If you're willing to cross that £500/$700 threshold, you can get some truly special cameras these days.
Many of the new Canon DSLRs and Nikon DSLRs released this year, for instance, boast features such as Full HD movie recording or articulated LCD screens that give photographers a whole new range of creative options and flexibility.
To help you choose which camera is right for you, below are our top five best DSLR cameras in the £500-£1000 price bracket.
Price: £860/US$1100/AU$1260 (body only)
Specs: 20MP, HD video: 1080p
Canon's latest mid-range DSLR has a higher pixel count than the manufacturer's other recent APS-C format sensors. The EOS 70D's sensor is a Dual Pixel CMOS device too, which enables faster focusing during Live View and video mode.
The 70D can shoot at up to 7fps at full resolution for up to 65 JPEGs or 16 raw files, and sensitivity may be set in the native range of ISO 100-12,800, with an expansion setting allowing the equivalent of ISO 25,600. Overall, Canon has produced a very well rounded camera for enthusiast photographers.
Read our full Canon EOS 70D review
Price: £570/US$740 (around AU$855) (body only)
Specs: 16.3MP, HD video: 1080p
The K-5 can be had for £570/US$740 (around AU$855) (body only), which is excellent value for money when you consider what it offers. Features include a 921,000 dot LCD, 7fps burst mode and a wide sensitivity range right up to an equivalent ISO 51,200 option.
Read our Pentax K-5 review
Price: £585/US$930 (around AU$880) (body only)
Specs: 14MP, HD video: none
Sigma's only mid-range DSLR offering, the SD15 incorporates a Foveon X3 sensor and a 3-inch LCD screen with a capable - though not particularly competitive - 460,000 dots. Other features of interest include a 77-segment metering sensor and a DDR II buffer said to be twice as large as that found in the previous SD14 model.
Read our Sigma SD15 review
Specs: APS-C, 24.2MP, ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 25,600), vari-angle LCD, HD video: 1080p
Nikon currently leads the field in terms of SLR pixel count, and has stuck with a 24-million pixel sensor for the D5300. However, it hasn't used the same sensor as is in the D5200 (which still continues in the company line-up) or the Nikon D7100, as the D5300 uses a new 24.2-million pixel device without an optical low-pass filter for slightly sharper images.
Another key change for the D5300 is the addition of built-in Wi-Fi and GPS technology. The Wi-Fi connectivity allows the camera to transfer images wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet via Nikon's free Wireless Mobile Utility app (iOS and Android). From there, images can be shared on any of the usual social networking sites. The same app can also be used to trigger the shutter remotely. Meanwhile the GPS system allows images to be tagged with the longitude, latitude and altitude of the shooting location.
The new 3.2-inch 1,037,000-dot screen provides a nice clear view with a little more detail being visible, which is especially useful when using the enlarged view to focus manually. The screen also copes reasonably well with bright light and doesn't suffer excessively from reflections.
The D5300 is aimed at those upgrading from a compact camera or who want to be more creative with their images, and so is a good option for someone looking to take their photography more seriously. The control layout is simple, too, so you get to grips with the camera quickly.
Read our Nikon D5300 review
Sony Alpha a65
Price: £650/US$700/AU$1,000 (body only)
Specs: 16.2MP, HD video: 1080p
Arguably the best value Sony Alpha model currently available, the A65 is replete with technology straight from the more expensive A77 model, and is available for as little as £700/$800 with a kit lens – perfect for those planning to upgrade from previous Alpha models. It includes a 24.3MP sensor, together with a 10fps burst rate and a maximum sensitivity option equivalent to ISO 25,600, in addition to the 2.4million dot OLED viewfinder that has already been widely praised for its clarity.
Read our Sony Alpha a65 review
Price: £844/US$1,197/AU$1549 (body only)
Specs: 24.1MP, HD video: 1080p
This 24.1MP model replaces the Nikon D7000 and is Nikon's most up-to-date APS-C format offering for enthusiast photographers.
There's no anti-aliasing filter the sensor and this helps the D7100 resolve an impressive amount of detail. However, high sensitivity images have more noise than comparable shots from some of Nikon's other SLRs. That said, the noise is fine grained and evenly distributed with no banding or clumping.
Read our Nikon D7100 review
Pentax K-5 II and K-5 IIs
Pentax K-5 II price: £730/US$1,100/AU$1,100 (body only)
Pentax K-5 IIs price: £860/US$1,200/AU$1,200 (body only)
Specs (both): APS-C format, 16.3MP, HD video: 1080p, ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 80-51,200)
Pentax has two K-5 II offerings, the K-5 II and the K-5 IIs, but the only difference between them is the anti-aliasing filter in the Pentax K-5 II. Despite being more expensive, the Pentax K-5 IIs has no anti-aliasing filter over the sensor, and this enables it to capture a little more detail but with heightened risk of moiré patterning.
Aside from a slightly improved LCD screen and an allegedly revamped sensor, the most notable difference between the Pentax K-5 II and the Pentax K-5 it replaces is its SAFOX X autofocus system. This offers a noticeable speed and accuracy boost over the original Pentax K-5, and focusing is swift even in quite dark environments.
Like the Pentax K-30, the Pentax K-5 II (s) is weather-sealed so it can be used with confidence in during inclement spells.
We found the image quality is high, but the K-5 II failed to impress with its resolution scores.
Read our Pentax K-5 II review
Sony Alpha a77
Price: £830/US$1,100/AU$1,500 (body only)
Specs: 16.2MP, HD video: 1080p
Sony's best-specified APS-C model, the A77 is a considerable upgrade over previous generation Alpha models. The high resolution of its 24.3MP sensor is matched with an equally impressive 2.4million dot OLED electronic viewfinder, while a 12fps burst mode, Full HD video and an articulating LCD screen make it suitable for all kinds of stills and movie recording.
Read our Sony Alpha 77 review