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Best DSLR Cameras - Mid-Range for Summer 2014

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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Best DSLR Cameras - Mid-Range for Summer 2014

These Four Digital SLR Cameras Will Ignite Your Passion for Great Photography

Let us help you choose the perfect digital SLR for serious photography. If you've outgrown starter DSLRs, or want a capable back-up for the pro rig, here's what you need to know.

Mid-range DSLRs cover a wide range, from cameras that offer something more than an entry-level model to cameras that borrow heavily from advanced siblings that are designed for professional use. They range in price from the high-hundreds to mid-$1,000 for the body only. Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony all offer DSLRs for enthusiasts, but which is right for you? Read on!

(Category background information at end of article)

Mid-Range DSLRs Compared:

Canon 70D
Nikon D7100
Nikon D7100

Pentax K3

Sony A77 II
Sensor Size/Resolution 20MP APS-C 24.1MP APS 24MP APS-C 24MP APS
DxOMark Image Quality Score 68 80 80 82
ISO Range 100-25,600 100-6400,
80-51,200 100-51,200
Monitor Size/Resolution 3 in/1.04k 3.2 in/1.229k 3.2 in/1.04k 3 in/2.359k
Burst Rate 7fps 7fps 8.3fps 12fps
Top Video Resolution/
Frame Rate
1080/30fps 1080/60i 1080/60fps 1080/60p
External Mic Jack? Yes Yes Yes No
Autofocus Sensors 19 cross-type 51 (15 cross-type) 27 (15 cross-type) 73 (15 cross-type)
What's Special? Wi-Fi, fast AF No low-pass filter Ruggedized SLT Finder, Burst Rate
Adorama Price (body) $999 $1,096.95 $1,196.95 $798

Canon EOS 70D
Adorama price: $999 (body only)

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): ISO 1000
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: ISO 1600
Color depth: Excellent (22.5 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Very Good (68 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 11.6 stops
The Canon 70D gives about a 1/3-stop improvement over its predecessor, the 60D, regarding low-light performance and leads the Canon APS-sensor camera line in overall image quality.

Overview: With the introduction of the 70D, Canon has taken a big step towards faster focus acquisition thanks to the first-ever Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus sytem. By reworking the design of the sensor, the camera simultaneously captures light and performs phase-detection AF, resulting in what we found to be noticeably faster autofocus; if you already own Canon lenses, you’ll immediately notice a difference between the 70D and your older camera. Also new: a higher-resolution 20MP CMOS sensor, built-in wireless communication with smart phones and tablets, improved video quality, and a wide range of special effects and modes. Some pros, especially sports shooters, may want this for its speedy AF.  Read my full review of this camera.

The System: Compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses with full AF capability, Canon Speedlite 430 EXII  and other flash units. Comes with several software utilities.

The Next Step Up: Until recently I would have recommended the Canon 7D as the next step up, but now I think the next step is to go full-frame, via the $1,899 Canon EOS 6D.

Nikon D7100
Adorama price: $1,096.95 (body only)

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): 1600
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: 3200
Color depth: Excellent (24.2 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Excellent (80 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 13.7 stops
On all measurements, the Nikon D7100 scored higher than any other APS sensor Nikon camera, regardless of price. With a nearly 14-stop dynamic range, nearly flawless 24.2 bit color depth and low light performance that easily outpaces its competition, the D7200 has the most advanced APS sensor on the market today.

Overview: Nikon has updated the D7000 after a successful 3-year run with a higher-resolution 24MP sensor; more importantly, they’ve removed the low-pass filter, deeming it no longer needed because the high resolution and firmware will fight off any unwanted moiré patterns. Without a low-pass filter, more light will hit the sensor, improving image quality in a way you’ll notice especially in low light while shooting at higher ISO settings.  Nikon has also made the LCD monitor bigger, improved autofocus performance, and beefed up HD video performance and quality. Read my First Look at the Nikon D7100.

The System: Dozens of current Nikon lenses include some of the finest glass on the planet, hundreds of used lenses with a history of excellence. Powerful flash system includes sophisticated wireless control. Geotagging available via optional GP-1 GPS unit. Extend shooting life via Multi-Power Battery Pack MB-D80.

