Darxus

[photo] Which DSLR you should get.

[photo] Which DSLR you should get.

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2009-09-29
I just wrote this for [info]drwex and figured I'd put it here in case anybody is interested and hasn't read any of my babbling. The short short short answer is probably "Canon Rebel XTi / 400D unless you really want the thumb wheel and ISO 3200 which is really pushed 1600, then get the 40D".

My guess is that you'll be choosing between a Canon XTi for availability of compatible parts to swap with friends, or Nikon D200 for its UI. (Or Canon XSi / Nikon D300 if you want to wait for availability of the just announced replacements). I've never actually played with a Nikon UI.

Canon makes very fine equipment but they charge for their name because they can and they're stingy about features, particularly like weather sealing. Also, everybody has them, and it's great fun being able to swap lenses and stuff with everyone. Including the people in the Boston Strobist group.

Pentax, in my opinion gives you the most for your money. Good equipment with lots of features. They happily give out water-proofness that puts Canon to shame. Their set of lenses (DA*) aimed at competing with Canon L lenses are supposed to be very nice, and also water proof.

Nikon is in the middle of what you get for your money, plus everyone agrees they have the best user interface. Also, you're familiar with them. I could see that being enough.

I tried real hard to not go with Canon, due to what they give you for your money and their stinginess, but in the end, having a teensy bit more confidence in their hardware, plus the ubiquitousness of it, won over Pentax's features and value.

I never really considered Nikon, because the additional expense over Pentax made me feel it wasn't worth not being able to swap gear with everyone who has Canons. But, you being a UI guy, and your familiarity with Nikon, I could see you getting one. Talk to Ringel, ask him why he originally went with Nikon and ended up switching to Canon. Er, I think it's as simple as he liked Nikon more but he ended up needing Canon to work with his photography business partner.

I was really excited about the Pentax K10D. There is an issue where if you're shooting in light where you really need flash, and don't use flash, with dark tungsten (standard household) light, autofocus screws up. But if you just pop up the flash to use for auto-focus assist even with the flash disabled the problem goes away. So basically it's an issue that never affects anyone. To the extent I'm still not sure it's not common in every DSLR. Part of the reason I went with Canon was because I was sure it would be a few years before the Pentax K20D was released, because I felt they had more work to do in other areas first. The K20D was just announced (I was wrong). I haven't looked into it much.

http://www.dpreview.com/ is an excellent place to get lots and lots of info. The discussion boards on that site are often mocked because of the foolishness that occurs there.

I was excited about the Nikon D200 briefly before I discovered Pentax. The D300 was just announced.

I'm going to assume you want a body with a kit lens. If you have enough preferences that you'll buy just a body and any lenses separately, well, you can figure the differences out.

[info]cathijosephine: Are you okay?
[info]darxus: Yeah, why?
[info]cathijosephine: You're breathing kinda heavy over there.
[info]darxus: I'm writing to Wex about DSLRs.

I'm also assuming you don't want to deal with used.

Equivalent cameras in the range I purchased: Canon 40D, Nikon D200/D300, Pentax K10D/K20D.

Canon's bottom of the line is the Digital Rebels. Anything but the very oldest of the Rebels will probably do everything anybody would really need. So anything beyond that is extra bells and whistles and gadgets for your amusement. So it's mostly a question of how much you feel like spending on toys.

Canon just announced the Rebel XSi (in the U.S.), aka the 450D (everywhere else, and to photo geeks). It's not available yet. It'll probably be a couple months.

Prices of stuff that's currently available, from pricegrabber.com which is useful, shipped:

Canon Rebel XTi aka 400D: $569
Canon 40D (what I have): $1,374
Canon 5D: $2,725
Pentax K10D: $733
Nikon D200: $1,575

The Nikon comes with a wider zoom range lens than the rest. And you can get it with a 18-200mm (27-300mm full frame (like film) equivalent) for $1,956. Realization of that lens was the first point I strayed from Canon.

The 5D is Canon's cheapest full frame (I didn't go into the pro bodies - those don't even get put out in the locked glass cases in the nice stores). So there's the price if you want to decide if full frame is worth it to you yet. My personal opinion is that the 1.5x crop used in every other DSLR will eventually become obsolete and replaced by full frame only / entirely because I believe we're close to hitting the sensitivity limits of the smaller sensors. I saw some interesting math somewhere that said for the extra bit depth (number of possible colors) of the 40D's cropped sensor to be useful, you would need to reduce its resolution, or vice versa. But right now full frame is just way too expensive.

XTi: 4 directional arrows
40D: Thumb wheel which I love

XTi: ISO 1600
40D: ISO 3200 which is 1600 pushed (yes you can achieve the same with the XTi less conveniently)

Max shutter speed:
XTi: 1/4000th
40D: 1/8000th

Burst rate:
XTi: 3 frames per second
40D: 5 fps or 3 fps - I wondered why until I realized how hard it is to shoot a single frame at 5 fps :)

Shutter actuations:
XTi: 50,000
40D: 100,000
(Number of pictures you can take before the shutter is expected to die.)

