Which camera should I get?
March 22, 2007 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I've been using a Canon S2IS for the past year or so to take crappy pictures that would have been great with a better camera. Which one should I be saving for?

I have several people who would actually like to pay me to do some portrait work but until I get a better camera I feel unable to offer my services honestly.

I managed to do a wedding a few months ago with the Canon and the pictures were beautiful unless you looked too close. I need my next move to be to a camera that will produce images on a professional level and that I won't feel guilty being paid for.

I trust myself for the content but when it comes to clarity and low-light stuff, there's only so much I can do to correct on the Canon.

Is $2500-3000 a reasonable goal to get up to that level? I'm leaning toward the Nikon D200, but what do you recommend?
posted by sarelicar to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
buy a digital rebel for $650 and spend the rest of lighting.
posted by andrewzipp at 12:42 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: sarelicar, the D200 is a lovely camera, but you can save a little and get the D80 with a couple of good lenses and some lights in that price range.

If I had $3k:

D80 Body $950
Nikkor 50mm f1.8 prime $100 (great for low light)
Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom $750 (if you can find it)

That leaves you $1200 to worry about lighting, filters, flash
posted by FlamingBore at 12:53 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like my Pentax k100, but that might be a bit too consumer-oriented for you.

Digital Leica?
I noticed one of the medium-format manufacturers (I think it was Hasselblad) is making digital backs now. Probably a bit too heavy for wedding work. For portraits, though, it might be a good choice. Of course, if you don't have the 'blad to begin with...
posted by backseatpilot at 12:57 PM on March 22, 2007

dpreview.com and kenrockwell.com both have a wealth of information about cameras. Ken Rockwell also does a great job of dishing on which lenses are worth the money.

Check them out!

Hint - Ken summarizes that he bought the D80 because it's got nearly the same specs as the D200, for less money in a smaller/lighter package. But he takes his D40 most places because it's even smaller and lighter (though the D80 and D200 have better specs). Here is his comparison of the two.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:03 PM on March 22, 2007

For weddings, you're going to need wide and portrait length lenses, the faster the better, and a speedlight (separate) flash unit. Filters, meh. Wait until you can see a need for them.

For instance, on a moderate budget:

Canon 30D $1,000
Canon 430EX flash $300
Canon 50mm 1.8 II $50
Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 $500
posted by deadfather at 1:10 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: I'd say buy a moderate priced body (Canon 20D / 30D is a favorite of mine, the Rebel family felt limited to me) and get some good lenses. I'm really loving the Canon 24-70L, as it is an ideal all-around lens and will produce some excellent images. It is both heavy and expensive ($1200), though.

That lens, with a good flash (580EX II) and diffuser would be very good for most of your wedding / day to day uses. Then from there learn more about different lenses and figure out what you might want next. (I'd suggest a 35mm or 50mm and 1:1 macro next.)

If the Canon 24-70L is too expensive for you, look at the Tokina 12-24 for a wide angle lens, or just look at the 17-85 IS.

The 30D body with 17-85 IS (a great mid-level starter kit) is available from B&H for $1600. I started out with the 20D and this lens a year ago and while I've sold off the lens since (didn't need it when I acquired the 24-70 L) it was a good getting-started lens. Beware, though, it's f/4.5-5.6 minimum aperture is a bit much for indoor use without a flash. It isn't very heavy, though, the image stabilization is useful, and it feels like a solid lens.

Throw a 2GB SanDisk Ultra II CF card in and you'll have a really good start on things.
posted by c0nsumer at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2007

Tweaking what deadfather says a bit:

Consider a more powerful flash. You'll get the best results bouncing the flash off something, and I find that a 430EX often doesn't have the power for indirect flash in public spaces. Even if it can push out enough light, it has to do a full recharge cycle between shots.

You could probably take equally good shots with a RebelXTi, but the 30D is going to have a better grip.

Look into renting other lighting equipment, like a strobe set for staged portraits. You might even start by looking into renting a whole DSLR kit to see what you like and don't like before putting a bunch of cash into it.

I have the tamron 17-50 f/2.8, which is also a nice lens, and an alternative to the sigma.
posted by Good Brain at 1:23 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: Plenty of great wedding photographers use only available light for their photography, but that means a few very fast lenses. It will take plenty of practice to get a handle on shooting flashes around those events if you're not already practiced.

You mentioned portraiture which means it would be good to have a very fast lens in the 80-120mm range, preferably one without variable apertures based on focal length (like the 18-200mm).

I'd say buy something like an 18-35, 50mm and one in the range of 80-100mm, all fast lenses and then get good enough to start using flashes. Read the entire Strobist, get good.

I have a d200, it's great. Canons might have slightly better blacks but less accurate colors. Go with the body canon/nikon that fits you best.
posted by guruguy9 at 2:21 PM on March 22, 2007

Also, if you use a flash, make sure you don't mount it on the camera's hot shoe mount; get an off-camera cable. Flash units with swivel/bounce heads are ideal, and I like the Sto-Fen diffusers. Unfortunately the cables are expensive -- around $75 I think.

As several people have already said, lights are key if you want to get into formal portraits etc. Unfortunately lighting is expensive and until you try it you probably don't know what you need/want. Rent some good lights.

