I want a Nikon camera; I love to take a photograph, so hivemind, please help me choose!
December 4, 2007 5:49 AM   Subscribe

What camera should I buy? I want to buy myself a camera for Christmas, but I can't pin down exactly what I should get.

I want a camera that will take good quality pictures and that has plenty of manual settings for me to fiddle with as I learn about photography.

Portability is somewhat of a factor - I'm going to England next year, so I wanted something good enough to capture the beauty of old cathedrals but still be manageable as I tour and travel. I will also be taking the typical silly pet cat pictures and landscapes, as well as pictures from a moving car while on drives through the country.

To this point, I was planning on getting a Canon S5 IS. Decent image quality with occasional red fringing in certain situations, and small enough that I could stick it in my purse for travel.

On the other hand, I still want a DSLR. The Nikon D40 appeals to me quite a lot, for several reasons. I've used a friend's before, and loved it! For me, there's just nothing like the heft of a good camera. Also, my parents have several lenses from their Nikon film SLR - shouldn't these work with the D40, thus saving me oodles of money on good lenses? (money is another important factor here...) I'd consider Canon's entry DSLR, but the appeal of re-purposing my parents' unused lenses is strong!

If the answer is a DSLR, what bag would work that can carry my purse-ish stuff as well as the camera pieces and still protect me from the riff raffs and pick-pocketers?

What should I do, hivemind?
posted by odi.et.amo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I own the Canon S2, which is pretty near identical to the S5. I like it a lot. It has the downsides that you mention, and it is difficult to get really sharp images in less than optimum light. But it's a great camera. However, if I had to do it again, I'd either step up to DSLR or drop down to a more compact camera. It's pretty darn bulky, yet lacks the power that comes with multiple lens capability.

Someone else will probably correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Nikon D40x won't auto-focus with older film lenses, but the D40 will.
posted by bluejayk at 6:04 AM on December 4, 2007

Canon Digital Rebel XTi's are dirt cheap now, and a great camera.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:25 AM on December 4, 2007

I have the D40, and while it doesnt autofocus with older screw-drive lenses, it works awesome with nikon manual lenses. Note that if your parents have old school lenses EVERYTHING will be manual, not just focus, you dont get exposure metering or anything so there's a bit of a learning curve:

(basically, you take a shot then look at the picture/ histogram to check the exposure then you retake if necessary, eventually you get to "see the light" so that you have a good idea what setting the camera needs to be at)

That said, LOTS of people do this (i've been buying up way too many old lenses on ebay!) with the D40 (you actually need to convert those lenses to be able to use them with the d50, d70 and d80, but they go right on the d40) see the Nikkor lens flickr group

So i say: go with the d40 and make use of those old lenses! (You can also pick up Nikon's new 55-200 vr for ~250 for telezoom photos) In anycase, you'll be forced to learn ALOT more about photography by having to do everything manually and those lenses will give you better photos than anything unless you cough up thousands for brand new lenses... you WON'T be disappointed!

On bags, I like Crumpler... but do a search that question's been asked...
posted by stratastar at 6:28 AM on December 4, 2007

bluejayx- the d40 and d40x both don't autofocus with screwdrive lenses... the only difference with the d40x is that it has 4 more megapixels, and has a slightly faster continuous photo mode...
posted by stratastar at 6:30 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: You can probably still find a new d50, which is only a little bigger than a d40, but has the screw drive.

Being on a low budget, every time I use my $100 brand new 50mm f/1.8 nikon lens, I find myself very happy I went with a d70s refurb instead of a d40.

That said, there are a lot of good lenses that aren't very expensive and will autofocus on a d40(x). The 55-200 VR is awesome (for the price) and incredibly cheap for what you get.

This Nikonians link will tell you which lenses will work on which camera and how.

Of course, the best camera is the one you'll carry with you. You can't go wrong with an IS P&S Canon.
posted by wierdo at 6:48 AM on December 4, 2007

Best answer: Welcome to my boat, please grab an oar...

