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Old May 23, 2008, 10:50 PM   #1
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Hi,

I'm new to this site. I need some help choosing my first DSLR. I've poked around the "What Camera should I buy?" forum and although my question is similar to another thread, I decided to post a new thread anyway so I am able to get specific advice.

As I mentioned at the start, I'm looking to buy my first DSLR. I currently own two Canon P&S cameras (S400 and SD700IS). They are great cameras but I am a beginning to get frustrated with its limitations. I've tried changing the settings but the pictures still do not turn out the way I want them to. For example, I want to take a picture with a blurred background. Yeah, I can take a regular picture and doctor it with photoshop. But I rather take a picture and leave it as is - untouched.

Anyway, I am heading to the Rocky Mountains soon and I know the scenery will inspire me to take all kinds of shots. Wildlife, flowers up close, the mountain scenery. I also like taking candid shots at weddings. I'm not sure if a P&S can do all of the things I want.

I have been eyeing the Canon XSi but because it's new, it's a tad pricey. So I have turned my attention to the Nikon D40x and D60. My friends with DSLR cameras all have Nikon so I have seen samples of their work and I am impressed with the quality. I have always been happy with the quality of the pictures from my Canon P&S but what about DSLR?Nikon has AF built into the lens and not the body. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I don't know if it matters, but my hands are rather small. Some have said that Nikons are better for smaller hands. Probably best if I went into a camera store and just tried them out.

What's stopping me from putting down $$ for a camera is .. will the camera last me a fair number of years? P&S cameras become obsolete very fast and depreciate just as quickly. I don't want to start trading in DSLRs on a yearly basis.

If you need more information, just ask. I know I've been rambling above.

Pudge
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Old May 24, 2008, 12:04 AM   #2
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I would suggest you visit a shop and handle all of the different brands/models. If possible go to a real camera shop with employees who actually know something about photography.

My first step is to get hands on which usually enables me to cut the field of candidates down based on feel, comfort, layout, etc. When you've got it narrowed then compare the options and merits of each against what you want to achieve.

If you like the Canon Xsi but don't want to spend that much then you may look at the Xti. The Xti is the model being replaced by the Xsi. It is a great camera and can be had for a very resonable price.
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Old May 24, 2008, 7:54 AM   #3
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Welcome to the forums.

Actually, from what you say you want, a P&S digicam will work well for you. The only thing that you mention that would require a dSLR is "I want to take a picture with a blurred background." That requires a camera with alarger sensor and a lens with a large aperture so you can get a smaller depth of field than a P&S digicam can give. And on that subject, the large aperture Nikon lenses don't have an autofocus motor built in, so they would be manual focus lenses when mounted on a D40, D40X and D60.

But picking and learning a dSLR and it's lenses can be a lengthy process that you may not have gotten very far into before your Rocky Mountain trip. Depending on how much time you have between now and then, you may be jumping into the deep end if you commit to a dSLR, and you may be dissatisfied with the photos you come back with. This might be like rushing to get your driver's license so you can compete in the Indy 500. The results might not be what you're hoping for.

But if you're up for the challenge, here goes.

Any dSLR will do what you want and do it well. These are some of the things that distinguish one dSLR from another.

Most of the dSLRs with a reasonable price tag (<$2500) have APS-C size image sensors (about 2/3 the size of a 35mm film exposure) except the models from Olympus. They use a 4/3image sensor that is about 1/2 the size of a 35mm film exposure. That makes their camera bodies smaller and lighter than most others, and for equivalent angles of view, their lenses are smaller and lighter as well. The downside of the Olympus dSLRs is that, because of the smaller image sensor, the depth of field can't be made as small as it can on the others. Also, since the 4/3 system is new, there aren't a lot of leses for it, it's not well supported by third party lens makers, and there aren't many lenses available on the used market.

