I think my feeling about which dSLR camera someone should purchase is, to apply Louis Armstrong: “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.” The simple reality is that after a year and a half, the D70 is still too much camera for me. Maybe one day I’ll reach the point where I am limited by the D70 and not my lack of talent, but it hasn’t arrived. Both the Canon Digital Rebel (300D/350D) and the Nikon prosumer dSLRs (70D/50D/70Ds) have electronics even more sophisticated than Nikon F-series cameras up through the early 90’s. Some pretty amazing shots were taken by pros back then. Have they suddenly lost their value because their camera sucked?
No. That’s because at the end of the day, a camera body is just a light-tight box with a adjustable hole and a flap. Digital sensors may be different, but they are more limited by the state-of-the-art during the time it is built and simple physics than by anything else. What is going to be the most important thing is how it feels to the operator.
That’s why I can be a touch short with people who diss a camera choice with one breath and then take cover by calling anyone who disagrees with them as spewing “cult garbage.”
A computer, a camera, a bandwagon maker…
I have dissed the spec-sheet approach to consumer purchases, especially cameras. Perhaps I should start by explaining why, by anecdote.
My brother bought a notebook computer. It was a Dell. I see that all the time, but let’s be honest here: Dell is only one circle above Sony VAIOs in notebook hell. So it begs the question of why an otherwise brilliant professor of Economics would end up with a Dell notebook instead of say an IBM Thinkpad. (Yeah, you caught me. I recommended something other than a Apple to someone.)
Well the obvious reason is convenience: the University of California makes it very easy to purchase a Dell off of grant money, but not nearly as easy for an IBM. But my brother took my suggestion and went the extra mile to get a AMD dual-Opteron Linux workstation for serious number cruching, something Dell does not carry for only two reasons: AMD and Linux. So why?
Well when you crunch the numbers, you see the obvious separation between the AMD Linux box and its two competitors: Sparstation and Pentium 4. But those numbers aren’t that different between the Dell Lattitude, the IBM Thinkpad or Apple Powerbook.
So then you fall victim of the advice of the friend. What did my brother’s friends and colleagues recommend? Why what they owned, of course!
So it is with cameras. If you read the reviews and visit the sites, you find that, on paper, there is very little difference between digital SLRs in the same price range. The consumer doesn’t want to hear that any dSLR will be more than enough camera for him, that he’d be better off buying a digital bridge camera or a point-and-shoot, that the lenses he chooses are more important, that different design decisions went into each camera for different sorts of customers, that at the end of the day he just is plunking down $1000-$5000 on a light-tight box with a flap (no adjustable hole, that’s in the lens). So they look to the high priests to tell them what to buy—the clear, take-no-prisoners, best all-around dSLR ever.
I’ve already covered what happens when the high priest is a computer or electronics magazine. But what happens when it is your favorite enthusiast—you know, someone like that opinionated web engineer in the next cubicle who is an amateur photographer?
Why they recommend the camera they own.
When the high priest is an idiot
During one such discussion, a user linked this comparison by the always-opinionated southpaw Nikon photographer, Ken Rockwell. Ken Rockwell is sometimes very wrong, but I’ll be the first to admit he’s a gajillion times better photographer than me.
A followup post pointed out, rightly, that Ken is a very biased photographer. But then he used his position as a former owner of a Nikon D70 and new owner of a Canon 300D to state that:
- “If you have to resort to flash you’ve lost already;”
- “The Rebel XT blows the D70s away in a number of other areas of performance”: higher resolution and more sensitive and accurate sensor being the biggest and most obvious of these;
- Ken is guilty of “pure Nikon cult garbage;” and
- he’d take the “XT over the D70 any day of the week and twice on Sunday;”
Thems is fightin’ words.
Yes, Ken Rockwell is biased, and sometimes he’s a total idiot. However reason #1 was not about flash sync, it was about startup lag which was/is a big complaint about the 10D/300D (though I believe is fixed in the 20D and 350D). That was a serious failing. Ken Rockwell admits he’s a biased Nikon guy. He also gave an excellent review of the Canon 20D in the same article.
Flash sync speed is a step backward in the 5D and when Canon finally adopts Nikon’s electronic curtain system and creative lighting system, we’ll hear every Canon user saying how great they are.. Just like how Nikon users have finally said great things about VR and SWM, where before they derided them as bells and whistles. (How is a Nikon user saying “who needs Image Stabilization when you should be using a tripod” any different from a Canon user who claims “when you resort to flash you have lost already”?) Umm fill flash? catch lights? documentary work? macro photography? lightbox?
More resolution? You realize that 8 megapixel is a 15% greater realized image resolution right? That’s laughable. My 10″ print @ 300dpi can be blown up to a whopping 11.5″ print!
My opinion is that either body is good and you should probably go to the store and try them all out in your price range. For instance while the D50/D70 and Digital Rebel look the same on paper, they feel very different. One of those will definitely speak to you more. The same goes for the *ist Ds and the Dynax 5D.
Nikon (Fuji/Kodak), Canon, Minolta (Sony), and Pentax (Samsung) all have pretty complete lens systems at this point. Once you get one body, you will be locked into its lens system, because that is what you will be spending your money on.
FWIW, I’m a Nikon D70 guy and I can defend my purchase any day because I seriously considered the 300D and potentially waiting for the 20D before making my choice. And though I chose a Nikon, you won’t see me dismissing a photographer who is an order of magnitude better than me of “pure Canon cult garbage” nor will I ever go around saying I’d take a D70 over an XT “any day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
If I were to have gotten one today instead of a year and a half ago, it’d probably be a Minolta Dynax 5D.
Okay so I’m ripping a new asshole in a poor newbie who just started six months ago so what I did should qualify as cruel and unusual. And the 300D is probably the better camera for him—it is an lot more like my Olympus C-2500L and IS-10 than the Nikon D70 is! (But then, he launched his attack from his obviously world-shakedown experience with the D70 for all of… how long?)
Also it bears repeating that just because I defended the honor of the D70 by bagging on the Canon 10D, doesn’t mean I don’t think that people such as Sara Heinrichs don’t kick my ass any day of the week “and twice on Sunday” just because she has to wait an extra few seconds for her camera to start up.
But which camera should I buy?
Hmm, that’s a toughy. Ryan Brenizer, who happens to be a far better photographer than me, write in a thread linked above: “For the record, I recommend tychay’s camera.” So like a little lamb, I took his wise pronouncement and did just that.
I bought my own camera.