Buying my first dSLR (not your usual thread...)

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by Steph, Oct 23, 2008.

  1. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I see a lot of questions about which entry level dSLR to buy on this forum. As I went through this process recently, I thought it might be of interest to others to explain how I went about it. If nobody is interested, so be it; I will just have wasted a couple of hours typing this.

    Disclaimer

    This is in no way a how-to guide on buying a dSLR camera, It is just my experience about what I looked at before taking a decision based on my needs and requirements. Please don’t try to convince me that I bought the wrong camera and that for the same amount of money I should have bought so and so instead. I am not double guessing myself here and I don't expect your approval.

    Background

    For years I have been shooting mainly landscapes with film (35mm with a Spotmatic F and MF with a Bronica SQ/SQA) and I am very happy with the results and never felt the need to go digital until now. The recent birth of our daughter (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with pictures!) prompted me to look at a dSLR/flashgun combination to be able to take decent pictures indoors and to be able to share them easily with friends and family. I was therefore in the market for a new (just for peace of mind) dSLR.

    Requirements

    I am not exactly new to photography so I knew fairly precisely what I wanted from my dSLR/flashgun in terms of features.

    First there are a few things I did NOT look at because they were irrelevant to me:

    1 - FPS. I am used to frame rate much slower than 1 frame per minute with my cameras. I don’t need speed.
    2 - Number of AF points. On the rare occasions when I used an AF camera I always used the central AF point and recomposed. It works fine for me that way.
    3 - Resolution. The pictures taken with the camera will not be printed bigger than 8x10. All currently available dSLRs are able to achieve good quality prints at that size.
    4 - Lenses, accessories selection. With this equipment I am NOT buying into a system. I just want to buy a body, a kit lens and a flashgun. That’s it! If I want to spend more money on photographic equipment I would have much better ways to spend my money than on building a complete digital setup.
    5 - Live view. I don’t need it.
    6 - Image stabilisation. I don’t need it.

    More importantly now, the things I wanted from the setup:

    1 - Budget. Less than £600 from a reputable dealer for camera body, kit lens and flashgun.
    2 - A flash from the same brand as the camera. I admit I am fairly ignorant about flash photography, so I decided to go with the same brand for the flash and camera to use the capabilities of the body to the full in terms of flash features. It does not have to be very powerful but has to be able to be bounced of a ceiling/wall.
    3 - Small and light. If that camera is going to get used, it has to be small and light has it will not replace my other cameras but at best will be used alongside. I can’t carry a heavy camera such as Canon 5D or Pentax K20D alongside my Bronica system.
    4 - Fairly well built. I know that within my budget I cannot expect a sturdy metal body but I expect a fairly solid camera that does not look too cheap.
    5 - Be able to record high quality JPEG and RAW at the same time. I will share the JPEGs with friends and family but want to be able to edit the RAW files if the need arises.
    6 - Easy to use and handle. I know that an overly complicated camera won’t get used much. Similarly, if it does not feel right in my hand I will be reluctant to use it.
    7 - Be able to use older manual focus lenses. I have a few Zuiko OM and Pentax M42 lenses that I would like to use on the camera.
    8 - Kit lens of acceptable quality. The kit lens will be my only lens. Therefore I expect decent quality (then again I am aware that within my budget I won’t get Canon L quality glass).

    The contenders (within my budget. Prices from www.warehouseexpress.co.uk).

    Sony a200 + 18-70mm + HVL-F42 Flashgun = £378
    Nikon D40 + 18-55mm + SB600 Speedlight = £418
    Nikon D60 + 18-55mm + SB600 Speedlight = £468
    Olympus E-420 + 14-42mm + FL-36R Wireless Flashgun = £512
    Canon EOS 1000D +18-55mm + Speedlite 430 EXII = £518
    Sony a350 + 18-70mm + HVL-F42 Flashgun = £546
    Pentax K200D +18-55mm + AF360 FGZ Flashgun = £580

    Unfortunately, amongst those cameras, some did not even make it to the first round of my decision making. The D60 was dropped early as, to me, it is nothing more than a D40 with a few more megapixels (which, I believe, did not do anything good for image quality). The 2 cameras from Sony were also forgotten quickly. No rationale for that. I guess I don’t perceive Sony as a camera manufacturer (maybe if they were Minoltas it would be different). Also, I find their cameras ugly (particularly the shiny piece of plastic around the shutter release button) and the Carl Zeiss branded lenses don’t make up for that.

    The contenders in the next round are therefore the Nikon D40, the Olympus E-420, the Canon EOS 1000D and the Pentax K200D and their associated flashguns. To determine the winner, I attributed points to the cameras (from 1 to 4, 10 points in total) according to different criteria and I tried to explain how the points were awarded. At the end, the camera with most points wins and gets to join my camera bag. Easy!!

