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Old Feb 9, 2008, 5:31 PM   #1
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Been chugging along the past several years with a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P73 (stifle those snickers), but have out-grown what it's capable of and would like to venture into DSLR territory. Let's start with the pertinent info:

Criteria
Budget:
$550-700ish

What's Important: Macro shots (I'm a computer hardware reviewer), low light performance, action shots (sporting events, particularly basektball), and all-around performance. I'm high on bang/buck, with reasonable room to grow.

Features: Good image stabilization seems to top my list, but I'm admittedly basing that on the oops-poor performance of the above Cyber-Shot. Automatic dust removal sounds groovy, provided it's not a gimmick. Would prefer 10MP and auto-focus.

Models I'm Considering (Listed by Preference)
Olympus E-510: Looks feature-rich on paper, light-weight, and attractively priced. As of this moment, I'm leaning towards this one. Any reason I shouldn't be?

Sony A100 (or A200): Seems to be an all-round solid performer, if not excellent. But I also notice it wasn't listed among The Best Cameras.

Pentax K10D (or Samsung GX-10):
Another solid performer that appears to fit my criteria, and I like the weather-proofing. One area of concern is I've read a couple of different reviews complaining of dust, despite the built-in dust removal.

Nikon D40x:
Seems to trigger bang/buck recommendations in the DSLR arena, with praise for its quick shutter, but appears light on some of the features mentioned above. Lack of in-camera image stabilization has me concerned.

Canon XTi (or XSi): Another apparent favorite in my price range, and perhaps more versatile than the Nikon? Here again, the lack of in-camera stabilization has me concnered.

Final Thoughts
I'm not likely to invest in a separate lens for some time, so out-of-the-box performance becomes crucial, and why I favor in-camera image stabilization. But hey, if I'm putting too much stock into this feature, please let me know. As a point of reference, without using a tripod, I struggle to get blur-free pics and closeups of hardware I'm reviewing, and the limited winter lighting (I'm in Michigan) means I spend more time retaking pics than I'd like. This also has led to some disappointing family pictures in good light situations.

Coming from a basic 4.1MP Cyber-Shot, I'm fully aware that any of the above models will be leaps and bounds ahead of where I'm at. But being my first venture into DSLR territory, I'd really appreciate hearing some thoughts before tossing a dart at my wall of choices.

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Old Feb 9, 2008, 6:06 PM   #2
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Any of those cameras should serve you well. None will be great for true macro work out of the box, as this usually takes specialized lenses or extension tubes. You may really want to consider a tripod, as hand holding macro shots doesn't give reliable results, and stabilization doesn't work real well for macro either (nikon recommends turning off VR on it's VR enabled macro lens for macro shots!!).

You really should hold all of them, try them out and see which one feels the best. If you're really concerned about future growth, Nikon and Canon offer the clearest and most complete upgrade paths, and large amounts of easy to find lenses (although the D40 is limited in the lenses it can use), alhtough sony seems to be moving to fill in gaps in its line. If moving up to pro level equipment at some point in isn't in the cards, then you really can't go wrong with any of the cameras on your list. If you can't get quality results with these cameras, it's not because of the camera.
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 6:28 PM   #3
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One4yu2c wrote:
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What's Important: Macro shots (I'm a computer hardware reviewer), low light performance, action shots (sporting events, particularly basektball), and all-around performance. I'm high on bang/buck, with reasonable room to grow.
While the list of cameras you're considering will all do fine for what you have in mind, none of them will perform well out of the box.

Asrjseeney has already pointed out, Macro shots require specialized equipment. You might be able to get along with some good quality close-up lenses, but you also might need a macro lens or extension tubes. It really comes down to what you mean by 'macro'. Do you want to shoot watches or watch parts, flowers or insects, chips or solder joints?

Low light is also tough with the kit lenses, as is basketball. You will need a lens with a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8 for indoor/low light, and at least f/2.0 for indoor/low light with a shutter speed fast enough for action shots.

Any dSLR will give you room to grow where the only limit is how much you are willing to spend. This is in stark contrast to the limits inherent in other types of digicams. Considering the long list of objectives you have, $550-$700 won't get you very far. I think you should list your priorities, and identify any compromises you are willing to accept in the short term.
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 6:30 PM   #4
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Each of the top three cameras you list, all with image stabilization, is an excellent camera, but it's going to be difficult to get high quality sports performance with any of them with the supplied kit lens (lenses)--especially since you mention basketball as a key sport. The problem is light. Each of these three cameras has a top-end ISO of 1600.

