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Old May 15, 2009, 4:03 PM   #1
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Default dSLR Purchasing Advice Needed

Hey Everyone, thanks for taking the time to read this.

I am in the process of moving from a prosumer model (Sony DSC-H2) to a dSLR. I really enjoyed my prosumer camera and learned a lot about general photography principles from it, but I am ready to move beyond it.

With that being said, I could use some advice. For Father's Day, my wife has said that she would like for me to finally take the step to a dSLR. We are expecting our first child later this year, which provides incentive to get the camera, but which also limits my financial options quite a bit.

I thought I had gotten close to making a decision, but everything I read just makes me reconsider my options. I thought maybe someone here could help. Generally, I am going to be looking to capture my family as it grows. I figure most of the intro dSLRs will work for that, with the obvious lighting limitations when done indoors.

Beyond that, I'm a bit of a horse racing enthusiast. I know I can't afford a real "sports" set-up anytime soon, but I figure that horse racing is doable at non-professional levels. It's outdoors, during the day, and I can get very close (on the rail) during at least part of the race. Otherwise, I take a lot of horse pictures, but usually when they're standing in pastures and when I can get close enough not to really need a serious zoom (oh, and squirrels, but that's just for fun). This is by no means professional, the pics would just be for me and family, but the actual process of capturing the picture is what i find fun.

My parred down list has now grown again. I'm considering the D40/60, Sony A300 (or maybe 200), and the Canon XS. I have been leaning towards one of the cheaper bodies (D40 or maybe Sony 200) so that I could invest in external flash (for indoor family pictures) and possibly some extra glass. But then I get worried about the AF capabilities of those two or the focus points on the Nikons, the lack of live view, etc.

This has gotten to be too long, sorry about that, but any advice anyone could give would be incredibly helpful. Is it worth spending a bit more on the body, assuming that I won't be able to accessorize for a little bit (kit lens for the first year of my kids life)? Or should I go with the D40 and get the flash and maybe an additional (70+) lens? Ergonomically, I prefer the Nikon. Set-up, I prefer the Sony. But I'm not sure that Canon isn't just the best buy. Thoughts? Thanks!

Last edited by edfoxno2; May 15, 2009 at 4:05 PM.
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Old May 15, 2009, 6:10 PM   #2
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Definitely get the camera that feels best to you, a camera that's not comfortable to you will spend it's time on a shelf, doing you no good at all (regardless of how good it is).

I happily shoot Pentax so don't own any of the cameras you are looking at. Personally, I happen to like the 6 mp sensor that is in the Nikon D40, it's also in the K100 I still own as a back-up. The problem with both the D40 and D60 is that you'll always have to buy lenses with focus motors in them (they are a bit heavier and more expensive) because the cameras don't have a focus motor in them. That may or may not be a big deal to you - depends on what lenses you ultimately plan on buying and whether you mind manual focusing lenses.

The Canon's AF system on the XSi is reputed to be better than the Nikon D40/D60 but I'm not sure that the XS is enough better to be a factor.

I personally don't like the viewfinder on the Sony A300/A350 - it's smaller because of the Sony's very good live view function. Since you will be taking lots of pictures outside, live view won't be that useful for you, so make sure you can live with the smaller viewfinder. I'd prefer the A200 because of it's larger viewfinder (and you spend a great deal of time looking through it!).

You might also consider the Pentax K200 and the K20. Pentax is about to introduce a new camera and the prices of the K20 (a more advanced camera than the others) have really dropped. Both the K200 and K20 are weather sealed (the other cameras you are considering are not), which would come in very handy on a dusty track/horse arena.

All of these cameras are quite capabile of taking excellent pictures. If you eventually want to take pro-quality horse racing pictures, you'll need to invest in some expensive lenses and probably Canon would be the best choice. If you aren't so picky about quality, then go with the camera that feels most comfortable to you - that's the camera you will use most.
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Old May 15, 2009, 7:43 PM   #3
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Personally, I'd go for the A200.

