Flexible Digital SLR recommendations
December 14, 2005 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I am planning to buy my first Digital SLR camera. What are your recommendations and why?

I have been interested in photography for about 18 months now. My superbly flexible C-770 Olympus has served me well, but it's time to move on.
I'd love an equally flexible dig-SLR, with room for specialisation later.
Also, should I buy online? in a shop (I live in Japan but am travelling home to the UK this holiday season)? from ebay?
Any advice warmly received
posted by 0bvious to Shopping (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
0bvious, my AskMe thread on this subject drew a lot of great answers on good entry-level digital SLRs and lenses (which you will also need to think about). Definitely recommend checking it out.
posted by Rothko at 8:31 PM on December 14, 2005

I also recommend Philip Greenspun's venerable photo.net site, which carries informed reviews on a wide variety of cameras and accessories.
posted by Rothko at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2005

http://www.dpreview.com/ is your god.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2005

What's your budget? I have a Canon Rebel XT and I love it. Tons of lenses out there to choose from, lightweight, some say too small but I say you get used to it very quickly.

The menu system is pretty intuitive as well. You have control over pretty much everything you need to, quickly too.

My only complaint is that the built-in flash doesn't seem to be as powerful as my 35mm Canon Rebel seemed to be, but it does the job.

I think dealmac has pretty good prices on it from time to time.

On preview: yeah, this question has probably been asked a lot before. Just my two cents, anyway.

You're going to love how "freeing" digital will be. Get ready to take 5x as many snaps where before you'd take one.
posted by starman at 8:36 PM on December 14, 2005

DP Review is a good starting point for reviews on new(er) digital cameras, lenses, etc.
posted by vkxmai at 8:37 PM on December 14, 2005

If you don't have an investment in lenses then either get a Canon Rebel XT or a Nikon D70. They are both good cameras and they're part of very solid systems.

More importantly, no matter what you get, get a 50mm f1.8 lens to go with it. It'll cost ~$100 and it'll be the best photographic investment you've ever made.

If you don't mind spending $200-300 then get a 35mm f2 instead. It's a little wider and a little bit slower, but probably higher quality.
posted by bshort at 8:46 PM on December 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I love my Canon 20D.
posted by trbrts at 8:46 PM on December 14, 2005

I don't really have anything to compare it to, but I got a Digital Rebel used (with 18-55 kit lens) back in October and I love it (I would have gotten a new XT, but couldn't justify the extra $400). Like starman says, there are plenty of lenses for digital Canons, and my Digital Rebel is working well with my 18-55, 35-80, and 80-200 lenses.
posted by Godbert at 9:00 PM on December 14, 2005

The best article I've ever read about getting a Digital SLR is PhilG's Building a Digital SLR system.

My recommendation is for a Canon Digital Rebel XT (aka Canon 350D) with the 18-55 kit lens, then also buy the 50/1.8 lens. This is about as inexpensive as it gets for a Digital SLR, but the equipment is very good quality. The 50/1.8 lens is a joy and at $75 is the cheapest good lens you'll ever buy. If you don't need to save money the Canon 5D is also appealing because it's a full 35mm sensor.

As to where to buy, I can't help you with Japan and England. In the US your best bet is either from amazon.com or bhphotovideo.net. If you call, B+H will ship out of the US with very few questions, although you're on your own for customs.
posted by Nelson at 9:06 PM on December 14, 2005

When are the next models coming out? It seems like this set have been about 6 months or so.
posted by smackfu at 9:07 PM on December 14, 2005

A 50mm f/1.8 lens is great, but it's not flexible. You'll get a lot of good portraits in available light, but find it hard to back up enough to get a group in the frame in many situations.

A zoom lens is probably the right first lens if you're looking for flexibility. It won't give you the sharpness or speed of a fixed focal length lens, but it will let you shoot many different subjects. I keep my Nikon 28-200mm lens on my camera (a D70) most of the time, and will probably spring for the 18-200mm VR lens when they start shipping it.
posted by aneel at 9:13 PM on December 14, 2005

Between me, my brother, and my dad, my family owns 3 of the major entry-level dslrs.

My dad has the pentax *ist DL, my brother has a Canon Rebel XT, and I have the nikon D50. So that just leaves the olympus and the konica minolta models untried. Olympus uses that "four thirds" lens system, which means no tapping into 20+ years of pre-existing AF lenses. I don't know anything about the konica minolta. It looks pretty nice though.

Any of the dslrs in that class will give you photos of similar quality. The rebel is 8mp where the others are mostly 6mp. remember that the practical difference between 6 and 8mp is pretty insignificant, but if you're gonna do tight crops, you'll probably get better results with the extra resolution. I think it all comes down to deciding which lens system you want to buy into, and which body feels best in your hands. Read all the reviews on dpreview - they'll tell you everything there is to know about each model.

