Original RRP: £450 (with single kit lens)
Current price: around £350 (twin zoom lens kit)
Another old favourite of ours, the Olympus Four Thirds format E-system cameras have since been sidelined by the manufacturer in favour of their mirrorless cousins, but that's not to say they should be overlooked. Sporting a slim, compact profile that makes it inherently more portable than some other DSLRs, the entry-level Olympus E-450 still manages to shoehorn a 10MP Four Thirds sensor (about half the size of an APS-C format version) into its neat little body.
The camera also benefits from a very good Live View system that incorporates Image AF (contrast-detect), Hybrid AF and AF Sensor options, with further support for Face Detection (with some lenses). Aimed primarily at beginners, the Olympus E-450's Auto mode is complemented by a raft of Scene modes, but you also get full and partially-manual exposure options once you're ready to take control. A selection of Olympus's original Art Filters is also present, adding appeal for creative photographers, along with dynamic range-expanding Shadow Adjustment Technology.
The Olympus E-450's 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot resolution screen may look a little out-of-date compared to the larger screens on current cameras, but otherwise the hybrid camera boasts some decent features that justify taking it into consideration. Particularly given its sub-£400 price tag that includes not one, but two, zoom lenses.
Original RRP: £879.99 (with 18-105mm VR Kit)
Current price: around £560 (body only)
The Nikon D90 appeared on the scene just as Nikon was really stealing the show in terms of the low-light performance that its latest DSLRs could offer and - compared to current models - still doesn't look at all shabby in this department. Build quality - as we've come to expect from Nikon - is superb, and the D90 inherits a number of features from its higher-end sibling, the Nikon D300, which is also still readily available on the market.
Incorporating a 12.3MP sensor that performs admirably in low light, the Nikon D90 is capable of shooting at native sensitivities spanning ISO 200-3200, expandable to include ISO 100 and a top setting of ISO 6400. While this may sound a little restricted compared to the colossal top-whack settings found on the newest DSLRs, in use the Nikon D90 still puts in a comparably excellent performance.
Factor in the camera's snappy 11-point AF system, reasonable continuous shooting mode of 4.5fps, Live View and 720p HD movie shooting capability, as well as a beautifully detailed 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD screen - then combine it with a fantastic handling experience and stunning image quality - and you'll understand why this camera scored full marks when we reviewed it. The Nikon D90 represented fantastic value-for-money at its full launch price, so at current rates, it's a snip.
Canon EOS 550D
Original RRP: £899.99 (with 18-55mm IS kit lens)
Current price: around £408 (with 18-55mm IS kit lens)
There's little to separate the excellent Canon EOS 550D from the more recently-launched Canon EOS 600D. A new Basic+ feature adds more flexibility for beginners who want to dabble in taking control over more camera settings, without making a full departure from the safety of Auto mode. A new Feature Guide offers a built-in photography manual that helps first-time DSLR buyers get the hang of the camera, while Scene Intelligent Auto gives complete control over to the 600D so you can concentrate on just capturing the moment.
These features - plus wireless off-camera flash control - are the only real differences between the old and new models: the Canon EOS 550D and Canon EOS 600D both share the same 1080p HD movie recording capability with stereo sound, a similar 18MP CMOS sensor, sensitivity range covering ISO 100-6400 (12,800 with boost), built-in pop-up flash and HDMI output - to name a few.
Both cameras sport the same 3-inch, 1,040,000-dot resolution screens, although the 600D's is an articulated version, as opposed to the 550D's fixed LCD display. Although the latter is perhaps a little less flexible for shooting at awkward angles and for filming, it's still an added extra that many photographers are more than happy to forego. If you fall into this group and are confident in your ability to master a DSLR without the hand-holding measures that Canon has put into the 600D, then the 550D is definitely worth considering.
Original RRP: £2,247.99 (body only)
Current price: around £1600 (body only)
Saving the best until last, the 12.1MP, full-frame Nikon D700 achieved our top accolade in our review - and not without good reason. In short, this is a stunning camera that any advanced photography enthusiast and/or professional photographer would be proud to own, even when comparing it to the modern alternatives currently available.
Sharing many features with the equally-superb, larger Nikon D3, the Nikon D700 was designed as a more portable alternative to its big brother, giving professionals the opportunity to maintain the benefits of having a full-frame sensor, minus the bulk. Sporting a high-resolution (922,000-dot), 3-inch LCD, slick 51-point AF system, large and bright optical viewfinder and a high level of user-customisation options, the Nikon D700 bowled us over with its comprehensive feature-set.
The camera also offers high-end extras such as a robust, weather-sealed body, great ergonomics and comfortable, efficient handling. Where it really wows, however, is in the low-light performance department: now famed for its top-notch performance in this area (along with the Nikon D3 and its subsequently-launched variants) the Nikon D700 still manages to impress. Indulge yourself and snap it up for a bargain price - before we do!
Liked this? Then check out Best DSLR: top cameras by price and brand
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