2013 Mid-Range DSLR Comparison Guide
You don't need to be spending big on a high-end full frame camera to get a DSLR with amazing image and video quality. There are plenty of options out there which cater to more modest budgets, without scrimping on features. In this guide Gizmag compares the specs of our selection of the best mid-range DSLRs on the market.
Meet the cameras
The six mid-range DSLRs we will be looking at are:
While there are perfectly adequate cheaper DSLRs out there, such as the Canon EOS 100D(EOS Rebel SL1) and Nikon D3200, we decided to focus on mid-range DSLRs as they can offer a great balance of features, controls, image and build quality.
Looking at cameras in the $600 to $1,500 price range means we've not been able to include any full frame DSLRs – though you can check them out in our high-end comparison guide.
It's also worth noting that some of the top-of-the-line APS-C sensored cameras are now getting a bit long in the tooth and could be due an upgrade. APS-C stalwarts have still got their fingers crossed for updates to the Canon 7D, Nikon D300S and the Sony A77 in 2014.
The cameras in our line-up fall into two camps when it comes to size. The higher-end models (the Pentax K-3, the Nikon D7100 and the Canon 70D) tend to be that bit bigger, allowing them to have more physical controls.
It's worth remembering that even the smaller cameras here are still larger than the majority of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. But if you are shopping for a DLSR and portability is a priority, you might want to consider one of those.
The Pentax K-3 is the heaviest DSLR in our line-up weighing in at 800 g before you've mounted a lens. As is to be expected from looking at their sizes, it's followed by the Nikon D7100 and the Canon 70D which weigh 765 g and 755 g respectively.
The smaller cameras are considerably lighter, with the Nikon D5300 only weighing 530 g. The lighter weight could make all the difference if you plan on carrying the camera around your neck for long periods of time.
While all of these cameras have APS-C sensors, confusingly they're not all the exact same size. However, as you can see, we're talking tiny differences and not enough to have an impact on image quality.
Ranging from 16 to 24 megapixels, all of these cameras are going to be capable of shooting images which are detailed enough for the majority of users, unless you need to print images at huge sizes or crop heavily.
Interestingly the Pentax K-3, Nikon D7100 and Nikon D5300 do not use an optical low-pass filter, which in theory means they are capable of shooting more detailed images than cameras with similar resolutions. While this can cause more moiré, the K-3 features an anti-aliasing filter simulator to combat this.
The Nikon D7100 has the highest overall number of autofocus points with 51, but it only has 15 which are cross type compared to the 19 and 25 of the Canon 70D and the Pentax K-3. Of the cheaper cameras, the Nikon D5300 has the most focus points with 39, though as with the Pentax K-50 and Canon 700D, only nine are cross type.
However, the Canon 70D features Dual Pixel CMOS AF which gives it a distinct advantage when it comes to focus tracking while shooting video or fast autofocus when shooting stills in live view mode.
FPS Burst Rate
It's the Pentax K-3 which comes out on top in terms of continuous shooting, being capable of 8.3 frames per second. However, the others aren't far behind, the Canon 7D can knock out 7 fps while the others all have burst speeds of either 5 fps or 6 fps.
While it might look like there's a big difference between the ISO ranges of these cameras, it's worth noting that even the D7100 can shoot at an equivalent of ISO 25,600. And with modern APS-C sensors inside, all of the cameras are capable of shooting in a variety of lighting conditions.
While most DSLRs rely on lens-based image stabilization to reduce the shakes and blurs when shooting at slow shutter speeds or long focal lengths, the Pentax duo feature sensor shift technology to do the same. This means wobbly-handed photographers don't need to be using a stabilized lens to benefit.
Being DSLRs, all of these cameras have optical viewfinders, rather than the EVFs which are becoming more common on higher-end mirrorless cameras. The Pentax K-3, K-50 and the Nikon D7100 have 100 percent coverage meaning that the image captured will be framed exactly the same as what you can see in the viewfinder.
However, the Canon 70D, 700D and the Nikon D5300 have viewfinders which cover either 98 or 95 percent of the frame. This means that images captured will be slightly wider than what could be seen in the viewfinder.
The Nikon D5300, Canon 700D and the Canon 70D all have vari-angle screens which can be angled to make shooting in awkward positions easier. However, it's the Canons which have the advantage as they are also touchscreens. There's not much to call between the resolutions and sizes of the various screens on offer.
It's SD memory cards all round. The only difference is that the Pentax K-3 and the Nikon D7100 have two slots each, compared to the one of the others. This can be handy if you want an instant back-up of files, want to use one card as an over-flow, or shoot video to one and stills to another.
As would be expected, all of these cameras are capable of shooting JPEG or RAW files.
The quality of construction in these DSLRs is a step up from what you'll generally find in entry-level devices, and is one of the reasons we focused on mid-range cameras. Interestingly, while the Canon 700D uses a stainless steel and polycarbonate resin, its Nikon counterpart, the D5300, is made from a carbon fiber reinforced plastic.
Though the Nikon D7100, Canon 70D and Pentax K-50 all use metal body parts and are weather-sealed, it's the Pentax K-3 which is probably the most sturdy camera in our line-up. Its casing is made from a lightweight magnesium alloy and the camera also has 92 special sealing parts to make it dustproof, weather-resistant and cold-resistant.
The Nikon D5300 is the only camera here which is capable of recording Full HD 1080p video at 60/50 fps. The others all do it at 30/25/24 fps and increase to 60/50 fps if you lower the resolution to 720p.
While the Canon 70D has the best focusing for video, it's only the Pentax K-3 and the Nikon D7100 which feature both an audio input and output for monitoring sound levels via headphones while recording, something many videographers demand.
That said, the Canon 70D, 700D and the Nikon D5300 all have an audio input for an external microphone. This means it's only the Pentax K-50 which is dependent on its built-in microphone.
Both the Canon 70D and the Nikon D5300 have built-in wireless capabilities which allow for the wireless sending of images and remote shooting via a compatible smart device. These features can be added to the Nikon D7100 with an optional adapter, and to the Pentax K-3 by using a Pentax Flu SD memory card.
Our selection of cameras are available body-only or with kit lenses which can offer better value than buying them separately. In fact, several of the cameras come with a choice of kit lens, with the more expensive bundles normally offering a lens with a longer focal range.
While these lenses can add as little as $100 to the price of the camera, and often cover a versatile focal range, they all have a variable aperture and are not going to be up there with the best glass possible. Therefore you might want to consider which other lenses you might also want to add.
Nothing surprising here. All of the cameras use the mount you would expect from their respective manufacturers and there are plenty of lenses out there, both old and new, for all of the systems.
The Canon 700D and the Pentax K-50 are the cheapest of our selection, and cost around half that of the Pentax K-3, the most expensive camera in our line-up.
So you're looking for a great DSLR, but don't want to make the financial leap involved in buying a full frame camera, well you really can't go wrong with any of the cameras in our roundup.
Yes they cover quite a wide price range, but that's because they each offer something different. The K-3 is tough enough to cope with whatever you can throw at it, while the 70D is going to give you the smoothest autofocusing DSLR video available. Meanwhile, the D7100 is probably the best pure photography tool, but the D5300 has built-in wireless capabilities … what we're saying is that this isn't an easy choice!
And as we always say with camera comparisons, looking at specifications is only good up to a point. We'd always advise going to your local camera store and getting any potential purchases in your hands. See not only how they feel, but also whether you like the images and videos they produce.