Current digital point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras are certainly capable of capturing impressive images and videos. But they typically have small image sensors and lack the creative options of lens interchangeability. That’s why consumers starting to get serious about creative photography will be tempted by step-up, entry-level, interchangeable-lens cameras (ILC).
In general, whether DSLRs or mirrorless compact models, ILCs deliver far greater framing flexibility, enhanced image quality—especially at high ISOs—and a full range of advanced features and capabilities. These include superior autofocus (AF) systems, a larger selection of video capture options, greater responsiveness and faster, more accurate tracking of moving subjects. In short, today’s broad-spectrum ILCs deliver full feature sets targeted at serious shooters—along with better overall performance and superior image quality.
Perhaps even more important for dealers, ILCs transform those who acquire them into “system buyers” primed to purchase additional lenses, a wide assortment of accessories and upgraded camera bodies down the line. In other words, ILCs are an important gateway to relationship marketing that provides a golden opportunity to simultaneously serve both your customers and your bottom line.
The seven step-up ILCs detailed here are high-performance, broad-spectrum cameras that offer high value as well as unparalleled access to their respective systems. Also, each provides plenty of room to grow as users become more advanced and proficient.
Please note, however, that we haven’t always chosen the lowest priced model in their respective lines but have favored the latest ones that provide the best performance per dollar quotient. Finally, bear in mind that consumers with the means and motivation should also be presented with the option of stepping up at an even higher level. Certainly show them one of the middle or top-tier ILCs offered by the camera manufacturers on our short list.
Three Enticing High-Value DSLRs
This sleekly contoured new DSLR features a 24.2 megapixel (MP) DX-format CMOS sensor coupled to an Expeed 4 image processor. Together they deliver an extended sensitivity range of ISO 100–25,600 and an impressive maximum full-res burst rate of 5 frames per second (fps). And the low-pass filter was eliminated to achieve higher sharpness and greater detail in both photos and videos, including Full HD 1080p video shot at up to 60 fps. Enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity options include SnapBridge, which uses Bluetooth connectivity.
Other features include: a 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD with a 170º viewing angle; a 95%-coverage, eye-level pentamirror viewfinder; auto mode; built-in special effects; the Multi-CAM 1000 AF sensor with 11 AF zones and phase detection; a pop-up flash compatible with Nikon’s i-TTL system; learn-as-you-go guide mode; and a Li-ion battery with a claimed 1,200-shot-per-charge capacity. With AF-P DX Nikkor 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6G VR lens with built-in image stabilization, $649.95. nikonusa.com
Canon EOS Rebel T6
Sporting an attractive contemporary version of the classic Rebel form factor, the compact T6 has an 18MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor. The sensor works with Canon’s upgraded Digic 4+ processor to deliver ISO settings from 100–6,400—expandable to 12,800. They also provide maximum full-res bursts of 3 fps with predictive AF as well as Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps. Its 9-point AF system incorporates a single central cross-pattern sensor to increase accuracy and focusing speed, provides an AI Servo AF mechanism for faster tracking of moving subjects, and uses contrast-detection focusing for enhanced precision when shooting movies.
Other step-up features are: a 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD; a 95%-coverage, eye-level pentamirror viewfinder; basic+ and creative auto modes; a scene-detection-based intelligent auto mode; creative filters; and Wi-Fi connectivity with Near Field Communication (NFC). With Canon EF-S 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 IS II lens with image stabilization (IS), $549.99. usa.canon.com
The rugged K-S2 integrates a 20MP, AA filter-less, APS-C-format CMOS sensor with Pentax’s upgraded Prime MII processor. Housed in a weather-resistant body, they deliver an impressive maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 51,200 and a commendable continuous burst rate of 5.5 fps. Advanced features include a pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage, built-in sensor-shift IS, HDR mode, a selectable AA filter simulator to reduce moiré, and 4K interval movie capture plus Full HD 1080p recording at 30/25/24 fps.
