Too many cameras! So many features! Too much choice! Arrrgggrhhhh!
September 30, 2008 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Mefi photographers. Help me choose my entry level DSLR.

I just went to my local camera store to buy a Nikon D60 but I made the mistake of asking the guy in the store if there were any other similarly priced ones he recommended. He immediately recommended the Sony a350. This totally threw me I had made up my mind that I wanted a D60 no question! But the Sony A350 has a host of extra features I wasn't expecting to find with the budget I have. Here are the pros and cons of each model as I see them.

1) Glass - Nikon lenses are generally better than Sony right? But Sony bought Minolta so I can use old Minolta lenses if I want. I've also heard that Carl Zeiss makes all Sony lenses! Is that true?

2) Live view - The Nikon doesn't have it, but the Sony does. And the display is movable for shooting from the waist or from over the head! This is drawing me to the Sony.

3) Vibration reduction - The Nikon uses VR in the lens. But the Sony's VR is in the body. Technically I should be able to get vibration reduction with any lens I use in the Sony. But i would have to buy specific VR lenses from Nikon

4) Autofocus - I think the Nikon's AF isnt back compatible with old lenses. But I'm not sure about this.

Now to top it off I've started looking at the Cannon EOS 400D / XTi too! I'm a beginner photographer so I'm looking for a camera that will help me learn the nuances of photography. My budget is £500 ish give or take. I also plan to buy a longer lens before Christmas as I am hoping to spend new year in The Maasai Mara.

I'm torn and conflicted here! A decision that once was so easy has become unbelievably difficult! I would appreciate any advice or testimonies that you can provide.

Thanks in advance.
posted by gergtreble to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You are going to get a lot of answers, but much of it does boil down to a matter of preference.

Personally, I would stick with the big names of Canon and Nikon because of their selection in lenses and accessories.

As for live view, I have yet to try it, but from what I hear, it isn't revolutionizing the DSLR market (like video is doing).

And yes, for the D60, the auto-focus motor has to be in the lens or else it's a no go. Doesn't mean the lens doesn't work, just means you need to focus manually.

For full disclosure, I have a Canon XTi. I like it a lot. But if someone offered the equivelant of all my equipment for Nikon, I would try it too.

In conclusion, try all the cameras, see which one you like best!
posted by carpyful at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2008

The lens selection for Canon and Nikon dwarfs all the other brands.

It's true, the D60 will only work with AF-S lenses (that have a built-in focus motor).

VR/IS in the camera body less effective than that which is built into the lens.

Live view is not that important -- or convenient -- in my opinion.

All in all, both the D60 and the 400D are good choices. As much as I like supporting the underdog, I can't recommend going with any of the less popular brands (Sony/Minolta, Olympus, etc.) due to lens selection.

To choose one or the other, go to the store and play with them. You will probably like one or the other. When I was buying my first DSLR, I went into the store planning to confirm that I want the Canon 350D, but ended up choosing the Nikon D50 because it felt much more comfortable in my hand.
posted by qvtqht at 3:47 PM on September 30, 2008

Agreeing with everyone else re: holding the cameras. I spent months and months deciding between Nikon and Canon when I bought my first DSLR. I was leaning towards Nikon and wasn't really sure, but I can tell you what cemented it. Go to the store and pick up both cameras-- which one feels better? Which could you carry without being bothered? Which has buttons that make the most sense to you, feel-wise?

It sounds simple, but if you're going to be using it often, you want the camera to fit your hand. I bought a Nikon D200. Canons feel clunky in my hand; I don't know where to put my fingers.
posted by riane at 4:00 PM on September 30, 2008

Stick with Canon or Nikon and unless you know you absolutely have to have some specific feature just buy whatever is in your price range. Live view, vibration reduction, etc. all look nice on press releases but how much of a difference is it going to make? A camera is a camera.
posted by bradbane at 4:01 PM on September 30, 2008

I strongly recommend a s agood way to comparison shop for digital cameras. You can compare two different cameras, and also do a search for any cameras that fit your criteria. I just found the perfect camera to suit my needs using the latter method.
posted by kenzi23 at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2008

Nikon D40 owner here. Haven't used the Sony, but I haven't heard anything that would put it on my do-not-buy list. I can't really recommend one way or another, so I'll throw a few random thoughts into the mix.

Yes, Nikon has a deep stable of lenses, and yes, some require manual focusing. I do have one that I have to manually focus, but I don't find it an issue at all, having been an avid photographer since before auto-focus was common. The "issue" of some Nikon DSLRs not being able to auto-focus with certain lenses comes up all the time, but it's really not an issue. If auto-focus is important, just buy the lenses that work that way. You don't ever have to buy a lens that doesn't auto-focus with the D60.

The live view feature is becoming more common on DSLRs, and it is indeed a handy feature. There have been a few times it would have come in handy for me. If you do get the Sony, I would highly caution you to only use live view when using the eye-level finder is impossible. If you start using it as your main method of shooting, your photography will suffer. Holding the camera to your eye results in better focus (in both senses) and fewer photos ruined by shaky camera handling.

