Shoot, which camera should I buy?
August 30, 2006 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Which used dSLR should I buy, being cost-conscious, and not invested in a particular brand?

I would like to buy either a used Nikon or Canon entry-level dSLR, so either: d50, Rebel, or Rebel XT. I know the basics of photography, but it's a hobby; so I'm an amateur-level photographer.

I also know that the d80 and Rebel XTi are coming out in the Fall which should make some of my potential choices cheaper in the coming months.

Here are some direct questions that I wanted to ask:

1) Is it worth it to save some money getting the Rebel over the XT?
[I do like the quick startup on the XT specs, but do people generally just leave their camera on (thereby negating this feature). The difference in size would not matter a great deal to me, although I would prefer a smaller one over the larger.]

2) Is it worth getting a d50 over a XT if, for the sake of argument, they are both the same price? Or is this a philosophical argument?
[I do have some SD cards (and no CF cards), and an (unfounded) bias for Canon cameras.]

3) What should I look for when testing out a used dSLR?
[I have on my checklist: dust on sensor, hot pixels, # of photos taken -- Do these things really matter? ]
posted by mutantdisco! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I bought my D70, it was a choice between the Rebel and the D70. The D70 feels substantial in your hands, the Rebel felt very cheap. The XT made a LOT of improvements, and when it came out, I felt a tinge of buyer's remorse for not waiting to compare between the XT and the D70.

Granted, I've only taken a few pictures with the Rebel and none with the XT, but my friends that own the Rebel are jealous of my D70, and the friend with the XT is really glad he didn't get a Rebel.

For the record, I (heart) my D70.

I was in the same position you were two years ago, so I understand your confusion... I've enjoyed my D70 enough that I haven't looked at getting anything better, It has everything a beginner needs, with room to grow. I don't know how it compares to current models, i.e. the D50 and D80, but I'd feel confident suggesting a new/used D70.
posted by hatsix at 1:31 PM on August 30, 2006

I wouldn't buy a dslr used. you want the sensor clean, the thing in decent shape and you want a warranty - this is especially important. it doesn't happen often that things go wrong with these types of cameras but when they do, you want to be sure that you don't have a grey-market camera canon usa or nikon usa refuse to work on.

that being said, I'd recommend you check out the review articles on the excellent site

I have played with the digital rebel (I own a 20d and a 1ds mark II, both of which are most likely out of your range), and I remember being impressed with how close it was to my 20d. especially in low-light conditions, the grain was really low. it's a solid buy, even if there is a new one on the horizon and with it taking the majority of canon lenses, you should be happy about having bought it for a long time.
posted by krautland at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2006

Not directly answering your three questions but here are couple of considerations:

Lens(es): This will be the constant that you'll be able to take with you from camera to camera if and when you decide to upgrade and will be as important a cost consideration as the body itself. If there's a great lens for your kind of photography in one of or other of the brands, let that be an important component in your evaluation. I'm still using lenses I got years ago for my bog-standard film slr in my newer dslr kit.

CF-write speed: The single most anoying thing in dslr's (imho) is having the perfect shot in frame but not being able to shoot because the camera is cogitating. Whichever of your shortlist can write the most frames to the CF card in the quickest time would be a strong contender in my book.

On testing, bear in mind that the poxy little view-screen on the back of the camera itself won't be large enough to show up any potential problems with a dusty sensor/bad pixels (unless they're shockingly bad) so make sure you have the opportunity to view the images on a larger monitor to zoom in an check 'em out.

Best of luck!
posted by dogsbody at 1:38 PM on August 30, 2006

If the prices on the older models are cheap enought, they might be worth a look. The D70 and the 350xt are both nice cameras.
posted by chunking express at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2006

Also I have been told Pentax's SLR actually has the best view-finder of the bunch. If you are used to a film SLR cameras view-finder, looking through a digital SLRs view-finder is going to be a serious let-down.
posted by chunking express at 1:55 PM on August 30, 2006

If you are used to a film SLR cameras view-finder, looking through a digital SLRs view-finder is going to be a serious let-down.

