Best DSLRs and ILCs for less than $1000
Good-quality DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) typically provide plenty of manual controls, comfortable ergonomics, and support a legacy of lenses for years to come. The fact that cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Nikon D7000 are still so popular with enthusiasts, even after newer models have come along, speaks volumes.
Old or new, getting hold of a quality digital camera still requires you to put down a decent chunk of change. In this article we're going to look at ten of the best DSLRs and ILCs available for under $1,000. We've included current cameras that we really like, and last-generation bargains, too. If you're torn between certain models, we hope this guide will help. The 'more info' links go our product pages on dpreview, where you'll find information including detailed specs, sample galleries, user reviews and more, and 'buy now' will take you to amazon.com. Prices are body-only, unless otherwise noted, and are correct at the time of writing.
Is there anything missing from the list? Have your say in the comments.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 | more info. | buy now
$479.95 with 14-42mm kit lens
The rangefinder-styled Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is the most budget-friendly model on this list, available for a mere $250 for the body only. Even bundled with its 14-42mm kit lens, the GX1 is cheaper than many high end fixed-lens compacts. That's not too shabby for a camera touting a 16MP sensor, generous manual controls and full HD video.
- 16MP Micro Four Thirds MOS sensor
- ISO 160-12,800
- 3.0", 460k dot touch screen LCD
- Full AVCHD 1080/60i video (from 30fps sensor output)
- 11fps burst depth in RAW
- Continuous full resolution shooting at 4fps
- Continuous shooting up to 20fps (at reduced resolution)
- Orientation sensor (providing information with non-OIS lenses)
- Electronic level gauge
- Four available Fn buttons (two onscreen)
- Built-in stereo microphones
One of the benefits of the GX1 is its compact size. Coupled with its stellar image quality, the camera is a dynamite companion for a pro looking for a lot of power in a small frame to keep in an accessible pocket at all times. The GX1 is also well-built and rugged, and is of course compatible with all Panasonic (and Olympus) Micro Four Thirds lenses. Another ergonomic benefit of the GX1 is the camera's touchscreen interface and rear-mounted command dial.
With a robust set of manual controls, as Panasonic has been known for, great image quality and solid, compact handling, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is an amazing bargain right now, while stocks last.
Canon EOS 60D | more info. | buy now
$899 with EF 18-135mm kit lens
The EOS 60D was announced in 2010, as Canon's update to the popular 50D. The 60D shares its 18 megapixel sensor with several Rebel models (including the new Rebel T5i/EOS 700D), housing it in a compact body with flip-out LCD screen. The 60D features a similar movie mode to that of the EOS 7D, and sits just beneath it in Canon's DSLR lineup, targeting the upper echelon of consumer DLSR shooters.
- 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12,800)
- 5.3 fps continuous shooting
- Fully articulated 3.0" screen with 1.04 million dots
- 1080p HD video recording with manual controls
- SD / SDHC / SDXC storage
- In-camera raw development
At the time it was released, the 60D won the megapixel war with the D7000, flaunting an 18 megapixel sensor, while Nikon went with 16 megapixels. Image quality from the 60D is great, with a very good low light performance at high ISO levels. The camera's 1080/720p video mode offers a range of frame rates and control over exposure, and overall, video is one of the 60D's major strengths.
Ergonomics are quite impressive as well, courtesy of the articulated LCD screen, comfortable grip, dual command dials, and convenient Q menu for quick adjustments. At its current street price of $600, the 60D is a steal.
Sony SLT-A65 | more info. | buy now
$748.00 with 18-55mm kit lens
The Sony SLT-A65 is a model that simply cannot be overlooked in this price range, and the fact that it can be had for around $700 with a kit lens is pretty amazing. The A65's mirror is translucent, allowing light to spill through to the imaging sensor with the remainder of it being transferred to the phase-detection AF sensor. Because of this, the camera is able to achieve lightening quick full-time AF operation, including full-time AF in video mode.
- 24.3MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
- 2nd-generation Translucent Mirror Technology
- 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch TFT Xtra Fine tilting LCD (921,600 pixels) with TruBlack technology
- ISO range of 100-16,000
- 15 points (3 cross-type) AF
- 10fps continuous shooting
- 1,200-zone exposure metering
- SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization
- AVCHD 60p/60i/24p video recording
Autofocus isn't the only strength of the A65. The camera has a brilliant 2.4-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder. This is another feature that steers it away from tradition. The A65's LCD screen flips downward and can be rotated, and features a 921,000-pixel resolution. The A65 also excels with a 10fps continuous image capture ability, which blows the competition out of the water when it comes to rapid shooting.
