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DSLR Sensors, CMOS Sensors
There are two types of DSLR sensor technologies in use: CCD (charge coupled device) and CMOS (complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor). CCD sensors tend to be more expensive and produce better, higher-quality images than CMOS sensors.
But CMOS sensors have improved over the years and are not far behind CCD sensors when it comes to quality.
CMOS and CCD sensors are available in three sizes: full-frame, APS-C and Four Thirds (also called Live MOS). A full-frame camera sensor is so called because it is the same size as a 35 mm film frame. If you already have lenses you were using with a film camera, you can use those lenses with a full-frame digital camera of the same brand and you won't notice any difference. However, that's assuming you want to shell out a few thousand dollars for a full-frame DSLR.
Most cheap DSLRs use APS-C image sensors, which are smaller than full-frame sensors and more popular. The top digital SLR cameras on our list -- the Canon EOS Rebel T3, Sony A390, and Nikon D3000 -- use APS-C sensors. Cameras with APS-C sensors are considerably cheaper than cameras with full-frame sensors, though you'll find plenty of cameras with this type of sensor outside our price range. For example, the Nikon D5000 (starting at $629), a pricier model than the Nikon we picked, uses a CMOS APS-C sensor. You can use lenses from a film camera with this kind of DSLR, but remember that the smaller sensor will affect how your lens captures the image.
Another type of camera sensor, and the newest available, is the Four Thirds sensor. So far it is used only in Olympus and Panasonic cameras. It is the smallest sensor of the three, so Olympus and Panasonic can make cheap digital SLRs that are more compact than other DSLRs. One caveat with the Four Thirds system is that you can't use film lenses with cameras containing this kind of sensor. Four Thirds cameras use a whole new mounting system designed specifically for Four Thirds digital lenses. This is also worth considering if you think you might upgrade in the future to a digital SLR that won't be compatible with your Four Thirds lenses. The Olympus PEN E-PL1 (starting at $418) is the only Four Thirds camera we've included in our buying guide.
Digital Camera Resolution.A digital camera's resolution, measured in megapixels, is another feature to note. How many megapixels do you need? A sharp-looking 8x10 photo requires only about 5MP. If you shoot a photo at a very high resolution, such as 10MP, you can dramatically increase the photo's size while retaining sharp detail. Once upon a time, cameras with resolutions of more than, say, 6MP were pretty pricey. Today, 10MP is merely the starting point for an entry-level DSLR. We found that all the cheap digital SLRs we researched have ample resolution for almost any photo task, ranging from 10.1MP on the Canon EOS Rebel XS (starting at $480) -- an older Canon that shows its age but remains an excellent entry-level DSLR -- to 14.2MP on the Sony A390.
Nikon D5000 Review
Canon EOS Rebel XS Review
Olympus PEN E-PL1 Review
Nikon D3000 Review
Canon EOS Rebel T3 Review
Sony A390 Review
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This week at Cheapism we recommended the best sites for buying eyeglasses online and tips to get you ready for a year of learning inside and outside the classroom.