How I picked a digital SLR body and lens

March 13, 2008 at 11:16 am (photography)

I’ve collected a bunch of advice from different sources and I think I’ve narrowed the choices down enough to make a decision about a digital SLR body and initial lens to purchase. Here’s a summary of the most influential information that I collected in case it helps anyone making a similar decision.

Nikon and Canon have the most lenses available for their cameras. And I learned that you can rent very good lenses for a small fraction of the cost of buying one. So that’s very good for lenses that I’d only use occasionally or lenses that I wanted to try before buying. This makes the decision to switch to a dSLR much more palatable. But based on the availability of lenses, the field gets narrowed to only Nikon and Canon.

One person told me that he decided on Nikon because he knew a lot of people who already have Nikon cameras and lenses and he could borrow lenses from them. I’m not in the same situation. Another person told me that she went with Canon because their products tend to be cheaper and she couldn’t tell any difference in quality. That’s probably the boat that I’m in.

The most to-the-point advice I got online was from David Sifry. He suggested the Canon Digital Rebel XT 350D camera body (why do they have to have so many different parts to the name?) and a Canon 50 mm / f1.4 USM lens – good starting equipment that would still allow me to have very high image quality. The most compelling reason to get this setup is that it works well in low light situations and would allow me to get away from washing out my subjects with flash (camera has low noise at high ISO settings and lens has large maximum aperture).

Canon 55 mm / f1.4 USM lensI also learned that many people use this lens for the large majority of their photos. So that reassures me that I’d get a lot of use out of this single lens. Another appealing feature of this lens is that it has autofocus, but I can also manually tweak the focus myself without switching entirely out of autofocus (full-time manual focusing). This lens is a prime lens (no zoom), which would give me a higher quality lens for less money. To get the same quality in a zoom lens, I’d have to pay a lot more money. So I’d rather zoom with my feet (it’s free!) than pay more money to be lazy. There will probably be situations where I can’t move my feet (cliffs, wedding ceremonies), but I can always crop photos later if I want. And I can also invest in additional lenses later (I’m guessing that my priorities would be wide-angle for landscapes and macro or lens extenders for macro shots, but we’ll see).

I decided to look into the more recent version of the Canon Rebel XT, the XTi. Just to see if I thought that any of their features would be worthwhile (XTi is currently about $100 – $150 more expensive). Here are some links: Good evaluation of XT. Good evaluation of XTi. Good and thorough review of XTi that includes comparisons with XT, and also includes a nice table of the main differences.

The most appealing improvements in the XTi:

  • Multi-pronged approach to fighting dust. This would make it easier to take good care of the camera and it would be really good for being able to change lenses with less worry while hiking or traveling.
  • Larger LCD
  • Better interface. I’m pretty good at getting used to interfaces, even when they’re not good. But I do enjoy a good interface. And if it makes taking pictures more efficient, sign me up!
  • Eye sensor to turn LCD off when you look through viewfinder. So you can setup your shots without the light from the LCD getting in the way! Clever!
  • (10 Mpixel resolution vs 8 Mpixel. The pros and cons of this improvement probably cancel each other out. It’ll help to be able to crop photos and still have enough resolution left. But it’ll make it more of a pain to upload and download them.)

Canon Digital Rebel XTi 400D

These are all features that I would take advantage of so I eventually decided to go with the XTi aka 400D. The extra cost may even payoff in the long run (dust control). Cannon has announced that there will be an even newer version – XSi aka 450D. (The main addition to this version is having a live view on the LCD. I don’t mind looking through the viewfinder so I don’t need this feature. ) But hopefully the release of this new model will cause the prices of the XTi aka 400D to go down soon. I was planning to wait a few months before purchasing everything, so the timing should be perfect.

That’s the decision process that I went through, but if your situation is different from mine or you want more information, the Digital SLR Guide was very useful for guiding people through the camera selection process based on their photography personalities needs. It also has very good explanations of camera terminology.

Hopefully, future posts will include photos from this new camera setup!  I’m so excited!

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