If that's the case, then I'll recommend faux-SLRs even more heartily than I was going to anyway. Digitals with a (shaded, secondary) LCD viewfinder are much smaller, lighter, and cheaper than digital SLRs. LCD obviously has some drawbacks (I can't see anything in this low light!) but for my purposes it's been a great compromise. I'll always miss the pleasure of shooting with a film SLR's viewfinder, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I couldn't take half the pictures I do take without image stabilization.

On that note, consider the Panasonic Lumix line, like the FZ7.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 2:29 PM on August 30, 2006

Kevin Kelly at cooltools gushes over the $340 lumix. and also here

posted by mecran01 at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Personally, I would stick to Canon or Nikon because of the large body of lenses that are available used. Between them, you'll get a fanboy rants about which is better, but don't pay any attention. Go to a camera store where you can feel both in your hands. Take a flash card with you and take pictures with both. This will help you decide.

To clarify krautland's point: It's true you don't want a grey-market camera, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't buy used. Just buy from people and not websites, and make sure they have the original warranty card. (You won't have the warranty--unless it's a fairly new camera--but you'll have assurance that Canon/Nikon repair will work on it.) Join a photography forum and browse the buy/sell sections--in general, people are trustworthy there if they've been on the forums a long time.

And on dogsbody's points:

Lenses: Very true. Don't stretch your budget to the next higher model if it means you can only afford a cheap zoom as a result. Better to leave money for a really good zoom or (even better) some solid primes.

CF-write speed: Unless you're shooting some fast-paced sports, I've never really seen this as an issue, especially with the dSLRs mutantdisco!'s considering.
posted by deadfather at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2006

Digital Camera Resource is another helpful site that I used when shopping.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2006

hmm... the canon vs. nikon troll question again... just kidding but you would not believe the number of trolls on the DPreview forums back and forth between the 2 camps. you might as well go onto a pickup truck forum and start a ford vs. chevy thread.

I have a D70. I bought it because my mom has a couple very nice macro lenses older than me that will mount on it and work, albeit in manual only mode. I absolutely love my D70. however, it sounds like you have an emotional / aesthetic attachment to the Canon line.

this sounds like one of those 'unanswerable' questions in a way, because it really depends on you, and what you find aesthetically pleasing. plus a lot of people tend to find all sorts of reasoning with which to emotionally justify expensive purchases like this. logic has very little to do with it, and both are very very nice products.

but then I know plenty of folks who can shoot absolute art with a $15 plastic film body.

I have heard people say that the Nikons 'just feel better', or don't seem quite so toy-like, whatever that means. I know my D70 fits my hand very naturally and isn't too heavy for long handheld stints (most recently 2 hours at a mountain bike race).

I have heard quite a few people say that the D70 viewfinder absolutely sucks. I wouldn't know since I've no frame of reference to go by (never shot with an SLR at all before I got my D70 last winter). The D70s LCD is a bit small too, although it's bright and crisp. as far as the viewfinder? um, just learn how to frame shots with both eyes open. seriously, you'll get way better shots. a pro taught me this trick, and it's how its supposed to be done.

I also know of at least one pro who's ditching his entire Nikon line in favour of Canon simply because Canon is going to a full-frame sensor. this may become a consideration if you plan to upgrade your body within a few years: Nikon sensors are not 'full frame', meaning they're not as big as a 35mm film frame. now, I'm not an expert but from what I understand that means using one of the standard Nikon mount lenses, you get a slight 'telephoto' effect. this could be a good thing, cos it means you get 300 mm of 'reach' out of a 200mm zoom lens, making it somewhat easier to shoot short-to-midrange telephoto with fairly cheap glass. however, it also means my 50mm f/1.8 lens goes from being a pretty decent street photography lens to a short telephoto (85mm) portrait lens. does this really matter...? well that depends on what you're shooting. also, crop factor means you don't get quite as much resolution out of the camera, which is why my friend is switching.

and finally... go to a camera store or pawnshop to see, feel and hold each style of body in your hand before making your final decision. Neither camera is a wrong choice.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:48 PM on August 30, 2006

I've been researching this as well, and I've settled on the D50. I do have a Nikon bias, not to mention Nikon lenses (though they're AI-S lenses and the D-50 won't meter through them, so I will probably have to trade them in for AF lenses anyway, sad as I'll be to lose my beloved 55mm macro).

