Recommendations for camera upgrade?
February 9, 2005 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I recently accidentally destroyed my Canon Powershot and now that I'm in the market for a new camera, I'm toying with the idea of upgrading to a more professional camera--an SLR(?)--perhaps the Canon Rebel. Are there any amateurs out there who made this move who can offer some advice? I know nothing about photography but I'd like to learn---and I have an audience for it (my website is photo heavy). Thanks!
posted by adrober to Technology (21 answers total)
I bought a Minolta DiMage 7 when it first came out, and albeit I suck at taking pictures, I was never really that happy with it.

I'd recommend borrowing/renting and thoroughly testing it out prior to buying. is a great site.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:10 PM on February 9, 2005

Assuming you had one of the small Powershots: An SLR is a much bigger and less convenient camera and you will carry it around less.
posted by smackfu at 1:10 PM on February 9, 2005

Normally I would think this is a bad idea, but looking at your web site, it looks like most of your photos are taken in your kitchen. So you won't have to worry about lugging a big camera around, and you will have time to get the settings just right.

It'll still cost you though. I get the distinct impression from looking at the photos on your web site that your photos are taken without a tripod. If I were you I would buy a good tripod and get a PowerShot SD300 with their brand-new image processing chip (DIGIC II, they have improved a lot over the last three years) and learn how to use its manual features.
posted by grouse at 1:13 PM on February 9, 2005

It all depends what you do with your camera. A digital SLR is basically a film SLR without the film. What I'm trying to say is that you won't have all the bells and whistles of your Canon Powershot. You won't be able to take short movies. You won't be able to use the LCD to take pictures, only review them, and a digital SLR is a lot more camera to lug around. What you gain is better pictures, primarily through the use of better optics. You can easily get a point and shoot with the same resolution as a Digital Rebel, but you can't fit a high quality, ultra fast lens into a point and shoot body.

If you've never shot with a film SLR, there is going to be a learning curve. Unless your shooting with the preset program modes you will have to learn about apeture, shutter speeds, ISO speeds, white balance, etc... But, if you really want to learn about photography you won't be using those preset settings anyway. But, by aquiring this knowledge you will eventually gain complete control over your images.

So, basically, think about what you want to do with your photography and get the camera that is best suited for you. I've had several digital SLR's (I have a 20d right now and access to a 1D Mark II) and several film SLR's. I'm personally never satisfied with point and shoot photos. So, I'm forever known as the guy with the big camera hanging around his neck everywhere he goes. I do occasionally get tired of lugging several lenses and my camera body up mountains on my back. But, in the long run I think it's worth it and I'm pretty used to lugging the thing around everywhere I go.

On preview, you might think about getting one of these Powershot Pro 1's. It has a nice fast lens (f2.4), 8 mega pixels, a nice small body, can do movies, and can be shot in manual mode. Seems like a happy medium.
posted by trbrts at 1:25 PM on February 9, 2005

I'm an avid photographer who made the switch from a Canon Powershot S30 to the Nikon D70 this summer (the Powershot stopped working altogether). I do a small amount of professional work, which the Nikon has been great for, and it's an excellent camera in every regard, but I really feel like it has taken some of the creativity and spontaneity out of my work.

For one, realize that you have to use the optical viewfinder with a dSLR. No LCD. For two, it's pretty honkin' huge and a pain to carry around, especially if I want to bring it into concerts or to the beach, for instance — one of the biggest worries for me is that because it doesn't fit in my pocket every time I take it with me somewhere (and I always take it with me) I run the risk of forgetting the entire bag and it's $1200 contents. While I would never give up the dSLR goodness, I have been shopping around for a swivel-screen equipped point-and-shoot (with manual features, naturally) that I can stick in my pocket and just go.

A friend of mine made the Canon Powershot (A70, I think) to Nikon D70 switch at just about the same time I did, and even after getting a couple hundred dollars worth of additional equipment just decided last month that the D70 was really too much for him. He sold it and downgraded to a Canon S70.