    Weight and size (Body with batteries)

    1 - Olympus E-420: 440 g, 130x91x53 mm. 4 points
    2 - Canon EOS 1000D: 502 g, 126x98x65 mm. 3 points
    3 - Nikon D40: 522 g, 124x94x64mm. 2 points
    4 - Pentax K200D: 690 g, 134x95x74 mm. 1 point

    The Olympus is the clear winner in terms of weight and size as it is the smaller dSLR on the market, only dwarfed by the micro four thirds Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 (not strictly speaking a SLR and out of my budget).

    Build quality

    1 - Pentax K200D. 4 points
    2 - Olympus E-420. 3 points
    3 - Canon EOS 1000D and Nikon D40. 1.5 points each

    The Pentax is the clear winner here (probably at the expense of extra weight). It feels
    better built than the other 3. Then comes the Olympus, which IMO is miles ahead of the Canon and Nikon. These 2 feel equally plasticy and cheap.

    Ergonomics/Ease of use

    1 - Olympus E-420. 4 points
    2 - Pentax K200D. 3 points
    3 - Nikon D40. 2 points
    4 - Canon EOS 1000D. 1 point


    That’s a difficult one as I did not have the opportunity to play with all the cameras for extended periods of time. Moreover, how a camera feels and fits in one’s hand is down to personal taste. To my surprise the Olympus came first because it is very easy to hold despite its lack of a proper grip (its lightness probably helps here). It reminded the old (grip-less) SLRs I am used to (Pentax Spotmatic and Olympus OM-1), which to me is a good thing. The Canon came last as I don’t like the position of the control wheel (I prefer to use my thumb to change the settings). Between the Pentax and the Nikon I preferred the former for no obvious reasons. It just felt better in my hand.

    Image format (RAW + high quality JPEG)

    1 - Olympus E-420 and Canon EOS 1000D. 3.5 points each
    3 - Pentax K200D and Nikon D40. 1.5 points each

    As far as I am aware only the Olympus and the Canon are able to record both RAW and high quality JPEG at the same time (this information is not easy to find from manufacturers’ websites so I don’t know for sure).

    Compatibility with older lenses

    1 - Olympus E-420. 4 points
    2 - Pentax K200D. 3 points
    3 - Canon EOS 1000D. 2 points
    4 - Nikon D40. 1 point

    The Olympus wins easily here. Due to its short flange distance you can mount virtually any older lenses (including M42 and OM) via simple mechanical (no glass element) adapters, which are readily available and with which you can achieve infinity focus. The Pentax can easily accept M42 lenses (and the wonderful manual K-mount lenses from the 80s). but not the Zuiko OM lenses. There is an adapter for the Canon to use M42 lenses (but not OM lenses AFAIK). The Nikon is useless in terms of using older lenses other than Nikkors.

    Kit lens quality

    1 - Olympus E-420. 4 points
    2 - Pentax K200D. 3 points
    3 - Nikon D40. 2 points
    4 - Canon EOS 1000D. 1 point

    This is purely based on reviews from the Internet and various magazines. Based on what I read (and perceived from these reviews) the Olympus offers the better kit lens in terms of image quality with the Pentax a fairly close second. The Canon kit lens is the worst from what I read.

    And the winner is:

    1 - Olympus E-420. 22.5 points
    2 - Pentax K200D. 15.5 points
    3 - Canon EOS 1000D. 12 points
    4 - Nikon D40. 10 points

    So, the Olympus is the clear winner. I think size and price were decisive in its victory. I quite liked the Pentax as well but it is not as good in terms of size and compatibility with my older lenses and it is more expensive. The Canon and Nikon are behind because they feel incredibly cheap and plasticy and IMO offer poor value for money (poor build quality and very average kit lens). Overall, the Olympus is not my ideal camera but it is the best compromise for my needs.

    I now placed an order for the Olympus E-420, with the FL-36R flashgun, a Crumpler bag, a couple of memory cards, a spare battery, rechargeable AA batteries (for the flash) and a charger. Once I have used the camera for a while, I will try to update this thread to see if I made the right decision and what it’s like to use the Olympus. I am sure I will discover useful features that I missed during all my research but probably also a few quirks.

    Thanks for reading the whole thread. :)
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2008
  2. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    honestly I think you made a good choice - you certainly thought through the process and for what you intend the camera to do I think you picked out the best one. The Canon and Nikon very much expect you to be buying into a system and so upgrading the camera with better glass and such all the way forward - ergo the cheaper kit lenses.
    I know another who owns and olympus (I forget which model though) and she has found it to be a brilliant little camera (and not too bad at landscapes too ;))
     
  3. tomsexton

    tomsexton TPF Noob!