Also worth noting is the A65's 60p HD video feature. 60p means more fluid movement in footage, and is the framerate of choice for televised sports. The A65 also has Sony's in-body SteadyShot image stabilization system to reduce blur and smooth out videos, and includes sweep panorama and built-in HDR modes. Last but not least, the A65 is still one of the megapixel leaders with a 24-megapixel sensor that produces great RAW images.
Pentax K-5 | more info. | buy now
$799.00 with 18-55mm kit lens
The Pentax K-5 a couple of years old but it still brings a lot to the table. It's one of the best APS-C DSLRs in terms of high ISO image quality and low shadow noise at low ISOs. The K-5 has 1080P HD video recording with external microphone support and triple-axis shake reduction. Continuous shooting can reach 7fps, which bests the camera's Canon and Nikon competitors. Pentax is definitely one of the 'cult' brands of the camera world - those who have shot with one are diehards until the end.
- 16.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO sensitivity span of 80-51,200
- Triple-axis sensor-based shake reduction (horizontal, vertical and rotational correction)
- SAFOX IX+ 11-point AF system (improved over the K-7)
- 3in, 921k pixel LCD screen
- 100% viewfinder coverage (0.92x magnification)
- Choice of PEF or DNG RAW files
- Improved handheld HDR function (JPEG mode only)
- Continuous shooting up to 7fps
- 1080p HD movie mode
- Limited in-camera movie editing functionality
- Socket for external microphone input
The Pentax K-5 is a bit smaller than the 60D and D7000, but it sports one of the most comfortable and ergonomic body designs on the market. It's also exceptionally rigid, courtesy of its rugged magnesium-alloy body, and its weatherproof, as well. One of the features I like most about Pentax cameras in general is their plethora of digital filters and image effects. Even though this can be achieved in Photoshop, it's nice to know that the camera offers the capability, and that the original image can be retained. The K-5 has the most advanced in-camera creative suite in its class.
Other strengths include the camera's speedy autofocus system and unique menu structure. At $800 with a kit lens, the Pentax K-5 is one of the best choices on this list. Its sucessor, the K-5II offers superior autofocus and a handful of other minor improvements, but the K-5 is still a great camera at a very good price.
Nikon D5200 | more info. | buy now
$796.95 with 18-55mm kit lens
The Nikon D5200 replaces the D5100, a camera that was very popular among amateur photographers and videographers for its impressive image quality and friendly price point. Part of the allure of the D5100 was the fact that it featured the same 16MP sensor with the more advanced D7000. The D5200 continues in this tradition, borrowing the 24MP sensor from the higher-end D7100 (without the no-AA filter trick) at a lower price-point.
- 24.1MP DX-format CMOS sensor
- EXPEED 3 processing
- ISO 100-6400 standard, up to 25600 expanded
- 5 fps continuous shooting
- 39-point AF system, 9 sensors cross-type
- 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor
- 1080p30 video recording, built-in stereo mic
- 921k dot 3" vari-angle LCD monitor
The D5200 excels in low ISO RAW and JPEG capture, and exhibits minimal noise at high ISOs. In terms of high ISO shooting, the D5200 is up there with the best of its competition. Other highlights include the camera's 39-point AF coverage, in-camera RAW processing a, 3-inch, 921,000 pixel articulated LCD screen, and accurate auto white balance performance across a multitude of environments.
Video mode is also improved with manual audio level control and the ability to output uncompressed HD video to an external recorder. In other respects the D5200 offers similar specifications as the D7000. These include the 9 cross-type AF sensors and 2016 pixel RGB color-sensitive metering sensor.
Canon EOS Rebel T4i | more info. | buy now
$799.95 with 18-55mm kit lens
The T4i is the shortest-lived Rebel in history - it was replaced by the T5i after being on the market for just nine months. The good news is that the T5i brings almost nothing new to the table, aside from three very minor tweaks (new body texture, real-time Creative Filter preview, and a mode dial that can rotate 360 degrees). The T4i is unofficially discontinued but as long as stocks last you can find it for $100 less than the new T5i, and you get basically the same camera.
