Smartphones, particularly Apple's iPhone, give users the ability to take quality snaps and edit them with a range of apps to enhance photos and be creative. If that's inspired you, consider a DSLR camera as the next step, a significant step, in producing potentially outstanding work. These cameras generally fall into two categories, 'entry-level' DSLR cameras and semi-pro or 'prosumer' cameras. Combined, DSLR cameras have come a long way in recent years, upping the specs while offering additional features for both professionals and enthusiasts to offer both choice and the ability to keep things simple and automated when needs be with intelligent exposure modes and a range of useful tools to take that perfect shot. Another advancement has been the introduction of capacitive touch screens for interacting better with menu settings.
Looks wise, DSLR cameras have never been so easy on the eye, with sleek, compact, lightweight bodies and in many cases retro designs to look both cool and iconic. If size matters to you, many manufacturers have also blurred the lines between full DSLR cameras and compact cameras. We have also seen the ability to shoot full HD video become a standard requirement and on the wish list of most users when choosing a new camera. Here then are some of the best reviewed cameras by Macworld and Gavin Stoker in the last 12 months, with links to the full camera reviews on our website. If you are thinking of buying yourself a DSLR this festive season then read on. Don’t forget too that the prices given here are the manufacturers suggested ones and street prices can be significantly cheaper if you are willing to shop around.
Canon EOS M
We said: Though the compact Canon EOS M immediately ticks one box in featuring a large APS-C sized sensor for theoretically better image quality than a typical pocket snapper, design wise it owes more to a consumer-end Canon PowerShot than an EOS DSLR. Nevertheless, as the ‘EOS’ in its model name indicates, the ‘M’ provides the ability to use Canon’s DSLR range’s 70+ EF lens line up, albeit via an optional adapter. Only competitor Nikon’s ‘1’ camera system comes close to accessing as many optics. Around £769.
We said: Fuji has gone niche for its first ever CSC in the 16.3 effective megapixel X-Pro1. With a DSLR-sized CMOS sensor it is pitched at enthusiasts and professionals and was joined in the dying stages of 2012 by a little brother in the X-E1, marginally smaller yet with the same APS-C sensor and lens mount. Nearest competition includes range topping rivals in the Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-7, but the X-Pro1 could also be seen as an alternative to an even pricier Leica. Sold as a body only, there are currently five lens options with five more promised for 2013. We got to play with the general purpose 35mm, wide angle 18mm and close up 60mm, while a14mm and 18-55mm are also available now. Around £1399 for body only.
We said: Successor to the E-PL3, the E-PL5 has skipped a number to become the fourth generation interchangeable lens Micro Four Thirds system compact from Olympus. Also known as the ‘Pen Lite’, this model sits in between the cheaper E-PM2, or ‘Pen Mini’, and the range topping OM-D E-M5 costing a grand, while featuring technology trickled down from that flagship retro-styled camera. Indeed Olympus says that the ‘guts’ of the camera are the same, with the only major internal difference being a dual axis stabilisation system on the E-PL5 to avoid the blurring effects of hand wobble, rather than a five axis one on the OM-D. Resolution has been boosted over its E-PL3 predecessor too, up from 12 to 16 megapixels, and there’s the ability to capture eight frames per second for action shots. Around £599.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5
We said: In terms of CSCs, Panasonic has its Lumix GF line up resembling super-sized compacts, plus its G and GH models, which, as with the 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds system G5 here, appear as if shrunken digital SLRs. The advantage of these slightly larger cameras over rivals here is that they find room for an electronic viewfinder (EVF), switched on automatically via eye sensor, in addition to a regular LCD that can be tilted and swivelled rather than just angled up or down. As with the Olympus, Sony and Canon, the latter is also a touch screen, allowing a finger prod to direct focus to a subject in the corner of the frame and subsequently fire the shutter, with plenty of solid-feel physical controls remaining. While we might outwardly assume that the G5 is more for your photo traditionalist, familiarity and ease of use is such that it would be a good option for families too. Around £599.
We said: The Korean electronics giant’s most current CSCs are the trio of the NX1000, NX210 and NX20, which are respectively the entry level, mid range, and flagship model. The difference with the NX210 is a more ‘serious’ metal construction with matt black finish – as opposed to the black, white and pink plastic NX1000’s – plus a rear panel AMOLED screen, instead of an LCD, giving deeper blacks and better contrast pictures that to our eyes appear more lifelike. At the time of writing Samsung was advertising the NX210 online for £665 with the non-retracting 18-55mm ‘iFunction’ zoom we were provided with, although street prices are more realistically lower at £499. As with the rest of the range, users can do more than ‘just’ zoom or focus with a twist of the lens barrel, such as adjust selected camera functions into the bargain. While this doesn’t feel an essential feature it does set the NX system apart from the Sony NEX. Around £665 including 18-55 image stabilised zoom.
