Technically, a DSLR is a through-the-lens-viewing camera in which an angled mirror behind the lens reflects the image formed by the lens up into an optical viewfinder (OVF) for viewing. The mirror moves out of the light path at the instant of exposure so the light can reach the sensor. Strictly speaking, no mirrorless camera that uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of an OVF is really an SLR or a DSLR, even if it looks like one and provides something akin to the DSLR shooting experience.
Classic OVF DSLRs are available in all price ranges, from entry-level to high-end pro models. And, as you can see by perusing those listed here, leading camera manufacturers offer a number of enticing models at a wide range of price points.
When customers step up to your counter asking about an interchangeable-lens camera, make sure to show them traditional OVF models along with mirrorless EVF models. You might be surprised which ones they pick, and they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness in giving them a real choice. Heck, you can even demonstrate the virtues of an OVF camera without turning it on! Here’s an array of cool, current examples.
Nikon upgraded this formidable 36.3 megapixel, full-frame (FX-format) DSLR by eliminating the optical low-pass filter to enhance sharpness. It also incorporated an advanced Expeed 4 image processor, enabling high sensitivities up to ISO 51,200, and upped the resolution of the 3.2-inch LCD monitor to 1,229K dots. It still provides advanced scene recognition using a 91,000-pixel RGB 3D color matrix metering system that works with Nikon’s 51-point autofocus (AF) system. The combination provides enhanced responsiveness, face detection AF, auto white balance accuracy and i-TTL flash performance.
The D810 captures continuous, full-res bursts at up to 5 fps and records Full HD 1,920×1,080 video at 60/50/30/25 and 24 frames per sec (fps). There are multiple focusing modes for video recording, as well as multi-area FX- or DX-format 16:9 crop modes, both in 1080p. The large LCD provides a live view selector and there’s simultaneous live view output to external monitors while shooting uncompressed video. Other features include: a bright viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and 0.7x magnification; 20-level audio adjustment with on-screen indicators for mics and headphones; external mic and headphone jacks; Linear PCM audio encoding; 46x view for focus confirmation; and customizable controls. The D810 also supports Eyefi Wi-Fi SD cards. $3,299.95.* nikonusa.com
Canon EOS 5DS R
Delivering the full resolving power of its remarkable 50.6MP, full-frame sensor by cancelling the negative effects of the low-pass filter, the pro-aimed 5DS R is capable of delivering medium-format-level images. It also offers Full HD 1080p video recording at 30 fps plus a time-lapse movie function that combines images shot at set intervals into a Full HD movie. Its high-end features include: dual Digic 6 image processors; a big, 3.2-inch, 1.04M-dot ClearView II LCD; EOS scene detection with a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor; a 61-point high-density reticular AF sensor; and Canon’s iTR (Intelligent Tracking and Resolution) system to enhance AF performance using information provided by the metering sensor.
Despite its large file sizes, the 5DS R can shoot full-res bursts at up to 5 fps. Its intelligent viewfinder II offers 100% coverage and incorporates a transparent LCD that displays setting info, a customizable view of AF points and grid lines. The camera’s high-tech mirror features a newly developed mirror vibration control system that uses a miniature motor and cams instead of conventional springs, and it has a time-release lag setting to further suppress camera shake. All this and more are built into a rugged, weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body with a reinforced base plate and dual media card slots. $3,599. usa.canon.com
Pentax K-3 II
The top-of-the-line K-3 takes the classic Pentax K line to a higher level with an upgraded 24.35MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor. An antialiasing filter simulator gives users the choice of leaving it off for superior resolution and detail capture or turning it on to eliminate moiré patterns. And an advanced Prime III processor enhances speed and performance. Other significant enthusiast-aimed upgrades are a SAFOX II AE/AF system with 27 cross-type AF points and an 86K-pixel RGB AE sensor that provides superior subject identification to enhance AF accuracy.
Also featured are an 8.3-fps, full-res burst rate; multi-pattern auto white balance (AWB); dual SD card slots; a 100%-field-of-view pentaprism viewfinder; and a large 3.2-inch, 1037K-dot LCD. Add to that a built-in GPS module, electronic compass and AstroTracer for better night sky images. Plus a built-in sensor-based shake-reduction system is said to provide a 4.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting. Support for smartphone/PC connectivity is included, and remote shutter release, viewing and transferring of images are possible with a Pentax Edition Flu Wi-Fi card. Legacy features include a top shutter speed of 1/8,000 sec, Full HD 1080p video, an external mic jack and HDMI output for stills, video and sound. The K-3 II sports a fully sealed, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body. $999.95. ricohimaging.com
Sony Alpha SLT-A99
The 99 is not truly a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder but a hybrid design that employs a stationary mirror that reflects part of the light passing through the lens to the AF sensors. The result: Sony’s flagship Translucent Mirror technology, A-mount camera provides full-time AF before, during and after the exposure. This is especially important when shooting HD movies or high-speed bursts of action subjects.
Its pro/prosumer credentials include a full-frame, 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor; an advanced Bionz processor; a tilting, 1,228K-dot, 3-inch Xtra Fine LCD; an XGA-res OLED electronic viewfinder; 6-fps maximum full-frame bursts; and an enhanced Quick Navi Pro control interface. It also features: a dual AF system that combines phase-detect and contrast-detect AF; ISO 100–25,600; a 1,200-zone evaluative metering system; built-in GPS; auto HDR; Full HD 24p to 60p video recording; internal sensor-shift image stabilization; a quiet multi-control dial optimized for video shooting; and a magnesium chassis with weather sealing. $1,999.99. sony.com
Sigma SD1 Merrill
Sigma’s pro/enthusiast flagship DSLR features a high-res, APS-C-format version of the unique, three-layer Foveon X3 sensor that works like film to deliver full color information at each pixel location. It also provides a Dual True II image-processing engine, an 11-point, twin-cross AF sensor and a 3-inch LCD—all built into a magnesium body with O-ring-sealed buttons and enhanced weatherproofing.
