What is a good entry-level DSLR camera model in 2012?
April 17, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I used Canon point-and-shoot cameras before my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D80, which just broke down. I'm interested in getting a new DSLR camera.


As I gradually stepped up in my hobby of photography, so did my camera models. I started with a Canon point-and-shoot. After my Canon PowerShot G10 (which was recommended to me by the readers here), I moved up to my first DSLR: a second-hand Nikon D80 I bought from a more-experienced photographer friend of mine.

I have asked for recommendations for a DSLR camera two years ago. But when I did, my life plans changed abruptly and couldn't purchase one right away, like I wanted to. I wonder if the advice given to me on that page still hold up today.

I took a break from amateur photography for a while as I settled with my iPhone for the casual photos. Although recently, I've been attending events which gradually pushed me to bring out my D80. Sadly, just two weeks ago, my camera broke down. The battery is charged, but one of the mirrors got really foggy, and the camera won't turn on anymore.

In no way I am a professional. My photo practice have been rusty as I got myself back into it. I still struggle with the manual settings (in other words, no more "P" mode), post-processing, and I lack in equipment (only one lens, no reflector, no flash). There are still times I get the technical terms mixed up. Likely, I didn't even know how to give good care to my DSLR camera.

I loved the Canon cameras I've used over the years, and my G10 is still working perfectly. Even if the Nikon navigation system can get me confused, it's still not a big problem, and I already have a lens for Nikon cameras anyway. Many things were told to me about Nikon vs. Canon, but I'm thinking it's mostly brand loyalty. I even heard some good things about Pentax and Sony (Minolta) cameras.

My budget isn't the biggest, but I know around how much I'll have to pay for a new entry-level DSLR body. I'm also aware that once I get into photography with a DSLR camera, money will easily be spent on maintenance, bags, equipment, lenses, etc.

So, today, I'm asking, what do you recommend for an entry-level DSLR camera nowadays? Should I stick with Nikon, go back to Canon, or consider other brands? Also, should I even bother trying to get my D80 repaired at a Nikon repair centre?

In advance, thank you for all your advice.
posted by remi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you should see if you can get the D80 repaired.

Beyond that... try cameras and see what you like. Feel is much more important than anything else when comparing Canon and Nikon - you aren't going to go wrong with either of them. You might also want to look into micro four thirds and other mirrorless cameras. I just picked up a Sony NEX-7, for example, and have been LOVING it. It replaced my old Canon Rebel and the difference in size and weight is a big deal.

Also: dpreview.com is my go-to for reviews.
posted by alaijmw at 7:02 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreeing that you should look at getting your D80 repaired. My anecdata is that Nikon is very good at standing behind their gear.
posted by N-stoff at 7:10 PM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: Repair. At least send it off and get a quote. If it's too much, ebay it for spare parts. It seems the big question you're asking is: do I want another DSLR or do I want something smaller? We don't know enough about your subject matter, work style, travel, personality, etc., to answer that. :/
posted by introp at 7:34 PM on April 17, 2012

If you liked the D80, repair it! The D80 still goes for about $350 used, so that should give you a frame of reference so far as reasonable repair costs go.

Since you already have a Nikon lens, you should probably stick with Nikon, but if you want to jump ship, then it's your decision. Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Pentax all make terrific DSLRs/SLTs.

The main thing is that you should be mostly interested in lenses, so far as upgrades go. You'll almost always be better off with an older, cheaper body and better, pricier lenses than vice versa. If you decide that you really hate your D80, then I'd get a used camera of the same vintage and spend the excess money on lenses.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:46 PM on April 17, 2012

I agree with alaijmw on Micro Four Thirds cameras. Sony Nex-7 might be too expensive. You can take a look at Epm-1, and look to buy a pancake lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f1.7, for a total of around $700.

The combination is gold. It's really portable: you can fit the camera inside your jacket pocket, not bulky like DSLR. The 20mm is really sharp and fast. The only downside to it is that it's a fixed zoom lens, so you have to be on your feet a lot.
posted by Thisispiggy at 9:12 PM on April 17, 2012

I'm a DSLR beginner, and I bought a Nikon D3100 for about $580 last year. I love it to bits. If you already have glass, you could probably get just the body for cheaper.

If you want to go up a grade, the D90 is usually very highly recommended by my more camera savvy photographer friends. Alternately, you could try to get your D80 repaired, as some have already mentioned above. I personally love Nikon to bits, but Canon vs. Nikon is mostly a matter of grip preference, I find. You can take great photographs with either brand.
posted by Estraven at 9:55 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: I went with the crowd. I think introp is right — I should have asked if I should repair the camera or get a new one.

So, since the SLR world seems to be (fortunately) more of a "get it fixed" world than a "throw it away and buy new" one, I went out for lunch to my nearest repair centre in Shinjuku. Within 30 minutes, they informed me of the price to get it repaired and when to come pick it up.

It'll cost me the equivalent of 170$ USD to get it fixed and ready for Friday next week. This is a lot better than spending the big bucks for a brand new one, so I went with that option.

Yet again, I think I'll look at the newest models later. Thank you for the advice!
posted by remi at 10:15 PM on April 17, 2012

When you decide to shop for a new camera, make sure you take a look at the micro four thirds models, and the similar model from Canon. Check out DPReview for reviews of the various options.

Great mix of quality plus portability in those models. This review of the recently-released Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 will give you a good starting point for researching your options in this segment.
posted by syzygy at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The GX1 seems pretty great.

I have its spiritual predecessor, the GF1, which is also great. You can get it used for a little over $200. Add the terrific Panasonic 20mm 1.7 and you're ready to rock. You can use it as "manually" as you would a DSLR, or you can use it as a high quality point and shoot.

You can also get adapters for virtually any lens mount you can think of, thereby opening you up to the sharp and affordable world of FD and OM glass. Thanks to the 2x crop factor, a $40 50mm 1.8 becomes a world-class portrait lens.

The NEX system is also groovy. The controls are slightly wonkier, and there are fewer native lenses, but the sensor is superior, and they're even better at using old lenses, thanks to focus peaking.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:38 AM on April 18, 2012

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