30d or d200? (camera suggestions)
April 10, 2006 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Camera and lens suggestions for relative newbie.

I'll be visiting New Zealand this summer and have decided to invest in a digital camera. I've only owned point and click cameras and want to go a bit more professional. I've narrowed the choice down to the Canon 30d and the Nikon D200. I know hardly anything about lenses, but if I got the Nikon I'm considering the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18 - 200 mm and the Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 12-24mm (based on reviews).

I'd like to be able to take sweeping landscapes and wildlife photography and possibly even sports. An example of a photo I love and would eventually be able to create is here (hdr is another technique I'd like to experiment with).

My question:
Which camera would you recommend?
If I go with the Nikon would the lenses above be a good match? Will they be able to do what I want? If I go with the Canon, which lenses would you suggest?

posted by null terminated to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The canon and nikon are pretty much interchangeable if you have nothing vested in either company (like old lenses). Both are great cameras.

The huge zoom and wide angle are pretty good lens choices. I just got an ultra-wide lens and I'm loving it for landscapes. I usually shoot with a 50mm fixed (for shooting people), and the 75-300 lens I have I barely use (but the 300mm is useful for things like soccer/baseball game shots from the stands).

Aside from the hardware, I would suggest you buy your setup soon and spend at least a month practicing. Going from a point and shoot to a digital SLR was a big change for me and I found the SLR to be very finicky about light, focus, and composition. A SLR is a great tool, but it's much less forgiving than a point and shoot and I would say my first 200-300 pictures taken in the first month pretty much all sucked. It took me at least 2-3 months to start understanding the manual mode and how to tweak my exposure to get the best shots.

So I can't stress this enough: buy it soon and get over the learning curve before your amazing trip. Otherwise you might come back a bit disappointed in the 250 boring/badly lit/out of focus shots you took with your brand new camera.
posted by mathowie at 12:22 PM on April 10, 2006

I have a D200. I love it. No experience with Canon though.

Your lens choice seems well thought out:

You definitely know you want to shoot sweeping views, so you will need the 12-24. Your other needs will become apparent after shooting with the 18-200, so you can upgrade only if it holds you back (dedicated macro or birds, etc). Until then, you've got a good versatile lens with vibration reduction. Thom Hogan gives a very good review of the 18-200.

Mathowie is right about the learning curve. You will feel like you are starting from scratch. Every flaw in your technique is exposed by the huge resolution, better lenses, and manual settings. But after your muscles learn what to do, it'll feel like an extension of your body.
posted by voidcontext at 12:29 PM on April 10, 2006

Folks on DPReview seem to like the 18-200 VR. It's not as sharp as some other lenses, but nothing comes close in versatility. I have the 17-55 on my D200 and really, really love it, but I don't use a telephoto much (ever). It's as sharp or sharper than my fixed lenses.
posted by johngumbo at 12:32 PM on April 10, 2006

Slightly off topic, but if you plan on shooting landscapes or pictures like on the wikipedia HDR page and want good quality, you'll eventually need to get a tripod. Mainly for two reasons: high depth of field and long exposure times (always if you're shooting indoors and most of the time if you're outdoors, since the best light will be around sunrise and sunset). Bogen and Gitzo are the good brands for tripods.
posted by driveler at 12:39 PM on April 10, 2006

Speaking of tripods... another article at the same site I linked to earlier. He doesn't pay me or anything. And his Field Guides are pretty good. I've seen his D70 and D50 guides, and the D200 guide is due out soon.

I do not yet have a decent tripod. I'm starting to feel the lack of it. Thom's (relatively) cheaper option at the bottom of the article is what I'm planning on getting, since I don't use any heavy telephoto lenses.
posted by voidcontext at 12:50 PM on April 10, 2006

I shoot with the Nikon 12-24 and I love it. It's neat being able to take a picture of nearly your entire field of vision, and while I wish it was a touch faster, the sharpness and contrast are great.

I know nothing about the 18-200 and I'm not really interested in buying one, but it's I tend to be prejudiced against the super-zooms. It's supposed to be very good, but the complicated distortions I keep hearing about turn me off.
posted by bshort at 12:59 PM on April 10, 2006

Oh, and having played with both the D200 and the 20D, I'd recommend that you go with the D200, but if you don't have anything invested in either lens system then either camera is a fine choice. The best thing you can do is actually go to a camera store where they'll let you hold each camera, fiddle with the controls, and get a feel for the handling. A camera can have every neat do-hickey in the book, but if it doesn't feel right in your hands then it's just a delicate, pricey paperweight.
posted by bshort at 1:02 PM on April 10, 2006

