Need help shopping for a camera
November 15, 2009 6:14 PM   Subscribe

What is the next best camera to the Nikon D300s?

I'm doing some Christmas shopping for my dad, getting some prices in my head. I know he wanted the Nikon D300s, but that camera is anywhere between $1,300 to $1,600 --- WAY out of my budget!

I saw the Nikon D5000 which seems to be the intermediate version of the D300s. At a price tag around $800, that's something I could handle. However, I'm an audio guy, so I have no idea what the difference between an FX and DX chip is, what CMOS is (unless its the same CMOS spec for motherboards?) etc. so I have no way of effectively shopping for a good camera for him.

It should be noted, he is really good for an amateur photographer... just a fun hobby of his back in the day and was looking to get back into it. Also, I know he *reeeeeeally* has his heart set on a Nikon, so please no suggestions of a Canon X5 million plus. Thanks!
posted by FireStyle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My opinion, if sticking with Nikon, would be the d90.
posted by jazzman at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2009

Fx is a "full frame" sensor. Dx is a "crop sensor". The full frame sensor is approx. the size of 35mm film. The crop sensor is smaller. This affects all sorts of things related to the really technical aspects of photography, and to some degree the end visual result as well. Full frame sensor cameras are more (sometimes much more) expensive than crop sensor cameras, because larger sensors are more expensive, and the full frame cameras are consider to be semi-pro or pro level and will have more bells and whistles.

As an amateur photographer, I do not want anyone picking out gear for me, even as a gift. I know what I want (part of this is just my personality, as well). If I was your dad, I would much rather that someone get me a gift certificate to one of the big, really well respected camera retailers in NYC (this means Adorama or B&H), that would help me get what I really want. Gear lust for photographers can be pretty strong.
posted by dave*p at 6:26 PM on November 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Practically, you don't have to worry about cmos or FX/DX. It won't play into your decision. I would agree with Dave's advice about a gift certificate.

If you are interested in reading reviews of Nikons, go here:

One word of caution about the d5000 is that it does not have an internal focus motor, which can be a problem if your dad has old nikon lenses he would want to use. As someone stated earlier, the d90 is a nice camera.
posted by poyorick at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2009

Thirding the idea that you shouldn't buy a particular camera for him unless you're sure that's the exact model he wants. If he's really jonesing for a D300s and gets a D5000 or D90, he'll more than likely be disappointed.

You should either go the gift certificate route or, if that's too tacky, some sort of accessory. Maybe you can suss out of him a particular lens that he really wants that will fit into your budget. Again, that's something where if he's expecting a 24-70 f/2.8 and gets a 28-130 f.4-5.6 (sorry, Canon guy, don't know Nikon lenses off-hand), he'll be more disappointed and annoyed than overjoyed. Or maybe you can get something like a Kata camera bag for him.
posted by alidarbac at 7:07 PM on November 15, 2009

A camera body is the fulcrum around which everything he does, photographically speaking, will rotate. It's probably the most important decision when venturing into dSLR photography. If you're not in a position to know whether he prefers FX to DX, wants HD video, needs Auto Bracketing, etc., you probably should not be buying him a camera body. I agree that a gift certificate is the way to go, up to the maximum of your price range. Or suggest that if he buys a body, you'll get him some awesome lenses. But if you're determined to get him a camera body, go for the D90. It's in your range and it's a great DX camera.
posted by Hali at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2009

The D90 is most of the way to a D300s: dpreview comparison

Bear in mind, though, that if he wants the D300s for something like the fast frame rate, then a lower-end camera will simply lead to disappointment. What kind of photography is he into, and what's his shooting style? That might provide a clue. But really, maybe a gift certificate would be a better idea...
posted by Magnakai at 7:37 PM on November 15, 2009

If he really wants the D300, get him a gift certificate for x amount towards it. Camera dudes are very particular and if wants the D300, then he'll want the D300.
posted by GilloD at 7:47 PM on November 15, 2009

thanks for the ideas! now, i think he wants the 300s mostly cause it seems to be a bad ass camera, but he's not serious to the point that if i bought him something really close, he'd be upset. as it stands, he currently has no camera, so I'm looking for a high quality camera he can afford. If he decided he wants to upgrade later, thats fine too, but at least this could get him started!
posted by FireStyle at 7:52 PM on November 15, 2009

Agreeing with everyone else -- don't bother getting him anything less than the D300s. If he really wants it, he will not appreciate a substitute.

