There are a few reasons to consider buying a DSLR around the holiday season. For starters, if you get lots of season's greetings cards that include posed family photos in the mail, you can return the favor with a photo of your own family that will stand out from the pack. Plus DSLRs, which are offered at a variety of price points, also make great gifts for friends, family, or even yourself. They're also among the most reliable and consistent shooters available—in fact, consumers are generally more satisfied with SLRs than they are with most other types of electronic devices. And DSLRs also tend to have the largest image sensors that enable you to capture photos with the best quality, especially in low light, which is perfect for this type of year, when shooting indoors or at night, in subdued light.
Our top DSLR is the $496 Nikon D3400, as it offers great image quality and approachability for those on a budget or those looking to invest in their first DSLR. For photographers who want to step up, we recommend the Nikon D5600, which has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, making it easier to transfer photos from the camera. We've also picked alternatives for each price bracket, since many of you may already own several lenses for either Canon or Nikon.
Recently, Nikon released the D7500, a spiritual successor to the old Nikon D90 that offers enthusiast photographers the ability to shoot stunning stills and videos with the same camera for less than $1,500. The D7500 uses the same Expeed 5 image processor as some of Nikon's more expensive full-frame cameras such as the D500, while also including continuous shooting at up to 8 fps, 4K video capture at 30 fps, and a handy 3.2-inch tilting rear LCD display.
Although mirrorless models dominate the high-end market, Canon continues to introduce new SLRs: One recent model that will appeal to travelers is the 24.2-megapixel Canon EOS Rebel SL2 ($599 body only, or $699 with an 18-55mm STM lens). The camera-body design has a very small footprint, but it's packed with powerful features, including dual-pixel AF, a 3-inch swiveling touchscreen, burst shooting at up to 6 fps, video capture at fullHD/60fps, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, and a new feature assistant that will help teach you how use the camera.
With that in mind, here are our favorite DSLRs.
Alternative: Canon EOS Rebel T5
Although it has a more limited ISO range than the Nikon D3400, the 18-megapixel APS-C sensor in the Rebel T5 takes great photos for the money. Newbies will also like the easy-to-use controls and the ability to capture 1080p/30fps video, though autofocus could be faster.
Alternative: Canon EOS Rebel T6s
Canon's new Rebel T6s offers a speedy hybrid autofocus system that makes capturing moving subjects easy, whether it's shooting stills or videos. It takes gorgeous pictures with its 24.2-MP sensor and kit lens, and can record video at 1080p/30 fps. A flip-out tilting LCD helps when shooting from awkward angles.
Alternative: Nikon D7200
Advanced amateur photographers already invested in Nikon lenses will find the older D7200 also to their liking. Its magnesium alloy frame is weather-sealed against rain and dust, and it has a microphone jack, for those who want better sound when recording video at up to 1080p/60 fps.
Alternative: Sony Alpha 77 M2
While its video autofocus still trails the superb Canon EOS 80D, the Sony Alpha 77 M2 was able to track fast-moving subjects. It can also shoot 12 frames per second for up to 5 seconds, and has a record-setting 79 focus points.
Three Tips for Improving Holiday DSLR Shots
One of the great things about owning a DSLR is that because they have so many controls and settings, you have the ability to dramatically change how you capture the season. Additionally, DSLRs let you swap out lenses, which will almost instantly alter your shots. Here are three ways you can improve or change how you capture a photo at this time of year using your DSLR.
1. Buy a prime lens. A prime lens is an interchangeable lens that doesn't zoom, which some may consider a drawback. But there are a couple of reasons why a prime lens, like a Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM, might make a big difference. First of all, prime lenses are generally less expensive than zoom lenses. For example, the Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STM is just $110. Second, and more importantly, the lens has an f/1.8 maximum aperture. That's a very wide aperture, which means you can produce pro-like effects with shallow depth of field by focusing only on your subject. Shallow depth of field will allow you to blur everything in front and behind you subject, but the subject itself will be sharp and in focus. So, if you're shooting a group portrait outdoors by some evergreen trees, the details in the snow-covered fields behind your subject will have a wonderful blurred quality to them.
