If you want to take up photography as a hobby or as a professional career, starting with a DSLR is the logical step to take.
But with so many different models of DSLR’s, some very new and some quite established, picking the one for your photography needs may be difficult. Here at Topcut, we understand this and we took it upon ourselves to research and review the best entry level DSLRs for your budget.
To help find the best DSLR we captured images in different localities and lighting conditions to better understand the cameras performance.
In order to pick the best camera we took the opinion of a leading professional photographer Mr. Ashish Parmar - Canon’s photographer of the year - to grade each camera based on photos he selected. This was done so we could not only get a professional's opinion on each photo but the cameras themselves as Mr. Ashish also has a camera rental service called “Pro Gear Hire”.
Best DSLR under Rs.30,000
Despite its compact footprint and lightweight the Nikon D3400 packs quite the punch. Equipped with the same 24.1 MPx sensor as it's larger more expensive cousin the Nikon D5600, the D3400 shines in most lighting conditions capturing images with good sharpness and rich colors. The color reproduction was so good our Mr. Ashish Parmar rated this camera higher than the Nikon D5600 too.
The good image quality is backed by capable video recording that maxes out at 1080p@60fps. This gives it smooth and crisp video and makes it a great budget DSLR for video recording too.
Being a DSLR you also have the capability to completely change the DSLR imaging style, putting in a zoom lens will make it a great tool for capturing animals in the wild, while a prime lens will help you with street photography and will give you amazing real bokeh effects.
This is a really long post! Use the links below to jump around.
Why Trust Us?
To find the best DSLR under Rs.30000 we spend over 3 days capturing photos on the DSLR in different environments. Our review process was a two-stage one, the first being capturing images in set locations with the help of a photography professor. We tried a lot of different types of photographs ranging from street to architecture, birds to people to landscapes. This vast variety was selected based on the preferences of budding photographers.
Stage two of the testing involved getting the captured images graded by Mr. Parmar - Canon’s photographer of the year (2009). The grading procedure was done without disclosing the name of the camera to remove any brand bias.
How we selected?
We started by looking at DSLRs which were priced around Rs.30,000. The DSLR market in that price range is dominated by only two brands, Canon and Nikon. Each has 2-3 DSLR's that compete with each other in the space, Canon has their 1200D & 1300D while Nikon has the D3300 and D3400. We decided to pick the latest one from each brand and hence we were left with the Nikon d3400 and Canon 1300D. The reason for picking the latest ones is they have the latest technology in terms of imaging, video resolution, connectivity, and sales support.
How we tested?
We wanted to make sure that in the process of reviewing we also are able to show the true capability of the camera itself. To do full justice to that we brought along a photography professor who has professional experience.
So armed with the two DSLRs and an experienced professional we went around Bangalore to try and capture different types of photographs. We did a lot of street and architecture photography along with videography at Bangalore's famous M.G. Road. Next, we went to the lovely Sankey Tank to capture the birds and scenery, we waited till we could get sunset shots too. Our last destination was BEL Road to capture low light images and give a try at light streak imaging.
Most of the photos were captured with lenses other than the stock kit lens, like the 50mm f/1.8 Prime lens and 70-300mm/ 55-250mm Zoom lens.
With all the images captured, our next task was grading each camera. We printed out photos from the cameras and headed to our next expert, Mr. Ashish Parmar. One of India’s most diverse photographers with an experience of over 22 years. A photo he shot was chosen by Apple as a part of their Shot on iPhone 6S world campaign and featured in the iPhone World Gallery. In 2009 he won the Canon Nature Photographer of the Year Award; and his images being recognized by National Geographic Stock imagery, TIME magazine, and Better Photography magazine.
Mr.Ashish went through all the photos first without knowing which photo came from which camera. We then compiled the photos according to cameras and let him pick the best pictures. He picked a set of images for each camera, without knowing which picture belongs to which camera and then we started the judging process. We graded each camera for parameters like color, noise, exposure etc. Once we revealed the camera name our expert contributed some more technical details on each of them from his side.
Best DSLR-In Detail
The best DSLR you can buy in this price range
Sensor: 24 Mpx, APS-C (1.5 Crop sensor)
Image Resolution, Aspect Ratio & Pixel Size: 6000 x 4000, 3:2, 3.91µm
Max ISO: 25600
AF Points: 11
Burst Mode: 5fps
Screen: 3 inch. 921k dots, Fixed screen, Non-touch
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1 and Snapbridge
Amazing picture quality with good color reproduction
Good quality and smooth video recording
Great battery life
Reasonably quick focusing
No Wifi, Snapbridge is limited to 2MPx photos only
No Articulating Screen
Lacks Audio jack for external mics
Flash range lesser than its predecessor
Lenses portfolio not as wide as Canon’s
Build & Usage: Well built, lacks touchscreen
Unlike Mirrorless cameras or Point and Shoot Cameras, DSLRs pretty much maintain the same design, despite product updates. It's simply a case of why fix something that isn't broken. The D3400 is no different it has an ergonomic grip, a decently large screen, and an easy lens mounting mechanism. What has got an update is the stock kit lens which can now be collapsed, all you have to do is push a button and twist the lens and it becomes shorter, which makes it easy to stash away.