I chose the D-50 over the D-70 because it's smaller and cheaper and the same (6.1) megapixels. The D-70 has the "on demand" grid lines, but I've lived this long without them so it's not a deal breaker. I think the D-70 kit lens is better than the one that comes with the D-50, too. The D-70 uses Compact Flash cards instead of SD cards like the D-50.

The D-80 looks like it's going to be great. Better viewfinder, 10.2 megapixels, smaller than the D-70, the processing engine from the pricey D-2008212;but it's going to cost a thousand bucks. And it's not out yet, so nobody knows for sure if it's good or not. (It probably is, though.)
posted by bink at 3:19 PM on August 30, 2006

Slight clarification on lonefrontranger's point about full-frame. Resolution has nothing to do with it--you aren't losing any resolution by sticking with a "crop" sensor like in the D70 or RebelXT. Full-frame refers to the physical width of the sensor (35mm). In fact, pixel density is slightly greater on most crop sensors--although it's a mixed blessing.

It's difficult and expensive to put a full-frame 35mm sensor into a digital camera (right now). For this reason, full-frame sensors will be relegated to Canon's professional line of cameras (>$3,000) for quite some time. I wouldn't worry about missing on this.

The crop factor also means you take advantage of the "sweet spot" of a lens. (Lenses lose their crispness and control over distortion towards the edges, which crop sensors don't use.)

As LFR says, the crop also makes the reach of lenses seem longer on a crop body. The flipside of this is that's it's hard (expensive) to get truly wide-angle lenses for a crop body.
posted by deadfather at 3:39 PM on August 30, 2006

Sorry: "pricey D-200--but" above.

Stupid em dash looked fine in live preview.
posted by bink at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2006

back to the threadjacking...

I was in your shoes nine months ago. I went a different route. I grabbed one of the faux-SLR's, the FZ30, instead. It has an image stabilized Leica 35-420mm lens. Do a quick search to see how much an IS lens for a dSLR runs.

It has fully manual controls with zen-like kenisthetics. You have both a manual mechanically-linked zoom ring and a focus ring. It's smaller than any dSLR, which is good. It's also metal and has a decent weight. Weight can feel very good in a camera if done in moderation. You can carry it around while traveling and it doesn't feel like a burden.

/ threadjacking
posted by trinarian at 4:25 PM on August 30, 2006

CF-write speed: Unless you're shooting some fast-paced sports, I've never really seen this as an issue, especially with the dSLRs mutantdisco!'s considering.

I shoot wildlife almost exclusively, and I run into the problem of waiting for the buffer to clear enough for another shot constantly.

I'm about to upgrade from the rebel to the 20D.

Consider buying a cheaper body and putting more money into decent lenses (though some will claim that you don't need to buy good lenses). Then in a few years you can upgrade the body.
posted by Bort at 5:19 PM on August 30, 2006

You should buy mine. I'll sell you my Canon Digital Rebel (not XT, not XTi, the original) if you're interested. (Send me an e-mail.)

