Too many Nikon choices! Help!
April 29, 2007 12:24 PM   Subscribe

dSLRfilter: Which Nikon should I buy? D40, D50, or D70s? I've been thinking of purchasing a dSLR for some time now, and I'm seriously thinking of buying one very soon, but I can't seem to make up my mind. My body budget is limited since decent glass costs a lot of money, so I'm looking at a new D40 or a refurb D50 or D70s.

Some further background: The main thing, to me, that the D70s has going for it is that it can control a Speedlight remotely, which may provide better fill or fill that would otherwise be impossible, or spend another $250 to fit an SU-800 or SB-800 on the D40 or D50. It only has USB 1.1, but I have a couple of card readers around that I could use instead of cabling the camera itself to the computer, so that's not a big deal.

The D50 seems to have a better meter than the D40, but seems otherwise the same as the D70s, except that it has no DOF preview button (but these are digital, how much do I really need that when I can just fire off a shot and look at the results instantly?) and has USB 2.0. Since it uses SD, that's important, as I don't have an SD reader

Other than the meter (which I may never notice!), the D40's only disadvantage to me is that it only supports AF-S and AF-i lenses. If I decide I want a 300mm zoom my only choice with the D40 is the $450 70-300 AF-S VR lens. On the other two cameras, I could opt for the $139 70-300 that doesn't have VR.

The D50 would be cheapest, while the D40 would be about $150 more, and a D70s is another $125 more than that.

Basically, it comes down to whether I should care about the wireless Speedlight control and whether I'll ever actually use the extra 100mm, and if so, whether the lack of VR would make it useless without a tripod anyway.

I like to shoot portraits, landscapes, wildlife, architecture, and lots of stuff in the dark; pretty much everything, but wildlife and landscapes (often at dusk) more than the rest, I suppose. Since I'm using a crappy p&s, it's difficult impossible to have any real depth of field control or decent low light performance, thanks to the teensy weensy sensor, so it's beginning to get quite frustrating, even before thinking about the very little zoom reach it has, which makes it nearly impossible to get decent wildlife shots.

Sorry for the long winded question, but I wanted to be clear about where I'm coming from. If you made it this far, congratulations! ;)
posted by wierdo to Shopping (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Nikon d50 is da man. I bought one this time last year and I can't believe what a great, easy to use camera it is. Good luck with your choice.
posted by mad_little_monkey at 12:34 PM on April 29, 2007

Well, judging by your long question, you've done all the research... and you can probably answer your own question. I have a D50 which I love, a buddy has a D70s, which I've borrowed and found very little difference (I've used the DOF preview button... once I think. Like you said, you have a screen). I have not had the pleasure of using a D40 or a D80. If you get a D50 over a D70s you will save $275, which gets you that much more for another lens. You can always upgrade your body in the future, but if you get a more expensive body now and a cheaper lens, you don't come out as far ahead.

Don't agonize too much over this decision, and start taking pictures!
posted by defcom1 at 12:37 PM on April 29, 2007

I don't have much to say except that don't let the SD reader stop can get one for $10.
posted by unexpected at 12:38 PM on April 29, 2007

You should stop agonizing and just buy one. They're all good cameras you'll probably be happy whichever way you go.
posted by aubilenon at 12:42 PM on April 29, 2007

get a used D100 and secondhand prime manual focus Nikon lenses (for your needs: a 20mm f2.8, a 35mm f1.4, and a 200mm) and a AF 50mm f1.8 for portraits, they're all wonderful lenses and mostly very cheap
posted by matteo at 12:42 PM on April 29, 2007

My bias: I own a d70s. Love it.

My suggestion would be to get a d70s (surprise!) as they are available for a song, are a solid starter prosumer dSLR, and have none of the drawbacks which might impede your progress (ie ca n't remotely control a speedlight, can't mount VR, must use -S or -i lenses, etc.) However, it is only 6-odd MP, which can't compare to the d80 or d40.

I should mention that my only quibble would be that the kit lens provided with the camera is great -- in adequate light. In low light situations, a flash or tripod is mandatory. I'm looking to get a fast prime (ie 35mm f2, which looks lovely) to do more night/street photography.
posted by docgonzo at 12:42 PM on April 29, 2007

(remember the D100 does have a 1.5x crop factor)
posted by matteo at 12:43 PM on April 29, 2007

My D50 works great for me. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.
posted by popechunk at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2007

Don't get the D40 because of the limits on the glass you can use with it, if nothing else.

