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The Best Mid-Range DSLR Cameras for Photographers

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

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The Best Mid-Range DSLR Cameras for Photographers

The Best Mid-Range DSLR Cameras for Photographers UPDATED FOR 2013.

Picture-taking tools for serious photographers who have outgrown their starter DSLRs...or want a capable back-up for their pro rig.


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.


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, more models also record HD Video and 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.

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.

Here are the best mid-range DSLRs available from the Adorama DSLR Camera department right now (prices and availability accurate as of March 6, 2013):

One of the Most Popular DSLR Digital Cameras: The Canon 60D

 

Canon 60D
Adorama price: $799

Overview: There is some controversy over how to categorize the 60D, mainly because unlike its predecessor, the impressive 50D, and previous versions, the 60D takes SDHC instead of Compact Flash cards, and its build is not quite as rugged as predecessors. Is it still a mid-range camera, or a fancy entry-level model? Some X0D-series fans have decided to spend an extra grand for the even more advanced 7D, Canon’s prosumer powerhouse. However, the 60D offers many powerful features, from the 18MP sensor, in-camera RAW-to-JPEG image file conversion, improvements in HD video, and an impressive ISO range of 100-6400, expandable to 12,800. These are all features that certainly deserve the 60D’s consideration as a mid-range DSLR; the camera’s DxOMark lab test results for sensor image quality were surprisingly good and make it a very tempting camera for any enthusiast to consider.

Here’s a video walk-through of the 60D put together by Canon Europe:



The juicy details: 18MP CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor with claimed high speed and image quality, 3-inch Vari-angle LCD with 1.04 million dot resolution; 5.3fps burst rate, 58 consecutive JPEGs/16 RAW images per burst. 96% viewfinder coverage, 63-zone dual-layer metering, 9-point AF system with f/2.8 high-recision cross-type center point. Internal RAW-to-JPEG image conversion.

What’s special: A high-performance camera that rivals its full-frame pro siblings for features. And by the way, most of its competitors use SDHC cards rather than Compact Flash.

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.

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): ISO 800
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: ISO 1600
Color depth: Excellent (22.2 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Very Good (66 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 11.5 stops
Surprisingly, the Canon 60D and the next step up camera, the 7D, are in a virtual tie for overall image quality—which happens to be very good. The 60D delivers the best low-light image quality of the 00D line.


The next step up: The Canon EOS 7D, for around $700 more than the 60D, is practically a pro camera. In fact, many working photojournalists and sports shooters are using it. The 7D offers a faster, more rugged body that delivers the same image quality as the 60D according to DxOMark lab tests. You are paying more for faster burst rate, greater durability, focus and exposure upgrades, better low-light performance (according to DxOMark lab tests), and greater buffer capacity and transfer speed—and you get to use your CF cards. If you want all the features of the 60D but also want to do astrophotography and even infrared photography, consider the Canon EOS 60Da ($1,500), introduced in April. It has been optimized to capture more of the infrared spectrum.

The Nikon D7000 Serves as an Optimal DSLR Camera for Expert Photographers

 

Nikon D7000
Adorama price:$896.95

Overview: Nikon has replaced its already-impressive D5000 with the D7000, a camera that represents a significant step up, bringing many new pro-end features into the enthusiast-level camera marketplace. In his review of the D7000, Jason Schneider called the D7000 a "technological tour de fource". These new features include a new 16.2MP CMOS sensor, full 1080p HD movies at 24fps, and an ISO range from 100-6400, expandable to 25,600. Burst rate, image processing and metering have been bumped up, and the camera is topped by a bright glass pentaprism optical finder for more accurate eye-level viewing. The weather-proofed D7000 also retains Nikon’s outstanding built-in wireless multi-flash control and is compatible with Nikon’s legendary selection of F-mount lenses going back to the ‘60s.

Here’s an official promotional video from Nikon showing the D7000:



The juicy details: 16.2 DX-format CMOS sensor, EXPEED 2 processor, Full HD 1080p at 24fps, up to 20-minutes of continuous video recording; 3-inch LCD with 920K dot resolution, Live View, 6fps burst rate, up to 100 JPEG images per burst; 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II with Scene Recognition; 3D tracking AF sensor with 39 AF points including 9 cross-type points; Face Detection, ISO range 100-6400, expandable to 25,600; Dual SD memory card slots, SDXC supported; weather-proofed Magnesium-alloy body, built-in sensor cleaner, supports Nikon F, AF-S, AF-I, AF-D lens mounts.

What’s special? The video capabilities, the image quality and ISO range, the flash system, and the legendary legacy of Nikon lenses.

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.

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 (23.5 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Excellent (80 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 13.9 stops
On all measurements, the Nikon D7000 scored higher than any other APS sensor Nikon camera, regardless of price. With a nearly 14-stop dynamic range and low light performance that easily outpaces its competition, the D7000 has the most advanced APS sensor on the market today.

 

Bargain alert: The Nikon D7000 will soon be succeeded by the Nikon D7100, which you can pre-order now for $1196.95 body only. Featuring a 24MP sensor and no low-pass filter, the new model promises improvements in image quality and autofocus. To make room, Nikon has lowered the price of the D7000, which is still a very capable camera. Check out the Adorama Learning Center's First Look at the Nikon D7100.

