Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $800
Expert (53 Recommendations and 31 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
June 21, 2010 Updated: June 25, 2010
Overview

My BestInClass pick for a DSLR is the Sony Alpha A550. Designed for speed and functionality, it is the perfect camera for all of your everyday shooting and for some of your less-than-perfect shooting situations. Sensitive to low-light and smart enough to create HDR images, the A550 uses face detection, a smile shutter and manual focus check to take the guesswork out of portraits and action shots. And with a 3.0” tiltable LCD screen and a shutter speed of 4fps you will never miss that all-important shot no matter what physical constraints might get in your way.

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My Best In Class Pick
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 (Body Only)

In the ongoing race to pack more useful features into a DSLR camera body, Sony has taken the lead with the A550.

Combining the Exmor CMOS 14.2mp imaging sensor with the high-speed BIONZ™ engine and an ISO rating of 12800, the A550 provides fast response times in low light situations. As fast as 4fps in Live View mode or 7fps in optical viewfinder mode. That’s essential when walking into a shooting situation with less-than optimum available lighting.

Framing, composing and tracking your subjects has never been easier. Follow your subjects with the tiltable 3” Xtra Fine LCD screen and rely on SteadyShot Inside Image Stabilization to keep everything stable while gaining up to 4 stops exposure. Armed with Face Detection, Smile Shutter and Manual Focus Check Live View mode, the A550 is an excellent camera for quick portraits of friends and family.

When taking landscape or interior photos, use the auto HDR function to balance out the highlights and lowlights of each situation. The A550 will quickly take two images and combine them to create an image that maximizes the best exposure so you are capturing what your eye naturally sees (not recommended for motion shots).

The A550 also combines intuitive on-camera controls with an on-screen interface that gives you easy access to functions and settings during live view operation.

You would think that with all this power and responsiveness there would be battery and storage issues, but Sony has allowed for these issues with a supplied lithium ion battery and charger that can keep you shooting up to 950 images with a single charge, and the capacity to hold both SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. (Backups are always recommended).

You may also want to add the leather grip accessory when purchasing this camera because chances are it will become a part of your hand when you realize how much it is capable of under any shooting circumstance.

Comparison with Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)

For high speed shooting in low light situations, the Sony A550 is the better choice over the E-620. Neither of these cameras has video capability but they both have swivel LCD screens. The A550 tilts 180 degrees while the E-620 tilts and swivels up to 270 degrees but the E-620 LCD screen is 2.7” versus the 3.0” A-550.

Pros
  • +
    Auto HDR mode
  • +
    Tiltable LCD
  • +
    Long-lasting battery
  • +
    Speedy
Cons
  • -
    no video
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 (Body Only) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $800
Where to buy
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $679
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Sony STP-GB1AM Genuine Leather Grip Belt (Black)
    $43.95 @ Amazon.com
  • Sony Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo HX 8 GB Flash Memory Card with USB Reader MSHX8G
    $44.99 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Resolution: 14.2MP
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Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 (Body Only)
2
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)
3
Pentax K-x (with 18-55mm Lens)
Customer Rating
Price $679.95
Weight (with batteries) 22.3 oz 18.2 oz 20.5 oz
Anti-Dust Available Yes Yes Yes
HD Video Available No No Yes
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Max ISO Setting 12800 3200 12800
?
LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 2.7 in. 2.7 in.
Storage Media SDHC Memory Card, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo CompactFlash Card, MicroDrive, xD-Picture Card SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable AA-size (x4)
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Effective Sensor Resolution
14.2 megapixels 12.3 megapixels 12.4 megapixels
2
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)

For a multi-talented DSLR that is lightweight and reasonably priced, the E-620 is being recommended by photographers who appreciate quality when they see it.

Packed with a high-performance 12.3-megapixel Live MOS imaging sensor, a TruePic III+ Image Processor and an in-body Image Stabilization system, expect clear, fast and blur-free images that will satisfy even the toughest critic, yourself.

Compose your images on the 100 percent accurate 270 degree swivel 2.7” Live View HyperCrystal III LCD while holding the camera high, low or wherever your imagination leads you. Use the LCD screen to view your menu selections for quick decision making without losing sight of your subject. Preview a variety of photographic effects through the live view before taking a single shot, then select the settings you choose and fire away.

And speaking of getting creative, the E-620 comes with a collection of Art Filters you can apply to your images for original art work you design yourself. Try the Pop Art, Soft Focus or Pin Hole without having to mess around with computer programs and upload them immediately to your computer of webpage. There is also a multiple exposure feature that let’s you create unique images right in the camera. With the Olympus E-620 the fun is built right in.

For speedy autofocusing in either the live view LCD or optical viewfinder, you can count on Fast Imager Autofocus and Phase Detection AF to get the shot when you see it, after all, isn’t that why a DSLR is the first choice for instant capture? And with the Face Detection feature you can capture up to 8 different faces whether posed or on the move. The E-620 will even optimize the exposure so you won’t miss that all important shot.

Pros
  • +
    270 degree tilt/swivel LCD
  • +
    Creative Art Filters
  • +
    Lightweight
  • +
    Fast
Cons
  • -
    no video
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $800
Where to buy
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.3MP
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Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Pentax K-x (with 18-55mm Lens)

For a loaded DSLR at a beginners price, the Pentax K-x makes a solid argument to be your next camera.

Consider all that you get. There’s the 12.4mp CMOS imaging sensor, the PENTAX PRIME II image processing engine, In-camera sensor-shift Shake Reduction, an 11 point wide angle SAFOX VIII autofocus system, art filters and HD video capture.

There is also a live view feature for composing your images on the 2.7” LCD screen and True HDR image capture that combines 3 images to balance shadows and highlights, rendering detail in all of those hard to manage lighting situations. And the sensor-shift shake reduction feature is an in-camera function. That’s nice when you consider that every lens made by Pentax will fit the lens mount. That means used lenses might just be the way to go as you grow into the Pentax system.

Low light situations are manageable too with shake reduction giving you 4 more shutter stops in addition to an ISO range of 200-6400 with the ability to expand the sensitivity range up to 12800.

Let the Pentax K-x fly with its 4.7fps capture speed and get up to 1900 shots on 4 AA batteries (rechargeables are recommended). Take advantage of built-in art filters like; toy camera, high contrast, starburst and fish eye to explore your creative side.

Whew! That’s an impressive camera. All that’s left to make your decision is whether you want it in White, Black or for a limited time, Red and Navy.

Pros
  • +
    HD video
  • +
    Art filters
  • +
    In-camera shake reduction
Cons
  • -
    AA battery powered
Pentax K-x (with 18-55mm Lens) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $800
Where to buy
Pentax K-x (with 18-55mm Lens)
Recommended with
  • Sanyo Eneloop 4 Pack AA NiMH Pre-Charged Rechargable Batteries w/ Charger
    $17.60 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.1x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 27mm (30% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.4MP
More
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