What It Is: The EOS Rebel SL1 is the smallest and lightest DSLR, yet features an 18-megapixel APS-C image sensor and can use all EF and EF-S lenses.
Who Is It For?
Anyone looking to travel very light will appreciate the SL1's diminutive dimensions and its ability to handle landscapes through wildlife action.
Size aside, the SL1 is a solid entry-level DSLR, with pentamirror viewfinder, 3.0-inch, 1040K-dot touch-screen LCD (including touch AF in Live View mode), 4 fps shooting and a normal ISO range of 100-12,800. Metering modes include 63-zone evaluative, CW, 9% partial and 4% spot. The SL1 can shoot 1080p video at 30 and 24 fps, and 720p at 60 fps, with mono sound via a built-in microphone.
Canon offers more than 70 lenses for EOS DSLRs, including 12 EF-S lenses designed specifically for the APS-C format; 33 of the lenses have built-in optical image stabilizers optimized for that particular lens. Focal lengths range from an 8-15mm fisheye zoom and a 10-22mm superwide zoom to an 800mm supertelephoto.
Canon EOS 70D. The new 70D costs a bit more than our $1,000 limit, but it offers better build, performance and features than the Rebel SL1. Highlights for nature photography include a new 20.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, a pentaprism viewfinder with a Vari-Angle 3.0-inch, 1040K-dot touch-screen LCD monitor, 7 fps shooting and an excellent 19-point (all cross-type) AF system for viewfinder shooting, plus Canon's new Dual Pixel CMOS AF phase-detection system for live view and video, and built-in Wi-Fi to transfer images to a smart device or tablet wirelessly in the field.
What It Is: The D5200 is Nikon's "step-up" entry-level DSLR, with a street price of $699 and a 24.1-megapixel CMOS sensor that received the highest score for an APS-C sensor in DxOMark.com's Raw sensor ratings (as of this writing).
Who Is It For?
The D5200 is a good choice for the all-around nature photographer, with the pixel count and image quality to do epic landscapes and the AF performance to handle birds in flight (with AF-S lenses).
The D5200 features the excellent 39-point AF and 2016-pixel RGB metering systems of the higher-end D7000, and can shoot up to 5 fps. The pentamirror eye-level finder is complemented by a 3.0-inch, 921K-dot Vari-Angle LCD monitor. Nikon offers 45 AF-S lenses (with AF motor) from a 10-24mm superwide zoom to an 800mm supertelephoto. The D5200 can also use other F-mount Nikkor lenses, but can autofocus only with the AF-S ones, since the body doesn't have an AF motor. There are also 1.4x, 1.7x and 2.0x AF-S teleconverters.
Nikon D7100. The D7100 exceeds our $1,000 limit, but is a better choice than the D5200 if you can find the extra bucks. The D7100 has a 24.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor with no low-pass filter, a 51-point AF system like the flagship pro D4 model (which works at ƒ/8, great for wildlife photographers who use teleconverters), a 100% pentaprism viewfinder, a 1.3x DX crop mode that, in effect, turns a 300mm lens into a 600mm with 15.4 megapixels, and a built-in AF motor so it can autofocus with any AF Nikkor lens.