What's the price difference between the D50 and D70s? From what I can tell the advantages of the D70s are that it has a faster max shutter speed, takes compact flash instead of SD, and has a bit better burst speed plus what you mention about driving an off camera flash remotely.

You probably aren't going to need the faster shutter speed unless you are going to be using some majorly expensive glass to shoot wildlife in action. SD is still a bit more expensive than equivalent CF media, but probably not enough to matter. The faster burst speed might matter a little, but I doubt it.

You mention the DOF preview, I don't know how the viewfinder is on the d50, but on my Canon Rebel XT it's small enough that I don't find the DOF preview as useful as I have on my film cameras.

I'd probably get the d50.
posted by Good Brain at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2007

Lots of questions. Here's what I think:

The D50 seems to have a better meter than the D40, but seems otherwise the same as the D70s, except that it has no DOF preview button (but these are digital, how much do I really need that when I can just fire off a shot and look at the results instantly?) and has USB 2.0. Since it uses SD, that's important, as I don't have an SD reader

You'll never use the DOF preview. Ever. Or rather, you'll use the DOF preview that's built-in to any digital camera: the LCD. The DOF preview on a stopped-down shot (and really, that's the only time you'd ever use it) will be like looking at the night sky through a wall of concrete on the Liliputian viewfinders of prosumer-level DSLRs. It's a joke.

In-body USB 1.1 vs. 2.0 is similarly useless, since you'll more than likely get a few memory cards over time. A dedicated reader is the way to go. Plus, you won't be constantly using the USB jack on the camera, which over time might break it (mini USBs are notoriously fragile).

The main thing, to me, that the D70s has going for it is that it can control a Speedlight remotely, which may provide better fill or fill that would otherwise be impossible

That's a pretty huge advantage, if you use it.

the D40's only disadvantage to me is that it only supports AF-S and AF-i lenses

That's an enormous disadvantage. Look, the body means didly-squat. The lenses are what matter. You already know that. But think about this: older lenses are cheaper lenses. The fact that you're asking about prosumer bodies and not professional bodies leads me to suspect that price is a factor in all this. Similarly, being tied to only the newest, most expensive (model-wise) lenses should be a factor to you as well. You can get an old 80-200mm zoom for half the price of the VR. Manual lenses? A third the price. Pay a little extra now and save a bunch later.

Since I'm using a crappy p&s, it's difficult impossible to have any real depth of field control or decent low light performance, thanks to the teensy weensy sensor, so it's beginning to get quite frustrating, even before thinking about the very little zoom reach it has, which makes it nearly impossible to get decent wildlife shots.

You know, what I'd really recommend, if you aren't already heavily invested in glass, is to ditch Nikon and get a Canon 5D instead. The viewfinder on that full-frame beauty is fucking amazing. It actually makes old manual-focus lenses usable again. I know it's probably out of your price range, but seriously, the viewfinders on the non-pro Nikon bodies are horrible, horrible, horrible. (Disclaimer: Nikon owner.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:01 PM on April 29, 2007

I'm pleased with the D50 though I shoot with my F100 more (because I'm old skool that way). I can't live with out DOF preview on my film camera, but get by just fine with the D50.

But it's not a useless feature for digital photographers. Having to pause in your shooting to look at the LCD and then reframe the shot isn't optimal. It's just fine for most of us, of course, but were I a press or sports photographer I'd really want that functionality.

So think about your shooting - if you really won't need the DOF preview go for the D50. But if you think you might, the D70 is worth it.

Like others, I suggest your avoid the D40. The lens restrictions defeat the purpose of the dSLR in many ways.
posted by aladfar at 1:26 PM on April 29, 2007

D40 has a much larger, brighter, nicer screen and the advantage of the new menu system.
When I bought my D40 (tough choice between that and a D80 - wound up with the D40 and the 18-200 VR lens because I figure the extra I'd spend on the D80 can probably buy me a D80 in a year or two if I decide I need the extra megapixels or suddenly have a need to use older lenses) a few of the shops I visited had second-hand D70s for half the price of the D40.

