Choosing which DSLR you should buy is a herculean and extremely confusing task, made all the more difficult by the sheer number of choices available in the market. Since I often get emails and messages from budding photographers, asking which DSLR they should buy, I decided to put together this little buying guide to help ease the confusion.
Entry level DSLR, less than Rs. 25,000
If you have this rather limiting budget, then the plus side of it is, there aren’t many options in the market to confuse you and despite buying an entry level DSLR, you can still enjoy similar image quality and choices of lenses, as buyers of more expensive DSLRs would have.
Out of the two choices available in the market, Canon 1100D makes most sense if you are planning to shoot landscape, thanks to the presence of exposure bracketing , which would allow you to shoot HDRs or stack your exposure for more consistent results. Nikon D3100 on the other hand, makes more sense if you want to shoot full HD videos (1100D can only shoot 720p).
Entry level DSLR, less than Rs. 35,000
In this budget, while you would still only get an entry level DSLR, but there are more choices and DSLRs have newer and higher megapixel sensors, which should give you better image quality at high ISO.
In this category, Nikon has two DSLRs, D3200 and D5100. While Nikon D3200 has newer and higher megapixel sensor (24mp vs 16mp of D5100), ability to trigger flash wirelessly (easily remedied by buying a wireless flash trigger for less than 1.5k) and ability to shoot 60fps video at 720p, it misses out on the all-important exposure bracketing mode, making it a bad choice for those interested in HDR photography or exposure stacking. D5100 also has a fully articulated LCD display, which is a boon while shooting photographs at difficult angles and while shooting videos. So if had to choose between the two, Nikon D5100 would be the clear choice for me, even though it comes with an older sensor.
Canon 600D priced similarly to both the Nikon DSLRs has an 18mp sensor and comes with higher resolution fully articulated LCD display, ability to shoot 60fps at 720p (all three DSLRs can shoot 1080p at 30fps), trigger flash wirelessly and do exposure bracketing. Making it a balanced choice for anyone looking to buy his/her first DSLR in this price bracket and my obvious choice (even if I didn’t own a Canon DSLR).
You can also buy Canon 1100D and Nikon D3100 with twin lens kit or 18-135/18-105 lens combination, in this price range. However I wouldn’t recommend doing that, unless you have no plans of adding lenses at a later stage.
Entry level DSLR, less than Rs. 45,000
This is where things really get interesting, in this budget, you can not only buy DSLRs with more features, but also get Canon 600D and Nikon D3200 and D5100 with twin lens kits.
This is also the price range where Nikon’s entry level DSLR, Nikon D5200 competes with Canon’s prosumer DSLR, Canon 60D. While the Nikon wins hands down when it comes to image quality and high ISO performance, Canon 60D manages to hold its own very well with a more ergonomic and water and dust resistant body, higher burst rate with good image buffer, larger and better viewfinder, higher maximum shutter speed and ability to trigger flash wirelessly.
While for a first time DSLR user, Nikon D5200 is more than enough and it is highly unlikely that it would disappoint them, for anyone looking to shoot sports or wildlife, Canon 60D is a clear choice, even though it has fewer AF points than D5200. Those interested in buying a Nikon DSLR and yet wanting similar or better features than the 60D, would have to raise their budget a little more to accommodate Nikon D7000, which is available for a huge discount these days.
DSLR for Sports, Wildlife and Birding
When it comes to shooting sports and wildlife, entry level DSLRs just aren’t enough, even if they come with 5fps burst rate and 39 AF points, because these DSLRs have a rather small RAW buffer, which gets filled in less than a second and then you have to wait for the images to be written to the card, before you can start shooting.
Cheapest DSLR for sports, wildlife and birding is Canon 60D right now, with its 9 cross type AF points, 5.3fps burst rate with 16 image RAW buffer. Slightly more expensive option is Nikon D7000 with its 6fps burst rate with 10 image RAW buffer, a great 39 point AF system (9 cross type) and dual card slots.
Both these DSLRs are also a lot more rugged and water resistant than their entry level counterparts and are more ergonomically suited to the needs of professional and enthusiast photographers with dual LCD displays, more buttons and two dials to control various aspects of camera operations.
At the end of the day, irrespective of whatever DSLR you buy and use, you can get great images out of it, as long as you are willing to put in hard work and work around the limitations of your equipment and use it intelligently. And don’t forget, DSLRs are only a small part of the equation and when you buy a DSLR, you are really buying into entire system, which consists of DSLR body, lenses, flashes and tons of other accessories, which help you fully exploit your creativity.
Disclaimer: Nkon D3100, D3200, D5100 and D5200 can not auto focus with non AF-S lenses, because these camera bodies do not have auto focusing motor, there is no such issue/requirement with Canon DSLRs, since all auto focusing Canon lenses have focusing motor. Above guide does not mentions Sony SLTs, because I have no experience of them, compared to Canon and Nikon, Sony still has only limited lenses and accessories and my attempt to reach out to Sony have proven to be futile. Above guide contains affiliate links to Flipkart, which is where I purchase majority of my photography gear.