Four Cropped-Sensor DSLRs That Deliver Big Performance
Don't get me wrong—when it comes to photography, sensor size is important. But, in general, I feel like people have gotten too dogmatic about sensor size. APS-C sensors, or anything smaller than full frame, often get dismissed, when in fact, they're absolutely worthy of consideration when shopping around for a new body. There are so many capable cropped-sensor cameras on the used market right now that deserve a lot more attention from bargain-hunters.
Newer APS-C mirrorless cameras, like the Fujifilm X-T4 or the Sony a6600 do earn fair recognition, but where's the love for older workhorse DSLRs? After all, they're cheaper than ever, and deliver the best bang for your buck.
I'd be willing to bet that most photographers could get as much out of an APS-C S DSLR as they could out of any mirrorless full-frame kit. And for things like wildlife and sports, where reach and speed are perhaps the most important factors, cropped-sensor cameras actually offer an advantage over more expensive full-frame options, not to mention, much better battery life.
Let's go through some of my favorite APS-C DSLRs, which are absolute steals right now considering performance, durability, and cost.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II
For action photography, the 7D Mark II has you covered. It can do 10 frames per second, with a mind-blowing buffer of 1,000 JPGs—you can fire away in continuous mode for nearly two minutes before this camera needs a break. With performance like that, you'll get the shot every time.
The 20.2-megapixel sensor is no slouch either, it actually matches the brand new Canon R6 in resolution with those same gorgeous Canon colors, at a fraction of the price. The 65-point, all cross-type, phase-detection Dual Pixel autofocus system assures you quick and accurate lock on to your subject every time. Pair it with a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and you've got a mighty great kit for sports and wildlife.
Additionally, it excels at more than high-action stills, you can also do full-HD video at up to 60 frames per second. The Movie Servo AF gives you smooth and fluid autofocus for professional-looking results.
Wanna save even more? Take a look at the original Canon 7D for similar specs at a lower sticker price.
Nikon must've taken a look at the 7D Mark II and said, "anything Canon can do, we can do even better," because the D500 is an absolute all-timer for birders, safari-photo-hunters, and sports photojournalists. This DX flagship camera body is built to take a beating too, with its magnesium alloy chassis and durable outer shell that's both weather-sealed and dust-proof.
Under the hood, there's a 20.9-megapixel sensor, coupled with a 153-point autofocus system, featuring 99 cross-type points for fast and accurate subject tracking. It can shoot a mind-blowing 200 RAW files at 10 frames per second before the buffer needs clearing, which makes it ideal for fast-action. Pair it with the Tamron 18-400mm f/ 3.5-6.3 and you'll be able to cover basically any event.
If you need to shoot video with it, rest assured it can do up to 4K at 30fps, and the articulating screen can help you hone in a good viewing angle.
The Nikon D300S is the dirt-cheap predecessor of the D500, and it's still a good performer if you don't need top-level specs.
For those that don't do a lot of action sports and wildlife, but maybe are looking for a good portrait, wedding or all-around kit, the Pentax K-3 is a sleeper choice. First off, these bodies are inexpensive considering the performance and build-quality they offer. Second, Pentax K-mount lenses are way cheaper than the competition and are really well made. You can pick up a 55mm F/1.4, and the whole kit, including the camera, can be paid off after a couple of one-hour portrait sessions.
When it comes to specs, you're looking at a 23.35-megapixel sensor, with in-body stabilization to help you shoot sharp photos even at low shutter speeds. It can do full-HD video at a 30fps or 720p at 60fps. The body is fully weather-sealed and dustproof with 92 points of sealing.
If this bargain body is still too pricey, take a good look at the Pentax K-5 II.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include a cropped-sensor DSLR that's heavy on video features. The Canon 80D is a video creator's dream with its 3-inch, 1.04 million-dot fully articulating flippy touchscreen. YouTube superstar Casey Neistat used one of these for years, and if it's good for his 12 million viewers, it's probably good for your audience too.
Canon's Dual Pixel autofocus system is one of the best in the biz, so you can count on it staying locked on to your subject—which may be your pretty face when vlogging.
The sensor resolves 24.2-megapixels, and can do full-HD at an up to 60fps. There's a headphone and microphone jack right on the body, so no need for extra battery grips or dongles to start shooting videos right away. Pair it with the stabilized Canon 15-85mm lens, a microphone, and the Sirui Video Survival kit for an inexpensive, but mighty capable, indie filmmaking setup. Action!