How to do a JSON post to Salesforce for leads?

My coworkers are interested in moving to salesforce. The web to lead capture I'm not a big fan. I would like to be able to keep our existing php scripts and post using JSON. We currently do this is pipelinedeals.com but it requires an API key to authenticate. Base on what I know of salesforce API access is only granted at the Enterprise Edition, which I cannot justify spending $125 a month per user when we currently spend $25 for full API functionality.

We are hoping to move to the basic package and still be able to post using JSON.
m2ewAsked:
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Mark BradyPrincipal Data EngineerCommented:
If Salesforce is asking $125 per user to gain api access then there is no way your will be able to use their api unless you pay. They will make you authenticate. Almost any external API will have some form of authentication and if you haven't paid up and they don't offer a free one then there is no way in heck you will get anything other than an Authentication error. I write these all the time and that is the first thing I do - Authentication control.

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m2ewAuthor Commented:
Bang on. Not ready to pay that much for an API with a small company
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