS tracker. You can also purchase a WLAN adapter with which you can send photos wirelessly to a computer and an Android smartphone or tablet.
Series pictures succeed with just under 4 photos per second. If you use the JPEG format, the series can continue until there is no more space on the SDHC or SDXC card. Or until the battery runs out.
The D3200 can take a maximum of 1,030 photos with one battery charge. In live view and with flash support, the yield drops to a poor 160 shots. Continuous shots with different exposure or different white balance are not provided. Only the D5100 or the affordable Canon EOS 1100D competitor offers that.
In a revised form on board is the “Guide” beginners’ help with overlays on the monitor, which steps are necessary for recording and playback. The camera can also determine all settings based on information about the subject and situation. Experienced photographers can of course also take control of the automatic aperture and shutter control as well as manual mode.
The camera causes a sensation with an enormous 24-megapixel resolution, which Nikon is bringing to the entry-level class for the first time. The D3200 breaks the financial definition limits of the class when it is introduced, but experience has shown that the price will still decline.
And the megapixel record not only has advantages: The enormous sharpness is offset by losses in noise and detail. In practice-relevant parts, the equipment goes well beyond what is usual in the entry-level class, such as the display and the video options. In terms of photographic subtleties, the distance to the middle class is maintained, for example in the case of serial picture options.
Our Favorite: Canon EOS 800D
The range of functions and features offered by the EOS 800D is impressive. There is practically everything for beginners as well as budding photo professionals. Above all, the highly developed autofocus clearly stands out in the test field, since only the more expensive EOS 77D can keep up.
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This also applies expressly to video recordings and recordings in live view mode with the display as a viewfinder. For poor lighting conditions, the EOS 800D has a small fold-out flash on board. Thanks to its 24-megapixel resolution, the EOS 800D’s image sensor delivers detailed images with beautiful colors.
Operation and Handling:
The EOS 800D is equipped like a semi-professional DSLR, but Canon also has the beginner in its sights. So there is not only an intelligent, fully automatic function, where you actually only have to press the shutter button. But also a number of special functions for difficult situations.
For example, an HDR program that combines several differently exposed images into one image. Canon has a huge heart for beginners; the entry-level DSLRs are equipped with a particularly user-friendly camera menu – including the EOS 800D.
The entry-level DSLRs from Canon offer the choice between a conventional camera menu and a simplified menu with help and explanatory texts.
Extra Menu for Beginners:
Those who prefer to take photos with their eyes on the display instead of through the viewfinder will be pleased: the monitor on the EOS 800D can be moved in many directions. This is particularly useful when shooting overhead or close to the ground. In addition, the Canon’s display is touch-sensitive, a fingertip is sufficient to focus and release.
The EOS 800D is adequately equipped with switches and buttons. There are few controls with dual functions – this makes it easier to operate the camera. Canon has provided the even more expensive EOS 77D with a practical thumbwheel on the back – if you don’t keep adjusting your camera, you can do without it.
The viewfinder is also good on the EOS 800D. Here the camera shows some important information, the AF fields are well marked. The Pentax K-70 offers an even better viewfinder; it is the only camera in the test field to have a classic pentaprism. In spite of the good equipment, Canon has packed the technology in the EOS 800D in a fairly compact housing.
With a weight of 532 grams, it is not the lightest camera in the test, but it is still handy. The battery range is also okay with 600 photos. Only the Nikon models can do significantly more, especially the Nikon D3400 with 1200 shots per battery charge.
Autofocus and Burst Rate:
For a long time, the autofocus of a DSLR was considered superior to that of a mirrorless one – above all, it was faster. But this lead has melted more and more recently. Since then, DSLRs have struggled with one disadvantage: simple models with only nine AF sensors only cover a very small area in the center of the image.
Not so with Canon’s EOS 800D – it has 45 AF sensors, which are also designed as cross sensors. They also work well if you are aiming at an even surface, such as a wall. The simpler line sensors cannot keep up.
But even if you switch to “Live View”, i.e look at the viewfinder image on the rear display, the EOS 800D focuses quite quickly. Only the Alpha 68 from Sony can do that better, with its electronic viewfinder almost always in live view mode.
With a series frame rate of 6 frames per second, the 800D is almost a sports cannon. In any case, this is enough for a quick series of snapshots and it is also often fast enough for sports photos.
On paper, the Alpha 68 is superior to the EOS 800D with 8 frames per second, but at this high speed it can no longer track the focus, it only manages that with 5 frames per second. This is why the EOS 800D and its sister EOS 77D are particularly suitable for action photos.
Like all DSLRs, the EOS 800D is not very suitable for video recording. Mirrorless system cameras can do that better. But if you only want to record a film occasionally, you can with the EOS 800D. Thanks to its »Dual Pixel AF«, it quickly adjusts the focus when shooting a film – only the Sony Alpha 68 does that even better.
The EOS 800D is equipped with an electronic image stabilizer. It leaves handheld video recordings as if stapled and prevents you from getting seasick while looking at the recordings. Like all DSLRs in our test field, the Canon EOS 800D does not film in 4K resolution. It creates a maximum of Full HD, at least with 60 full frames per second.
Canon has equipped the EOS 800D with connection options like a professional camera. Above all wirelessly, it offers many contact options: For example, it connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth to save energy.
The camera receives the location coordinates from this every time a picture is taken – the EOS 800D can do without a built-in GPS receiver. It is therefore very much in vogue, the smaller EOS 200D and EOS 77D also exchange data via Bluetooth. At Nikon, the D5600 and D3400 models can do this.