A big reason to select one brand of dSLR over another is the selection of lenses and accessories, and Canon and Nikon have everybody else beat on this. There are more Canon and Nikon film SLRs and digital SLRs already out there, and third parties make stuff that they can sell to the broadest market, so they make more stuff for Canon and Nikon than for any other manufacturer. The only real exception to this are the Nikon D40, D40X and the D60. Since these dSLRs don't have their own autofocus motors, only lenses with their own autofocus motors will autofocus on these camera bodies. That's about half of Nikon's own lenses (which doesn't include some of their large aperture lenses that would give you the shallow depth of field you say you're looking for) and only a handful of lenses from third parties, and only a handful of lenses on the used market.

Olympus, Pentax, Sony, and the Nikon D40/D40X/D60 have smaller selections of lenses. And while the selections for Olympus and the Nikons is fairly broad, the selection for Pentax is better for wide angle lenses while the selection for Sony is better for telephoto lenses. Also, Sony and Olympus lenses can be quite expensive, and while there is a reasonable selection of reasonably priced third party lenses for the Sony, that can't be said for the Olympus and the Nikon D40/D40X/D60.

A popular feature in dSLRs is Image Stabilization (IS), which eliminates (or at least reduces) image blur due to camera shake.The manufacturers have picked from between two different ways to implement it. Canon and Nikon use Optical IS in certain lenses, which makes them bigger, heavier, and more expensive. This system works better with extension tubes and some teleconverters, and projects a stabilized image to the the viewfinder, but not many OEM lenses have it, few third party lenses have it, and almost no used lenses have it.

Alternatively, Pentax, Sony, and most Olympus dSLRs use Sensor Shift IS, which is built into the camera body and therefore works with all lenses (OEM, third party and used.) But it doesn't work as well with extension tubes or some teleconverters, and doesn't project a stabilized image to the viewfinder (except the 'Live View' systems in Pentax and Olympus dSLRs.)

Another distinguishing characteristic within dSLRs is the speed of the autofocus system. Most are fine for average uses, but for fast moving subjects (sports/wildlife/children) the concensus seems to be that the Nikon d40/D40X/D60 and the Olympus models are not up to the task.

'Live View' is also a popular feature among dSLRs. 'Live View' is the ability to compose shots via the LCD panel on the back of the camera. You may be familiar with 'Live View' from your P&S digicams, but implimenting 'Live View' in a dSLR is a little more complicated. SLRs have been around for a long time, and most SLRs have their autoexposure and autofocus systems in the optical viewfinder, so many dLSRs can't use their autoexposure and autofocus systems while using 'Live View'. Some manufacturers have duplicated the autoexposure and autofocus systems in the 'Live View', while others have created 'Live View' systems that work through the optical viewfinder. The advantage of using the optical viewfinder for the 'Live View' system (the way that Sony did it) is that the tried and true autoexposure and autofocus continue to work as they always have, but because of all the extra hardware, the image in the optical viewfinder is smaller. Other manufacturers use the main image sensor to obtain the 'Live View' image, and some have created autoexposure and autofocus systems to work that way, but after prolonged use, the image sensor gets hot and creates thermal noise in the image. But whether it has Optical IS or Sensor Shift IS, this system presents a stabilized image to the 'Live View', unlike Sony's 'Live View'system.

Generally, the more resolution the better. But as manufacturers pack more pixels into a smaller area, the problem of noise becomes more pronounced. For instance, the Nikon D40 (6MP)has less of a noise problem than the D40X/D60 (10MP), and the Canon XTi (10MP) has less of a noise problem than the XSi (12MP). But the noise problem only really occurs at higher ISO settings, so if you can keep the ISO setting down (below, say, 1600) then you should be clear. And higher resolution is better for post processing (cropping, retouching, etc.)

So, once you've figured out what you're looking for and narrowed your selection down to a few, then you should go to a good camera store and try them out. If a camera doesn't feel comfortable in your hands, if you can't find the controls and commands when you need them, then you're going to miss some great opportunities.

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Old May 24, 2008, 11:45 AM   #4
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Pudge-

TCav raises an excellent point. The first thing to do is to establish the budget that you want to allocate for your camera. Secondly, please realize there are a goodly number of point and shoot digicams that produce really great photos. Thirdly, as previously mentioned, go to a shop where you can handle the top cameras on your "might be" list of cameras.