Some people, like myself, think gift certificates are tacky. It's your call. I would suggest you get him something else altogether (i.e. not a camera) that you know he wants.
posted by randomstriker at 7:55 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

As both my Dad and I occasionally put higher priced gear on our Christmas lists, I'd say that there are times when a gift certificate that moves part of the way towards a goal is a great gift. Camera bodies are a perfect example of this. If, as it appears, you are up for $800, you could buy a very nice camera bag, perhaps some other small accessory and deposit a $500 gift certificate in it. I think that would be very much appreciated!

I agree that it if there is a specific item in mind it is risky getting a substitute, but you know your dad better than we do. Other than for sports/action photography the D90 is most of the camera the D300s is. If you buy from a place that will allow returns for full credit for at least a couple weeks past Christmas than you could try that route as well.

Finally, are there others that would want to go in with you on the gift? That could help expand your budget.
posted by meinvt at 8:20 PM on November 15, 2009

Well... D90 would be the way to go if he was interested. It's a lighter body, it's not weather-sealed, there are fewer external controls--although a few key ones absent in lower models are still in place--BUT the guts of the cameras are similar and a good photographer will be able to get just as much out of the D90 as the D300S. It's just that the D90 is designed for the hobbyist, the D300S is designed for hard labor.

So, you will find people who will tell you your dad will be more than happy with the D90. And it may be a totally accurate assessment.

But it should absolutely be a decision he makes.

I've worked in the photo industry for a decade, and it can't be emphasized too much how particular photographers are about equipment--how it feels, the labels it's associated with, the tiniest minutiae of functionality. Even the ones who anyone else can see are better suited with something different have deep arcane ties to their perceived best gear... It is a dark hex that you do not want to tamper with.
posted by pokermonk at 8:23 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about the D300 (not 300s)? The biggest difference there that I'm aware of is that it doesn't do video, but it *does* save you a bunch of money. If your dad wants to use SD cards, though, the D300 is not for him. It only uses CF.

Apart from that, though, the two are very close, feature-wise.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2009

What is the next best camera to the Nikon D300s?

The traditional flippant answer to this is that "The BEST camera is THE ONE YOU HAVE WITH YOU". (Sorry, but I had to get this in.)

More to the point, though, the camera is merely a box to hold the imaging chip: it's the lenses that mostly determine your image quality.

So, regardless of which camera you settle upon, you will also need to do some thinking about which lens or lenses to get with it. Nikon has numerous lenses, at various quality points, at however much you feel like spending. (Me, I'd rather have one of their high-quality lenses on a cheap body than one of their entry-level lens on a D3.)

First off, you'll have to decide "DX vs. FX"; this will help you to decide upon which camera body you want. (Full-frame Nikons can use the DX lenses, but the lens coverage is still a complicating factor.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:31 PM on November 15, 2009

thanks for the ideas! now, i think he wants the 300s mostly cause it seems to be a bad ass camera, but he's not serious to the point that if i bought him something really close, he'd be upset. as it stands, he currently has no camera, so I'm looking for a high quality camera he can afford.

Going by this your biggest concern (already mentioned but well worth repeating) is checking whether he has old lenses that he'll want to be able to use autofocus with - the d5000 and d90 require lenses with built in AF motors so if this is the case it's d300/d300s or nothing.

That aside, I'm in a similar position to your Dad, also set on a Nikon (though I think without such a generous relative, more's the pity!) and would love the D300s for many reasons, but as it's ultimately (just) a hobby that I can't justify that much on I've been through all the minutiae of features and have decided that the d5000 gives the best feature spread I can afford as an enthusiast.
posted by protorp at 1:24 AM on November 16, 2009

the d5000 and d90 require lenses with built in AF motors

This isn't true of the D90. It does include an AF motor for lenses without servos.
posted by Magnakai at 3:58 AM on November 16, 2009

If you believe he can afford to make up the difference to ultimately obtain his D300s, give him a gift certificate or actual cash amount that you can afford.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:12 AM on November 16, 2009

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