Need help picking the right low-end DSLR


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Nov 19, 2007
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Hello there. I need a little help picking the right camera for me. At this point it would probably be good to write a little bit about myself. If you find that boring just skip to the next paragraph, however reading this might be essential in my case. I think I am the type of person that knows quite a lot about cameras but has way less experience in photography than most of you guys. Sadly I am also a bit of a pixelpeeper, I just can't help it. I got to use a rebel XTi for about a year with the old crappy kit lens, a cheap tele and a macro lens. Now that I can't use it anymore and miss it so much, I felt like it's time to get my own DSLR. Since I am still a student, my budget is pretty tight and not going to be any better in the close future. Of course I don't expect my low-end camera to be as good as a mid-level one. I am also aware, that keeping in mind the difference between low- and mid- level cameras, all the cheapest DSLRs are very similar, but still, it is a serious amount of cash for me, and I want to be sure I get the most bang for my buck.

So, what I am looking for is obviously an APS-C sensor, with as clean as possible high ISO. Again, I know it's not going to perform like the newest mid-level cameras, but you know there are better and worse cameras even on the low-end market alone. I am not exactly interested in low light photography, but you all know better than me how useful it is to be able to crank up the ISO to without worrying much about IQ. The next thing will be probably a bit hard to understand from your point of view, but as I probably won't be able to upgrade to a better lens during the next year or two, it should come with a decent kit lens. Of course I am not expecting miracles here either, but the old Canon 18-55 II kit lens were really poor. It seems like the newer IS version is actually pretty sharp for a kit. Oh, and IS/VR is a must.

Having these things in mind I started looking for the right model for me.

The Sony Alpha A230 was the first one to catch my eye, probably because it is the cheapest one on the market. At first I was like 'oh, a sony, let's just skip this one', but... well, it uses the same sensor the D3000 uses. It delivers pretty crappy JPEG quality, but RAW seems fine, and because I love shooting RAW, I am ok with that. I must admit the body itself is a bit strange to hold, but it has some useful dedicated buttons, like ISO switch, that D3000 doesn't. What I am concerned mostly is the kit lens. The new 18-55mm seems to be a lot better than the old sony's old 18-70mm, but I am still not very convinced. I've also read, that the stabilization unit built into the body delivers only about 1 stop of benefit, which isn't very impressive.

After that I decided to read some tests of the $50 more expensive Nikon D3000. I must admit I like it a lot. I like how it looks and feels, all the little advantages over sony, like an ISO display in the viewfinder etc. It just seems like a camera for someone interested in photography, and not for someone who just walked into the mall wanting to buy 'one of em big black cameras'. The 18-55VR kit lens doesn't seem bad either. My only concern here is the old sensor, which was used in D80. I mean not that it is a bad one, but it is already 4 years or so old. In 2 years it will be six, which in the world of digital cameras is quite a lot.

Another $50 (at lest here in Poland) more, and it's possible to get a rebel XS. It also uses a pretty old sensor from the XTi, but ISO 1600 looks so much cleaner than with D3000. It really does make a difference. It also comes with live view. As far as I am concerned, I don't really care at all about it, I would probably never use it anyway. The thing is though, that the camera would also be used during walks/weekends out etc. with my girlfriend, and I think she would really be happy to be able to compose photos using the LCD display. So the live view comes as a benefit. There is only one small problem with the rebel XS. It seems to be going out of sale as a kit. It is almost impossible to get it now, and in one month (that's exactly when I am going to get the camera) I don't think it will be sold anymore. Of course I could get the body and lens separately, but then it doesn't seem like a good deal anymore.