Only you can decide what camera works best for you. But, do remember you are also comparing apples to oranges, in a way. The Sony A 350 is more expensive than the Nikon D60. So you might want to compare it to the D80 instead. And this site makes me lean toward the D80 in terms of image quality, which is, after all, the the most important aspect.

And here's a comparison between the Sony A350, the Nikon D60, Olympus E420, and Canon Rebel.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2008

I ended up buying a Pentax k20d because of the shake reduction in the body instead of in the lenses as well. While Nikon and Canon are the two biggest brands in the DSLR market I think both Sony and Pentax have good offerings. With the shake reduction in the body they offer cheaper lenses and compatibility with older lenses without giving up all the new features. I have heard some people allege that the kit lenses included with the lower-end Nikon and Canon DSLRs are low quality. Also, there was a rebate and the price on the k20d was really good at Amazon.

As others have indicated, look at dpreview, go somewhere to fondle them and figure which specific attributes are most important to you in a camera. As an amateur a huge lens selection is less important than getting one or two lenses that work for what you're shooting. Decide what lens you'd like best after the kit lens and that may help you decide.
posted by GuyZero at 4:30 PM on September 30, 2008

Stick with Cannon or Nikon and you'll find it nearly impossible to make a bad decision.

I own a Nikon D50 and absolutely love it. For me, the decision came down to holding both cameras and seeing which fit better in my hand. I have large hands, so the Nikon was a better fit (Nikons tend to be a little larger than Cannons - which can be a good thing).

Don't be afraid to own a common camera. The camera is just a tool. The easier it is to find info about your camera, including tips, tricks and all sorts of first-hand info, the more able you'll be to get the most out of that tool.

Last, but not least, definitely do go to the superb The site is top notch.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2008

I was looking at the D60 for a minute, until I read this cnet review that convinced me to keep looking. Linking it because it might help you with your decision.

I felt that for the money and my needs, the Canon xsi was the way to go. But that's just me.
posted by smalls at 4:51 PM on September 30, 2008

When I wanted to get my first DSLR, I had the same problem trying to figure out which one I wanted. I was gunning for the Canon XTi because every SLR I've ever owned has been Canon... but in the end I spent a little more to get a Nikon D80. In the end, it came down to two factors.

The first, as previously mentioned, was the feel of the camera. I went to a good camera store where I could have time to try out different cameras. First I picked up the XTi, and it felt a little flimsy in my hands; then I tried a Canon 40D and fell in love with it but couldn't afford it. The Nikon D80 was a good compromise for me, as it specs out in between the two Canons I tried, and it felt good in my hands.

The second consideration for my purchase was lenses. I had a good bunch of Canon lenses from my AE1 days, but only the kit lens that came with my Canon Rebel would be compatible with the XTi, and it wasn't that great of a lens. When I looked at the lenses available from both companies, the lenses I wanted (and that I could afford) were offered by Nikon, while Canon had mostly either budget lenses or really expensive high end lenses that I couldn't afford.
posted by kaudio at 5:50 PM on September 30, 2008

I recently came into possession of a Nikon D50 (a hand-me-down from a generous friend) and am hopelessly in love with the thing, it's almost completely idiot proof. I mean, I had literally never touched anything beyond a disposable camera before this and within two months I had a photo published alongside an article I wrote. I'm not a very good source of information as I still know jackshit about any of this stuff, just wanted to chime in and say that as long as you have an eye for composition it's pretty hard not to get a great picture with it.
posted by The Straightener at 6:09 PM on September 30, 2008

I have a Sony a200 and I love the living hell out of it. I had a Minolta dIMAGE before they sold out to Sony and that camera was so awesome that I started coveting the Alpha as soon as it was released. I didn't actually *get* it until a month ago, but it's been an amazing month in my photographic life.

The in-body stabilization is a big, big turn-on for me, especially in low-light situations. I have very very very few problems with blurry images.

It's a great camera and I would recommend it highly. I have another friend who has an Alpha and loves it like her first born.

In the end, go with your gut. The camera is only as good as the photographer. Your best tool is going to be whatever you're most comfortable with. If possible, see if you know anyone with similar cameras that you can get a feel for. If you have to go in blind, just go with your gut.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:45 PM on September 30, 2008

I shoot with a Sony a100 and love it very very much. I can speak on some other things, though. I shot Canon for most of my photographic "career" (High-knowledge enthusiast), and liked it well enough.
I chose Sony for the in-body antishake, and the Carl Zeiss glass (watch out! only specially marked lenses are Carl Zeiss!). Canon and Nikon are finally catching on with cheaper antishake though.
Sony gets knocked on a bit because they're a big tech company in a specialty photo field, but the truth is most of their pro-photo is Konika-Minolta heritage. They're no pushovers, and the a100 earned several awards for design and features, improving on the old KM 7D.
Definitely keep an eye on They are extremely comprehensive and offer every little tidbit you never remembered to ask the guy at the counter.
If you have Nikon lenses, I would suggest you stick with em simply cuz it'll be easier than buying more glass and learning new factors and buttons and the like. The newer cameras need the lenses with the autofocus mirror, so listen to those Nikonians above me!
In the end, yeah, hold em shoot a little with em, compare em. But I'm gonna plug for the Sony.
posted by photomusic86 at 7:48 PM on September 30, 2008

