Best digital SLRs for beginners

There's more choice than ever when it comes to buying a digital SLR. Here we've rounded up the best cameras available, with some tips to help you buy the right model.

An SLR gives you a whole array of shooting options at your fingertips, including manual control and the ability to change lenses and add accessories like external flashes as you need. If you're looking for more information on photography or what SLR to buy, make sure to check out our digital camera basics, or our digital SLR super guide.

Price

Canon SLR

(Credit: Canon)

Do you have a particular price point in mind? Under AU$1000 is a common target, which can limit your choice to the entry-level models in each manufacturer's range. You can also hunt around for some bargains whenever a new model is announced.

With a bit more to spend, you can get a camera with more features; that way, as your skills progress, the camera can grow with you.

Features

Canon dSLR

(Credit: CBSi)

It's rare to find a digital SLR that doesn't come with HD video-recording mode these days, either at 720p or full 1080p. For videographers and those looking for the most control, try a camera with full manual exposure controls in video mode.

Some digital SLRs come with an articulating LCD screen, and all SLRs listed here come with Live View, which allows you to compose an image on-screen rather than looking through the viewfinder. Other features that you might want to look at include a touchscreen, which more closely simulates the experience from a mobile phone or tablet. Touchscreens let you touch to focus and touch to take a photo, as well as pinch to zoom and swipe through photos in playback mode.

Need to take photos of fast-moving kids, pets or sports? Consider an SLR with fast continuous shooting speed in the region of 4 or 5 frames per second (fps). You can find all these details on each review page, with comparisons of camera features and performance times.

Batteries and weight

Battery grip

(Credit: Nikon)

Most of the digital SLRs listed below come with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, but for AA battery compatibility, you will be limited to a number of models in the Pentax range. You may also want to invest in a dedicated battery grip (pictured to the right) for your camera, which holds extra battery charge and attaches to the SLR to provide a larger grip area, as well.

If you're looking for a lightweight camera, the Canon 100D is the most feather-like option here, weighing in at 407 grams (body only).

Interchangeable lens cameras

Panasonic G3

(Credit: Panasonic)

Not quite ready for the bulk and complexity of a digital SLR? You may want to consider an interchangeable lens camera (ILC). These are small cameras designed specifically for those people who are stepping up from a compact camera and feature interchangeable lenses just like an SLR — sans bulk. All the major manufacturers produce these sorts of cameras. You can find a list of our favourite ILC cameras here.

Lenses

Nikon lenses

(Credit: Nikon)

All cameras listed in our round-up come in a kit configuration, with one or two lenses to get you started. Remember to be aware that each company uses different lens mounts, so you generally can't interchange lenses between brands without an adapter. If you are looking for a new body to complement some older lenses in your collection, you do have a few options. Nikon uses the F-mount, which means that you can use most old lenses, even 50-year-old ones, from the company (though autofocus and metering may be unavailable). Canon SLRs can generally accept any lens designed for the EOS system since 1987 without an adapter, but do make sure to check out compatibility charts before buying.

One of the most popular requests from people investing in their first SLR is to be able to take photos with a sharp foreground and blurred background. This shallow depth-of-field effect can be achieved by choosing a lens with a wide maximum aperture (small f/stop number), such as a 35mm or 50mm f/1.8 lens. To read up on depth of field and aperture, check out our guide to exposure. We also have a lens buying guide that's got the low-down on just about every type of lens available.

Extra accessories

Filter

(Credit: Cokin)

Now that you've made the decision on which camera body to get, consider the little extras that will make your photography life so much better. A tripod is a must for those who like shooting landscapes and long exposures, while an external flash or strobe is perfect for those who want to learn how to use off-camera light. Filters are a perfect way to add a bit of extra flexibility to your existing lens without investing in new glass; try a Neutral Density (ND) filter or circular polariser for some dramatic effects.

Finally, make sure that you are constantly learning and challenging yourself as a photographer. For inspiration, check out our monthly Exposure and Exposure Pro features, and share your shots with us on Flickr.

