Today’s DSLRs offer features and abilities that would have sounded like science fiction 25 years ago. But they are, indeed, electronic marvels that allow photography fans to shoot, manipulate, edit, and enhance their images to produce wonderfully beautiful photos.

If you’re in the market for a DSLR or are thinking about upgrading to one, we’ll help you by listing some of the best entry-level DSLRs money can buy.

First things first
A DSLR or digital single lens reflex camera is a fancy way of just saying that you are seeing what the camera sees by viewing the scene through the lens of the camera. This small engineering feat is done by a mirror which reflects the image into the viewfinder or LCD display screen. It swings out of the way when you take the photo.

DSLRs are known for their ability to use different interchangeable lens to adapt for different shooting situations. If you’re at a sporting event and want to get a close-up of one of the players, a zoom lens is what you’ll use. If you’re in a crowded room and want to get a photo of everyone in the party, you’d switch to a wide angle lens.

This interchangeability of lenses gives the photographer more creative freedom; and there are all sorts of special lenses that will help to do this.

DSLRs are powerful image processing units that can help you to adjust to shooting situations such as low-light, color balance, focusing, quick action, and much more. In addition, DSLRs can also shoot video.

The players
The two big players in the camera world are Nikon and Canon. Both companies allow the use of older lenses from older camera models. Nikon lenses are backwards compatible to those made as far back as 1959! So if you see old lenses for sale at a bargain price, this will definitely help in the budget department. Older Canon lenses are backwards compatible from 1987 onwards.

Sony has entered the DSLR market and is a new comer when compared to Canon and Nikon. Another company, which has been around almost as long as Nikon and Canon, is Pentax. Although not as well known as it used to be, they offer good value.

The models
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but offers you a glimpse at some of the most popular DSLRs out there. Prices constantly fluctuate for these cameras so a quick check on the Internet or at your local department store will give you a better idea on current pricing. Most entry-level DSLRs cost around $600-$800 with a 28mm-55mm zoom lens.

Nikon D5100/D5200
For a DSLR that offers great value, features, and performance, Nikon’s D5100 is a camera that definitely should be on anyone’s shortlist.

The Nikon D5100 has a 16.2 megapixel sensor and offers very clean images up to ISO 400, and good images in low-light situations up to ISO 1600. This low-light range can be bumped up to 6400 or higher, but image quality starts to drop off, as can be expected. For shooting action subjects you can expect about 4-frames per second. The 11-point AF auto focus system helps to get those shots that you might otherwise miss while in the heat of the moment.

The overall image quality of this camera is excellent and has received several "editor's choice" awards for being a top-notch DSLR.

The camera is very easy to use when shooting videos, and offers a good set of onboard features. For those who want a good DSLR to step up their photo skills without breaking the bank, the Nikon D5100 should fit the bill.

The newer D5200 has similar specs but with better low-light performance, a larger 24 megapixel sensor, excellent dynamic image range, continuous movie focus mode, and of course, a higher price.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i/T4i
Although it’s two years old, the EOS Rebel T3i is still a favorite for those who want to move up to a DSLR. The features on this model are nearly the same as the previous T2i with a few cosmetic changes and enhancements such as an improved articulated LCD viewing screen, additional auto shoot features, and a new 18-55mm IS II lens.

As far as performance is concerned, image quality still holds up with its 18-megapixel sensor even when shooting at ISO 1600. Low-light shooting at ISO 3200 or 6400 starts to degrade in color and increase in noise, but is still usable. The video side of the camera produces good looking content, but quickly switching from still shooting to video mode may be a hassle for some because of the awkward user interface.

The Canon Rebel T3i offers standard DSLR features such as auto focus, image stabilization, and several auto shooting modes.

Canon’s newer T4i offers a new lens system, 18-megapixel hybrid sensor, expanded ISO sensitivity to 25,600, faster burst shooting speed, slightly larger view finder image, improved autofocus, stereo input mic, and articulated LCD touchscreen. You can expect to pay about double for the T4i when compared to the T3i.

In part two of "DSLRs: The hottest entry level camera models you can buy," we’ll see what Pentax and Sony have to offer.

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