“Entry-level” DSLRs, or any camera for that matter, was once a pejorative term that applied to stripped-down models built to a price point. However, as we move deeper into the digital age, that definition no longer applies. That’s because today’s casual shooters who are thinking about moving up from a smartphone to a “real camera” are more focused on enhancing their creative potential than in acquiring richer feature sets at bargain prices.
These emerging enthusiasts represent a demographic sweet spot for retailers; they’re expanding their engagement with photography and are motivated to acquire additional lenses, more advanced high-ticket cameras and a plethora of accessories going forward.
Moreover, the most effective strategy in establishing long-term relationships with this key demographic is to get to know them; understand their priorities; and become a purveyor of expert advice as well as imaging equipment and services. The interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs) we’ve selected for our list all deliver outstanding image quality and advanced feature sets aimed at satisfying the very folks who are likely to become your best customers.
Dynamic Entry-Level DSLRs & an Ingenious DSLT
Nikon’s compact, lightweight digital SLR provides a satisfying level of performance and features in an unintimidating, high-value package. The D3500 incorporates a 24.2-megapixel APS-C-size (DX-format, 23.5mm x 15.7mm) sensor that works with Nikon’s Expeed 4 image processor. Moreover, it omits the traditional low-pass filter to enhance resolution for crisp images.
The D3500 records Full HD 1080p video at 60/50/30/25/24 frames per sec (fps) and also provides a full-res burst rate of 5 fps. In addition, the entry-level DSLR offers enhanced low-light performance at sensitivity settings from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600. Additional features include: a Multi-Cam 11-point autofocus (AF) system; a 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor; auto-selectable scene modes for newbies; a handy guide mode with on-screen guidance; and special effects settings. To facilitate easy transfer and sharing, Nikon SnapBridge offers Wi-Fi and always-on Bluetooth connectivity. With an AF-P DX Nikkor 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6G VR lens, $499.95.
A compact Pentax DSLR from Ricoh Imaging, the K-70 delivers imaging performance and features on a par with upper-tier models, but at a more affordable price. Ergonomically contoured, it employs a 24.2MP APS-C-format, AA filterless CMOS sensor along with a Prime MII processor. It also provides a selectable antialiasing filter simulator. The combination delivers Full HD 1080i video recording at up to 60 fps with continuous autofocus. Notably, the camera is also capable of 4K interval recording and a full-res burst rate of 6 fps. Moreover, its ISO settings range from ISO 100 to 204,800 for low-light performance.
Additional features include: a SAFOX X 11-point AF system with nine cross sensors; a 3-inch, 921K-dot, vari-angle LCD monitor with a night vision feature; a bright 100%-coverage optical pentaprism viewfinder; and in-camera sensor-shift shake reduction with Pixel Shift and Diffraction Correction technology. Further, it offers built-in Wi-Fi connectivity plus GPS with an optional module. It’s all integrated into a weather-sealed body that comes in black or silver. With Pentax DA 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR lens, $799.95.
Canon EOS Rebel SL3
Canon’s petite entry-level Rebel DSLR provides many of the key features found on its higher-level broad-spectrum models. The SL3 incorporates a 24.1MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor paired with an advanced Digic 8 image processor. As a result, the compact DSLR delivers 4K 24p video capture plus 4K time-lapse movie modes. It also executes 5-fps continuous shooting. In addition, its top native ISO setting of 25,600 is expandable to ISO 51,200.
The camera provides scene intelligent auto mode for the novice ILC shooter as well as a feature-assistant guide for help in selecting the best settings. It also provides a 9-point phase-detection AF system with Dual Pixel CMOS AF for enhanced speed and performance. The AF system additionally includes eye-detection AF and spot AF. Also featured are a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot, vari-angle touch LCD monitor and an optical viewfinder for two ways of shooting.
Other features include: a microphone input; a digital lens optimizer to correct optical shifting automatically; and Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC/Bluetooth. Measuring 4.8×3.7×2.8 inches and weighing a mere 14.3 ounces, the SL3 comes in black or white. With EF-S 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 IS STM lens, $749.99.
