Factors to Consider when Choosing a Digital SLR Camera

The newcomer to the world of Digital SLR cameras is presented with
a bewildering array of options. It’s hard to keep track of exactly who
is currently making DSLRs and how many models each have, but as of
summer 2008 there were at least 9 manufacturers (Canon, Fuji, Leica,
Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony) and between them
there were something like 34 different models.

How do you choose which one to buy, and in what ways are they
different? With so many different cameras available and new models
being announced every few months it’s not really possible to make
specific recommendations on which one is "best". The term
"best" will depend on many factors unique to the
user. However, I will attempt to outline the various factors that you
might want to take into account when deciding which one to purchase.

Compatibility with Existing Lenses|compatibility
System Expandibility|system-expansion
Price|price
Format Size|format
Image Stabilization|image-stabilization
Size and Weight|size
Pixel Count|pixel
ISO Settings|iso
Noise Level|noise
Metering|metering
Autofocus|autofocus
Continuous Capture Rate and Buffer Size|continuous-capture
Live View Capability|liveview
Video Capability|video
Viewfinder Size|view
Flash System|flash
Other Features|other-features
The Bottom Line|conclusion

Lens Compatibility

7810616

If you already own any SLR lenses, that may influence your decision
on which brand of DLSR to buy. In the case of Canon, Nikon, Pentax and
Sony (Minolta), their DSLRs are fully compatible with lenses used on
their autofocus film based SLRs. The Olympus 4/3 system is new and
earlier Olympus lenses require an adapter to mount on Olympus
Four-Thirds DSLRs. Most Nikon manual focus lenses will mount on most
Nikon DSLRs and most Pentax bayonet mount lenses will mount on Pentax
DSLRs, so for those systems there is good compatibility with older
lenses. Mounting old FD lenses on Canon DLSRs or old Minolta MD lenses
on Minolta DLSRs requires the use of an optical adapter, which lowers
image quality, so that route is not really recommended. You can also
mount many older manual focus lenses on Canon DLSRs with mechanical
adapters, including Nikon, Pentax screw mount, Leica R, Contax and
Olympus OM lenses.

If you are considering using 3rd party lenses such as those made by
Sigma, Tamron and Tokina, make sure that the lenses you are interested
in are available for the camera you are considering. Just about all
such 3rd party lenses are available in mounts for Nikon and Canon
DLSRs, but not all are available in Sony and Pentax mounts and few are
available in the Olympus Four-Thirds mount. So, for example, if you
really like the Tamron SP AF200-500/5-6.3 Di lens, you should be aware
of the fact that it’s not currently available in a Pentax (or Olympus)
lens mount, but it is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony DSLRs.

System Expandability

1382939

The question of system expandability and support comes up if you
intend to get really serious about photography and need (and can
afford) exotic lenses or very high performance camera bodies. In that
case you’re certainly better off looking at Canon and Nikon
cameras. For example, both have 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4
lenses (with stabilization), while Sony, Pentax and Olympus do not. If
you intended to eventually pursue photography as a profession, both
Nikon and Canon have active professional user groups, which are
supported by the manufacturers, while Pentax, Sony and Olympus have a
much smaller professional support network. Right now Canon, Nikon, and Sony
offer a line of full frame DSLRs. In the future it’s possible that
Pentax will also do so, but Olympus is committed to the
Four-Thirds format. When buying a DLSR, you may need to consider
what you’ll want in the future as well as what you want today. Of
course, if you’re an enthusiastic amateur who will never buy an
$5000 full frame DSLR or an $8000 600/4 lens, then you don’t have to
worry about system expandability.

For more information on the individual systems, including camera bodies, lenses, flashes and accessories for the different digital camera brands, take a look at the following articles on Photo.net:

Price

Price is obviously a major factor in any camera purchase
decision. Currently prices range from a low of around $400: nikon_d40kit

, canon_rebelxt-black, to a high of almost $8000: canon_eos1ds_mark3. One thing to bear in mind is that most photographers end up
spending a lot more on lenses than they do on a camera body (and
indeed that’s the way it should be). It would be silly to purchase a
$2000 DSLR and then only use a $150 "kit" zoom lens with
it. You should balance your budget between the camera and
lenses.

Format Size

There are currently four different "35mm" DSLR formats (there are medium
format DSLRs too, but I’m not going to deal with them here):

# Full Frame—DSLRs with a sensor which is the same size as
35mm film, i.e. 36mm x 24mm. These tend to be higher end cameras, costing somewhere
between $2000: canon_eos5d

and $8000: canon_eos1ds_mark3. It’s pretty unlikely any of these cameras will be the choice of a first time buyer. Nikon calls their full frame sensor, such as the one used in the Nikon D3, the “FX” format. Sony doesn’t have a specific name for their full-frame model’s sensor, the A900.