And other than the build quality / feel of the body, that's really it for the differences between the XTi and 40D. And I just looked over a side by side comparison of features.

Number of pixels these days is pretty much irrelevant. They all have lots. Care if you're going to be doing wall posters or extreme cropping a lot.

One of the lenses I carry is an 18-250mm Tamron which is available for every major brand. Obviously not the best optical quality, but the silly 13.9x zoom range is so convenient. Also, much post-processing software will take out distortion with the click of a check box.

The other lens I carry is a Nifty Fifty, 50mm prime. I have the cheaper one. I wish I had the more expensive one with the Ultra Sonic Motor (faster and quieter focus), but when I bought it I wasn't sure I'd stick with canon. It helps me keep a little dignity while carrying a 14x zoom :)

Yes, everybody just announced stuff. There are major shows every... 0.75 years?

Other brands which I looked into just enough to decide they aren't worth bothering with in DSLRs yet are Olympus and Sony (purchased Konica Minolta), both of whom I believe are very new to DSLRs.

I expected Canon to announce a replacement to the 5D in February 2007. Among other things this means it's a little behind on technology. Other than that I expect Canon's next camera announcement to be a 50D in February 2009. I don't track anybody else's releases this close.

Canon EF-S lenses only work on digital / cropped sensor Canons (not including the full frame 5D). EF lenses work on both digital and film. EF-S tends to be cheaper and include focal length ranges more useful for digital cameras.

The "S" in EF-S stands for "Short back focus", meaning the rear most lens is closer to the digital sensor than in the EF lenses.

I pre-ordered my 40D before it was available and have not regretted it in the least.

Post processing software I uses is Bibble Light. Because it is really the only option under Linux. It has a free downloadable trial version and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Shoot in RAW, not Jpeg. Zeph thought I was crazy for shooting RAW because it takes up more memory card space than Jpeg, until she saw what Bibble can do with RAWs. If you are un-convinced... scratch that, regardless of everything, watch the Bibble tutorial videos: http://bibblelabs.com/learn/

Feel free to ask questions. I think [info]cathijosephine is about ready to kill me for not coming to bed yet.
  • i'll second about everything here :)

    a number of people in "our crowds" bought directly into the 40D or otherwise upgraded immediately. a ton of people have 30D, 20D, and some are still running 10D. they seem pretty bullet proof. also a lot of rebels :)

    i had been saving for a 5DmkII which wasn't released last august 2007, and i had immediate need for a dSLR for some fire photography and camping; the 40D doesn't disappoint and the kit lens is "pretty good" - they're basically giving you a huge discount on your first stabilized lense. want to sell it? you'll make $100 perhaps and still make someone a fine price. there is speculation that the 5DmkII will be coming out in 30 days... the typical Canon release cycle is every 18 months, except some models are older than 2 yrs now, and iirc the cycle was broken on one other model.

    i have the expectation that full frame will be common in a few years. part of the reason why i'll only buy a few full-frame select prime and zoom lenses. i might buy ONE very wide angle ef-s, it's not cheap either, and can easily be resold later (or kept). don't forget the 1x vs 1.6x difference between full-frame and cropped sensors (free telephoto ;)

    CD or SD cards? they've announced huge and spectacular SD cards lately, and they run cheap. SD cards seem slower to me in general over CF, so you'll want to buy premium ones if you take a lot of pix in a row. buy brand name too imho. i've zorched a couple SD cards, but never CF. ymmv.

    bibble indeed rocks.

    jpg vs RAW. if you're shooting something hard, tricky, or very special, and you have lots of storage, a fast computer, and free time, go RAW. if you're shooting a lot of pictures (for the web, for sales, nothing critical or special, or you are a shoot and forget kinda person), you can shoot jpg only - heck - just set the image size to 2k and forget it. if i continue to shoot some of the things i do, i WILL need a pocketful of 4 or 8 GB cards, and a faster computer to process those RAW. 21st centure, and i'm [still] developing pictures.

    at least on the 40D (and i think they others), if you use any of the "preset modes" you can only shoot jpg anyway. if you shoot semi or full manual, you can choose between RAW only, RAW+jpg, and some other options. there's also a half-sized RAW format to save space (it's compressed).

    the 50mm/f1.4 basically can shoot in the dark. it's ... pretty fast and very amazing. for the price, it's pretty darn nice and built quality is superb.

    #
  • everyone agrees they have the best user interface

    *raises hand as someone who isn't everybody*
    i absolutely LOATHE nikon's UI. UI is a very personal thing -- i think everyone should try things out themselves, because what's intuitive for one person is very not for another.
    i found your Xti vs. 40D comparison interesting, and useful, in that your reasons for choosing the 40D aren't compelling for me personally and make me more sure i want to go with the Xsi at some point this year.
    • You really are the first person I've heard that disagreed with that Nikon UI statement. I really need to play with one some day. And I totally agree everyone should play with everything they can before deciding.

      It's nice that my babbling was of use.
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