Best Digital SLR > Beginner
Updated: March 2011

The Best Beginner Digital SLR

For me, the best beginner digital SLR camera must meet two primary criteria:

  1. It must be easy to use
  2. It must be inexpensive

Luckily, these two go hand in hand: cameras that are easy to use tend have less features and cameras with less features also cost less.

This leaves the beginning photographer with two alternatives when it comes to acquiring a digital SLR:

  1. Buy a used camera for very little money and get used to how it operates, THEN spend the big bucks on a camera with all the features you want
  2. Buy an inexpensive modern camera with a limited feature set and - possibly - upgrade to a more advanced model in the future

Let's find out more about the advantages of each approach.

canon t3 1100d nikon d3100
canon 60d nikond7000

Used Digital SLRs

A used camera is great for anyone new to digital SLRs who might be pondering some of these questions:

  • Would I really use all those features that are included on a more expensive camera?
  • Will I ever want to learn more about the camera or just use it in point-and-shoot mode?
  • Will I find that the size and weight of an SLR is too much to lug around and will it sit in the closet all the time?

If your answers to these questions are "no", "point-and-shoot" and "maybe" then you don't want your first beginner digital SLR to cost half your paycheck.

The good news for you is that there are plenty of great used cameras currently available since early adopters - like me - are now trading up their old cameras for some of the spiffy features that are only available on modern SLRs.

What new features would you be missing out on by purchasing a two-year old camera?

  1. Dust Control - new cameras prevent dust from attaching to the camera sensor which shows up as black spots in every picture you take
  2. Live View LCD - an LCD that shows you a preview of the photo you're about to take, just like on compact digital cameras
  3. Video Capture - any camera released prior to 2009 can only capture stills not video

Dust control is the most useful new feature, since a sensor that's contaminated with dust can be quite hard to clean.

The other features are nice to have but might not have a dramatic effect on how you take photos with the camera.

If you can live without them for the time being, you can get your hands on a fully functional digital SLR for anywhere between $200 to $400 (whereas even the most inexpensive NEW digital SLR will run you closer to $600).

Some models that I'd recommend you look for include the Canon Rebel XSi, the Nikon D3000, the Olympus E-620, the Pentax K-x and the Sony ALPHA DSLR-A350.

Inexpensive / Easy to Use Digital SLRs

The second best option for beginner digital SLR photographers is to start out with a camera with limited features.

Here are some ways in which digital SLR manufacturers "limit" the features available on their cameras:

Less Autofocus PointsSome cameras have only 5 focus points while others have 11Unless you take photos of REALLY fast-moving subjects, having more autofocus points won't affect the quality of your images
Slower Continuous SpeedSome cameras take continuous shots at 3 per second while others can capture 10Only die-hard action photographers need cameras with really fast continuous capture speeds
Less CustomizationHigh-end cameras let you tweak all aspects of how the camera's sensor captures an imageThe ability to change these settings is important to pros but less of an issue for beginners
Worse Low-Light PerformanceLess expensive cameras capture images with more digital noise in low lightUnless you expect to be taking a lot of photos in very dim light (i.e. indoors without flash) then you'll never notice this issue

So what are some of the best beginner digital SLR cameras that keep their features limited?

Canon EOS Rebel T3 (1100D)
Release Date: March 2011
Key Features12.2 megapixels, dust control, live view LCD canon eos rebel t3 1100d
Great ForSnapshots
CompetitorsNikon D3100
Basic and beginner are the two words that leap to mind to describe the Rebel T3 1100D. Canon has kept the feature set on this camera limited in order to keep the price down, but this camera can still out-perform many compact digital cameras. It even includes an HD movie mode, if you want to use the camera for both stills and video.
Price (With Lens): $600 USD >> Compare at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video
Nikon D3100
Release Date: September 2010
Key Features14.2 megapixels, Full HD 1080p video, 3 inch live view LCD nikon d3100
UniquenessBasic camera with video
Great ForPoint-and-shoot
CompetitorsCanon Rebel T3 (1100D)
The D3100 includes some big features that were missing from the D3000: namely, a live view LCD screen and the ability to capture Full High Definition 1080p movies. Like its predecessor, the D3100 includes Nikon's Guide Mode, which is designed to introduce beginning photographers to DSLR controls and functionality.
Price (With Lens): $700 USD >> Compare at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

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