  1. APS-H—There aren’t many cameras with this format, which corresponds approximately to the H- format of APS film. The Canon EOS 1D MkIII is one, and the sensor is 18.7 × 28.7mm. The Leica digital module R (for R8 and R9 bodies) had a similarly sized 26.4 × 17.6 mm sensor.
  2. APS-C—DSLRs with a sensor roughly the frame size of the old “APS C-format” film, i.e around 15mm x 22.5mm for Canon and around 15.6mm x 23.7mm for Nikon and the others. Most of the consumer and prosumer DSLRs from manufacturers other than Olympus use an APS-C size sensor. Nikon refers to the APS-C sensor size as their “DX” format.
  3. Four-Thirds—Olympus (and Panasonic) chose to design their DLSR systems around the “Four-Thirds” format, which uses a 13.5mm x 18mm sensor. Note that not only is this sensor smaller than the others, but it also has a different aspect ratio (3:4 vs. 2:3).
8026633

Which format is best? That’s a question which is almost
impossible to answer. All else being equal, a larger format will yield
a higher quality image, but all is rarely equal. In truth, for most
amateur applications, all these formats are capable of yielding
excellent images up to at least 11×14", and that’s about as large
a print as most amateur photographers will ever make.

Since most first-time buyers will be looking at cameras priced
under $2000 (and probably under $1000), the choice is really between
APS-C and Four-Thirds. Strictly from the point of view of format size,
there’s not a huge amount of difference here. APS-C is a little
larger, which all else being equal might yield a higher image quality,
but as I said earlier, all else is rarely equal. From an average
user’s point of view, there’s really not a huge difference between the
image quality of these two formats, and the decision on which to buy
should be made on other factors than just format size.

Note also that some lenses are designed only to cover the APS-C
format, and so if mounted on a full frame camera will result in images
with dark corners and low edge quality. Of course the image can be
cropped, and indeed the full frame Nikon cameras, nikon_d3

and nikon_D700,
have a “DX crop” mode for use when using lenses designed for APS-C format cameras in
which only the center part of the sensor corresponding to an APS-C
size frame is used. The Canon APS-C format lenses are designated “EF-S” (rather then “EF” which is the designation for full frame lenses). In the Canon system EF-S
lenses cannot physically be mounted on any full frame body, which gets
around the problem of dark corners in a different (and frankly less
useful) way. EF-S lenses would interfere with the mirror mechanism of
full frame cameras since they protrude deeper into the camera (by
design). Thus EF-S lenses are not usable on Canon full frame (or APS-H) format bodies. Third party APS-C coverage lenses can be used on Canon full frame bodies, and the images manually cropped to to the APS-C format to eliminate vignetting, though you have to “guesstimate” composition since the viewfinder does not have
markings to show what will be within an APS-C sized frame.

For more information on this topic, Bob Atkins’ article on Size Matters discusses pixel count and sensor size.

Image Stabilization

3747446

One factor, which may be the biggest difference between
basic DSLRs is the image stabilization system used. Both Nikon and
Canon decided that they would achieve optical image stabilization by
building lenses which have internal gyros and moving optical
groups. The gyros sense movement and move the optical group in such a
way as to keep it stationary on the sensor. Pentax, Sony and Olympus
all decided to go a different route and put the stabilization system
in the body. Again, gyros are used to sense camera movement, but in
this case image stabilization is achieved by moving the sensor around
to compensate for any movement of the image. This is sometimes called
"sensor shift" stabilization".

Both systems are quite effective and can stabilize an image to the
extent that you can photograph hand held at shutter speeds 2-3 stops
slower than you could without stabilization. Some (notably Nikon and
Canon) claim that lens-based stabilization is more effective,
especially for long lenses. Others really don’t see a lot of
difference between the two systems, at least not for lenses of 300mm
and less. My experience has been that the difference between the two
systems for typical zoom lenses isn’t very large. The lens-based
stabilization is nicer to use because it stabilizes the viewfinder
image, which is somewhat reassuring and if you’re good you may be able
to time your shots based on when the image is moving least. On the
other hand, the obvious advantage of a stabilization system in the
camera body is that you only have to pay for it once, and it
stabilizes every lens you attach to the camera. With the lens-based
system you have to pay for it in each lens, and if the lens doesn’t
have stabilization, then you’re out of luck. For example, no fast prime
lenses under 200mm from either Nikon or Canon has stabilization. In
contrast, any fast prime under (or over) 200mm becomes part of a
stabilized system when mounted on a Pentax, Sony or Olympus body with
built-in stabilization. If you want a system with a stabilized fast
24, 35, 50 or 85mm prime lens, you’ll need to look at body-based
stabilization since Nikon and Canon have no such stabilized
lenses.

Size and Weight

Size, weight and price tend to go hand-in-hand, with the smallest
and lightest cameras also being among the least expensive. If weight
and size are both important, then the Olympus four-Thirds DSLRs would
lead the pack. For example, the 10MP olympus_e420

, is 130mm x 91mm x 53mm  and weighs just 440g. However, 10MP APS-C models
from Nikon and Canon aren’t that much larger or heavier. For example,
the nikon_d40x, measures 124mm x 94mm x 64mm and weights 522g, while
the canon_rebelxsi, measures 126mm  x 98mm  x 65 mm   and
weighs 502g.

Whether size and weight are important depends on your
application. No DSLR (with lens) is small enough to fit in a jacket
pocket, so small differences in size and weight may not be a big issue
if you’re carrying around a camera bag anyway.

Pixel Count

7651401

The pixel count of currently available DSLRs ranges from about 6MP: nikon_d40kit

to 22MP: canon_eos1ds_mark3. How many pixels do you
need? One way to look at this is to compare the size of
the  largest print you can make from each camera. For this
calculation I’ll assume that the print is made using 240 ppi (pixels
per inch), which is generally regarded as a good number to use for a
high-quality print. If the image is viewed from up close you might
need 300 ppi, or if it’s viewed from a slightly greater distance you
might not see any real difference at 180 dpi, but 240 ppi is a good
number for a high quality print viewed from a normal viewing
distance.

MP Count 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Print size (240dpi) 8.3" x 12.5" 9.6" x 14.4" 10.7" x 16.1" 11.8" x 17.7" 12.7" x 19.1" 13.6" x 20.4" 14.4" x 21.7" 15.2" x 22.8" 16" x 24"

As you can see, even a 6MP camera can make an excellent quality
8×10 image, which is actually as large as most people ever print and
10MP is enough give you a very high quality 11×14 print.

It’s important to note that these are pretty conservative
numbers. Many users report excellent 16×20 prints from 8MP cameras
like the canon_eos30d

, especially if the images are optimized for large
printing using software like adobe_photoshop-cs4-mac, onone_genuine-fractals-pro, or Nik
Sharpener. The bottom line here is that unless you are trying to make
a living by selling high quality 24×36 art prints, any of the current
DSLRs should be capable of yielding prints, which are large enough and
of high enough quality to satisfy the needs of the average
photographer. While pixel count is a factor you might certainly
want to consider when choosing a DSLR, it’s not the only—or even the
most important—factor.

ISO Settings

DSLRs currently span the range from ISO 50 to ISO 25,600. If you
are interested in low light work you may want to look for a camera
which allows a high ISO setting. Most entry level DSLRs offer a range
from around ISO 100 to ISO 1600. Mid level DSLRs, such as the canon_eos50d

,
now offer a range of ISO 100 to 6400 and some higher end DSLRs, such
as the nikon_d3, and canon_eos5d_mark2, have ISO settings up to 25,600,
as well as a low setting of ISO 50, or the sony_a900, another higher end DSLR has ISO settings from 200-6400 with boost.

High ISO settings come with some problems, such as noise
and occasionally some patterning (lines) in the image. Maintaining
image quality at very high ISO settings is difficult. While at lower
ISO settings (100-800) most cameras yield low noise images,
differences start to get greater at higher ISO settings. Noise can be
reduced via digital noise reduction techniques, but those techniques
can also reduce image detail along with noise. If high ISO operation
is important to you, try to look at some sample images from the
cameras you are considering and see how they compare. Not all cameras
are equal.

Noise

8026642

All digital images have noise. Though an imperfect analogy, you can
think of it as being like film grain. The lower the ISO setting, the
lower the noise, just as lower ISO films have finer grain.  Noise
comes from a number of sources including the digital sensor itself and
the electronics associated with collecting the (analog) signal from
the sensor and converting it into digital form. All else being equal
(which it rarely is), larger pixels generate less noise. This can
quite clearly be seen when comparing images from DLSRs with those from
P&S digicams. Typically the pixels of the DSLR sensor have 10x to
20x the area of the pixels of a small digicam sensor and the DSLR
images show much lower noise.

Among DSLRs there isn’t a huge difference in pixel size. It ranges
from about 5×5 microns (1 micron is 1/1000mm) for cameras like the olympus_e520

, to around 8×8 microns for cameras like the canon_eos5d,
so the pixel area varies by a factor of about 2.5x or less.

All DSLRs apply some sort of noise filtering and all will yield low
noise images at ISO settings up to 800. It’s really only at ISO
settings above 800 where you may find differences between models. The
differences are due both to the intrinsic noise level of the sensor
and electronics and the amount of noise reduction applied to the
images. The more noise reduction the lower the noise, but the softer
the images. If you intend to use high ISO settings, it’s worth
finding reviews of the cameras you are interested in and looking
closely at any comments they make about image quality at settings over
ISO 800. If you don’t do much high ISO low light photography, you’d be
unlikely to notice much difference between DSLRs in normal prints.

Metering

All DSLRs have several metering modes. These normally include some
form of muti-segment metering where the image is split up into
multiple segments, each one is metered seperately, and the camera uses
an internal “smart” algorithm to analyze the data and decide on the
optimum exposure. Canon calls this “evaluative” metering, while Nikon
calls it “matrix” metering. When it comes to multi segment metering,
most systems do a good job whether they have 16 zones like the pentax_k20d

, or 63 zones like the nikon_d3. While more zones may be
theoretically better, the extra zones may only make a difference for a
small percentage of shots and/or captures under difficult lighting
conditions. In addition, there may be center-weighted and averaging
meter modes, as well as partial and spot metering modes.

Center-weighted and averaging modes use a much simpler algorithm
than multi-segment modes and most people won’t use them very
often. They are somewhat more predictable than multi-segment metering
and so they may be useful if you are an “old school” photographer who
likes to use exposure compensation for scenes where you know a
center-weighted or average reading will be wrong. Compensating
multi-segment metering can be more difficult since you can never be
quite sure what “smart” corrections the camera has already made!

Partial and spot metering take a reading from a small area of the
image. The only real difference is that the spot mode takes its
reading from a smaller area. Spot metering can be useful when it’s
critical that one particular part of the image gets the correct
exposure, even if other areas have to suffer. A typical partial meter
might use the center 8% to 10% of the frame, while a typical spot
meter might only use 1% or 2% of the total frame area.

Autofocus

1206415

Autofocus is a very complex subject and it’s not really possible to
predict how well an AF system will work by just looking at the
specifications. Just about all current DSLRs can achieve good focus
on a high contrast static subject in bright light, but they may differ
in performance when trying to get a focus lock or tracking focus on a
moving low contrast subject in dim light.

DSLRs also vary in the number of AF zones as well as their
performance. For example, the nikon_d3

, has 51 AF zones, while the olympus_e520, has only 3 (when not in LiveView mode). In general, more is better, though for many applications even those cameras with only a few AF and metering zones do a perfectly good job. I’d say that well
over 90% of the time I only use the center AF zone myself, since it
tends to be the most accurate/fastest on many DSLRs. If I want the
subject off-center I focus and recompose. Of course, that’s just my
personal shooting style. For those photographers who like to select an
off-center composition without recomposition, a camera with more AF
zones distributed as widely as possible across the image maybe more
useful. Note however that most cameras, even those with multiple AF
zones, concentrate them around the center of the frame.

AF zones come in at least two types, cross and linear. The cross
type are better since they can focus on both horizontal and vertical
detail. Linear AF zones can only focus on detail in one
direction. Some work on horizontal detail, some work on vertical
detail. Most DSLRs use a cross type AF zone in the center of the
frame, but some only use linear sensors for the other zones.

On some cameras (e.g. certain Canon EOS models) some of the AF
zones may be high precision, which means that with fast lenses
(usually f/2.8 or faster), they are capable of higher focus accuracy
than with slower lenses.

Continuous Capture Rate and Buffer Size

If you photograph a lot of sports or other action subjects, the
continuous shooting rate and buffer size might be important to
you. The buffer size determines the number of consecutive shots you
can take at the maximum rate before the camera has to slow down.
Current DSLRs range between 2.5 frames/sec (fps)—sony_a350

, nikon_d40kit,—to 10 fps—canon_eos1ds_mark3. Unless you are
shooting action sequences, 2.5 fps is probably fast enough for the
needs of most amateurs. Some mid-level cameras offer significantly
faster rates without breaking the bank, for example the Canon EOS 40D
has 6.5 fps and can shoot up to 75 JPEGs before slowing down.

A large buffer is only really required by those shooting action
sequences. Many of the slower frame rate cameras, such as the sony_a350

, and nikon_d40kit, can shoot JPEGs at their maximum frame rate
(2.5 fps) until the memory card fills up. However, if you shoot RAW
images you may only get a few images before the frame rate slows
down. For example, with the Nikon 40D you can shoot around 6 RAW images
before the buffer fills, though even after that happens you can keep
shooting at a slower rate (just under 2 fps in the case of the
D40).

Live View

"Live View" is the name given to the capability of some
DSLRs to display a live image on the rear LCD. While all digicams have
this feature, not all DSLRs do. The utility of Live View is somewhat
questionable in my opinion. It can be useful in some circumstances,
and on the few DSLRs with a fold out LCD display it can be useful for
high and low level shooting. In general, the optical viewfinder is
more useful on DSLRs. There are two focusing methods in the Live View
mode. One, used for example on the canon_eos40d

, requires the reflex mirror
to drop causing the LCD display to blank out. The normal DSLR AF
system is then used to achieve focus, the mirror goes up and the Live
View display reappears. Other cameras use a contrast detection scheme
based on an analysis of the live image. This may be less accurate than
the normal AF system, but doesn’t require the reflex mirror to be
raised and lowered. Both systems usually result in somewhat slower AF
than is possible with normal reflex viewing. On some cameras there’s
also a significant delay after pressing the shutter before the
exposure is taken when in Live View mode. Live View mode also uses
significantly more battery power than the normal SLR mode, so battery
life is shortened. If Live View is important to you, be sure to check
out exactly what capabilities it has or doesn’t have on the particular
DSLR you are considering.

<a name "video">

Video

For the first time, two new DSLRs are also capable of capturing HD video. The nikon_d90

, has limited video capability and the canon_eos5d_mark2, has somewhat more extensive video features. I would expect that in 2009 and beyond, video will become a standard feature on DSLRs, just as Live View is now something that most new DSLRs feature.

Viewfinder Size

1376882

A larger viewfinder usually gives you a clearer view and is more
desirable, but how can you tell how large the viewfinder image is?
Most manufacturers give viewfinder size specified by two
numbers, coverage and magnification. Coverage is how much of the image
the viewfinder shows. Typical consumer DSLRs have an optical
viewfinder with around 95% coverage. This is linear coverage not area
coverage despite what you might read on some other web sites. It
would show 95% of the frame width and 95% of the frame height.
Magnification is the magnification you would get with a 50mm lens. If
you held the camera up to one eye and kept the other eye open, with a
1x magnification both eyes would see an object at the same
size. However, there’s another factor involved in determining how large
the viewfinder image looks—the format size. Let’s look at three
cameras:

  • canon_eos5d

    :   96% coverage, 0.71x magnification

  • canon_eos40d:   95% coverage, 0.95x magnification
  • olympus_e410:   95% coverage, 0.92x magnification

Which one do you think would have the largest viewfinder image?
Would you expect much difference between the 40D (95/.95x) and the
E-410 (95/.02x)? It may not be at all obvious from the manufacturer’s
specifications.

To find the relative viewfinder size you have to multiply the
coverage by the magnification and then divide by the digital
multiplier factor for the format size. If we do this we get:

  • Canon EOS 5D:  (0.96 × 0.71)/ 1 = 0.682
  • Canon EOS 40D:   (0.95 × 0.95)/1.6 = 0.564
  • Olympus E-410:  (0.95 × 0.92)/2 = 0.437 (approx)

The EOS 5D viewfinder is 21% larger than the EOS 40D viewfinder,
which is in turn 29% larger than the Olympus E-410 viewfinder (though
note that the Four-Thirds format has a different aspect ration from
the APS-C and full frame formats, which means the numbers are
approximate). Again these are linear differences (i.e differences in
height and width), not differences in area. In fact, the Olympus E-410
viewfinder area is about 41% of that of the EOS 5D. The EOS 40D
viewfinder area is 68% of that of the EOS 5D.

Flash Systems

6838420

If you intend to do a lot of flash photography you should look at
the available flash accessories and multiple flash systems. Some
manufacturers, like Nikon and Sony, make DLSRs with a built-in flash,
which can act as a wireless controller for an off-camera flash. In the
case of Canon, you need a shoe mount flash or flash controller to do
this, which means added expense. If you intend to do a lot of macro
flash work, both Nikon and Canon offer special flash systems designed
for just that purpose.

Other features

Most DSLRs are crammed with features that you may or may not ever
use or notice. For example, some use 12-bit A/D converters while others
use 14-bit A/D converters. In principle 14-bits are better than
12-bits, but in practice I haven’t noticed a significant difference
(and I do shoot with both 12-bit and 14-bit A/D cameras).

Most DSLRs have user selectable custom functions, which allow you
to do things like select exposure settings or ISO settings in 1 stop,
1/2 stop or 1/3 stop steps, choose the order in which bracketed shots
are taken, change the function of the control buttons and dials on the
camera, etc. There are far too many such custom functions to go into
any detail about them here. Just be sure to check the DSLR you’re
interested in if there’s something important you want to do. Don’t
assume all cameras have all functions. For example, on the Canon EOS
40D you can set ISO in 1 stop or 1/3 stop steps. On the EOS 5D you can
only set the ISO in 1/3 stop steps. Not really a big deal for me, but
it could be for you!

The Bottom Line

3761654

DSLRs are a maturing technology. Just about any DSLR you chose
will be capable of yielding excellent images over an ISO 100/200 to
800 range up to a size of 11″ × 14″. That’s all most people will ask
of them too, so it’s difficult to make a wrong choice if your needs
are simple. Bigger differences can be found when you want to move
outside the “normal” range and shoot at high ISO settings, or at fast
frame rates with AF tracking, or if you want to make prints of 24" x
36" and larger. In that case the decision on which DSLR to chose is
more difficult and more important. Specific recommendations are
impossible to make and the technology is still changing, so what’s
“best” today may well be “second best” next week or next month (and
certainly next year!). All you can do is carefully read the camera
specifications to make sure it has the features you need, and then
look for reviews on the web to see what actual users of the camera
have to say.

h2. More

* Photo.net Digital Camera Forum
* Photo.net Canon Discussion Forum
* Photo.net Nikon Discussion Forum
* Photo.net Sony Discussion Forum
* Photo.net Olympus and Four-Thirds Discussion Forum
* Photo.net Pentax Discussion Forum
* Building a Digital SLR System

Original text ©2008 Bob Atkins. Photos ©2008 Bob Atkins or Hannah Thiem

Sign in or Sign up to post response

    • Excellent article! Thanks for being so thorough and covering all the bases without trying to judge specific camera models... just a fantastic overview of all the factors that come into play.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • One additional point I wish you would have touched on under flash is the importance of the flash synch speed. The limitations of the 1/180 synch speed on my current model is one of the top 5 reasons I'm abandoning it, and my lens collection (ouch), for a camera that synchs at 1/250. It didn't seem like a very important spec until I started hitting the wall in bright light a couple of stops short of what I needed to get the background dialed in with my flash.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Kevin, before you trade in all of your equipment, consider: the difference between 1/180 and 1/250 is less than half a stop. That won't gain you much, and it won't help at all if you need a couple of stops less light.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Indeed, excellent article!! And very neutral too!! (this is hard to find nowadays!) One thing though... When talking about APS-H format you wrote 1Ds MarkIII but that's not correct, I believe you miss-typed 1D MarkIII (without the "s")... Congrats and thank you for the article!!! [Oops! You are correct, I meant the 1D MkIII. I've made the correction - Bob]
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Thanks for a wondeful article. My friends at the Hyderabad Photography CLub, India where elated having access to it . If you would like a link to the discussion you may want to see this : discussion
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Excellent article to recommend to everyone looking to enter the DSLR space.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • I would add three notes: durability, weather sealing, and more about backwards compatibility. Durability - some cameras are entirely plastic bodies - aside from the mount - and others are a metal frame coated in plastic. Consider how rough you are on your stuff, and what kind of situations your camera will be used in. Weather sealing - some camera, and camera+lens combinations are "weather sealed", meaning you can take them out in the rain or into a dusty environment, and not destroy them. In regards to backwards compatibility, the picture presented in the article is a bit muddied. Some lenses will safely attach to a camera, but the resulting unit may be useless or frustrating. I follow Pentax a lot and Nikon a little, so I can only comment on those systems. Pentax allows you to mount any lens as far back as M42 screw mount (though only M42 requires a $20 adapter), and will give you focus confirmation (beeping or a viewfinder light when it thinks you have focus) and metering. To meter, the camera quickly switches the lens to your preferred aperture, meters the scene, and reopens the lens. It takes about a third of a second. Pentax has announced (and not yet shipped) lenses that are SDM-only, i.e. do not provide a drive screw for focus. They will not work on the *istDS/DL cameras (and earlier film models, clearly), and is probably their biggest backwards compatibility break of late. At least one current Nikon DSLR (D40) will work with SDM-only lenses, i.e. does not provide a focusing motor in the camera to drive the focus screw. Though AF lenses will mount, focus remains manual and metering is your problem. Aside from that odd exception, my Nikonian friends enjoy splendid backwards compatibility.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • A great in depth and informative article !
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Pretty biased toward Nikon and Canon. I say that only because in a number of the sections, the analysis is only on these two manufacturers.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • You would be hard pressed to write an article such as this and not mention the two top selling manufacturers of digital cameras today as examples, I didn't see any example bias of Nikon or Cannon in this article, and I am using an Olympus E system, for this reason, (and others), I consider the above comment regarding bias to be unfair, this article is well balanced, informative, and covers all major aspects of camera purchase allowing you to make an informed decision when you do decide to purchase a camera, further it demonstrates clearly that the authors know what they are talking about, my only bug with this article is that I didn't read it when I first started photography last year, so this is definitely something that I would reccomend that a newbie reads before contemplating entering a camera shop/store, well done!
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Great article. I recently read a comment on "Amazon" that a Minolta AF 18-70mm DT lens caused significant "vignetting" at the extreme wide angle end of the lens when used with a Sony DSLR-A100 body. The Minolta DT lens was designed for use with a sensor that is almost exactly the same size as the Sony sensor, so I am not convinced that what I read is accurate. Sony also claims that this Minolta lens is compatable with all of its Sony DSLR Alpha bodies. Is there any information or recent comments on this subject?