(Personally, I Like the Pentax DSLRs (now with anti-shake!) because they're small and light with excellent ergonomics -- talk to anyone about the venerable and venerated K-1000. I have a *ist-DS and it's great.)
posted by phliar at 2:32 PM on March 22, 2007

I think deadfather's list is good. You'll want one pretty fast all-around zoom lens that can be wide and one, "OK I need a fast prime here and it's worth the time switching lens and using my feet to zoom", just remember a 50mm on a 1.6 crop like the 20D gives the field of view of an 80mm lens, which is pretty long for tight spaces, which tend to be dark spaces where you'd want a prime.

Learning to use wireless / off camera flash will be really important. The Strobist suggests pocket wizards but if you go Canon you can get the SE-E2

This site has nice info (and pics) on using off camera fill flash w/ examples from weddings he's done and seems to address your concerns (photos are fine, just need a bit more light control) with his bounce-behind technique as the solution.
posted by JulianDay at 3:01 PM on March 22, 2007

The Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens is beautiful and produces great bokeh (that sweet background blurriness that's helpful when shooting portraits at wide apertures). At the digital crop factor, 50mm is about equivalent to 75mm on a film camera, so it's a good portrait length.
posted by matildaben at 3:48 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: I trust myself for the content but when it comes to clarity and low-light stuff, there's only so much I can do to correct on the Canon.

If the low-light stuff is important to you, then the Canon DSLR's still have about a stop or so (give or take a half, depending on who you ask) over comparable Nikon offerings. Be honest with yourself though; if you only shoot available light with fast primes occasionally, then the Nikon D200 is better since it's currently unbeatable as a features/value proposition in the middle DSLR segment.

Either way, you'll be buying into an entire system here, so be sure to see test bodies out to see whether Nikon or Canon ergonomics work better for you. Also, Nikon has reputedly the best flash system out there and some wonderful mid-tier glass (such as the aforementioned 18-200), whereas Canon has a clear full-frame commitment (for potental future upgrades) and a much better assortment of image stabilized glass on the long end. And so on. They're both great systems that will fill your needs, the only question is which one will do it better.

I'd stay away from Pentax/Olympus/Sony right now. They're all competent systems (and I have a particular weak spot in my heart for all the great Pentax primes and the K10D), but they have such tiny marketshares compared to the Big Two that it's really a sizable gamble to buy into any of those systems right now. From a financial standpoint, Nikon and Canon are your best bets.
posted by DaShiv at 6:14 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: we had a professional photographer (Ewan Myles) come to college recently, he told us that not only is film dead, but that Canon are about 18 months ahead of Nikon in terms of high iso speeds and low noise - he no longer needs to take lights out with him on shoots. I've got a nikon sitting right here - but as soon as the next bit of cash comes in i'll be going for high iso Canon.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:23 PM on March 22, 2007

I agree with the comments about Canon. If you are skittish about dropping this amount of money on a camera body and glass, then rent. Rent the models that interest you, and take lots of photos. Then review ruthlessly.

Now, without prejudice (I don't know you from adam): I also think that an important component of your camera education is simply taking more pictures. I have found that, oftentimes, the camera is not as much lacking as the photographer behind the viewfinder - train your eye, train your tripod skills and your non-tripod skills, and edit edit and edit again. Learn photoshop, get good post-production filters (software, not hardware) and you will be set.

And you will soon see that a camera and the lens are only half of the equation.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:52 PM on March 22, 2007

The "right" answers vary dramatically depending on exactly how serious you are on this, but here are some scattered thoughts:

1. Don't necessarily blow the wad on the body: Get something that will do what you want it do and cut yourself off at that for now. Obviously, a 5D is ideal, and a D200 or a 30D seems about right, but if you think you can get away with an XTi or a D80 (i think you can) do it. Your body will lose value the quickest of any item on your list other than memory cards (and you'll probably want the latest and greatest in 12-18 months anyway). It's also the most likely item to end up in the shop; save yourself the frustration of having your only body in at Nikon or Canon for a month or two by giving yourself the room to purchase a second if the need arises. If you want to shoot for money, you need to be more dependable than any camera body you can buy. (Rentals are expensive on DSLRs, loaners are non-existent.) Also, cheap lenses on nice bodies is a crime, but high-end lenses on cheap bodies is sexy.

2. My personal feeling is that a wedding-curious photographer is best suited with an Xti with a 24-70 f2.8 lens, and really I recommend that because of the lens. The 17-85 IS kit lens is an interesting prospect, but you'll likely replace it when and if you get serious. Figure spending, then, just under $2000 for the camera/lens setup with memory/extra battery/etc. (Another 1-2k should cover most of your needs to begin.)

3. Seriously consider Adobe Lightroom. It will help you manage and process the large quantities of photos you will be taking on jobs. There are certainly other options, but this has been the most practically useful for me.

4. If you are more interested in tinkering with studio lighting, you may want to instead consider a D80 (a side note: nikon is having some crazy production issues right now; availability of many, many items is tight) because of the built-in wireless flash commander system. That will allow you to quickly and easily use a series of Nikon flashes as if they were studio lights; the least intimidating option for a beginner. The option exists with Canon but is an extra attachment, making the whole thing less intuitive.

5. If you want to talk about your specifics, different complete packages and get a quote or two, feel free to e-mail me (in profile) (i sell/consult on this professionally for a reputable pro-photo dealer).
posted by pokermonk at 11:59 PM on March 22, 2007

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