Top 10 digital SLR cameras of 2010

With camera manufacturers trying to squeeze as many segments out of the dSLR market as there are f-stops, there's an enormous range of models available. To zoom in on the best dSLR for your needs, check out our list of the Top 10 dSLRs available today.
Written by Janice Chen, Inactive

As any digital photography enthusiast knows, if you want superior image quality and fast performance, even the best compact cameras can’t beat the worst digital SLR camera (well, maybe the worst, but you get my drift). With bigger sensors, higher-end image processors, and better control over more camera features, dSLRs help you banish shutter lag, noisy low-light images, and other annoying drawbacks of most point-and-shoots. Of course, there’s an enormous range of dSLRs available, as every camera manufacturer tries to squeeze as many segments out of the market as there are f-stops. To help you find the best dSLR for your needs, I’ve put together a list of the top 10 dSLRs available today. Unlike the Top 10 list of compact cameras I posted at the end of May, this time I’ve arranged the list in ascending price order and divided it into three sections: entry-level, midrange, and professional cameras. Suggested list prices range from $450 to $900 (including 18-55mm kit lenses) for the five entry-level cameras (on this page), $900 to $1,100 (body only) for midrange dSLRs (on page 2), and $1,700 to $2,500 (body only) for pro dSLR cameras (on page 3).

Image Gallery: Check out photos of the Top 10 digital SLR cameras of 2010. Pentax K-x Canon EOS Rebel T2i

1. Sony Alpha DSLR-A230Sony Alpha DSLR-A230 The Sony Alpha DSLR-A230’s current list price of $450, with an 18-55mm lens, is within striking distance of the high-end point-and-shooters — I even saw it at Sears for $380. And with the recent announcement of a follow-up DSLR-A290(an incremental upgrade with a new grip and a bump to 14 megapixels) coming in July for $500, you’re likely to find even better deals on the A230. But despite the bargain basement price, it’s still a solid entry-level dSLR with a decent feature set. Unlike its step-up sibling the A330 (which lists for just $20 more) and the forthcoming A390 (coming in July for $600), the A230’s 2.7-inch LCD isn’t tiltable and there’s no Live View option, but its optical viewfinder does offer a higher magnification (0.83x) than you’d expect for this price. It’s relatively light and compact at 15.9 ounces and 5.0×3.8×2.7 inches, which will appeal to those looking to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to a dSLR. And because there’s a pretty basic range of features, operation is simple and straightforward. Other highlights include relatively fast autofocus, built-in wireless flash and image stabilization, and a helpful SteadyShot indicator.

[See a photo gallery of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A230.]

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2. Canon EOS Rebel XSCanon EOS Rebel XS Canon essentially created the entry-level dSLR market with its first Rebel back in 2003, and has been staving off the competition since. Unlike other competitors that let older models drop down to fill lower price points, Canon slipped the aggressively priced, 10-megapixel EOS Rebel XS in below the 12-megapixel Rebel XSi when it was originally introduced almost two years ago. Though the $550 list price (with an 18-55mm lens) has been significantly discounted from the original $700, the XS still holds its own against newer, similarly priced base-level models. In fact, unlike the Sony A230 and the Nikon D3000, which came out last year, the older XS includes a Live View mode, and it has the edge on both cameras in terms of image quality (though the Nikon is a close contender).

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3. Pentax K-x Pentax K-xThe Pentax K-x stands out from the crowd not only for its rainbow of body color options, but also for being the lowest-priced dSLR to offer HD video recording. In fact, like the K200D before it, the K-x carries on the Pentax tradition of delivering higher-end features in aggressively priced packages. With a list price of just $650 (with an 18-55mm lens), it bests similarly priced competitors with its 11-point autofocus system, 4.7 fps continuous shooting speed, and impressive sensitivity range (ISO 100 to 12,800 expanded), not to mention the 720p HD video recording mode at 24fps. It also offers a Live View shooting mode and uses easy-to-find AA batteries (four AA lithium batteries are included) rather than proprietary Lithium Ion batteries like most dSLRs.

[See a photo gallery of the Pentax K-x and a gallery of sample photos shot with the K-x.]

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4. Nikon D5000 Nikon D5000A step up in the entry-level category in terms of both price and features, the Nikon D5000 was among the first dSLRs to deliver HD video recording for under $900 when it first came out just over a year ago. While the 720p at 24fps video capabilities didn’t quite match the similarly priced Canon EOS Rebel T1i that came out just weeks before it, the D5000 stood out for its 2.7-inch tilt-and-swivel LCD, fast 4fps continuous shooting speed, 11-point autofocus system, and for being the first of Nikon’s entry-level dSLRs to use a CMOS sensor. Since then, the price has come down enough to make the D5000 a great value for the money (list price of about $750 with an 18-55mm lens). And though Nikon is likely due for some summer dSLR announcements in the near future, most bets are on a D90 replacement first, so for now you’d be hard pressed to get a better combination of feature set, performance, and image quality (especially in low light) for the money.

[See photo gallery of the Nikon D5000 and a gallery of sample photos shot with the D5000.]