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • re minolta lens vignetting on sony body; if both systems share the same sensor size and the lens system is truly compatible then the most likely causes of vignetting at the extreme wide end are unsuitable lens hoods and unsuitable filters (or too many stacked). Many polarising filters are too deep at the extreme wide end of a lens and for some ultrawides almost any filter will be too deep so as to force vignetting. Note that a 'suitable' lenshood for an 18-xx mm is almost certainly a 'flower' type and it may be possible to attach it 90 degrees out so it becomes 'unsuitable' Neither Minolta nor Sony are in the top flight (any more, in Minolta's case) but I don't see them releasing a lens that badly designed these days, maybe 20 years ago. I call operator error. Overall good article, well balanced. While there are lots of manufacturers in the hobby/amateur end of the market (which is still quite expensive), the very top end pro SLR kit in this format is still Canon and Nikon. Most of the other companies of note are mentioned somewhere, but comparisons are inevitable. The R&D bar is relatively higher in digital land and even allowing for very high prices at the big end you still need to sell a lot of sensors, so some companies are just leaving the smaller formats pretty much alone. The article stays nicely marque-agnostic and stays clear of "everyone should buy a < .. > because I did and you're not as good if you didn't". re flash syncs >1/180sec: I believe some Nikons will offer electronic sync across the full shutter range, right up to 1/8000 or whatever, so long as you have a compatible speedlight (SB800, possibly inc SB600 too). They do this by jut opening the shutter up and using an 'electronic shutter' (sampling the sensor, i think) and being clever with flash timing. Maybe other manufacturers do, too. I know not all Nikon bodies will do this. The responder is 100% correct. If you are a couple of stops shy of your desired sync at 1/180 then ditching it all for 1/250 is just stupid as you'll still be short for your target. I guess you want to be looking at more like 1/500-1/1000 sec syncs and faster.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Thanks for the torough article! I like to add one paragraph, though, 'Color Profile'. For me, an essential difference between a digital camera and a film camera is that with digital cameras 'the film is included' for the rest of the camera life. With film, one could select the color profile to your personal liking and the occasion by simply selecting another film brand and type. But with digital camera's you are set with the default color profile used for recording images, which differ largely between DSLR brands. Of course most camera's offer the possibility to adjust and modify the color saturation and shift the primary colors (but mostly not on the Auto setting that others use when I hand them my camera). Therefor my choice for an SLR has been based on the ease of use and on the extend of adjustability of the color profile. Finally, the sensor quality and sensitivity is a one-time investment that will benefit all photo's. (This does not mean that megapixels count! Remind Albert Einstein: 'Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts". Color and noise are difficult to count.) (Personally, I switched from my Minolta system with Kodacolor film to Nikon on SD+ color profile setting. With Sony I could have kept my lenses, but their default color is too red for my liking and adjustability is poorer. Also, noise levels at higher ISO are too high in jpg output. So in January I ended up with the Nikon D90, although the Canon 40D was a strong rival. Half a year ago it would have been the D40 (not D40x or D60) and now I would have waited for the D5000 since the reduced weight is great for mountaineering.)
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • I must disagree with "Phil Bowen" and "Bruno Vieira". This article IS very biased toward Canon and Nikon (and I happen to use Canon). Maybe Bob is on their payroll. There is a difference between mentioning the two top SLR manufacturers (why wouldn't you?), and focusing almost exclusively on them - if you can't appreciate this difference, oh well. So I consider Phil's criticism of "Lee Berg" somewhat unfair, because going over the article again, it's hard not to notice this bias. Though I wouldn't call the article well-balanced, it is very informative and covers the important topics. Just a word of advice to newbies - don't just take anyone's word for it (even from 'experts'). Do your own research, look at reviews from users and fellow consumers (and be wary of pundits and fanboys, although useful info can sometimes be gleaned from their rants), look at the specs on manufacturer websites, etc. You will be better informed. Ultimately, you must decide what is best.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • To James Bond, Well show me another brand that: - manufactures so many lens as Canon and Nikon do, - has third party accessories built for them - have better customer service, - has so many users. Canon and Nikon are the most popular for 1 reason: THEY ARE THE BEST
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • You noted that Sony offers a full-frame body (the a900), but you still listed the 22MP Canon as the highest-MP. While the difference between the Canon and the Sony isn't much (22MP Canon, vs 25MP Sony (24.6, to be more precise)), still it makes your facts "wrong" on this point, and adds to the impression that you're "favoring" the CaNikon camps... In addition, I'd add a section on color-space & accuracy, and one on dynamic range. The a900, in particular, offers a stunning DR at lower ISO's, and very-good color; for the fashion/portrait photographer, it's an amazing value, particularly paired with top of the line ("G" or "Z") glass. I know some pro's who have added Sony to their Canon or Nikon lineups, specifically to get the a900 + 24-70Zeiss, and regard it as their "go-to" combo for most portrait/fashion work.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Look at like this, 10 years from now your $2500.00+ digital camera will probably be inoporative due to a obsolete part. In other words, buy a fair camera, good glass, so when you replace the body, you will not have to buy new lenses also.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • next to the excellent, very informative.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • I mirror the opinion that this article is very well written with little or no bias. Do not forget that Canon Nikon are the largest and best known brands. Add to that if you are working at a professional level and need high-end equipment you're probably going to choose one of these 2, not only for the bodies and lenses but also availability of accessories and other reasons. And frankly, if you're a professional (which I'm not) I don't think you'd need to read this article. For beginners and even advanced amateurs, there's really a lot of good advice in there, and I don't think I've ever read an article that had less bias towards any one brand. Well written and I can recommend this to anyone wanting to put together a D-SLR Set
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • I see a lot of bias in this article such as the number of pixels in a full frame camera (25 MP in the Sony) and numerous other times when nothing was mentioned but Nikon or Canon. Its not that you shouldn't mention the CanNik cameras, it just they aren't the only or the best (when price is figured in). You do yourself and the reader a disservice in this as it becomes just a fanboi piece.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • An excellent article that should help every beginner. Yes, it does mention Canon and Nikon a lot, but then again they have the most coverage everywhere in the media. Thanks also to Stephen van Egmond for his spot-on comment. Indeed, for durability, weather sealing and backwards compatibility it is impossible to beat Pentax, especially at their low price point. They also run neck and neck with Olympus for smaller bodies without leaving the APS-C sensor. As a glass manufacturer they have excellent optics including some of the best all-metal lenses made. The main Pentax disadvantages lie in lower shots per second and extreme telephoto lens availability. I think a beginner's article should be more forthcoming about the pluses and minuses of each system, since otherwise it seems as though the smaller manufacturers are getting short shrift. Nice shots too Bob!
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • As a newbie, I see the usefulness of a strong viewpoint (even though this article is neutral in my eyes). I find it helps, not hinders my independent judgement because people with a strong viewpoint are usually very clear of their rationale. Helps me choose.

