Best DSLR & ILC Cameras: Enthusiast Level

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Welcome to our annual Holiday Gift Guide. For 2016, we've decided to segue from wholly budget-based recommendations and instead focus on different camera categories.

Enthusiast tier DSLR and ILC cameras are for photographers whose skill set has advanced to the point where they need more performance features -- speed, image quality, autofocus, overall image quality -- than their current camera offers. Enthusiast photographers have the basics down and probably own a few lenses that perform better than included kit lenses. They've likely invested in a specific camera brand or camera mount. As need and skills grow, Enthusiasts want to take that next step forward, but might not have the budget or need for a fully pro system. In that case, you'll want one of the following cameras, most of which retail between $1,200 and $1,800.Also worth noting: any of these cameras would make excellent second bodies for advanced or pro users who might not always want to haul out their main camera system.

Here are our picks for the Best Enthusiast Level DSLR & ILC Cameras for 2016.

 

Sony A6300

Sony A6300

The Sony a6300 Alpha Series ILC is a DSLR destroyer that costs less than a thousand dollars (body-only) and comes packed with an enviable list of performance specifications. Features include a 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS image sensor coupled to the BIONZ X image processing engine for speed and enhanced ISO performance, the world's fastest Fast Hybrid AutoFocus system (aka 4D FOCUS), built-in WiFi & NFC, and a magnesium alloy body that's dust and moisture resistant. Still images can be captured at 11 frames-per-second in Continuous Shooting mode, while videos can be recorded in Sony's Super 35mm format or 4K Ultra HD at up to 100 Mbps in the XAVC S codec. Or you can shoot Full 1080p HD at up to 120fps. Pick up an a6300 Alpha Series ILC with a 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens for less than $1,150.

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Olympus PEN F

Olympus PEN F

The Olympus PEN-F stuffs the awesome performance specifications of the OM-D series into a compact rangefinder style camera that exudes retro stylings while offering a Creative Control dial to deliver various shooting modes to recreate retro style photos. Features include a 20MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds image sensor that can shoot 10fps full res still images, 50MP High-Res Shots, and Full 1080/60p HD videos. It also features 5-axis image stabilization for improved low-light performances and smooth videos. Built-in Wi-Fi as well as modes like Time-Lapse Movie and Live Composite round out a very complete package. Like all PEN and OM-D cameras, you can use this camera with any M.Zuiko or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses. Pick on of these up for just under $1,200.

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Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX8

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX8

The LUMIX DMC-GX8 is Panasonic's flagship DLSM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) camera. This Micro Four Thirds camera system is both splash-proof and dustproof, boasting a 20.3MP Digital Live MOS image sensor mated to a quad-core Venus Engine image processor for enhanced speed and low light level performance. It can capture full resolution still images at up to 8 frames-per-second OR 8MP stills at up to 30fps as part of the camera's various 4K Photo modes. The GX8 can record up to 4K/30p OR Full 1080/60p HD videos. Used with compatible Panasonic lenses, the GX8 also features a Dual Image Stabilization system (body & lens) as well as 5-Axis HYBRID O.I.S.+ (Optical Image Stabilizer Plus) for video modes. Other features include an OLED EVF, a tilting 3.0" LCD monitor, as well as Wi-Fi and NFC integration for sharing files and/or using the smartphone or tablet as a remote control / display for the GX8. The MSRP on these is just under $1,200 (body only), but you can often find these on sale for less than $1,000.

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Nikon D7200

Nikon D7200

The Nikon D7200 features a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter (OLPF) and the EXPEED 4 image processing system capable of shooting 6 frames-per-second for up to 18 RAW 14-bit images or 100 JPEGs. It also shoots Full 1080/60p HD videos and 4K time-lapses, includes new Picture Controls, and has a wide 100-25,600 ISO range. Built-in Wi-Fi & NFC allow this DSLR to transfer files to the Nikon Snapbridge app on iOS and Android devices and/or allow you to turn your smart device into a remote control. Pick up the Nikon D7200 with the 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens for less than $1,300.

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Canon EOS 80D

Canon EOS 80D

The Canon EOS 80D is very similar to the EOS M5 ILC in terms of specs and performance features, but this Enthusiast DSLR has better in-hand ergonomics plus has access to a much larger family of EF and EF-S lenses without an extra adapter. Features include an all new 24.2MP APS-C CMOS image sensor, DIGIC 6 image processor, a 45-point AF system with Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, 7,560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, Full 1080/60p HD video recording, 3.0-inch touch screen Vari-angle LCD display, burst shooting at up to 7fps, and built-in Wi-Fi with NFC technology. Pick up the Canon EOS 80D with the EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS kit lens for less than $1,400.

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FujiFilm X-T2

FujiFilm X-T2

Fujifilm's X-T2 is a premium, weather-sealed ILC with a 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor capable of 4K video recording, the X-Processor Pro engine, and several Film Simulation modes and filters; all stuffed into a body with their signature retro styling. Its 325-point / 91-zone AutoFocus system is fully customizable, with users given access to settings for Subject Retention Characteristic, Acceleration / Deceleration Tracking Characteristic and Focus Zone Characteristic. Other features include a 2.36M dot OLED EVF, a 3.0" 1.04M-dot tilting LCD, several film simulation modes including ACROS, and built-in Wi-Fi for transferring files and turning your smartphone into a remote control for the camera. Pick one of these up for less than $1,900.

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