What is the Best Compact DSLR on the Market?

Today, all of the major camera manufacturers are offering a wide range of compact DSLR cameras targeted towards photographers of all experience levels that want to venture into the field carrying a kit that is lightweight and compact, but is still capable of capturing high-quality images. For those on the hunt for the best compact DSLR on the market today, look no further. I’ve got you covered!

The best cameras in this category include the Nikon D3300 and D7100, which are cropped sensor cameras, as well as the Canon 6D, which is a full frame camera.  In the case of the D3300, the targeted market is the entry-level DSLR photographer, while the more expensive D7100 is marketed towards the more experienced photographer.  The Canon 6D is marketed towards the experienced photographer looking for a compact full frame camera.  Only one can be the best, so let’s take a look at which one is the best of the best!

Similarities

As the three cameras target difference segments of the market, they share few similarities beyond being compact DSLR cameras.  In the case of all three cameras, the bodies are small and lightweight, although not identical in size and weight.  The D3300 is the smallest at 4.9” x 3.9” x 3.0” and weighs 14.5 ounces.  The D7100 measures 5.3” x 4.2” x 3.0” and weighs 23.8 ounces.  The 6D measures 5.7” x 4.4” x 2.8” and weighs 25.7 ounces.

The few other similarities they share include the use of CMOS sensors, the ability to capture still images in JPEG or RAW format, built-in sensor cleaners, use of viewfinders that provide between 95% and 97% coverage, live view, the ability to record still or video images on SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, a fixed LCD screen and the ability to record HD video in MOV format.  Al three cameras are capable of shooting in a variety of settings including automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual.  They also have a variety of preset scene modes as well.

Differences

As one would expect due to the cameras targeted market and price points there are a number differences between the three cameras with one of the most significant being the use of a full frame sensor measuring 35.8mm x 23.9mm in the Canon 6D.  Both the D3300 and the D7100 both use the smaller and less expensive DX sensor, which has a crop factor of 1.5X.  This sensor measures 23.5mm x 15.6mm and is quite capable.

Other significant differences include the total number of megapixels found in each of the cameras, total autofocus points, and the speed of the cameras.  The Canon 6D only has 20.2 effective megapixels compared to the 24.2 found in the Nikon D3300 and the 24.1 found in the D7100.  The D7100 has a total of 51 autofocus points compared to the 11 found on both the D3300 and the 6D.  While all three cameras are capable of capturing and processing images quickly, the D7100 is fastest at 6 frames per second compared to 5 frames per second on the D3300 and 4.5 frames per second on the Canon 6D.

Other differences include ISO range, shutter speed, LCD screen size and number of card slots.  In the case of ISO capabilities, all three cameras have a low native ISO of 100, with the D7100 only going to 6,400, while the D3300 goes to 12,800 and the 6D goes to 25,600.  In the case of the D3300 and D7100, the ISO can be expanded up to 25,00, while the ISO range on the 6D can be expanded down to 50 and up to 102,400.  The D7100 has a shutter speed ranging from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds compared to the D3300 and 6D, which have a range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds.  The D7100 has a slightly larger rear LCD screen measuring 3.2” compared to the D3300 and 6D’s screen, which measure 3.0”.  Finally, the D7100 has two memory slots compared to the single slot found in both the D3300 and 6D.

Pros and Cons

As there is no such a thing as a perfect camera, the consumer needs to look at the merits of each camera and carefully weigh the “pros” and “cons” of each camera to make the determination of which camera best fit their needs.

In the case of the D3300, the biggest “pro” of the camera is its low cost, which represents an excellent value for such a capable camera and lens combination.  While simple to operate, the camera is advanced enough for the photographer to still use as their skills develop.

The biggest “con” of the D3300 is the camera may actually be a bit too compact for photographers with larger hands.  This may result in the camera feeling uncomfortable to shoot with over extended periods of time.  However, it is very well balanced with the kit 18-55mm VR II lens attached.

The biggest “pro” of the D7100 is the cameras excellent autofocus system, which is quick and accurate.  Another great feature of the camera is the built-in U1 and U2 settings on the dial, which allow the photographer to save, preferred settings in the camera and instantly recall them by turning the dial.  This feature is a very practical feature in the field.

Like the D3300, the biggest “con” of the D7100 is the compact size, which may be too small for photographers with large hands.  When using larger lenses, the camera may not feel well balanced and may require the use of a monopod to assist in keeping the body and lens steady.

In the case of the Canon 6D, the biggest “pro” of the camera is that it uses a full frame sensor, which generally provides better image quality, especially in low-light situations.  As with the D7100, the 6D also has a C1 and C2 setting on the dial that allows the photographer to recall settings programmed into the camera.

