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By: Hoan K. Trinh

So what would make a DSLR entry level and what would make it not so entry level?  Currently, DSLRs are divided into 4 distinct categories: entry level, advanced amateur, semi-professional, and professional.

One would think that image quality alone would separate the various classes of cameras.  This is not completely true since the entry level, advanced amateur, and the semi-professional cameras tend to share similar or identical image sensors (they are all DX format).  For example, the entry level Nikon D5100 and the advanced amateur model, the NikonD7000, share the exact same image sensor. And that sensor is just a slightly more massaged version of the one in the Nikon D3100 (Nikon cheapest DSLR).  The Canon T3i, 60D, as well as the Canon 7D all share the same image sensor yet they are not part of the same class of camera and their prices are wildly different.  So what is it between these cameras that would put them into various classes and command such different price tags?

The answer lies in the functions well as the durability of the cameras.  Below are a few factors to consider:


The entry level cameras have a noticeably smaller and dimmer viewfinder coverage compare to their more advance models making composition a little more difficult.  Also the larger viewfinder of the more advanced and professional models have more shooting information inside the viewfinder.    I upgraded from the entry level D40 to the more advanced D90, and I have to say the D90’s viewfinder just make life a lot easier.  On a full frame professional DSLR (FX format), the viewfinder is just gigantic, the viewfinder alone probably make full frame camera worth the investment over a DX format semi-professional DSLR.


The entry level cameras usually have only one control dial versus two on more advanced models or even three in the professional classes of cameras.  This makes changing camera settings a lot quicker.   There are also a lot more buttons on the more advanced cameras to save you from diving through the massively confusing menu to change camera settings like the entry level  ones.  I have shot on entry level and more advanced cameras as well as a point and shoot, and I have to say that while all these buttons and dials might not make your photos any better, they make it a lot more fun to shoot.  You won’t have to miss shots because you’re fiddling with your camera.  If you are planning on photographing Tim Tebow in the Superbowl or some hot shot sprinters in the 2012 London Olympic, you better be able to change your camera settings on the fly because the action will not wait for you.

Nikon D40 at 3 frames per second with the Nikon 55-200mm F4-5.6  DX VR lens.


The more advance cameras tend to have the ability to shoot at a higher frame rate than the entry level models.  Professional photographers don’t have all day to take a picture, the speed of the camera will certainly make life easier for them.  Most entry level cameras can do almost 4 frames per second.  Most sport photographers recommend a minimum of 5 for sport photography.  Most semi- professional and professional cameras design for sport photography have a maximum frame rate from 7-10 frames per second.  There are the sport photographers who need the higher frame rates to actually capture actions, but most will tell you that your timing as well as knowledge of the game is far more important than the camera maximum frame rate.

Nikon D90 at 4.5 frames per second catching the peak of the action.


It is safe to say that the autofocus modules of the higher end cameras are almost always better build than the entry level ones; giving you more focus point as well as being more sensitive in low light situation.  Just so everyone can make a comparison, the Nikon D3100 have 11 auto focus points while all of the semi-professional and professional Nikon cameras have a 51 point auto focus  point system.  Quite a big different.


The entry level cameras are not as durable.  Why? Because the people who purchased them might only touch them once or twice a month.  These entry level cameras typically have a shutter rating of 50,000 actuations.  How many will be taking 50,000 photos in their life time? Not too many.  I think I am at around 40,000 photos and I go out shooting on a fairly regular basis.  However, a seasoned photographer could take up to a couple of hundred thousand of photos a year.  A semi-professional and professional cameras will have shutter ratings from 150,000 to 400,000 actuations.  Most advanced amateur models have a shutter rating of 100,000 actuations.

Durability does not simply stop at the amount of actuations the shutter is rated for, all of Nikon semi and professional camera are also weather sealed against dust and moisture which mean they can handle rain, snow, sandstorm, as well as whatever else the environment is throwing at them.  Canon professional cameras and the 7D is also fully weather sealed to handle that kind of abuse.  Oh did I tell you that most semi-pro and professional cameras are make out of some kind of tough magnesium alloy, making it much more tougher against physical abuses and other unforeseeable accidents in the world of professional photography?   A plastic body on most entry level camera won’t be able to handle bangs and drops as well.

So those are the features that explain the price differences between the entry level cameras and the not so entry level cameras.  If you are just getting a DSLR for fun and giggle, do you need such pro grade features? Probably not……but you still want them anyway :).


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