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5. Canon EOS Rebel T2i Canon EOS Rebel T2iIf your dSLR budget tops out at a grand, you won’t go wrong snapping up the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. A follow-up to the T1i (the Nikon D5000’s main competitor), the T2i sits at the head of the sub-$1,000 dSLR pack, with a list price of $900 with an 18-55mm lens). It borrows some heavy-hitting features from its big-brother, the Canon EOS 7D (also on this list below) such as the ability to shoot 1080p video at 30 fps, as well as at 24 fps and 25 fps (making it compatible with the NTSC and PAL broadcast television standards in the U.S. and Europe, respectively, and allowing it to shoot videos with the cinematic look of film using the lower 24 fps frame rate). Like the 7D, the T2i gives you full autofocus as well as full manual controls while shooting video, and it uses the same 63-zone metering system as the higher-end camera. In fact, you won’t find a more full-featured or higher specified  camera for the price on the market today. And most reviewers agree that the T2i delivers the best image and video quality in a dSLR for under $1,000.

[See a photo gallery of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i and a gallery of sample photos shot with the T2i.]

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Go to numbers 6 through 8: Top midrange dSLRs »

6. Nikon D90Nikon D90 Though rumors are swirling that a successor to the Nikon D90 may be announced as early as July, as of this writing the D90 is still the king of the midrange dSLRs. WIth a list price of $900 (body-only), it’s geared toward photo enthusiasts looking for more flexibility and better performance than entry-level dSLRs or even pros looking for a more compact secondary camera. It’s a category that’s ripe for upgrades (all three of my midrange picks were announced in 2008), and we’re likely to see several before too long. The D90’s claim to fame when it was first announced in August 2008 was that it was the first dSLR to offer video recording capabilities. As you’d expect for an early entrant, the D90’s video isn’t much to write home about (720p at 24 fps) and has been eclipsed by many lower priced dSLRs. But for shooters who aren’t quite ready to go pro, the D90 is hard to beat in terms of photographic ability (both image quality and performance) so its video capability is just icing on the cake.

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7. Olympus E-30 Olympus E-30Though it’s hard pressed to match the image quality and performance of the similarly priced D90, the Olympus E-30 (which lists for $1,000, body-only) holds its own and also offers some appealing features, such as sensor-shift image stabilization and a tilt-and-swivel LCD. The E-30 was also the camera in which Olympus first introduced its creative Art Filters, which are now featured in all Olympus dSLRs and its Micro Four Thirds Pen cameras as well. Art Filters add in-camera special effects such as the Warhol-esque Pop Art with over-saturated colors, high-contrast Grainy Film, and the self-explanatory Pin Hole Camera, among others. Though they were mocked by “serious” photographers when they first came out, they are undeniably fun, and popular enough that they’ve become a much more common feature in the two years since Olympus first introduced them.

[See a photo gallery of the Olympus E-30 , a gallery of sample photosshot with the E-30, and a gallery of sample photos using Art Filters.]

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8. Canon EOS 50DCanon EOS 50D Like the Nikon D90, the Canon EOS 50D is due for an upgrade and rumors of an imminent 60D continue to circulate.  Until then, however, the 50D is still a rock-solid camera for the money, as long as you don’t care about shooting video (since the 50D doesn’t). With a slightly higher list price than the D90 and E-30 at $1,100 (body-only), the 50D does sport some higher specs, most obviously its 15-megapixel sensor, speedy 6.3fps continuous shooting, and a sensitivity range of up to 12,800 (expanded), though in practice the high end isn’t useful especially with the higher resolution sensor. With an update likely to appear in the near future, you’ll probably find some good pricing on the 50D and its speedy performance, tried-and-true design, and top-notch photo quality are enough to keep it in the running.

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Go to numbers 9 and 10: Top pro dSLR cameras»

9. Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS 7DThough Nikon dominated the entry-level professional market for several years with the D200 and D300, Canon came roaring back in fall 2009 with the release of the Canon EOS 7D, which out-specs the Nikon D300S (which shares its body-only list price of $1,700). There’s not much to dislike about this camera and a lot to love, notably superior image quality across the sensitivity spectrum and super zippy performance, with a whopping 8 fps continuous shooting speed (particularly impressive given its 18-megapixel resolution). Some of the 7D’s specs even knock the socks off its big brother, the EOS 5D Mark II below, such as its 19-point autofocus system, a big and bright viewfinder with 100-percent coverage and 1.0x magnification, and 63-zone metering (not to mention the much faster continuous shooting mode). Add in the 7D’s industry leading video capabilities (1,920×1,080 HD video at a full 30 fps and full manual control), and you’ve got a camera should rule the category for a long while.

See a photo gallery of the Canon EOS 7D and a gallery of sample photos shot with the 7D.]

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10. Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark IIThough it’s starting to look a little long in the tooth in some ways (especially when compared to its whippersnapper little brother, the 7D), the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is still my top choice for a reasonably priced ($2,500 list) full-frame dSLR. While its closest competitors, the Nikon D700 and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 are strong contenders, the D700 doesn’t match the 5D Mark II’s 21.1-megapixel resolution and while the A900 offers similar resolution, it doesn’t match the Canon’s low-light performance. And neither competitor shoots video, which the 5D Mark II excels at. Like the 7D, it delivers full 1080p, 30 fps video with full manual control (after a firmware upgrade). Another firmware update brought the video capabilities in line with the 7D’s, enabling cinema and broadcast frame rates like those of the Rebel T2i.

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Return to numbers 1 through 5: Top entry-level dSLR cameras»

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