Best beginner DSLR camera 2010

by Enche Tjin on October 22, 2010

This year beginner DSLR cameras get several improvements from last year models. Most improvements are evolutionary and usually inherited from  more advanced camera models.

People generally buy beginner DSLR cameras because they want camera that easy to use, compact and cheap. Today, there are many beginners cameras that able to produce very high image quality compared to advanced cameras from three years ago. I usually evaluate these cameras based on its spec, value (price), and put more emphasize as a photography tool.

Here are the best DSLR cameras for beginners in 2010

1. Pentax K-r (Best beginner cameras in 2010) Price: $850

pentax-kr-red

Pentax K-r available in red, white and black

Pentax K-r is compact but tough, easy to use, speedy (shoots 6 frames per second) great in low light and comes with some colors. K-r is an improvement from last year best beginner camera Pentax K-x. Like K-x, K-r accepts universal AA batteries which is great for everyday use and travel. Now, K-r also has optional rechargeable batteries.  The screen quality is now 910k, which is equal to most DSLR camera today.

Compared to Nikon or Canon DSLR cameras, Pentax employs built-in sensor stabilization that help stabilized any lens that mounted on it. This feature is great money saving and great with prime lenses.

However, we should also aware that Pentax lens collection is not as large and might not easy to find compared to Canon and Nikon, also it flash (lighting) is not as advanced as Nikon or Canon system.

In video recording mode, K-r is not as competitive as Canon or Nikon which already offer 1080 Full HD movie recording. K-r only offers 720p.

The good and bad
+ Continuous shooting up to 6 fps
+ Sensor shift stabilization (Shake Reduction) works with any lenses
+ Great in low light
+ Accept universal AA batteries or rechargeable lithium battery
+ Easy to use and operate
+ Color selection
+ Plenty built-in post processing and scene modes
- Limited lens collection
- Out of date flash system
- Low resolution video recording according to today standard

2. Canon T2i / 550D Price: $850

Canon EOS T2i inherits many great features from Canon 7D, the most advanced Canon crop sensor DSLR at the moment such as 18 MP, full HD video, and new metering system. Many amateur or independent movie maker on budget also rely on Canon T2i to make video clip.

For still images, Canon T2i is excellent, thanks to its 18 MP sensor with 14 bit conversion. It is also relatively clean from noise up to ISO 3200.

If you want to invest on many lenses in the future, Canon provides a very large lens collection in an relatively inexpensive compared to other manufacturers.

canon-t2i-550d

The good and bad
+ 18 MP high resolution sensor
+ Excellent image quality even in low light situation
+ Large Canon EOS lens collection
+ Able to record Full HD 1080 video with manual exposure control
+ Ease of use and operate
- Only shoot 3.7 fps
- AF system is not improved for years

3. Nikon D3100 Price: $650

nikon-d3100Nikon D3100 is a small improvement from the popular D3000. There are two major improvements: D3100 has live view mode and able to record full HD video (1080) now, and it has a new 14 MP sensor, which is more capable in low light situation. Like D3000, D3100 still has 11 AF auto focus system, does not has auto focus motor (which limit lens auto focus compatibility).

This improvement is crucial, but it won’t make D3100 better than other 2010 beginner DSLR cameras in this class. However, it is the most inexpensive one.

Other disadvantage of D3100 is lack of direct access of important setting such as ISO and White Balance. But on the bright side, a complete beginners will feel less intimidated with too many buttons.

The good and the bad
+ Inexpensive
+ Image quality almost as good as the more advanced Nikon D90
+ Record Full HD video
+ Guide mode is useful for beginners
+ Easy to operate
- Lack of direct button access to ISO and WB
- Low res LCD screen
- Lack of built-in auto focus motor
- Only shoot 3 fps

4. Sony A55/A33 Price: $899 / $750

Sony A55/A33 are actually not an DSLR camera because it does not has mirror so that what you see in the viewfinder is not through the lens but it uses electronic viewfinder like in superzoom compact cameras. However the design is similar to DSLR because you can use and interchange with Sony/Minolta DSLR lenses.