Key performance features include: a maximum 5-fps burst rate; ISO 6,400; and shutter speeds to 1/8,000 sec. While the SD1 doesn’t offer live view, video capture or a tethering capability, it does deliver pro features like micro AF adjustment, three custom mode settings on the exposure mode (PASM), and an easily removable IR filter for infrared shooting. Where the Sigma SD1 really sparkles is in its imaging performance, especially at low ISOs, where it delivers film-like images with exquisite detail and superb color rendition. $1,999. sigmaphoto.com
Canon EOS Rebel T6s
This stylish new Rebel represents a significant advance for Canon’s popular entry-level series. It’s been upgraded with 24.2MP, APS-C-size CMOS sensor coupled to a state-of-the-art Digic 6 processor. It incorporates a new hybrid CMOS III AF system with 19 cross-type AF sensors for faster, more accurate autofocus with action subjects during movie shooting and live view. A top ISO setting of 12,800 can be expanded to ISO 25,600.
The T6s also provides built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC (which enables fast connection to mobile devices as well as the CS100 Connect Station). Other features include: a 3-inch, vari-angle, 1.04M-dot ClearView II touch-screen LCD; a maximum full-res burst rate of 5 fps; Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps; and a full range of built-in creative filters. Aimed at more advanced photographers, the Rebel T6s is the first Rebel to feature a top LCD panel, horizontal level, built-in HDR movie capabilities, and servo AF in live view for continuous tracking of moving subjects. With Canon EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 STM lens, $1,049. usa.canon.com
The first Nikon DSLR to offer a touch-screen LCD for more convenient navigation and camera control, this entry-level DSLR incorporates a 24.2MP, APS-C-size (DX-format) sensor coupled to an advanced Expeed 4 processor. It delivers high-res images, Full HD 1080p video at 60/50/30/25 and 24 fps, enhanced low-light performance at sensitivity settings up to ISO 25,600 and a full-res burst rate of 5 fps. To achieve better sharpness and the full resolution potential of its sensor, the usual low-pass filter on the sensor was eliminated.
Other key features include: a 39-point AF system with 9 cross-type sensors; a 2,016-pixel RGB metering system; selectable audio frequency ranges, including wide and voice; a built-in intervalometer that can record 9,999 consecutive frames at set intervals; and an eye sensor that turns the monitor on and off and starts playback when the photographer’s eye moves away from the eye-level viewfinder. The D5500’s body is a bit smaller and lighter than its predecessors yet incorporates a large 3.2-inch, 1,037K-dot LCD with a 180º swivel capability. Built-in Wi-Fi provides remote viewing and shutter release when the camera is paired with Android or iOS devices. $899.95. nikonusa.com
This handsome, ergonomically contoured classic DSLR delivers many of the features of the former top-of-the-line Pentax K-5 IIs at an enticingly moderate price. These include a 16.3MP, APS-C-format CMOS image sensor; a Prime M image-processing engine optimized for Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps; an advanced SAFOX IXi+ AF system; 77-segment metering; and continuous bursts at up to 6 fps.
Its 3-inch, wide-view, 921K-dot LCD is complemented by a bright, 100%-view optical pentaprism viewfinder. Other features include an in-camera shake-reduction system, ISOs settings of 100–51,200 plus auto, and a weather-sealed body. The K-50 uses rechargeable Li-ion or AA batteries to power all functions. $349.95. ricohimaging.com
Medium-Format DSLRs for Pros and Well-Heeled Enthusiasts
Here’s a brief rundown of two awesome and expensive DSLRs with really big sensors from two legendary makers.
This brilliantly upgraded medium-format DSLR combines weatherproof build quality, impressive maneuverability and ultra-high resolution with a 43.8×32.8mm, 51.4MP CMOS sensor and an antialiasing filter-less design. It delivers 3-fps continuous shooting, Full HD video and 4K interval shooting, as well as fast image review and transfer.
The 645Z sports a tiltable, 3.2-inch, 1,037,000-dot LCD monitor. It also features HDMI output for images, video and sound; USB 3.0 connectivity; a customizable RAW/Fx button; HDR capture; ISO 100–204,800 settings; and dual SD card slots with wireless Flu card compatibility. $6,999.95. ricohimaging.com
An instant classic, this robust, weatherproof, ergonomically contoured and surprisingly compact medium-format DSLR has a 30x45mm, 37.5MP CMOS sensor. The sensor is coupled to a state-of-the-art Maestro II image processor with a 2GB buffer and there’s no optical low-pass filter.
It also offers a 3-inch, 921.6K-dot LCD; a pentaprism 0.87x-magnification optical viewfinder; Full HD video recording with bokeh and 4K recording; Wi-Fi; and a GPS module. As expected, it delivers extraordinary image performance in the field and handles like a 35mm-format DSLR. $16,900. us.leica-camera.com
The mainstay of many high-end studio pros and fashion shooters, this hefty machine is nicely balanced and handles surprisingly well. It delivers impressive imaging performance with a 43.8×32.9mm, 50MP CMOS sensor that can capture 16-bit color images with a 14-stop dynamic range.
It also has built-in Wi-Fi, allowing for remote camera control, and a new absolute position lock (APL) function that recognizes when an image is recomposed and precisely adjusts the focus automatically. $28,500. hasselbladusa.com
* All prices are body only unless otherwise noted.