Where have all the cheap dSLRs gone?

The Canon EOS Rebel T3 has me meditating on the state of the budget dSLR market.

Canon EOS Rebel T3

Maybe it's just my imagination, but when I first put together my roundup of cheap dSLRs more than a year ago, there were a lot more options than there seem to be now. At one point, if memory serves, I even dropped the top price criterion of body with a kit lens from $700 to $600.

Today, as I updated the story to include the review of the $599 Canon EOS Rebel T3, I found myself raising the bar to $650 and wondering why it was necessary. Granted, I'm still missing a review for one of the cheapest new cameras on the market, the $499.99 Sony Alpha DSLR-A390. But there still seems to be a dearth of options.

As far as I can tell, the blame rests on the mirrorless interchangeable-lens models (ILCs). Two of the manufacturers who used to specialize in the cheap dSLRs--Sony and Olympus--have moved the bulk of their efforts into the more expensive, and probably higher-margin, ILCs. Pentax, which used to be the champ in this league, has let its K-x languish without an update and no replacement in sight. And given its new owner Ricoh's statements about pursuing the ILC market, its doubtful we'll see Pentax resources thrown into cheap dSLRs.

That leaves Nikon and Canon, neither of which ever had its heart in the low end of the biz, but which--for now, at least--don't have mirrorless ILCs to distract them. They must inevitably succumb, however, as it seems that's where economics is driving the category.

If I thought ILCs were a perfect substitute for dSLRs, I wouldn't mind this shift. But they're not. No matter how fast they shoot, or how well their autofocus systems track, it's still difficult to shoot action without just closing your eyes and hoping for the best. I find panning with them impossible. And that's with models that are a lot more expensive than an entry-level dSLR. The cheaper models don't even offer electronic viewfinders, and they're not that cheap.

I don't mean to detract from ILCs. There's a lot of interesting innovation going on and they offer some advantages over dSLRs that make them fun and inspiring to shoot with. Especially as the cheapest dSLRs get so commoditized and, well, boring. But it also means that it's getting harder to find a fast, interchangeable-lens enthusiast camera at a sweet-spot price of about $500. Since many of the older models have reached the stage in their life cycle when the prices for unused models have stopped dropping and begun rising, more people are considering refurbished and used models.

Was this inevitable? Probably. That doesn't mean I have to like it. What do you guys think?

 

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