Despite the emergence of mirrorless cameras, the market is still dominated by conventional DSLRs. Several companies make excellent SLRs to help consumers get better quality pictures for under $1,000. Image quality in the category is generally very similar to entry-level mirrorless cameras and mid-level mirrorless cameras, so the key differentiators are optical viewfinders, dedicated autofocus (AF) systems for quick focus and, of course, larger grips and a more traditional camera appearance.

This category includes two levels of DSLR - the top three are consumer-level, while the bottom four are mid-level. The main difference between the two categories is that the latter offers a slightly-more professional shooting experience, and often, more individual controls. 

As more mirrorless camera models make it to the market, one might question the advantage these bulkier DSLRs offer. Legacy glass is certainly one; Pentax, Nikon and Canon all support an impressive amount of lenses spanning back many years, and in Nikon and Pentax’s case, many decades. No adapter needed. 

One of the biggest advantages traditional DSLRs still offer over their mirrorless counterparts, though, are dedicated phase-detect AF modules. These systems understand depth, and so can assess how far away your subject of interest is to quickly focus on them (as well as track them, in certain cases). Mirrorless cameras are catching up, integrating on-sensor phase-detect elements, but still have some ways to go. If you want to ensure your star kid you’ve zoomed in on the soccer field is in focus as she’s running toward the goal, you’ll likely fare better with the ‘tried and true’ dedicated AF systems DSLRs offer.  

Optical viewfinders are another advantage of these cameras; sure electronic viewfinders keep on improving in terms of resolution and refresh rate, but for many photographers, nothing comes close to the experience of seeing through the lens. This is especially true for wide dynamic range scenes, where an EVF’s display of what the sensor ‘sees’ still can’t quite match what our eyes can perceive. Furthermore, quite a few of the cameras in our consumer/mid-level mirrorless roundup offer only an LCD screen for framing up subjects, which can make shooting under bright conditions difficult. 

So whether you’re looking to buy into a system with the hopes of eventually upgrading, or simply prefer a more traditional SLR-type shooting experience, what these cameras lack in compactness, they make up for in AF performance, system support and, for some, usability. 

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