I get this question every year. Someone wants to know which camera to buy someone, or him/herself, for Christmas. Every year, I end up giving the same advice. This year I thought it would be a good idea to put it into a post to make it easier to share with others.
So who is this guide to buying a DSLR Camera for Christmas for? The people that ask me this question are usually buying their first DSLR camera for someone. The person who will receive this camera usually has not had a DSLR Camera before either. All they know is that they want to make the jump from point-and-shoot, to DSLR. Before diving into which DSLR Cameras I think are best, lets discuss why you would want to go DSLR in the first place.
Owning a DSLR Camera to use as your main camera means that you are willing to carry more on you. DSLR Cameras are still larger than their Point-and-shoot counterparts and so are the accessories. DSLR Cameras are not convenient or easy to conceal. They often require their own bag to properly store them. This has been my issue as I have three kids and that makes it hard to carry yet another bag with us when we travel or take trips. I have forever been on the hunt for a camera that produces the same quality of images but is compact enough to put in my pocket. I have yet to find this camera.
The first bit of advice I offer anybody looking to buy a DSLR camera is to buy a solid camera they can use for a few years and spend more money on lenses if their budget allows for it. Most people think that quality images comes from the camera. This is somewhat true, but the difference between your images and mine is going to be the quality of glass you attach to that camera. There is a reason why some lenses are $2000+ and others are $200. Entry level DSLR cameras these days have fantastic sensors which have the capability of capturing amazing images. If you put low quality glass in front of that sensor, it’s going to produce a lower quality image. To get the best images for your money, you should get a decent DSLR camera and then purchase better lenses before you spend money on a better DSLR. This post is going to skew towards Canon because that is what I have shot with since I purchased my first DSLR Camera in 2005. Canon and Nikon are pretty close in price and features. The only reason I chose Canon at the time was due to a deal I was able to get on the camera.
So, What DSLR Camera Should You Buy for Christmas?
Canon EOS Rebel t5i: The camera I find myself recommending to most people is the Canon EOS Rebel t5i. This camera has a 18 MP APS-C CMOS sensor. This means that the camera has an 18 Megapixel sensor and that sensor is a crop sensor. A crop sensor is a smaller sensor than the full frame cameras such as the Canon 5D and Canon 6D. There is no reason you would want to choose a full frame camera over a APS-C (crop sensor) camera unless you have high quality lenses already. The Canon t5i also shoots full HD video at 1080p. It’s lightweight and easy to use as well. I have personally owned this camera. When the t5i came out, I bought two of them to use for video. They are great for shooting video. I could easily shoot weddings and events with this camera. The only realistic features you will gain from purchasing the Canon 70D over this camera is faster autofocus and an internal camera body structure made from metal instead of plastic. The Canon EOS Rebel t5i is a fantastic DSLR camera for the beginner to novice photographer.
At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS Rebel t5i with the 18-55mm STM lens for $649 from Amazon.com (View it here).
Canon EOS Rebel SL1: At a slightly lower price point than the Canon EOS Rebel t5i is the Canon EOS Rebel SL1. This camera has the same sensor as the Canon t5i but lacks a few features I think are worth spending the extra $100 on. The Rebel SL1 has a maximum native ISO sensitivity of 12,800. This means that the SL1 will not perform as well in lower light situations. The live viewfinder screen on the back of the camera is fixed and does not articulate like the t5i. Having an articulating screen is nice when you want to hold your camera at angles where looking through the viewfinder would be challenging. The SL1 comes in a kit with the same lens as the t5i.
At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with the 18-55mm STM lens for $549 from Amazon.com (View it here).
Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera: If you are wanting to step into a camera that feels and performs like a professional camera, The Canon 70D is a great place to start. The 70D packs a 20.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor which means it is still a crop sensor but is a higher resolution sensor than the t5i and SL1. This camera also has a much improved autofocus system with a 19-Point All Cross-Type AF System. The camera body also feels more professional as it has a magnesium alloy body. This means that the camera will take more stress over it’s lifespan and it feels more solid in your hand. The 70D has the same ISO sensitivity range as the t5i, but it seems to perform better than the t5i at those higher ISO ranges due to the Digic 5+ processor. At this range of Canon DSLR Camera, the controls are a bit different than lower level DSLR Cameras. The controls on the 70D are more in line with professional level DSLR cameras. It is easier to make changes to settings without having to pull the camera away from your face and look to see what you are doing. On the t5i and SL1, it is almost impossible to make adjustments to settings without looking at the buttons, which means you could miss a shot while you fuss with getting your settings right.
At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS 70D with the 18-135mm STM lens for $1349 from Amazon.com (View it here).
Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera: For those who want superior photo and video performance from their DSLR but are not ready to step up to the full frame game yet, the Canon 7D Mark II is a fantastic choice. At the time of writing this, the Canon 7D Mark II is the most recently updated of the Canon cameras. With it’s 20.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor, it sounds a lot like the 70D, but here is where it gets amazing. The 7D Mark II has a 65-Point All Cross-Type AF System and features a Dual Digic 6 processor. It has a Native ISO range of 16000 and can shoot 10 frames per second continuously. This camera is a powerhouse. If you are interested in video, it shoots 1080p at 60 frames per second. The 7D Mark II is the highest level DSLR camera made by Canon before going full frame.
At the time of writing this, you can get the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the 18-135mm STM lens for $2149 from Amazon.com (View it here).
So why would you choose a crop sensor camera over a full frame camera or vice-versa? I have a video going up on 11/27/2014 on the Ditch Auto Podcast that shows the difference between the two and I discuss the pros and cons of each sensor type. Learn how to subscribe to the free podcast here. Episode #10 explains the difference and I also provide examples of how each sensor performs using the same lenses. On the Ditch Auto Podcast, each week I release two videos. One is on cameras and the other is on editing photos. Learn how to subscribe here.
Though I mentioned a lot of specs to compare the above cameras, it comes down to what you would need those specs for. I mentioned the specs that are most important to me such as ISO sensitivity and autofocus capability. ISO and Autofocus are going to be the main differences between most cameras because they are important specs to pay attention to. Anything over a 10 Megapixel camera is going to be more than you will probably need unless you are printing large prints of your photographs.
Regardless of which camera you buy, think about how you will end up using the camera and what features are important to you. I only outlined the basic differences between the cameras listed above. If you are unsure as to what you would want, most of these cameras can be tested by visiting your local big box store such as Bestbuy. Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony or whatever… They are all good cameras and have similar features around similar price points. Though I focused on Canon in this post, you can easily find the equivalent Nikon camera. I shoot Canon because they are known for excellent customer service and Canon has historically been better in low light than Nikon. This is not as much the case these days but I have never had an issue with any of my Canon brand name equipment. Not one failure to date.
All of that said, you should really have a good understanding of how to use a DSLR Camera in Manual Mode before you decide to spend a bunch of money on a higher end DSLR. Spending $2000+ on a DSLR and using it in Auto Mode is not going to get you a much better photo than using the SL1 in auto. Though Auto is better on some of the higher end cameras, it’s still auto. To maximize the potential of your camera, you need to use it in Manual Mode. That is the Ditch Auto way and you can can take my free course on “How To Ditch Auto and Start Shooting in Manual” here.
In the Ditch Auto Facebook group, we discuss topics like this often. Feel free to join the group and ask questions (Link to Ditch Auto Facebook Group). You can also ask your questions in the comments section below this post.