Best DSLR Cameras Under $500 Comparison Guide (Spring 2014)

DIYCraftPhotography's guide to the Best DSLR Cameras under $500!

Welcome to DIYCraftPhotography’s detailed guide to the best DSLR cameras under $500!

Are you still using a point and shoot? If you’re ready to kick everything up a level, you might be ready for a DSLR camera! Crafters, food bloggers, and Etsy shop owners will be blown away by how powerful a $400-500 DSLR can be. It all starts with a photo, and for many crafts, the depth of field and improved clarity offered by a DSLR is 100% worth the expense. Only the best photos get re-pins and make sales, after all. :D

(New to the concept of a DSLR? Read about the advantages of a DSLR camera here!)

If you’re in the market for a DSLR you might have landed here trying to figure out which DSLR is right for you. The sheer variety and terminology can be overwhelming! In this article, we’re going to look exclusively at the best DSLR cameras (+ kit lenses) priced at or under $500.

How we found the best DSLRs: We spent over a dozen hours reading reviews on photography sites, poured over Amazon’s best-selling camera list, interviewed a few professional photographer friends, and took trips to three different camera stores to get recommendations. It all boils down to the four very best DSLRs under $500! Read our reviews and recommendations below!

Camera data comes from Amazon.com, SnapSort.com, and manufacturer websites. Last updated: March 2014.

Best DSLR Cameras Under $500 Comparison Chart

 
Standout / Unique featuresWifi connectivity with adapter, record full HD video with full-time auto focus, available in red or black, remote control supported"Intelligent Auto Mode", full HD video, flip-out LCD screen, 3.7 still shots per second, optional battery grip, remote control supportedSimilar to T3i but less expensive, 3 still shots per second, remote control supported
Full-time auto focusing while shooting video
Amazon.com priceClick for current priceClick for current priceClick for current priceClick for current price
Kit lensEF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR NIKKOR Zoom Lens

18-55mm IS II Lens18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens
ISO RangeISO 100 - 6400 ISO 100 to 6400 and expandable up to ISO 12800 equivalentISO 100 - 6400ISO 100 - 3200 and expandable to ISO 12800 equivalent
Resolution (megapixels)17.9 MP24.2 MP12.2 MP14.2 MP
Startup Delay1500 ms400 ms300 ms400 ms
Sensor SizeAPS-C 22.3x14.9mmAPS-C 23.2x15.4mmAPS-C 22.2x14.7mmAPS-C 23.1x15.4mm
Body dimensions133 x 99 x 79mm125 x 96 x 76mm130 x 100 x 78mm124 x 96 x 73mm
Focus points911911
Shots per second4 fps3.7 fps3 fps3 fps
Built-in focus motor (autofocuses with all autofocus lenses)Built-inNoneBuilt-inNone
Video resolution1080p @ 30fps1080p @ 30fps720p @ 30fps1080p @ 24fps
Video auto-focusNoneContrast detectionNoneContrast detection

What are the differences between all these cameras?

These are all “upper entry-level” cameras. If all you have right now is a point-and-shoot camera, you’ll be blown away by any of them. Each of these cameras has a 4.5 out of 5 star ratings from hundreds (if not thousands) of Amazon.com reviewers. Let’s take a closer look at each of these great cameras:

Canon T3i advantages & disadvantages

canon_dslr_rebel_t3i

Popular camera: the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is Amazon’s best selling DSLR, period.

The Canon T3i is ranked #1 in Amazon’s best seller list and it’s no surprise because this camera delivers astounding photos, excellent on-camera help, and a quality (detachable) kit lens. The camera supports a huge range of ISO settings (100 – 6400) for shooting in bright and dim lighting. “Auto mode” and “scene modes” make it easy to just start shooting, and advanced options let you grow into the camera.

Included in the box

Camera body, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Type II lens, eye cup, wide strap, USB cable, AV cable for TV previews, battery, and charger.