I'm normally a huge Nikon fan but I thought the D200 with lens was very heavy, much more so than an equivalent Canon. If you're hiking a lot that will become an issue pretty fast.
posted by fshgrl at 1:13 PM on April 10, 2006

You're buying the system (lenses, accessories, etc.), not the body. Keep that in mind. But wait - you're also not really buying all the lenses at once before you know what and how you like to shoot - indoor portraits want a medium telephoto that's fast, birds need long long zooms, etc. You don't need to cover every mm, you'll find, and that's why the advice to practice is best. Get a basic lens like a 50mm (the Canon 50mm f1.8 is a great example) and then buy as you go when you find you can't live without something.
posted by kcm at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2006

He's going on a trip though, kcm, so the 18-200 (or other flexible zoom) is a good idea. Otherwise I'd tend to agree with you.
posted by voidcontext at 1:28 PM on April 10, 2006

It's my understanding that Canon's sensors are slightly superior to Nikon's. You might want to check some tests from Popular Photography or perhaps. Both are great cameras so a review of the lenses in the family to see which fit your needs might be helpful.
posted by caddis at 1:31 PM on April 10, 2006

Here are some detailed reviews if you haven't already seen them:

Canon EOS 30D

Nikon D200
posted by caddis at 1:37 PM on April 10, 2006

(I really need to do a better job of reading the links in the questions before responding.)
posted by caddis at 1:38 PM on April 10, 2006

Not to burst your bubble, but when going on a trip with digital remember extra batteries, a 12Volt car charger for said batteries, extra RAM chips (unless you have a place to offload them) because if you want to approach film quality you will have to shoot at quite a high resolution. google fil vs. digital to see what subtle differences there are that can make the difference between a good photo (digital) and IMHO a great photo (film). YMMV
posted by Gungho at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2006

that's film vs digital
posted by Gungho at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2006

you will not be held back by the capabilities of either body. it is entirely up to you and what you prefer - UI, feel, weight, and the system as I mentioned before. both companies make equivalent ranges of lenses and flashes and everything else, and in the end, your skill will be the limiting factor for a long long time rather than any marginal sensor quality differences.

don't get sucked into pixel porn peeping and comparing test shots of newsprint and cats.
posted by kcm at 1:42 PM on April 10, 2006

Ultimately, the quality of your lenses matter more than the body you use. I decided to go with a Nikon D50 and invested the remaining portion of my budget in a 50mm and 35mm fixed lens (I swap them around with my film based Nikon F100).

I prefer fixed lenses to zooms, but that's because the zooms I can afford are all crap. That, and I think photos wherein you're actually part of the action convey something that a zoom doesn't. But the stuff you're considering is really top shelf - you can't handle low light situations as well as you can with a fixed, but they're really, really good lenses.

As a newbie, I think you're investing too much. Heck, I'm still more or less a newbie and am not even close to exhausting the possibilities of my equipment. Make sure it's your thing before dumping thousands into it. As kcm mentions above, your skill as a photographer has nothing at all to do with the number of megapixels in your camera or the zoom range of your lens.
posted by aladfar at 2:19 PM on April 10, 2006

Tough choice.

Traditionally, Nikon 0wns wide angle and Canon 0wns zooms, but they're pretty much interchangeable these days. Nikon primes are amazing, but they'll cost you a fortune and you'll be doing a lot of "foot zooming." Canon AF is superior to Nikon AF, but not by much, and only in the pro line. Nikon's F-mount is tried and true, and you can upgrade older lens bodies to support CPU features, while Canon isn't nearly as concerned with backwards compatibility (historically speaking). Nikon ergonomics are phenom. Canon is constantly on the bleeding edge, features-wise. But Nikon has a better flash system. It's so complicated! :)

Personally, I'd go with the Canon for the following reasons:
  • Cleaner high-ISO capabilities
  • Full-frame sensors (GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, NIKON.)
  • Slighly faster primes (f/1.2 vs. f/1.4).
I don't care as much about flast (or max flash sync) because I'm running pocket wizards and strobes. I do care about spending a shitload on lenses, only to then have to deal with either: A. Sensor-crop, or B. Fucked-in-the-head DX lenses. And when I do shell out a bunch of cash for a sweet lens, I want it to be the fastest possible, and I want motion reduction built-in. That shouldn't be an extra feature. For the price you're paing, every single pro-line lens should have motion reduction built-in. Canon's got about a decade on Nikon in this regard.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:27 PM on April 10, 2006

Previous relevant discussion.
posted by zadcat at 4:29 PM on April 10, 2006

Oh, fourth (huge) reason:

Canon is the only 35mm manufacturer that produces a REAL tilt-shift lens. It's positively atrocious that after decades and decades of professionals bitching and moaning that Nikon still adamately refuses to produce a tilt-shift lens. Fucking unbelieveable. "Oh, stop complaining... PC lenses should be good enough." So I guess their message to landscape/architecture photographers is: Well, don't buy a Nikon. Well, fuck you too, Nikon.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 PM on April 10, 2006

Photographer Ken Rockwell has a v. good page discussing Nikkor lenses with recommendations for both film and dSLRs. He raves about the new 18-200.

