These $3,500-and-under DSLRs offer the same full-frame image sensors as their $6,000-plus, top-of-the-line siblings. They don't shoot as speedily and aren't quite as rock-solid durable, but they'll save you thousands of dollars.
Nikon rules this class right now with two new cameras that have critics' full attention. A headline-grabbing 36.3 megapixels -- the most ever on a 35 mm format DSLR and 50 percent more than its nearest rivals -- makes the Nikon D800 (Est. $2,800 body only) the hottest semi-pro DSLR in reviews. Of course, it takes more than megapixels to create great photos, and experts say the D800 delivers. "The results from the D800 will blow you away" with staggering detail and a vast tonal range that looks great blown up giant-size, says Phil Hall at WhatDigitalCamera.com. True, that monster megapixel count takes a bit of a toll on shooting speed and low-light prowess, but those are small sacrifices, he says. Others agree wholeheartedly: The D800 is the most often recommended pro DSLR at any price.
Still, it's nearly a tie between the Nikon D800 and its archrival, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (Est. $3,400 (body only)) . The Nikon inches ahead thanks to its jaw-dropping resolution, but the Canon shoots faster and handles dim light better. With 61 points, the EOS 5D Mark III's autofocus system is "extraordinary," and the high quality of its video makes the camera a choice for serious videographers.
Meanwhile, the competing Nikon D600 (Est. $1500 (body only)) has spawned an entirely new category: budget pro DSLR. The D600 has a full-frame sensor and includes many of the features of more expensive Nikon DSLR cameras, including dual memory slots. However, after only one year on the market, the D600 has a successor: the remarkably similar Nikon D610 (Est. $1700 (body only)) . The D610 has a new shutter mechanism that provides faster continuous shooting with a quiet shooting option. Reviewers speculate that this change also address the "oil on the shutter" problem users identified with the D600.