Canon EOS 100D

Canon EOS 100D

Price:
TBA

CNET Editors' Rating: 4 stars

Offering the same image quality as other entry-level Canon SLRs but with a much smaller body, the 100D is a satisfying first step into the world of SLR photography. more »

About the author
10 comments

Latest comments (Add your comment)

Hi LexyLike many others, I am considering making the leap from my point and shoot to either an interchangeable lens (Sony NEX5T) or a digital SLR, either the Canon 100D with 18-55mm or Nikon 3200 with 18-105mm. I prefer the idea of one lens rather than a twin kit. My main purpose is to take photos whilst travelling, so weight and quality are important. Do you recommend the ILCs?Thank youHayley
Posted by HayleyB
Reply
Bought the Lumix from Amazon and the reviews there are amazing. See how it's possible to get free shipping as well: http://amzn.to/1aFiQ5K - Couldn't be happier. Reviews from people who actually bought are the best way to make your choice.
Posted by BigCityChamp
Reply
Can you suggest me a beginner level DSLR for taking intra-oral photography (taking photoes inside the mouth for patients). what should be investing in as to buy extra...?
Posted by rajinikanth_j
Reply
Hi. I have made the decision to get the nikon D5100. but after talking to a few people. they suggested I purchase the body and then a 18-200 lens, instead of getting the bundle with the 18-55 lens and 55-200 lens. any suggestions?
Posted by AshleyG1
Reply
Hi Lexy. After some advice on which camera would suit best, please (budget ~$1500 including a telephoto lens, ideally). Preferences: articulating screen; continuous speed shooting at least 5fps; IS/VR; able to use live view in full auto mode; autofocus during video recording. Would like a touchscreen if possible. I do various photography - food, kids, land-/seascapes, sports, animals, low light, night, indoor, nature. I have no preference for brand. I love my Panasonic FZ150 but just want my photos to be crisper. Thanks.
Posted by dakky68
Reply
Hi lexy, So I went in to buy my new camera and long story short I am now more unsure and confused with all the options out there and the sales man was trying to sell me everything. So what do you think/ prefer, the canon 650d or Sony a57? Thanks again
Posted by shakervs
Reply
Hi Lexy,
I am about to enter into a freelance photography course, and am looking to spend approx $2000-$3000 on a digital SLR.
At the end of the course I would be looking at taking portraits, action shots (i.e sports, weddings, and scenery.
I want to get the best value for my dollar and was wondering if you could give me any tips, I found your column really helpful but it seems to only talk about entry level, can you give me some details on the more expensive cameras and the difference between them.
Thanks!!
Posted by lozcoz
Reply
Hai Lexy,
Im planning to buy canon 60d or 650d. Can you tell me what you think about buying it via Kogan? and can you also tell me which lens should I go for.. here are the few in my mind...Canon EF 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS USM Zoom Lens $349.00 ,Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS Telephoto Lens $159.00 , Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG OS Lens (Canon Mount) $399.00 .... Basically I want something with good zoom.. please help me to choose
Posted by jjobs
Reply
Hi there,

Sorry, can't provide you with recommendations on where to buy, I suggest you do some research and work that out for yourself!

I can help with what kit to go for though. Sounds like you shoot lots of telephoto work which is why you want the zoom. I'd also consider adding in a wider lens (even just the kit 18-55mm) in case you need to shoot anything under 55mm. From the list you've provided I would suggest the 70-300mm Canon as your top choice, followed by the Sigma and then the 55-250mm.

Have you also considered a wide-angle to telephoto zoom? Something like the 18-200mm Canon lens is a good compromise so you get a good range of focal lengths in the one lens. It's a bit more expensive than buying two lenses as mentioned above separately, but worth it for the convenience.
Posted by Lexy Savvides
Reply
Hi Lexy,
Thank you very much for the info. I would like to know
when comparing canon60d and nikond5200. which one is the best.
Thank you
Posted by jjobs
Reply
Load more comments

Join the conversation

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited.