Home > Gadgets & Toys > Getting a New DSLR

Getting a New DSLR

December 11th, 2007

So, I finally broke down and decided to get my very first digital SLR camera. The timing seems about right; the cameras I’m looking at have come down in price well enough for me to afford. The last time I looked at these with an interest in buying, the body-only prices were about a thousand dollars. Today, they hover just above $400, with simple “kit lens” sets around $500.1207-Nicanon

By this time I have it shaved down to two possibilities: the Nikon D40x or the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (also called the 400D, or in Japan, the “Kiss X.” Yeah, I know). And between those two, I am leaning heavily toward the Canon XTi.

One of the reasons is that when I checked them out at the camera shop, the Canon felt better, and more familiar. One feature that could have tilted the choice either way–the ability to compose shots live using the LCD screen–seems absent in both models, available only in DSLR cameras above a thousand dollars, or so the camera shop guy claimed.

The Nikon D40x starts at $610; the Canon XTi at $601. The Nikon got a 7.7 rating at CNet, the XTi an 8.0 (though user reviews were less enthusiastic than for the Nikon). More in-depth reviews at dpreviews.com gave the Nikon a very slight edge over the Canon, though the side-by-side feature roundup (another one here) seems fairly on par when it comes to features that matter more to me. Dpreviews did give the Nikon better marks for speed, but when I handled both in the camera store, the Canon had notably better speed in taking consecutive shots. Maybe the settings on the Nikon were wrong, or the conditions unusual?

The Nikon lacks the sensor-cleaning feature that the XTi has–something I’d be worried about–and is said to focus more slowly. Also, it looks like the Nikon’s ability to use auto-focus with attached lenses is limited. Nikon’s USB connection is quite a bit faster; though I do dislike sitting there waiting for images to download, it’s something I can live with.

I am also looking to get a good zoom lens to go with the standard 18-55mm lens that comes with the camera in “kit” form. Hopefully one that won’t break the bank; some of those higher-end lenses look lovely, but I’d rather not pay triple the price of the camera for a lens. The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG APO Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens; people say mostly very good things about it, and the price (around $200) looks good as well. The wireless remote for the camera also looks cheap and useful.

Anybody with experience here want to give me some advice? I’ll probably buy within the next couple of days.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys Tags: by
  1. andy
    December 11th, 2007 at 15:40 | #1

    Good luck with your choice – it’s something I’ve been thinking of for a good while but not done anything with regards to progress the thought.

    I have a Canon EOS5 – SLR – best camera I have ever owned by far and improved my photography no end – it just made everything so easy. I also have a plethora of lenses for it too so more than likely when I do go digital it’ll be for Canon so I can reuse my lenses.

    If I was to buy another brand though Nikon is top of the list.

    Not that any of this will help in your decision Luis – but good luck and have fun!

  2. Luis
    December 11th, 2007 at 18:47 | #2

    Andy: well, I don’t have any pre-existing Canon gear (though maybe my broken PowerShot S30 battery charger would work with this), but the Canon paradigm of buttons and iconography will be consistent and therefore easier to use.

    I also noticed that while the Nikon’s LCD data screen was slickly designed, it was also harder to read. Canon went for plain and clear, and I do like that better when it comes to glancing at my LCD for quick info before I take the shot.

  3. December 11th, 2007 at 21:14 | #3

    Do I get to vote? 😉

    The site should be “dpreview.com,” by the way, not “dpreviews.com,” which actually forwards to “designerpreviews.com,” an architecture/interior design site.

    I’d rather not pay triple the price of the camera for a lens.

    Fair enough, but remember that it is ultimately a lens system you are buying into, not really an individual camera–at least not in the long term. Over the long term, assuming your interest in SLRs is something that you plan to pursue over the years, your lens collection will be more or less permanent, but individual bodies will be almost disposable by way of comparison. If you really get the bug, you will find yourself outgrowing the functionality available in bodies in this range, but the lenses will stay with you, so it is worth keeping that in mind when making lens purchases. The best advice I can offer is that you invest in good glass.