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    As for me, I travel a lot, so I’m always on the lookout for good locations and good cameras. Last month; I got myself a new camera the Canon HF11. I just love this camera. It’s a hundred times better than the one I had before. It’s got 32GB of inbuilt memory and an SD card slot if I need more. It’s like nothing I have ever seen before. Its trendy, it’s lightweight and it’s compact so I can easily take it anywhere without having to worry. The best part is, I can record in full HD, so I can even view my videos on my big screen TV. Oh boy! And it’s so easy to use that even my 9 year old daughter goes around recording her younger brother. I am just Drooling over this thing:lmao:

    Check out more stuff at

    www.canon.com.sg/camcorder/travel.php?smo=photoforum
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2008
  4. Dao

    Dao No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    haha .. you know ... after I finish reading your requirements without reading the rest, I guess you will choose either Olympus and Pentax DSLR :)
     
  5. usayit

    usayit No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Good decision process. Things that come to mind

    * Lens availability for the 4/3rds mount
    * The crop factor and how it will impact your current selection of lenses.
     
  6. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Lens availability is a non-issue for me. As I said I did not buy into a system. I just wanted a camera, a kit lens and a flashgun. I will not invest in this system. If I was to spend money on photographic equipment it would be on a film LF system!

    The crop factor is not so much of an issue either. The Olympus E-420 will mainly be used with the kit lens. The manual lenses I wanted to use with it are fast 50mm lenses (both Olympus OM Zuiko 1.8 and Pentax SMC 1.4), which hopefully should make good portrait lenses (100mm equivalent). I also have a 50mm Olympus Macro lens, which should make a good Macro lens on the Oly. My longest M42 lens (200mm) will 'become' a very long telephoto, which could be fun. On the wider end, my old lenses won't be that useful, I have to agree. A 24 or 28mm could make a good standard lenses but the ones I have are not that fast (f3.5, which is OK for a wide angle lens, but not that good for a standard lens).
     
  7. usayit

    usayit No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Understood... I am in the same boat when I purchased a Samsung GX-1L ($150 used) to have some fun with my screwmounts and K-mount Takumars in my collection.

    But

    That's a lot of money to spend on something that you won't pursue as a system nor as something to grow forward into digital. In my case, the Samsung/Pentax wasn't going to replace the "system" as I'm already invested in Canon. If were to be in your shoes, my personal preference would be placed on what the system has to offer going forward with backwards compatibility for my current lenses as only a plus.

    With that said, I feel the 2x crop factor is a major problem in regards to backwards compatibility. For example, the 85mm fast takumar is no longer useable for the purpose I intended.

    Again.. nice research and I think your decision is still a good one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2008
  8. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    It seems that you did not look at the autofocus speed and reliability which is weak in the Olympus according to the reviews or the metering which is apparently better in the Canon, Nikon and Sony.

    skieur
     
  9. epp_b

    epp_b No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    How do you figure 1 point for the D40 with lens compatibility? It can even use pre-AI lenses from 1959! The Olympus has very few choices for 4/3rds lenses.

    Something you did not consider in your comparisons is sensor size. While the Nikon, Canon and Pentax have APS-C (1.5x or 1.6x FOV crop), the Olympus has a dinky 4/3rds size (2x crop, or half of a 35mm frame) which means that image quality may suffer and that you can forget anything with proper wide angles.

    I thought the same way as you when I bought my D40. I hadn't intended on building a system, I just want something to take good pictures. I sure proved myself wrong: I've bought two additional lenses since them and am still looking for more, maybe a speedlight as well.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2008
  10. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    You might be right about the AF. That's maybe something I missed when reading reviews. I will see when I get the camera.

    As for the metering, I only ever used centre weighted metering on older cameras and managed to get proper exposures. I am sure the Olympus meter will be up to the task. Their multi zone metering might not be as good as others but this is not required to get proper exposure.
     
  11. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Read my post completely. All the answers to you questions are there. I will repeat anyway.;)

    I want to use older OM and M42 lenses that I already have.

    IQ may suffer but in reality looking at 100% crops on the Internet there is not much difference between all these entry level cameras. Moreover, I won't be printing larger than 8x10 and at this size I doubt I would be able to spot any differences.

    As I said, I am only buying the kit lens. I am not buying into a system and don't care about other lenses. And by the way Olympus make a 7-14mm and that is quite wide in my book.

    I guess we are all different. I will not buy any more equipment for this system. I wanted to be able to share pictures of my kids with my family. That's it! If I want to take 'good' pictures I will use the Bronica or even buy a LF camera.
     
  12. TUX424

    TUX424 TPF Noob!

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    if u were just gonna buy one lens and do nothing else with the system why would u have gotten a P&S or a Super Zoom (You cant change lens on those sounds perfect for u)
     

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