I have a PowerShot S2, and I love, love, love this camera to death. Outside during the day, you'd have to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on lenses to get an SLR to to what it does. It also performs well inside in reasonably good light. It also offers a bunch of consumer functionality that you don't get with SLRs, like movie recording, and that super-sweet flip out LCD which lets you take self-portraits and more surreptitious shots than you could by holding up a SLR to your face. It's just a really, really fun camera.

Where it falters, as all point & shoots do, is indoors in low light. While the optics are great, the sensor is simply not large enough or sensitive enough to capture enough light in dim situations. The S3 improves slightly in this regard, and the S5 performs even more poorly. (That's what happens when you pack some ridiculous number of pixels onto a sensor the size of your fingernail). So if you do decide to go the superzoom route, skip the S5 and try to find an S3. The only compelling feature the S5 offers over the S3 is face detection, and it's not all it's cracked up to me. For me, the increased noise levels make it impossible to justify the upgrade. More information at DPReview.

Now, I also have (and have had) a Nikon D40. I purchased one a few months ago, gave it a run through for a few weeks with the kit lens, and then took it back. I took hundreds of shots and I could not get anything that showed an appreciable improvement over the S2 with outdoor shots. Indoors, it was definitely an improvement, but was limited by the kit lens, which is fairly slow. The kit lens is slower than the lens on the PowerShot, in fact. I decided it was time to give it another go, and this time with a better lens, so I reordered it last week, and received it yesterday. I also ordered the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. It's the fastest lens you can get that autofocuses on the D40. Philip Greenspun recommends it as a starter lens in his Building a Digital SLR System guide. I anticipate that this lens will allow me to take low-light pictures that will blow my S2 away, but I lose the flexibility of the zoom.

For those of you that mentioned the Rebel XTi, I considered it, but went with the D40 for a few reasons that were just a matter of my own preference. Please note, both of these cameras will take excellent pictures, and at least in my case, the quality will be limited by my own lacking skill and not the equipment. First of all, I don't need 10 MP. I haven't printed a picture in years, so 6 MP is more than enough for me. In fact, if they made a 4 MP SLR with a more sensitive sensor, I'd be all over it. Second, the D40 uses SD cards vs CompactFlash in the XTi. I love Sandisk SD Plus cards that have the built in USB port. Not having to carry around and keep track of a cable or card reader is awesome. Third, the Rebel uses the flash as it's autofocus assist light, the Nikon has a dedicated assist light. I never take pictures with the flash, so having it pop up all the time is annoying, and the loud click it takes when it pops up often alerts my subjects that I'm going to take a picture, whether it's my dogs or my friends. (I love candids). Fourth, Nikon offers lenses that Canon does not. In particular, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens. On the D40, that gives you an effective focal length range of 27-300mm. To compare, the Powershots give you 36-432mm. They still have a lot more reach.

So I've written all of this, but I haven't made a verdict yet. In the end, I'm pretty certain I know what it's going to be. I'm keeping both. It seems excessive, but it's not too hard to justify. The Nikon D40 runs about $450 these days. That's fairly inexpensive. The additional cost comes from lenses, and they can get pricy. You can at least expect to spend $200 on any lens you buy. (The one exception is the 50mm f/1.8, but that does not autofocus on the D40. I just think of keeping the powershot as purchasing another lens. It gives me a 36mm-432mm image stabilized zoom, with the caveat that I can only use it during daylight. The D40 will be my indoor/nighttime camera. I'll also use it when I want to take "photographs" instead of "pictures".

While your parents lenses will fit onto a D40, they will not autofocus. This'll make taking pictures from a moving vehicle fairly difficult.

Since you said money is a factor, you're probably not gonna go out and drop $800 on two cameras. I'd buy the PowerShot S3 now. It's under $300 from reputable merchants. You can read more about S3 vs S5 in the DPreview Forums. Since you said you're learning, the PowerShot offers all the manual controls that the D40 offers, they just require wading through a bunch of menus as opposed to the D40 where everything is at your fingertips. In my case, the S2 was plenty of camera for me, but as I learned more about photography and began critiquing my own pictures, I realized when the limitation was the equipment and not my skill. I'm sure you will to.

