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Old Dec 21, 2005, 8:17 AM   #1
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I am looking for a digital SLR that will be suitable for outdoor use. I train dogs so I need to be able to freeze them in motion without blurring and be able to zoom from distances out to about 100 yards. The camera I buy needs to be very user friendly and have auto settings as well as manual. I would like to be able to switch lenses also. Hopefully I can stay in the $1,000.00 or under range. Any suggestions??
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Old Dec 22, 2005, 1:22 AM   #2
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Well, if you get an SLR, then the fast shutter speed (necessary to freeze them in action) and the long focal lengths (necessary to get good shots from 100 yards away) depend on the lens, not on the SLR itself. All dSLRs have automatic modes and can switch lenses. They're not terribly user friendly, but you can leave them on auto mode until you learn how to use each of the adjustable manual parameters.

To freeze an animal while it's moving around, you need fast shutterspeeds. If you're outside during the day, this should not be a problem with almost any lens. Indoors and/or in the evening, it's trickier to pull off, and you'd ideally want a faster lens.

For the far-away shots, you'd need a lend with a long focal length, something like 300mm to 500mm. A nice one of those is fairly expensive, but a "Starter" one can be had for quite cheap.

If you have a budget for an SLR and some lenses, it is usually the case that you can get a nice SLR and cheaper lenses, or a cheaper SLR and nicer lenses. I say, get a cheaper SLR and nicer lenses. Beginner SLRs are really not that different from professional SLRs - the profesional ones have better burst modes, slightly faster focusing, and higher resolution (but even the resolution in starter SLRs makes for really great pictures, given the low pixel density in the sensors). Cheap lenses, however, make for significantly fuzzier and blurrier images than those made by nice lenses. So I stronly suggest that, if your needs require some specialized lenses (which they do), then spend your money on the lenses, not on the SLR body.

As to the specifics of the lenses... Will you need to take fast-shutterspeed ("freeze the motion") shots in poor lighting conditions (indoors / evenings) or just when outside during the day? If you need this in poor lighting conditions, then get a fast lens, one with a widest aperture of f2.8 or under, preferably more like f1.4 or f1.8. There are lots of fairly inexpensive but very good 50mm lenses that are that fast. A 50mm lens on a digital SLR gives you a field of view equivalent to about "2x zoom" on most fixed-lens digital cameras, which is ideal if you're a few meters away from your dog. If you're very close to your dog, though, then a wider field of view would be good, but fast wide lenses are pretty expensive. However, digital SLRs do well at high ISOs, so if you don't want to spend money on an expensive fast lens, just crank up the ISO and/or get yourself a nice flash (or just use the built-in flash, which should be more than good enough if you're close to your dog).

For example (and I was just writing about this on another thread), Canon makes a 50mm f1.8 lens ($75) and a 50mm f1.4 lens ($410). If you want to go wider, Canon makes a 35mm f1.4 ($1000), and Sigma makes a 30mm f1.4 ($400) and a 20mm f1.8 ($400). Again, I would recommend a 50mm lens, unless you need the wider (20mm, 30mm, 35mm) field of view (which you won't need unless you are within a few feet of your dogs).

As for the long lens... I think Canon and Sigma make the best long lenses for the money. In fact, I chose to get a Canon SLR because my area of photography (aircraft) requires long lenses, and Canon had the biggest variety of good long lenses, and the best long lenses in my budget. Canon's long lenses go from nice and quite inexpensive 75-300mm lenses ($180, or $500 with image stabilization) to my favorite, the stabilized 100-400mm ($1400). Sigma also has a few excellent long lenses, like the 70-300mm ($200), the versatile 28-300mm ($250), and the famous 170-500mm and 50-500mm ($730 and $970 - two favorites of aviation photographers).

(If you're a pro, or just have tons of money, Canon has the very fast and very sharp f2.8 70-200mm, f4 300mm, f2.8 300mm, f2.8 400mm ($1700, $1100, $4000, $4000), and Sigma has the 100-300, 120-300, etc ($2000-2500). Canon's 20-300mm is a little more expensive than Sigma's, at $2200 - Sigma's is $250, about 11% the price).

Myself, I only have 2 lenses, the versatile Sigma 18-200mm (good for everything except when a LOT of zoom is needed - this is already an exceptional 11x zoom, although it is not so sharp at the wide-angle end or at wide-open apertures) and the lovely, stabilized, and quite sharp Canon 100-400mm (equivalent to 600mm on my digital SLR, perfect for shooting airplanes. The primes (300mm, 400mm, apertures of f2.8 and f4) may be a little sharper, but they're way expensive, and I like the flexibility of the 100-400 range). I'm thinking I want a fast lens too, for parties and other such events, and it's probably going to be one of the Sigmas I mentioned (the f1.8 20mm or the f1.4 30mm), or I might just replace my Sigma 18-200 by the stabilized Canon 17-85.

I probably just went way over your head (or way too fast in any case), but your photography needs are extremely similar to mine, and I just did a whole lot of research, so I thought I'd share it. I hope it is helpful.
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