I own and teach with 5 different DSLR cameras, as I am a professional digital camera instructor. However, when I travel, which I do 10 to 11 months per year, I carry a light, handy digicam such as the Panasonic TZ-5 or Nikon P-80 (an excellent camera for small hands by the way, which I also have!).I don't like having to carry a DSLR with several lenses and an external flash. I want excellent photos, but I also want to travel light.

So please spend a bit of time to consider, how much equipment you want to carry? If you desire a wide angle (excellent for landscape photos) and/or telephoto capability? And most important of all, how much you really want to spend? That will put you on the pathway to a much better camera decision.

Sarah Joyce



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Old May 25, 2008, 8:50 AM   #5
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You've been given some good advice here. Getting your hands on them is important as some people prefer one over another right away (I know I did). Another thing to make sure you like is the viewfinder - you'll be spending a lot of time looking through it, and the Sonys with the better live view sacrifice viewfinder space.

As far as lens selections go, the other thing I like to mention with the Pentax is that they can use any Pentax lens ever made. So often you can find excellent lenses on the resale market for better prices than new ones (they used to be downright cheap but unfortunately the word is out and prices have gone up significantly. There are still good buys out there, but you have to work harder for them). As far as new lenses go, Pentax has an excellent line-up of prime lenses (lenses of a single focal length), and have been recently putting out a nice selection of zooms. Both Sigma and Tamron make lenses for Pentax so there are a number of lower priced options available. Remember that while Canon and Nikon have larger selections of lenses, in some cases they have two versions of the same lens, one with stabilization and one without, while Pentax, Sony and Olydon't need to since their stabilization is in-camera. Also, if a manufacturer offers the lenses you want, then it doesn't matter how many other lenses they might or might not offer (unless you change what you want to shoot). In general, all of the manufacturers offer lenses that will cover most people's needs, though some are more expensive than others.

The other thing to realize is that all camera manufacturers put out new dSLR cameras about every year to 18 months, so if you want the "latest and greatest" you'll be replacing them almost as often as a P&S. On the oter hand, if you are happy with what you have, why change? My first dSLR camera is still going strong over three years later, though with a different owner (it was a Pentax dSLR without in-camera SR, and I found I really wanted a long lens but needed image stabilization to use one). So it isn't like you HAVE to keep replacing it, but it might be hard to resist all the new features the manufacturers keep adding on to their cameras.
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Old May 25, 2008, 4:46 PM   #6
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Just a side note, neither DSLRs or Point and Shoot camera's become obsolete, your needs just change. My (well, I actually gave it away) 2001 model 2MP fuji fixed focus camera still takes great pictures, my needs just changed and wanted zoom, and now I want the DOF and low light capability that only a DSLR can give.

If you buy a DSLR, instead of replacing the whole system as you had to do when buying a new P&S, you just have to buy new lenses (which cost anywhere from the price of a decent P&S to thousands of dollars)

Only when your needs change substantially, for example when you want to do sports photography and need faster burst shooting, will you have to look at a new DSLR body.

Just to put in my 2c, I'm buying the Canon XSI tomorrow, and from what I've read, it seems to have even less noise at high iso than the XTI.
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Old May 25, 2008, 10:06 PM   #7
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First of all, I want to thank everyone for your advice. It has been very helpful and much appreciated.

I went to a camera shop yesterday and I tried the Nikon D40, D60, Canon XSi, and Canon 40D. I really liked the feel of the Nikon cameras - they were small enough for my hands. However, the grip on the Canon XSi felt more secure. It has the "rough" grip in the right place.

The salesperson I spoke to recommended the Nikkor AF-S 18-70MM F3.5-4.5 lens to go with either the D40 or D60. Both were very nice. The self-cleaning system in the D60 was a nice to have feature. It looked like a decent starter package. The salesperson felt that Nikon lenses were better than Canon's. I was concerned about the lack of AF motor in the body but that seems to be a problem if you have older lenses - and I don't have any.

