Smart-Review: DSLR Camera Buying Guide 2015-2016
Digital SLR Buying Guide 2015-2016: Digital SLRs (also known as DSLRs) have become more popular recently, because of improved features and a dramatic drop in prices. Once only professionals could afford a DSLR. The main advantage of a DSLR versus a point and shoot camera is higher image quality due to larger imager size, larger and better lenses, and better processors. DSLRs also give you more manual control over the camera, can shoot in RAW (uncompressed), and give you better depth of field. These cameras can use interchangeable lenses to increase their usefulness under a variety of situations. A Digital SLR is much larger than point and shoot cameras (which is necessary to house the larger imager, electronics, and larger lenses. The most recent innovations added to DSLRs are Live View (which allows you to compose your shot through the LCD screen instead of the viewfinder), and HD video. For years DSLRs could only take digital pictures, and had no video mode. Now many DSLRs are capable for full 1080p HD video. DSLRs have been used to film TV Shows and even parts of major motion pictures. The most popular SLRs are those made by Canon, Nikon, and Sony. This buying guide help you choose which features are important and which cameras have them.
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Full Frame or Smaller Imager Size? There are two main types of DSLRs regarding imager size. Those with imaging sensors that are Full-Frame and those smaller than Full-Frame. The imager is the heart of the camera, a light sensitive sensor that converts light into an electronic representation of the image. One imager type is called full frame (also referred as an FX imager) is about the same size as a frame of 35mm film. SLRs in the past used 35mm film. Lenses designed for 35mm film will behave the same on a full frame digital SLR as they did on film based SLRs. Full frame sensors have bigger and brighter viewfinders. Since these sensors are larger, they will do better in low light and are more sensitive. One disadvantage of a full frame DSLR is they will be larger and heavier than those with smaller sensors, and are much more expensive.
The Best Full Frame DSLR Top Picks:
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DSLRs with APS-C and DX Imagers: SLRS with the smaller sensors (not Full-Frame) are the best sellers and cheapest DSLRs. These are referred to as APS-C, DX, APS-H, or Four-Thirds type sensors. These sensors are larger than point and shoot cameras, but smaller than the full frame models. When installing lenses, they behave differently than full frame. For APS-C (the most popular size) as an example, a 100mm lens will behave like a 160mm lens. This is caused by a 1.6x conversion factor. Smaller sensors make lenses appear to have more focal length. So choosing lenses will be different for full-frame DSLRs versus APS-C type DSLRs. Most people buying a DSLR will be more than satisfied with the smaller sensor DSLRs and do not need a full frame camera. The lenses and the SLR Bodies are substantially larger and heavier on Full Frame DSLRs than those with the smaller sensor size.
The Best APS-C or DX DSLR Top Picks:
Best APS-C and DX Imager DSLRs for 2015-2016:
- Canon EOS 80D 2016 (APS-C Imager)
- Canon 7D Mark II 2014-2015 (APS-C Imager)
- Canon EOS 70D 2014-2015 (APS-C Imager)
- Nikon D7200 2015 (DX Imager)
- Nikon D7100 2013-2014 (DX Imager)
APS-C and DX Imager DSLRs under $1000:
- Nikon D5500 Touchscreen & WiFi 2015 (DX Imager)
- Canon EOS T6i 2015-2016 (APS-C Imager)
- Canon EOS 70D 2014-2015 (APS-C Imager)
- Nikon D5300 WiFi 2014-2015 (DX Imager)
APS-C and DX Imager DSLRs under $600:
- Canon Rebel T6 2016 (APS-C Imager)
- Nikon D3300 2014-2015 (DX Imager)
- Nikon D5200 2013-2014 (DX Imager)
Compact (Mirrorless) Interchangeable Lens Cameras (CSC) – These cameras look like subcompact digital SLRs, and behave almost exactly like an SLR with interchangeable lenses. The major difference, aside from the size, is that these cameras don’t have a mirror like SLRs, and do not have an optical viewfinder. You view the subject through the LCD (like Live View works in a DSLR). Some have electronic viewfinders as well. These smaller cameras also have HD movie modes like their bigger SLRs do. This is a new and growing area as these cameras put the power of a DSLR in a much smaller package.
