Archive for October, 2009

What dSLR Brand to buy?

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

It’s been a while since we’ve posted a blog, so let’s talk about something important that many people ask me.

“Steve, what camera should I buy?”

Unfortunately there is no right answer for everyone, but there might be a right answer for you.

Lenses

Decide what lenses you’d like to have in the next 5-10 years. Price them out and read the reviews. It’s a lot of work, I know, but a camera purchase can be a big decision.

What kind of lenses do you eventually want? If you want to do landscapes, you want a nice wide lens, like a 10-15 mm. If you want to do Wedding Photography, you want a fast zoom lens, like a 70-200mm 2.8. If you want to shoot insects and flowers, you’ll want a macro lens. If you’re indecisive on what you want to shoot, a zoom lens that spans the gamut might be a wise idea, such as a 20-200mm.

Check out kenrockwell.com for some reviews and general pricing.

Lens Compatibility

Choosing a DSLR should be a long-term investment. If you become serious about photography, over your photography life, you will invest in many (and some expensive) lenses. Once you’ve made these commitments, it will be hard to switch to a different manufacturer.

Do you have any old lenses already? Do your friends have dSLRs, and will you be able to borrow their lenses? Do you intend to buy used lenses? These questions should navigate you towards a brand to purchase.

For example, (as far as I know) a Pentax dSLR camera can use any old Pentax lens. There are quite a few old, rock-solid Pentax lenses out in the used market to choose from, at reasonable prices.

Sony Alpha cameras can use Minolta lenses dating back to 1985. There are quite a few used Minolta lenses on the market.

Olympus dSLRs have some backwards compatibility with older lenses, but they need a special adapter.

Canon EOS dSLR cameras can use EF labeled lenses that were first manufactured in the 80s.

Nikon dSLRs can use just about any Nikon 35mm lens, so long as you purchase a mid to high-end dSLR (D80 or better). The entry level dSLRs are only compatible with DX type lenses.

Even if a lens is not compatible, you may be able to mount it on your camera, but use it in Manual focus mode. Just do some Google-ing for compatibility before you try to mount a mystery lens.

Third party vendors

The biggest dSLR manufacturers are hands-down Nikon and Canon. So if you are a third party manufacturer, you will at least make components for these brands, but perhaps not for the smaller brands. That is the reason why there are more third party products available for these two brands.  If you are looking for more selection from companies other than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), you may want to stick with Canon or Nikon.

Examples of third party components are batteries, flashes, grips, wireless triggers for flashes, remote triggers, flash accessories (like softboxes), etc.

Camera quality

As far as the quality of the images from dSLR manufacturers, you can’t go wrong. Any of the big dSLR manufacturers can produce great pictures. The differences are more in the lenses available and the lens quality, rather than the camera body itself.

Features

Every camera manufacturer and model markets different features. You need to decide what features are important to you. For example, video, ISO capabilities (how well does your camera shoot in low light),  live view (being able to see what you are shooting on the LCD – on most dSLRs you need to use the viewfinder).

Rent!

There are many companies that will rent cameras and lenses. If you plan to buy an expensive camera, rent it first. e.g. Try out the interface for a Canon and a Nikon, and see which one you find more intuitive. dSLRs are more similar than different, but their interfaces can be significantly different.

There are companies, like LensRentals.com, that specialize in renting. And some camera stores, such as Henry’s (Headshots) and Vistek in Canada, have renting services.

What I use and why

I shoot Nikon. I have both a Nikon D40x and a Nikon D90.

I originally bought the D40x because I had some old lenses, and sticking with Nikon would give me a wider lens selection in my arsenal.

I then purchased the D90 for the following reasons. The D90 has support for older lenses in which the D40x (etc) does not. Being able to use auto-focus with prime lenses like the 50mm was important for me. The D90 has great low light capabilities. Nikon is the only major manufacturer that allows for wireless flash triggering without any additional hardware to be purchased. (You can do wireless flashes on a Canon using their add-on wireless triggers, or with any manufacturer using Pocket Wizards, but that is a significant additional cost). Having HD video was a nice to have, but not a necessity. The higher-end Canon cameras have better video capabilities than the Nikons, and can produce 1080 video versus 720 video (not an issue for me, but it might be for you). And the price for this unit was quite reasonable.

On the negative side of my purchase, Canons are more prominent than Nikon. It seems that the prices for Canon lenses are slightly lower (but close), however the Nikons do boast a wider selection of used lenses compatible with the D90 (etc).

Summary

Basically there will be good reasons and bad reasons to buy any camera. Each manufacturer has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its marketing focus.

Choose from one of the major manufacturers if you want some long-term commitment that they’ll still be in the dSLR business a few years from now.

Start with an entry level dSLR if you are unsure how committed you will be to photography. The prices are very reasonable these days, and an entry level camera’s quality of pictures is practically as good as a high-end camera’s. A higher end camera will have more bells and whistles, and will be designed to be easier to use for a professional (but probably harder to use if you are just starting out). Once you’ve mastered the low-end camera, you can decide to invest in a better one, and still keep the lenses you’ve acquired!

The good news is you really can’t go wrong.

(Footnote: Since I am a Nikon shooter, my information on other manufacturers is strictly hearsay and based on knowledge from the internet, fellow photographers, and casual observation. If I’m wrong about something pertaining to another manufacturer, please let me know).