Cheapest DSLR Cameras

Bill Livolsi, July 12, 2012

Second Place

Canon Rebel T2i

Canon's T2i is a do-it-all beginner DSLR. Certain features, like the input jack for an external microphone and the 3:2 aspect ratio rear screen, are not found anywhere else. Others, like 1080p video, are only found on select few cameras. Solid low-light performance and super high resolution make the T2i a no-brainer for anyone getting serious about still photography or videography.

The Canon Rebel T2i

The Good

Image quality. Let's get something straight up front -- when you get to this level of camera, the differences in image quality fade away to near-insignificance. In fact, our advice in general would be to base your DSLR purchase on other factors, such as control layout and the features you need. At this level of performance, picture quality is such a small thing that it is barely worth thinking about.

PhotoScope: Compare the Canon T2i vs Nikon D3100

Still, when you look at the images from the T2i next to samples of the same scene from the D3100, you'll notice a slightly more refined look to the T2i's photos. Lines appear smoother, text is more legible, and colors are more accurate. Sharpness pops a bit more, too. Some will say that this is because Nikon chronically under-sharpens images from their DSLR cameras, which has some merit; my personal D200 exhibits the same behavior. However, for a beginner, the camera that produces better images without post-processing is more preferable. Post-processing can be an enjoyable and rewarding part of image-making, but being forced to fiddle with your images after the fact is not and never will be fun.

High resolution. You may have noticed that 2CameraGuys does not think too highly of megapixels, especially as a rubric for camera quality. Too often, consumers fall into the trap of thinking that more equals better, and megapixel count is an easily-referenced number that sales reps just love to push.

Well, here's the real story: megapixels only matter when you are making prints, and then only when you are making big prints; any camera produced in the last ten years will print passable five-by-sevens. If you are printing larger than 8" x 10", megapixels might be useful. In this case, the T2i's 18 megapixels make a good choice for those seeking large prints (of course, if large prints are your only criterion, check out the Nikon D3200).

For Canon T2i memory cards, see Camera Accessories

Excellent video performance. The T2i shoots full 1080p/24 video and has an external microphone port. An external microphone is important because many on-camera microphones, in addition to being somewhat low quality, also capture the noise of the lens' focus motor and, occasionally, the sound of the user clicking the camera's buttons. You may know how infuriating it is to capture great video with a terrible audio track. If not, I hope you never find out.

Most DSLRs (and for that matter most other cameras too) have a limitation where the video image is captured line-by-line rather than all at once. This becomes a problem if you are filming something that moves very quickly, such as a propeller or fan, or pan the camera rapidly. This will cause what is called "rolling shutter," which can ruin a perfectly good video. Be aware of what you're filming and you should be fine.

Controls and build. The T2i has a good number of hard-wired controls, which allow the user to make adjustments without going into the camera's menu system. Point and shoot cameras can get away with menu-based adjustments simply because there are not a lot of adjustments to be made. On a DSLR, where almost everything is adjustable, this rapidly becomes unwieldy. The other perk, as mentioned previously, is the 3:2 aspect ratio screen (three units wide by two units tall). Most cameras have 4:3 aspect ratio screens, just like an old television, but DSLRs take pictures in the 3:2 aspect ratio. The 3:2 screen allows pictures to fill the whole screen without black bars at the top and bottom.

The camera itself is rock-solid, with rubber grip surfaces that make it easier to hold. The T2i has a good, solid weight to it -- it's not heavy, but it does not feel like a toy, either. There's also a sort of mental satisfaction that goes along with holding a solidly built camera, especially one that you've just spent $650 on. It makes you feel like you've received something worth your money.

The Bad

Auto White Balance. "White" is actually a whole spectrum of colors -- just look at the color of sunlight (but please don't look directly at the sun!) versus the color from a fluorescent lamp and you'll see what i mean. Auto white balance is the camera's attempt to determine the color of the light it is seeing and map that to its internal color processing correctly. Most cameras do a fair job at this, but the T2i showed some difficulty in this regard. This is more of a concern for beginners, who are likely to shoot JPEG as opposed to RAW if only due to convenience and comfort level. In a RAW file, white balance can be adjusted after the fact, but JPEGs are much less flexible.

Cost. At $650, the T2i is not cheap. The T2i came out in 2010 and has recently been discontinued. As such, you can find them on the used market quite easily, but if you want that new-camera experience (and warranty) you'll end up paying full price.

The Verdict

The Canon Rebel T2i is a fully-featured and capable DSLR, and it comes with a commensurately higher price tag as a result. It is not as newbie-friendly as the D3100, and the Pentax K-r bests it for fast action, but the T2i is a well-rounded and highly capable DSLR, especially when it comes to video.