Gear

5 of the Best Next Step DSLRs: Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

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More advanced DSLRs offer faster speeds, better focusing and improved ISO performance

An entry level DSLR is a great start point for photography, it let’s you take creative control over your images and explore the benefits of swapping lenses to suit your subject. However there comes a point for many photographers when you outgrow the capabilities of your entry level camera, and crave something with more features and more advanced specs. While you can create fantastic imagery with a budget model, it can also be rather limiting when it comes to functions like autofocus, low light performance, image quality and shooting speed.

Entry level DSLRs only tend to offer the most basic autofocus systems, with a dozen or so AF points covering a limited portion of the frame. The autofocus speeds can also be a little slow as the camera has a less powerful processor. This won’t be a problem if you mostly shoot still life subjects, or you can tolerate the limitations – but if your photography demands more flexibility and greater speeds you should consider upgrading to a more advanced camera. This is essential if you’re shooting subjects like sports, wildlife or weddings, as a higher number of AF points covering a wider area of the frame will help you keep track of subjects and ensure you don’t miss a shot.

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An advanced AF system will help focusing on moving subjects

More advanced DSLRs also offer faster shooting speeds, with more frames per second and faster processing times, enabling you to shoot for longer too. A typical entry level DSLR can shoot at around 3fps, but if you’re finding this limiting and are missing key moments in a burst sequence, then upgrading your camera to a model with a faster processor is the solution. Enthusiast and lower-end professional bodies tend to offer speeds at least twice as fast as entry level models, giving you the advantage of being able to pick more frames from a burst sequence to select the optimum shot.

Choosing to upgrade your DSLR will also boost your image quality and low lighting shooting capabilities. If you find yourself shooting at higher ISOs and are unsatisfied with the amount of Noise and it’s effect on image quality then it’s time to look at a more advanced camera. Higher grade DSLRs make use of more powerful processors which can help limit the amount of grain in your high ISO images, and also feature more advanced sensors. Those cameras with full frame sensors fare better than DSLRs with an APS-C sensor, as the physically larger chip allows for bigger photosites on the sensor, which improve their light gathering capability – resulting in less Noise.

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More advanced DSLRs offer a better low light performance for more detail in the dark

So if you’re thinking that it’s time to upgrade your entry level DSLR for a more powerful and feature packed model, check out our pick of the best 5 options to consider.

Pentax K-3 II – $1059

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The Pentax K-s II is a fast DSLR with a top shooting speed of 8.3fps

If you’re currently shooting with a Pentax K-S1, or an earlier entry level model then the best next-step option is the K-3 II. It comes with a 24.3MP APS-C sensor and it’s AA filter free to deliver sharper results. The SAFOX II AF sensor module has 27 AF points, a considerable advancement on the K-S1s offering of 11 AF points, giving a much wider frame coverage. This camera is over 50% faster too, shooting at an impressive 8.3fps for more shots during a burst, making it more suited to sports and wildlife where speed is key. The ISO range spans 100 – 51,200 – plenty for low light situations – and there’s also Pentax’ Pixel Shift Resolution System to effectively reduce Noise too. This sensor technology also provides for up to 4.5 stops of in-body shake reduction to limit the effects of camera shake. The K-3 II also captures Full HD video and has a 1037k-dot 3.2” LCD on the rear.

Nikon D7200 – $799

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The Nikon D7200 is an advanced APS-C DSLR and is an ideal step up from entry level models

For Nikon users, if you’re using an entry level model such as a D5500 or similar – and feel like you’ve outgrown its capabilities – then the D7200 is certainly worthy of your consideration. It’s from Nikon’s DX DSLR range, meaning it has an APS-C sized sensor, and this one offers a 24.2MP resolution. There’s no Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) either to help produce sharper images. For focusing the camera uses the Multi-CAM 3500 II AF system, which has 51-points giving a wide frame coverage, and 15 of the AF sensors are the more accurate cross-types. The D7200 can shoot at a respectable 6fps, and the EXPEED 4 processor gives this camera a large buffer, allowing for 100 continuous JPEG files or 27 RAW files. The processor also allows for the D7200s pleasing ISO performance, and has a range of 100 – 25,600. The camera features a 3.2in 1229k-dot LCD on the rear, has dual SD card slots, shoots Full HD video and offers both WiFi and NFC connectivity.

Canon 80D – $859

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The Canon 80D has a host of neat features including a vari-angle touchscreen

Canon shooters who are looking to upgrade from their first DSLR should take a look at the 80D as it employs a range of more advanced features. It’s powered by the DIGIC 6 Image Processor, and this gives the 80D a top shooting speed of 7fps which is pretty rapid for a camera at this price. For low light situations the ISO has a native range of 100 – 16,000, but can be expanded to an equivalent ISO setting of 25,600. The 80D uses Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system when framing up using Live View or while recording movies, and when focusing through the viewfinder the AF module has 45 AF points, all of which are the more advanced cross-type sensors. On the back of the camera you’ll find a 3.0” vari-angle touch screen with a 1040k-dot resolution, ideal for composing from challenging angles. The 80D also shoot Full HD videos and comes with NFC and WiFi to connect to smart devices.

Nikon D750 – $1419

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The Nikon D750 is used by both enthusiasts and professionals, and has a full frame sensor

If you’re a Nikon owner and you want to step it up a gear to a full frame camera, then the D750 will get you the most bang for your buck. It features a 24.3MP full frame sensor, essentially the same resolution as the D7200, but the physically larger sensor produces a superior image quality and low light performance than the DX format DSLR. The Multi-CAM 3500FX AF module is essentially the same as the one found in the D7200, except it’s been adapted to function with full frame sensors. Like the APS-C alternative, it also features 51 AF points, giving good coverage of the central portion of the frame. Powering the camera is the EXPEED 4 processor, which is also behind Nikon’s high resolution flagship the D810, and this engine gives the D750 a 6.5fps shooting speed for both JPEG and RAW. When it comes to low light sensitivity the D750 is perfectly capable, with a native range of 100 – 12,800, expandable up to 51,200. The camera also comes with a 3.2” 1229k-dot tiltable LCD, dual SD card slots, WiFi connectivity and shoots Full HD movies.

Canon 6D Mark II – $1675

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The Canon 6D Mark II is a full frame DSLR with plenty of impressive features

For anyone with a Canon DSLR who wants to upgrade and reap the benefits of a full frame sensor, then take a look at the 6D Mark II. It’s built around a 26.2MP full frame sensor, which is partnered by Canon’s DIGIC 7 processor. This pairing produces an enormous native ISO range of 100 – 40,000, which can be expanded to 102,400, making it well suited to low light photography. The 6D Mark II uses the same comprehensive AF system as the 80D, which offers 45 cross-type AF points, giving good frame coverage to keep track of moving subjects. The camera can shoot at 6.5fps – making it a good tool for capturing subjects where speed is key. The 6D Mark II is also very capable at capturing video as it shoots Full HD, and features in-camera 5-axis image stabilisation when shooting movies. There’s plenty of connectivity options with Bluetooth WiFi and NFC, and the 3.0” 1040k-dot vari-angle touchscreen makes operations easy and intuitive.