What kind of camera is best for digital photography?
January 20, 2004 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this thread, I'd like to get into Digital photography. I need a camera first ... recommendations? [Details inside]

I already have a Canon EOS 3 and a fair set of lenses, but I just can't afford or justify a full SLR digi body. I tried a second-hand D10(?) but the focus was slow, slow slow. I'll settle for a compact - a good compact.

Here's what I need:
a) FAST shutter response. Most of the compacts I tried had a terrible lag time between press and capture. I just can't have that, or I miss all the shots I want to get. SLR bodies are great at this, but price rules them out.
b) Ability to control aparture. Gotta have them blurry backgrounds.

What do you like?
posted by bonaldi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
It sounds to me like you want capabilities costing thousands in a package costing hundreds. You've got high end tastes, and consumer digital photography hasn't really caught up to you. You're going to have to compromise on either price or feature set.

Your basic digital P&S isn't going to give you the kind of shutter response you're looking for, although it will probably have a whopping three or so aperture choices. DPReview has the specific technical specs you're interested in (speed and aperture) for damn near every digital camera on the market; you might consider wading through and seeing if something comes within your tolerances.

Unfortunately, what I like is outside the scope of discussion: I don't have needs that can't be met with your basic pocket camera, so what I like isn't useful to you.
posted by majick at 7:25 PM on January 20, 2004

I luv my Digital Rebel. The focus speeds on Canon EF lenses is lens-based, not camera based, from what I understand. The kit lens that came with my Rebel has poky focus, but my 50mm f1.4 has much faster focus. So don't rule out the whole genre based on that perception.

I'd say the Rebel would be a good buy. I don't really like the kit lens (a 18-55mm tele) as it is kind of crappy. Don't get me wrong, it is a ton better than any of the consumer level lenses, but it is amazing to me to see what a better EF lens can do.

I'd say if you are looking to save get just the body and go shopping for a used EF lens. You ought to be able to find a 50mm for less than $100 new, even, but keep in mind that the Canon Digi SLRs have a 'multiplier' of 1.6x when it comes to the ol' mm's. So a 50mm acts like an 80mm. That would be an unpleasant surprise.
posted by n9 at 7:45 PM on January 20, 2004

I had very similar requirements, and bought a camera for similar reasons (I wanted to learn photography without breaking the bank on supplies, film, etc.)

After studying on DPReview.com (truly the online bible of digital photography), I came up with the Nikon Coolpix 4500.

I've been tremendously pleased with the results. While I wish it would take quicker pictures, that's just a bugaboo of almost all low- and mid-range digital cameras. Almost anything faster is going to cost thousands.

I strongly recommend taking a look at the CP4500 to see if it might be what you're looking for.
posted by oissubke at 8:11 PM on January 20, 2004

I bought a Minolta Dimage A1 this past fall, primarily for its anti-shake feature and for its 7X manually-operated zoom lens -- they go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

I really would like an SLR but I know the missing features of the Digital Rebel would frustrate me, which meant I'd be going 10D plus some glass, which would easily cost twice what I spent on the Minolta.
posted by kindall at 8:25 PM on January 20, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. DPReview is a great site. It looks like either the PowerShot G5 or the CoolPix 5400 will do what I want. I guess it comes down to their shutter-release-speed. Both are under UKP500, which is do-able. Hmm. Might be going shopping shortly...

[Not decided yet by any means, so if anyone else has loves, be sure to shout]
posted by bonaldi at 8:44 PM on January 20, 2004

Ditto on the DRebel recommendation. In response to your two criteria:

Shutter lag: All the consumer digicams have rather horrid shutter lag. The only consumer camera so far with any responsive shutter response is the new Sony F828, but it produces rather mediocre images despite its high megapixel count (Review), in addition to costing as much as a DRebel anyways. The prefocusing advice often given to remedy slow focusing only works if you have a setup shot--I've found no good way to prevent myself from losing shots due to slow shutter response, despite years of using digital compacts. (I shoot lots of candids.)

DOF: DOF is very wide on all consumer digicams, because they use extremely small sensors (and thus have very short focal lengths). A compact digicam with an f/2.8 aperture has an equivalent DOF of f/16 or even smaller aperture on an SLR, so digital SLRs are the only way to go for shallow DOF right now. (majick: Actually even the "simplest" P&S's I've owned have a decent selection of aperture settings, most in 1/2 to 1/3 stop increments. It's just that this is pretty irrelevant because all apertures give you wide DOF.)

