SLRs With Point-and-Shoot Personalities

Nikon D90, our current Best Buy.
The impression that digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras are too complicated to use is quickly fading. So, too, is the notion that they lack some of the friendly features found on point-and-shoot cameras. While digital SLRs probably won't replace pocket cameras anytime soon, more users are looking to step up their photography by graduating to a digital SLR.

We tested eight of the latest SLRs, and found that you can get more camera for your money than ever before. We aren't talking just about megapixels, though they are still increasing. SLRs now benefit from the trickling down of technology used in professional models, as well as from the rise of features previously common only to point-and-shoot cameras.

Typically, more-expensive SLRs boast such extras as a higher frames-per-second rate (for capturing fast-moving action), as well as better high-ISO performance (which improves low-light indoor or nighttime shots). And the $1250 Nikon D90, our Best Buy, is the first digital SLR able to take video (at 720p resolution). It can't compete with a camcorder, but we expect to see more of this capability in the future (Canon's full-frame 5D Mark II can capture 1080p video).

Point-and-shoot-style scene modes, face detection, and live view (for framing shots via the LCD) are all increasingly common. Of the models here, only the entry-level, $650 Nikon D60 lacks live view. Some manufacturers do better than others at implementing live view. Sony, for example, put a second image sensor in its $550 DSLR-A300K for faster, more accurate shooting; Nikon and Canon use phase-detection autofocus (which depends on the camera's focus sensors) and contrast-detection autofocus (which senses the contrast in the image to determine focus) in live view on the D90 and the $1600 EOS 50D, respectively.

Only one camera here, the $2700 Olympus E3, has no scene modes for shooting in certain conditions. And though at this time last year just one SLR had face detection, this year the D90 and three of the four ranking Canons (the EOS 40D being the exception) have that capability.

Image stabilization is another SLR trend. While some manufacturers, such as Canon and Nikon, put the stabilization functionality inside the lens, others place it in the camera body; Pentax does so with its $1000 K20D, as do Olympus and Sony with their respective SLRs.

In-camera image-sensor cleaning is now ubiquitous. The feature doesn't eliminate the need for cleaning the sensor yourself on occasion, but it helps mitigate the ever-annoying issue of dust landing on the sensor and potentially marring your images (typically dust will be more visible the higher the aperture setting).

The latest SLRs prove you don't have to spend big bucks for great images: Canon's entry-level, $700 EOS Digital Rebel XS earned a chart slot. So did the EOS 50D, the higher-resolution successor to the $1300 EOS 40D. Rounding out our current batch of tested models is Pentax's K20D, which offers unique shooting features and good performance.

Missing the chart is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 ($800 with a 28mm-to-90mm lens), which lacks the single-lens reflex structure of a traditional SLR camera but uses interchangeable lenses. We also evaluated two pro full-frame models, the Nikon D700 ($3600 with a 24mm-to-120mm, f/3.5-to-5.6 VR lens) and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 ($5100 with a 24mm-to-70mm, f/2.8 lens). Falling short, too, was the $1000 Olympus E-520, which has a 14mm-to-42mm, f/3.5-to-5.6 lens but suffers from an inelegant design and middling image quality.

For more information about selecting the right camera for you, read our digital camera buying guide.

Digital SLR Cameras: Read Our Reviews

  1. Nikon D90
  2. Canon EOS 50D
  3. Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi
  4. Canon EOS 40D
  5. Sony Alpha DSLR-A300K
  6. Olympus Evolt E-510
  7. Olympus E3
  8. Canon EOS Digital Rebel XS
  9. Nikon D60
  10. Pentax K20D

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