The biggest “con” of the Canon 6D is the camera’s cost, which is more expensive that the D3300 or the D7100, but is still substantially cheaper than larger full frame DSLR cameras offered by both Nikon and Canon, as well as the other major manufacturers.  Another negative of the 6D is the lack of a built-in flash, which both the D3300 and the D7100 both have.

Just the Facts, A side-By-Side Comparison

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Nikon D3300, D7100 and Canon 6D all have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Nikon D3300 Nikon D7100 Canon 6D
Year Introduced 2014 2013 2012
Format DX DX Full Frame
Megapixels 24.2 24.1 20.2
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS CMOS
Processor EXPEED 4 EXPEED 3 Digic 5+
Image Format RAW and JPEG RAW or JPG RAW or JPEG
Sensor Size 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6 mm 35.8 mm x 23.9mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes Yes
Auto-focus Points 11 51 11
Modes Aperture Priority (A), Auto, Auto (Flash Off), Manual, Programmed Auto With Flexible Program (P), Scene Modes, Shutter-Priority (S) Aperture Priority (A), Auto, Auto (Flash Off), Manual, Programmed Auto With Flexible Program (P), Scene Modes, Shutter-Priority (S) Aperture Priority (A), Manual (M), Program (P), Shutter Priority (S), Special Scene
Metering Matrix 3D 3D Color Matrix Metering II TTL Metering With 63 Zone SPC
View Finder Coverage 95% 95% 97%
Live View Yes Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 5 6 4.5
ISO 100-12,800 100-6,400 100 –25,600
Lowest Expandable ISO N/A N/A Lo-1 (50)
Highest Expandable ISO Up to 25,600  Up to 25,600 H1 (51200)

H2 (102400)

Shutter Speed Range 1/4000 to 30 Seconds 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds 1/4,000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash Yes

 

Yes No
Card Slots 1 2 1
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDX SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC
LCD Size 3.0” 3.2” 3.0”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed Fixed
Video Full HD Yes, Full HD Yes, Full HD
Video Type 1920 x 1080p at 60/50/30/25/24p 1920 x 1080p at 60/50/30/25/24p 1920 x 1080 at 29.97p, 23.976 or 25p.  Other Types As Well
Video Format MOV MOV MOV
Internal Autofocus Motor No Yes No
GPS Optional Accessory Optional Accessory Yes
Wireless No Optional Accessory Yes
WIFI Optional Accessory Optional Accessory Yes
Battery EN-EL14a Single EN-EL15 LP-E6
Unique Features Black, Red or Grey Body U1 and U2 Settings, Magnesium alloy body C1 and C2 Settings, Mostly Magnesium Alloy Body
Size Without Lens 4.9” x 3.9” x 3.0” 5.3” x 4.2” x 3.0” 5.7” x 4.4” x 2.8”
Weight Without Lens 14.5 oz. 23.8 Ounces 25.7 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand Japan
Body Only or with Kit Lens Sold as kit only  Sold as body only, as well as several kit options Both Options Available
Included Accessories EN-EL14a Battery, NH-24 Battery Charger, UC-E17 USB Cable, EG-CP14 Audio/Video Cable, DK-25 Rubber Eyecup, AN-DC3 Camera Strap, BF-1B Body Cap, NikonView NX2 CD ROM EN-El15 Rechargeable Battery, MH-25 Quick Charger, UC-E6 USB Cable, AN-DC1 Strap, DK-5 Eyepiece Cup, DK-23 Rubber Eyecup, BF-1B Body Cap, BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cap, NikonView NX2 CD ROM Lp-E6 Battery, LC-E6 Battery Charger, Eyecup, AVC DC400ST Stereo AV Cable, IFC-200U USB Interface Cable, EW EOS 6D Wide Neck Strap, Software Disk
Cost, Body Only NOT Available $799.95 (Body Only) (Check out the latest discounts and prices.) $1,499.00 (Check out the latest discounts and prices.)
Cost With Kit Lens (Lens Varies) $649.95 with 18-55mm VR II Lens (But check out the latest discounts and prices!) $1,099.95 with Either 18-105mm VR or 18-140mm VR Lens Varies Depending On Lens

*Information from Nikon USA and Canon USA websites, including pricing.

Overall Recommendation

While they target different segments of the market, the Nikon D3300, D7100 and the Canon 6D are all excellent cameras and represent the best of the compact DSLR cameras on the market today.  As good as they all are, I prefer the Nikon D7100 because it offers the best combination of more advanced features and capabilities in a very affordable package.  In the type of photography I do, I find the D7100’s DX sensor very capable and prefer the more advanced autofocus system, two card slots and the U1 and U2 settings in the D7100 over Canon 6D’s full frame sensor.

Robert Alexander
 

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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