What DSLR is right for me?
October 10, 2011 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I want to get a DSLR. Should I go EVIL? What model would best meet my needs?

I don't have any photography background, but I would like to start taking some better pictures and I recognize that some of the applications I'm interested in require at least an entry-level DSLR. I want to be able to shoot sports (specifically ultimate, so pretty quick action), portraits, scenery, rock climbing (smaller & lighter a plus) and underwater (SCUBA).

I think an EVIL camera would be nice since it'd be easier to take along on active adventures, but I'm not sure if they're good enough for high-speed stuff. I can spend a decent amount on this, but I figure the lower-end DSLRs are going to be sufficient and the easiest to use for someone without prior experience. So, I just want advice about what particular model is most likely to meet my needs.
posted by Cogito to Technology (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am a micro 4/3 user, currently using an Olympus E-P2. I like the camera for most things, but it has one major failing:

If the autofocus misses, it cycles all the way out to infinity (or in to 0) and then backs out the other way. This is awful for sports, wildlife, or other fast moving things.

The Panasonic G3 and Olympus E-P3 both are supposed to have much improved autofocus speed, which is great, but as far as I know, they still lack the property of mirrored DSLRs and their phase detection autofocus that lets them know if they're focused to far out or too close in, so that they can go in the correct direction towards focus on the first try.

For slow moving things this doesn't matter, but for wildlife or sports, it can make you miss shots in an infuriating way.

In every other way I'm pretty happy with my E-P2, and I am considering buying a G3 to replace it, so I'm not saying you shouldn't get one, I'm just pointing out what I perceive as it's biggest flaw.

I have lots of pictures I've taken with my E-P2 on my flickr page if you want to look at those sorts of things. I can also answer any other specific questions you have about the system or the E-P2 specifically.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 5:08 PM on October 10, 2011

Best answer: I would strongly urge you to go with an entry level conventional DSLR from Canon or Nikon. EVIL technology is approaching the versatility of a camera like one of these, but despite all of the hype about (for example) the EVIL Sony A77, it simply isn't there yet.

I suggest an entry level model because they're the most compact, lightest weight DSLR bodies out there.

If you go this route, you're buying into an extremely well supported system, with tons of online support, and a huge variety of available lenses and accessories; whether new or used.

All of that said, and speaking as a Nikon shooter, if budget isn't a huge concern, there's a case to be made for buying a D7000 body instead of a D3100 or D5100. The D7000, in practical application, is more friendly, more capable, and more versatile. It's not tons bigger or heavier than the lower end bodies. It is recognized as the best DSLR DX format camera currently on the market.

There may be a similar Canon equation out there, but you'd need to ask a Canon shooter what the equivalent would be.

Assuming you continue to be seriously into photography as the years pass, a concern will be that your investment in lenses and accessories will last a long time. Camera bodies will come and go as the technology improves. I say this as someone who owns a late 1970's 16mm Nikkor (Nikon) lens who can mount it to one of my current D7000 bodies and enjoy the full capabilities of the lens, albeit taking into account the DX format "crop factor".

You will get some responses here from some very happy owners of micro 4/3, or Sony NEX, or Pentax or Olympus products, but, when an astronomical percentage of serious photographers end up suggesting a Canon or Nikon product, it's for all of the reaons above.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:30 PM on October 10, 2011

imjustsaying is correct imo. Canon or Nikon if you want long term stability and support. I am a canon shooter and am using one of their best cameras currently. Entry level? The Rebel series is fantastic for starting out with, just a great deal. the T1i is $600 with a kit lens and 15MP.
posted by edgeways at 5:41 PM on October 10, 2011

Do you take a lot of photos in bright sunlight? Many 4/3 and similar cameras lack a viewfinder, having only the lcd screen on the back. That can be hard to compose on in bright light. Even an electronic viewfinder is fine. Just putting it up to your eye blocks out most of the sunlight that obscures the camera back. If you buy a DSLR you probably are buying into a system with more longevity than the new smaller form factor cameras. Probably, as no one can really predict where the market is heading. These smaller cameras are now coming with great sensors, and it is the sensor that defines quality in the body, some have at least an add-on viewfinder, and they are small enough that you are more likely to have it with you.
posted by caddis at 5:42 PM on October 10, 2011

Entry-level DSLRs aren't easier to use than more expensive models. They're just cheaper, and with that cheapness comes weaker build quality and somewhat clumsier ergonomics.

