Beginner cameras can help you learn to use a digital SLR without breaking your budget. But these aren't stripped-down models. They offer most of the same features as pricier cameras, and experts say they'll deliver equally outstanding photos for your albums and frames.
The Nikon D3200 (*Est. $650 with kit lens) outshines other beginner DSLRs with one marquee feature. Its outrageously high 24.2 megapixels -- rivals top out around 18 -- capture tinier details in your photos and HD videos. Still, those extra megapixels force some compromises including dim-light sensitivity, so lower-resolution competitors wind up taking fairly comparable photos in tests.
Some of these runner-up DSLRs also offer more features. The Nikon D5100 (*Est. $650 with kit lens), an older model now selling at a discount, and Canon EOS Rebel T3i (*Est. $695 with kit lens) both add handy swiveling LCD screens and exposure bracketing, which can help you get the right exposure on your shots. The EOS Rebel T2i (*Est. $650 with kit lens) is basically the T3i without the swivel screen.
Other options are a step down from the Nikon D3200, but they might save you some money. Nikon's cheapest DSLR, the D3100 (*Est. $500 with kit lens), loses some movie-mode features and of course a bunch of megapixels, but it's otherwise much the same as the D3200. Photo quality is similar in tests, with plenty of experts saying you'll probably never notice the difference. Canon's least expensive DSLR, the EOS Rebel T3 (*Est. $495 with kit lens), is pretty comparable.
Another camera to consider isn't even a DSLR. The Sony A37 (*Est. $600 with kit lens) uses a translucent mirror that doesn't have to move as you snap a photo. The result is faster shooting speeds, but the mirror blocks some light, so the A37 lags a bit in dim situations.