Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Big-Time DSLRs Under $1,000
Packed with power, advanced features and high performance, the latest sub-$1,000 HD SLRs are outstanding options for serious nature photographers
It's hard to believe that the very first DSLR was introduced only 20 years ago, but that's ancient history in the world of digital cameras. Priced at an astronomical $26,000 for the basic color model, the Kodak DCS-100 had a jury-rigged, 1.3-megapixel camera back attached to a Nikon F3 film SLR and a shoebox-sized 200 MB hard drive that slung painfully over your shoulder. By today's standards, the DCS-100 was a real clunker—but the same can be said of any DSLR that's more than five years old, as recent advancements in digital camera technologies have upped the performance ante dramatically in DSLRs from entry level to professional grade. Now, if you're a serious photographer who can't justify spending several grand on a rugged, full-frame DSLR, or even a pro looking for an affordable, lightweight backup camera and one that just happens to record great video, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the features and performance found in DSLRs costing under $1,000.
The Best In Class
There are two distinct classes of true DSLRs in the sub-$1,000 price range, all of which include optical viewfinders and swiveling mirrors. Recently introduced advanced models with more than 15 megapixels include the 18-megapixel Canon EOS T3i (estimated street price of $899 with an 18-55mm kit lens), the 16.2-megapixel Nikon D5100 (estimated street price of $849) and the 16.2-megapixel Sony A580 (estimated street price of $799).
Models with sensors below 15 megapixels are considered more entry-level, and they cost a few hundred dollars less. These DSLR models include the 12.2-megapixel Canon T3 (estimated street price of $599), the 14.2-megapixel Nikon D3100 (estimated street price of $650), the 12.4-megapixel Pentax K-r (estimated street price of $625) and the 14.2-megapixel Sony A560, which is otherwise identical to the A580 (estimated street price of $799).
There are also several electronic-viewfinder, interchangeable-lens cameras in the same price range, and their smaller size and unique features may make them attractive alternatives (see the sidebar in this article).
Many of the innovative features found in advanced DSLR models are the direct result of improvements in imaging-sensor, image-processing engine and autofocus-sensor technologies. CMOS imaging sensors found in nearly all DSLRs have come a long way in a very short time. Five years ago, the highest-resolution sensor available was a 16.7-megapixel CMOS sensor in the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, which cost $8,000 for the body alone. Now, for one-tenth the cost of that camera, the new Canon EOS T3i boasts an 18-megapixel sensor, while both the Nikon D5100 and Sony A580 feature 16.2-megapixel sensors. Admittedly, the more expensive EOS-1Ds Mark II featured a full-frame sensor, while all of the sub-$1,000 models mentioned have APS-C sensors with either a 1.6x (Canon) or 1.5x (Nikon, Pentax and Sony) crop factor.
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