The Sony's kit lens doesn't test quite as well as some of the others on MTF charts, etc. But, then again, it's got more focal range from wide to long (18-70mm compared to the typical 18-55mm). Any choice is going to be a compromise in one area or another. But, with the Sony you'd also get stabilization built into the camera body, and it can use any Minolta Autofocus lens ever made (and you've got lots of third party lenses in Minolta AF mount from Tamron, Sigma and others that would also be stabilized on a Sony dSLR body, thanks to the in body stabilization system). The A200 also has a slightly larger viewfinder compared to the entry level Nikon and Canon models (although there really isn't a lot of difference between them).

The A200 is also a fast camera for an entry level model when shooting raw in continuous mode if that's something you care about (clocking in at roughly twice as fast as the Canon XS, before and after each camera's internal buffer is full).

Compared to the Nikon, the A200 can also shoot raw + jpeg fine (whereas the D60 can only shoot raw + jpeg basic if you want a jpeg and raw file).

The Sony also has an available ISO 3200 (missing on the Canon XS). You don't want to use ISO 3200 unless you have to. But, it's there if you need it with the Sony.

The Sony models also have the ability to wirelessly control a compatible Sony flash model (for example, the HVL-42AM) using their built in flash. With the Nikon and Canon models, you'd need to use another flash in the hotshoe or one of their optional wireless commander/controller units instead.

The Sony also has a pretty good 9 point AF system that's roughly 1.7 times as fast as the A100 model that preceded it, with reduced blackout time between frames thanks to a new shutter/mirror design that helps you and the AF sensors see better to track action, as well as a faster AF motor compared to the A100.

If you care about Live View, the A300 would be a model to consider. The Sony A300 and A350 models have got the fastest Autofocus in live view compared to any other dSLR models with Live View, thanks to a unique design using a separate live view sensor in the viewfinder housing that sees the same image that would normally go to the optical viewfinder. That lets these models use their dedicated 9 point AF sensor while in live view mode.

But, because of this interesting design, they made the viewfinder smaller in order to fit in the dedicated live view sensor (it's only a tiny bit larger than the viewfinder you'd find in the Olympus entry level dSLR models). Personally, I'd rather have the better optical viewfinder in the A200 if I were choosing between the A200, A300 or A350.

As for the Canon's live view system, it probably wouldn't do you any good to try and using it for shooting action (as it's design isn't going to let you see anything between frames shooting in continuous mode due to LCD blackout issues, making it pretty tough to follow a moving subject; not to mention that it's going to focus much slower than a model like the A300 in live view mode anyway).

But, when it boils right down to it, any of these models are capable of taking great photos, and I'm probably a bit biased since I currently shoot with a Sony A700.

Some of our Nikon and Canon shooters could probably find some things they think are better about them, too.
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Old May 15, 2009, 8:17 PM   #4
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The Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di-LD is a good, reasonably priced lens that will probably work well for your race track and other equestrian shooting, and it is available for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony. For your other purposes, any of the entry level dSLRs with the corresponding kit lens, and an appropriate flash, should work well.

There are reasons to select one model or brand over another, but you haven't really said anything that would make me want to point you in one direction or another. But I will say that, as your family grows, you will probably be capturing more and more sports/action shots, and of the entry level dSLRs, the Nikon D60 is probably the least capable in that area.
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Old May 15, 2009, 8:28 PM   #5
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What is importantly is taking pictures.

And taking pictures is all about using the camera to its fullest.

If the camera doesn't feel comfortable with regards to the handhold and thumb placement the camera is not desirable. If the camera is poorly balanced (for you) it will be hard to handle and will cause problems with shooting. Do the switches have good placement and feel durable? Is the viewfinder bright, large and informative for your needs? Is the zoom ring for the lens in a natural place for your hand? Does the basic (kit) lens have adaquate range for a wide variety of shooting situations?