Definitely worth considering a used D70s if it meets your needs since you'll have lots left over for lenses and accessories.
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2007

I LOVE my d40. It is easy to use and light so I can take it anywhere. The picture quality is great. I can't reccomend it enough. The kit lense is actually pretty good!
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2007

Don't buy a d40. I'm sure it's a nice camera, but you'll want to be able to buy the fast primes that will give you that shallow depth of field. Don't be afraid of used primes. The 50 1.8, 35 2.8 and many others are all great pieces of glass. They're super sharp for the most part, they last forever, and are pretty easy to find used.

There are heaps of older lenses that are cheaper and better then what's being sold new. There's a great 70-210mm f4, or the original 80-200mm 2.8. There's a 35-70 2.8. There's a 20-35 2.8. You can find any of those lenses used for $500 of less if you know where to look, and all of them are great, sharp solid lenses. None would be available to you if you got a D40. You might save on the body, but you're cutting yourself off from a lot of good lenses.
posted by thenormshow at 2:01 PM on April 29, 2007

Civil_Disobedient: *cough* that 5D is like quadruple what I'd like to spend on a body.

The main reason I was considering the D40 was the instant gratification thing, but I can wait a week to get a D70s or D50. Besides, the main reason I haven't considered Canon too seriously is the copious amount of compatible used lenses, which I would lose out on with the D40. Given that I don't have a whole lot of money to spend, I'd be better off staying compatible with the old stuff, even if I do miss out on VR at most focal lengths. (There's a reasonably cheap 55-200 VR lens that I'll probably pick up, but I can't afford the other VR glass!) I guess I just have to think long and hard about whether I'll use DOF preview (probably not, since I can't afford super-fast pro glass) or remote lighting.

From what I can tell, the difference in maximum shutter speeds is mostly academic. I suppose it may come down to low light performance, which should be the same since they use the same sensor, leaving me where, exactly? ;) Maybe the D50 would be better, since I'd have an extra $250 to spend on glass. Or maybe I should shop harder and find a cheaper D70s...

Is there a difference in the AF motors between the D50 and the D70s?

Thanks to everyone for their responses!
posted by wierdo at 2:06 PM on April 29, 2007

I own two D70 bodies. Not D70s's. I loooove them, and the Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens, and the Sigma 105mm prime I've got attached to them. And, I bought both bodies on eBay a couple years ago when they were much costlier. And while the camera and lens are only tools, the D70 does take lovely photos.

Oh, and while I don't use it a lot, I DO use DOF preview. I wish I had a larger LCD screen (which the D70s has), but other than that I'm quite happy.

Have you looked at the side by side comparison of the cameras?

Good luck. Be sure to share your decision- and your photos- with us later!
posted by andihazelwood at 2:24 PM on April 29, 2007

I own a D40 and one of the fast primes that I constantly hear you can't use with it. (But that's the subject of another rant.) Except for autofocus, the D40 supports all the functions of AF lenses -- including manual focus range finder and spot metering. You just have to manually focus the lens. I've gotten some pretty good results with the AF 50-mm f/1.8D. To reiterate: AF lenses work if you're willing to focus them manually.

There's also a 30-mm Sigma prime that, I'm given to understand, autofocuses with the D40.

Wireless flash control: workarounds are available (cables, external flashes and commander units that can trigger flashes remotely).

A lot of it comes down to what you need, and what you can afford. Don't buy more camera than that, and don't let people talk you into it ("pay a little extra" and all that). If you don't understand it right now, chances are you don't need it. (To be honest, when I got my D40 last December, I was a total SLR n00b: no real understanding of aperture and shutter speeds, metering -- I didn't even know what a prime was.) You can always buy a more capable camera body down the road and keep your lenses, and enjoy what you have in the meantime, until you outgrow it. (At least that's my plan.)
posted by mcwetboy at 3:09 PM on April 29, 2007

I love my D40. For me the size was the big deciding factor over the D50 and D70. It's small enough that I actually take it out with me every day. The lens issue wasn't a problem for me; I'd have to have gone to a D200 to use my old lenses, and there is no way I was hauling one of those huge-ass tanks around. (Nor could I afford it.)

One thing to remember is that a 200mm digital telephoto is equivalent to a 300mm lens on a film camera. So don't worry too much about getting a lens marked 300mm.