      Your bias is appreciated (just be polite!)

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Maybe I missed it but was geotagging covered?  

      Having just purchased a Canon 7d, I was quite disappointed that Canon has not embraced this technology like other manufacturers.  I am pretty sure it is available for Nikon to directly write this data to the photo file.

      I have read that this can be done on a Canon with a $600 plus WFT-E5A wireless/USB adapter for the 7d, a USB Bluetooth adapter, and a $200 plus GPS unit.  Seems a little too costly to go this route, I would be more willing to spend around $200 to geotag enable the Nikon versus the nearly $1000 to add this feature to the 7d.

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • I would also suggest looking at the brand's support of operating systems. 64-bit versions of Windows came out in 2005, but Canon seems to have never written drivers for XP64, or Vista 64. Not sure how well Nikon or other brands did on that score, but it's an expensive problem if you buy the camera and your operating system won't talk to it. (Especially if you're buying a used camera.)

      Just read the box on a brand new Sony camera: XP and Vista were listed as supported, but the asterisk said not the 64-bit versions. Windows 7 was listed as supported -but not the "starter" version -whatever that is.

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • This is the one of best article I have read ever. Well covered and balanced view. Thank you.
    • To post a reply Sign In
    • This comment comes a little late in the game, but now, it's more relevant than ever.  If you try to find a modern DSLR that just takes pictures, which would be want you would want a camera for in the first place, keep in mind that the "standard" now is that every one is going to also have the capability to film hd movies.  I can't imaging how much that brings up the price even though you might not be looking for or need this feature.  If a person needed a movie camera, I'm sure they're smart enough to buy one.  But, when they don't need one - now they have to buy one anyway.  What's going on here?  I'm thinking it won't be long until people won't know what a "camera" is.  "Camera?  Oh, you mean my frobulator.  It films movies, slices and dices vegetables, changes the oil in my car, washes the dog, pays my bills automatically online and I can talk to all my friends with it.  Takes pictures?  I think it does."

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Useful info with some remarkable tips, but, man, so biased! There is life beyond Canon and Nikon, believe me.

    • To post a reply Sign In

Sign in or Sign up to post response