Again, I think the D70 was a great investment for me, and it's a great product (and I've heard excellent things about the Canon Rebel as well). Just be wary that it is a huge investment and be sure it's what you want. If you are just going to be snapshotting, I'd really recommend you stick with a point-and-shoot.
posted by rafter at 1:28 PM on February 9, 2005

Also, what trbrts said. I miss being able to take videos and I miss auto-panorama mode. If you really want to explore photography and have the money, go for it — but if still photography isn't going to be a big thing for you, a dSLR is a pretty expensive toy.
posted by rafter at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2005

I am in basicially the exact same situation as you, except that my PowerShot still works, and I have a Nikon N60 that I never use because I know I am awful about getting film developed. Plus almost all the photos I take are for my website, so I don't want film. I've been thinking about a D70 (I could use the lens from my N60), and the fact that most of my photos are of stuff in the kitchen means that the heavy-and-awkward factor is not much of an issue. Basically, if I felt like I could spare the money, I'd buy the D70 in a flash. I know it's a good camera, and it would be great for the food shots.

But... but. But. Even if money weren't an issue, I wouldn't do it if I didn't still have my PowerShot. I know for a fact that I don't want to take an SLR on vacation or to other events where I want to just take snapshots of my friends. So I think that if I were you, I'd buy a new point-and-shoot and a tripod first, and then consider getting the SLR later as an addition.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:40 PM on February 9, 2005

If you decide to go the SLR route, definately consider the Nikon D70.

This summer, I spent a lot of time on the review sites that others have recommended above, but I also stress going out to a store and actually holding these cameras in your hand. I compared the D70 against the Canon Rebel, and the Nikon just seemed like a more solid camera. (I was particularly worried about breaking the built-in flash off the Canon). They both had amazing image quality, but the Nikon just felt better to me. I couldn't be happier with it.

you will carry it around less.
I agree with this. When I'm taking pictures with my D70, it's an event. It's tough to just carry it around and whip out the camera on the spur of the moment. Because of that, I've considered getting a smaller, less expensive camera to carry around in addtion to the D70.
posted by Jeff Howard at 1:51 PM on February 9, 2005

I shoot a lot of film but more digital, and after playing with a D70 and D100 I decided to stick with the powershot line and got a new Powershot s70 after my s50 was stolen. 7 mpx, great manual controls (although you can't save settings - boo!) and sturdy as hell - and it fits in a (big) pocket. DSLRs are nice but do you really wanna carry around all that extra gear? Plus, they're not so sturdy - at least, most of them aren't.
posted by luriete at 1:52 PM on February 9, 2005

I've shot for a couple years with DSLRS (Canon D30/60 + Nikon D100), and also on occasion used consumer models Coolpix, Mavica, Powershot, etc..

I don't think DSLRs are "better". I think they offer distinct pros and cons.

Pros in approx. order of important to me:
Speed - Shutter lag, fast lenses, traditional focusing, fast image processing and large buffers, bursts of images, and twist zooms. (Though I don't use zooms)
Durability - though this can vary.
Interface - Menus, options - Generally pretty decent across the board, there aren't any real lemons, just some annoying quirks.
Battery life - Generally outstanding, but some consumer models can compete when the screen is turned off.
Accesories - All my old lenses from the 60s (only Nikon), remote triggers, intervalometers, radio systems.

Cons - Limited model selection(!), high price for purchase and repair, large size.

Optics don't get consideration because I need something that can perform. If it gets me the right picture at the right time, it doesn't matter if it's not perfect tonality and sharp as a razor. As far as imaging systems go, consumer models are rolled out more often, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are sensor/algorithm features that will show up there first.

DSLRs are not appropriate for many people, and it's unrealistic to think that features that don't mean anything to you now, will in the near future.

Concerning your particular uses: I think more light in the space, and a camera with a custom white balance setting would make substantial improvements. Short shutter lag is always good. When you're shooting in a setting like that, you have the option of making the environment more ameniable to good photos.