Its self-shot assist function, 3-inch, 921K-dot, vari-angle LCD monitor and second shutter release button help users capture the perfect selfie. The K-S2 accepts wireless Flu SD cards, employs an 11-point SAFOX X AF system with 9 cross-type sensors, has built-in Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity, a built-in P-TTL flash plus hot shoe, and a stereo microphone. With water-resistant Pentax-DA L 18–50mm f/4–5.6 DC WR RE lens, starts at $595.95 (depending on color). ricohimaging.com
A Quartet of Step-Up Mirrorless System Cameras
Sony Alpha a6000
This crisply styled, step-up compact has a 24.3MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor mated to an advanced Bionz X processor. Together they deliver impressive performance stats, including sensitivity settings of ISO 100–25,600 and an 11-fps, full-res burst rate. Its 179-point hybrid AF system with 4D focus employs 25 phase-detection and additional contrast-detection zones to achieve precise AF in as little as 0.06 sec. The E-mount camera records Full HD 1080p video at 60/30/24 fps, incorporates a 0.39-inch 1,440K-dot OLED electronic viewfinder and has a customizable user interface.
Other features include: manual focus (MF) assist; a tilting 3-inch, 922K-dot LCD; auto object framing to aid composition; picture effect and photo creativity modes; and Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity. With Sony 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS lens with OIS, $698. sony.com
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
This upgraded, step-up OM-D model provides key features of the flagship Micro Four Thirds OM-D E-M1 Mark II in an elegantly compact, high-value package. It employs a 16.1MP Live MOS sensor that, in combination with a state-of-the-art TruePic VII sensor, delivers crisp full-res images at a blistering 8.5 fps. It also provides ISO settings to 25,600 and has a built-in 5-axis sensor-shift IS system said to deliver a 4-stop anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting.
It can capture Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps and has a responsive 81-point “FAST” AF system. Other features are: a 2,360K-dot EVF with an impressive 120-fps refresh rate; a 3-inch, 1,040K-dot tilting, touch-screen LCD with touch AF; a top shutter speed of 1/16,000 sec; 14 art filters; and an integrated flash. Wi-Fi connectivity aids in easy sharing and remote shooting via smartphones. With M.Zuiko 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II R lens, $699. olympusamerica.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85
Like its predecessors, it has the look and feel of a classic rangefinder 35. But it’s an advanced Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera that features a 16MP Live MOS sensor and a cutting-edge Venus engine. The sensor omits the low-pass filter to boost fine detail resolving power by 10%. It captures 4K UHD video at 30/24 fps and provides a full-res burst rate of 10 fps with single-shot AF and 6 fps with continuous AF.
The GX85 has sensitivity settings to ISO 25,600 and excellent responsiveness thanks to its Depth from Defocus AF technology. In addition, its 3-inch, 1,040K-dot, tilting touch-screen LCD is complemented by a 2,764K-dot EVF to provide excellent viewing options. Other features include: dual IS that leverages the built-in 5-axis IS and the IS capabilities in OS Lumix lenses; Full HD video recording; Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity; silent shutter mode; and auto HDR. Furthermore, a 4K photo function extracts 8MP stills from 4K video. With 12–32mm f/3.5–5.6 Lumix G Vario f/3.5-5.6 stepping motor lens, $799.99. panasonic.com
This svelte step-up X-mount mirrorless compact has a 24.2MP CMOS sensor, provides 100–25,600 ISO settings and delivers 6-fps, full-res bursts. It also offers an electronic shutter option that can execute shutter speeds up to an amazing 1/32,000 sec for freezing extreme action. Additionally, it has a claimed AF speed of only 0.3 sec and a shutter lag time of a mere 0.05 sec.
A 3-inch, 1,040K-dot, tilting touch-screen monitor flips 180º and also uses a slide-and-tilt mechanism to facilitate shooting selfies. It also provides touch AF and touch shoot functions. For easy selfies, there are also a portrait enhancer mode and a self-timer with eye detection, smile detection, buddy timer and group detection modes. Without having to press the command dial or release button, the shutter is released when subjects smile, two people come close together, or a specified number of people come into the frame.
Other key features are: aluminum top and body panels; a 77-point contrast-detect AF system; built-in Wi-Fi connectivity; and film simulation modes. With Fujinon XC16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OIS II lens, $599.95. fujifilmusa.com