What do you mean you don't sell film in the camera store?
May 11, 2013 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm giving up the ghost and making the switch from film to digital. Help me buy my first DSLR!

I've been using the same Nikon F60 since I was a senior in high school (class of '00 woo!). Back in the day I was a quasi-serious amateur photographer and shot exclusively on film. Now that I've moved to DC and no longer have access to a dark room, shooting on film is leaving me with piles of undeveloped film that I can only develop through a mail order service that does a pretty crap job with the prints. Not to mention buying film is getting more and more difficult. While I know a lot about film and photography in general, I'm a total newbie when it comes to digital.

I have a digital point and shoot that I use when I don't want to lug around a big SLR, but that's it. Reluctantly I think the time has come for me to embrace digital and buy a DSLR, but I have no idea where to begin or what I want.

So here are my basic requirements:

- Good quality camera that will last me a long time.
- Images of a high enough quality that I could make decently large prints if I wanted.
- No lag between shots. I hate this with my point and shoot. I want the photo to be taken when I press the button, not 15 seconds later.
- It would be great if I could use my Nikon lenses, but I'm guessing that's a no go since they are almost 15 years old?
- I don't want to spend a fortune, but I'm willing to spend what needs to spent for the right camera.
- I like Nikon, but I've heard Canon is actually better now? No idea.

More than anything I need advice about things I don't even know to think about. So please give me your recommendations!
posted by whoaali to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Your Nikon lenses should work fine on the new Nikon DSLRs. I don't know about the recent Nikons, I have a D40 from a few years back that I like. The best place to get advice is at kenrockwell.com (he generally likes Nikons). His writing style is very down to earth and easy to understand. I've bought 3 really nice cameras after reading what he had to say.
posted by nevan at 5:16 PM on May 11, 2013

Any DSLR will have near zero shutter lag. Also any DSLR from the last 5 years will print fine up to at least 13x19.

Nikon and Canon are basically neck and neck with DSLRs and have been for the last 10 years. Which one is better right this very moment? I guess it depends on your exact criteria. They're both great. If you have Nikon lenses, get a Nikon.

One thing you will need to be aware of is that most DSLRs have a sensor that is smaller than 35mm. Both Nikon and Canon do make full-frame digital bodies, but they're northwards of $2k. Unless you get one of those, if you're going to keep your old lenses, you should expect that they will be zoomier than you're used to, by a factor of 1.6x.
posted by aubilenon at 5:36 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want way more information than you probably can digest, take a look at Digital Photography Review. They have a ton of great information, but it's sort of like drinking from the firehose.

Canon and Nikon are the two big players (although others are making some serious inroads). As a a very happy owner of a Canon camera, I'll just say: you should get a Nikon. Here's why: Canon and Nikon are ridiculously close (basically indistinguishable) and if you already have Nikon lenses, there's just no question, since lens costs actually probably dominate the overall cost of owning a camera.

I'm not sure what your budget is, but if you're a serious amateur, you probably just need to make the decision if you want to get a camera with a full-frame sensor (i.e. the size of a 35mm piece of film) or a sensor a bit smaller. Most good starter-intermediate cameras have slightly smaller sensors ("APS-C"; see this Wikipedia article).

Basically, there are three Nikon cameras with APS-C sensors (the smaller one). The Nikon D7100 is the nicest one at $1200, the Nikon D5200 is the next one down at $800, and the D3200 is the entry-level one at $550. All have exactly the same sensor, so you're just paying for differences in features (some of which may very well be worth it to you).

If you want to go full-frame, you can do that, but you'll pay for it (both the camera and the lenses are more expensive). The D600 goes for $2000, the D800 goes for $2800, and the D4 goes for $6000.

If I were you, I'd probably go for the D5200 or the D7100. Both of them are nice cameras, I think and are appropriate for serious amateurs. Just for comparison, my camera is a Canon 60D, which is sort of in-between the D5200 and the D7100 (although it's quite a bit older than those cameras, so it's probably not a good straight-up comparison).

Note that all prices are for the camera body only - no lenses.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:49 PM on May 11, 2013

It is likely that you will buy a DX-format Nikon body. That means the APS-C size sensor with a 1.5x telephoto effect on the lens. So, if you know that you favor a 50mm lens on your current film camera, you will need to use a 35mm lens to provide that fov (field of view) on an APS-C sensor. Or if you prefer 35mm length, you will need a 24mm lens. Thus, while your current lenses will work, they won't give you their real fov, and you may need to buy an additional lens or two. There are Nikon f/2.8 D-series and f/1.8 G-series available new or used for those focal lengths. I advise that you will be disappointed with any kit lens sold with a sub-$2000 Nikon dslr. Budget for a good used Nikon D-series or G-series prime lens instead.

If you have a good collection of manual focus Nikon lenses, then you should know that the less expensive bodies are not so compatible with legacy lenses. The lenses will function, but without metering through the lens. I don't know if the D5200 has this function, but the D7000 or the newer D7100 will. The D7000 is still a very capable camera and is probably your best value for the money.
posted by conrad53 at 6:11 PM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: This is all great information. The VR lenses look awesome, so I may be buying lenses anyway. I think I'm leaning towards the Nikon D3100 or D3200. I can't believe how cheap it is. It's been a long time since I've bought a camera...

