Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $700
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
March 17, 2009
Overview

For fast-action photography, there’s simply no better device than Canon’s Rebel XTi, which brings the best autofocus system, best motion-freezing high ISO, and fastest-focusing lens to the table.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (with 18-55mm Lens)

Though it’s not quite at the “cutting edge” of the DSLR market any longer, Canon’s older Rebel XTi is a budget DSLR that still ranks among the best performers in its class. Like the other cameras in the Rebel series, the XTi’s claim to fame has been its fantastic high-ISO ability, which allows it to freeze motion with barely any noticeable noise at all, even in low-light conditions.

The Rebel XTi comes equipped with the standard 18-55 kit lens, which is fine for general photography. If you’re interested in shooting fast action, however, you’d be wise to pick up the Canon 75-300 USM lens, which will let you zoom in to get much better close-up shots while you’re shooting from a distance.

The Rebel XTi employs a 9-point AF system, which is above average and about as good as it gets in this price range. Shutter lag is minimal, and unlike most other entry-level telephoto lenses that employ slow micro-motor autofocus, the recommended 75-300mm lens employs a “USM” sonic motor that locks on and tracks focus for moving subjects much, much quicker.

The Rebel XTi can take photos continuously at 3fps, typical for most entry-level or midrange SLRs, and useful for taking bursts of shots and choosing the best or peak moment afterwards.

Comparison with Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)

While the K200D is a strong competitor and viable alternative, it simply can’t come close to Canon’s fantastic all-around performance, which features the fastest autofocus system, fastest continuous shooting, longest focal range, and best image quality of any camera in this class.

Comparison with Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)

The Sony A200’s crippling attribute has been its absolutely terrible high-ISO performance. In a world where utilizing high ISO to freeze action is paramount, Canon’s image quality simply blows the A200 away, and is a no-brainer choice for fast action.

Pros
  • +
    Superb high-ISO quality
  • +
    Huge 480mm telephoto
  • +
    Fast USM autofocus
  • +
    3fps continuous shooting
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (with 18-55mm Lens) is the Best Digital Camera for Action Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (with 18-55mm Lens)
  • Best Price: $729
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
    $138.00 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.2 sec
  • Burst Speed: 3.0 fps
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (with 18-55mm Lens)
2
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)
3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)
Customer Rating
Price $729.99
Size (W x H x D) 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.9 in. 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in.
Weight (without batteries) 17.8 oz 22.2 oz 19.2 oz
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 3.0 frames/sec 2.7 frames/sec 2.8 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames 27 frames 6 frames 8 frames
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
29 mm 27 mm 27 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
480mm 450mm 450 mm
Optical Zoom 16.6x 16.7x 16.7x
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Image Stabilization Available
No Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.5 f/3.5 f/3.5
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.6 f/5.6 f/5.6
Battery Life 370 shots 550 shots 750 shots
High ISO quality Superb Good Poor
Shutter lag Superb Superb Superb
Autofocus Rating Superb Good Good
Fast Action Rating Superb Good Average
2
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)

As companies introduce newer and cheaper entry-level cameras with stripped-down features in a pricing race to the bottom, the older entry-level cameras emerge as slightly pricier and far more full-featured options that offer capabilities that the newest budget cameras simply don’t have anymore. Such is the case with Pentax’s K200D, Pentax’s year-old budget DSLR now replaced by the even cheaper K2000.

High-ISO quality on the K200D is good, nearing the performance of Canon’s sensors and perfectly freezing action with a low amount of noise. The K200D’s 18-55 kit lens is fine for everyday photography, but you’ll want to pick up a telephoto like Tamron’s 70-300 Di LD lens to get the best close-up shots.

The K200D’s 11-point AF system is perhaps the most comprehensive system found on any budget DSLR, although the Tamron 70-300’s slow micromotor will limit tracking speed for extremely fast subjects. The K200D is capable of taking 4-shots bursts at 2.8fps - somewhat short, but moderately useful for taking extremely quick bursts of shots.

Comparison with Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)

The most significant feature of the A200 lacking in the K200D is its ability to continuously shoot photos at 3fps (the K200D can only manage four shots at 2.8fps). Aside from this, however, the K200D beats out the A200 in most categories, with a slightly more comprehensive autofocus system for focus tracking, and a big advantage in the image quality department, where the K200D produces much cleaner high-ISO photos.

Pros
  • +
    Superb high-ISO quality
  • +
    Huge 450mm telephoto
  • +
    2.8fps continuous shooting
  • +
    Image stabilization
Cons
  • -
    Can only shoot bursts 4 frames at a time
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens) is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Pentax K200D (with 18-55mm Lens)
Recommended with
  • Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens for Pentax Digital SLR Cameras
    $269.99 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.1x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.4 - 0.6s
  • Burst Speed: 2.7 fps
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)

Sony’s A200 is the budget camera in its Alpha series, and while its missing some of the fancy live-view bells and high-resolution whistles of the midrange A300 and A350 cameras, the A200 performs just as well when it comes to nailing down fast action.

The A200 twin lens kit comes with a standard 18-70 midrange zoom that’s useful for everyday photography, but for most fast action you’ll likely rely on the big 75-300 lens. Unfortunately, high-ISO is a sore spot for the A200 and other Sony cameras, with the camera producing blotchy, detail-less photos when shooting in high-ISO and low-light situations.

The A200 uses a 9-point AF system, which should work fine for tracking most subjects, as long as they don’t move too unpredictably. Due to its slow micro-motor lenses, however, focus tracking will be somewhat slow and struggle to keep up with especially fast subjects. The A200 can take photos continuously at 3fps, which provides a fantastic tool for taking long bursts of action shots and choosing the best one later.

Comparison with Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)

The A200 and D40 represent a tradeoff between featureset and performance. While the D40 lacks even the basic functionality such as a comprehensive tracking system, and its 200mm lens doesn’t get nearly as much reach as others’ 300mm lenses, its image quality is still far superior to that of the A200.

Pros
  • +
    Huge 450mm telephoto
  • +
    3fps continuous shooting
  • +
    Image stabilization
Cons
  • -
    Terrible high-ISO quality
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses) is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm Lenses)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 16.7x
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.2 sec
  • Burst Speed: 2.8 fps
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)

The Nikon D40 is perhaps the embodiment of the modern budget camera - rock-bottom cheap, and stripped down to a bare-bones featureset. Like just about any DSLR, the D40’s high-ISO is capable of freezing subjects’ motion, although there’s noticeable noise when using high ISO.

The twin lens kit features a good general-use lens in the 18-55 standard zoom, and a moderate telephoto lens in the 55-200, although this won’t zoom nearly as close-up as 300mm lenses from other competitors. In addition, Nikon’s paltry 3-point autofocus system and its slow micro-motor telephoto render the D40 almost useless for tracking fast action subjects.

While it’ll produce usable fast action photos, and is far from the worst fast-action DSLR available, there are many superior options to the D40, although most all of them cost somewhat more than the D40’s $550 price point.

Cons
  • -
    Only 200mm telephoto lens
  • -
    2.5fps continuous shooting
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses) is one of the Best Digital Cameras for Action Photos Under $700
Where to buy
Nikon D40 (with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Lenses)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 11.1x
  • Resolution: 6.1MP
  • AF Shutter Lag: 0.3 sec
  • Burst Speed: 2.5 fps
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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