    Whichever you choose, I’m sure it will serve you well for a long time to come.

  4. Luis
    December 11th, 2007 at 23:05 | #4

    Sako: Yeah, I read about the lens thing. I guess I’ll find that out. Still, I don’t plan on paying more than $1000 for a lens; I’m not quite that dedicated to the hobby. We’ll see what the lens set I’m getting is like. I might even opt for a scope instead of a major zoom lens, but I’ll have to see what’s out there first. Edit: maybe I can buy lenses secondhand?

    The S1-IS I’ve been using for three years is great for some stuff, but lacking in many ways. I take lots of birding photos, and birds usually perch within branches; the S1-IS almost never focuses correctly, and trying can spend a frustrating full minute, in which the bird always flies off. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a perfect shot at a bird–it’s close, plainly visible, sitting still and everything… and the goddamned camera refuses to focus on it. By the time I get the damn thing focused, the bird is gone or flies off just as I’m snapping the picture (that happens a lot!).

    The XTi has better AF, but the manual focus will be the eventual fallback–if the first AF attempt doesn’t fly, just flick the switch to MF and get it ready within a second or two by hand. That will make a huge difference. I can even adjust the focus slowly as I take multiple shots, so that at least one will be perfect.

    Then there is image clarity. I don’t know if it’s the focus, or just the image quality, but I find it very hard indeed to get a crisp, sharp shot at actual image size. The SI-IS is set to the finest, largest image quality/size, but when I view the image on a monitor at 100% size, it always seems fuzzy. I expect the XTi should improve on that.

    One question, though: comparing the SI-IS to the XTi, what magnification is a 300mm lens zoom equal to in terms of the point-and-shoot “x” mag? Is an XTi 300mm shot equal to 16x? Yes, I know megapixels and other stuff play into it, but be a sport–which will get more detail, my S1-IS at full zoom with a 1.6x telephoto lens, or the XTi with a 300mm lens? Will I get far better quality, somewhat better quality, or the same-ish image but with a fancier camera?

  5. Luis
    December 12th, 2007 at 00:17 | #5

    Oops. The price I gave was for the XT, not the XTi. (That’s now corrected in the post above.) The low price I can find on the XTi with kit lens is $600. Body only starts at $510. For a decent everyday lens, there is the Canon 28-105mm lens, starting at $225; that would put the basic set at $735. Add a Sigma 70-300mm, and we’re talking $935. Add the wireless controller, some protective filters, and a super-fast CF card, and we’re topping a grand.

    Not what I was thinking. And nevertheless, it’s still pretty cheap. And I understand that the XTi is a rather stark improvement over the XT, making a step down a lot less attractive.

    Hmm… the mulling-over process evolves….

  6. ykw
    December 12th, 2007 at 03:10 | #6

    I think Image Stabilization is critically important.

    The PowerShot A650 IS, Xs100 IS, and A720 IS use a lens shift-type Image Stabilizer (IS) system to detect and correct slight camera shakes that can cause image blur. Minute vibration gyros detect lens tilting caused by hand shake. These signals – 4,000 per second – are processed by a single-chip IS controller, which discriminates between hand shake and intentional camera movements. Shake signals are sent to the IS unit, which moves one of the lens elements accordingly to deflect the light rays and cancel out the effects of shake. For improved accuracy and responsiveness, the moving lens element is supported on tiny ceramic spheres. In addition to minimising friction, ceramic spheres avoid some of the problems that can affect metal systems, such as thermal expansion and magnetism. The optical IS of both models allows photographers to shoot at shutter speeds up to 3 stops slower with no perceptible increase in image blur due to camera shake.

    I think the A650 IS or Sx100 IS will get you much better pictures than a digital slr with no image stabilization (e.g. xti, 40d).

    I think the software and digital processing in the Canon cameras is better than Nikon.

    Autofocus is crically important. If a camera cannot do it well, the result is a blurred photo. The canon cameras tend to do well here.

