Today’s DSLRs pack in more features than ever before. We put ten of the best through their paces
Reviews in this Group Test
Today you can get more megapixels, speed and features from a camera half the price. And it isn’t simply that cameras are becoming cheaper or megapixel counts are rising ever higher; this crop of DSLRs offers more than ever.
Live View modes allow first-timers to preview a shot without peering through the viewfinder, and for the first time in a DSLR group test, three of this month’s contenders offer high-definition video recording.
All but one of these DSLRs also offer image stabilisation, either in the body of the camera or in the kit lens.
Of course, you still get all the traditional benefits of a DSLR. Lightning-fast startup times and incredibly short times between exposures mean you’re less likely to miss a shot with a DSLR than you are with a compact camera.
Interchangeable lenses are another huge benefit over compacts, which are stuck with the glass already attached. With any of these you can settle for the kit lens, or go all out and start building a collection of telephoto, ultra-wide angle and super-fast lenses to suit all occasions.
Likewise, remote shutter units and standalone flashguns all offer ways to take better pictures. Every camera here has a fully-automatic “green square” mode for beginners, but before long you’ll be tinkering with shutter and aperture priority modes as you become more technically advanced.
Inevitably, these developments in the market are accompanied by a baffling swathe of new models; it seems that there’s one for every pocket and preference. Luckily, we’re here to take out the guesswork. Read on to find out which you should buy.
Buyers Guide: DSLR testing, features and design, value for money
Most DSLRs offer superb image quality, and with the megapixel war all but over, but there are other things to consider.
Perhaps the most important is handling: if a camera isn’t comfortable in your hand, you won’t want to take as many pictures, and those with larger paws should be aware that entry-level DSLRs tend to be smaller than their pricier cousins.
Rubberised grips make a camera easier to hold, and its weight affects how it handles when you attach a telephoto lens. If you can, visit a shop and try the cameras for yourself.
The viewfinder is also important. Cheaper cameras tend to have cramped viewfinders, which can make framing a detailed shot or adjusting the focus manually a pain. A decent Live View can compensate for this to an extent.
Speaking of which, if you want a camera that offers Live View – the ability to frame a shot using the LCD screen – you need to make sure it works as you’d expect. Currently, only Sony’s Live View mode uses proper phase-detection autofocus. Others use contrast detection, which is considerably slower.
Otherwise, the camera you choose will come down to prioritising features. If you shoot a lot of sporting events, pick a camera with a fast continuous shooting speed. If you’re after a good all-rounder, HD video recording is a definite benefit.
|Image quality results: click on image for larger size|
Testing DSLRs is unusual in that only a few tests result in solid data. The most important factors – image quality and handling – can be assessed only through painstaking comparison.
To test image quality, we took dozens of shots with each camera. First, we set up a tripod at a local point of interest. We took a wide-angle shot with each camera, with the aperture set to f/5.6.
We repeated the test for each camera with the ISO speed set to 200 and 1600, to compare how each performed at low and high ISOs.
Then we took two images at ISO 200, one with the lens zoomed out and the other zoomed in, looking for problems such as chromatic aberrations (discolouration of high contrast areas) and softness. We took as many shots with each camera as were needed to get a good exposure.
Our next two tests are real torture, particularly for cameras that claim to be excellent in low light. We put each camera on a tripod and set up a still-life scene.
Then, with the aperture set to f/22 to ensure a long exposure, we took a picture at ISO 200. Then we dimmed the lights and set each camera’s ISO to 800.
We repeated the shot with the aperture still set to f/22 to see how much noise each camera’s sensor generated during a long exposure.
We then pushed the ISO by one stop and took another picture, until we reached each camera’s maximum ISO.
We compared the images from each test, and awarded more points to cameras that produce high ISO shots without significant colour shifts or noise that would be distracting if printed at sizes larger than 6 x 4in. Image noise is unaffected by the lens you attach to your camera, so if it’s bad when you buy it, it will remain so.
|Digital SLRs Feature table: click on image for larger size|
Features & Design
Image quality has been consistently superb for DSLRs for some time now, and it’s for this reason the Features & Design score is so important. We arrive at this score by evaluating how it feels, and we dig through the menu system to get a feel for how quick it is to adjust.
We use both the viewfinder to take shots and Live View (where available), concluding which viewfinders feel roomy and bright and which are dull and cramped. We also test each camera against the clock, to see which manufacturers can justify their claims about burst speeds.
Value for Money
This reflects a camera’s score in the Image Quality and Features & Design tests versus its price.
It doesn’t mean the cheapest camera wins; DSLR buyers need a camera that will grow with them as they become more technically accomplished, so cameras with limited features or image quality lose out.