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Shopping for a DSLR

2008-09-28 17:16:44.011776+00 by ebradway 19 comments

I've decided it's time to upgrade my camera. I've been using point-and-shoots for quite some time. I get pretty good results and don't have to worry about fragility or investment. But I've exhausted the capabilities of these cameras. I 'm constantly adjusting exposure, shutter speed, ISO, etc. While I've always been careful to buy point-and-shoots with lots of manual settings, the menus are not setup for quick adjustment. And, because the glass is so small, the resulting images have limited application. I've pushed this to the limit as well, producing 4x6 foot posters and using images I've taken in Asha's cookbook.

So I want to upgrade. I think DSLR is the way to go but could be persuaded to go pro-sumer. On the pro-sumer side, I'm partial to the Olympus SP-570UZ. I've seen some impressive results with this line of cameras dating back almost a decade now. By sticking with Olympus, I'm also leveraging my prior investment in xD cards and Olympus accessories.

On the DSLR side, I'm considering the Olympus E520, the Canon Rebel XSi and the Nikon D60, the Pentax K200D, and the Leica V-Lux-1 10 or even the Sony 300K.

Any thoughts? Any preferences? I'm not prepared to spend more than $1000 and I know there is probably a lot more camera to be had to more money.

[ related topics: Photography Eric's Life ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-28 18:22:41.90676+00 by: ebradway [edit history]

After a little reading on DPreview, I think I've narrowed the race between the Oly SP-570UZ and the Olympus Evolt 420.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-28 22:44:41.801258+00 by: m

May I ask what specifically led you to the Olympus rather than the Canon?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 00:59:30.839945+00 by: markd

The 570UZ is not a DSLR. I wouldn't call it prosumer, more of a "I want more than a point and shoot but I'm not ready yet for DSLR". Being an SLR snob, it would still be solidly in the P&S category. I have a Canon P&S that I love and carry around, but for real Photowankery, I reach for the SLRS. My definition of prosumer would be more like the NIkon D200 / Canon 50D - more than the intro DSLRs, but not the pro cameras like the D3/1DsMkIII.

One of the main benefits of the *SLR platform is the interchangeability of lenses. I don't know enough about the Evolt line to know what spectrum of lenses you'll find. It might be plenty to grow into.

The Canon and Nikons as families are very close in features, with each one edging out the other every year or two. If you choose to go with one or the other, I would recommend going to a local store and trying both models and see how they fit your hands and how the controls feel to you. I shoot Nikon and love the way the UI feels. I hated the feel of the Canon, both hand-fit and controls. I have a friend who is the complete opposite. Both brands have great lens line-ups. We both get great images.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 01:16:18.017057+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, I'm a "love the feel of Canon kind of guy".

Eric, I think the thing to do is to quantify what you want from a bigger camera: More lens options? Less shutter lag? Easier manual stuff? Quick manual focus? Optical viewfinder?

My Canon G9 has some great manual options, I love the controls, but the shutter lag sucks and manual focus isn't great. My D60 has low shutter lag, I can tweak the manual focus, but lenses cost a bunch. Without knowing more than what you've mentioned so far I'd say go for the Rebel, but that's 'cause I'm a Canon snob.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 01:51:18.395259+00 by: crasch [edit history]

If you want better access to manual controls, you might take a look at the G9/G10. It also shoots in RAW (good for photoshop post-processing) and sports an external hotshoe (good for experimenting with flash--see strobist.com).

For a sub-$1000 DSLR, I would buy a Canon Digital Rebel XSI plus the Sigma Zoom Super Wide Angle AF 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 len

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 02:21:04.753004+00 by: TheSHAD0W

I "run a Nikon shop", because that's what I started out with, and don't want to have to re-purchase all the lenses. If I were starting out again, I'd go with the Canon platform. I second crasch's motion.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 02:53:00.087881+00 by: JT

My girlfriend has a Canon Rebel DSLI that she's more than happy with. it's good to spend less on a camera and more on the lenses according to her, but she's been very happy with the results.

While I personally prefer a point-n-shoot I can slip into my pocket and take pictures with when I reach summit or turn around with one hand off the side of a rock face and snap some shots of Joshua Tree NF when I'm out, but she gets into the whole "carry the whole 25 lbs of camera equipment everywhere" photography. I did buy a nice sling bag for her some time back and it's saved her quite a bit of backache from having a regular over-the-shoulder bag to lug her stuff around with. I'd definitely recommend picking one up, it fits her camera and a few lenses, batteries, charger, etc quite well.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 03:48:44.674809+00 by: ebradway

After more reading, I'm beginning to lean towards the Olympus E-420. For several reasons:

  1. I've been using Olympus P&S cameras for several years now and feel comfortable with their products.
  2. The E-420 is unique in it's compact design. My friend has an E-410 and pointed out that it gets used more often because it fits easily in his daypack. This avoids the "25 lbs of camera" problem.
  3. It uses a standard 4/3 lens mount rather than a proprietary mount, like the Canon and Nikon. Of course, third-party lens makers produce lenses to fit the Canon and Nikon because that's where the customers are.

What I want from the camera is more control. I don't need total control - just more than I'm getting from my P&S. If I outgrow this camera, I can then make a leap to a better DSLR.

The camera companies must love the whole DSLR thing. All they have to do is come up with a new sensor and some new software and they can sell cameras to people who already have them. The E-420 provides much better features than even the high-end DSLRs a few years ago.

One thing I would like to venture into is more wide-angle landscapes. The 570UZ does have a 16:9 mode - but it probably comes from just ignoring the out-of- frame pixels.

