Get better gear, for less
Sony Alpha 58 with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 SAM II lens
Sony consistently produces genuine bargains in DSLR kits, and this year is no exception. While its $598 price might say entry-level, the specs say step-up: 20.1MP APS-C sensor; 2.7-inch tilting LCD; bursts of 5 fps; ISO 100–16,000; sensor-shift IS; 1920x1080p60 video; 1.44-million-dot EVF. The transmissive-mirror technology promises extra-fast autofocusing in all modes. (Watch for good deals in two-lens kits, too.)
Nikon 24–85mm f/3.5–4.5 AF-S VR
Nikon added Vibration Reduction, exotic glass, weather-sealing, and a superquiet AF motor to the third generation of this full-framer, and they add up to make this $597 lens a fine deal for Nikonians. While it has a slowish variable aperture, the faster alternative, the non-stabilized 24–70mm f/2.8G AF-S Nikkor, will whack your wallet for nearly $1,300 more.
A $797 price seem steep for a fixed-lens compact? It’s a positive bargain compared with others in the APS-C sensor class. The GR put up very strong numbers in our lab tests, and in the field, its controls are just plain cool.
Manfrotto MK394-H tripod kit
A great light-weight ’pod for all-around use at a great price, $100. The four-section aluminum legs use thumb-operated flip locks—our favorite type. Maximum height is 56.7 inches, and the 7.7-pound load will suit most entry- or mid-level DSLRs with not-too-big lenses. Of the three MK394 models, we like the H, whose quick-release head is suitable for stills or video.