He also has a very good introduction to Nikkor history and nomenclature, which really helped me get a grip on what I was looking at.

Finally, a good reality check: "Why your camera doesn't matter."

IANAPP, but I would suggest maybe not buying the D200, but starting with the D70s and investing the extra money in lenses.
posted by docgonzo at 4:57 PM on April 10, 2006

I own a D50 and the 18-200. I highly recommend both, but I would agree with some others who have suggested that both of those bodies might be overkill for what you're doing. If you're truly a newbie it's possible you would not go over the line into the features a camera like the D50 lacks as compared to a D200.

One caveat: the 18-200 lens is pretty heavy and bulky when mounted, so you may want to consider that if you have to carry it everywhere. You can't beat the range though.
posted by bcnarc at 5:42 PM on April 10, 2006

Docgonzo'z comment about getting the D70 instead (you can find many used right now) is very good. You save a lot of money that can be invested in much better lenses, and they make a big difference. The difference in megapixels between the two really isn't that much. Everyone I know with a D70 raves about it.
posted by johngumbo at 5:55 PM on April 10, 2006

docgonzo (and bcnarc and johngumbo) already suggested looking at the lower tier for Nikons. I'm going to make the same suggestion for Canons. Look at the Digital Rebel. I was torn between a Rebel and a 20D and ultimately went with the 20D because I shoot a lot indoors and I really wanted the better low-light capability (and the faster frame rate).

You're going to be outdoors, so you'll have more light. More importantly, the Rebel costs half as much as the 30D and weighs much less as well. You're going to be carrying this camera a lot, you'll really notice the extra weight.

The Rebel's interface is not quite as nice but you can use the exact same lenses you'd put on a 30D. If you really get into it, you're going to find that the bulk of your investment in your system is in lenses anyway, and it's a relatively inexpensive upgrade from a Rebel to a 30D when you're ready.

Canon and Nikon are both good, both popular and well supported. I haven't used a Nikon so I can't say which is better, but I can tell you that Canon is much more popular and much better supported. If you have friends that have Nikons, get a Nikon. If you really, really prefer the Nikon interface and feel, get a Nikon. But if not, get a Canon, because that's what everyone else has and that means better availability of, well, everything.
posted by zanni at 6:17 PM on April 10, 2006

If you're just starting out, a Canon 350XT or Nikon D50 is going to be more than enough for your needs. I started off with the first Canon Digital Rebel (300D) and only recently upgraded to the 30D. While the 30D is a better camera, the differences are pretty small and only have to do with the handling (slightly better autofocus, faster burst speeds, etc.) The sensors are basically the same and will give you the same quality pictures.

If you go with Canon, for lenses I'd recommend getting:

- an ultrawide zoom. Here, I'd go with the Tokina 12-24. Great handling and image quality, cheaper than the Canon ultrawide. Sigma also makes a 10-20 that's cheaper than the Canon version and supposedly just as good.

- a standard 17-something zoom. Here you've got several choices. Canon makes a decent 17-85IS. Sigma also has a couple in this range (18-50/2.8, 17-70). Do not bother with the 18-55 kit lens that comes with the DRebel; it's junk. For your standard zoom, don't bother with any of the zooms that start around 24 or 28. Even if you have the 17-20 range covered by your ultrawide, you'll appreciate having this wide end on your regular, walkabout lens.

- If you go with the DRebel instead of the 30D, you can take that savings and get a telephoto. I'd recommend the new 70-300/IS (careful, there are several different versions of the 70-300. Get the latest version, as the earlier versions are supposed to be crap.)
posted by alidarbac at 7:15 PM on April 10, 2006

Canon is the only 35mm manufacturer that produces a REAL tilt-shift lens.

Are there digital view cameras yet?
posted by caddis at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2006

* Cleaner high-ISO capabilities
* Full-frame sensors (GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, NIKON.)
* Slighly faster primes (f/1.2 vs. f/1.4).
* Canon is the only 35mm manufacturer that produces a REAL tilt-shift lens.