  7. December 12th, 2007 at 05:18 | #7

    I used to do bird photography with a Canon S1IS and eventually upgraded to a Canon 20D and it has been fantastic. The autofocus is fast and accurate and I rarely have to manually focus (usually for a bird in trees). I haven’t had trouble with the dust on the sensor (I am very careful changing lenses) but the dust shaker is something the new cameras have that I would be interested in. I have a friend who has had some dust problems with his 20D. I have a 75-300 image stabiliezed zoom lens (Canon) which takes pretty good bird pictures provided you have good light and are somewhat close.

    I would lean towards the Canon, because most of my friends who are into photography have had very good experiences with the DLSRs. However, I don’t have any experience with Nikon. Also, Sako makes a great point on the lenses. Save your money and get some good lenses and they will reward you with amazing pictures.

    The S1IS is a nice camera and I still use mine when hiking but any DLSR will make you very happy.

  8. ykw
    December 15th, 2007 at 16:25 | #8

    I was perusing photo DOT net today and noticed the following internet review by Philip Greenspun, who is a well known photographer (and founder of the photo DOT net website). At the end of the review is about 50 comments by mostly serious photographers.

    photo DOT net/equipment/canon/digital_rebel_xti/

  9. Paul
    December 17th, 2007 at 19:30 | #9

    I know you already ordered… and thankfully, it sounds like you went the way I was going to say. Pay for the better lens. Frankly, far more quality comes from the lens than from the rest of the system.

    The semi-consensus seems to be that overall, Nikon lenses are a tad better but their technology lags a bit compared with Canon, who cranks out better tech but doesn’t have quite as nice a lens. That said, BOTH have far better lenses than the Sigmas and other off-brands.

    The biggest thing when it comes to the lens focal length equivalency is that the CMOS sensor in the camera is usually not the same size as the traditional 35mm film frame is. A traditional film frame is 36mm wide by 24mm high. The Rebel XT and XTi, unfortuantely, do NOT have full-frame sensors.

    What this means is that a lens “length” isn’t quite the same on those cameras as it is on a regular, full-frame camera. There’s a multiplier effect that comes into play.

    The end result of all of this is that in Canon’s line, anything below the EOS 5D is going to have the smaller CMOS sensor (in what is the APS-C size). If you want a full-frame sensor, you’re going to have to shell out major bucks- usually at least 2 grand!

    Unless you’re really serious about it, or have money to burn, that’s probably too much to shell out at one time. Instead, the question becomes which of the non-full-frame cameras to buy. That becomes a traditional search for the one that “feels” right, has the right features, and so forth.

    As pointed out, the biggest thing is that now that you’re sinking serious money into the system (that IS lens is a great investment, but they’re not free, are they?) you are into THAT system for a while. For birding, I’d assume that Canon is a good choice since their autofocus motors have an excellent reputation for being both fast and relatively quiet.

    If you get a flash for inside pictures (and only experience will tell you if the pop-up flash will keep you happy) I’d strongly suggest paying enough money to get one with Canon’s E-TTL system. (It looks like all their current models have this, so just don’t get a discontinued or used one.) That’s a nice modern system that does the best job of metering through the lens (TTL) and using electronics (the E part of the name) to be sure you get the right exposure.

    Anyway… the end result is this: If you are only stepping in, then sticking with the bottom-end DSLR (the XT or XTi) is a great way to start. If you get serious enough about learning to mess with depth of field, exposures, all that neato jazz that’s supposed to make your pictures really rock, then you can always get a better body later on- and the full-frame sensors are bound to come down in price sooner or later (although they haven’t made a lot of movement since they came out a year or three ago).

    So the better system as far as lenses (and I’m a big Canon fan) and future upgradeability is the best.

    The funny thing is that when I set up my photography business (granted, ten years ago now) I bought Canon stuff- and have been quite disgusted with the particular body I had, the A2. The selector knobs on those are notorious for breaking inside the camera and needing repair; I have two A2 bodies and have broken the selector knobs (through normal use!) three times total. They only used that particular knob system on that one model and dumped it because of the problems.

    But the lenses are great and the overall product line is excellent.

    Enjoy your vacation here!

Comments are closed.