I looked at the D80 but after hearing about some of its features, I felt it was more than what I really needed. It has this wireless flash synchronization feature where you can synchronize multiple flashes in one shot. I don't plan on doing a lot of flash photograph - at least not in the near future. So I wouldn't be taking advantage of that feature.

From a Nikon perspective, the D40 or D60 looked like something that would suit my needs. The salesperson did say that the D40 (6MP) is likely to take a better picture than my SD700IS (8MP). So the D40 isn't something I should rule out. I can't see myself blowing pictures up (beyond 8x10) but cropping/retouching, yes.

The Canon was nice and selling very well. The 40D was a bit overkill and heavy. They didn't have an XTi for me to try out but the XSi was quite nice. The salesperson did not recommend the XT. The XSi was a bit heavier and a slightly bigger grip - not a huge deal for me since I'd shoot with two hands all the time. I like the fact that it has a live view finger and the storage media is now SD (instead of CF). I can use my existing SD cards without having to spend more on accessories.

I don't think I'll be buying one before my trip to the Rockies. I'm not one to buy anything under pressure. My fear is that once I commit, I am essentially buying into a specific brand or line. It can become an expensive hobby. But you have given me much to think about and more to consider. Before going into the store, I was leaning towards the XSi. I've always had Canon and liked the image quality that the P&S cameras produced - between my two cameras, the S400 produces better results than the SD700IS. But the Nikon D60 felt good in my hands and from the reviews and photo samples, I actually like the Nikon D60 image quality over Canon XSi. Those I know who pursue photography as a serious hobby, own Nikons. I feel like I'm being disloyal to Canon.

mtclimber - that pic you posted is exactly the kind of picture I want to shoot! Is it only possible with a DSLR?

Cheers,

Pudge





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Old May 25, 2008, 11:01 PM   #8
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Pudge- I also own a SD400 along with my SONY Alpha 300 DSLR. The shot Mtclimber took is easily done using the Digital Macro function on the SD400. Keep your hands steady, get close to your subject, push the shutter button half way down to bring subject in focus, and click away.

I would post a photo, but I am having difficulties doing so. I have gotten amazing photos from my Macro function on the SD400. Try it out! Good luck on your camera decison. :-)
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Old May 26, 2008, 8:40 AM   #9
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Pudge-

The photo that I posted was from a Panasonic LZ-8 8mp, 5X optical zoom camera that sells for just $149.00 at www.buydig.com.

There are plenty of very fine digicams that take beautiful, very sharp, high quality photos that rival the output of some DSLR cameras for a whole lot LESS money.

It sounds like a DSLR for your uses may indeed be a bit of overkill that does not warrant the kind of expense. However, you know your personal needs and I am sure that you will make the correct choice.

Sarah Joyce

Here is a photo from the new Nikon P-80:



Here is another photo taken without flash inside a restaurant using the Pana sonic LZ-8.


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Old May 26, 2008, 6:36 PM   #10
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I'm not going to run down camera salesmen, but I think anyone thatsays Nikon lenses are "better" than Canon is eitherreflecting their own preference or which camera system gives them a better commission. Both Canon and Nikon have produced some really awesome lenses, and both (like every other camera/lens manufacturer) have produced ones that aren't so good - you really need to take the lenses on an individual basis. Many reviewers have said that the kit lens that came with the XT wasn't as good as Nikon's kit lens, but you can easily upgrade the lens to a better one. And I think I read that Canon has a new kit lens that they are selling with the XSi.

I do agree that the Nikon D40 is a very good camera - the 6 mp sensor they use it in it is very capable (it's supposed to be the same Sony sensor Pentax uses in their K100, a camera I own and love). It's quite good at higher ISO levels, so it is good in low light.

I still think the best thing to do is buy which one that feels best to you, and don't worry about feeling disloyal to Canon if you buy Nikon. There are all kinds of people who will prefer the Canon.
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