Once you learn the basics of photography, you might crave a faster, more sophisticated camera. That's where step-up entry-level DSLRs come in. They're easy enough for a beginner to master but advanced enough that you won't outgrow the camera quickly, all for $900 or less.
The world's first DSLR with a touchscreen, the Canon EOS Rebel T4i (*Est. $850 with kit lens), is the new darling of critics. It's "like having an iPhone or Android smartphone tucked into the back of a DSLR," say editors at Steves-Digicams.com. You can tap-to-shoot, pinch-to-enlarge and more. Testers say it makes using a DSLR as easy and intuitive as snapping a photo with your smartphone, but you get fantastic image quality. Experts call the Canon T4i a great all-around camera. Its 18-megapixel sensor delivers consistently excellent images, even in low light, and the LCD screen tilts and swivels to help you capture odd-angle shots. The T4i is a quick shooter, too, at 5 fps.
The Pentax K-30 (*Est. $825 with kit lens) has its own claim to fame: It's the only under-$1,000 DSLR that's weatherproof. You can shoot in the rain, in the freezing cold down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, even in a dust storm. While photo quality stands toe-to-toe with Canon in tests, it's not the best choice for shooting video clips because it lacks standard features like an external microphone jack and one-touch record button.
If you need speed, Sony makes the fastest under-$1,000 DSLRs you can buy. The A65 (*Est. $900 with kit lens) can shoot 10 fps, and the newer, cheaper A57 (*Est. $700 with kit lens) kicks that up to 12 fps but uses a lower resolution. Sony's unique translucent mirror design makes all that possible but does block some light, so you might see grainy image "noise" in your dim-light photos.