(Hating the posters who have the 18-200 VR... want one, bad...)
posted by bink at 3:30 PM on April 29, 2007

I'd recommend the D40X. It's an improved version of the original D40, with better software and a larger sensor. I think it's a better camera than the D50, equivalent or better than an original D70, and a far better deal than a new D80. If you're in the market for something D80-like, spend some extra and go for a D200. If you don't need all those features, get a D40X.
posted by chundo at 4:02 PM on April 29, 2007

I've a D80 and I'm considering getting a D40x as a second body. I love, love, love my D80. I'm considering the D40x because it's small, but has similar MP capability.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:28 PM on April 29, 2007

im actually in the process of deciding between the d40 (and eventually the 18-200 vr) and the d80. its a small thing, but i really wanted the auto-bracketing so i could play more easily with HDR - and the D40 doesnt have that. I dont have any prior investments in lenses, and am a total weekend shooter - so I thought the light weight and accessibility of the D40 would be acceptable. It's also a really, really attractive price.
I keep hearing mixed reports about the compatibility of the older lenses with the D40. Can someone please explain in a simplified English what this is all about? Also, if there is any chance to auto-bracket with the d40? (firmware update?).
to the OP: were you swayed at all by any of the articles on Being as well-read as you are, i imagine youve seen them - but im surprised they havent been mentioned yet.
posted by prophetsearcher at 7:32 PM on April 29, 2007

mcwetboy: Ken Rockwell(.com :-) says that the old lenses will not *meter* on the -40; who's right?
posted by baylink at 8:20 PM on April 29, 2007

I have a D40, lens compatability goes like this: there are AF-S lens (which are usually brand spanking new). AF lens' which are a bit older, but comprise much of the prime availability for Nikon, and decade old designed AI-S and AI lens'.

ONLY AF-S (and Sigma's HSM equivalent) will autofocus with the D40. AF lens will meter with them, and you will have aperture control, but will NOT auto-focus

For old (AI and AI'S) lenses: the D40 is actually great, you can use them WITHOUT getting them updated with chips (which you DO need to do for D50, D70, D80, but its not that expensive I think). You are in complete manual mode, and they WILL NOT meter, so you take a shot check exposure and take again. In all honesty these lens' are MUCH better in taking pictures than normal AF lenses, because they're so much easier to focus with. (the Focus dial on the 50 1.8D is much more difficult to use than the AI-S lens' I've picked up...)

If I had a D50 I would probably be buying AF primes, because I have a D40 I'm buying cheap AI-S primes *shrug*

On HDR: there is no auto-bracket firmware update, and I doubt that there will be either (it's a main differentiating factor with the D80), although to be honest, in Manual Mode I can shoot off continuous shots changing shutter speed as quickly as the camera can take the pictures... (thumb moves shutter dial, finger holds trigger)...

Also on viewfinder's the D40 viewfinder is better than the D50 and D70, but you need decent light to Manually focus. Also, there are also third party viewfinder upgrades available.
posted by stratastar at 9:35 PM on April 29, 2007

... tiny comment, the viewfinder on the D80 is much improved over previous models, but it's a bit more pricey. That's all I've got.
posted by ZakDaddy at 10:15 PM on April 29, 2007

Bleh, poor structure. The D80 is a bit more pricey, not the viewfinder. :)
posted by ZakDaddy at 10:16 PM on April 29, 2007

I shoot in manual mode 99.99% of the time and I spot meter so I like to fiddle with exposure. The D70 has two dials: front and back, allowing you to control aperture and shutter speed independantly. On the smaller Nikons there is only a back dial which controls aperture (say) and then to change the shutter speed you have to hold down a button at the same time you use the same dial. After years of the D70 style film cameras I find this hopelessly confusing and so [i]for me[/i] the D40 & D50 are kind of useless. If you shoot in different modes or are simply more coordinated than me it's not going to be a problem but it's something to think about if you shoot manual all the time.
posted by fshgrl at 11:24 PM on April 29, 2007

Fshgrl, good point. One of the things I don't like about my RebelXT is that I have to fumble around to toggle the thumbwheel between aperture and shutter.
posted by Good Brain at 3:51 PM on May 1, 2007

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