I second (third) the reccomendation of a 50mm 1.8 - I bought the nikon model for under $100, and it's very compact, very sharp, and very fast. It's 8 whole stops faster than the bundled 18-55 zoom is at 50. There's a 1.4 out there for like $250 that I would've bought if I was a little more patient, but I don't regret buying the 1.8 at all.
posted by chrisege at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2005

I've said it before: IMO the entry level DSLRs are all so competent by now that you really don't need to worry about making a "wrong" choice so much as making a "best fit" choice.

Your top choices are:

Canon 350D (Digital Rebel XT)
Nikon D50

Almost everyone agrees that Canon and Nikon have the most thorough DSLR systems right now. Of the two, the Nikon D50 is the better camera but the Canon 350D enjoys the deeper EOS lens lineup (IMO of course).

Some worthy alternatives:

Konica Minolta 5D: in-camera anti-shake (i.e. image stabilization)
Olympus E-500 (EVOLT E-500): ultrasonic dust protection for sensor
Pentax *ist DS: most compact, best viewfinder for entry-level DSLR
(Note: The DS may be harder to find with the DL out now, but the DS has a more robust featureset.)

The alternative systems have a smaller selection of lenses (much smaller in the case of Olympus's 4/3 system), but more than enough for 95% of the users.

I should add, there's no substitute for handling all (or as many as you can) of these in person. Take some test shots and don't try to judge image quality too much by what you see on the LCD; instead, go with whichever camera feels best in your hands while shooting. That's the most important part. Truth be told, all these cameras with similar lenses will produce pretty similar photos.

If you need anything fancier than the above, it's almost certain that you'll already know what -- and why.

As for lenses, get the kit lens that comes with each camera and a good prime to boot: either the 50/1.7 - 50/2.0 for each system (except for Olympus, which lacks a cheap normal prime), or I strongly recommend the Sigma 30/1.4 instead if you're going the Canon or Nikon route (it's not available in the alternative mounts). Wait until you have some experience with the camera before saddling yourself with too many additional lenses that you might not need at all.

Remember to budget for accessories, such as flash cards.
posted by DaShiv at 9:32 PM on December 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I just bought a D50 because it was inexpensive, almost all the camera that the D70 is, and passed the sniff-test by every expert I know (including our own DaShiv). He's a Canon man, himself, but to hear him tell it, Nikon is giving Canon a major run for their money by offering more fucntionality in their consumer-level cameras, at lower prices.

I'm pretty happy with my D50 so far. My 50mm/1.8 is working well, though I will probably drop the $200 for a 50/1.4 at some point. It is true that sometimes it's difficult to get several people into a shot, but the other side of the coin is that most people fail to fill the frame and a 50mm lens, multiplied to 75mm on a DSLR, has a way of counteracting this, creating full, detail-rich shots.

If you're a total badass composer, ignore that last comment.
posted by scarabic at 9:36 PM on December 14, 2005

When are the next models coming out? It seems like this set have been about 6 months or so.

Perhaps a new model or two at PMA (Feb. '06) at the earliest, but mostly likely some bigger shakeups in the lineups by Photokina in Fall '06. Product cycles in this segment are about 18 months, give or take 6 months or so (for example, much shorter between the Canon D60 to 20D upgrades, and much longer between the Nikon D100 to D200 upgrades). It's the compact digicams that go through multiple upgrades within the same year.
posted by DaShiv at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2005

a 50mm 1.8 [...] It's 8 whole stops faster than the bundled 18-55 zoom is at 50.

Nitpick: It's a bit over 3 stops faster which lets in a bit more than 8 times more light, allowing you to use shutter speeds more than 8 times faster. But it's still 3 stops, roughly.
posted by DaShiv at 9:55 PM on December 14, 2005

Do not buy in the UK. Possibly one of the most expensive places in the world to buy photo gear.

As for a recommendation, it's rather difficult with no indication of your budget or any particular aspect of photography or subject matter you might be more interested in or maybe what kind of lenses you're most likely to want.

FWIW, in the $3000 region the Canon 5D is rather tasty. For about half that, I'd go for a Nikon D200. For about half that, there's more choices, none of them are bad, I'd go for the Pentax *ist DS2 or the Minolta 7D, but I'm not you.