Personally I don't like the entry Canon cameras because they just don't feel good to me. And the entry level Nikons lack the focus motor in the body which limits the selection of older lenses which will autofocus.

Jim recommended the Sony A200. Good choice. But like him, I am biased as I am also shooting with the Sony A700. Before the A700 I used the KM5D (Konica-Minolta 5D) which was the foundation camera for the Sony A100.
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Old May 15, 2009, 10:36 PM   #6
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Wow, folks, that's some great advice in a short amount of time.

mtngal - Thanks for the advice. I had quickly been moving away from the Canons, primarily because they just didn't quite feel right to me. While I'm sure I'd still use it (because I'm obsessed with taking pictures!), this is really a hobby for me and more about fun than anything else. I doubt I'll ever really need to take pro-quality pictures, they're really more just for me to look at, share with friends, and I find it an entertaining challenge to get a really good shot of a horse in flight. Depending when I decide to buy, I'll spend some more time looking at the Pentax options, thanks.

JimC - That's really thorough advice, which is great! I'd been considering the Sony for many of the exact reasons you suggest, but for some reason people have tried to talk me out of it. I currently use a Sony (though prosumer) and I find them so intuitive to use. Much of the Sony I'm already familiar with, which would probably make it more fun out of the box. I've been concerned with the kinda low rec's on the kit lens, but I do like the range on it. I've also seen a package deal that would get me a 70-300, f/4.5-5.6 for only an extra $50, which has some appeal to it. I realize the glass isn't perfect, but I'm not sure it's not good enough for my needs -at least until I can afford better. Ultimately, though, as to the Sony, I have to decide how important live view is for me. Personally I'm not sure it's that important, but I think my wife might like it available for when she uses the camera. I definitely understand the brand-bias that seems prevalent in the camera community and will take all advice under advisement with that in mind!

TCav - Thanks for the advice re: the D60. I've been most up and down on that particular model. I feel like it's probably silly to choose it over the D40 if I want Nikon, but am afraid that's an unfounded gut reaction. You're right, at some point I'll probably be looking for more action/sports shots. I'm guessing that will be a few years off, however, in which time I might be able to afford a better camera. Right now, as a 29 year-old law student, my options are more limited. Hopefully, by the time I'm a 34/35 year-old lawyer, I can afford a big-boy dSLR! I'm trying to keep that in mind as well, since it seems as though the dSLR you start with will direct your brand choices in the future, particularly as you start buying lenses.

StevieDgpt - Again, thanks for the advice. In terms of feel, comfort, the Sony and Nikon definitely felt better than the Canon. I also found the menu system, etc. a bit clunky for me, unlike the Sony which I could fly through. I will be sure to take all of that under consideration.

Thanks again you four and if anyone else has some thoughts, I'd love to hear them. I realize this is going to be an investment and probably direct a long period of camera buying in the future (in terms of brand, needs, etc.), so I'm trying to be a responsible buyer. I'm also trying not to waste anyone's time here. This has been some great advice, but I could always use more (particularly from any Canon or Nikon users who may disagree!).
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Old May 16, 2009, 12:09 AM   #7
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Just one more detail to throw in. With the Sony Hvl-42 flash unit, you can sync it at any shutter speed up to 1/4000th of a second. I found that to be cool, and later I found it to be useful. Not a big deal, just another detail... Robert
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Old May 16, 2009, 8:42 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Hawgwild View Post
Just one more detail to throw in. With the Sony Hvl-42 flash unit, you can sync it at any shutter speed up to 1/4000th of a second. I found that to be cool, and later I found it to be useful. Not a big deal, just another detail... Robert
Actually, the HVL-F42AM should only be limited by the maximum shutter speed of the camera you're using it with (which happens to be 1/4000 second with the A200, but a faster 1/8000 second with the A700 or A900).

Other manufacturer's flash systems have a similar High Speed Sync feature (a.k.a., FP mode), for example, a Nikon SB-600 or Canon 430EX II.

