The summer season is an excellent time to be inspired to take up photography: The weather's nice and the sun makes everything pop visually. But if you're motivated to pick up a new digital SLR camera, how do you know what to buy?
We've dug into our archives to see what certain models really cost — and what features you can expect to get for your money in the ever-changing commercial market. Below are comparisons of some kit DSLRs that we've listed in the past six weeks, so you can realistically hope to see comparable prices in the near future.
Options under $550
If you're looking for a DSLR without spending much money, you'll likely be considering models from Sony or Pentax, or an SLR-like camera from Samsung. (Older Canons and Nikons that have dropped in price as newer versions get released may be in your range too.)
Unless you're gunning for a refurb, you can't get much cheaper than the Sony Alpha a230 10.2MP camera (pictured, right), which consistently checks in at $336 total — the least expensive DSLR we've seen in the past three months. While it's fairly uncomplicated and features a helpful stabilization meter, the Alpha a230 doesn't include video capture or Live View (an image preview that's generated on the LCD screen).
For less than $100 more, you can snag the Nikon D3000 10.2MP camera, which adds 3fps continuous shooting, a bigger LCD, and a more complex autofocus matrix. Or, for an extra $115 on top of that, you'll get the Pentax K-r 12.4MP camera with double the max ISO, faster continuous shooting (6fps), a higher-resolution LCD, a more accurate autofocus function, 720p video and Live View.
It's also worth considering a refurbished version of a higher-end model, which could fall into this general price range. (Top-of-the-line refurbs can still be pretty expensive, though.) We frequently see deals on factory-refurbished Canons and Nikons, for example.
Prices: We've seen the Sony Alpha a230 for $336, although it currently sells for $422.99. We've also seen the Nikon D3000 for $424 (now $499.99) and the Pentax K-r for $539 (now $589).
Options under $700
Cameras in this range begin to incorporate more refined features for greater flexibility and image quality. It's also where both Canon and Nikon truly begin to rise above the rest, as they predominantly specialize in higher-end models. The Nikon D5000 12.3MP camera, which we've listed for $600 recently, adds 720p video (at 24fps) with sound, a flip / swivel LCD with variable angles for more flexible shooting, enhanced autofocus with default "modes", and optional GPS geotagging. (An additional unit is necessary to utilize this feature.)
However, for less than $100 more, you could boost your total megapixels to a whooping 18 with the Canon EOS Rebel T2i 18MP camera (pictured, above right). It also boasts a higher native and expanded ISO, 1080p video (at 30fps, 720p at 60fps), a larger LCD with a vastly better resolution, and a lighter body.
Top of the line DSLRs can get far more expensive than this — much, much more — but we've found through our deals that you can still get a recently-released top model from the heavy-hitter brands for less than $800. The Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18MP camera and Nikon D5100 16MP camera (pictured, right), released in March and April (respectively), have been listed for as low as $756 in recent weeks. (Both of which were admittedly massive lows.)
This class of camera generally provides excellent image quality and video. The 18-megapixel T3i offers a sharp flip / swivel LCD, built-in wireless flash capability (which allows you to sync an additional light source in conjunction with the pop up, ideal for "fill" lighting), 1080p video (at up to 30fps) with the option to manually adjust aperture and shutter while recording, an enhanced audio profile with wind filter, 9-point autofocus, and an advanced metering system. For the same price, however, the 16-megapixel D5100 includes many of the aforementioned features and adds a higher expanded ISO, faster continuous shooting, 11-point autofocus, and up to 20 minutes of HD video.
Price: We've seen both models at all-time lows for $756. (The Canon EOS Rebel T3i is now $884 and the Nikon D5100 is $881.95, both via coupon code "DEALNEWS15".)
*Note: While we're basing these prices on deals that we've actually seen over the past few months, and expect to continue seeing, it's worth noting that Canon and Nikon factories were both affected by the earthquakes in Japan, and news agencies have suggested that both manufacturers will continue to experience affected production through at least part of the summer. In turn, this may influence availability and, as a result, price.