Nikon D3200: Best bargain
Price with kit lens: about £279/US$450 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens mount: Nikon DX | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p
In theory, the Nikon D3300 replaces the D3200, but Nikon keeps selling older cameras alongside newer ones, often at bargain prices. The D3200 doesn't have the retracting lens or anti-alias-removed sensor of the D3300, but it still produces high-resolution 24-megapixel images, shoots at an impressive 5 frames per second (excellent for a budget DSLR) and is a brilliant camera for beginners. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, but it takes the same inexpensive plug-in Wi-Fi adaptor as the D3300.
Canon EOS 1200D (or Rebel T5): Cheapest Canon
Price with kit lens: about £289/US$399 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18 | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch fixed, 460,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Max video resolution: 1080p
The 1200D is a solid if unspectacular DSLR but it is the cheapest way to buy into the Canon DSLR system right now. The 18MP sensor is quite long in the tooth now and while still good, is not as good as Nikon's 24MP sensor. The 1200D's 3fps continuous shooting speed is leisurely next to the Nikon D3300's 5fps rates and you have to download beginners guides through a separate smartphone app, which again makes the Nikon D3300 seem a better integrated option. For Canon fans, though, this is a still a cheap and effective camera.
Sony Alpha A58: Alternative tech
Price with kit lens: about £280/US$448 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 | Lens mount: Sony A | Screen: 2.7-inch articulating, 460,800 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 8fps | Max video resolution: 1080p
The Sony is not strictly an SLR, being an SLT (single lens translucent) device instead. This means you get an electronic viewfinder (EVF) rather than an optical one – but the EVF on the A58 is bright and clear. What the SLT design does deliver is fast autofocus in live view (the A58 is always in live view, effectively) and 8fps continuous shooting – amazing for an entry-level camera. Sony is swapping its attention to compact system cameras now, but the A58 is still out there and still a real bargain.
Canon EOS 100D (or Rebel SL1): Small is beautiful
Price with kit lens: about £369/US$499 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18 | Lens mount: Canon EF-S | Screen: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p
Put off by the comparative bulk and weight of DSLRs? The amazingly light and compact (for a DSLR) EOS 100D houses an 18 megapixel APS-C sensor with hybrid phase-detection AF built in for faster autofocus in live view and movie modes. But although the 100D is tiny, it uses the same lenses as other Canon DSLRs, which add to the bulk and negate much of its advantage. If you want a Canon, though, it's a useful step up from the EOS 1200D and pretty cheap now.
Pentax K-50: Tough and tasty
Price with kit lens: about £395/US$449 | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 16.3 | Lens mount: Pentax K | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Max video resolution: 1080p
Just because you are a less experienced photographer doesn't mean you aren't an adventurous one. The weatherproofed K-50 will encourage you to get out shooting in all conditions, though you'll have to partner it with the more expensive WR (weather resistant) lens for the full benefit. Pentax's Shake Reduction system cuts camera shake and can even correct slightly skewed horizons. The K-50 is a good example of a entry level SLR that goes the extra mile. Well worth considering if you're not wedded to Canon or Nikon.