I shoot a Pentax K10d. To get enough light to shoot a decent shutter speed for basketball, I have to use either an f2.8 lens (extremely well lit gyms) or an f1.4 (really poorly lit gyms). Dedicated Canon sports shooters often use an 85mm f1.8 for basketball. (I'm not as familiar with low-light lenses in some of the other lines.)

Most kit lenses are in the f4.0-5.6 range. This will generally not give good results for any type of low-light photography. Low-light lenses tend to be quite a bit more expensive than kit lenses. The cheapest AF lens I have that is f2.8 or lower cost me a little under $ 200. The Pentax equivalent to the Canon 85mm f1.8 is a 77mm f1.8, and it generally sells for about $600. (wish I did own one, lol)

An option you might consider if budget constraints don't allow investment in a solid low-light lens is to look at cameras that allow a wider ISO range. The lower-cost Pentax K100d, for instance, has a ceiling of ISO 3200 on a 6MP sensor. It's replacement, the soon to be shipped K200d offers the same ISO on a 10 MP sensor. The trade-off, however, is higher noise levels. You will need to plan on using noise reduction software as a part of your post-processing technique if you go with a high-ISO option.

Some people make up for the lack of a low light lens by using a strong flash. However, a quality flash is going to cost you as much as a low-light lens, and you will find places that a flash is not welcomed.

I am a big believer in in-camera stabilization. It allows you a great deal more flexibility in limited light, and you don't have to pay for stabilization each time you buy a lens.

Good luck in your decision. You're asking the right questions.
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 6:38 PM   #5
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All of these cameras take great pictures, but they aren't all the same animals. Several things that you might want to think about:

First, while the various kit lenses are reasonably good, none of them have true macro capability. How small and how far away do you want to be from your subject? If you are photographing small components, then I would highly recommend getting a macro lens that is capable of doing 1:1 (not all lenses that are identified as "macro" are capable of that). Or else you should plan on buying extension tubes or dioper filter/lenses. I've played around with extension tubes and "close-up filters" and decided that I really wanted the ease of a dedicated macro lens. Mine happened to cost me $250 this past summer - I could have bought the same lens a year ago for about $150 (prices of Pentax lenses have gone up that much). Mine was an old/new lens - a lens that hasn't been made in a while, but the one I bought hadn't been used before.

Thenext thing that came to mind when I read what you want to do is to highly suggest some type of separate flash. I happen to have a K10 and do lots of macros. I got a flash for Christmas (in the past I avoided flash because I never really understood about guide numbers and how to use one properly) and have been surprised at how much they add to macros. One of the things I've been doing with the Pentax K10 is using the flash unit wirelessly, with the on-board flash controlling it - no wires to worry about and with the modern flash systems, you don't have to worry about a whole bunch of settings (the camera handles it for you). While a friend of mine says that Nikon has the best, most advanced flash system, I don't know if the D40X would have the same wireless flash capability.

It seems to me that the Oly and Sony A100 have more noise in their higher ISO sample photographs. This might or might not be important to you - the best thing is to look at the sample photos here to see what you think. If you'll rarely use anything faster than 800, I wouldn't worry about the differences.

I'm not impressed with the dust removal systems so far. But then, dust hasn't been much of a problem for me - the best thing to do is practice changing lenses with two hands, having the new lens already ready in one hand, and putting it on as you take off the old one. Make sure you have your back to the wind!!! I have both the K10 and K100 and while it does seem like I have to blow off the K10 fewer times than I do the K100, it just isn't an issue with me (and I'm always changing lenses!). So far any dust I've had has gone away with a couple of puffs of a rocket air blower. I wouldn't rule out any camera just based on this.

The weather sealing on the K10, especially with one of the more expensive weather sealed lenses, really does work pretty well. I can personally attest to that ( http://forums.steves-digicams.com/fo...mp;forum_id=80). But I wouldn't go snorkling with it.

The Nikon d40x doesn't have a motor in the camera for focusing (one of the reasons it is so light). That means that you'd need to make sure that whatever lenses you buy have the motor in the lens (they tend to be heavier and more expensive), so not all Nikon lenses would Auto Focus. Just my opinion, but auto focusing for macro pictures isn't as useful as I would have thought - my first macro lens was auto focus and it had such a long way to go through it's focus range that I didn't use it much. I pretty much always manually focused it.