The Next Step Up: Full frame! The recently announced Nikon D610, at $1,996.95 is the best deal and has a killer sensor but if you’re feeling nostalgic for old-fashioned dials and knobs that give you immediate information without having to consult menus, consider the just-announced Nikon Df.

Pentax K3
Adorama price:  $1,196.95 (body only)

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): 1200
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: 800
Color depth: Excellent (23.7 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Excellent (80 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 13.4 stops

The Pentax K3 gets high points for dynamic range and color depth at native resolution through ISO 800; image quality at higher ISOs is average.

Overview: Pentax’s new flagship APS camera is rugged and waterproof, has a sensor that produces images that match almost evenly with two of its biggest rivals, and sports several technological firsts, including the worlds’ first selectable anti-aliasing filter: Using the same technology that powers the camera's sensor-based Shake Reduction technology, when the anti-aliasing simulator is turned on, microscopic vibrations are applied to the image sensor unit at the subpixel level during image exposure, generating the same level of moiré-reduction effect as an optical anti-aliasing filter. The image is then computationally fine-tuned to remove any unwelcome aliasing pattern artifacts. Also: 86,000 pixel sensor real-time scene analysis for better exposure.

The System: High-quality lineup of lenses including extremely small “pancake” prime lenses distinguish the K3—as does its rugged, weatherproof body. A trio of flashes light up the night.

Going Pro: Yes, there's a pro-level Pentax DSLR, and it's a doozy: Pentax skipped right over the 35mm sensor format and produced the 645D, a medium-format camera with a 40MP, 44x33mm CCD sensor that delivers up to 7264x5440 pixel images. Read Sandy Ramirez's in-depth review of the Pentax 645D.

Sony A77 II
Adorama price: $1,198 (Body only)

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): 1000
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: 1600
Color depth: Excellent (24.4 bits)
Overall image quality:  Excellent (82 out of 100)
Dynamic range: Excellent (13.4 stops)

The Sony Alpha DSLR SLT A77 II offered an excellent performance. Signal to noise ratio remains stays within acceptable limits through ISO 1000 but could be stretched to 3200 in a pinch. The dynamic range is a key strength, allowing a range of 13.4 stops at ISO 100, and stays well within toleranes through ISO 800. Measured ISO consistently remained about 1/3 stop below the indicated speed.

Overview: Boasting the world's fast continuous shooting speed (up to 12fps at full resolution), the Sony A77 II takes full advantage of its fixed-position translucent mirror that projects thte image onto a separate sensor which, in turn, displays the image onto a 2.359 million pixel EVF, the highest resolution EVF currently available. The 79-point phase detection AF system (which includes 15 cross-type points) can reliably track moving objects and is considered one of the fastest-focusing systems on the market. All this and more in a ruggedized magnesium alloy body.

The system: Over 30 lenses  (many produced for Sony under the Carl Zeiss moniker) an impressive wireless flash system, and all those great legacy Minolta optics.

Going pro: The full-frame Sony SLT-A99V, at the Adorama price of $2,798, uses the same kind of fixed, translucent mirror system as the A77; the live image is displayed on a 2 million-plus dots resolution electronic viewfinder that lives in the former penta prism housing. This allows Sony to do all sorts of neat tricks, mostly due to the fastest burst rate and uncompromised video files in this camera class. A dual AF system is said to be incredibly fast and accurate, and the 24.3MP 35mm sensor, with its native ISO range of 100-32,000, is one of the best.

Background information: Mid-Range DSLRs

Initially, the things that separated mid-range from entry-level DSLRs were a PC outlet to accommodate studio flash, a faster burst rate (usually more than 3fps), a higher-resolution LCD monitor, and a pentaprism viewfinder instead of a pentamirror finder. Metering is usually more sophisticated, as are the choices for the user. Now  HD Video is a standard feature (although the ability to add an off-camera mic and monitor via headphones varies from model to model) while the latest models offer features and image quality that even high-end cameras couldn’t match a few short years ago.

Features that pro DSLRs may have that most mid-range models don’t include extra durability and build, a longer-lasting shutter, and in some cases, more accurate color rendering. Pro DSLRs are almost all full-frame, while mid-range DSLRs sport smaller APS sensors.

While you don’t have to understand exposure to use a mid-range DSLR—all models offer an auto version so you can just point and shoot—it would be a waste of the camera’s many talents to not understand its inner workings and put that knowledge to use. That requires basic exposure knowledge.


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