- 18MP APS-C 'Hybrid CMOS' sensor
- 14-bit DIGIC 5 processor
- ISO 100-12800 standard, 25600 expanded
- 9 point AF system, all sensors cross type, central sensor F2.8
- 63 zone iFCL metering
- 5 fps continuous shooting
- Phase detection AF from imaging sensor for Live View and Video
- Continuous autofocus in movie mode with subject tracking
- 1080p30 video recording with built-in stereo microphone
- 1.04m dot, 3" touch-sensitive vari-angle ClearView II LCD
The fact that the T4i can be had for $600 (body only) is pretty great, considering the fact that this is a camera that was only released last fall. The older EOS Rebel T3i (which continues in Canon's lineup) is now only $600 with a kit lens. There are no major differences in terms of quality between the T4i, T3i, and even the T2i - I chose the T4i for this article simply because of its superior video functionality.
With an STM lens, the T4i offers nearly silent autofocus in live view mode, a feature shooters have been asking for for years. That said, the T4i's AF system in Live View is slow at times, but I prefer that over a loud, jerky performance. The T4i offers good image quality and an easy-to-use touch screen interface that enables touch focus and other forms of touch functionality. Compared to the Nikon D5200, the T4i has slightly lower resolution, but this makes little difference in the real world.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 | more info. | buy now*
$749.95 with 14-42mm II kit lens
The Lumix G series has always been a favorite of ours, particularly for the robust manual controls, impressive image quality, and advanced video modes. Over time, the G-series has split into four branches - entry-level 'GF' models, rangefinder style GX cameras, high-end GH-series and the mid-range plain old 'G's. The recently-announced G6 replaces last year's G5 and sits above the GF6 and below the GH3 in Panasonic's G-series lineup.
- 16MP Micro Four Thirds MOS sensor
- ISO 160-12,800 (extendable up to 25,600)
- 3.0", 1.04 million dot touchscreen LCD
- 1.44 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder with eye sensor
- Full AVCHD 1080/60p video with full manual control (and 2.4X digital teleconverter option)
- 3.5mm external mic socket
- 7 frames per second continuous shooting, 5 fps with AF-tracking
- 23 Scene modes including 'Cute Dessert' and 'Sweet Child's Face'
- iAuto mode can automatically detect when to use 9 scene modes
Panasonic has introduced some standout new features with the G6, one of the most interesting being NFC connectivity. This means files can be transferred by simply tapping a smartphone to the camera, or live 30p HD video can be streamed to a tablet or other capable device. The G6 inherits the GH2's 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and has the ability to shoot up to 12,800 native ISO, with expandability to 25,600. A 1.44 million dot OLED EVF makes its way onto the G6 as well, and on the back is a fully articulating 3-inch LCD display with a 1.04 million dot resolution and touch-sensitivity.
Focus Peaking, 7fps continuous shooting, and a 1728-zone multi-pattern metering system all add to the G6's bag of tricks. As far as video functions are concerned, 1080/60p recording is nice to see, as well as a stop motion feature.
Sony NEX-6 | more info. | buy now
$898.00 with 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens
It's a struggle to find any major flaws with the 16MP Sony NEX-6. The camera packs in a lot of impressive technology, some of which is inherited from the flagship NEX-7, but it can be found for well under a grand.
- 16.1MP APS-C format CMOS sensor
- 2.3 million dot resolution OLED EVF
- ISO 100-25600
- Control dial
- Customizable Fn button
- 'Quick Navi' interactive settings display
- Built-in Wi-Fi for connection to smartphones or computers, for photo sharing
- Proprietary in-camera apps
- Built-in flash (GN 6, ISO 100)
- Electronic first-curtain shutter
- 1080/60p HD movies in AVCHD (50p on PAL region models)
One of the major features that sets the NEX-6 apart from its peers is its 2.3 million dot resolution OLED EVF, which not only offers a brilliant picture, but does away with the need for an accessory port and of course the need to spend extra cash on an aftermarket viewfinder. This frees the hotshoe up for other accessories, such as external microphones for video recording, or a more powerful flashgun. The NEX-6 also offers more external manual control with the help of two control dials, and its protruding rubberized grip is nice and comfortable despite the small size of the camera.