Then, once again for a bit more than the rebel, I've spotted the Sony NEX-3 mirrorless camera and decided to read a test or two about it. I was shocked to find out, that the 14 MP APS-C sensor delivers pretty much the same high ISo image quality as the Canon 500D or Nikon D5000. According to dpreview, the 18-55mm kit lens seem to have much better center sharpness than Canon's or Nikon's, but with quite a blur in extreme corners. The lens also has proper stabilization. There's 720p movie mode, which I guess could be fun in some situations and a high res LCD. So, what I realised, it is possible to get significantly better quality with this mirrorless camera, than with a D3000, for not that much more money. On paper it looks great. But of course it is not a DSLR, it lacks an OVF, which is probably a key feature for me, all the other DSLR features, and apart from that, it looks hideous, but that I guess would be a matter of taste.

So, here I am, a guy that simply can't make up his mind. Too many possibilities, from the cheapest Sony A230, through the more 'serious' D3000, the better but probably harder to get a hold of rebel XS, and the entirely different, but pretty convincing in some aspects NEX-3. I could really use a few opinions of people more experienced than I am, and pointing (pushing?) in the right direction. Oh, and thanks for reading all of it, I hope it wasn't very hard to understand what I have in mind.
Well let me throw another wrench or two into the works :)

From your post it seems you really like the Nikon which is fine, but you are just concerned about the sensor age. The camera and lens kit you were looking at looks like about $500US. Have you thought about spending a little more for a refurbished D90? They are going for around $700 for the body and the 18-55 VR lens is around $100. As the D7000 comes out I expect the D90 to go down a bit more in price so this might be a fine time to be in the market for one. Another big advantage the D90 has over the D3000 is you can use cheaper lenses since the D90 has the drive for D series lenses (price a 105mm 2.5 D Micro vs a 105mm 2.8 VR Micro to see what I mean, or a 80-200 2.8D vs a 70-200 2.8 VR) so in the long run it could actually cost less to spend more on the body now.

I am one of those weirdos who thinks the most important part of the camera is whether you like it or not. A Nikon D40 is much better than a Canon 1DsM4 if you hate using the Canon and leave it at home. If you really like the way the Nikon looks, feels and handles, that is the one you should get.

Thanks for your reply. Sadly I can't spend more than about $500 US, well, $600 if it would benefit with a much better camera. A D90 even refurbished seems to be out of my reach.
Here's the thing.

Nikon or Canon is your choice, totally fine. The fact of the matter is depending on the time of the year, one has a better model, sometimes one has a hands-down better model, other times it's just too close to tell. Neither is consistently a "better product".

That said, you should stick with one or the other, so that your equipment investments remain. Since you already have Canon lenses, cheap or otherwise, you can find a Rebel T1i (500D) for $500~$550USD here, (your in poland though right?) So you'll have to look around, but I know I can find a NEW 500D under $600, Body Only. But since you already have the kit lens, no sense in buying a second one. If you go with Nikon, you'll have to add a lens to your investment.

By the way, I think the 500D takes some great shots even with the kit lens. It's high ISO performance is pretty good, mine is crystal until ISO 1600, and even at 1600 most of the time I can reduce the noise in lightroom without loosing much detail. What impressed me, though, about the T1i is the lesser need for a high ISO. I can shoot sunsets at ISO 100 with a reasonable shutter speed (not 1/500 of course, but you 5 seconds either). I think it would be a great investment for you if you decide to stick with Canon.


EDIT: Nevermind ignore me, I thought you HAD an XTi, now I read you just used one, okay, disregard.

However, I did get my T1i kit for $650, and it's on eBay brand new for $600 shipped from a lot of places (not grey market, includes the warranty). My uncle got hit for $600 shipped, no tax, full warranty. The deals are out there, though I know that flirts with the end of your price range.
EDIT: Nevermind ignore me, I thought you HAD an XTi, now I read you just used one, okay, disregard.

However, I did get my T1i kit for $650, and it's on eBay brand new for $600 shipped from a lot of places (not grey market, includes the warranty). My uncle got hit for $600 shipped, no tax, full warranty. The deals are out there, though I know that flirts with the end of your price range.