Sony Alpha 68
Like its bigger sibling—the full-frame α99 II—this handsome entry-level ILC has a fixed translucent mirror and a high-res electronic viewfinder (EVF). That’s in lieu of the traditional DSLR’s flipping mirror and optical viewfinder; Sony has dubbed this category DSLTs. The α68 employs a 24.2MP APS-C-format Exmor CMOS sensor and an advanced Bionz X image processor. Together they achieve a full-res burst rate of 8 fps; an ISO 100–25,600 sensitivity range; and Full HD 1080p video recording at 30/24 fps in XAVC S format with continuous AF.
Moreover, the A-mount DSLT utilizes a 79-point phase-detection autofocus system with 15 cross points; 1,200-zone evaluative metering; and SteadyShot Inside image stabilization. In addition, its 0.39-inch, 1.44M-dot Tru-Finder EVF is complemented by a 2.7-inch, 461K-dot, tilting LCD monitor. Other features include: eye AF subject tracking; auto object framing; multi-frame NR compositing; and a dynamic range optimizer (DRO). Furthermore, Sony’s Translucent Mirror technology enables full-time AF before, during and after the exposure—especially important when shooting HD movies or high-speed action. With DT 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 SAM II lens, $699.99.
Six Sensational Mirrorless Models
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85
The Panasonic GX85 looks and feels like a classic rangefinder 35mm model, but it’s a Micro Four Thirds-format mirrorless camera with a rich feature set. It uses a 16MP Live MOS sensor and an advanced Venus engine processor. They work to produce 4K UHD (3,840×2,160) video capture at 30/24 fps as well as a 10-fps full-res burst rate with single-shot AF (6 fps with continuous AF). The GX85 also has an 8MP still option at 30 fps. In addition, the camera captures Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps.
With sensitivity settings to ISO 25,600, the ILC also offers excellent responsiveness due to its Depth from Defocus AF technology. In addition, a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot, tilting touch-screen LCD monitor and a 2.76M-dot EVF provide excellent viewing options. Additional features include: a dual image stabilization system that leverages the camera’s built-in 5-axis IS with the IS capabilities built into OIS Lumix lenses; Wi-Fi and QR code wireless connectivity; a silent shutter mode; auto HDR and multi-exposure modes; and an ergonomic form factor. With 12–32mm f/3.5–5.6 and 45–150mm f/4.0–5.6 lenses, $999.99.
Nikon Z 50
Just announced, the ultracompact Z 50 is Nikon’s first DX-format Z system mirrorless ILC. Moreover, the diminutive ILC is designed around Nikon’s wide Z mount. It employs a 20.9MP DX-format CMOS sensor and Expeed 6 image processor to achieve high image quality even in low light. Its native sensitivity range of ISO 100–51,200 for still images can extend to an ISO 204,800 equivalent. In addition, it records 4K UHD video at up to ISO 25,600. It also achieves an amazing 11-fps burst rate with AF/AE.
Moreover, the brand-new camera employs a 209-point fast, hybrid AF system and is the first DX-format camera with eye-detection AF. In addition, the ILC features a 3.2-inch, 1.04M-dot flip-down touch LCD screen and a .39-inch, 230K-dot OLED EVF with 100% coverage. Other features include: Full HD video recording from 24–100 fps; intuitive controls; time-lapse and interval shooting; SnapBridge wireless connectivity; and various creative and filter effects. With the new Nikkor Z DX 16–50mm f/3.5–6.3 VR lens, $999.95.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
Smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the Olympus E-M10 Mark III provides many key features of the flagship Micro Four Thirds-format OM-D E-M1 Mark II in an elegantly compact camera. Designed for ILC newbies, it has a 16.1MP Live MOS sensor that, along with a TruePic VIII processor, achieves crisp full-res images at a fast 8.6 fps. It also provides an ISO range of 100–25,600 and an in-body 5-axis sensor-shift IS system for a 4-stop anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting.
Moreover, for the first-time ILC photographer, there are four shooting-assist modes: intelligent auto mode; scene mode; advanced photo mode; and art filter mode. Notably, the E-M10 Mark III also captures 4K UHD video at 30 fps and has a clips video mode. Other features include: an 81-point AF system; a 2.36M-dot, 1.23x EVF with an impressive 120-fps refresh rate; a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot tilting, touch LCD with touch AF; 15 art filters; built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for sharing and remote shooting; and a built-in auto flash. In black or silver, with ED 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 EZ lens, $699.99.
