Best Cameras Under $1000

Our guide to the top interchangeable-lens cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless models for your style of outdoor photography that come in below the $1,000 price
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Nature photography encompasses a wide range of subject matter, from landscape vistas to birds in flight. Naturally, some cameras are better for some types of photography than others. For example, most would prefer a pro DSLR over a "flat"-style mirrorless camera for birds in flight. But today's DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are quite good across the board, and you don't have to spend a fortune to get a highly capable nature photography camera.

In this article, we've selected the top sub-$1,000 interchangeable-lens models from the major manufacturers. For each camera, we've highlighted the basic facts about it, what kind of photographer we think it's best for, and its unique features and strengths. In some cases, there was a model hanging out close to $1,000 that we wanted to identify, as many are only a price cut or manufacturer's rebate away from the magic $999 price. Whether you shoot landscapes, wildlife, sports or travel, we have a good option that won't break the bank right here.

Fujifilm X-E1

What It Is:
The X-E1 is a lower-cost version of Fujifilm's popular X-Pro1 "flat"-style mirrorless camera with a built-in EVF and unique 16.3-megapixel APS-C Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS image sensor.

Who Is It For?
The X-E1 is aimed at photographers who want DSLR image quality without system bulk. It's great for all nature work except quick wildlife action (i.e., birds in flight).

Special Strengths:
The X-Trans sensor features a unique RGB filter array that differs from conventional Bayer arrays by using a more random arrangement that positions red, green and blue pixels in every horizontal and vertical row. This minimizes moiré and false colors, allowing Fujifilm to do away with the sharpness-robbing, optical low-pass filter required by most Bayer-sensor cameras. The 2.36-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder is a very good one, complemented by a 2.8-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor. Dials atop the camera provide direct setting of shutter speeds and exposure compensation, and resist inadvertent turning.

Like the X-Pro1, the X-E1 uses the Fujifilm X electronic mount, which provides a wider opening for deeper mounting of the X-Pro1 lenses, minimizing the flange-back distance (distance between the lens mount and image plane) and sending light more directly to the pixels. Data is transferred between the lens and camera body electronically. Currently, Fujifilm offers 10 XF lenses for its X cameras, ranging from a 14mm wide-angle to a 50-230mm telephoto zoom.


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Canon EOS Rebel SL1

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.

Special Strengths:
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.

Also Consider:
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.

Nikon D5200

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).

Special Strengths:
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.

Also Consider:
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.


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Olympus OM-D E-M5

What It Is:
The 16.1-megapixel E-M5 is Olympus' first "mini-DSLR"-style Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera.

Who Is It For?
Outdoor shooters who want the handling of a DSLR in a more compact mirrorless body will appreciate this E-M5.

Special Strengths:
The E-M5's rugged body is splash- and dustproof (as are the kit zoom, provided flash unit and optional battery grip). A 3.0-inch, 610K-dot tilting touch-screen LCD monitor complements the eye-level EVF (which is centered over the lens axis and has a 120 fps refresh rate). The Olympus 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization compensates for pitch, roll and yaw, as well as up-down and left-right shake, and works with all lenses. FAST contrast-based AF handles data at 240 fps and can do 3D Tracking AF at 4.2 fps (the E-M5 can do 9 fps with focus locked). Like all Micro Four Thirds cameras, the E-M5 can use all MFT lenses regardless of manufacturer (as well as any lens for which an adapter is available). Olympus currently offers 16 MFT lenses, from a 9-18mm superwide zoom (equivalent to 18-36mm on a 35mm camera) to a 75-300mm supertele (equivalent to 150-600mm on a 35mm camera), plus a weather-sealed adapter to permit use of standard Four Thirds System lenses.

Also Consider:
Olympus OM-D E-M1. The new 16.3-megapixel flagship OM-D E-M1 falls beyond our $1,000 limit, but offers even more than the E-M5, including a better EVF, a more rugged body with better weather sealing, Wi-Fi, a more comfortable body shape and better AF performance.

Pentax K-50

What It Is:
The K-50 is the lowest-priced weatherproof DSLR, yet incorporates an excellent 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, a pentaprism viewfinder (rather than the dimmer pentamirror type usually found in this price range) and 6 fps shooting.


Who Is It For?

The K-50 is the lowest-priced weatherproof DSLR, yet incorporates an excellent 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, a pentaprism viewfinder (rather than the dimmer pentamirror type usually found in this price range) and 6 fps shooting.

Special Strengths:
Besides being fully weather-sealed, the K-50 is dust- and coldproof (down to 14° F), handy when shooting in harsh conditions. Sensor-shift shake reduction works with all lenses. There's in-camera HDR, a built-in intervalometer and multiple-exposure capability. Top shutter speed is 1⁄6000 sec., faster than the usual top speed of 1⁄4000 sec. in this price range. A dual-axis electronic level helps keep the horizon level, even when it doesn't appear in the frame. The K-50 is available in 120 color combinations.Pentax offers nearly 40 lenses for the K-50 (only the 10 DA*, WR and AW lenses are weather-sealed), from a 10-17mm fisheye zoom and 12-24mm superwide zoom to a 560mm ƒ/5.6 supertelephoto. Like all Pentax DSLRs, the K-50 can also use any K-mount lens and, with adapters, old screw-mount and even Pentax medium-format lenses.