Wow, I just wrote a book. I hope that was helpful. I've been dealing with this exact dilemma for months.
posted by AaRdVarK at 7:36 AM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have (gathering dust in the closet) a non-digital Canon EOS that I love dearly but it began to feel like a third person tagging along when my wife and I traveled. About all I use it for now (given its half-decent 100-300 telephoto zoom) is shooting motorsport, and when I have more time for such activities, I'll most likely upgrade to a digital SLR -

My 2 cents: While giving up a bit of flexibility in low-light conditions, a Canon (or Nikon, etc) digital point-and-shoot will be nearly as good for a non-professional as a dSLR, have (as even my lowly A630 does) settings that range from full manual to full auto, and not feel like you'll need to buy it its own seat on the flight over.
posted by jalexei at 10:20 AM on December 4, 2007

The difference between a small sensor camera and a dSLR is night and day. If you can swing it, get the D40.
posted by knave at 10:37 AM on December 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input! I will go with the S5 - wierdo is right... I know myself well enough to realize that I'd be less inclined to get the camera out if I had to have a huge bag with 4 different pieces to lug around. If I stick with photography as a hobby, then I may end up getting a Nikon DSLR in the future to explore the beauty of full manual photography with my parents' old lenses (which I'm actually quite interested in trying some day).
posted by odi.et.amo at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2007

Just another reminder that older auto-focus lenses that rely on the camera's autofocus motor will not work with the D40, because it lacks said motor. You can probably get a great price on a D50 nowadays though.
posted by qvtqht at 3:06 PM on December 4, 2007

I would buy the Pentax K10D if I were just getting into a new system. Weatherproof, nice finder, in body stabilization, and 22 bit dac put this camera in the same class as ones costing twice as much, or more. And the Pentax Limited lens lineup is kick ass.

I have a bunch of Canon gear and am not about to switch horses midstream, but if I didn't there wouldn't be a contest.
posted by Sukiari at 11:58 PM on December 4, 2007

I'm leaning towards buying the Nikon D40 or D40x because I have quite a few of the old (non AI) lenses for my Nikkormat and Nikon F. Most of the time I actually prefer manual focus, and manual exposure shouldn't be a problem for anyone who knows the relationship between f-stops and shutter speeds. Here's a list of some of the differences on the D40x. More reviews here I was looking at one in the store today, and the sales clerk said it also had an automatic CCD cleaner, which might be an advantage for anyone changing lenses frequently. He said the cleaner uses electrostatic and ultrasonic gizmos to prevent dust accumulating on the CCD. The D40x is $626 at Amazon, vs. $480 for the D40. That's a $146 difference for essentially the same camera. Decisions, decisions...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:49 PM on December 6, 2007

weapons-grade pandemonium: Neither the D40 or the D40x have an automatic CCD cleaner. The only differences are 6 vs 10 megapixels, ISO 100 on the D40x, and a difference in flash sync speed. And actual resolution wise, there is very little difference between the D40 and the D40x. If you don't absolutely know you need 10MP, I'd get the D40 and upgrade to a D80-style camera in a couple of years if you decide you're serious about photography. That's what I plan to do anyway.

Right now, Amazon has a great deal on the D40, a 55-200mm lens, and some accessories:

$479.99 - Nikon D40 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera Kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens
$223.94 - Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Zoom Nikkor Lens
$19.95 - Lowepro Transporter Camera Strap
$6.99 - Tiffen 52mm UV Protection Filter

While it totals up to $730.87, Amazon is offering an instant $100 off for buying the lens and the camera and also $19.95 and $6.99 back to make the camera strap and the filter free. This brings the total down to $603.93. For less than the D40x, you can get the 55-200mm VR with the D40.

I just got my D40 a few days ago and I bought the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 to go along with it. I've already taken some gorgeous pictures, and I'm pretty excited about it's prospects moving forward. Too bad it's so damn heavy.
posted by AaRdVarK at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2007

Thanks for the correction and the info, AaRdVarK. I just phoned and corrected the guy at London Drugs who spent quite a bit of time telling me about the D40x lens cleaning system that doesn't exist. Sure looks like the D40 is the way to go for me.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:45 PM on December 7, 2007

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