Canon EOS M6 Mark II
Just released, the latest iteration of Canon’s sleek, compact, full-featured mirrorless M series provides impressive performance parameters. It features a high-res 32.5MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor coupled to the new Digic 8 image processor. As a result, it delivers a full-res burst rate of a sizzling 14 fps with AF/AE tracking. Also, its sensitivity settings of ISO 100–25,600 expand to ISO 51,200. The ILC also provides 4K UHD 30p and Full HD 120p video recording. Moreover, its Dual Pixel CMOS AF tech integrates two separate photodiodes into each pixel for enhanced phase-detection AF and faster lock-on without hunting.
Other key features include: a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot, 180º-tilting touch LCD monitor; movie servo AF for smooth transitions, tracking sensitivity and AF speed adjustments; face-tracking AF; touch-AF; and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. In black or silver with the EF-M 15–45mm f/3.5–6.3 IS STM lens and EVF-DC2 attachable EVF, $1,099.
Sony Alpha 6400
This thoughtfully designed Sony ILC has a 24.2MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor and a Bionz X processor. It set a high standard with its advanced sensor design; enhanced 4K UHD 24p video capture; and a full-res RAW burst rate of 11 fps for 21 frames. Its sensor combines wide-area 425-AF-point phase detection with 425-point contrast-detection AF to deliver precise, decisive AF in as little as 0.02 sec. In addition, it achieves superior object identification; faster, more consistent AF tracking; an 8-fps burst rate in live view; real-time eye AF; and 14-bit RAW file output for capturing a wider tonal range and color gamut. ISO settings top out at 102,400 for stills.
Viewing options include a 2.36M-dot OLED EVF and a 3-inch, 921K-dot tilting LCD monitor. Furthermore, the 6400 captures 4K UHD video at 30 fps, 25 fps and cinematic 24 fps, as well as Full HD video at slow-motion 120 fps, all in XAVC S format. When using the Super35mm 16:9 aspect ratio, recordings are captured at an effective 20MP resolution (6,000×3,376) and output at 8MP in 4K. The ILC also supports custom color as well as Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), S-Log2 and S-Log3 Gamma profiles. With PZ 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS lens, $999.
The small, lightweight X-T30 features Fujifilm’s fourth generation X-Trans BSI CMOS 4 sensor. The 26.1MP APS-C-format sensor takes advantage of an X-Processor 4 quad core CPU to provide fast AF and accurate face detection. The sensitivity of ISO 160—only available as extended ISO on previous models—is now a regular ISO option to facilitate capture in bright daylight. In addition, the camera has an extended ISO range of 80–51,200. Other upgrades include 425-point phase-detection autofocus; eye-detection AF in AF-C mode for more accurate tracking; and the low-light limit for phase-detection AF was expanded from +0.5 EV to -3 EV. The camera also includes a focus lever that lets users quickly shift to a focus point.
What’s more, the ILC records DCI 4K and 4K UHD video at 30 fps as well as Full HD 1080p at up to 120 fps for slow motion effects. Filmmakers needing high color fidelity can record 10-bit, 4:2:2 color through its HDMI port. Moreover, users can record in film simulation modes. Other features include: a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot touch LCD with two-way tilting and drag controls; a 2.36M-dot OLED EVF; advanced SR auto mode that automatically chooses the optimum settings out of 58 presets; as well as built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. In black or silver, with the XC15–45mm lens, $999.
Sigma sd Quattro
This unique mirrorless camera combines Sigma’s famous three-layer 29MP APS-C Foveon X3 Quattro CMOS sensor that delivers full color information at every pixel point without interpolation. Thanks to its 1:1.4 RGB pixel ratio, the ILC creates 19.6MP lossless compressed RAW images with superior color output and a spatial resolution equivalent to a conventional 39MP Bayer sensor. Moreover, its Dual True III image-processing engine allows continuous full-res shooting at 3.6 fps for 14 frames, at sensitivities up to ISO 6,400. It additionally enables super-fine detail mode.
Also featured are a 3-inch, 1.62M-dot LCD monitor and a 2.36M-dot, 110x-magnification electronic viewfinder. While in auto mode, the EVF will toggle between the eye piece when a photographer raises the camera to his eyes and then to the LCD screen as the camera is lowered. In addition, its hybrid AF system has both phase-detection and contrast-detection points with nine selectable zones. The splashproof camera also sports a unique ergonomic shape; a customizable control layout; and a Sigma SA lens mount. With a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art lens, $899.