How (I purchased a kit) dSLR [The entry kit dSLR Part 5]

The Canon and Nikon bodies

So lets say you chose Canon, what do you get when you choose a body?

Moving from the Canon XS (1000D ) to the Canon T1i (500D), you first get a newer sensor design—this means 20% better resolution with the same sensor. Since it’s a later design this also means you get video capability. Three other amenities are there: spot metering, a much larger viewfinder, and a much higher resolution LCD. Everyone else has a spot meter so it’s really closer to say that the 1000D is crippled and that is removed. The larger viewfinder, because of the 1.6x vs 1.5x multiplication, puts it on par with the other APS-C finders. But the LCD is a really welcome inclusion—I have the same res one in my Nikon D3 and love it. It’s costly though: the extra $270 jumps the price from the 1000D being just below average for the category to the 500D being the most expensive camera in the category. I think it’s probably worth it, however.

I really shouldn’t talk about the Canon T2i (550D) because the $900 price point invites comparisons with a different line of cameras that are decidedly not entry level. For instance, the Nikon D90 is actually selling for $40 cheaper than the 550D when the offerings are normalized and is shipping today (as opposed to preorder)—and that camera has a real pentaprism, a part which by itself probably adds $100 to the cost of manufacture. In any case, the Canon 550D gets another sensor bump over the 500D with a more modest 10% improvement in resolution but coupled with an improved high ISO performance, video issues are fixed to be a true 1080p/30(or 24) with manual controls (like in the pricier Canons) and a stereo microphone input (like in the pricier Canons). There are some other minor improvements. The price bump is $130 which seems pretty reasonable, and it’s a no-brainer if you plan on shooting video seriously. Still at this price, maybe you should save $400 by getting a 1000D first, shoot it to death, before jumping to the sequel to the 7D or 5DmkII if you start getting really serious—after all you can almost buy a Nikon D3000 with that price difference!

The Nikon D3000 squeezes in at $50 cheaper than the Canon 1000D, and the D5000 is $140 more instead of $170. The first, noticeable, difference you get is that the sensor is D300-based CMOS instead of D200-based CCD. What this means is while the sensor performance of the D3000 is about the same as the Canon 1000D, the Nikon D5000 is just about the top of the heap for any camera in the APS-C category, with a megapixel that sits right between the 1000D and the 500D. You get the video capability bump also, with the obvious caveat that Nikon a/v lags Canon a/v—so it’s a little worse than the 500D and significantly worse than the 550D. Also instead of giving you a higher resolution LCD, Nikon shrinks the LCD a smidgen from the D3000 in order to add an articulating mount. It is bottom-mounted though which causes trouble with tripod mounts—on the other hand, you can flip it around and take a self portrait (it intelligently goes into mirroring mode when you do), so I’d put that above the Sony A380’s and below the Olympus E-620’s in utility. In the end, I’d say if you can rationalize the Canon price jump, then this one is easier to stomach. The articulating LCD does change the shape and size of the camera though—while it feels great in the hand, it has a sort of “fat-boy” look that is either endearing or frankenstein—so it’s up to your aesthetic (and wallet) sense if you agree with me.

One big spreadsheet

Some people just like to troll for specifications, so I’m going to include a well-researched table below to help your “purchasing” decisions. Here is how you use it: bring an SD card to a camera store and ask to see all the cameras in your price range. Take a few snaps and purchase the one that speaks to you. When you get home, consult this table to rationalize your purchase.

The problem with numbers is a complete lack of context. I’m including a few dSLRs I’ve owned (on the left side) and a few popular pocket digicams (on the right side) as a way of providing some context to the numbers:

The actual file is too big to render well in my blog so click here to see it on Google Docs.

For reference: DPReview’s version of the table part I and part II. (Mine is better.)

This table is incomplete. If you find any errors or gaps you can fill in, please inform me in the comments below.

I hope from this table you can see:

  • An improvement in quality and value time of these cameras vs. the past (Nikon D70, Nikon D200)
  • More expensive dSLRs product a better image but at a large cost in size, weight, and price.
  • All entry dSLRs produce a better image than a pocket digicam but at a cost in terms of size, weight (and sometimes) price.
  • All entry dSLRs are have common differences from dSLRs in other classes.
  • Within the class, there aren’t many differences.

Therefore a choice in dSLR, based on specification, is very much a matter of taste, not specification. Besides, a specification that was a “deal-killer”/“deal-maker” in the past might be found across the line in cameras tomorrow.

