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Old Sep 22, 2009, 12:14 PM   #1
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Default Thinking About A DSLR? Here is Some Info for You

Hi Folks-

With more and more posters here on the forum beginning to think about possibly purchasing a DSLR camera and this being close to Christmas time, it three month away right now. Let's begin a thread that will provide some general information that all potential DSLR buyers might want to know.

What camera manufacturers produce the most popular DSLR cameras?

You should be sure to take a look at all of the consumer level DSLR cameras available. Those major manufacturers would be: Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sony.

What are the more popular current consumer level DSLR camera models produced by these major camera manufacturers?

Canon - The XS (also called the EOS-1000)

Nikon - The D-3000

Olympus - The E-420 and the E-520.

Panasonic - The L-1 and L-10

Pentax - The K-2000, or KM

Sony - The A-230

Do you purchase just the DSLR camera body and then add the lenses that you desire?

Actually a DSLR camera, generally speaking, can be purchased in three ways. (1) Just the DSLR camera body alone. (2) The DSLR camera body and what is called the "kit lens." Kit Lenses are a money saving value, as they are usually substantially reduced in cost by the camera manufacturer to sell that DSLR camera body. (3) The DSLR camera body and usually two lenses. This is usually called "a two lens kit." Once again, this can be a money saving situation if the lenses offered are lenses that you will make a lot of use of when taking photos with your new consumer level DSLR camera.

A lot of potential DSLR camera buyers are not used to speaking about their lenses by referring to their focal length (always expressed in 35mm term). So let's learn more about lenses and how to interpet their uses.

The expression 6X or 10X, or 15X terminology is not widely used in the DSLR world. Instead, lenses are described by their focal length, in 35mm terms. Another important factor to consider when discussing interchangeable DSLR lenses is what is called the MULTIPLIER FACTOR.

When only a single focal length is used as a focal length description rather than a set of two numbers representing a focal length range, the single number is a fixed focal length lens, as it does not zoom. This category of lenses are also called generically, "Prime Lenses." An example would be a lens described as "a 50mm lens." The single number tells you it is a fixed focal length lens or another description is "a prime lens." In contrast, if a lens is described as "a 18-55mm lens" Firstly, you know it is a zoom lens because of the two numbered focal lengths that are used in the lens description.

OK, now why is this MULTIPLIER FACTOR thing important when considering lenses?[COLOR=#333333][FONT=Verdana]

Because the actual physical sizes of a consumer level DSLR camera's imager vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer, consumer level DSLR cameras can have a MULTIPLIER FACTOR of 1.5, 1.6. or 2.0.

Let's take a look at those numbers and delve into that a bit more deeply. The commonly untilized Canon Brand kit lens for a consumer level DSLR camera using its APS-C type imager is the Canon EF 18-55mm lens. Canon has a 1.5X MULTIPLIER FACTOR, so that kit lens, if we were to multiply the focal length by the crop factor of our proposed DSLR camera (1.5X in the case of Canon) will effectively give you an effective focal length on your proposed DSLR camera of 27mm to 83mm of focal length in 35mm terms. Nikon and Pentax use also use 1.5X MULTIPLIER Factor, and Olympus, because they use an even physically smaller imager, use a 2.0X MULTIPLIER FACTOR.

We call any lens with an effective focal length of around 28mm and less, in 35mm terms, a "wide angle lens." A lens with an effective focal length, in 35mm terms, of say 55-200mm (a rather common focal length) is called a "mid range zoom telephoto lens." And finally a lens with an effective focal length of say 200-500mm, in 35mm terms, is called "a long zoom telephoto lens."

All lens are described by their singular focal length, or their zoom focal length range, expressed in 35mm terms. So you must apply the MULTIPLIER FACTOR of your proposed consumer level DSLR camera to see what range that lens will cover in your camera.

Why are some lenses called "fast" lenses? Are there also "slow" lenses?

"Fast lenses" are lenses that have as their largest aperture, an aperture greater than or larger than F 3.5. Lenses whose widest or largest aperture is less than or smaller than F 3.5 are therefore called "slower" or "dimmer" lenses. If you want to shoot photos with your consumer level DSLR camera in a low light photo environment or without flash when there is much less light, so you will, in most cases, need a "fast" lens and to use numerically high ISO settings to capture a well exposed photo. Naturally as you might expect, "fast" lenses will cost more, and "slow" lenses will cost less.

What about IS or image stabilization?

The following camera manufacturers have consumer level DSLR cameras that employ "in body" IS or image stabilization: Pentax, Olympus, and Sony. The IS or image stabilization mechanism surrounds the actual imager, and by using a gyro warning scheme it physically adjusts the positioning of the imager to compensate for inadvertent DSLR camera movement. Therefore, on consumer level DSLR cameras using "in body" image stabilization, all lens installed on those DSLR camera bodies will gain the benefit of image stabilization.

