Which camera should I buy?

Each of the cameras in this roundup will serve very well, with a few foibles here and there, but little that would keep us from recommending them (with the exception of the Pentax K-500, whose missing AF points in the viewfinder limit the camera's usefulness). Image quality is generally good, giving high ISO performance that exceeds the capabilities of small-sensor digicams, and autofocus is reasonably fast when shooting through the viewfinders. Five out of seven cameras offer similar controls and features, limited as we've come to expect from consumer models, but the exceptions are the two Pentax models that offer front and rear exposure dials and 100% viewfinder coverage, and the Sony A58, which isn't an SLR at all, using an electronic viewfinder instead.

Best entry-level SLR - Canon SL1/100D

There are a lot of factors to consider but particularly for users coming from compact cameras, the big advantage of the SL1/100D is that it's small. For a DSLR it's tiny and yet still easily hand-holdable by most, has a quiet shutter sound, and a very usable touchscreen interface, making the Canon SL1 stand out as a great entry-level choice. The Canon Rebel SL1/100D also has something that most of the others do not: useably fast autofocus in live view and movie modes. When used with STM lenses, the SL1 gets closer to mirrorless speed and only the larger A58 can match it in this department. With the exception of slower live view autofocus, the Nikon D3200 also stands out as another top choice. 

Best mid-level SLR - Nikon D5300

The Nikon D5300 becomes our choice mainly on the basis of it bringing the excellent image quality of the D7100 down to a more accessible level. Spending a little bit more than you do for entry-level SLRs generally gets you a few more features, and most often a slightly larger body size. In the case of the Nikon D5300, however, the body is about the same size as the D3200, yet finds space for an articulating LCD. With the 18-140mm VR kit lens the camera's versatility increases, though it comes with a significant price jump - taking it into enthusiast DSLR and mirrorless territory.

At a lower price point, it's well worth considering the Pentax K-50, which offers a twin control dial interface, weather sealing and pentaprism, as well as a well-regarded sensor. The Pentax can't match the Nikon for lens choice (particularly when it comes to the more affordable, third-party options), but it's an awful lot of camera for the money and one that may well be more satisfying to shoot with, if you've owned a DSLR before.

As we said of the Enthusiast interchangeable lens cameras, users would also do well to look at mirrorless options, which can often offer smaller bodies, smaller lenses, faster autofocus, and still serve up impressive image quality at a comparable price.