 

 

Pentax K-5 Is One of the Best Performing DLSR Cameras Today

 
Pentax K-5
Adorama price: $739

Overview: Clad in a body ruggedized against cold and rain, the 16MP Pentax K-5 has the distinction of currently being the best-performing high ISO/low light APS sensor DSLR on the market (although it is just barely ahead of the Nikon D7000). Directly addressing the main complaint against its predecessor, the K-7, the Pentax K-5 claims—and delivers—low-noise images at remarkably high speeds, making it a good choice for flashless low-light photography. Quick frame capture, an advanced autofocus system, full HD video with stereo sound, and internal Shake Reduction make this a serious camera for serious photography.

 

Here is Pentax's video introduction to the K5:

 

 

The juicy details: Sealed against cold and rain, ISO range 80-51,200, 16.3MP CMOS sensor, 7fps burst rate, 11-point AF system,  shutter speeds 30-1/8000 sec, flash sync 1/180 sec, 1080p HD video capture at 25fps in Motion JPG, stereo mic jack, 77-segment metering system, 3-inch, 921k dot LCD monitor, in-camera HDR capture, electronic level, sensor shift shake reduction, claimed effective to 4 stops. Creative color modes: Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Muted, Monochrome, Reversal Film, Bleach Bypass - All include gamut radar and fine adjustment of saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast and sharpness (regular and fine adjustment scales). Monochrome mode includes adjustments for filter effects (green, yellow, orange, red, magenta, blue, cyan, infrared), toning (sepia, warm/cool), high/low key, contrast and sharpness (regular and fine adjustment scales).


Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): ISO 1600
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: ISO 1600
Color depth: Outstanding (23.7 on a scale of 1-25)
Overall image quality: Very good (82 on a scale of 1-100)
Dynamic range: Up to 14.1 stops
The Pentax K5 just barely edges ahead of the Nikon D7000 for best low light/high ISO test results, and is the clear leader when it comes to dynamic range with an impressive 14.1 stops. Measured ISO sensitivity is within 1/3 stop of the indicated speed at all ISOs, and the signal to noise ratio really doesn’t dip into the super-grainy side until ISO 6400; if you apply software after the fact, you can probably get some pretty good shots at ISO 12800.

What’s special: The high ISO performance is exceptional. And...Pentax has made many fantastic, high-quality K-mount lenses over the years, and the K5 is compatible with all of them. You can find great Pentax lens bargains in Adorama’s used department.

The system: High-quality lineup of lenses including extremely small “pancake” prime lenses distinguish the K5—as does its rugged, weatherproof body. A trio of flashes light up the night.
Going pro: Alas, no pro option for Pentax users  but this is one of the more advanced cameras in the “Mid-Range DSLR” class with features some pros may be envious of!

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. Designed primarily for studio and high-end wedding work, it is light enough to be a practical choice for field work. Most will balk at its $10,000 pricetag, but when compared to other medium format digital cameras, its price is so low, it's a game-changer. Read Sandy Ramirez's in-depth review of the Pentax 645D.

The Sony SLT A65 Is a DLSR Camera Packed With Features

Sony Alpha DSLR ST A65
Adorama price: $698.

Overview: Sony took the "reflex" (a mirror that flips out of the way at the moment of exposure) out of DSLR and replaced it with a translucent mirror to create its new line of "SLT" (Single-Lens Translucent mirror) cameras. While the Sony Alpha DSLR SLT A65 is technically (and price-wise) a "mid-range" camera it is chock-full of pro-end features, including a high-resolution, 23MP sensor (yes, it's the world's first APS-sensor DSLR with this level of resolution) and a 10fps burst rate that's great for action photography. Why so fast? Since the mirror is fixed in place, the camera doesn't need to pause between exposures for it to move and therefore can shoot faster in burst mode. Unlike typical DSLRs, whose eye-level finders are optical, the Sony Alpha DSLR SLT A65's viewfinder is electronic, which really shines in low-light photography situations.

The juicy details:
23MP APS-C HD CMOS hsensor, fixed, translucent mirror, ISO range 100-16,000. 10fps burst rate at full resolution, OLED eye-level viewfinder, 921k dot resolution LCD, full-time phase detection AF, object tracking AF, sweep panorama, dynamic range optimizer, anti-dust technology, 1080p HD video at 60p, 60i and 24p, full-time live-view in EVF, 1200-zone exposure metering.

What’s special: Fixed translucent mirror, pro-level burst rate, outstanding image quality...and compatibility with all Minolta Maxxum mount lenses going back 20-plus years, water resistance, sophisticated exposure system. Dual slot let you store images on Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick and standard SD/SDHC memory cards simultaneously.

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Maximum ISO for acceptable image quality (digital noise): 800
Maximum ISO for acceptable dynamic range: 1600
Color depth: Excellent (23.4 bits) Overall image quality:
Dynamic range: Excellent (12.6 stops)
The Sony Alpha DSLR SLT A65 offered an excellent performance. Signal to noise ratio remains stays within acceptable limits through ISO 800 but could be stretched to 3200 in a pinch. The dynamic range is a key strength, allowing a range of 12.6 stops at ISO 100, and stays well within toleranes through ISO 800. Measured ISO consistently remained about 1/3 stop below the indicated speed.


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, controversially, is not a DSLR in the traditional sense: A fixed, translucent mirror projects an image up into a full-time meter/sensor, while the live image that gets through to the sensor itself is played 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 having to do with 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 really one of the best out there.

 

Note: Additional research for this article by Jena Ardell.

 

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