Best entry level DSLR for the money in 2015?
June 29, 2015 3:44 PM   Subscribe

My partner, who currently shoots with a vintage Nikon FG 20, wants to get a DSLR camera. What's the best entry level, consumer-grade DSLR out there for under $600? Must be available from Best Buy as we're trying to use up a gift card; must come with a lens (or be cheap enough to add a lens and still be under $600).
posted by Lieber Frau to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like my Nikon D3100, which you can get with a 18-55mm and a 55-200mm lens from Best Buy for under $600. It's in the top ten of this list, at least and mentioned positively as a good buy/beginner camera here.
posted by damayanti at 3:49 PM on June 29, 2015

Ken Rockwell is always my source for this and he recommends the Nikon D3300, which is currently $500 with the kit lens.
posted by capricorn at 3:49 PM on June 29, 2015

I'm thrilled with my Nikon D3300. And based on what's come out in the last year since I bought it, I'm glad I didn't spend more.

You can get one from Best Buy from under $600 US (assuming you're there) with a kit 18-55mm VR lens.

Here's a Digital Rev review of it.

The kit lens is decent - some barrel distortion down towards 18mm but otherwise serviceable.

I also ended up buying a good f1.8 35 mm prime lens, which I quite like.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:52 PM on June 29, 2015

I have a D3100. I bought it and 3 lenses from KEH (used) for about $300. If I were going to spend more, I'd get more lenses, not a better body.
posted by miyabo at 4:00 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you get a Nikon, you can probably use your old Nikon F-mount lenses with it, albeit in total manual exposure and focus mode. I've done this with my Nikon DSLR (an old D40) and its fun to play around with old prime lenses.
posted by DarkForest at 4:00 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pentax is my thing, so I don't have specific knowledge about Nikon. The question I would ask is, why lens? Old film Pentax lenses work on digital bodies, so will the FG lens not do/work on a DSLR? That may change the value equation, if all you are looking for is a body.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:04 PM on June 29, 2015

Great point, GeeEmm and Darkforest. I didn't think about the fact that you could use manual lenses on DSLR cameras. Are there any other potential problems with that, besides not being able to use autofocus?
posted by Lieber Frau at 4:13 PM on June 29, 2015

other potential problems with that

Older Nikon lenses won't autofocus or meter for exposure. Also, the viewfinder and focusing screen on something like the D3300 probably isn't very good for manual focusing. You'll still want to have the kit lens for normal everyday use. Also note that the D3300 uses a crop sensor which means a 50mm lens will behave like a 75mm lens (1.5x focal length).

In my case, I picked up a 50mm f1.8 and a 135mm F2.8 lenses for practically nothing, which can give effects which the kit lens can't match. You can add a "dandelion chip" to some older lenses (which I did for my 50mm) which will add back auto-exposure capability, and the ability to detect when the image is in focus (though you do the focusing).
posted by DarkForest at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2015

Pre-AI Nikkor lenses may need in some cases to be modified before mounting on a newer Nikon DSLR, but that's probably not a problem you'll have; the pre-AI lenses are now pretty darn old. If you tell us what the lenses are called, we'd be able to confirm. AF-I or AF-D lenses will only autofocus on the D7xxx bodies or better (D70-D90 in the older generation), because their autofocus mechanism was a screw drive operated by the camera. Newer lenses have a motor in the lens itself, and so the cheaper Nikon bodies don't have that autofocus screw drive to autofocus the older lenses with.

Having lenses already means significant savings, and manual focusing is now easier than ever with Live View.

I second the recommendations of others; in terms of image quality, any current Nikon DSLR will turn out great images if handled properly - most of the cameras they sell today have great high-megapixel sensors. The difference in camera bodies is largely convenience features and a few performance features - frames per second, physical controls, etc.

If you can find a D7100 used or refurbished under $600, that will be all the camera you're likely to need for a long time and probably the best bet in this price range. Alternatively, the D5200, D5300, D5500, D3300, D3200, or D7000 are decent bets - if you're looking to save money, I say consider buying used or refurbished, and decide how much you're willing to spend, assuming you're not planning on buying lenses. If you want to buy lenses, that's a whole different kettle of fish for deciding how to spend your money.
posted by Strudel at 5:32 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't had much of a problem with manual metering on my 3100 with old lenses. It's digital, it takes two seconds to do a few test shots. But it would be nice to have metering I guess.
posted by miyabo at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2015

I'm really liking the Canon 100D with the kit 18-55mm lens, at $499 on Amazon US right now, I'd assume you can get it on Best Buy as well as it's a really common DSLR. It's so light that everyone who's held it comments on it, even with the lens its lighter than the old iPads (600g vs 660g) and it is just a wonder to carry around. The kit lens is another marvel, being so light and scoring very highly in sharpness and focus speed.

I'll leave you with two samples, the lens is unbelievably sharp down to the pixel level - look at the hairs on these, err, random seed puff ball thing. I'm obviously no botanist. And another sample of a low light milky way shot.
posted by xdvesper at 6:46 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Historically, kit lenses (the ones that come with the camera) are for shit. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by the one that came with my D5200, an 18-55mm VR(vibration resistant)zoom. I would assume it's because the lens making technology has gotten so mechanized/consistent, etc.
You might also consider checkingthe best buy website for more options and consider going with last years model of the next fancier the 5200 instead of the 3500 or whatever they're up to these days (camera bodies change/upgrade/get a million new features so fast it's hard to keep up. Lenses keep their value/price/resale value much longer.) has a bunch of lenses to check out as well.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:18 AM on June 30, 2015

If you do go Nikon, and I recommend the D 3200 or D3300, check out their store for refurbs.
posted by Gungho at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2015

You might also consider checkingthe best buy website for more options and consider going with last years model of the next fancier the 5200 instead of the 3500 or whatever they're up to these days (camera bodies change/upgrade/get a million new features so fast it's hard to keep up. Lenses keep their value/price/resale value much longer.)

sexyrobot's advice is good. It's why I'm glad I didn't go beyond my D3300 price-wise, since the evolution of features/quality across all makes is so fast and furious right now. I'd rather save my pennies for better lenses and spend my time, you know, learning to take better pictures rather than worrying about gear.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:17 AM on June 30, 2015

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