With so many second-hand DSLRs to choose from, and a growing market for compact
system cameras, it can be difficult to know exactly what to choose. In
this article, I have compiled a shortlist of eight used DSLRs that I
think are great cameras, and each of them can be found for less than
£450. It is by no means comprehensive, but it should show the broad
range that is available. Which DSLR is right for you will depend on your type of photography.
Canon EOS 40D
Launched: 2007. Effective pixels: 10.1 million
Although it may not be the most glamorous of Canon cameras, the EOS 40D has a list of features that should entice many photographers, particularly given its second-hand value. For around £280 you will get a 10.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor with 14-bit raw capture, 6.5fps shooting rate and a 3in, 230,000-dot LCD screen. It may have only nine AF points, but they are all cross-type sensors with the centre AF point allowing extra sensitivity for f/2.8 lenses, which provides fast AF performance.
The sensitivity range of ISO 100-1600, with an extended ISO 3200, may seem a little on the low side, but it should be enough for a fair-weather photographer’s needs, as should the 35-zone evaluative metering system. The EOS 40D also has sRaw capture, which allows for a small 2.5-million-pixel image to be saved. This is useful for those who are only shooting for internet use, but who still want to adjust a raw file. Overall, the Canon EOS 40D is a good introductory camera for those wanting to use the EOS range.
Canon EOS 5D
Launched: 2005. Effective pixels: 12.8 million
The Canon EOS 5D is the only full-frame-sensor camera here and one of the first cameras that made full-frame photography possible for enthusiast photographers. The magnesium-alloy camera wasn’t especially cheap, but at around £2,500 it was within reach of many, and its body was smaller than other full-frame DSLRs of the time.
Although the camera has only nine AF points, with six non-selectable assist points, the 12.8-million-pixel sensor of the EOS 5D still produces excellent images, particularly in good light. In fact, the ISO sensitivity only goes up to ISO 1600 before the extended ISO 3200 mode is needed. However, this range is ideal for landscape photographers. If you look around, you can get an EOS 5D for under £500, but it is possible to find them for under £400 if you get lucky. This model is one of the most affordable cameras for those who want to take the plunge with a full-frame DSLR.
Launched: 2007. Effective pixels: 12.3 million
When the D300 was launched, it quickly became a favourite among both enthusiast photographers and professionals who wanted a back-up model for the D3. The fact it sold so well means that these models are easy to find second-hand, but the excellent specification means they are still highly sought-after.
Although Nikon has tested the shutter of a D300 to 150,000 actuations, always try to find a used example that has fewer than 50,000 actuations. This will ensure there is still plenty of life in the camera.
While its 12.3-million-pixel resolution may seem a little low, the D300 is still capable of producing a nice A2-sized print if using a good lens. The rest of the D300’s specification still takes some beating, though, as it has 51 AF points, a 1,005-segment metering system, shoots at 5fps and has 14-bit raw output. Also, the built-in pop-up flash can wirelessly control other Nikon Speedlights. The D300 is an excellent camera and a good professional-quality DSLR to have as a starting point or as a back-up model to a D600.
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro
Launched: 2007. Effective pixels: 12.34 million
Based on the Nikon D200, the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro is weather-sealed with a sturdy magnesium-alloy body, and it uses the Nikon F mount. This means that there is a huge range of new and used lenses available for the S5. However, the unique feature of the S5 Pro is its Fujifilm Super CCD sensor.
The sensor has two photosites to create every pixel. One is smaller than the other. By processing information from both photosites and combining it, the S5 Pro has a dynamic range that even some five years after its release is hard to beat. Although the images do suffer from noise as the ISO sensitivity increases, in good light it is an excellent camera for landscape photographers. It is able to capture detail in both highlight and shadow areas that other cameras would miss.
Although modern sensor technology has just about caught up with what the S5 Pro was capable of five years ago, it is still a much sought-after, particularly at a price well under £400.
Launched: 2004. Effective pixels: 6.1 million
Although many people now carry mobile phones with a greater resolution than the Nikon D70, this model has earned something of a cult status due to the fact that it is one of the simplest DSLR cameras to take apart. It is easy, then, to access the sensor so it’s popular with those looking to convert a DSLR to infrared. With the D70 costing around £100, this means it is possible to own an infrared DSLR for around £300 once the cost of the conversion has been included.
While the sensor resolution, five AF points and 1.8in, 130,000-dot LCD screen look feeble compared to a contemporary DSLR, the 1,005-zone 3D RGB metering still works well. Its solid build quality means that it is hard to find a better DSLR for the price, regardless of whether you plan to convert it to infrared or not, and the resolution is just about capable of squeezing out a decent A4 print.
Launched: 2008. Effective pixels: 14.6 million
Despite having a small market share compared to its main rivals, Pentax was the first DSLR manufacturer to introduce a 14.6-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor. It is also the highest resolution sensor to feature in this article, yet the K20D is far from the most expensive. Expect to pay around £200 for a used body, and around £230 for a kit.
As well as a 14.6-million-pixel sensor, your money will get you a solid camera with the sort of weather sealing that you would expect to see on a professional DSLR. The K20D also has AF fine-tune adjustment to allow focusing to be adjusted to an individual lens. Speaking of lenses, there is a lot to choose from, with the Pentax K mount first used in 1975.
We like Pentax cameras for the level of control they afford photographers, and the K20D is no exception. It has a flash-sync terminal, 14-bit raw files (which can be saved as either PEF or the more universal DNG file type) and 11 AF points, nine of which are cross-type sensors. With a huge range of custom functions, the Pentax K20D is great value for money with a staggering range of equally affordable used lenses available. It is the ideal way to build a DSLR system on a budget, with an excellent upgrade available in the form of the K-7.
Launched: 2008. Effective pixels: 10 million
The Olympus E-520 is an absolute bargain. Its 10-million-pixel four thirds sensor doesn’t pack the punch of current four thirds sensors, but in good light images are great and the camera is packed full of features that enthusiast photographers will love.
Like many other Olympus cameras, the E-520 has highlight/shadow spot metering, as well a gradation feature that alters the metering to switch between high and low key. The camera’s body is fairly small, although not as tiny as its little brother, the E-420, but it does have a built-in image stabilisation.
What is also important is that there is an excellent range of premium Olympus lenses available that have largely been forgotten about now the company is focusing on micro four thirds compact system cameras. And, of course, with built-in sensor-based image stabilisation, all the four thirds lenses fitted to the E-520 will be stabilised to help reduce camera shake.
Sony Alpha 700
Launched: 2007. Effective pixels: 12.2 million
Released just before its rival, the Nikon D300, the Sony Alpha 700 has much in common with its contemporary, including the same 12.2-million-pixel Sony-built sensor. Demand means that the D300 is more expensive to buy second-hand than the Alpha 700, but the Sony camera shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Alpha 700 can shoot at 5fps for a burst of up to 18 raw files. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000sec, a magnesium-alloy body and SteadyShot image stabilisation.
While Sony had inherited its customers from Konica Minolta when the Alpha 700 was launched, it has now fashioned its own path and become a major player in the camera market. With an ever-growing range of lenses, including the superb Carl Zeiss Alpha-mount optics, the Alpha 700 still has a lot to offer.