For most purposes, those entry-levels are just fine, but if you're going to be climbing mountains with them, then perhaps you should consider getting a sturdier camera with some degree of weather-sealing. Then again, maybe not: entry-levels can be shockingly durable.

Entry-level Nikons suffer from some incompatibility with older lenses, so if you think you'd ever buy old glass and try to use it on your camera, think twice about getting anything less than the mid-level. Canon cameras will be compatible with any EF glass, plus there are many lens adapters for other lenses. Pentax cameras are compatible with K-mount glass, of which there is an enormous library.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:01 PM on October 10, 2011

The D7000, in practical application, is more friendly, more capable, and more versatile. It's not tons bigger or heavier than the lower end bodies. It is recognized as the best DSLR DX format camera currently on the market.

There may be a similar Canon equation out there, but you'd need to ask a Canon shooter what the equivalent would be.

The 7D is the Canon equivalent of the Nikon D7000, but the 7D is due for an update very soon.

The Pentax K-5 presents stiff competition to both the D7000 and the 7D as well.

They're all perfectly good cameras, but none of them are as cheap as an entry-level camera. What's going to be most important is getting a nice, fast set of lenses.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:05 PM on October 10, 2011

God-damn do I love my Olympus PEN E-P1. Viewfinder can come as an extra and it is a little sketch, wondering how my photos come out, so I do bracket if the shot is important, but God-damn (again!) do they come out incredible. The colors, my goodness, the colors.

The 14-42mm lens is freakin' Hyoooge if you're used to pocket cameras you can take on adventures. I took mine on a major adventure and it handled the abuse beautifully, but it was in no way a camera that I could just *go* to and be cool about it. Saying that, it's WAY smaller than my dSLR it replaced, just not tiny. Guess if I wanted a tiny camera, I'd get one. I wanted quality photos and that's what I got, boy howdy.

The thing is WAY slower at everything than my old Canon Digital Rebel though. There's some firmware upgrades you can do to make that a little faster. Anyways, total convert to micro 4/3rds.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:54 PM on October 10, 2011

Just FYI - Sony's recent A55 and A77 feature the same sort of (fast) phase-detect AF as traditional DSLRs. They're intriguing and well reviewed - but you really can't go too wrong by sticking to Canon or Nikon.

If the smaller (NEX or 4/3) cameras are appealing, it might be worth scanning Flickr to see if people are taking the sort of shots - particularly of sports - that you anticipate taking.
posted by unmake at 1:42 AM on October 11, 2011

Best answer: I've done a bunch of ultimate frisbee photography. This is what I suggest you do.

1.) Buy the Canon 600D with the cheapo $100 kit lens and the less-than-$100 50mm f/1.8 prime lens (or whatever the Nikon equivalent is.)
2.) Use the hell out of this combination for several months. Learn how to use every manual setting (Av, Tv, M modes, what ISO, apertures, and exposure times mean). For relatively bright and even sunlight, all you have to do is set the camera to Tv mode and the ISO high enough so you can get a 1/320s or 1/500s exposure.
3.) Once you're down with the fundamentals of exposure, buy a 70-200mm f/4 non-IS lens for about $600-700. Any cheaper telephoto lens is going to focus way too slowly.

With a Canon 600D, 70-200mm L lens and a solid grasp of fundamentals, you can shoot real professional looking stuff. Anything less is going to leave you with a big pile of unfocused, blurry, overly-wide disappointment.
posted by alidarbac at 8:39 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be wary of anything with a small detector. Detector area is inversely proportional to the amount of photon noise in low light for any given pixel count, regardless of whatever noise-reducing filters are applied within or in post-processing.

IOW: you can photoshop noise to lower levels, but a 4/3 detector will always have more noise than a standard 35-mm detector. Period. It's physics; it don't negotiate.

I'm concentrating on this because you mentioned sports photography. High-speed telephoto shots (which, due to the telephoto are inherently small aperture aka high f-stop) are essentially low-light shots (from the POV of the detector).

So, consider detector size with your choice. I went from a Lumix FZ-50 to a Canon sx10-IS, and really paid the price in reduced low-light capability.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:19 AM on October 11, 2011

(My post doesn't actually address EVIL vs DSLR, BTW; it's pointing out another factor to consider.)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2011

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