2011's Best... DSLRs
Get snappy and improve your image this Christmas
Xmas Gift Guide While few would argue that a DSLR offers the best combination of features, performance and image quality, 2011 didn’t really set the world alight with new models. For the most part manufacturers patched holes in their respective ranges, to provide a full spectrum of models to suit both budgets and ability.
A couple of years ago there was a scramble to add HD video capture to DSLRs but now the tweaks tend towards articulating screens and the ousting of CCD sensors in favour of CMOS alternatives with improved noise characteristics. Whatever you end up with, it’s always the glass in front that matters and you’ll need deep pockets to venture beyond the kit lenses that will get you started, but only scratch the surface of the photographic capabilities of the DSLRs of 2011. Oh and a word to the wise, just about all the brands here are offering cashback deals on your purchases, but you’ll need to check the websites for details.
Sony Alpha SLT-A35
Admittedly this is the cuckoo in the nest as it’s not a true DSLR because it doesn’t have a pentaprism optical viewfinder, it’s an EVF. However, it takes all the Sony Alpha A-mount lenses and those made by Minolta before Sony bought the company. So why is this great pretender here? Well, this entry-level translucent mirror model turned out to be quite an eye-opener when it was reviewed recently , delivering excellent image quality at this price range. This technology allows for a smaller body but doesn’t sacrifice on picture quality or features. The 16.2Mp APS-C sensor and 100 to 25600 ISO range along with a plentiful array of dedicated controls make for a versatile snapper. Even the EVF with its 1.15m-dot resolution has 100 per cent view and does a pretty good job of being an optical alternative. And what you gain is increased burst capture – 5.5fps at full resolution or 7fps at 8.4Mp – and an amazingly responsive autofocus system. Shop around and you can find the twin lens kit deal for just under £500 that’ll really get you started.
More Info Sony 
Canon EOS 600D
Spicing up the mid-range in 2011 Canon’s EOS 600D  trumped last year’s EOS 550D  by adding an articulating screen. The thinking here seemed to be: if it aint broke don’t fix it, as very little else in the spec changed – it features the same 18Mp CMOS APS-C sensor and 3in, 1040k LCD panel. The EOS 550D was a superb shooter after all, and if you’re not too fussed about the flip screen, can be found for under £500 with the kit lens. However, you’ll miss out on 2011's other fave feature found on any self-
deprecating respecting DSLR, namely the on-board effects. Among these ‘creative filters’ you could impose grainy monochrome, soft focus, fish-eye and this year’s favourites, the toy camera and miniature effects. As our reviewers discovered, up against Nikon’s D5100, there wasn’t much between them apart from a few quid more for the Canon’s higher Mp count. If you're already in the Canon camp, you’ll not be disappointed, especially with the price the EOS 600D is going for these days.
Price £769 (with 18-55mm kit lens) , £949 (with 18-135mm kit lens), £679 (body only)
More Info Canon 
2011’s obligatory articulating screen is featured here – a 3in, 921k-dot panel that puts an end to point-and-pray guesswork with overhead stills and video shooting. Nikon’s APS-C equivalent DX-format sensor offers 16.2Mp, not quite as high as the 18Mp on the Canon EOS-600D, but when it first appeared you didn’t have to pay so much either. In keeping with the trend, in-camera special effects are on-board with all the usual suspects there for your creative musings. The D5100 is aimed at the aspirational enthusiast , as well as those after a decent second shooter and also touts imaging advice in its Scene mode. These compositional aids are yet another feature that’s picked up speed in 2011 and not unique to Nikon. Still, this is no toy, even if the effects might turn it into one. The D5100 has an ISO range of 100 to 6400 and can be can be ramped up to shoot at 25600, if you’re really desperate. In more sensible ranges, its image quality is impressive and is certainly worth considering but the Canon EOS 600D is matching it on price these days, so it’s not such any easy choice as it once was.
Price £670 (body-only), £780 (18-55 VR lens kit)
More Info Nikon 
If the company's main website is anything to go by  the Pentax DSLR offerings have been slimmed down somewhat, since being taken over by Ricoh this year. Apart from the medium format 645D , just the K-r and K-5 appear among the DSLR offerings. The K-5 takes a similar line to Canon’s refresh by knocking the 14.6Mp K-7  off its perch and upping the ante with a 16.3Mp CMOS APS-C sensor, 7fps burst shooting and 1080p video capture. It also has a staggering ISO range of 80 to 51200 all in a compact weatherproof body. If you’re inclined to shoot in the great outdoors then the K-5 has it all. Another great thing about Pentax DSLRs is that, unlike Canon and Nikon, the image stabilisation is in the body, rather than the lens, so you can put any old glass on it and enjoy those sharp shooting benefits. The K-5 isn’t the cheapest but for what it offers it certainly is great value for money, made even more so with Pentax’s £90 cashback deal  that runs until the end of the year.
Price £1100 (with 18-55mm lens)
More Info Pentax 
At the upper end of the mid-range scale Canon’s EOS 60D  battled it out with Nikon’s D7000 . It was a close run thing, but with them both fetching similar prices, the Nikon won the day with its weather sealed alloy body – up against the Canon’s plastic enclosure – being one factor that gives it more enduring appeal. Like the D5100 versus the EOS 600D, the sensors match up as 16.4Mp and 18Mp, respectively. Yet the Nikon lacks an articulating LCD panel but makes up for this with its responsive shooting performance and swift autofocus. With an ISO range of 100 to 25600 it delivers fairly clean results at its fastest settings and sharp, detailed images in more sober sensitivity shots. In tests, the Nikon needed a bit of tweaking to get the most out of it, which, if you’re used to customisation, will undoubtedly satisfy. If you’re still at the point and shoot stage, then it has those on-board help features along with some retouching tools and creative effects to idle away the hours on the journey back home. ®
Price £1100 (body only), £1300 (with 18-105mm kit lens)
More Info Nikon