Unless you've got fins or claws, if you hold the camera in your hands, you will decide on the Nikon. Try it!
posted by soma lkzx at 8:27 PM on September 30, 2008

Nthing going to a shop and actually feeling up the cameras; I found it immensely helpful when I was looking at DSLRs.
Something I can't reinforce strongly enough is that you're buying into a system when you pick a camera body; the body won't last as long as the lenses do and the accessories such as flashes, remotes, etc won't work across systems and will therefore lock you into a system (for the most part, unless you're taking to take a bit of a loss on resale) so keep that in mind as you purchase.
Every system will have its strengths and weaknesses-- for example Nikon has fewer wide, fast fixed focal length lenses and Canon has fewer consumer-priced walkaround zoom lenses.
    As for your questions:
  1. "Generally better" than is a hard thing to answer; each manufacturer will have stronger lenses at some points than others but I'd be hard-pressed to provide any example of a lensmaker simply outclassing another one. Put another way, everybody's got some stinkers. Sony, I believe, does allow for older Konica-Minolta lenses to be used because it's the same physical lens mount. Zeiss doesn't make every lens for Sony, but they do make some of the best ones for that system. You'll pay for it, though.
  2. When I moved from a P/S to a DSLR, I thought I would miss Live View but I haven't, really; as time has gone on I've gotten better at framing shots without looking through the viewfinder. For me, it's nice but not a deal breaker - YMMV.
  3. VR is useful for avoiding camera or lens shake but won't stop a moving subject in low light. I consider it a nice-but-not-necessary thing to have, again, YMMV.
  4. The Nikon D40, D40x and D60 no longer have focus motors in the body and require AF-S(Nikon) or HSM(Sigma) designated lenses (the letters just mean the lens has an internal motor).
Last thing: make sure you buy the one that makes you happiest; if you don't like the camera and all it ever does is remind you of a bunch of camera nerds who led you astray, you won't use it and that would be a shame.

Happy shooting!
posted by heeeraldo at 8:58 PM on September 30, 2008

I walked in for a D50 and walked out with a D40. Definitely go to a camera shop and pick up the bodies you are thinking about. One of them will jump out at you.
posted by bink at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2008

In my mind, the question you need to ask is, "how much am I going to invest in lenses?"

If you think you might buy a lot of lenses, Nikon and Canon are your only choices.

If not, I actually think you'll get a better deal with another brand, at least on an entry-level kit camera.

I bought a D40, then sent it back and bought a Pentax k100d. The D40 just didn't feel right to me. I regret it sometimes, when I look around at lenses. But then I realize that just one of those lenses would cost more than my body+18-55+50-200 kit, and I don't feel so bad.
posted by bjrubble at 12:05 AM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice guys. I'm heading back to the store in a couple of hours so I'll have a good "feel around" before I make the decision.
posted by gergtreble at 1:37 AM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: Well after going to the shop and having a play with all the models, I think I have settled on the Sony a350. I'll get more "bang for my buck" with this one. Plus I'm not looking to get a huge lens collection, the stock one plus a long telephoto and perhaps a VERY wide angle one would do. Thanks for all the valuable advice.
posted by gergtreble at 3:20 AM on October 1, 2008

I have a Nikon D70 and a Nikon point-and-shoot. I've been very happy with both. I've also had good experiences with Canon products in the past. My experience with Sony electronics has been lukewarm at best.

I looked at a lot of cameras when I was shopping for my DSLR. I had a hard time choosing between the D70 and the Canon Rebel. I looked at about a million sample images (Flickr is a GREAT help) and decided that the D70 images tended to look better to me. Canon makes good cameras, but Nikon tends to ship better default glass. That's of particular concern if you don't intend to buy a lot of lenses.

It sounds like the OP has already bought his camera, but I'd recommend that anyone referring to this thread in the future think long and hard before before buying a DSLR not made by Nikon or Canon (or possibly Olympus). I haven't researched the A350, but the Carl Zeiss name doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the best lens for the money.

Before you buy: check review sites like or, check-out a large number of sample images from each camera on sites like Flickr, and actually handle and operate the camera. Also, some photo shops rent cameras and lenses.
posted by paulg at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2008

Response by poster: Just for the record.

I bought the Sony. And I couldn't be happier.
posted by gergtreble at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2008

I came to this party late. Way late, like, nobody's here. *sigh*

I bought a Nikon D60 last weekend and I've only had about half a day to play around with it, but I'm really, really pleased with it. The only strike against it is no live view on the back LCD, but I guess I'll learn to live with it. After all, all photographers had cameras with no viewfinder before digital came around (which was only very recent), so I guess I can hack it, too.

I bought the full kit, with the standard 18-55 VR lens as well as the 55-200 VR lens. Both take fantastic pictures, though I'm thinking of selling both of them to get an 18-200 VR lens so I don't have to switch back and forth constantly, which is time consuming. So for now at least, I've got way more camera than I know what to do with, and one that will certainly last me a long, long time.
posted by zardoz at 3:31 PM on December 10, 2008

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