While these may be important issues for you, I highly doubt that they are issues at all for the OP (except perhaps for the first one.)

More general advice. Assuming NZ will be sunny when you go, definitely get some circular polarizer filters. Learn how to use them (Mainly, you can vary the strength by rotating them. Moreover, you'll get a stronger effect if you're shooting perpendicular to the sun.)

And like others have said, buy your camera ASAP and practice with it as much as possible before the big trip. In particular, learn how to adjust the ISO (always remember to check your ISO before shooting! Nothing is more frustrating than shooting night shots at ISO1600, then forgetting to switch back the nexr morning, and having a bunch of sunny landscapes done at an unnecessarily high ISO) and how you can use different f-stops to your advantage.
posted by alidarbac at 7:36 PM on April 10, 2006

Response by poster: All of your suggestions have been excellent, thanks for all the input. There are too many "best answers" to mark.

I'll go with a cheaper camera, buy some good lenses and make sure I have time to practice shooting before the trip.

Thanks again for all your help.
posted by null terminated at 10:42 PM on April 10, 2006

I highly doubt that they are issues at all for the OP (except perhaps for the first one.)

Perhaps? Perhaps?! Do you understand what the ramifications are of cleaner high ISO? It means you don't have to shell out big-bucks for fast glass when you want to take shots in low-light.

For comparison, a 300mm f/2.8 lens will cost you approximately a shitload. A 300mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom will cost you about a tenth of a shitload. That's money in your pocket (or out) for a single stop. That single stop is the difference between shooting at ISO 800 and 1600. If you can't use 1600 because it looks like dogshit, you have to shell out the big bucks or carry around a tripod everywhere after dusk (a royal pain in the ass if you're travelling).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:09 AM on April 11, 2006

Also note, the above screed doesn't take into account the fact that:
  1. Faster glass tends to be better glass (less chromatic abberation, better clarity, etc.)
  2. Image stabalization (if present) will probably mean more in long-exposure shots than an ISO bumped up a stop or two.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:17 AM on April 11, 2006

I don't know why I'm responding since this is well off the main page, but here it goes.

What on Earth is null terminated going to shoot in New Zealand that will require a 300/2.8 at ISO800 or 300/5.6 at ISO1600? I don't think he mentioned anything about indoor sports. Night street photography shouldn't be done at that length (a 50/1.8 or 35/2 would be much better) and night architecture stuff should be done with a tripod anyway.

Whatever. I shoot Canon as well.
posted by alidarbac at 6:39 AM on April 11, 2006

Civil_Disobedient - Who walks around with a 300mm prime on a 1.5x crop body? Yes, being able to shoot one or two stops higher is nice, but it certainly doesn't outweigh usability.
posted by bshort at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2006

alidarbac: On a Nikon DSLR a 300 has an effective length of 450mm. Pretty much minmum for a lot of wildlife shooters. That would require, even with a tripod, a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to insure sharpness. If the birds are moving at all, he needs to shoot much higher. If he is shooting birds at dusk (when lots of birds are out and about) or in the shade, he's going to need every possible stop of light he can get.
Sunny 16 rule says 100iso at noon - correct exposure is 1/100 at f/16. So if he needs 1/2000, that's f/4 already, in bright sun. With cloud cover he's screwed. One can never have too fast a lens.
posted by johngumbo at 9:27 AM on April 11, 2006

caddis: There are digital backs for view cameras. I don't think they run larger than medium format in size, but they are designed for use with 4X5. Used by product studios.
posted by johngumbo at 9:28 AM on April 11, 2006

Who walks around with a 300mm prime on a 1.5x crop body?

Re-read what I wrote. I was comparing a 300mm prime with a 300mm zoom, a-la the kind of cheapo 28-300mm all-in-one zoom you get from just about anywhere for peanuts. I should have made myself clearer, but the point is still valid.

And as to your question: Tons of people. In fact, I would venture to guess that anyone with something like a 28-300 zoom is probably using the extreme ends of their lenses more than the middle. In particular, travel photographers. Why? Think about it for a moment. The two main kinds of shots you're going to want to get are: 1. Wide-angle shots (famous buildings, vistas, piazzas, markets, city skylines, etc., etc., etc.) or 2. Detail shots (in particular, people shots).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:12 PM on April 11, 2006

caddis: There are digital backs for view cameras. I don't think they run larger than medium format in size, but they are designed for use with 4X5. Used by product studios.
posted by johngumbo 8 hours ago

Oh, very cool
. A 137 MB file size and it is only $9,495. It's probably a little too bulky and heavy for null terminated to carry on vacation though.
posted by caddis at 5:57 PM on April 11, 2006

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