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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: Newbie to dSLR: Taking the next step beyond point-and-shoot cameras

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) May 3, 2007 3:45 PM PDT

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Newbie to dSLR: Taking the next step beyond point-and-shoot cameras

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 5/3/07 3:45 PM


I've been using a point-and-shoot digital camera for years and I'm ready to take the next step and move on to a digital SLR, but I really have no idea where to start. What I want in a dSLR is the ability to capture multiple shots quickly so I can capture an entire sequence of the subject's actions--which requires a good automatic focus and no shutter lag. In addition, I would also like to take landscape photos and close-up photos of flowers using manual zoom for close and distant subjects. I believe most SLRs will do this, right? What I'm looking for is something for a beginner--so it won't cost me an arm and leg (I have a $500 - $700 budget) and isn't too fancy, enabling me to experiment and see if I want to go any further in this new hobby. I need advice on what brands are recommended, and what to look for and avoid in a dSLR camera. What additional lenses are possibly needed? I know there is no one answer that will fit all, but I would like to see what you have to recommend for me. Thank you.

Submitted by: Stefan M.

Answer voted most helpful by our members


Hi Stefan,

You are going to love shooting with an SLR. It really affords you a whole new world of freedom, control and creativity in shooting. In fact, it's really the difference between just taking a picture and "creating" a picture. Heres my summary of what to look for:

--What to expect from an SLR vs. Digital compact

Digital SLRs are best known for their greater offering of manual controls and the ability to change lenses. Couple this with near instant startup, improved performance in low light conditions, high speed RAW format shooting, and better dynamic range, and you can see why so many people are making the switch to SLRs.

However, there are a few trade-offs. Obviously, SLRs are not nearly as portable as digital compacts and sometimes get left at home as a result. You will also have to get used to using an optical viewfinder instead of the live LCD preview you usually find on compacts. Some people may find this more difficult. The exception to this is the Olympus E-410 digital SLR which has an MOS sensor which displays a live preview on the LCD.

Another important issue is that SLRs have a shallower depth of field than digital compacts. This refers to(the area in front of and behind the main focus point that remains sharp or in focus. Digital compacts have shorter focal lengths and as a result can perform good close-up (also known as macro) photography right out of the box. You would have to buy a separate macro lens for an SLR to perform macro photography. That is not to say that a digital compact will provide the same quality image as an SLR with a macro lens, but simply that you should factor in the cost of adding this lens. It will likely cost you a few hundred dollars by itself.

--What to look for in an SLR

If you plan on buying additional lenses and peripherals for you camera, choosing the right manufacturer will be important. Nikon and Canon generally lead the pack in terms of quality and innovation but there are some very good values out there from Pentax, Olympus and a few others as well.

Try to look beyond megapixels when shopping, instead focusing in on dynamic range (the ability to show detail in shadows and highlights in the same image). This is where Nikon and Canon have a bit of an edge. If you are shooting indoors a lot or in low light settings, Canon CMOS sensors generally produce less noise than its competitors at high ISO settings.

Perhaps the biggest consideration for anyone buying their first SLR is how intuitive it feels when you use it. Because youre just getting started with SLRs, you dont want to have to pull out the manual every time you decide to adjust a few settings. Every camera has its own design and layout, and some are more easily navigated than others. In my opinion, Nikon leads the industry in this department.

Your budget is really at the low end of what you need to spend to get a decent digital SLR. The Nikon D40 is about the only kit that I can think of that I would recommend for under $600.00. For a little more, the Canon EOS 400D, Nikon D40x, Olympus E-410, and the Pentax K-10D are all worth considering.

--Some SLRs worth Considering

Canon EOS 400D 10 megapixels, great overall picture quality, lowest noise at high ISO settings for this price range, an industry leader with a wide range of peripherals, great software bundle supplied with kit. Cons not a great lens, better to buy the body and then buy a better lens separately. Kit price approx. $850.00

Nikon D40 6 megapixels, great overall image quality, surprisingly good build quality and lens for a camera that sells for around $560.00 USD, very responsive, perhaps the best user interface in this price range, an industry leader with a wide range of peripherals. Cons no internal AF motor means autofocus can only be achieved with newer AF-S and AF-I CPU lenses. Kit price approx. $560.00

Nikon D40X 10 megapixels, great overall image quality, surprisingly good build quality and lens, an industry leader with a wide range of peripherals, perhaps the user interface in this price range, very responsive. Cons no internal AF motor means autofocus can only be achieved with newer AF-S and AF-I CPU lenses. Kit price approx. $750.00.

Olympus E-410 - 10 megapixels, Live MOS Image Sensor give you full time Live-View on the LCD monitor, four-thirds aspect ratio may be preferred by some. Cons Live view auto focus can be slow . Kit price approx. $900.00.

Pentax K10D -10 megapixels, good build quality with dust and weather seals (great if you plan on using your camera in less than ideal weather conditions), in camera shake reduction, great value for money. Cons dynamic range and image sharpness not quite as good as industry leaders. Kit price approx. $900.00.

--Shooting in RAW mode

Digital SLRs offer the ability to shoot in RAW mode. RAW files keep the information from the CCD/CMOS sensor before processing and allow you to change certain settings (i.e. white balance, sharpening, exposure compensation etc.) at any time, even years later. This can be changed or un-done at any time without any quality loss. RAW files do take more space than JPEG files but with the low cost of storage these days, there is really no reason to shoot any other way. JPEG files can be created from RAW files at any time for sharing with others. If you do plan on shooting in RAW mode, youll want to get editing software that allows you to adjust these settings. Your camera may come with software to do this but if not, a good starter software would be Photoshop Elements with RAW plug-ins.

A few final Points

1. Never underestimate the value of a good lens they really do make a difference. If you plan on buying a lot of glass in the future, keep in mind that your lens collection may eventually be worth far more than your camera body. Choosing a mainstream company becomes more of an issue here because you will likely want to upgrade your camera body many times over the life of your lenses.

2. Get a camera that feels right in your hands and has menus that feel intuitive to your way of thinking.

3. Factor in the cost of a spare battery, carrying case, and a reasonably large memory card these are a virtual must.

I hope this helps. Good Luck!

Submitted by: Screaminlizard

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Stefan, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer. Thanks!

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