Also remember, that if you order from B&H, Amazon, or Adorama (like in the links I’ve provided), there is a generous return policy. If it turns out different from what you are expecting, return it and get a different one. And here is another piece of advice from the same article:

“What I wanted to mention, before I forget for the nth time, is that there’s a happy sort of corollary to that, too: we tend to learn to love the cameras we use a lot for work that’s important to us. Even if it’s a klunky piece of junk that requires loving workarounds. Take any tool you’ve got and use it every day… Spend a few minutes practicing with it every night; learn its features and foibles; take pictures even when you don’t have anything to take pictures of; find a subject that interests you and pursue it. By the time you hit twenty or thirty pictures you love—when presumably you’ll be up into the multiple thousands of frames shot, that is unless you’re some kind of freaky prodigy—you’ll have conceived a real fondness for your little picturetaker, even if it’s a kludgey antique or a sorry-lookin’ blobby black box way overstuffed with nanny features.

“See if it ain’t true.”

What I purchased

Okay, this is obvious: I shoot a Nikon, so I bought a Nikon.

New camera
When the Nikon D5000 arrived, Marie sent me this MMS of the unboxing.

(You can also see the 50mm f/1.4G, a spare battery, and the Nikon D3000/D5000 starter kit which I’ll talk about later in this series.)

A better question would be, what would I have bought had that not been the case?

Knowing what I know now, the answer would probably be the Pentax K-x plus some way to import a custom color body from Japan or Korea. It’s the top performer of the bunch and has great lens compatibility which will be a consistently better value as a lens collection grows. The Sony might be a bit more forward thinking since they make the best value in pro-bodies and seem to have an aggressive set—with the added advantage that the A380 looks like a killer documentary/street photography camera. But I can’t get over the hollow shutter sound—it just sounds clacky to my ear—and at that point maybe I would have considered skipping the series altogether: $2000 for a full frame camera sounds enticing, though the learning curve would be difficult.

If I didn’t know what I know now, I’d have gotten the Olympus E-620. I always have a soft spot for their miniature design and close focusing capabilities. I know the younger me would have fallen for it—and I’ve never fallen out of love of the idea of a fully articulating LCD display for live-view.

I probably would not have gotten a Canon or Nikon. The main reason is because I’ve always had a bit of contrarian streak in me and the thought of buying from a company that splits 70% of the market between them doesn’t feed that. The lack of in-body image stabilization in these models would seal the deal. You might have friends with Canon or Nikon lenses to borrow so I’d probably still be encouraging you to get a CaNikon.

Another question is why did I buy a camera at all?

I’d like to say that it was for the video, or the articulating LCD, or the quiet shutter, or because these cameras fit on a GigaPan Epic 100. But the reason is really far more prosaic.

Marie wanted to get into dSLR photography. While my D70 would have fit the bill nicely, it’s now an infrared camera. The Nikon D200 has the image quality, but I’ve explained why it makes a bad first dSLR—besides it’s built like a tank and asking her to truck that around is probably not going to make her a happy photographer. And I definitely want to maximize the probability of turning her into a Nikon shooter.

Then it occurred to me, that because I got used to lugging around my D3, I never shoot my Nikon D200. For what I can sell my Nikon D200, I could buy either of these kits.

Why not the D3000? That’s a tough one. Personally I like the idea of having a sensor better than the one in the camera I’m selling. In addition I can dream of surreptitiously messing with the video, articulating LCD, quiet shutter mode, and mounting it on an Epic 100. Besides, I read all about it. But, this isn’t really my camera, and, to be honest, I probably won’t shoot it at all when I already own an IR sensitive D70 and a Nikon D3.

The idea struck me when I was at Target and I had her handle the D3000 to make sure she liked the size and weight and then I Amazon’d the D5000—if she didn’t like it’s feel, I could always return it.

It turned out she loved it.

Now to supplement a first camera with a boatload of stuff…

(Article continued in part 6)

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6 thoughts on “How (I purchased a kit) dSLR [The entry kit dSLR Part 5]”

  1. I can see arguments against what I'm about to say but here it goes. While I don't like "fanboy" status, one interesting thing at work is that after I bought my Canon, a few other guys followed suit. None really asked my opinion nor how I arrived at Canon…good thing. I don't think I put as much thought into this as I should have but, looking back, that's not all bad. I got an entry level camera, basic controls, simple and understandable. What I loved about the guys at work following suit, albeit slightly different models, is we got to compare notes. This breeded more interest in photography and, as important, it provided me with more access to various lenses that I'd ever have hoped. Instead of opting for lower-end, plastic chasis lenses I can justify splurging for the more expensive equivalents.

    Falling back into marching formation is usually bad, but while getting into dSLR photography I think it can actually be good…as it was in my case.

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