Part of me wants the D7000, but I'm not sure I take enough pictures anymore to justify the price tag... hmmm
posted by whoaali at 6:34 PM on May 11, 2013

The D3200 is great. All it is missing is some of the more "pro" features. It has one of the best sensors in the APS-C market as far as dynamic range goes. It's a little noisier than I'd prefer in high ISO shooting, but I think anything in the sub $2000 category is going to be a little noisy. If you go to Nikon's site, they have sample images from all the cameras, and I thought the d3200 was one of the best.

It will not autofocus on any of the older lenses that don't have internal motors, and the REALLY old lenses that don't have an automatic diaphragm won't meter. But those are 1980s era lenses, if memory serves.

The other nice thing is that having all that resolution gives you the ability to crop and resize with more latitude. You can use a wider lens because there is plenty of resolution after cropping. I haven't used my 18-55 in a while, I just use a 35mm prime.

The VR lenses aren't as great as they are made out to be, IMHO. They might be better than the same lens without VR, but I found that it didn't really make a whole lot of difference. Lots of blown shots for me. The 35mm 1.8g lens blows it away in the ability to grab shots without jitter and blur. If I had to choose, I would always get more aperture as opposed to VR.
posted by gjc at 6:54 PM on May 11, 2013

I have a D90 that I'm happy with -- I wanted it specifically because I had a bunch of semi-old lenses that it can meter properly with. A D90 or a used D80 will work fine with nearly any old lens -- from a glance at their web page, a D90 is still the cheapest way to get backward lens compatibility.
posted by irrelephant at 6:55 PM on May 11, 2013

I reaally like my D7000, bought as a kit with the Nikkor 18-105 lens . It's fast, has great image quality, and just, well, yeah, My vote for that.

And it saves all my presets!
posted by disclaimer at 6:58 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

This goes back to film, but do you have a Costco near you? They develop film and transfer high-res images to disc. (It might also be useful for old film to be transfered to digital.)
posted by Crystalinne at 7:22 PM on May 11, 2013

Adorama sells refurbished D5100 bodies. I think that is a very good little camera. I also agree that the D7000 would be a good buy as well. If you want a bit newer tech you can get the d5200.

The 18-105 lens is a good one as is the f1.8 35mm lens that sells for 200 bucks.
posted by tarvuz at 8:03 PM on May 11, 2013

Note: The D3100 and D3200 don't do auto-bracketing. If you ever have any sort of interest in fooling around with HDR photography you will find this extremely annoying.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:47 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

look into the d5100...I have it, love it, and it will do up to 1080p video to boot...prob pick one up for around the cost of the newer 3200...and prob have more features...worth comparing
posted by sexyrobot at 9:27 PM on May 11, 2013

(also i was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the 18-55VR kit lens)
posted by sexyrobot at 9:29 PM on May 11, 2013

I'll repeat a lot of what everyone else said.

You've already got Nikon lenses, so there's very little reason to switch brands. Wikipedia seems to think the F60 you have won't work with AF-S lenses, so I'm going to guess you only have AF-D lenses. Those won't auto-focus on anything without a built in motor, which rules out most entry level cameras (like the D3100 or D3200) if you care about auto-focus. If you have even older Ai lenses, they won't meter (which rules out all modes but manual).

Since you're having trouble justifying spending the money on a D7000, I'll skip full frame cameras and just mention the change an APS-C (DX in Nikon speak) sensor brings. I will re-iterate the change in apparent focal length. Your lenses will appear 50% longer. A standard 50mm becomes a 75mm portrait lens, your wide angle 20mm becomes a 30mm, etc. The good thing about smaller sensors, is cheaper lenses, a 35mm f/1.8 is under $200. And the kit 18-55mm lenses can be found for real cheap. One other thing I haven't seen mentioned is that a smaller sensor will result in a larger depth of field, which may be handy if you're into macro, but not as good if you're trying to isolate a subject from a close background. Just another thing you'll have to consider. Check KEH for used equipment, I haven't ordered from them, but their quality requirements are supposed to be very demanding.
posted by borkencode at 9:43 PM on May 11, 2013

You can absolutely use your old lenses on your new Nikon bodies. Here's a handy conversion chart. You may lose the autofocus motor on some, so check carefully, but Nikon cares about backwards compatibility.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:44 PM on May 11, 2013

Response by poster: So I slept on it and I'm starting to talk myself into the D7000 and thinking about getting this.

It's twice the price of the D3200 and I'm really debating whether there is any point in getting a higher end DSLR when I have zero experience with it. Although I would presumably learn and the D7000 would give me a lot more room to grow.

Now that I've been reading up on them I'm way more excited about going digital than I was before.
posted by whoaali at 7:19 AM on May 12, 2013

Other people have given you good advice, and I'm a Canon/Sony shooter so I can't help you with Nikon gear. However, more generally regarding your switch to becoming digital-camera consumer, I can point you toward thinking about something that was a bit eye-opening to me.

Good quality camera that will last me a long time.