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Megapixels. How much is enough? A megapixel is a unit of graphic resolution, or how much can a digital camera capture. The higher the megapixels, generally the better the picture quality. With more megapixels you have more options when cropping your pictures, or if you want, to blow up the picture to much larger sizes. Keep in mind that with more megapixels, the file sizes go up. A relatively new technology called gapless microlenses help boost light gathering capability so that even higher megapixels do not diminish light gathering. Recently we have seen the push for higher megapixels slow down, and better low light performance and dynamic range is taking over as priority.
Top SLRs with highest Megapixels: Nikon D810 (36.3 Megapixels), Nikon D5500 (2015) (24.2 Megapixels), Nikon D5300 WiFi (2014) (24.2 Megapixels), Canon EOS 80D 2016 (24.2 Megapixels), Canon EOS T6i 2015-2016 (24.2 Megapixels), Nikon D7200 (2015) (24.2 Megapixels), Nikon D5300 WiFi (2014) (24.2 Megapixels), Nikon D3300 (2014) (24.2 Megapixels). Canon EOS 5D Mark III (22.3 Megapixels), Canon EOS 70D (20.2 Megapixels).
ISO Range: ISO determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light. If you set your digital camera to a low ISO, the resulting photograph will be better quality than one set at a much higher number. The higher the ISO the more grainy the photo will look. But there are times when in order to get the picture, you need a higher ISO (especially in very low light). Its generally felt that the higher the ISO range the better. Native ISO generally ranges from 100 on the low end to as high as 25600 and higher.
Top SLRs with highest Native ISO Range: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (ISO 100-25600), Nikon D7200 (2015) (ISO 100-25600), Canon EOS 80D (2016) (ISO 100-16000), Nikon D5500 Touchscreen 2015 (ISO 100-12800), Nikon D810 (ISO 64-12800), Nikon D3300 (ISO 100-12800), Canon EOS 70D 2014 (ISO 100-12800), Canon Rebel T6i (ISO 100-12800), Nikon D5200 (ISO 100-6400),
Shutter Speed: This is a measure of how fast the shutter opens and closes to take a picture. In low light, you want a shutter to stay open longer, but in bright light or for fast moving action like sports, you want a faster shutter speed. Most DSLRs have the same slower shutter speeds. For faster shutter speeds the higher end cameras have a shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second. The other SLRs have a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 sec.
Lens Compatiblity: Full frame DSLRs are compatible with all regular lenses and those made for 35mm film. It is not recommended to use digital lenses made for smaller AP-S and DX sized imagers. Lenses made for these smaller sensor cameras are EF-S lenses for Canon, and DX Lenses for Nikon. When using an APS-C or DX DSLR, you can use almost any lens, but apply a conversion factor of 1.6. This means that a 100mm lens will behave like a 160mm lens. Pro Cameras that use the APS-H Sensor (larger than APS-C and DX sensors) have a 1.3 conversion factor (they can use EF-S and DX lenses too). Some SLRs must use only lenses with AF-S or autofocus built in, as it is not built into the camera body (Canon XS, Canon T3, Nikon D40, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500).
Burst Mode: This is the maximum number of exposures per second that a camera can take rapid fire. This can be used for sports, and other fast action events, and a must for journalists. It can also be used in mixed lighting conditions. Higher is better.
SLRs w/Highest Burst Speed: Canon EOS 7D (8 frames/second), Canon EOS 80D (7 frames/second), Canon EOS 70D 2013-2014 (7 frames/second), Nikon D7200 (2015) (6 frames/second), Nikon D7100 (6 frames/second), Canon EOS 5D Mark III (6 frames/second), Canon Rebel T6i (5 frames/second), Nikon D5500 Touchscreen 2015 (5 frames/second),text-decoration:underline”>Nikon D5200 (5 frames/second). Nikon D3300 (5 frames/second), Nikon D810 (5 frames/second).