Or wait until the spring and see what's new by then.
posted by normy at 9:58 PM on December 14, 2005

Nikon D200 (10mp) is coming out next month. Very tasty looking. DPReview was very impressed. I'm buying one.
posted by johngumbo at 10:07 PM on December 14, 2005

Rothco, reading your original post, what type of electronic music shows do you photograph? I do similar work here in LA with a older Olympus 3mp... it's cool to meet someone similar :)
posted by starscream at 10:19 PM on December 14, 2005

Max/MSP, Live laptop stuff, dub, glitch, experimental, improv. Almost all of it indoors and often in pitch black!
posted by Rothko at 10:31 PM on December 14, 2005

Response by poster: thanks for the advice. i will follow up everything here when i have more time... my budget is about £600-800 (for that i would expect my entry-level lens and a decentish memory card). as i said originally, i want to use the camera for MANY different things. i will be travelling across asia next year and need a quality camera i can whip out when needed.

i have been using digital for a while now and have a heap of memory cards for my olympus, but it seems from the comments here that canon or nikon is the way to go.

i may wait until next summer. i will be leaving japan and am guessing that with the forthcoming new range arriving in the autumn that prices will drop on 'this' year's models

wow! so many links.. . thanks again
posted by 0bvious at 10:58 PM on December 14, 2005

I <3 my 350D and its thrifty fifty. (50mm f1.8)
posted by petah at 2:31 AM on December 15, 2005

You live in *Japan* and you're thinking of buying in the UK?

That's plain crazy - for starters, you have to pay VAT on UK purchases, so buy in Japan as an export to the UK and so avoid Japanese tax(es?) as well as UK - Don't forget there is no added import duty of VAT on digital cameras brought into the UK. (That's why the Ebay ads for DigitalRev, for example, promise no extra costs for UK purchasers - you do pay import tax, but not VAT)

That *should* drop your purchase price significantly, which if you can haggle in the Ak district should mean you could scale up to a D70s for the same money as a 50, even.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 4:01 AM on December 15, 2005

Accoording to Kevin Kelly the Lumix FZ5 is exactly what you want.
posted by phrontist at 5:20 AM on December 15, 2005

Minolta 7D. They're only 6MP but the ergonomics are sooooo much better than pretty much anything else out there. No digging through menus or holding down multiple buttons to adjust something - EVERY camera function has a mechanical knob to adjust it. It looks kind of like it's bristling initially but you get used to it all very quickly and it's very intuitive. The 5D is the same camera (shutter+CCD) but smaller chassis, one less thumbwheel and compensation dial, lower res screen.

The viewfinder is miles beyond the 300D/350D/D70/D50 in terms of size and brightness. Since you do low-light stuff, anti-shake is good. You can get a 50/1.7 for about USD40 plus there are the usual range of high quality zoom lenses available (11-18, 17-35/2.8-4, 28-75/2.8, etc).

The only drawback is that SSM (Minolta's equivalent of USM) is currently available only on the top-end lenses at USD1800+.

Like everyone says, don't buy in the UK; that would be stupid.
posted by polyglot at 6:27 AM on December 15, 2005

The Lumix FZ5 is *not* a digital SLR.
posted by bshort at 6:32 AM on December 15, 2005

I finally took the plunge and bought a Nikon D50. I cannot emphasize one thing enough- Go to a brick-and-mortar store and actually handle the cameras you are considering.

That's what sold me on the Nikon, more than the name, or anything else- it just felt "right" in my hands, secure and the controls falling into place intuitively. In terms of actually using the camera, the easier the controls actually "work" for you, instead of against you will make your photo experience far more pleasant and productive. The 2 MP difference between the Canon and Nikon is something for the measurebators to haggle about.

To me, photography is a personal experience. One should be comfortable with ther tools you use.
posted by pjern at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2005

A word about Canon and lenses:
We shoot with a EOS 10d we bought about 18 months ago. A couple months back we bought a 200-400mm L-series image-stablized lens. Wow!

Now we have both a wide angle and a zoom L-series. These top quality lenses from Canon make a very serious difference in the quality of our photos. The image stabilization is useful to us because we shoot wild life. Our favorite result is an awesome shot of a leopard, lit only by the guide's spot light, at night.

But the wide angle L-series also is a major improvement. Here the improvement is seen mainly in the color. We get much more realistic color from that lens than from the old cheaper lenses left over from an older EOS 35mm camera.
posted by Goofyy at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2005

That's plain crazy - for starters, you have to pay VAT on UK purchases

As a visitor, he can presumably get the 17.5% VAT back.
posted by smackfu at 7:50 AM on December 15, 2005

There are some good suggestions here, but I will add an endorsement of the D70 or D70s system. Nikon is pretty good about backwards compatibility, lens-wise; I'm using new lenses plus the ones I've owned for years (for my N90). In my experience, the D70 is fantastic.
posted by mumeishi at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2005

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