Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $800
Expert (53 Recommendations and 31 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
October 23, 2009 Updated: October 26, 2009
Overview

If you’re looking to move up to a mid-priced DSLR that produces high quality images with cutting edge technology, look no further than the Canon T1i. This 15.1 MP camera with it’s 18-55mm IS kit lens and HD movie capabilities may be the last DSLR you buy for quite a while.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon EOS Rebel T1i (with 18-55mm IS Lens)

With expectations raised by consumers to get all of their imaging needs pumped into one piece of equipment, Canon responded by adding HD video recording to their already beefed up T1i.

First, by boosting their megapixels up to 15.1, noiseless shooting up to 3200 ISO and a responsive 3.4 FPS, and then adding 30FPS (@ 720P) HD video, the only thing missing from the T1i becoming a one-man imaging phenomenon was a projector to display the awesome images to your adoring fans.

Canon has continued to lead the competition through thoughtful innovation like their Digic 4 processor, creating beautiful images that lead the field with 2380 lines of resolution.

Employing a 35 zone metering system, 9 point auto focus and up to 12,800 ISO capability, the T1i is still able to auto focus even when the lights go out (or at least dimmed, and long after everyone else has shut down.)

As a lifelong Nikon owner, I finally find myself impressed with what Canon has done to produce a DSLR that has it all, and has it all over the competition.

Comparison with Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm VR Lens)

The Canon T1i just seems to have Nikon’s number at every turn in direct competition with the D5000. The only difference I can think of to go with the D5000 would be accessories. If you already own Nikon’s AF lenses and their TTL flash units, you will want to stay with that excellent system. And a tilting LCD screen (Nikon’s) should not be a big enough factor to sway this decision.

Otherwise, for faster shutter speeds, higher ISO and more pixels, plus the ability to auto focus in very low light situations, the T1i should be your next camera. Exciting, isn’t it?

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

Even though it’s quite a bit lighter than Canon’s T1i, the E-620 can’t keep up with the larger imaging sensor or higher ISO capabilities.

On the other hand, having in-camera shake reduction gives you more lens choices, and the ability to edit your images before uploading them might be enough to turn your head from my number one pick.

But at 2120 lines of resolution on a four thirds imaging sensor versus the T1i’s 2380, you may not want all that noise. Unless you don’t intend to blow your images up too much.

Pros
  • +
    .32 shutter speed
  • +
    Improved Digic 4 processor
  • +
    High ISO
Cons
  • -
    Noisy HD at full resolution
Canon EOS Rebel T1i (with 18-55mm IS Lens) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $800
Where to buy
Canon EOS Rebel T1i (with 18-55mm IS Lens)
  • Best Price: $524
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 29mm (21% wider)
  • Resolution: 15.1MP
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

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Canon EOS Rebel T1i (with 18-55mm IS Lens)
2
Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm VR Lens)
3
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)
Customer Rating
Price $524.00 $999.00
Weight (with batteries) 18.3 oz 21.6 oz 16.4 oz
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Effective Sensor Resolution
15.1 megapixels 12.3 megapixels 12.3 megapixels
Anti-Dust Available Yes Yes Yes
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Shutter Lag Time (including auto-focus time)
0.2 sec 0.3 sec 0.3 sec
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 3.4 frames/sec 4.0 frames/sec 4.0 frames/sec
HD Video Available Yes Yes No
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Max ISO Setting 12800 6400 3200
Full Manual Exposure Mode Available Yes Yes Yes
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Face Detection Available
Yes Yes Yes
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 2.7 in. 2.7 in.
Display Mounting Built-in Rotating Rotating
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable
2
Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm VR Lens)

Whether or not you’re looking for a DSLR with HD capability, the D5000 is a great camera for the price.

As a mid-level DSLR, getting a clear, crisp image at 4FPS and at 2245 lines of resolution in a solid body that weighs only 1.25 lbs is enough to convince me to snatch up the D5000 before someone else gets the last one (don’t panic, not really a problem).

But add live view, a swivel LCD screen, in-camera editing and HD video and Nikon has made me feel as if all my accessory purchases were not in vain.

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

The Olympus E-620 and the Nikon D5000 have a lot in common for mid-level DSLR’s.

They both have a 2.7” swivel LCD, 12.3 MP imaging sensors, in-camera editing functions and 4FPS shooting capabilities. But after that you find that the E-620 gets a little noisier than the D5000 beyond 800 ISO.

And when the E-630 touts it’s light weight (1.04 lbs.), remember, they decided not to include HD video to this model.

All things considered, after going through all of the similiarities, I’d rather have the larger DX format CMOS sensor over the four thirds that’s inside the Olympus any day. But that’s just me, I usually shoot big and crop later.

Pros
  • +
    11 pt. AF
  • +
    Flip LCD
  • +
    3D color matrix metering
Cons
  • -
    5 min. max. HD recording
Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm VR Lens) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $800
Where to buy
Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm VR Lens)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 27mm (30% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.3MP
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
Olympus E-620 (with 14-42mm Lens)

If your camera needs fit into the family and friends catergory, printing photos for albums, books or calendars, the Olympus E-620 may be the right choice for you.

Outfitted with a Zuiko 14-42 lens for the same price as the Canon X1i, body only, the E-620 isn’t conceding much with a slightly lower line resolution and more noise at the higher ISO setting. You won’t feel those issues when big blowups aren’t your goal.

But add in-camera image stabilization, in-camera editing, lots of controls outside and a lightweight body, and you have found the achilles heel(s) in Canon’s design. This camera has a lot of things going for it and it wants to be your partner in releasing your creativity.

The Olympus E-620 is part of a system that has a long history and plenty of room to grow. The in-camera image stabilization gives you the freedom to use your old Zuiko lenses or shop around for deals on a wide array of used ones.

Pros
  • +
    4 FPS
  • +
    Lightweight
  • +
    IS
  • +
    Double exposure feature
Cons
  • -
    No HD Video
  • -
    Noisy after 800 ISO
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)
Recommended with
  • Olympus HLD-5 Battery grip for Olympus E620 Digital SLR Camera
    $147.83 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.3MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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