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Best budget DSLR / CSC

 

If you're shopping for a budget DSLR or mirrorless Compact System Camera, you've come to the right place! At Camera Labs I write in-depth reviews of cameras but understand you're busy people who sometimes just want recommendations of the most outstanding products. So here I'll cut to the chase and list the best budget DSLRs and mirror-less Compact System Cameras around right now.

On this page you'll find the best entry-level models, aimed at beginners or those on tighter budgets. These may represent the budget-end of the market, but all deliver a step-up in quality, control and handling over a point-and-shoot camera and are therefore ideal for those upgrading or wanting to start photography at a higher level.

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Gordon's favourite budget DSLR / system camera right now: Panasonic Lumix G6


Panasonic Lumix G6 review

 

Most people looking for a step-up in control and quality from a point-and-shoot compact go shopping for a DSLR - after all you get a bigger sensor, manual control and interchangeable lenses. But you also get all of that in a mirrorless camera, in addition to superior auto modes and a screen which was always meant for framing the shot. There are loads of great mirrorless cameras these days, but my standout choice at this end of the market is Panasonic's Lumix G6. Yes it's a little pricier than true budget system cameras, but the feature set is well worth spending the extra. If you're after something cheaper or a traditional DSLR, I've got some great alternatives below.

Panasonic's Lumix G6 is a 16 Megapixel mirrorless system camera that's styled like a mini-DSLR and based on the Micro Four Thirds standard, giving it access to the broadest range of native lenses of any mirrorless system. The 16 Megapixel sensor and overall image quality remains much the same as the Lumix G5 before it, but there's a number of key improvements. Like its predecessor you can compose with an EVF or fully-articulated touch-screen, but the former has been greatly improved with an OLED panel, delivering a crisper and steadier image. The movie mode still offers 1080/50/60p, but now adds 24p along with a mic input, manual exposures, adjustable audio levels and focus peaking, the latter not even available on the GH3. The G6 also features Wifi and NFC, allowing you to wirelessly browse, transfer, share or backup photos along with offering remote control via a free app for iOS and Android devices. NFC can take care of the initial Wifi network and password details on compatible devices. The autofocusing also works in much lower light than before. It all adds up to one of the best cameras in this price point, whether you're looking at mirror-less or DSLR.

Pros: Quick focusing in low light; great EVF; Wifi / NFC; 3in articulated touch-screen.
Cons: Image quality similar to previous models.
Overall: A great all-rounder. One of the best at this price point, DSLR or mirrorless.



Highly recommended Alternatives

Canon EOS SL1 / 100D review

 

The Canon EOS Rebel SL1, or 100D as it's known outside North America, is the company's latest entry-level DSLR and the smallest and lightest model with an APS-C sensor to date. It's around 1cm smaller in every dimension than Canon's next smallest DSLR yet manages not to compromise on control, composition or connectivity. On the contrary it's surprisingly comfortable to hold and use and the touch-screen interface is one of the best around. It inherits the 18 Megapixel resolution and 1080p video of recent Canon DSLRs, but this is a big upgrade from the 12 Megapixels and 720p of the earlier entry-level EOS T3 / 1100D. New to the SL1 / 100D over any Canon body though is an improved hybrid AF system with phase detect points spread over 80% of the sensor, which allows it to confidently refocus while filming video. There's also a new EF-S 18-55mm STM kit lens which focuses eerily quietly, although it looks a little long mounted on the tiny body. Overall this mini DSLR is great fun to use and delivers quality stills and video.

Pros: Tiny DSLR with 18 Mpixels, decent movie AF and great touchscreen.
Cons: Canon shrunk the body but not the kit lens. No Wifi either.
Overall: It may be small on size but not on handling and performance.



Sony A5000 review

 

Sony'a Alpha A5000 is an entry-level mirrorless camera with a 20 Megapixel APS-C sensor, tilting screen and built-in Wifi. It goes head-to-head against entry-level DSLRs, sporting a similarly-sized sensor and the chance to swap lenses, but unlike most DSLRs at this price point, adds an articulated screen for easy self-portraits and built-in Wifi that supports wireless image transfer, smartphone remote control and downloadable apps. As a mirrorless camera, the A5000 is also a lot smaller and lighter than even a budget DSLR, and its full-time electronic composition means it supports technologies like face and scene detection to help you nail the shot quickly and easily. Downsides? There's no viewfinder, nor any means to connect one as an optional accessory, but for the money I still reckon Sony's made the right choices and delivered a camera that's highly compelling for the target market. If you're looking for an upgrade in quality, flexibility and control over a point-and-shoot camera or smartphone, I'd strongly recommend it.

Pros: Large APS-C sensor; tilting screen; Wifi; clever shooting modes.
Cons: No viewfinder or hotshoe to mount accessories.
Overall: Great value mirrorless camera that makes more sense than a budget DSLR.



Canon EOS T3 / 1100D review

 

The EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D is Canon's previous entry-level DSLR. It packs 12 Megapixels, 720p HD movies, Live View and a 9-point AF system into an affordable body. The sensor may have come from an older model, but coupled with more recent metering and image processing delivers respectable results. Unlike the rival D3x00 series from Nikon, Canon's aimed for a lower price-point. It misses out on Nikon's hand-holding GUIDE mode, but allows enthusiasts to access settings much faster. Ideal for first-time DSLR buyers wanting a big brand on a budget, and who don't need the smaller size or higher resolution of the more recent EOS SL1 / 100D above.

Pros: Live View; 720p HD video; remote control software.
Cons: Modest continuous buffer; smallish 2.7in screen. No built-in Wifi.
Overall: Big brand with solid specification at a low price.