You might be able to pick up a used Canon 30D/60D for much less than a new DRebel (two examples), but you have to be lucky and be at the right place at the right time. If you're willing to wait for a while, Nikon has pre-announced (groan) that they'll be announcing their DRebel counterpart, the D70, at PMA trade show within the next month. There's some speculation that DRebel prices might come down from a price war with Nikon, but that's an unsubstantiated rumor and a fairly long shot. Aside from getting lucky with finding a used camera at a good price, there's not a whole lot else you can do if the DRebel is out of your price range.

If you're willing to to compromise on shutter response and shallow DOF--well, you have quite a selection to choose from. :)

Ditto on the crop factor warning for digital SLR's--one nice thing about the DRebel's kit lens is that at least you have the wide angle covered on the cheap. Wide angle on a DSLR can get very expensive really quickly because of the crop factor. There are some deals on wide third-party and/or prime lenses though.

If you were disappointed with how your lenses performed with the 10D, they probably won't perform much differently with the DRebel. A body with even faster focusing (Canon 1D, Nikon D1h/D2h) would definitely break your budget, although I agree with n9 that the culprit is most likely your lens.

Good luck!
posted by DaShiv at 8:46 PM on January 20, 2004

Response by poster: Hmm. the D10 may be my only option in that case. I was worried about the focus speed because when I borrowed a friend's for a couple of days the difference in speed on the same lenses between my 5 and it was marked.

Surely, although the motors are in the lens, the software that decides when the camera's focused is in the body? I certainly noticed it hunting and hunting even when it was fairly close to focus. Missed a shot or two because of it.

The 1D is very fast at the focusing indeed ... but the costs show. Looks like I am outpacing the technology right now, then. Why so slow on the shutter response? It seems so fundamental to me -- how else to get a candid? Perhaps they have to, um, charge the ccd or something?
posted by bonaldi at 2:59 AM on January 21, 2004

10D's are notorious for focusing problems affecting a small but apparantly significant percentage of bodies, which lead to symptoms like continuous hunting and front/back focus. Rumor has it that Canon has ironed out the focus quirks with the Digital Rebel, and mine certainly has been free of focus issues (as are most 10D's, from what I've heard). It's definitely not supposed to hunt and hunt while focusing (when using center focus spot pointed at a contrasty edge). I get very quick and accurate focus locks under all but the dimmest lighting with my 16-35/2.8L and 50/1.4 (my only two lens), relative to the consumer cameras I've been using (I've only used old manual-focus SLR's before that). Has your friend been having the same problem with his 10D? He might want to have it checked checked out by Canon if he's also having excessive hunting problems with his 10D--he certainly wouldn't be the first.

It sounds you want a 10D/1D at cheaper-than-DRebel prices. :) For its price compared to the other DSLR's though, I can easily live with the DRebel. However, you might not need to compromise like I did: with PMA coming up in February and people upgrading to the new camera being announceds, there's a good chance that you'll be seeing a supply of all models of used digital bodies up for sale. If the one you want is still out of your price range right now, hang in there, save your pennies, and keep an eye out on the used market for the next month or two. There is a silver lining in this mad rush to upgrade yearly. :)
posted by DaShiv at 4:24 AM on January 21, 2004

I'll also suggest looking at DCResource, which I found helpful when looking for my camera.

The creator lists his suggestions for various price ranges on the FAQ page (scroll down).
posted by pmurray63 at 8:41 AM on January 21, 2004

Um, well actually, it's the first question, so you don't have to scroll down.

Here are his suggestions in the upper two price ranges. (If you go to the FAQ page you'll find them linked to spec sheets and/or reviews of each camera.)

Best cameras $650-$900
Canon PowerShot G5
Minolta DiMAGE A1
Nikon Coolpix 5700
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717

Best cameras for over $900
Canon Digital Rebel (300D)
Canon EOS-10D
Nikon D100
posted by pmurray63 at 8:44 AM on January 21, 2004

bonaldi: You're in the UK, right? If at all possible, try and buy it from the US and get someone to ship it over for you, or even better, carry it over. With the weak dollar and the general lowered price of consumer electronics in the US, you can save at least £100 on a decent digital camera. I just ordered a Canon Powershot G5 with 256MB CF for £307 ($560) from Amazon.com - you'd be lucky to get the same in the UK for £450, if not £500.

Also, check out dealcam.com for the best camera prices.
posted by adrianhon at 9:22 AM on January 21, 2004

posted by terrapin at 11:31 AM on January 21, 2004

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