But, with *all* Sony dSLR models, you have the ability to wirelessly control an external flash using the camera's built in flash versus buying extra controllers or flash units like you'd need to do with Canon and Nikon's entry level dSLR models.

Another interesting feature is that a Sony dSLR model's built in flash can still be used to wirelessly control an external flash set to use High Speed Sync. That's because the control pulses being generated by the built in flash are not limited by the focal plane shutter design, since they don't need to contribute anything to the actual exposure.

For most entry level dSLR owners, those types of things are not a big consideration (as they probably wouldn't use an off camera flash as much as someone using a more expensive dSLR model with sophisticated lighting setups using multiple flashes). But, I thought I'd point out that advantage to entry level Sony dSLR models anyway, as it may be something an individual may want to consider, depending on how they plan on using a camera system as time passes.

Frankly, any of the dSLR models being discussed would probably be fine for most new dSLR owners, including the Nikon D60. Even though it tends to get a bad rap because Nikon stripped some features out of most entry level models (using fewer focus points, no body based focus motor and more), it's still got a relatively fast AF system (for example, it should easily outperform the KM 5D for AF speed, even though it doesn't have as many focus points), and most shooters buying an entry level model are not going to be concerned about a lot of the finer differences you'll find between these systems that may be more important to others.
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Old May 16, 2009, 1:10 PM   #9
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Alright folks, I think I'm convinced. I stopped by a local store today and played with the 200 and it felt fine to me. Maybe not exactly as good as the D40 (being a bit bigger and heavier) but the ergonomics felt great. I also find that the function button/menu is really intuitive to me.

Jim - thanks for the flash discussion. One of the things that I am most interested in is various uses of flash. I find trying to figure out flash to be exciting and for taking indoor baby photos and things like that, since I hate direct flash, I do actually care about that stuff. That was excellent info.

This is a special forum and I really appreciate all of the assistance. It's great that newbies can come here and be comfortable!
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Old May 16, 2009, 2:32 PM   #10
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Make sure you're comfortable with one. Personally, I would not consider a D40 or D60 over the A200. But, they're well liked little cameras.

Also consider that if you buy a larger and heavier lens later, you may appreciate the better balance a larger and heavier body provides, since it acts as a counter weight to front mount lenses. You may want to consider getting an optional vertical grip for one at some point, too.

I also find that the function button/menu is really intuitive to me.
Sony calls that "Quick Navi" (a.k.a., Quick Navigation). It's a pretty good system for rapidly changing frequently used settings.

As for the flash discussion, Nikon actually has a very nice flash system.

The problem is that Nikon doesn't include a number of features in their entry level models that you find in their more advanced models. For example, you can use the built in flash with a Nikon D80 or D90 as a wireless commander to control an off camera Nikon flash like the SB-600 or SB-800.

But, with the entry level models like the D40, D40x and D60, you need an optional SU-800 commander (or another hotshoe attached flash) if you want to wirelessly control an external flash.

Ditto for things like a body based focus motor. Nikon doesn't have it in their entry level models like they do in their more expensive models. So, your lens choices (especially on the used market) are more limited, since they require lenses with built in focus motors for Autofocus.

For example, I just responded to a thread a little while ago where someone posted some photos taken with a Sigma 24mm f/2.8 AF lens using a Sony A200.


If you found one on Ebay in Nikon mount, it wouldn't Autofocus on a D40, D40x, or D60; since these bodies don't have a focus motor built in and that lens is going to require one to Autofocus. With a Nikon D80, D90, etc., that wouldn't be a problem. But, the entry level Nikon bodies are more limited as to some things you can do with them.

Of course, you can't expect to get everything you find in a more expensive model if you're buying the entry level cameras. But, from my perspective (and again, I shoot with a Sony A700, so I'm probably biased), the A200 has the best "bang for the buck" right now in the entry level category at only $499 for a kit with the A200 and an 18-70mm lens.
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