We said: The third generation of Sony NEX cameras to feature the same large APS-C sensor as found in its Alpha DSLRs, the NEX-5R brings with it new wireless transfer abilities and compatibility with downloadable Sony ‘apps’, plus not only a back screen that can be angled down or up to such an extent that it can face the subject, but also one that is now a touch screen. Outwardly however the 16.1 megapixel model closely resembles its predecessors, thanks to a matt black finish, flat fascia and narrow body design only given a hint of shape thanks to a more prominent than average handgrip. Thus the NEX looks utilitarian next to the mini DSLR shapes and cool retro designs of its competitors, and, with provided 18-55mm (3x) optical zoom the equivalent of27-82.5mm on a 35mm camera screwed into place, can appear front heavy too. Around £669 with 18-55mm zoom.
We said: Anyone considering upgrading from a snapshot camera to a digital SLR may like to consider the user-friendly alternative of Sony’s 16.1 megapixel SLT-A37. In many respects, including large APS-C sensor size and Sony A-mount lens, it resembles one of the brand’s Alpha DSLRs. But the backplate controls are as simple as you’ll find on a compact while the internal mirror mechanism that powers a regular SLR has been made see through. Hence this isn’t technically an SLR, but what Sony refers to as a ‘SLT’ (Single Lens Translucent) camera. Around £499.
Canon EOS 650D
We said: Following on from the 550D and 600D, the 18-megapixel APS-C sensor 650D is described by Canon as ideal for beginners, though the size and solid construction won’t shame a semi pro. Indeed its maker still has the cheaper 1100D for complete novices. Suggested asking price is a hefty £1019.99 for 650D body plus the 18-135mm telephoto zoom we had for review, which proved ideal for razor sharp candid portraits. The Canon EOS 650D comes with a very high 1040-dot resolution LCD is a touch screen, which means you can swipe through images in playback like you would on your iPhone, enlarging sections with a flick of forefinger and thumb. Around £1019.99 for 650D body plus 18-135mm telephoto zoom.
We said: Nikon's high end DSLR comes with an impressive 36-megapixel sensor, which in theory allows massive poster prints – billboard sized we’d argue. It’s full frame too, meaning that any attached lens offers a like-for-like performance; so the 16-35mm wide-angle zoom supplied for our review delivers a focal range exactly that, no ‘35mm equivalent’ multiplication required. There’s full HD video with mono sound too, composed via 3.2-inch, 920k dot LCD, though here ‘movies’ feel relegated to a supporting feature via an almost apologetically tiny record button. While this otherwise chunky, weatherproofed camera is very much a professional’s tool, its body-only price tag of £2K puts it within enthusiasts’ reach. Additionally there’s a costlier D800E model. Around £2,399.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1
We said: Panasonic was the first manufacturer to market with an interchangeable lens compact in the GH1 back in 2009 – though in fairness development partner Olympus did extend the concept with its smaller E-P1 the same year. Still, the electronics giant has continued to innovate and has created a new premium enthusiast range with its Lumix G ‘X’ series, of which this 16 megapixel GX1 is the first offering. However in truth it’s more refinement than revolutionary, retaining the Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount of its GF3 predecessor (and current GF5) as well as handling largely the same. Around £729 with supplied 14-42mm ‘X’ series Power Zoom, £599 with regular 14-42mm kit zoom, or £499 body only.
We said: Usually when a camera is updated it gets a pixel or frame rate boost, Wi-Fi or GPS added, or handling niggle refined. But on inspecting the metal build, palm-sized J2 compact system camera (CSC), outwardly the doppelganger of the year-old J1, it seems Nikon has decided ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. A reluctance to change is partly excused by the fact that the J1 was a best seller for those looking to improve on the quality of their snapshots, but who didn’t yet want a DSLR. But with Canon entering the CSC market with its EOS M, plus Olympus, Sony, Panasonic and Samsung offering built-in Wi-Fi and iPhone style apps, can a camera that now suddenly seems ‘traditional’ keep up? £499.99 with 10-30mm VR zoom lens.