I put a ! next to limited model selection because there are SO many consumer models, and there are some real winners as far as interface goes, and some real losers. The SLRs, thus far, mimic their film counterparts to a degree, and generally don't get massive revampings between models, to accomidate the existing user base.
My favorite site for digital camera reviews, Steve's.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 2:02 PM on February 9, 2005

The digital compact market is increasingly saturated with good cameras, and you will continue to get better and better bang for your buck quite quickly. On the other hand, I think DSLR technology still has to mature. Personally, I kind of want one but I'm prepared to wait for a few years, until the prices of the next gen 24x36mm (i.e. 35mm film equivalent) CCDs come down (at the moment I think they're about $5k for a Kodak w/ Nikon mount, and $8k for the Canon 1Ds-II). Also what everybody says about the bulk of DSLRs is true.
posted by carter at 2:03 PM on February 9, 2005

Jeff Howard - you might consider the manual focus Nikon pancake 45mm. That's about as small as the D70 gets.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 2:07 PM on February 9, 2005

adrober, I just glanced at your site a bit and it looks like a point-and-shoot would be more suited to your purposes, although if you're wanting to learn more about photography, a (d)SLR would certainly give you plenty to learn.

I have a Canon EOS 300D (Digital Rebel) and love it but I use it mostly for photography with an artistic intent. I'm absolutely not saying that you can't create art with a point-and-shoot (I've seen some really nice shots taken without 'professional' cameras), just that I wouldn't advise shelling out for an SLR unless it's the photography itself that you're interested in, not just getting a picture of something else that's really what your thing is.

In addition, as others have mentioned, it's too big (even the smaller Digital Rebel is considerably bigger than a point-and-shoot type) to be convenient for simply taking it out and shooting a few fun shots and you can't use the LCD as a viewfinder. There are tons of settings you can tweak to your liking and experiment with but if what you're doing most is taking pictures of food in your kitchen, having the kind of control an SLR will provide you with seems like overkill.

For all I know, you have or will develop a big interest in photography, and maybe an SLR is the way to go for you. As far as just getting photographs of the food you prepare goes however, I think you're better off with a point-and-shoot.
posted by DyRE at 2:21 PM on February 9, 2005

I am going to commit blasphemy here.

Unless you're already heavily invested in Nikon equipment, go with Canon.

There, I said it.

I've been shooting Nikons all my life. They make a good photographer's camera. And old Nikkor lenses are some of the best in the world, including the expensive German stuff.

So why Canon? Because, unfortunately, Canon just has a lot more money, and they have surged past Nikon in a few key areas of development: speed (both shooting and AF) and resolution. On the sidelines of any sporting event, it's a sea of white L lenses. Now plenty would argue that Nikkor is better on the bottom end, and I'd agree with them. The 85mm 1.4 is a beautiful lens. But then, the Canon 85mm 1.2 is even better. Wide angle? Sure, Nikon might have a very, very slight edge. But then, Canon's got a real tilt-shift lens, while Nikon's only a shifter.

Original poster might not understand what all this means right now, and that's fine. My point is, if you're really going to dive into the realm of SLR digital photography, you need to pick a team that you will (basically) be stuck with for the rest of your natural life (unless you don't mind taking a loss on eBay).

I own a D70. More importantly, I own a 85 1.4, a 300 2.8, and a 70-200 AF-S. This was not cheap equipment. If I had the option, (and I do), I would ditch it and go with a Canon 1D Mk 2 (and I'm in the process). Don't get me wrong--these two cameras are in completely different leagues. Unfortunately, Nikon isn't even fielding a team. The best Nikon could come up with to answer Canon's beast was a mutant strain of PR-itis called the D2X, which nobody is even selling yet. I'm curious if there will be any announcements from either camp at this year's PMA, but I'm not holding my breath.

For the past 5 years I have watched as Nikon works on something incredible, gets everyone excited, release it amidst great hoopla, then two days later Canon announces, "Oh yeah, we've been working on some stuff too. Maybe you might be interested. It's kinda like that Nikon over there, but with twice the resolution and frames-per-second. For the same price."

I get the feeling that Canon is going to do to Nikon what they are currently doing to Epson. They're just a heck of a lot bigger, and they make good products. It's hard as hell to keep up with their steady, almost monotonous small-step innovations. Eventually you get tired or run out of money.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:13 PM on February 9, 2005

Sorry to derail, but Nikon's D2X *is* actually being sold and has an "expected" delivery date (february 25). I am in the same boat as Civil_Disobedient (85 1.4, 400mm, 300mm, 70-200, etc, etc.) and actually don't think of switching to Canon. If I was not as heavily invested in Nikon optics I would. (I actually paid for my D2X in advance in december...)