So, how does one measure shutter-lag?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 10:24:46.151252+00 by: DaveP

Interesting, Dan. I have no complaints about shutter-lag in my Canon G9. It's not as fast as a DSLR, but in my experience it's not slow, either. I wonder if I have something set differently than you do.

Eric, if you're set on 4/3s, the Oly will probably do you well. I wouldn't worry about the 16:9 mode, since in most cameras (all the still cameras I've investigated), that's just throwing away pixels. I'd take some time to check Four-Thirds Photo if you haven't already. They've got a lot of info on the platform.

Just to muddy the waters, one other to consider is the Sigma DP2, but you'd have to wait a while. If the specs come out as nicely as Sigma is implying, that will be my G9 replacement for a "always with me" camera.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 17:43:50.101843+00 by: meuon

I was playing with high end Canon DSLR's camera's while in St. Martins. The pro level's metal bodies and metal lens connectors made them feel like real cameras, it (metal body, metal connectors) allowed a wider range of lenses: ie they recommended string against using a big telephoto with the Rebel's as if you swung the camera fast the plastic lens connector might break. At least, that was the sales-dudes story and he seemed fairly sharp.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 17:54:09.929346+00 by: Dan Lyke

Dave, the only way I'd ever get shots like these:

with the G9 is pure dumb luck, or in the 15FPS 1024x768 video mode. Even when I could see the dolphin in the wake about to jump I couldn't grab it with the G9. On the other hand, the G9 takes great pictures and the real-time histogram rawks.

Eric, I don't have a good example pic to throw at you right now, but for wider shots you should look at Hugin (or, if you're running Windows, the stitcher that comes with the Canon cameras does fairly well).

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 19:53:57.198613+00 by: ebradway

One of the things I don't like about my Olympus Stylus 800 is that the processor over-sharpens JPGs in lower than the maximum resolution. This is a problem because all of the extra features: high ISO (1600) and 15 fps modes force the resolution:

From Santa Barbara 2008

As for Hugin, I played with a number of panorama programs when I did my MS thesis. In the end, I found that the best results come from glass. Here's what my P&S manages:

From Santa Barbara 2008

A little more light through the glass would have helped - even for a crop. But a wide-angle or even fish-eye would have been fantastic. I do have a fisheye for one of my P&S, but it's pretty weak:

A Cropped Copy of the Fountain Fish-Eye

The Canon G10 looks like a good pro-sumer upgrade from where I'm at now - perhaps better than the Olympus SP-570UZ. But the cost is the same as the Olympus E-420. The G10 even has a wide-angle lens for under $175.

So the question is: what does an SLR net me that I can't get in a pro-sumer P&S?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 20:00:58.845731+00 by: Dan Lyke

Re panoramas from glass, yeah, the thing I miss most about the 1.6 multiplier in my digital SLR vs film is the 17 side of my 17-35/2.8.

Just to be clear, the dolphin and the whale came off my D60, the G9 has some amount of time, it feels like between a quarter and a half a second, between shutter press and release. I think that, shutter lag, and how many frames a second you can shoot is the practical difference between a P&S and an SLR.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 20:33:12.579408+00 by: ebradway

Hmmm.. sensor size seems to be the biggest plus for DSLR - plus flexibility in the lens. When viewed this way, the Nikon D60 has a 23.6 x 15.8 mm (3.72 cm²) sensor whilst the Olympus E-420/520 has only a 18.00 x 13.50 mm (2.43 cm²) sensor. The Olympus does have a more flexible mount - but lenses for the Nikon AF aren't hard to find.

Something I've failed to mention that justifies the need for a better camera: I need to be able to take promotional photos for my wife's work. That means high quality shots in a yoga studio and outdoors in a horse arena.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-29 22:50:58.738998+00 by: markd

Good lighting can do a huge amount for high-quality shots. For the yoga studio, a set of well-placed strobes may be as good an investment as a new camera. Check out Strobist (http://strobist.com) for all you could ever want on using speedlights on the cheap.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-09-30 11:20:22.190055+00 by: DaveP

Dan, I don't see that much of a delay with my G9, but I'm also not trying to use it for split-second shots like that. If you half-press the shutter to pre-focus, do you still see the same delay?

As for sensor size, that's one of the reasons I mentioned the upcoming Sigma DP-2. It's got a DSLR-sized sensor.

#Comment Re: Canon Bias made: 2008-09-30 19:11:39.283361+00 by: jeff [edit history]

I'm naturally biased towards the Canon Digital Rebel XSi 12MP. It's a great value. However, the lens bundled with the camera is not very good. You would outgrow that lens very quickly, and it is unlikely that it would produce the quality results that your wife's work would demand.

So, one of the "hidden costs" here is in the optics, and your potential need for one or more interchangeable lenses, in lieu of a zoom which would provide sufficient range in focal lengths for your intended work. And professional Canon L-Series glass is not cheap.


#Comment Re: Canon EOS 5D Mark II made: 2008-10-07 05:15:54.245074+00 by: jeff [edit history]

The $700B bailout plan should provide the Canon EOS 5d Mark II to all photography professionals and hobbyists.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-10-13 03:12:44.855792+00 by: ebradway

A friend's letting me borrow his Oly E-400. It's at once familiar and everything more I want in a DSLR: interchangeable lenses, manual focus, etc. The shots I took, even in full auto, are amazingly better than anything I've gotten with my P&S.

So the only question left is E-420 or E-520. I like the smaller size of the E- 4xx series but the anti-shake sure would be nice.