Disadvantages

Some T3i owners complain that Canon lenses are slow to auto focus when using the LCD preview. The Canon T3i offers a swivel-out LCD screen, which is great when recording video, but while the HD video looks great on this camera it doesn’t auto-focus while recording video (the Canon T4i added this feature). If you plan on shooting HD video, this camera isn’t a perfect camcorder replacement.

For a camcorder-like capabilities plus an even bigger range of ISO, a touch screen, and wireless transfer of your photos to your smartphone or social networking, consider the Canon EOS 70D.

Suggested D3200 Accessories

You’ll need a memory card, as the T3i doesn’t come with one. This Transcend brand 32 GB high speed flash memory card offers loads of space and is fast enough to keep up with HD video recording.

Nikon D3200 advantages & disadvantages

nikon_d3200_large_red

Colorful: The Nikon D3200 is offered in both red and black body colors.

The Nikon D3200 is Amazon’s 2nd-best selling DSLR under $500. The D3200′s claims to fame are its astounding photo quality, excellent on-camera help, and its high quality kit lens. Camera features include a fast start up time, auto-focus while shooting HD video, and “scene modes” for common shooting conditions. The D3200 offers an improved LCD over its predecessor the Nikon D3100. The 24MP are eye-catching, but their benefit really only kicks in at low ISO settings (200-300) prior to when noise reduction sets in. Product photography tends to be well-lit, so a high pixel count isn’t quite so meaningful for us crafters.

The D3200′s 11-point autofocusing helps you track moving subjects and an optional wireless mobile adapter lets you send photos to your smartphone wirelessly for quick sharing. Anti-shake and a bright LCD round out the package.

Included in the box

Camera body, 1-AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens, charger cable, USB cabpe, rubber eyecup, camera stap, eyepiece cap, body cap, accessory shoe cover.

Disadvantages

Some D3200 owners complain that the camera is a bit small in their hands and that the camera tends to overexpose shots, requiring you to set your exposure lower to compensate. If you’re shooting RAW jpg (optional format, some choose it for more post-processing options), be warned that the NEF RAW format used by the D3200 can only be processed by Photoshop CS5 and above (or equivalent software).

Suggested D3200 Accessories

You’ll need a memory card, as this camera doesn’t come with one. This Transcend brand 32 GB high speed flash memory card offers loads of space and is fast enough to keep up with HD video recording.

Canon T3 advantages & disadvantages

canon_DSLR_t3

Low-priced powerhouse: The Canon T3 is a powerful body in an inexpensive package.

The Canon T3 is the lowest-priced DSLR in this list, yet the photo quality is incredible (especially with an upgraded lens). The ISO range is 100-6400 for dim to brightly lit photos, and a 9-point auto-focus system ensures your shots come out clear. Select a “scene type” and the camera takes care of white balance settings for you. Traditional photography advice holds that you should “underspend on the camera and over-spend on the lens”. This camera body may be inexpensive, but the savings may enable you to purchase a higher quality lens.

Included in the box

Camera body, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Type II Lens, eye cup, wide strap, USB cable, battery, and charger.

T3 Disadvantages

This camera does not do full HD video (1080p) – you’ll be limited to 720p. If you don’t care about video, then you could save yourself the hundred bucks by going with this camera over the T3i. Some reviewers complain of a “cheap” feel to the camera’s smooth plastic body (notice the other cameras in this list have a “grippy” texture). Others express dissatisfaction with the kit lens.

Suggested T3 Accessories

Consider using some of those savings to get a very high-quality lens such as the Canon EF 50mm. Yes, this lens costs almost as much as the body – but this is an incredible lens, and you’ll be super happy with the photo quality. Blurry backgrounds, sharp images are perfect for your crafts. (Note: this is a “prime lens”, not a zoom lens, so you’ll need to adjust your standing position to get the shot as you like it.)

For smaller products (and budets) we also recommend the Canon 50mm f1.8 II Camera Lens.

You’ll need a memory card, too. This Transcend brand 32 GB high speed flash memory card offers plenty of space and is fast enough to keep up with video recording.

