Holiday Gift Guide 2008: The best entry-level digital SLRs

With prices on digital SLRs continuing to erode, it's getting easier and easier to make the jump from compact point-and-shoot cameras to dSLRs. If your favorite snapshooter is ready to move up in the world, check out this list of my favorite entry-level dSLRs.

2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide

With prices on digital SLRs continuing to erode, it's getting easier and easier to make the jump from compact point-and-shoot cameras to dSLRs. If your favorite snapshooter is ready to move up in the world, check out this list of my favorite entry-level dSLRs.

Canon EOS Rebel XSCanon EOS Rebel XS Canon created the entry-level dSLR market with its first Rebel back in 2003, and has been fighting off the competition since. Rather than merely letting its older models drop down to fill lower price points, Canon slipped this aggressively priced 10-megapixel model in below the higher-end 12-megapixel Rebel XSi.

Though it doesn't beat all of the specs of the 10-megapixel Rebel XTi which it essentially replaces (with only 7-point autofocus rather than 9-point, for example), I still like the XS best--it offers the best photo quality among similarly priced competitors and it doesn't scrimp on the features that will be important to new SLR users (adding a LiveView mode, the newer Digic III processor, as well as features borrowed from its higher-end siblings like the customizable My Menu and the Auto Lighting Optimizer) and its switch from CompactFlash to SD memory will be convenient for most point-and-shoot upgraders as well. [Read the review] [Check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide
Nikon D60Nikon D60 Though it wasn't a huge update from it's popular predecessor, the Nikon D40, and it doesn't out-spec the competition (no LiveView, only 3-point autofocus), the D60 also didn't mess with the D40's successful formula of ease-of-use and fast performance.

Nikon's 3D Matrix Metering II system helps novices set the best exposure for a given scene (comparing it against an onboard database of more than 30,000 sample scenes) and for frivolous fun, I also like the D60's Stop Motion Movie mode, which lets you convert a sequence of still images into an AVI movie. [Read the review] [Check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide
Olympus E-420Olympus E-420 Anyone upgrading from a compact camera to a dSLR is going to have to get used to carrying around a bigger camera.  But the Olympus E-420 makes my list for its relative portability.

At roughly 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 inches and 13.4 ounces, the E-420 is smaller and lighter than the competiton and makes for an especially compact package when combined with Olympus' low-profile Zuiko 25mm f2.8 lens (equivalent to 50mm in the Four Thirds standard) that’s just 0.9 of an inch thick. Despite the camera's compact size, it sports a larger 2.7-inch LCD and offers a LiveView mode (the only other camera on this list with LiveView is the Canon).

It bests the rest of the cameras on the list with its 3.5-fps continuous shooting mode. Like the Nikon D60, it only has a 3-point autofocus and like the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200, it doesn't take SD memory cards (only CompactFlash and xD Picture Cards), which might be a bummer for some point-and-shoot upgraders. A nice touch, however, is the Perfect Shot Preview (which lets you preview special effects onscreen so you can see what the image will look like before you shoot). [Read the review] [Check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide
Pentax K200DPentax K200D If you're looking for the best value for the money, the Pentax K200D deserves to be on your short list.

Although I would have liked a LiveView mode (which it lacks), the K200D has great specs for the price, with sensor-shift image stabilization, 11-point autofocus, and a water- and dust-resistant, weather-sealed body. Like the Olympus and Sony models listed here, it sports a 2.7-inch LCD.

In a move that newbies may appreciate, the camera takes easy-to-find AA batteries (four Energizer lithium batteries are included) rather than proprietary Lithium Ion batteries like the rest. Also, an easy-to-use Function menu is organized similarly to four-way rocker controls used in many compact cameras. [Read the review] [Check prices]

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2008 ZDNet Holiday Gift Guide
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 Sony is a late entrant to the dSLR world, but with three models selling for less than $699 (the DSLR-A350, DSLR-A300, and DSLR-A200), it is breaking in like gangbusters.

I picked the DSLR-A200 as the budget pick among budget picks (you can get it direct from Sony for $499.99, with a 18-70mm zoom lens). But despite the low price, it does offer some good specs (9-point autofocus, ISO 3200, 2.7-inch LCD).There's no LiveView, and you won't get the image quality of the Canon or the performance of the Nikon (or the form factor of the Olympus or feature set of the Pentax for that matter). But what you will get is a solid offering for point-and-shoot upgraders that will provide better results and more flexibility than they're used to, without breaking the bank. [Read the review] [Check prices]

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