Also Consider:
Pentax K-5 IIs. The top Pentax DSLR (as of this writing), the K-5 IIs is similar in size to the K-50 and features the same 16.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, but with 14-bit A/D conversion, PEF (Pentax proprietary) and DNG RAW formats, an even more rugged body, 7 fps shooting, a top shutter speed of 1⁄8000 sec., a better AF system (not that the K-50's is bad), and a sensor with no low-pass filter for optimal sharpness (the K-5 II is identical, but has a low-pass filter and costs $100 less).


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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7

What It Is:
The 16.0-megapixel GX7 is Panasonic's top "flat"-style mirrorless camera.

Who Is It For?
Nature photographers who want to produce high-quality stills and videos easily will like the GX7.

Special Strengths:
The 2764K-dot, eye-level EVF tilts up to 90° for easy off-angle shooting and is complemented by a 3.0-inch, 1040K-dot tilting LCD monitor with touch AF. Light Speed contrast-based AF (camera and lens exchange data at up to 240 fps) works in light levels as dim as EV -4. The camera can shoot 4.3 fps with AF and 40 fps with focus locked. Sensor-shift image stabilization (a first in a Panasonic mirrorless camera) works with all lenses. The GX7 can do time-lapse, stop-motion animation and in-camera HDR. Video capabilities include 1080/60p and 24p, with stereo sound via a built-in mic. As a Micro Four Thirds system camera, the GX7 can use all MFT lenses. Panasonic offers 22, from a 7-14mm superwide zoom and an 8mm fisheye to a 100-300mm supertele zoom. With the MFT sensor's 2.0x focal-length factor, this provides focal lengths equivalent to 14mm through 600mm on a 35mm camera.

Sony SLT-A77

What It Is:
The 24.3-megapixel SLT-A77 is Sony's top APS-C "DSLR," featuring the company's translucent mirror technology (TMT) with a fixed semitranslucent mirror that transmits most of the light to the image sensor while simultaneously directing a portion up to the phase-detection AF sensor. This provides the user with two great benefits: quick phase-detection AF that can track birds in flight and eye-level viewing (via the OLED electronic viewfinder), even for video.

Who Is It For?
Combined with its excellent image quality, the TMT makes the A77 a fine choice for the nature generalist, landscape through wildlife action. The Sony SLTs are the only cameras we've used that can do good videos of birds in flight.

Special Strengths:
The A77 can shoot full-resolution images at 12 fps with full-time continuous phase-detection autofocusing. SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization works with all lenses. The camera and DT 16-50mm ƒ/2.8 kit zoom (and optional vertical grip and flash unit) are sealed against moisture and dust. With Auto HDR, one push of the button produces three bracketed exposures, which are combined in-camera to increase detail from shadows through highlights. There's even a built-in GPS to geotag images as you shoot. The A77 can do 1080 video at 60p as well as 24p.Sony offers more than 30 lenses for the A77, from an 11-18mm superwide zoom through a 500mm supertelephoto, including more than 10 DT lenses designed specifically for the APS-C format. Sony A-mount cameras can also use legacy Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses.

Also Consider:
Sony NEX-6. The 16.1-megapixel, APS-C "flat"-style mirrorless NEX-6 features a built-in high-res OLED electronic viewfinder (the same one in the NEX-7 and SLT-A77 and A65) and a tilting 3.0-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor. It combines good image quality with the ability to shoot at 10 fps with continuous focus tracking, thanks to its hybrid AF system, with 99 phase-detection AF sensors at the focal plane working with 25-area contrast AF. The NEX-6 can also shoot 1080 video at 60p and 24p, with continuous AF. Built-in Wi-Fi lets you transfer images wirelessly to your smartphone or computer, and add camera apps.


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Samsung NX20

What It Is:
The NX20 is Samsung's "mini-DSLR"-style mirrorless camera, with a built-in eye-level electronic viewfinder, built-in Wi-Fi and a 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor.

Who Is It For?
The NX20 is for the shooter who wants DSLR image quality and versatility in a smaller, yet familiar package. Image quality is very good (per DxOMark.com); we haven't tested this camera.

Special Strengths:
The built-in, eye-level EVF is complemented by a tilting/rotating 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor, providing lots of shooting-angle flexibility. Along with 1080/30p video, the camera has a Multi Motion feature that lets you produce clips at ¼ to 20X normal speed. The camera has a top shutter speed of 1⁄8000 sec., and can shoot at 8 fps (3 fps with AF for each frame). Built-in Wi-Fi lets you transfer images wirelessly to a smartphone (requires Samsung's MobileLink app), operate the camera from your smartphone (requires Samsung's Remote Viewfinder app) and more. Samsung NX mirrorless cameras use NX lenses. Samsung currently offers 12 NX lenses, from a 10mm fisheye and a 12-24mm superwide-angle to an 18-200mm zoom; with the APS-C sensor's 1.5x focal-length factor, this provides framings equivalent to 18-300mm on a 35mm camera (15mm for the full-frame fisheye).

7 Comments

    Nice summary of sub-$1000 options for cameras. Another article I would be interested in seeing is lowest cost of ownership for the major camera manufacturers. The body and kit lens are only a starting point. Which cameras provide the most shutter activations? Who has the lowest lens costs and what quality? How much are replacement batteries? How much are service fees and replacement parts? What about other accessories like EVF’s, flash units, etc? Which camera’s are the most flexible – ie have the most adapters for older or other manufacturer lenses?

    Thanks again for the article.

    I think you missed a step on the Pentax. The blocks “What it is” and “Who is it for” are identical. No info on what type of outdoor photography this camera is best suited for. Also the K-3 is out, but I assume it wasn’t when this was written.

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