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DSLR Camera Recommendations

With the holidays upon us, you may be in the market for a DSLR camera to give as a gift (or keep for yourself), so I thought I'd write up a blog post summarizing my thoughts on what to buy according to your budget.

Let me tell you up front that although there is a mix of Canon and Nikon here, I almost always urge people to go with Canon cameras. I've taught well over 200 students on just about every single DSLR Canon and Nikon have to offer. Both manufacturers make excellent cameras and you'd surely be happy with either, but I just find Canon's controls to be quite a bit more user friendly. Also, Nikon cameras have a few quirks that I'm not too crazy about. But really, it's the photographer, not the camera, and truth be told, I find the whole Nikon vs. Canon debate about as useless as arguing over who's dad would win in a fist fight. So please, no letters, Nikon guys.

Let's start first with camera and lens kits:

Canon Rebel T3Under $600
Canon EOS Rebel T3 with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy)

Canon's Rebel line of DSLR cameras is their "entry level" series aimed at novices, but that certainly doesn't mean these cameras are incapable of even the most advanced photography. They contain all the features an aspiring or intermediate photographer would need, and the Rebel T3 is a great choice at about $500 including the lens. Its 12.2 megapixel sensor gives a lot of bang for your buck and will allow for big prints. A high max ISO of 6400 and a built-in flash will make shooting in low light a breeze. The 18-55mm image stabilized lens isn't a super long range, but it's a good all-around starter lens, nonetheless.

Canon Rebel T3i$600-$1,000
Canon EOS Rebel T3i with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy)

The T3i is a decent upgrade to the T3 mentioned above with a more robust 18 megapixels and a nice articulating LCD screen to help with those shots where you just can't get your eye to the viewfinder. It also has a slightly faster frame rate of 3.7 frames per second (compared to 3 fps on the T3). Add to that an image stabilized lens with a longer zoom range and you've got yourself a winning combination. Priced around $1000.

Canon EOS 60D$1,000-$1,500
Canon EOS 60D with EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy) --OR-- Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm DX VR Lens (buy)

The EOS 60D is the first upgrade out of the Rebel series cameras from Canon. Its controls are far more convenient to use than the Rebels and it has a much higher max ISO of 12800. You get the same 18 megapixels that the T3i has to offer, but a much faster frame rate of 5.3 fps, which makes the 60D way more capable when it comes to photographing action. You still get that sweet articulating LCD screen, too. The kit 18-200mm lens is a super long range, good for everything from landscapes to portraits to sports. Price is around $1300-$1400. In my opinion, the extra $300-$400 over the T3i is worth every penny.

Nikon D7000Although the Nikon D7000 has a few less megapixels at 16.2, its 39-point auto focus system blows the 60D's 9-point AF out of the water. The 3D Tracking Auto Focus feature is unbelievable, too. It's a major boon when shooting action. The D7000 also has a much more professional build and feel to it that the 60D can't match. The 18-105mm lens doesn't reach quite as far as Canon's, but the auto focus system alone on this Nikon makes the extra $100 or so over the 60D totally worth it. Priced around $1400-$1500.

Canon EOS &D$1,500-$2,500
Canon EOS 7D with EF-S 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens (buy)

In my opinion, the EOS 7D is the best camera in Canon's lineup right now. A built-in electronic level, electronic viewfinder, an insanely advanced 19-point auto focus system, a blazing fast 8 fps frame rate, a high max ISO of 12800 and a gorgeous 18 megapixels - it's all top-tier on this camera. This thing is designed for wildlife, sports and other action, but it's just as comfortable in the hands of a landscape or portrait shooter. And don't worry about that digital crop sensor. You don't need a full-frame camera. Priced around $1600-$1700 with a versatile 28-135mm lens. Worth every penny.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II$2,500+
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (buy)

The 5D Mark II is Canon's update to the industry-changing 5D. I currently use a 5D (the older one, not the Mark II) and I love it. The Mark II has a huge 21.1 megapixel full-frame sensor with an obnoxiously high max ISO of 25600. Works great in low-light and it's an excellent landscape camera. The auto focus system on the 5D, though, is out-dated and may have a hard time keeping up with action. Also, the 5D Mark II is due for an update. It's been around for awhile now and will most likely see a refresh early next year. The kit 24-105mm f/4L lens is top-notch. It's actually a lens I wish I had. Priced around $3100-$3200.

 

If you're looking at getting just a camera body, check out these recommendations:

Canon EOS 60D$600-$1,000
Canon EOS 60D (buy)

If you already have some lenses or maybe you're thinking of upgrading your Canon Rebel, the 60D is a perfect choice. See the notes above for details on what makes this camera great. Priced around $875-$975.

 

$1,000-$1,500
Nikon D7000 (buy)

An awesome camera with a superb auto focus system. The D7000 would be an excellent upgrade for you Nikon shooters. Runs about $1100-$1200.

Nikon D300s

$1,500-$2,000
Canon EOS 7D (buy) --OR-- Nikon D300s (buy)

Either of these cameras would be a great upgrade to someone who already has a budding collection of Canon or Nikon lenses. The 7D runs about $1500-$1600 and the D300s is around $1700. The D300s has a mind-blowing 51-point auto focus system and an impressive 7 fps frame rate. Much like the Canon 7D, this thing is designed for shooting action. Great build quality, too, but a max ISO of only 6400 isn't too impressive for a camera at this price range. Also, its 12.3 megapixel sensor leaves a little bit to be desired these days.

$2,000+
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (buy)

See the notes and disclaimers above regarding this camera. The body by itself runs about $2300-$2400.