Alternatively, our test winner connects to a smart device via WiFi. The camera sends photos to the smartphone or receives remote control commands via this connection. All of this is operated via a relatively easy-to-use app on the smartphone.
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With the exception of the Alpha 68, all cameras in the test field offer WiFi and a suitable app. With the EOS 800D, videos and photos can be presented easily and conveniently on a TV or monitor connected via HDMI. There is also the usual USB socket and a connection option for an external microphone.
Canon EOS 800D in the Mirror Test
We liked Canon’s EOS 800D best in the test field; it offers the most for the money. The well-known test magazines see it that way, even though they often prefer the more expensive EOS 77D.
But we think: You can save the extra price for the better equipped EOS 77D – our favorite really offers everything that beginners and intermediates need on their DSLR.
The Stiftung Warentest (06/2018) saves a look at the sister model and gets to the point:
»The Canon EOS 800D is a good SLR camera with an optical viewfinder, large image converter, and network function. (…) Take good pictures (image rating: 2.1), even in low light. The impression in the eye test: very good. “
The online magazine DPreview (05/2017) even found the Canon EOS D800 so good that it gave the camera a rare Gold Award. For the Seattle testers, it’s the best entry-level camera Canon has ever released.
The online magazine Imaging Resource (05/2018) has nothing to complain about the EOS 800D but gives preference to the sister model EOS 77D. We think: Save yourself the extra charge for the better-equipped sister model, the money is better spent on other things – for example as a basis for a higher-quality lens.
Alternative DSLRs for Beginners
All in all, the EOS 800D is clearly the best DSLR for beginners. However, if one or the other property is particularly important to you, there are interesting and cheaper alternatives.
The Nikon D5600 has been around since November 2016, but in terms of image quality, it still shows where it’s at. No other camera takes photos as clear and detailed as the D5600 – unless it is also from Nikon. This also applies in a bad light, as it is even superior to our favorite.
As a typical upscale entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D5600 is very compact. It is therefore not so well suited for heavy professional lenses, but it remains really portable on a trip or on vacation with a weight of fewer than 500 grams and its robust uni-body housing can withstand a lot.
It is also equipped with a touch display that can be turned up and down and to the side. Important if you already have older Nikon DX lenses in your house: The D5600 does not have an AF motor, it can only focus on newer AF-S lenses with their own focus drive.
Although the camera offers a lot of functions, Nikon has made the D5600 easy to use. The most important functions are called up with a large dial. The camera shows current settings and measured values on the rear display, the layout of the display can be adapted for beginners.
The Nikon D5600 is no longer the youngest, but its autofocus system is still halfway up to date. It consists of 39 AF sensors, of which only nine are designed as particularly sensitive cross-type sensors in the center.
It focuses very slowly when filming and in live view mode – our top recommendation can do that much better. With a series frame rate of five frames per second, the D5600 is not the fastest, but it is definitely fast enough for successful snapshots.
Sony Alpha 68:
Sony Alpha 68 is not strictly a camera. It doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, but a video viewfinder like a mirrorless one. However, your autofocus is designed like a classic DSLR, with a special module just for focusing.
The special thing about this concept: this phase AF also works when filming and in live view mode – a classic DSLR cannot do that. So if you’re looking for a DSLR that’s especially good for video recording, then you should definitely check out the Alpha 68.
Especially since the Sony camera also has a lot to offer. For example, autofocus covers a large part of the image with 79 fields. Or a so-called shoulder display that provides information about the current camera settings and measured values at a glance.
However, Sony has saved elsewhere: With a diagonal of 2.7 inches, the display is smaller than usual today. And with just 460,800 pixels, it has a coarse resolution that is out of date. In addition, the bayonet connection is made of plastic, and the camera is not designed for frequent lens changes.
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Sony mainly relies on freely configurable buttons for operation. The Alpha 68 has ten of them on board. This allows the camera to be operated quickly and safely – after everything has been set up in a laborious manner. The Alpha 68 does not offer special menus for beginners, but it does offer great automatic functions. For example, face recognition that automatically focuses on a face.
When it comes to image quality, the Alpha 68 is at the forefront. It only weakens when high ISO values are required in poor light. Nikon cameras can do that better. The Alpha 68 records color very naturally, and its 24-megapixel sensor does not miss any details.
Canon EOS 2000D:
The Canon EOS 2000D stands out from our test field above all with its sensationally low price. However, bargain hunters have to accept a few restrictions.
Fortunately not with the image sensor, which has a contemporary high resolution of 24 megapixels. However, Canon provides him with an outdated image processor that does not fully utilize the potential of the sensor.
Fortunately, as long as you don’t have to shoot in dim light at high ISO values, that’s not a problem. With low and moderate sensitivity, the EOS 2000D delivers crisp photos with fresh colors.
The autofocus is satisfied with only nine measuring fields in the center of the image. It is therefore difficult to focus on subjects at the edge of the picture by first aiming at them directly and then panning the camera with the shutter button pressed halfway.
And the system is not at all suitable for action photos in which one quickly walks through the picture. But the EOS 2000D with its slow serial frame rate of only 3 frames per second is left out anyway.
Canon has tailored the operation well to DSLR beginners. There is an easy-to-understand menu with help texts if required. And the most important settings can be reached with a large mode dial on top of the camera.
The EOS 2000D even has WLAN on board, which is not a matter of course in this price range. She films videos in full HD resolution, but only at 30 frames per second. Fast movements are not reproduced quite as smoothly.
All in all, the EOS 2000D offers an affordable entry into the world of DSLR photography – and thanks to Canon’s immense range of lenses, it can be expanded in all directions.