Nikon D3100 advantages & disadvantages

nikon_d3100_large

The Nikon D3100 is the second-lowest priced camera (priced just a touch over the Canon T3), but it’s still a superstar camera. Fantastic image quality, full-time auto focus while shooting HD video, fast start-up time, “scene modes” for common shooting conditions, on-camera help, and more. Video capture is at full HD (1080p) and comes with full-time auto-focus.

Included in the box

Camera body, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Type II Lens, eye cup, wide strap, USB cable, battery, and charger.

D3100 Disadvantages 

This is an earlier version of the Nikon D3200, but it’s essentially the same camera inside. The key difference is the D3100′s viewfinder and LCD lag aren’t as good as the D3200′s. If you’re not bothered by this (and coming from a point and shoot, you probably won’t be), you can pocket nearly a hundred dollars by choosing the D3100 instead of the D3200.

Suggested D3100 Accessories

Some owners suggest upgrading from the stock lens. Consider getting a 35mm 1.8dx AFS lens and/or the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR FX Lens to go with this camera and you will be super happy with the D3100′s photo quality.

You’ll need a memory card, too. This Transcend brand 32 GB high speed flash memory card offers loads of space and is fast enough to keep up with HD video recording.

What are the differences between Canon and Nikon?

The biggest differences between Canon and Nikon is the on-camera user-interface. A common comparison is that of PCs vs. Macs, with Canons being Macs and Nikons being PCs.

Canon tries to make everything very user-friendly, but the icons can sometimes be puzzling. Nikon exposes options and features that beginners may find overwhelming, but will come to enjoy as they become more practiced. Once you’ve learned a lot about photography, Canons can become frustrating (advanced features hidden away from the user) and Nikons more appealing with their numerous features. These are generalizations, of course, but this is what the photography community usually tells people in response to this question.

Are these cameras hard to learn?

Nope!

In fact, all of these cameras offer an “auto” mode, giving you the familiarity of your point and shoot camera coupled with the optical quality of a DSLR. The advanced features will be there when you’re ready to explore them – you take your time!

What kind of lens do these cameras come with? Is it useful for craft photography?

All of these budget-friendly DSLR cameras ship with a 18mm-55mm “kit lens”. This default lens is a zoom lens suitable for “everyday” use, meaning close ups, birthday shots, portraits, situations and can be used to get that oh-so-lovely blurred background behind average-sized crafts. However, you won’t be able to get super close with this stock lens. If your crafts are teeny tiny, you may need a different lens.

Remember, “good glass” (the lens) is far more important than the camera body itself and has the biggest impact on image quality. If you’re debating where to spend, underspend on the body and overspend on the lenses. A good 50mm f1.8 prime lens is a great complement to the kit lens.

Lens Recommendations for Crafters

For the Canon T3/T3i cameras, check out the Canon 50mm f1.8 II Camera Lens for those close-up product shots. Owners rave about this lens’s sharpness, color accuracy, beautiful close-up shots, blurred backgrounds, and versatility.

Canon EF 50mm lens

For the Nikon D3100/D3200 cameras, consider the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR FX Lens. Buyers rave about the fast auto-focus, sharpness, better bokeh (background blur) than the kit lens, and improved color consistency.

nikon_50mm

Want to see what these 50mm lenses can do? Visit our “Photos taken with a 50mm f/1.8 lens” Pinterest board to see real examples.

pinterest_50mm_lens

Click to see our Pinterest board showcasing photos taken with a 50mm lens

What’s the difference between a $500 DSLR and a $1,500 DSLR? Will I regret going “too cheap”? I don’t want to have to upgrade again in 2 years!

If the only thing you’re seeking is amazing photo quality, you’ll be set for a long time with any of these cameras. Besides, you already know that the lens is more important than the camera body, anyway.