As far as bang-for-buck, I think the K10 gives you the most featuresfor the price- everyone is selling off their stock because the newly announced K20 is coming out. It's got a number of controlson the camera body - great for quickly changing things, but not so great for someone who doesn't want to think about it all, whois looking foressentially abetter point-n-shoot camera. The A200 could be interesting - especially if Sony improves the noise reduction at higher ISO levels without sacrificing too much detail, compared to the A100. TheOly is light-weight, offers goodquality lenses and excellent features. The d40x is another light camera with more limitations feature-wise, but is still quite capable of taking excellent pictures and would be a good choice for someone looking more for a point-n-shoot/foolproof camera. The Canon is always a big seller.

Best thing to do is go to a camera store and handle all of the cameras. There's a big difference in size and weight of these cameras, so you might find one of them more comfortable for you to use than another. That's really important since the best camera in the world won't take a good picture if it is in your closet because you hate to use it.
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 7:23 PM   #6
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You are missing the most important criteria of a camera, ergonomics! If it doesn't feel right in your hand and to your eye you won't like it no matter how good the specifications are. If the camera feels too small or too large in your hand you won't feel comfortable during a long day of shooting.

The buttons and menus have to feel intuitive and in the right place for you. Are the basic settings easy and quick to change? Or are the critical ones buried in menus? Do you have to painfully twist your hand to change certain settings? There is nothing worse than fumbling with the camera just to change a basic setting while the photo opportunity slips away.

The quality bar for DSLRs is about the same so it all boils down to system availability, does that brand have the tools you will need, and ergonomics, does it feel right.
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 7:39 PM   #7
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Thanks much to everyone that's taken the time to respond thus far. To say it's been helpful would be an understatment.

To clarify a few points and address some of the questions posed, I'm still debating my order of priorities, and contrary to the impression I might have given, I do know not to expect a budget priced, do-everything-wonder-camera. But knowing what it's like to give advice in a particular area and now being on the opposite end, I didn't want to short anyone on details.

Regarding priorities, I'm pretty much decided on in-camera stabilization. I've been using a tripod for in-house pictures, but I don't take it with me doing activities with the family, and the Cyber-Shot really struggled with the slightest movement. And if nothing else, this helps narrow my list down.

Concerning low light conditions, I really should have said lower light. I'm not snapping pics in extremely dim lit conditions, dank basements, etc. I'm more referring to somewhat overcast days, where it's still bright enough that you wouldn't turn the lights on in your home.

I'm still researching, comparing, and reading posts, but as of right this instant, I'm debating between the Olympus E-510 and Pentax K10D. Mtngal, point taken regarding automatic dust removal (not a big concern of mine, but it's coming down to nitpicking features), and if anyone else has any compelling reasons of one over the other, I'm all eyes.

On a related note, when I talk about macro performance, I don't need to see the hair in a spider's nostrils. Here are some comparative shots (with the Cyber-Shot) that I'd like to improve upon without having to invest in a separate lens.:


Blurry, dark, and just not a quality shot.


Passable for my purposes, but took way too many attempts to get a usuable shot.


Quality isn't great, and again, took too attempts for this end result.


Self explanatory
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Old Feb 9, 2008, 7:56 PM   #8
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One4yu2c wrote:
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I'm still researching, comparing, and reading posts, but as of right this instant, I'm debating between the Olympus E-510 and Pentax K10D.
Between the two, the Pentax has a better, and less expensive, selection of lenses for what you want to do. You might also want to consider the new K200D, it has the 10MP image sensor and a number of otherimprovements over its predecessor, the K100D, including better image stabilization. It also has shooting modes that you might find familiar from your current camera, and that the K10D doesn't have.

As to macrophotography, a macro lens should be sufficient for your purposes. You might be able to get along with close-up lenses, but one of the obstacles in macrophotography is poor light, and close-up lenses on a kit lens won't help with that.

But I agree with everyone else here that has told you that you really need to try them out to see if they fit.
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Old Feb 10, 2008, 8:10 AM   #9
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You may get passable macro shots from any of those cameras out of box, but as I mentioned before, a dedicated macro lens will go a long way in helping capture those shots. Also, remember, stabilization is not as useful for macro. With the razor thin DOF, (sometimes only fractions of an inch) you'll never get consistent results relying on stabilization and handholding. A tripod is a must for real macro work. Also, mtgal, make s a great point about lighting. Without a seperate light source, you'll continue to get dark images.
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Old Feb 10, 2008, 9:32 AM   #10
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Regardless of which way you go on your camera choice, something you might find useful for this kind of small, detailed shooting is a lightbox. Recently, in another discussion, a link was posted to a DIY lightbox that is both inexpensive and easy to build.

http://www.pbase.com/wlhuber/light_box_light_tent

I used these plans to construct one in just a few minutes and have been very pleased with the result.

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