What exactly is an enthusiast DSLR? An obvious answer: It’s a digital SLR camera that falls somewhere in between the broad spectrum, entry-level models and the high-end pro/prosumer models in terms of feature set, body construction and price point.
Whatever other criteria you choose to apply, one thing is crystal clear—serious photo enthusiasts, aka advanced amateurs, are a marketing segment well worth cultivating. They spend more on equipment than casual shooters and tend to buy premium wide-aperture lenses, sophisticated flashes and lighting equipment, high-end tripods, high-speed high-capacity memory cards, and HD-video-oriented accessories from Steadicams to image-editing and enhancement software.
They are also the family photography gurus that influence the choices not only of what to buy but where to purchase it. So establishing relationships with these folks can have amazing ancillary benefits. Photo enthusiasts that gravitate toward enthusiast-level DSLRs are generally well informed about the latest tech and have well-tuned BS detectors, so this is an area where forthright, knowledgeable photo specialty retailers have a real edge over “box pushers.” By tapping into your knowledge base and genuine personal enthusiasm, you can serve your customers and yourself by recommending and selling them the right stuff, the underlying goal of all relationship marketing.
To get back to our original question, defining the enthusiast DSLR is a bit more challenging these days because today’s DSLR market is really multitiered and the very concept of what constitutes an SLR is undergoing profound changes. For example, the Canon EOS 7D is clearly an enthusiast-aimed model even though it’s used by many working pros, but where do you go from there?
Move one step up and there’s the redoubtable prosumer full-frame EOS 5D Mark II, an enthusiast model even though it sells for well over two grand with a lens. Judged by the demographic of its owners, it definitely qualifies; but in this article we’ve included the EOS 60D instead, a worthy enthusiast model that’s been around for a while and deserves more attention than it’s been getting. For different reasons, we’ve included the brand-new Nikon D5100, a camera that will delight DSLR enthusiasts on a budget.
Then there’s the little matter of the technical definition of an SLR—traditionally specified as a camera having a reflex mirror that reflects the image formed by the lens up to an optical viewfinder. However, because this article is aimed at dealers serving consumers, we have chosen to include three cameras—the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, Sony SLT-A77 and Sony NEX-7—that provide DSLR functionality, interchangeable lenses and eye-level electronic viewfinders (EVF). The latter two feature innovative OLED EVF finders that deliver viewing realism approaching that of an optical viewfinder along with other benefits, such as superior info display and the ability to preview the results of camera settings before taking the shot.
We hope you find our selections as informative and fascinating as we did, and we apologize in advance if you don’t find your favorite enthusiast DSLR on the abbreviated list that follows. Oh, did we mention that enthusiast DSLRs are also great step-up cameras for emerging enthusiasts who want to take their photography to the next level? They’re easy to identify if you pay attention to their questions and body language.
Sony Alpha SLT-A77. The flagship model of Sony’s second-generation Translucent Mirror technology (TMT) SLRs, the A77 delivers a cutting-edge feature set squarely aimed at serious enthusiasts. It has an ultra-high-res 24.3 megapixel APS-C-format HD CMOS sensor; it’s capable of shooting full-res RAW+JPEG images at a breathtaking 12 frames per sec with full-time phase-detection AF; it’s equipped with a 150,000-cycle shutter; and it incorporates a brilliant, responsive, high-magnification, 2.36-million-dot OLED eye-level electronic viewfinder. Constructed on a rugged, magnesium alloy chassis with pro-caliber weatherproofing, it’s also the first DSLR to provide video in standard AVCHD 2.0 format at Full HD 1080p at 60p, 60i and 24p. Plus it offers continuous phase-detection autofocus in still capture, movie and live view modes using 19-point AF with 11 cross sensors. Also featured are an adjustable-angle 3.0-inch LCD and onboard GPS. $1,399.99 body only. sony.com
Canon EOS 60D. Canon’s hefty, rugged 18 megapixel stalwart has been the choice of many serious Canon shooters upgrading their systems. It’s the first EOS with a 3.0-inch vari-angle Clear View LCD that swivels and adjusts for high- or low-angle shooting and can even point forward for self-portraits! Other cutting-edge capabilities include Full HD (1,920×1080) 1080p video recording at selectable frame rates and with adjustable audio input, ISO to 6400 (12,800 with custom function), 5.3-fps continuous burst shooting, in-camera image manipulation with creative filter effects, multiple aspect ratios, and a Digic 4 image processor. $1,099 body only. usa.canon.com