Yeah, I don't have any glass ATM, so I am not tied to any particular camera maker. A T1i kit here is about $700, which is also out of my reach. That's why I will probably have to go for one of the cameras I mentioned in my first post. Can any D3000 user write if he is happy with his camera's performance (mostly concerned about high ISO)?
drake i have a d3000, and i have to say since buying it about 6-7 months ago, there are things i love about it and things i would like to see improve. the most important aspect of starting out with a d3000 is patience hehe. i have found you can take amazing shots with it if you dont mind taking the extra time to set your photo up, i.e. lighting, manual settings, etc...

as far as iso goes, 100-800 are great, 1600 and the Hi don't bother. the bigget petpeave of mine with it is that unless the lens you use has an internal motor, every other lens will be manual focus, which is fine for me because i prefer that but can be tricky in lower light and with my eyes.

it's lightweight, and the menu navigation is actually very user friendly, i wish that i could flash sync higher than 1/200 but it's not crucial. overall its great bang for buck in my opinion despite some of the terrible reviews i've seen. now with that in mind, i don't know if nikon has released it yet but they have designed a d3100 now which pretty much improves some of the d3000 functions and has added 1080p video as well. i personally prefer it without the video but thats just me.

oh and one other thing, the d3000 does NOT have live view, so if you're looking for a camera that you can see the view on the screen prior to taking the photo, this one will not, as opposed to the d5000 which does as well as the higher end models of course. anyhow, moral of the story is that i'm quite happy with the d3000 however it didn't take long before i was ready to move up to a better model, (shooting for a d300 or possibly a d700 if i can afford it). upside is any lenses i invest in and use for the 3000 will still be useeable on the other models as well. so i hope this sheds a little help in on your decision making.
as far as iso goes, 100-800 are great, 1600 and the Hi don't bother.
Thanks for your opinion, it really is something I needed. I thought ISO 1600 from D3000 is quite usable in some situations like some social snapshots, enough for small sized prints. Correct me if I am wrong. I know the body lacks AF motor, but it is not an issue for me.

Yep, there is a significantly better D3100 comming soon, but I think it will initially cost about the same the D5000 costs now, so it is not really an alternative for me.
I have the D3000 and I've been shooting with it for almost a year and a half. The ISO performance isn't as bad as some reviews say. ISO 1600 is noisy, but I think with some PP a usable shot can come out. I usually don't go higher than 800, but even with that I don't usually have to reduce, or if I do it's just a little.

That being said, if ISO is your main concern, then I would go with Canon. But also think about this. I like Nikon glass much more. Look at the lenses you will want to get in the future. higher ISO's will start to mean less if you plan on getting faster glass. Then it becomes more about the lenses you want. Which is where your real concern should be.
I highly highly recommend that you keep saving until the D3100 comes out. By that time you should be able to afford it, and you WILL realize the benefits of such a plan once you see it through. I personally own the D3000. It's terrible in lowlight (by my standards), but so is every other camera in its class/price point. ISO1600 is crazy noisy, but I'd rather have noise than no photo at all. ISO800 is useable but I hate noise so much that it really annoys me. ISO400 is alright. ISO200 is perfectly fine. ISO100 is where I like to keep it unless forced by shooting conditions to change it.

That being said, if ISO is your main concern, then I would go with Canon. B

Interesting. I think most people would say the opposite. Typically Nikon is considered better for noise/high ISO, but Canon is better for larger images. Well, unless you want to spend $7.3k on a D3x. :lol:
Typically Nikon is considered better for noise/high ISO, but Canon is better for larger images. Well, unless you want to spend $7.3k on a D3x. :lol:

this is perhaps true on the high end, but here we are on the very low end.

Drake: any DSLR you will buy will be a major step vs. any other previous camera, so be careful as you described in the first post, but remember that will be difficult to fail. By the way, any new camera will be better than older ones, but in few time there will be something newer.

Said that, while I would suggest 1000D/Xs if compared to d3000, d3100 will be better than both (not having Canon yet a 1100D ;) ).

PS: another reason why I'm glad to have chosen Canon is the possibility to reuse old (read: cheap) M42 lenses, more difficult on Nikon.

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