The Best Mid-Range DSLRs for Holidays 2013

These Four DSLRs Will Ignite Your Passion for Great Photography

Let us help you choose the perfect picture-taking tool for serious photography. If you've outgrown their starter DSLRs, or want a capable back-up for their 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!

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.

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

APS Sensor DSLR Cameras

Take photos and videos with Canon EOS 70D Mid-Range DSLR Camera

Canon EOS 70D
Adorama price: $1,099 (body only)

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.

Demo video

The Juicy Details: 20MP CMOS APS-C sensor (23.7x15.7mm), dual-pixel CMOS AF, built-in Wi-Fi, 14-bit A/D conversion, ISO range 100-25,600, full HD video up to 1080p at 30 or 24fps, 720p at up to 60fps, built-in stereo mic, flip-out 3-inch LCD touchscreen, 1.040k dot resolution, 7fps burst ratge, 19-point cross-type AF with f/2.8 dual cross-type AF center point, intelligent viewfinder with superimposed LCD display,  built-in flash, scene intelligent Auto mode.

What’s Special: Really fast AF, Wi-Fi

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 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.

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.

Own a Nikon D7100 Mid Range DSLR Camera

Nikon D7100
Adorama price: $1,146.95 (body only)

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.

Demo video:

The Juicy Details: 24.1 APS CMOS sensor, JPEG and NEF RAW image capture in 12 or 14-bit, dual SD card slots, 3D Color Matrix metering, plus center-weighted and spot, exposure compensation to +/- 5EV, ISO range 100-6400, expandable to 25,600, D-lighting, 51 focus point AF includes 15 cross-type sensors, built-in flash, i-TTL flash control with built-in and external flash, live view, HD video up to 1080p at 60i, external mic/headphone jacks.

What’s Special: No low-pass filter and higher-resolution sensor means better low-light image quality.

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 (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.

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.

Enjoy Photos and Videos with the Pentax K3 Mid Range DSLR Camera

Pentax K3
Adorama price:  $1,296.95 (body only)

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. Topping the list is 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. Other cool features: Wireless camera operation via a new FLU card technology, class-leading 8.3 fps burst rate, high-speed shutter accuracy, and 86,000 pixel sensor real-time scene analysis for better exposure.

Demo video

The Juicy Details: 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, Selectable anti-aliasing filter, SAFOX11 AF engine; 27 AF sensors includes 25 cross sensors and 3 sensors dedicated to low-light focusing,  Optional FLU wireless control, ISO range 80-51,200, 1080/60p HD video in H.264 format, Body-based Shake Reduction, Dual SD Card Slots, Pentaprism Optical Viewfinder with 100% coverage, Built-in electronic level, Weather seale, Multi-pattern white balance. JPEG, Pentax PEF and Adobe DNG 14-bit RAW files. HDMI Port. HDR Image Capture

What’s Special: The only ruggedized DSLR in this class, the way-cool anti-aliasing filter, built-in VR, and compatibility with all Pentax K-mount lenses.

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.

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
Not yet available, but we’re expecting image quality similar to the Nikon D7100.

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.

Enjoy a Sony A77 Mid Range DSLR Camera

Sony A77
Adorama price: $898 (Body only)

Overview: The Sony A77 may be the senior member of the enthusiast-level DSLR gang, but it has aged well. When it was introduced in 2011, the A77 was touted as the fastest DSLR in the world. That’s because, technically, it’s not fully a DSLR; it has a fixed translucent mirror that projects the image into a separate sensor which in turn, displays the image in the highest-resolution EVF available today. This is the direction Sony’s been going in ever since, but with its still state-of-the-art 24MP APS sensor and 12fps burst rate at full resolution, the Sony A77 is still a technological leader while its price keeps dropping.

The Juicy Details: Translucent mirror design; 2.359 million dot OLED viewfinder, full-time phase-detection AF even while shooting video, weather-resistant magnesium alloy body, 3-way flip-out LCD monitor, 6-image layering for multi-frame noise reduction; auto HDR, built-in GPS, 1200-zone exposure metering, 530 shots of battery life, built-in flash, 12fps burst rate at full resolution, 1080p HD video at up to 60p, object tracking AF, 3D sweep panorama, shutter speeds 30-1/8000 sec,  RAW and JPEG, ISO 50-16,000.

What’s Special: Super-fast burst rate, high-quality sensor, and the groundbreaking SLT eye-level monitor and translucent mirror design.

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.

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 (24 bits)
Overall image quality:  Very good (78 out of 100)
Dynamic range: Excellent (13.2 stops)
The Sony Alpha DSLR SLT A77 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 13.2 stops at ISO 100, and stays well within toleranes through ISO 800. Measured ISO consistently remained about 1/3 stop below the indicated speed.

Going pro…The full-frame Sony SLT-A99V, at the Adorama price of $2,798, like the A77, 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.

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