Entry Level Digital SLR: An entry level or beginners digital slr is one for first time buyers. These type of SLRs have easier to use controls for those transitioning from point and shoot cameras. Today, even the entry level SLRs are loaded with features previously only on higher priced SLRs.
Ultrasonic Sensor Cleaning: A really nice feature that is now built into almost all DSLRs is an ultrasonic cleaning system. It will shake off most dust that may accumulate on the imaging sensor automatically.
Built-in Flash: Most digital SLRs have a built in flash (They pop-up from the top of the camera). An exception is the very high end SLRs such as many of the Full Frame SLRs. They use a professional external flash unit that mounts on the top of the camera.
LCD Size and Resolution: The LCD screen on the back of the camera has improved over the years both in size and resolution. Larger is better, as is the number of pixels used for the screen. High end screens now have around 920,000 pixels and are 3-inches in size. The screens are especially important today because of the advent of the Live View Function, and HD Movie modes, where the screen is used to compose pictures and video.
Live View Function: The live view function is now in many SLRs, both high and low end. Live View allow you to compose pictures and video using the LCD screen rather than the viewfinder. Digital SLRs without Live View must use the viewfinder only for composing a picture. This function has trickled down to the entry level SLRs.
HD Movie Mode: The latest upgrade in DSLRs is the advent of HD Video capture. This allows your SLR to be a camera and a camcorder in one. Recent advances have made huge strides in this area. Canon SLRs now have the ability to record at 1080p (blu-ray quality) at multiple frame rates, including 24p (same as used for motion picture film). The Canon 5D Mark II was used to film a season finale episode of “House” with excellent results. Currently Canon produces the highest quality video from its SLRs.
SLRs with the best HD Movie Mode:
Canon EOS 80D 2016 (60fps 1080p), Canon EOS 70D (1080p), Canon EOS 5D Mark III (1080p),Nikon D7200 (2015-2016) (1080p), Nikon D7100 (1080p), Nikon D3300 (2014-2015 Model) (1080p), Nikon D810 (2014 Model) (1080p), Canon Rebel T6i (1080p), Nikon D5500 Touchscreen (1080p), Nikon D5300 (1080p).
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Video Continuous Autofocus: Most DSLRs allow you to set the focus for video initially. However if the subject moves, or you move, you must then manually focus the camera. This is how professionals shoot video. However, there are situations where continuous autofocus (similar to how camcorders work) would benefit the user. One is fast moving action (journalism), and for casual users who don’t want to bother with focusing and just want to take video. For 2014-2015 Canon has introduced Dual Pixel AF, which provides camcorder like autofocus to its 70D model. This technology is also available on the 7D Mark II The results have been stunning, and is much more effective than any other autofocus for video that we have seen on any DSLR.
Best DSLRs for Video AutoFocus:
- Canon EOS 80D 2016 (Dual Pixel AF)
- Canon EOS 70D 2014-2015 (Dual Pixel AF)
- Canon EOS 7D Mark II 2014 (Dual Pixel AF)
DSLRs with Continuous Autofocus for Video: Canon EOS 80D 2016 (Dual Pixel CMOS), Canon EOS 70D 2014-2015 (Dual Pixel CMOS), the Nikon D7200 2015-2016, the Nikon D810 2014, the Nikon D7100 , the Nikon D3300 (2014-2015 Model), the Nikon D5500 Touchscreen, and the Canon Rebel T6i (2015-2016 Model)
External Microphone Jack: With the advent of HD Video modes in SLRs, you also want the best sound possible. Built-in microphones on SLRs may not give you the best sound possible. Look for DSLRs that have external microphone jacks. They allow you to plug in a large array of wireless, stereo, and corded microphones for best sound possible to go along with HD video.
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Headphone Jack: When trying to get the best sound from your DSLR, it would be very useful if you could monitor the sound with headphones. Up until recently most DSLRs did not have a headphone jack. Now in 2016 we are starting to see models with this feature.
Related Article: Best Rated DSLR Cameras with a Headphone Jack
Exposure Durability: How many pictures/exposures can you expect to get over the lifetime of the camera. Most good SLRs are rated at 100,000 or greater. The manufacturer tests this by moving the shutter thousands of times to test its durability.
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