...But to answer your question, it seems that the market is heating up again. Check and look at the review for the new Canon Rebel XTi, then check out the reviews for the recent Nikon models. I would say that the price war will only drive the recently-used DSLR's down in price the longer you wait.
posted by yellowbkpk at 5:20 PM on August 30, 2006

I would go with a D50 (or even used D70s if you see one in your price range). Rebels have always felt cheap to me compared to the Nikon counterparts, and I think the Nikon interface blows Canon out of the water.
posted by rafter at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2006

1) The Rebel is a fine camera. The XT is a better camera in basically every way with two main exceptions:
a) Some have complained that it is too small. I don't have a problem, and find it more convenient for carrying in a bag with other things.
b) The noise profile is different, and slightly more noticeable. This is simply an artifact of cramming more pixels into the same size sensor. How big a problem this is for you depends on the ISO speed you shoot at and which RAW converter you use, and is easily addressed with additional software like noise ninja if it's a problem for you.
I sold my Rebel when the XT came out, and have not once regretted upgrading.

2) D50 vs. XT is more a question of which lens line you like better, since your lenses will stay with you as you upgrade, and you'll change your body much more often than you replace lenses. It's also correlated to whether you think Nikon or Canon will improve their body line faster to give you the features you're drooling over but totally can't afford right now. My money's on Canon.

3) Make sure nothing rattles.
posted by Caviar at 8:28 PM on August 30, 2006

Caviar: Rattles are normal in Nikon D-series DSLR's - there's an orientation sensor that tells the camera whether you are holing it in portrait (up and down) or landscape (side-to-side)'s a ball bearing that moves in a track.

Canon may have something similar.

To un-hijack my response: I personally chose the Nikon D50 after holding both it and its competitors in my hands. Theres a HUGE difference in the feel, and to me, the Nikon blew the others away- no contest.
posted by pjern at 12:17 AM on August 31, 2006

I bought a D50 at the beginning of July. I've shot about 2500 frames with it in 2 months, and I absolutely LOVE it. Here's the reasons I chose it over the Rebel XT, which I was also considering, in lessening order of importance:

1) The Rebel XT was too small for my hands. It was really not ergonomically suited to me, I got cramps trying to use some of the controls. This was the dealbreaker, really, my giant hands. The D50 was much more comfortable to hold.

2) Money. I was buying new, and the D50 was about 200 euro cheaper. Also, I had a ton of SD cards already from another digital camera, so I wouldn't have to invest in memory cards on top of the camera as well.

3) I didn't really need those 2 extra megapixels that the XT provided.

I have on my checklist: dust on sensor, hot pixels, # of photos taken -- Do these things really matter?

Well, dust on the sensor doesn't really matter (where are you buying used? From a store? If so, get them to clean it if there's dust on the sensor). Hot pixels are a no-no... you can get rid of them easily enough with photoshop, but who wants to have to do that extra step? And shutter count *does* matter, to an extent. But only in the extreme case, really... the shutter is mechanical (ie moving parts) so it *will* wear down over time. If a camera has taken 200,000 shots, I would probably look elsewhere unless it is REALLY cheap.
posted by antifuse at 1:19 AM on August 31, 2006

Thanks for the tips so far, just to clarify: I am not looking for a higher end consumer compact (i.e. Lumix etc), I am working with something like that now and wish to make the jump to SLR.

What other sort of things should I check when buying a used camera?
posted by mutantdisco! at 6:41 AM on August 31, 2006

Oh! One more thing that I would check, although I've never heard of any problems with these cameras: check the battery compartment and memory card doors to ensure that they close solidly. Don't want your battery falling out on the floor!
posted by antifuse at 7:03 AM on August 31, 2006

I have a Canon 350D, the same as the Rebel XT. I am very pleased with it, although I skipped the standard 18-55 lens very quickly as the glass is simply not good enough. I got the standard Canon 50 mm lens and a Sigma 18-200 instead.
I am very happy about it being on all the time and ready to shoot in less than a second. Speed is really essential, once you get it!
Be sure to try the difference how they feel before you get any, for some the Canons are a bit small, for others just the right size. YMWV!
posted by KimG at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2006

solopsist, good point. I take it back. My XT clearly has a ball bearing as well, which does rattle. I have never noticed that before.


3) Make sure nothing rattles except the orientation sensor. :)
posted by Caviar at 8:43 AM on September 2, 2006

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