The most important advantage of this design is you auto focus is significantly faster in live view mode and fast continuous auto focus when recording movie is achievable. Because there is no mirror flipping in and out during exposure, these cameras can record very fast continuous shooting, up to 7-10 frames per second. Because no optical viewfinder and mirror, the size of the camera is also reduced, make it looks like a mini DSLR.

The problem with the design is you lose optical viewfinder, and the auto focus for still image is slower than most digital SLR cameras. There is also no live view and limited control when shooting in continuous burst which reduce the effectiveness of this camera’s strong point.

sony-a55-a33

The good and the bad
+ Small and lightweight
+ 16 MP image is good even in low light condition
+ Fast continuous shooting speed
+ Fast continuous auto focus in movie mode
+ Record high quality Full HD video
+ Built-in sensor-shift reduction
+ Tilting screen is great especially for video recording
- Limited control when shooting in continuous shooting mode
- Limited control when recording video
- Slow AF acquisition in still images photography

Overall, there are no clear winner in this beginner DSLR camera category. It’s all depend on your budget and your usage. For example, if you are focusing on video recording quality Canon T2i should be your first pick, on the other hand, if you want to get the cheapest and still enjoy DSLR cameras that capable to produces high image quality then, D3100 is the one. Finally, Pentax Kr win my vote because the spec is more focused on still photography and has many useful features such as shake reduction, leading 6 fps continuous shooting and optional universal AA battery and rechargeable lithium battery.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Evelyn November 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Hi, I’m upgrading from a P&S, and want to learn the basics of photography. I want to play around with all the settings, etc. In the future, I want to take better pictures for myself. Do you recommend getting a mirrorless camera (I picked the Panasonic Lumix G2 over Sony Nex3/5) or a beginner DSLR? What are the pros and cons of each for my intended purpose? Thanks for your feedback!

Enche Tjin November 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Advantage of beginner DSLR:
+ Responsive overall performance (auto focus speed)
+ 30-50+ lenses available, + accessories
+ Optical viewfinder is better than electronic viewfinder (current technology) especially in low light or super bright light
+ Power consumption : Mirrorless cameras usually use small battery and consume greater power because we usually use LCD monitor to compose picture, while DSLR use optical viewfinder. Per charge, a DSLR will probably last around 300-500 shots, while mirrorless camera might only last around 150-200 shots.
+ Many pro DSLR cameras available if you feel the need to upgrade someday.

Advantage of mirrorless system (Panasonic)
+ Smaller size and weight relative to DSLR cameras
+ Panasonic G2 allows you to use touchscreen LCD to pick focus and change setting
+ Auto focus in video mode is much faster than DSLR in video recording mode.

Advantage of Sony NEX
+ Very small form factor
+ nice and sturdy lens (aluminium casing)
+ Easy to operate, just like compact camera

Overall, I recommend DSLR camera for serious photography, but if the size and form disappoint you, then pick mirrorless. I recommend Panasonic rather than other system because their cameras are more technologically advance, has more lenses and accessories in their collection plus more suitable for people who want to learn photography than Sony NEX. The Nexes is primarily designed for people who don’t really care about changing setting and leave the camera mode in Automatic mode all the time. It is for compact shooters who want a better result.

For beginner DSLR camera, Nikon D3100, Canon T2i or Pentax K-r is a nice start. Good luck and I hope this post help.

Darrin Silverman December 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hi, I have owned the Canon T2i and the Nikon 3100 and the NIkon 3100 is by far the best beginner camera. It is a big improvement over the 3000. A new Expeed 2 processor the same in the D7000. Nikon lenses are superior to Canon and Pentax. It focuses faster than the T2i and the biggest plus is it will autofocus shooting 1080p video. The video in the T2i and every other DSLR is worthless you have to press down the focus button everytime your subject moves and you can clearly hear the camera refocusing in the t2i which ruins the video. The fact that it is $200 cheaper than the Pentax and T2i make it a no brainer #1 choice.

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