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.
Canon 650D/Canon Rebel 4Ti
Price: £530/US$650/AU$670 (body only)
Specs: 18MP, HD video: 1080p
Canon's latest DSLR may be the first to have touchscreen control, but the manufacturer hasn't forgotten that many photographers like real buttons and dials, so all the usual controls are still present.
Some of the pixels on the 18 million pixel Hybrid CMOS sensor are used by a new phase detection autofocus (AF) system that works in combination with the usual Live View contrast detection AF system during video shooting or when images are composed on the screen instead of in the viewfinder. The aim is to make autofocus during Live View and Video shooting faster and more accurate.
Read our full Canon EOS 650D 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
Price: £630/US$900/AU$840 (body only)
Specs: 18MP, HD video: 1080p
The sole double-digit EOS member may offer the same 18MP resolution as its cheaper siblings, but with a sturdy aluminium body, pentaprism viewfinder and 5.3fps burst mode it belongs in the hands of the enthusiast.
The Canon EOS 60D sweeps to victory to take our Best mid-range DSLR award.
Read our Canon EOS 60D review
Specs: APS-C, 24.2MP, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to ISO 100-25,600), vari-angle LCD, HD video: 1080p
The Nikon D5200 is a blend of the Nikon D5100 and Nikon D7000 with a new 24.2 million-effective pixel sensor. Apart from the addition of a drive mode button on its top-plate and very minor changes to the size, the Nikon D5200 looks very similar to the Nikon D5100. Inside, however, it has the same metering and AF systems as the Nikon D7000 above it in the Nikon DSLR lineup.
Like the Nikon D5100, the Nikon D5200 has a 3-inch 921,000-dot articulating LCD screen that enables you to compose images from a range of angles. Disappointingly this screen is not touch-sensitive.
While the Nikon D5200 has a simple control layout and a clear user interface that gives relatively quick access to the most important features, enthusiast photographers may wish for a few extra direct controls.
Our tests reveal that the Nikon D5200 generally produces high quality images, but the shadow areas of some images taken at ISO 3200 and above may suffer from slight banding, which limits the size at which they can be used.
Read our Nikon D5200 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