Just to make sure we’re all on the same page before we get started here, we are going to be talking about Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras. That means cameras with a detachable lens, so keep in mind that the features we discuss, the images you could capture, and of course the price you will pay will vary greatly depending on the lens you choose. A person could spend anywhere from fifty or sixty dollars on a lens all the way up to the tens of thousands of dollars. So we’re going to focus on the cameras themselves (sometimes called “bodies”) and leave the lens conversation for another day.
Keep in mind that what may be the best camera for you might not be best for someone else, so this list is only as objective as possible, but if you want a starting point when it comes to considering a great DSLR camera, you’re in the right place.
5 Nikon D800
The Nikon D800 is the one where the tipping point has tipped. At a staggering 36 megapixels, we are no longer even listening; we’re numb. In our opinion, the additional megapixels you’ll get with this camera (OK, superb camera) over the 3200 are not worth the extra thousand and some dollars. If you are taking pictures from the International Space Station, then you may want to go with this precision machine. If you’re more of a concert photographer type, save your money. That said, when a camera has almost 40 million pixels and is available to the general public… it makes the list.
4 Nikon D3200
Nikon D3200 has more pixels than most people know what to do with. How many, you ask? 24.2 million pixels, we answer. That means that if you invest in an at all halfway decent lens, you are going to be snapping pictures in a resolution that will make you think you’re looking through a framed window (this is assuming you printed your pictures and put them on the wall, in frames, of course). It also means that your large format pictures, like landscapes, can be cropped and edited into much smaller but still great looking images. You could zoom and crop and make a portrait out of a crowd shot, if you wanted! And it has good video chops, ISO, etc. 24.2 megapixels!
3 Nikon D40x
The Nikon D40x may seem a strange entrant into this list as indeed it is a few years old. Here is why we are including it: the best new cars make the best used cars, too. You can still buy this camera new and spend well over a grand on it. But you can find lots of them in great condition for less than a quarter of that price, and they make the perfect DSLR for the serious amateur photographer or the professional who needs a backup. The 10.1 MPs aren’t cutting edge anymore, but with a big enough SD card, you could shoot hundreds of high-quality shots.
2 Nikon D3100
Now let’s fly to the other end of the spectrum (or close to it) with the Nikon D3100. This guy will cost you only a bit over $500 and, for most casual to midgrade photogs, it’ll do you just fine. It’s got 14 megapixels, solid ISO speed, and welcomes a variety of lenses. Hey, it was Europe’s best-selling DSLR for the first half of 2012, we hear! This is basically the perfect camera for the serious tourist or the amateur photographer. Does that make sense?
1 Nikon D4
OK, we’re starting off with a camera that is not, how do you say it, cheap. This thing will run you upwards of ten grand. It is a professional grade camera and most casual photographers have no business even taking pictures of it, much less taking picture on it! Why is it so pricey? Not because it’s compact and lightweight. Oh no. Its brick like, to be frank. But within its brick-like body, it has optics that will capture more than 16 megapixels of resolution and ISO settings of up to 12800. That means that if you ever need to snap a long-distance picture of a bat in full speed flight lit only by the moon, you’re going to get a damn good bat picture. Want to shoot videos? Why not shoot a whole feature film? And do it in HD, FX or DX formats. Oh, and you can link the camera to an iPad, getting real-time imagery of what the lens is seeing and controlling the camera using your handy tablet.