By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
Kodak announced last week that it will exit the camera business after more than 100 years. The company produced the first professional digital camera more than two decades ago, pairing a single-lens-reflex camera body with a digital sensor. The result cost as much as a new car. Modern digital SLRs, once beyond the reach of amateurs, can now be had for less than $500. They may not bear the name Kodak, but they’re available from highly regarded brands including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony.
A DSLR (or digital single-lens-reflex) camera uses a mirror to let you look through the lens when composing an image, so what you see in the viewfinder is exactly what you get. These cameras are hefty compared with point-and-shoot models that fit into a pocket or purse. They typically come with a basic zoom lens but can accommodate a range of interchangeable wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
Camera manufacturers always brag about megapixels -- the more the better, right? Well, yes, high resolution does let you print large, sharp photos with crisp detail. However, digital SLR cameras typically come with at least 10 megapixels, which should be plenty for any basic photo task. Crowding too many megapixels onto a camera’s image sensor can actually compromise photo quality, and the sensors on budget DSLRs are smaller than those on pricier full-frame DSLRs and traditional 35 mm film cameras. There are two different types of image sensors: CCD and CMOS. CCD sensors tend to cost more and yield better photos, but CMOS technology is catching up in terms of quality. Camera makers often use CMOS sensors in budget DSLRs to keep costs down, but CCD sensors are also available at this price.
Image stabilization helps keep photos from turning out blurry when you shoot in low light without a flash, which requires a slow shutter speed and a perfectly steady hand. Pay attention to whether this feature is built into the lens or into the camera itself, in which case it will always be there no matter what lens you use. Depending on the brand, you may have to pay a bit more for lenses with image stabilization. Live view mode lets you frame up a shot on an LCD screen on the back of the camera rather than looking through the viewfinder -- a process familiar to consumers who are used to point-and-shoot cameras.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable DSLR cameras.
- The Canon EOS Rebel T3 (starting at $433) delivers unbeatable image quality for its price, according to expert and consumer reviews. It has a CMOS image sensor, 12.2 mp resolution, and live view. Image stabilization is built into the lens. (Where to buy)
- The Sony A390 (starting at $420) impresses with a CCD image sensor, 14.2 mp resolution, live view, and internal image stabilization. Experts and users note that it’s easy to operate, and thus an appealing choice for photography enthusiasts making the jump to a DSLR from a point-and-shoot. (Where to buy)
- The Nikon D3000 (starting at $450) is a solid budget offering from a brand with an excellent reputation, reviewers say. Although this 10.2 mp camera lacks live view and internal image stabilization, it captures sharp photos with a CCD image sensor. (Where to buy)
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