2. Adjust the exposure settings or shooting mode. Changing lenses isn't the only way to alter how you capture a fall landscape or image. Another is to adjust the exposure settings, such as shutter speed or aperture, or change the shooting mode, by changing the camera to shoot in a landscape or night portrait scene mode. For example, you could try capturing evergreen tree branches on a windy day with a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30th or 1/15th of a second. (Be sure to put your DSLR on a tripod.) That will allow you to capture the motion of the leaves, yet they won't be so blurred that you can't tell what they are. Or, try changing your DSLR's shooting mode: Many DSLRs now let you capture panoramic shots, which are ultra-wide landscape images that can capture a 180-degrees or more of a snowy landscape.
3. Try in-camera effects or shoot in RAW. Many DSLRs also offer Instagram-like filter effects that let you alter the look of your holiday images, right inside the camera. For instance, take a festive photo of your decorated house and turn it into a black-and-white or sepia-toned work of art. Or, change your image into an illustration. Another option is to capture your wintery images in RAW, which is a special image file format that produces the best quality images and provides you with maximum flexibility when editing your photos in image-editing software.
Tips for Buying an SLR on Black Friday and during the holidays
If you're one of those brave souls determined to find a good deal on Black Friday, we wish you luck! If you're in the market for a DSLR, there are definitely some great deals to be had out there, particularly for sales on DSLR kits with multiple lenses. For instance, Office Depot and OfficeMax will be offering the Canon EOS Rebel T6 18-megapixel DSLR camera kit with two lenses, an 18-55 mm IS II and 75-300 mm III, for just $449.99 (normally $749.99). Also, Crutchfield has a Triple Lens Parent's Kit on sale, which includes the 24.2-megapixel Nikon D3400, with an 18-55mm, 70-300mm, and 35mm lenses, for just $769.95 (normally $1,099.95).
If you'd like to find out more details on these sales, there are a variety of Black Friday websites that track many of the sales, including the circulars and ads from well known brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy, Target, and more, which appear in newspapers. Here are some of the most popular ones: www.bfads.net, www.theblackfriday.com, and www.bestblackfriday.com.
Also, here's a short list of some other things to consider when choosing a DSLR, either on Black Friday, or any time during the holidays:
- Even if a model is a few years old, it's generally still a powerful camera with lots of features and capabilities. It just may not have the latest or newest features. Consider which features are important to you and the type of photos or video you capture.
- Most models on sale won't include 4K-resolution video.
- You won't find most high-end or full-frame models on discount. Most will offer last-year's entry-level DSLR.
- Some models may lack Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, or all of these.
- Skip extended warranties: All cameras, particularly DSLRs, are very reliable. Additionally, most DSLR lenses come with warranties that will cover various problems.
- Do your homework: It's worth searching various tech and product review websites, which run lots of stories on tips for shopping.
- Don't be afraid to haggle:Haggling is essentially the process of negotiating with a vendor for a discount or better price. But it can also include other things, like free shipping or an accessory, like a memory card or camera bag. The trick is that it doesn't have to be confrontational. Being polite and friendly can be very persuasive when negotiating, and most importantly, effective. Since many stores, both brick-and-mortar and online, often lower prices all the time for sales, it's worth the effort. Just be sure to do your homework on which camera you're looking for and know the competitive landscape.
Additional Shopping Advice
Advantages that DSLRs have over other cameras generally include a fast autofocus, larger sensors (which lets you make larger prints), and a much wider selection of lenses, flashes and other accessories. As such an established technology, DSLRs can provide entry-level models that are generally cheaper than equivalent mirrorless or bridge-camera options.
Keep in mind that DSLRs — and their lenses — are typically larger than most other cameras, which makes them less convenient for those who want to travel light. Also, many DSLRs are not as good as mirrorless cameras when it comes to video, as they lack autofocus in this mode, or, if they do have it, the noise from the lenses can drown out any audio. That said, there are some DSLRs that excel at shooting video, too.
With a few exceptions, all DSLR cameras come with a one-year warranty, though you can usually purchase additional coverage from the manufacturer.
If you're thinking about buying a new camera, the best times to buy are at the beginning and end of the year in January and December, and in the spring as new models hit the market, according to our sister site ShopSavvy. For more deals and advice on purchase timing, check out ShopSavvy's camera section.
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