Nikon D5100. Nikon created this engagingly compact new DSLR by borrowing proven technologies from pricier Nikon DSLRs and building them into an ergonomically contoured, lightweight body. It has the same APS-C-format 16.2MP CMOS sensor as the Nikon D7000, and like the big boys, it provides Full HD 1080p or HD 720p video capture at 24p and 30p with stereo sound, 11-point AF with focus tracking, and 3D color matrix metering. It can shoot bursts at 4 fps and set ISO to 25,600. Its 3.0-inch live-view vari-angle LCD can be swiveled and tilted for shooting from almost any angle. Other cool features include: in-camera image editing that provides overlaying, distortion controls and tonal adjustments; 19 scene modes; color and filter effects for movies and stills; and in-camera HDR. $849.95 with 18-55mm VR (Vibration Reduction) lens. nikonusa.com
Olympus E-5. The undisputed flagship of the Olympus E series, this compact, weather-sealed pro/prosumer Four Thirds-format DSLR boasts a 12.3 megapixel sensor, bright pentaprism 100% viewfinder, True Pic V+ image processor, ISO settings to 6400, 720p HD video capability and its signature feature—a 3.0-inch dual-axis 270º swiveling 920,000-dot LCD. It also provides 10 built-in art filters that work with both still and video shooting as well as multiple aspect ratios. The E-5 accepts SDHC/SDXC memory cards and has 11-point dynamically adjustable AF. $1,699.99 body only. olympusamerica.com
Pentax K-5. A thoughtfully upgraded successor to the rugged, weatherproof prosumer classic K-7, this handsome machine features a low-noise 16.3MP APS-C-format sensor, an all-glass pentaprism viewfinder and an impressive burst rate of 7 fps. A high-performance Prime II image processor improves speed and image quality, and the K-5 now has Full HD 1080p video capability, built-in HDR, a 3.0-inch live-view LCD, 77-segment evaluative metering and ISO 80-51,200. Its magnesium alloy clad body is built on an aluminum chassis and includes enhanced built-in image stabilization and a built-in electronic level with tilt-scale display. A range of in-camera image processing and special effects filters encourage artistic expression. $1,349.95 with DA 18-55mm WR (water-resistant) lens. pentaximaging.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2. Bristling with high-end DSLR features, this attractive, high-res, 16MP Micro Four Thirds beauty is more compact than most DSLRs. It shoots Full HD 1080p AVCHD video and takes a 14MP photo at the same time. Its 1.53-million-dot widescreen live-view finder (LVF) provides an outstanding viewing experience similar to an optical viewfinder plus an enhanced ability to display information. A 3.0-inch pivoting LCD offers a 100% view plus touch-screen control of stills and video, with autofocus for both. Other features include: in-body Mega OIS image stabilization; advanced iA mode; my color and film modes; RAW shooting capability; 5-fps bursts; and selectable AF tracking. Add a Panasonic G 12.5mm f/12 3D Micro 4/3 lens, and it shoots real 3D images viewable on a 3D TV! $809.95 body only, black or silver. panasonic.com
Canon EOS 7D. A camera that practically defines the upper level enthusiast class, this robust, reliable 18 megapixel APS-C-size CMOS sensor digital SLR can shoot Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps with manual controls or capture full-res images at an impressive 8 fps. Other pro-oriented features include: a 100% pentaprism viewfinder; 3.0-inch 920,000-dot LCD; rugged, weatherproof, magnesium alloy body; 150,000-cycle-tested shutter; dual Digic 4 image processors; an AF system with 19-point cross-type sensors; 63-zone dual-layer metering sensor; and ISO expandable to 12,800. $1,699 body only. usa.canon.com
Nikon D7000. This impressive crossover 16.2MP APS-C, DX-format DSLR has proven popular among serious shooters because it’s optimized for both still and video functionality, delivers pro-caliber image quality and provides an ergonomic form factor and conveniently placed, organized controls. In addition to picture control settings and a host of scene modes, in-camera image enhancements include filter effects and image overlay. It can shoot Full HD 1080p video at 24 fps with full-time AF and face priority while providing manual exposure control when needed for video clips lasting up to 20 minutes. It features fast Expeed 2 image processing for minimal shutter lag, shoots full-res stills at 6 fps, provides 39-point AF, RGB 3D matrix metering and twin SD slots. $1,199.95 body only. nikonusa.com
Sony NEX-7. The NEX-7 represents a breakthrough in compact interchangeable-lens camera design, integrating a bright, high-res, 2.36M-dot OLED eye-level EVF into a crisply styled body that resembles a classic rangefinder camera but delivers the flexibility and performance of an enthusiast DSLR. Its impressive tech includes: a 24.3MP APS-C-size image sensor; a 10-fps burst rate; Full HD 1080 video capture in AVCHD format at 60p, 60i, and 24p; and an ultra-short 0.02-sec shutter release time lag. An exclusive Tri-Navi control system provides access to commonly used settings using three dials and a range of custom setting options. Other features include: a tilting 3.0-inch, 921k LCD; 3D and 2D sweep panorama modes; anti-motion blur and handheld twilight modes; auto HDR; iAuto mode; 11 picture effects; and compatibility with optical SteadyShot image-stabilized lenses. $1,349.99 with 18-55mm lens. sony.com