The build quality is solid without any creaky panels. Inserting the lens into the body has a good feel to it. The shutter button is also responsive for clicks. The mode control dial on the top also is reassuring and you can feel the stops properly. Overall for a budget DSLR, we were happy Nikon did not cut corners on the build quality.
Sadly the DSLR is not weather protected, but even the Rs.50,000 DSLRs aren't, so we can't really blame the D3400 for not having it.
Using the DSLR and accessing the UI is slightly more complicated than the touch-friendly UIs of smartphones. Controlling the aperture and the shutter speeds requires you to use a combination of buttons. Now all this will be a bit complicated for new users, but with continuous usage the controls will fall in hand easily. The on-screen representation of your image settings is very simple and easy to understand.
For connectivity, the D3400 has only Bluetooth 4.1 with SnapBridge, the lack of Wi-Fi is shocking as image transfer through the Snapbridge is limited to 2MPx photos. In this day and age of instant capture and social network sharing, transferring images from the USB or SD card will be slow.
The screen is a 3 inch 921k dot unit that is fixed to the body which means no easy high or low shots or vlogging. This takes away some of the cool capabilities that come with articulating screens. But if you look around even the Canon DSLRs have fixed screens so we’ll let this one pass.
Battery life on the Nikon D3400 is also excellent with Nikon claiming up to 1200 shots on a single charge. With our mixed usage of flash and non-flash photography and video, we still had a full charge left. It is safe to say this DSLR has one of the best battery life. One reason for it is obviously the reduced flash range (7m compared to 12m of the D3300).
Imaging & Video: Great quality images for an entry-level camera, smooth video recording too
The reason people prefer DSLRs is the crisp image quality and the Nikon D3400 does very well with images. Having a large sensor lets in a lot of light into the camera which gives good brightness and sharpness in most lighting conditions.
The high resolution of 24 megapixel helps capture a lot of detail that can be seen in the shots of the building, where the windows and edges are extremely sharp. Our expert, Mr. Ashish Parmar found the color reproduction to be really good on this camera. This makes it an ideal camera if you are into street photography where a lot of different colors fill up the frame.
Most images exhibited decent dynamic range, the above photo of the tree you can see the details on the tree trunk and the rich green color of the leaves. Do note the camera manages this despite the sun behind the subject (tree) casting shadows.The above picture was taken without any HDR mode turned on.
Images captured on the zoom lens also show decent sharpness at max zoom level. With zoom lenses are preferred for either landscape or for shooting wildlife we decided to capture a few birds. The picture of the pigeon on the person's hand shows how well the camera separates the subject from the background. The bokeh applied is excellent with good edge detection. The focusing speed on the Nikon is decent but don't expect to freeze fast-paced motion in crisp focus always.
The video capture on this was extremely pleasing with good color reproduction, smooth frame rate, and quick focusing. The 60fps support really helps to make the D3400 a great tool if you are into videography and short movie making.
The audio is recorded from the built-in mic and it is sufficient most use cases. But the lack of support for external mics will mean you have to have a separate recording device and sync the audio later.
The Nikon D3400 is definitely not the cheapest DSLR in the market, but its is simply the best entry level DSLR for its price. It large sensor, good megapixel count, great color reproduction, decently focusing and good video capture make it an excellent tool for someone who wants to take up photography.
The Nikon D3400 is compatible with all DX lenses under the AF-S & AF-P range. AF lenses will also be compatible but only partially as the Nikon D3400 doesn't have a built in autofocus motor and relies on the lenses focusing motor.
Below are a few budget lenses to start off your photography hobby:
Useful for: Street, Wedding, Portraits, Low-Light, Indoors
Useful for: Primarily outdoor use, sports, wildlife.
Ones that didn't get picked
The Canon 1300D is one of the cheapest DSLRs in the market, but after using it in comparison to the Nikon we simply felt the Nikon was a far more superior camera. The Canon was lacking in 3 main parameters the color, focusing and ISO. The color reproduction was far behind that of the Nikon D3400, the camera also has only 9 focus points (compared to the Nikon's 11) and images shot at 800 ISO already started to show signs of noise.
Also, the sensor is slightly smaller (almost 11% smaller) than the Nikon, we feel this is the reason for the noise creeping in. Compared to the almost standard resolution of 24 MPx, the Canon 1300D has only 18 MPx. This reduces some amount of details from the images.
Lastly, the video recording is good in quality because of the 1080p resolution but the 30fps limit and lack of stabilization means you get jerky footage.
Coming to the usage and connectivity, the Canon 1300D has a more gradual learning curve than the Nikon D3400. This is because the buttons are labeled properly and are placed more thoughtfully.
The 1300D also comes with Wi-Fi along with Bluetooth so image transfers are much faster.
So to sum it up while the 1300D has some useful features and is more easy to use and will, of course, have a much greater range of lenses to choose from. The Nikon D3400 is simply a much better camera, that takes some amazing photographs.