Canon T3i / EOS 600D review

 


Canon's EOS T3i / 600D is an older upper entry-level DSLR from a few years back that's now selling at a great price while still offering a compelling set of features. You get 18 Megapixels from an APS-C sensor, fully-articulated 3in screen, wireless flash control, 1080p video with manual exposure control, optical viewfinder, 9-point AF system, 3.7fps continuous shooting and 63-zone metering system. There's also a great deal of overlap with the higher-end EOS 60D, but Canon's also included scene detection in Auto along with useful Digital Zoom and Video Snapshot movie options, the former no longer offered on the latest models. As such it remains a great choice, especially so at the now discounted price.

Pros: 18 Mpixels; HD video with mic input; flip-out screen.
Cons: Build quality, speed and AF same as cheaper 500D / T1i. No Wifi.
Overall: A great choice for the money.




Nikon D3300 review

 

The D3300 is Nikon's entry-level DSLR for 2014. Like its predecessor, it boasts a 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor, but this time Nikon has dispensed with the low pass filter for slightly crisper-looking photos. The other major new feature is an updated kit lens which collapses to save space during transportation - it's still nowhere near as compact as a mirrorless camera, but at least it's more portable than earlier Nikon DSLR kits. The D3300 also offers 1080p movies at 60p, a range of filter effects, and like earlier models in this series offers a friendly GUIDE mode for beginners - a benefit that's not to be underestimated if you're stepping-up from a more basic camera. In some respects the D3300 is falling behind rivals, for example there's no built-in Wifi and inexplicably still no AE bracketing, but it remains a solid entry-level DSLR.

Pros: 24 Megapixels, compact kit zoom, friendly operation.
Cons: Relatively pricey, no built-in Wifi, no auto bracketing.
Overall: A good first DSLR, but also consider mirrorless rivals or D3200 below.




Nikon D3200 review

 

The D3200 was launched in mid 2012 as Nikon's new entry-level DSLR, replacing the D3100 and increasing its resolution from 14 to a whopping 24 Megapixels. The 3in screen enjoys an upgrade in detail, there's the chance to remote control with a smartphone (so long as you buy the Wifi dongle) and the movie mode now supports multiple frame rates, exposure control and an external microphone input. At its core though, the D3200 remains a friendly camera which can handhold beginners with its Guide mode before allowing them to explore further. Annoyingly there’s still no auto exposure bracketing and it’s fairly pricey for an 'entry-level' model, but it's a good choice for a beginner buying their first DSLR but who can't stretch to the latest model. Those on tighter budgets should seriously consider the even more discounted D3100, below.

Pros: Very friendly, 24 Megapixels, smartphone control with optional Wifi dongle.
Cons: No auto bracketing. No Wifi built-in.
Overall: A good beginner's DSLR for those who don't need the latest model.




Nikon D3100 review

 

The D3100 is three generations old now, but remains on sale with hefty discounts in some regions. It features 14 Megapixels, 1080p video and Nikon's very friendly GUIDE mode which helps you take the photos you want, step-by-step, while providing full manual control for when you're ready. The screen's fairly average and there's no auto exposure bracketing, but the D3100 remains a powerful entry-level DSLR and one that's very compelling at the current discounts in the light of its successors, the D3200 and D3300 above.

Pros: Friendly GUIDE mode; 1080p HD video; 14 Mpixels.
Cons: Basic screen; no auto exposure bracketing. No Wifi.
Overall: A great choice for first-time DSLR owners on a tight budget.



Olympus E-PM1 review

 

The E-PM1 was launched by Olympus a while ago as their entry-level model, and while it's since been succeeded by the E-PM2, it still offers a great range of features at excellent discounted prices. It's designed to appeal to those who want to step up from a point-and-shoot or a more portable alternative to a budget DSLR. As such it's smaller, lighter, more accessible and crucially cheaper than its more sophisticated siblings in the E-PL and E-P ranges. But don't let the price and position in the range fool you: the E-PM1 features the same 12 Megapixel sensor as some higher-end PENs, a full-sized hotshoe for accessories and like all Olympus models, boasts built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach. Couple all that with great manual control or simple auto if you prefer and you've got a compelling mirrorless at a fabulous price while stocks last.

Pros: Built-in stabilisation; 1080i video; hotshoe; low price.
Cons: Flash supplied, but not built-in. No touch-screen. No Wifi.
Overall: Discounts make it an affordable mirrorless camera with great features.



Nikon J1 - see Nikon V1 review

 

Nikon's J1 is the cheaper of two models which launched the new Nikon 1 system. Both the J1 and its higher-end sibling the V1 boast quicker autofocus, tracking and continuous shooting than any camera in their price bracket. They'll also continuously autofocus while filming HD video and even let you grab a bunch of high resolution stills at the same time. As such they'll be adored by action and portrait photographers alike, especially when shooting or filming kids or pets. Nikon's also had fun repackaging these core capabilities into a number of fun modes which take a different approach to photography. The pricier V1 has some nice extras, but for me, the J1 is the more compelling option with a smaller and lighter body (in five colours!), built-in flash and much cheaper price point. This could be the best camera for parents of sporty kids, pet-owners or action fanatics on a budget.

Pros: Fast AF, fast burst modes, HD video with high-res stills.
Cons: No special effects; no accessory port; no Wifi.
Overall: Perfect for parents, pet owners and action fanatics.



     
Camera Labs Buyer's Guides

Best mirrorless camera

Best budget DSLR


Best mid-range DSLR


Best pro DSLR


Best point and shoot camera


Best superzoom


Best camera accessories

Best Canon lenses

Best Nikon lenses
 
 

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