On the other hand, Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic sell individual lenses with IS (or that particular manufacturer's name for IS) incorporated into each individual lens. Naturally, as you might expect lenses with an IS (or that particular manufacturer's name for IS) feature built into the lens, will cost more than lenses that do not have the IS feature built into the lens.

What does "camera handling mean when we speak about consumer level DSLR cameras?

"Camera handling" simply refers to how the DSLR camera feels in your hands as you are taking photo, be it for a short time or a long time. Because physical hand sizes do vary from DSLR camera to DSLR camer user, how the DSLR camera feels in hand and how easy it is to reach and operate the DSLR's camera controls is VERY IMPORTANT. We urge any prospective DSLR buyer to go to either a "big box" or a camera store and to physically handle each and every consumer level DSLR camera that you are considering.

What about flash on a DSLR camera?

Just like point and shoot cameras, consumer level DSLR cameras currently all have a built-in flash units. However, keep in mind that these small built-in flash units, even on a DSLR camera, don't have much power (therefore the built-in flash units on DSLR Cameras have a measurably shorter Flash Range, just about equal to the best built-in flash units on Point & Shoot cameras). However, every consumer level DSLR camera also has a hot shoe on which an external flash can be mounted. The three advantages of an external flash are: (1) greater flash range ( in other words, more power), (2) a flash head that tilts, and (3) a flash head that also swivels so that bounce flash lighting can be used by either tilting or swiveling the flash head.

This is getting rather long, but it is probably only the beginning. If I missed something, or got something wrong, please chime in with a post. All in all, I have attempted to get all assorted and diverse information into a single post. Hopefully perhaps this collected information will be useful to prospective DSLR buyers. So for today, let's finish here. We will add more data based on your questions and the posts that you make to this thread, so it might expand a lot. I hope this information is helpful to all of you considering a DSLR camera.

Sarah Joyce
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Old Sep 22, 2009, 2:35 PM   #2
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Great post Sarah.

Two minor points.

Firstly (as I am sure you know) the Canon crop factor is 1.6x not 1.5x.

Secondly, I also used to use the expression "effective focal length" to mean the 35mm equivalent focal length after the crop is taken into account. In fact this is wrong. "Effective focal length" has a specific meaning, and broadly refers to what you would calll the "actual focal length". It was someone on this forum who corrected me. (TCav I think.)


So it is much better to use the expression "equivalent focal length" to refer to the 35mm equivalent. A useful shorthand I have seen is to append "-e" to the end.

So for example: an 18-55 mm lens on a crop can be referred to as a 28-88mm-e lens.

The notion of 35mm equivalence is simply one of convenience and is generally held to be useful to re-state the angle-of-view in simple terms; how much one sees by using that focal length. The full details however are far more complicated - if one wants to achieve a more precise notion of equivalence there is a lot more to take into account.

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Old Sep 22, 2009, 4:57 PM   #3
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Very nice guide.
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Old Sep 22, 2009, 6:25 PM   #4
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Great post Sarah. Brief, to the point...you have provide info. that those interested in getting their first DSLR should become familiar .

One camera you may want to add later, is the new Pentax KX. News of the introduction of this camera was very recent, as I'm sure you know.

I bought my Pentax KM/K2000 back in April. With all these new features that the KX has, I almost wished I had waited a bit, although my KM is a great little unit.

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Old Sep 22, 2009, 8:09 PM   #5
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A Noble Effort well executed. Thank you for doing this.

As a former techical writer, subject matter expert, and author of training materials, I could spend a lot of time nitpicking, but I won't bother. What I will say is that, as with many people with a long history with photography, you took the "35mm" and "multiplier factor" much further than the shopper of a new consumer level dSLR might need them. In fact, they are crutches for those of us who have a lot of experience with 35mm film SLRs, and mean little to someone shopping for a dSLR, and nothing to someone that has just purchased one. All that really matters is "angle of view", and trying to associate that with knowledge of 35mm film cameras that your intended audience doesn't have, only serves to confuse the issue.
  • The lens is the thing.
  • 'Full Frame' is the new 'Medium Format'.
  • "One good test is worth a thousand expert opinions." - Tex Johnston, Boeing 707 test pilot.
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Old Sep 22, 2009, 11:28 PM   #6
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Actually...as a newby, I followed that post without having a 'my head hurts' feeling. (and maybe I missed something..lol)

The question I would ask is 18 -55mm how does that compare to a X times zoom...etc.
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Old Sep 23, 2009, 12:43 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by littlejohn View Post
The question I would ask is 18 -55mm how does that compare to a X times zoom...etc.
The X times zoom as you refer to it is a ratio of the low end to the high end, or 55 / 18 = 3.05 So its essentially a 3X zoom.

In terms of zooms for dSLRs the general rule of thumb is about 4. The reason why 4 is used, is that its is a zoom range that provides a reasonable amount of zoom, but also does not compromise the optical quality of the lens design.