Built-in Wi-Fi is also a feature on the NEX-6, allowing users to connect smartphones and computers to the camera, and the NEX-6 can even be controlled remotely via a smartphone application. Additional features can be added to the NEX-6 via the Sony PlayMemories Store (which is accessible from the camera itself). The camera's Hybrid AF system works very well, and its AF in general is snappy and accurate. Other key selling points include 1080/60p HD video recording with exposure control and continuous AF, an articulating 920K LCD display, and very good image quality. Auto HDR, focus peaking, Sweep Panorama, and Hand-held Twilight / Anti Motion Blur all increase the appeal of the NEX-6 even further, making it a great bargain at its current street price.
Nikon D7000 | more info. | buy now
$996.95 with with 18-105mm kit lens
The good thing about ever-expanding technology in the photo world is that gems like the Nikon D7000 reach sub-$1,000 price points only a couple of years after they're released. Announced in 2010 the D7000 has proven one of the most popular enthusiast DSLRs of the past few years, and remains highly sought-after even after the arrival of the D7100 in 2012.
- 16.2MP DX-format CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-6400 (plus H1 and H2 equivalent to ISO 12,800/25,600)
- 39-point AF system with 3D tracking
- New 2016 pixel metering sensor
- 3.0 inch 921k dot LCD screen
- 1080p HD video recording with mic jack for external microphone
- Scene Recognition System aids WB/metering and focus accuracy
- Twin SD card slots
- New Live View/movie shooting switch
- Full-time AF in Live View/movie modes
- Up to 6fps continuous shooting
- Lockable drive mode dial
- Built-in intervalometer
- Electronic level
The Nikon D7000 introduced 1080P HD video recording to Nikon's DSLR lineup, and also featured a 39-area (9 cross-type) TTL AF system with fine tuning (which has since been inherited by the D5200) as well as a 2016-pixel RGB metering sensor and a maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600. Six fps continuous shooting, a 100% coverage viewfinder, and dual SD card slots added to the appeal, as well.
The Nikon D7000 excels in build quality, RAW image quality, and high ISO noise performance, and is still one of the best midrange APS-C models you can buy. The D7000's 16MP resolution may seem low compared to the D7100's 24MP, but the difference isn't huge for most purposes, and right now, the D7000 is a bargain.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 | more info. | buy now
$1299 with 12-50mm kit lens
Olympus really knocked it out of the park with the release of the retro-styled OM-D E-M5 last year. Although the E-M5 shares many aesthetic similarities with its film-based predecessors, it's a completely different world on the inside. And a good one.
- 16MP Micro Four Thirds MOS sensor
- Weather-sealed body
- Twin control dials
- New, '5-axis' image stabilization
- Shoot at up to ISO 25,600
- Up to 9fps shooting (4.2 fps with continuous AF)
- 1.44M dot electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch articulated OLED touchscreen display
- TruePic VI processor
- Improved C-AF autofocus with 3D tracking
- Flash sync speed up to 1/250th sec
Imagine taking every good feature from early Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, adding them together and then multiplying them by a substantial amount. That's the OM-D E-M5. It's one of our favorite cameras from the past couple of years. Olympus got it right with the camera's 16 megapixel MOS sensor, which produces stellar image quality. It can shoot up to 9fps continuously, reaches an ISO max of 25,600, and has a fantastic 1.44 million dot EVF with 100% coverage and 120fps refresh rate. The tilting 3-inch touchscreen OLED rear screen is nice to shoot with, and a flash sync speed of 1/250th of a second places the camera right up there with semi-pro DSLRs when it comes to flash photography.
The OM-D has a lot in its toolkit, but perhaps the most impressive feature is its lightning-quick autofocus. Also, there are horizontal and vertical electronic levels on both the rear screen and viewfinder, five-axis image stabilization is built in, plus a live histogram, highlight/shadow grid adjustment for dynamic range improvement, oodles of white balance adjustments, and of course 11 Art filters that can cross-breed with one another. The OM-D E-M5's design benefits from dual command dials and comfortable weather sealed body, making the camera even more compelling.
Few mirrorless models can contend with the OM-D E-M5, and even though it's just under $1000 for the body only, the camera is worth every penny.
Mike Perlman is a freelance photographer and writer, based in Bar Harbor, Maine. After a spell reviewing camcorders at Camcorderinfo.com, Mike moved to infoSync World as the Senior Photography Editor, before taking up a role at TechnoBuffalo.com as the head of the Photography department. These days, Mike runs his own photography business and contributes to dpreview between shoots.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.