The entry-level DSLR market has always been one of the most hotly contested, which is great news for all of us on a tight budget. As manufacturers continually try to outdo each other, cheaper DSLRs have improved in specification and advanced features over the last few years.
The latest round of models offer superb image quality and great versatility, but that's not all.
Simplicity is a key factor in entry-level DSLRs. They need to keep things easy so that anybody launching into photography for the first time, or upgrading from a compact camera, can get good results without lots of technical knowledge and experience. As such, you can expect fully automatic shooting options and scene modes aplenty, so you can easily tailor camera settings to the picture opportunity at hand.
Naturally, as you grow in knowledge and expertise, you'll want more creative control. A good entry-level camera should therefore also be able to grow with you, making manual adjustments easy to get at and quick to use.
Better still, they should give you as much help as possible along the way, with intuitive interfaces that guide you towards greater proficiency.
Budget cameras aren't just for beginners, though. If you have a mid-range DSLR that's a few years old, the latest entry-level models may well outstrip it in terms of image quality. Chances are you'll get higher sensor resolution along with lower image noise at high ISO sensitivity settings.
New cameras often fare better at controlling dynamic range too, so you'll get better shadow detail with less risk of blown highlights. Extra features usually include live view for composing shots on the camera's LCD, plus widescreen video capture at either 720p or Full HD 1080p.
If you're upgrading from an old camera, you probably won't need a host of beginner-orientated features. With the possibility you have generous friends and family, or you just owe yourself a treat, we've included a couple of slightly more sophisticated cameras in the group.
If you're buying your first DSLR, it makes sense to go for a 'kit', which generally includes the camera body along with an 18-55mm lens.
But even if you're replacing an older camera, this still makes good sense, as you'll often only pay about £50 extra for the kit with the lens, rather than buying the body on its own. You're therefore usually getting a new lens at a heavily discounted price, so it gives you the option of either having a spare lens or of selling your old body complete with the lens, which makes it more attractive to buyers.
One of the most important things to bear in mind when buying a DSLR is that you're buying into a system rather than just purchasing a camera.
A principle advantage of DSLRs over compact cameras is that you can add to your kit with, for example, wide-angle and telephoto zoom lenses, a flashgun, and other accessories - to make the most of whatever types of photography you're into.
Given that DSLR bodies are updated on a regular basis, it makes sense to stick with one manufacturer, so you don't have to replace your whole collection of lenses and other accessories every time you upgrade.
Canon and Nikon offer the largest collections of DSLR lenses, but Pentax and Sony also offer decent ranges. You're not limited to own-brand lenses either, with the likes of Sigma, Tamron and Tokina selling quality lenses at prices that are often lower than the camera manufacturers' own equivalent lenses.
Naturally, DSLRs aren't the only option. As well as conventional digital compact cameras, compact system cameras (CSCs) are gaining popularity, too. These do away with the mirror assembly of a DSLR, yet still feature interchangeable lenses. For our money though, or more importantly, for yours, you can't beat the immediacy of a DSLR.
The ability to look at your composition through the lens via an optical viewfinder is unbeatable when responding to tricky shooting scenarios, especially when tracking moving objects such as in sports or wildlife photography. Handling is also much more natural, not only increasing your reaction speeds, but also helping to avoid camera shake at slower shutter speeds.
Compared with a digital compact camera, a DSLR's image sensor is physically larger. A key benefit of this for DSLR users is that you can get a smaller depth of field for throwing the background out of focus. It's great in portraits for making the main subject really stand out in a picture.
With larger sensors, you can also expect much lower image noise at high ISO settings, and any time you're shooting under dull lighting. All things considered, the latest range of budget DSLRs have a great deal to offer.