Cheapest DSLR Cameras

Bill Livolsi, July 12, 2012

When it comes to serious cameras, digital single lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, are as good as it gets. DSLR cameras are the choice of professionals and serious amateurs. They combine large sensors and interchangeable lenses with the responsive operation and extensive controls needed to take full control over the picture-making process. But not all DSLRs are created equal.

Here we'll look at some of the cheapest DSLRs available. These cameras are perfect for someone looking to take that next step into serious photography, either as a hobby or as a potential career. They are: the Canon Rebel T2i, Canon Rebel T3, Nikon D3100, Nikon D3200, Pentax K-r, and Sony SLT-A37. Each has its distinct strengths, while some share common weaknesses. Read on to find out which is right for you.

Updated July 2012: The Sony SLT-A37 has been added.
Here is the previous cheap DSLR shootout.

Updated May 2012: The Nikon D3200 has been added.

The results of the shootout:

First Place: Sony Alpha SLT-A37

$599 w/ lens, 16 MP (more specs)

The Sony Alpha SLT-A37
Sony's new A37 is making a big splash in the world of cheap DSLR cameras. Technically not an SLR at all but an SLT, the A37 uses a translucent mirror to provide fast autofocus and real-time live view instead of the traditional optical viewfinder. 1080p/24 video and a microphone in port make it a great video shooter, while a tilting screen gives it an edge in off-angle stills photography. Its 16-megapixel sensor captures plenty of detail. And with a $599 price tag, the A37 is less expensive than both Canon and Nikon's entry-level offerings. Read more about the Sony Alpha SLT-A37

Second Place: Canon Rebel T2i

$649 w/ lens, 18 MP (more specs)

The Canon Rebel T2i
At $650 new, Canon's T2i is not the cheapest DSLR in today's shootout, but that price comes with a great feature set and good overall functionality. Perfect for movie shooters, it includes full 1080p HD video and an external microphone port, making on-camera sound capture higher in quality and less arduous. Even if you don't care about video, the T2i's 18 megapixel sensor and intuitive control layout make it a great stills camera, too. With no real weak points to speak of, the downside to the T2i is its higher price -- and the fact that, as it has been discontinued, you'll probably end up buying used. Read more about the Canon Rebel T2i

Third Place: Nikon D3200

$699 w/ lens, 24 MP (more specs)

The Nikon D3200 with 18-55mm lens
This 24-megapixel monster wins the resolution battle handily, but more pixels does not make The D3200 a better camera. It retains the easy-to-use controls and intuitive layout of the D3100, and adds an external microphone input that brings its video abilities up to par with the Canon T2i. Like the T2i, it can shoot full 1080p resolution HD video at a variety of frame rates. But the D3200 costs more than the T2i, and that extra money doesn't buy much. Read more about the Nikon D3200

Also Ran: Nikon D3100

$549 w/ lens, 14 MP (more specs)

The Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens
The Nikon D3100 has an easy to use control layout, newbie-friendly features, and good overall ease of use. It can shoot full 1080p resolution HD video, but lacks an external microphone port that several other competitors possess. When it comes to stills, the D3100 is arguably easier to use than the Canon T2i. A wide variety of physical controls keep menu diving to a minimum, while solid construction and rubber grip panels make the D3100 feel more expensive than it really is. Read more about the Nikon D3100

Also Ran: Pentax K-r

$600 w/ lens, 12 MP (more specs)

The Pentax K-r with 18-55mm lens
The Pentax K-r's 6 frames per second continuous mode at full resolution can't be beat, so aspiring sports shooters will love it. It also boasts the best extended low-light performance (25600 max ISO) and the fastest shutter speed (1/6000). On the other hand, the K-r tends to clip highlights, the extended ISO options are full of digital noise, its image stabilization is not as robust as that of other vendors, and it records 720p video in the clunky Motion JPG format. On top of that, serious photographers will soon run into a wall, as Pentax's high-end lens lineup is practically nonexistent. Read more about the Pentax K-r

Also Ran: Canon T3

$500 w/ lens, 12 MP (more specs)

The Canon Rebel T3 with 18-55mm lens
The Canon T3 is the cheapest DSLR we could find, and in some ways it shows. Build quality comes up seriously short compared to the burlier D3100 and T2i, with a plasticky, cheap-feeling finish, while some features are missing. ISO range is the worst of the group. The flash is less powerful. Important video features like an external microphone port and 1080p resolution are completely absent, and the camera offers no exposure control while shooting video. On the other hand, the control layout is logical and the T3 does take still pictures very well -- which is the main purpose of owning a DSLR in the first place. And since it is the least expensive camera of the bunch, it will definitely have an allure for first-time buyers. Still, with so many additional useful features available for such a small increase in price, we'd recommend one of the other cameras in today's shootout if at all possible. Read more about the Canon Rebel T3