For instance a 18 - 250 lens is almost 14X zoom (250/18=13.8) It provides a lot of versatility, however if you stretch that range across 2 lens (18-55, and 50-200 or 50-300) you receive a set of lenses that are usually have a much better set of optical quality (or image quality). That said, of course the single lens usually is better for walking around (less equipment to haul around), so there are trade offs to be made.

Sorry, about the long answer to your short question...
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Old Sep 23, 2009, 3:44 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by littlejohn View Post
The question I would ask is 18 -55mm how does that compare to a X times zoom...etc.
This is an indication that Sarah's explanation missed its mark.

The "X times zoom" is just the ratio of the shortest focal length to the longest. The 18-55mm lens would be a 3X zoom, but since dSLRs have interchangeable lenses, the "3X zoom" doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, the 18-55mm lens is a 3X zoom, but so is a 100-300mm lens, though the angle of view each lens gives is quite different. P&S Digicams only have one lens, so the "X times zoom" is all there is, and it doesn't tell the whole story there either.
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Old Sep 23, 2009, 9:03 AM   #9
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You started an excellent thread.

You might also want to add a couple of more things.


1). Why are prime lenses superior to zoom lenses?

2). What does macro exactly mean (1:2, 1:1 etc...)?

3). Why are 100m (35m eq.) (+/-) lenses perfect for portrait?

3). What specific range do you need for your primary regular purpose?

To me, it took a while to figure out what range I need. I found out I use a wide angle a lot (<28mm: 35mm eq.). That's one of the reasons why I chose Olympus. Because, a kit standard zoom lens for Olympus is 14-42mm (28-84mm:35mm eq).
Also, when I used the Canon10D w/100-300mm slide action zoom lens for my kids Soccer game, the lens became very handy because of 1.6x crop factor (160-480mm). But, Canon's wide angle zoom lenses are expensive. You might need to go with the L lenses for that purpose.

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Old Sep 23, 2009, 9:09 AM   #10
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Very nice thread. A couple additional things I would add - Sarah I hope you don't mind me adding to your excellent thread. T-Cav, Sarah etc feel free to chime in.........

Also in the thoughts below I reference Sony Cameras because that is what I use. These things all apply to the other major brands as well. Me and Jim C may be bias towards Sony but their are a lot of good shooters that use Cannon, Nikon and Olympus etc

1.) If you on a tight budget be on the look out for models that might be being discontinued after their life cycle to make way for newer cameras. Example the Sony A700 is rumored to be on its way out at the end of the year so prices may start to drop as a replacement model for it is named..... same thing happened with Sony's A200, A350 when the A230 etc where brought out.

2.) With DSLR type cameras the lenses are inter-changeable. When you take off a lens you are temporarily exposing the sensor (the CCD or chip or whatever you'd like to call it) to the elements. So one thing I found is you need to plan to have a lens that in the elements such as smoke, sand, heavy blowing wind etc that can do the job without having to switch lenses all the time. You also need tp lan where and how your gonna change your lenses when you find yourself in the elements. I found that sometimes a longer zoom such as 28 - 300 or 55 - 200 is a better chose in the elements than a shorter zoom because of the possibility of dust and dirt etc if I have to change the lens. If the sensor gets dust, dirt etc on it you may need to have it cleaned or have to clean it yourself. With point and shoot and advance point and shoot cameras the lens is built in and the sensor is never exposed

3.) Battery Power I was nervous when I moved up to my Sony A200 from a Fuji S9100 about having enough battery power to do the job. I was using 4 to 5 sets of 2500 and 2700mha rechargeable batteries over the course of a weekend to do photo assignments etc. So at first I thought I might nee to buy 4 or 5 batteries for the Sony. I quickly found out that the batteries for the Sony A200 last a lot longer than a set of AAs and also hold more of their charge longer as well. It varies by battery but I found that 1 set of the AAs I was using is about 1/2 the life of one of the Sony batteries (or battery pack whatever you want to call it).

4.) Memory Card - Memory Card Speed. One thing that surprised me was how much faster a DSLR would shoot frame to frame and also in burst mode. A faster memory card can come in very hand with a DSLR camera. If you plan to shoot action and use the burst mode you should look at getting a 133x speed or higher card, sandisks extreme III etc. It may seem very minor but as I found out testing the Sony A200 and now an A700 is that with the 133x card I can shoot on burst mode for about 5 seconds at full speed before the buffer and card slow the framing rate down slightly.... with the extreme III I can shoot at full speed until the card is full. Also if you shoot a lot of action since the DSLR crop of cameras tends to be fast frame to frame etc you will have a chance to capture more frames so you will need ample memory to handle that. Their are two theories have several smaller 1 and 2GB cards (don't have all your eggs in the same basket) or have a larger card like a 16GB card.

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