If you do have a bit of extra cash on hand, an extra thousand dollars invested into a higher-end DSLR buys some nice features:

  • Wireless photo transfer to social networks and smartphones
  • Wider range of supported ISO settings
  • More auto-focus points
  • Auto-focus in HD video recording (camcorder capabilities)
  • GPS
  • Lighter-weight body
  • Larger sensors, more megapixels
  • More still shots per second (5+)
  • Touch screen on back
  • Higher quality audio recording microphone
  • Weather sealing

These are features that 99% of Etsy sellers and food bloggers will never miss. So unless you’re taking photos for National Geographic or weddings, there’s a really good chance you’ll be thrilled for years with your sub-$500 DSLR camera purchase.

You should only think about buying a pricier camera if you’re actually interested in any of the following types of photography or situations:

  • High speed photography? You may want to consider the 60D for faster continuous shooting (this upgrade will cost you between $300 and $400)
  • Camcorder replacement? These under-$500 DSLRs can shoot HD video, but not indefinitely.  10-14 minutes of HD video is the max for all of these models.
  • Shooting in the rain? These under-$500 DSLRs aren’t weather-sealed, but if you’d like to shoot in snow or rain consider the just-over-$500 Pentax K-30. This highly-reviewed DSLR is weather-sealed and comes with all the same features as the Canon and Nikon cameras detailed in this review.
  • Carrying it all day? High end pro cameras are lighter weight, but that portability comes at a premium.
  • Making photography your full-time job? This site is aimed at hobbyists and craft business owners. Seek advice from other pros before you buy a camera that’ll be responsible for putting food on your table! (But a lot of these best-selling DSLRs under $500 are touted as “budding wedding photographer” cameras, so there’s that.)

If you’d like to look at the next step up, two higher-end DSLR leaders are the Canon EOS 70D and the Nikon D7100.

What accessories should I get?

Consider adding one or more of these accessories to maximize enjoyment of your new DSLR:

Transcend 32GB Class 10 SDHC Flash Memory Card

You probably have a bunch of these flash memory cards laying around your house already, but you’ll need a faster and bigger one to keep up with your DSLR. Fortunately, these cards are fairly inexpensive at under $20 for a whopping 32GB. Photo size varies with settings, but even if you’re shooting RAW 32GB should hold around 2,000 photos.

transcend_32gb_card

Powerful memory card for powerful cameras!

Case Logic DCB-304 Hybrid Camera Case

At under $15 this high quality Case Logic bag is a no-brainer. Keep your camera safe at home or on the go!

case_logic_dcb_304

Case Logic makes the best bags and you can’t beat that price.

Vista Explorer 60-inch Lightweight Tripod & Tripod Bag

I’ve used one of these tripods for years and highly recommend it. It’s light as a feather yet rugged as a monster truck. Shooting crafts with a tripod is a great idea because it keeps the backgrounds and zoom levels consistent between shots. If you don’t already have a tripod, grab this one for under $25 – you’ll love it.

vista_tripod

All the bells and whistles in a sleek package.

Wireless Shutter Control Remote

Put yourself in the shot – or just spare yourself a thousand trips back and forth to your camera with a wireless remote. These are seriously liberating – and for under $10, a remote is a steal!

amazon_basics_remote

Be sure to select the right brand for your camera!

Just pick a camera for me!

Go with the Nikon D3200. The D3200 is a popular choice among crafters and bloggers (including Young House Love). The D3200 holds a high position in most “best DSLR cameras under $500″ lists. The video recording is full HD and supports autofocus while recording. Nikkor lenses are super high quality, and the camera’s auto modes let you start shooting the minute you unbox it.

Happy shooting!

Nikon D2300: DIYCraftPhotography's recommended DSLR under $500

DIYCraftPhotography’s under-$500 DSLR recommended camera: the Nikon D3200! Incredible photos, endless selection of lenses, and there’s even a snazzy red body color option.

Note to readers: Purchases made through these affiliate links earn DIYCraftPhotography a small commission which helps to keep our site free and full of fresh, great content. As always, we encourage you to shop around for the best deal!


Hello there! I'm Mandi, a lifelong crafter with a passion for helping others use technology. DIYCraftPhotography shows artisans how to photograph and publicize their handmade goodies. Thank you for visiting!

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