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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; GPS data fiddly to add via phone.
Overall: A great all-rounder that's one of the best at this price point, DSLR or CSC.



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 which remains quite long.
Overall: It may be small on size but not on handling and performance. Recommended.



Canon EOS T3 / 1100D review

 

The EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D is Canon's earlier 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 its rival, the Nikon D3100, Canon's aimed for a lower price-point. It misses out on the D3100'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.
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, which at first glance appears to be little more than the EOS T2i / 550D equipped with a flip-out screen and wireless flash control. Both cameras are roughly the same size and share the same 18 Megapixel sensor, core HD movie modes, viewfinder, 9-point AF system, 3.7fps continuous shooting, 3in 1040k screen and 63-zone metering system. There's also a great deal of overlap with the higher-end EOS 60D, such as the articulated screen, but Canon's also included scene detection in Auto along with useful Digital Zoom and Video Snapshot movie options. As such it becomes one of Canon's most confident and powerful video-equipped DSLRs, while also delivering great still photo quality. If you're into movies and don't need fast continuous shooting, it's an ideal choice, but compare closely with the Nikon D5100.

Pros: 18 Mpixels; HD video with mic input; flip-out screen.
Cons: Build quality, speed and AF same as cheaper 500D / T1i.
Overall: Great image quality and one of the best for movies.




Nikon D3200 review

 

The D3200 is Nikon's latest 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 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 great choice for a beginner buying their first DSLR. Those on tighter budgets though should seriously consider the discounted D3100, below.

Pros: V friendly, 24 Megapixels, smartphone remote control.
Cons: Relatively pricey, no auto bracketing.
Overall: A great DSLR for beginners on a comfortable budget.




Nikon D3100 review

 

The D3100 is Nikon's previous entry-level DSLR, now replaced by the D3200 above, but still on sale while stocks last. 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 successor, the D3200 above.

Pros: Friendly GUIDE mode; 1080p HD video; 14 Mpixels.
Cons: Basic screen; no auto exposure bracketing.
Overall: A great choice for 1st-time DSLR owners on a budget.



Olympus E-PM1 review

 

The Olympus E-PM1 is one of the most affordable mirror-less CSCs to date. Nick-named the 'PEN Mini', the E-PM1 doesn't replace an existing model, but is a new entry in the Olympus range 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, the E-PL3 and E-P3. But don't let the price and position in the range fool you: the E-PM1 features the same 12 Megapixel sensor as the 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 CSC at a fabulous price - even more so now the E-PM2 has been released.

Pros: Built-in stabilisation; 1080i video; hotshoe; low price.
Cons: Flash supplied, but not built-in. No touch-screen.
Overall: An affordable CSC which doesn't compromise.



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;
Overall: Perfect for parents, pet owners and action fanatics.



Sony NEX-C3 review

 

Sony's NEX-C3 is the company's entry-level mirrorless camera, which packs a DSLR-sized sensor into a much more portable body. Like all NEX bodies, the C3 features nothing less than an APS-C sensor, which matches the size of those in most budget to mid-range DSLRs. The C3's sensor sports 16 Megapixels and can also record 720p movies. Sony's also squeezed-in a detailed screen which can tilt vertically for easier composition at unusual angles. Like most Sony cameras, the NEX-C3 also boasts a wide array of innovative shooting modes which can stack multiple images to reduce noise, shake or generate spectacular panoramas. The neat focus-peaking guide greatly aids manual focusing in movies and there's also 5.5fps burst shooting. A great alternative to a budget DSLR, but if you've got more to spend, consider the NEX-5R.

Pros: Large APS-C sensor; tilting screen; clever shooting modes.
Cons: No hotshoe and no 1080 video either.
Overall: A small mirrorless camera which delivers excellent quality.



     
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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