Digital SLR Cameras

Betty’s Favorite Digital SLR Cameras for Serious Beginners and Intermediate Users

Here, at the risk of starting some “equipment wars” among my photographer friends, are a few opinionated camera recommendations for students and others who want to take high-quality digital images. All of these cameras feature manual controls—critical for the control that can lead to high quality images—in addition to auto modes.

I have purposely eliminated from this list the ever-changing legions of point and shoot digital cameras, which vary widely in quality. There are just too many of them, plus their smaller sensors can be problematic in terms of quality. For now, I’ve also excluded mirrorless cameras, although I use some of these myself. In the mirrorless world, Fuji, Sony and Olympus brands seem to be leading the pack.

All of these are DSLRs (digital SLRs), which means you can change the lenses and you view your image through a pentaprism at the top of the camera body and then the lens itself. It also means, however, that in some cases you don’t have a live LCD preview. All of these are camera bodies only; you must buy a separate lens. Lens/body kits are available, and if there is interest, I can list those as well.

For better or worse, Canon and Nikon brands remain the most popular cameras, and hence they likely will be around for a while. These widely distributed brands offer maximum compatibility with third-party equipment offerings such as lenses and extras.

With any of the cameras listed here, you can “grow” with the system. Also, any of the cameras listed here will produce professional or near-pro quality images, although some publishers and agencies now stipulate files of at least 8 megapixels (of course, all this depends on end usage).

Since many camera manuals seem to be written in techno-babble, please also see the Magic Lantern book series that explains camera operation in plain English. Exhaustive reviews of cameras can be found at

One last note: although these cameras all perform wonderfully, the most important tool is not the camera; rather, it’s that funny gray matter between the ears. Avail yourself of great books, how-to classes and online resources. And don’t forget that tripod.

Several photographer friends find this site useful and easy to use:


Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 16.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and 1080p HD Video. Canon’s flagship camera is a favorite with working pros.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera. The Canon 5D Mark II features amazing high resolution, terrific performance, and high end HD video.

Canon EOS 50D 15.1 MP Digital SLR Camera. Modeled on the venerable 20D, 30D and 40D line, but with slight modifications, the high-performing 50D is one of Canon’s finest offerings in this price range.

Canon EOS 5D 12.8 MP Digital SLR Camera. This recently discontinued, superb pro camera has come way down in price in recent months. At 12+ megapixels, it rivals 35mm film in quality.

Canon Digital Rebel XTi 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera. This revved-up Rebel XTi fits a niche for amateurs who want something higher-end than the lowly little XT. A great little performer with a self-cleaning sensor and plenty of megapixels.

??. Budget-conscious beginners will enjoy this lightly-constructed, entry-level DSLR from Canon.


Nikon D810 36.3 MP. This powerhouse camera produces amazing-quality files. It’s a bit slow as far as frames per second (fps) goes, so this camera is best suited for landscape or high-end studio work.

Nikon D5. This amazing flagship 20. MP camera is for photographers with deep pockets. The high native ISO makes it possible to shoot in near-dark conditions. And the 12 fps makes it perfect for action/wildlife photography.

Nikon D500. This camera shoots respectable 20.9 MP files and handles high ISOs easily. I used this camera almost exclusively for my wildlife work during recent trips to East Africa and Alaska. The 10 fps makes it great for wildlife or sports action.

Nikon D700 12.1MP FX-Format CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD. Amazing specs!

Nikon D50 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera. This is a camera you can grow with. The simple, lightweight and relatively inexpensive body will accept high-end Nikon lenses. Look for refurbished cameras like this one and the others listed below for great deals.

Nikon D300S 12.3MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD. This award-winning camera is popular with advanced amateurs and pros alike because of its tank-like sturdy construction and host of great features.

??? Nikon D300S 12.3MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD. Geared to serious amateurs, this camera features many of the specs of the D300 but is lighter in construction and thus lower-priced.

Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. The popular Nikon D60 is another great entry-level camera that is bundled with an 18-55 lens.

Nikon D90 12.3MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD. This humbly priced camera features HD video and outstanding specs.


Fujifilm Finepix S5 Pro Digital SLR Camera with Nikon Lens Mount, 12.3 Megapixels. The high quality Fuji sensor produces gorgeous, nuanced images. However, it is slower-performing than the Nikon D300 or D90.