Technology changes fast. Your 2013 camera will take equally good photos in 2017, so you won't need to upgrade. But the 2017 model will probably have some spectacular new features, so you might want to. And not just bells and whistles. For instance, the past couple years have seen incredible progress in low-light performance. Today's digital cameras, even budget compacts, can take indoor/night photos that you simply can't capture with a device built in 2007. Maybe you're not a tech junkie who always wants the latest toy, but there really are substantive reasons why you might want to upgrade every couple, five years.

Here's the problem. Most digital cameras, especially the good ones, will hold their value pretty well—but only for twelve, eighteen, maybe twenty-four months. Then the value begins a nose-dive. I own a good quality camera that cost hundreds of dollars and is now worth about fifteen bucks on eBay, if I could get any bids at all. In 2017 when you decide you want the new Nikon sensor that has twice the dynamic range or a camera that can write thirty shots per second, you won't get much trade-in value from your 2013 model. You might be starting from scratch.

Some people's approach is to reluctantly become tech junkies. That is, when the new upgrade is released, they sell their old body for a good price and buy the upgrade. This tends to be, ballpark, a two-year cycle. They lose some money each time; but it's far less than rental fees, if you think comparatively, and the benefit is they have whatever new features have been developed (better resolution, higher ISO, etc).

I don't necessarily suggest that. Based on your situation, it may not be a good fit for you. I haven't done it myself. But I wish I'd understood earlier and at least made an informed decision to let my equipment devalue to zero, rather than being surprised when I wanted to sell it.
posted by cribcage at 11:47 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Note: The D3100 and D3200 don't do auto-bracketing. If you ever have any sort of interest in fooling around with HDR photography you will find this extremely annoying

I might be a bit out of the loop on how folks are shooting HDR these days, but bracketing shots would be unadvisable unless one was assured of a 100% motion-free subject.

Better to shoot in Raw mode and let Photoshop do the exposure compensations.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:31 PM on May 12, 2013

Response by poster: You raise a very good point cribcage. I'm so used to having cameras forever. Before I got my current camera for high school graduation, I used my mother's all metal Nikon that I assume was from the 70s. Digital is a bit of a different game.

Elsietheeels comments about auto bracketing and HDR photography had me rethinking the D3200, but given that it's half the price of the D7000, it may be worth getting and then if I feel like I need an upgrade I can sell it in 6 months and probably recoup most of my money. I'm also going on a big trip in October and having a big, very expensive camera abroad probably isn't the most brilliant plan. It probably really isn't worth the price tag unless especially when I'm first getting into digital and really don't know what I'm going to want in a camera yet.

I'm actually very excited now. And I'm going to need to buy Photoshop, haven't used it in years. I have some great photo opportunities coming up so it'll be fun to see how it goes with a DSLR.
posted by whoaali at 2:41 PM on May 12, 2013

One thing to keep in mind - while digital cameras come and go, lens are forever, and that's where you should make some choices. I personally like the APS-C format for all the advantages enumerated above, but I rather avoid buying APS-C specific lenses (or DX as Nikon calls 'em). Full-frame lenses work on APS-C (if anything, even better), but DX lenses will not cover the full frame format. In general, full-frame lenses will be somewhat more expensive, but I would recommend buying them both for quality and for preserving your options, should you one day transition to full frame, or simply want to use the lenses on both formats.
posted by VikingSword at 2:58 PM on May 12, 2013

It's the edges of the frame that are the most challenging optically, and if you crop those out, the task of making a good lens gets easier. So if you only look at APS-C cameras, DX lenses ought to be just cheaper and smaller for the same quality. But they're more limited for future camera bodies (or past ones, if you want to still use your film camera ever).
posted by aubilenon at 3:20 PM on May 12, 2013

Not pertinent to the question, but one of your comments re: photoshop: While photoshop is pretty great - I certainly use it a fair bit - I've had good results with Lightroom, which uses the same RAW plugins as photoshop at a very good price. And I do recommend using RAW if HDR/bracketing is a concern.

You're going to enjoy your new camera, you're getting lots of good advice here.
posted by disclaimer at 3:59 PM on May 12, 2013

Response by poster: b1tr0t good call. Luckily I googled the vendor before buying and found you are absolutely right as far as vendors. I ended up going with amazon because I already have amazon prime and an amazon visa, but otherwise the prices at B&H and Andorama were exactly the same.

I ended up getting photoshop because there was a promotion and so it was only about $45, which made it easy. I'll have to check out Lightroom though.
posted by whoaali at 4:36 PM on May 12, 2013

I might be a bit out of the loop on how folks are shooting HDR these days, but bracketing shots would be unadvisable unless one was assured of a 100% motion-free subject.

Better to shoot in Raw mode and let Photoshop do the exposure compensations.

Also, the newer sensors have more dynamic range so those features have become more niche. I would have preferred that the D3200 came with auto bracketing because I am a lazy photographer and I'd prefer to have to shots to choose from exposure wise, without changing the settings every time. But it isn't really as necessary as it used to be. I find it difficult to use all the range my sensor provides.
posted by gjc at 5:24 AM on May 13, 2013

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