I would suggest a Canon G5 or G6 for adrober. Reasonably small, great features (built-in intervalometer is great), fast lens, and manual controls for everything. (Disadvantages: shutter delay, not so fast focus, color aberrations/purple fringing in backlit situations).
posted by ig at 4:38 PM on February 9, 2005

From a different angle: from my experience on various digital photography forums, the vast majority of those who have asked "DSLR-or-not" questions turned out to have been best off with a compact camera instead. Those who were happiest with their DSLR's tended to already know exactly why they wanted to go that route beforehand, while those who simply thought the DSLR was the "next logical step" got bogged down and mired by the larger size, lens buying/swapping, post-processing requirements, no live LCD preview, no movies, etc. It's impossible to use this as a predictor for you specifically, but a lot of other people have been down the same path before.

The nice thing about cheaper DSLR's is that prices of the top-of-the-line compact digicams have also fallen by one-third to one-half or so (from $1k to $500-700). The current top choices are the Canon G6 and the Sony DSC-V3. Whether you go with DSLR or compact digicam though, the digital market is rapidly maturing and there are fewer genuine "bad apples" out there among products from the major players, so chances are good you'll be happy whichever way you go.

Happy snaps!
posted by DaShiv at 6:58 PM on February 9, 2005

I took a closer look at your website, and read that you were used to carrying your camera around with you. If you'd like a same-brand replacement for your old PowerShot in terms of size (I'm not sure which model you had) but with an "upgrade" in performance, I would look to the Canon PowerShot S70 and Canon PowerShot A95 (the G6 and V3 I linked above are larger, less portable models with more manual controls). I think you may be pleasantly surprised by how much better compact digicams have gotten in the last few years.

If you go DSLR, every brand has its unique selling point--Nikon has the current "best value" D70, Pentax wins for most compact with their *ist D and *ist DS, Fuji's S2 and S3 cameras have the best dynamic range, Olympus has a "designed for digital" system of complementary lenses and bodies, Konica-Minolta has image stabilization built into the body of their D7D, and so on. As the undisputed market leader though (and alarmingly so), Canon is still pretty much the safest bet in the DSLR arena if system selection and longevity are your main concerns.
posted by DaShiv at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2005

One other thing:

You should get an SLR if you're interested in learning about the more technical aspects of photography. But if you just want to make good shots, people have had careers around point-and-shoot cameras. Heck, look at Leica.

Also, be prepared to spend a lot more money. SLR's are just bodies, maybe they come with one standard lens (the D70 can be bundled with a pretty decent 24-80mm lens). Lenses are far and away the most expensive part of your SLR system. If you want sharp pictures or if you wish to shoot in low-light, be prepared for some serious sticker shock.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:51 AM on February 10, 2005

On the Canon vs. Nikon thing...

Canon is poised to continue to be way ahead of Nikon in the digital realm, for one simple reason.

Canon makes their own image processing chips, and Nikon doesn't.

Lens quality aside (I actually think each has their advantages), this is a serious difference. In a digital camera, the chipset controls everything. How fast is the autofocus? How good is the white balance? Is the exposure "accurate"? Does the flash give you hot spots? How much noise is there? And so on...

Canon has been improving every one of these with every new release - look at the difference between pictures taken before Digic was release and after. Then look at the differentce between Digic and Digic II. Because Canon controls the chip line, enhancements to this can also be easily bubbled out into other models, more cheaply. So Canon releases the Digital Rebel, which is a breakthrough. Then Nikon puts out the d70. It's a great camera, but it's basically the same as the d100 for a little cheaper. Then Canon smashes back with the 20D, which is leaps and bounds ahead - a brand new exceptional flash metering system, ISO 800 noise equivalents of other cameras' ISO 200, incredibly fast, and also 8MP.

What's next for Nikon in the midrange? I haven't seen anything, but I expect it only gets worse from here.
posted by Caviar at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2005

Thanks everyone. I think you helped me focus my decision-making---an SLR doesn't seem right for me. I appreciate your help.
posted by adrober at 9:32 AM on February 10, 2005

I'd wait until after PMA to buy anything, in any case.
posted by kindall at 11:06 AM on February 10, 2005

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