Ever since I started using Flickr and got my own digital camera, I’ve been getting more and more into photography. It might be the competitive impulse that Flickr’s well documented game-like elements introduce (Flickr originally began life as a game called Game Never Ending), or the fact that once you’ve got a digital camera and a PC, if you put in the time, there’s a steady learning curve, and you can literally see how you progress. And of course, since I live in London I’m never short of subjects to shoot.
I’ve had my digital camera, a point and shoot Pentax Optio S5i, for over two years now, and for a while, I’ve wanted a digital SLR, so that I can learn some new things. I am not the only one though – there’s a growing market for first-timer dSLRs, and for slightly pricier "pro-sumer" models. The problem then, is choice. I’ve finally made mine, and thought it might be useful for people looking for their first SLR to know why I went for what I did.
The choices were:
* Canon EOS 400D (aka Digital Rebel XTi). This costs about £500, and it follows the very successful EOS 350D. I’ve seen several people on Flickr get really excellent results with the 350D, but for me, a couple of things ruled the 400D out. Firstly, the kit lens is not highly thought of. Well, actually, it’s crap. I went into Calumet in Soho and the assistant told me it wasn’t even worth using, and I’ve seen similar complaints online. I didn’t want to be stuck with a camera where within a few months I’d be needing to research and buy a new lens. Secondly, a lot of people, both users and reviewers, have complained it’s a little too small for its own good.
* Nikon D80. Undoubtedly the best camera of the ones I considered – it enjoys pretty much universal press acclaim, with everyone from net sites to DPReview to colleagues of mine at PC Pro raving about it. The only problem is that with the excellent 18-70mm kit lens it costs at least £700. This is a lot of money for a first time dSLR, and it’s more than I have right now.
* More exotic choices – the Sony Alpha A100 and Pentax K100 and K10. The Sony is very keenly priced for a 10 megapixel camera, and has some neat technical tricks like a dust filter and super steady-shot features. It’s also fared well among reviewers, especially a recent write up on Anandtech. I ruled it out because it has the most limited lens choice and Sony kit can be a bit flimsy. The Pentaxes were attractive because I’ve had good experiences with their kit – my point-n-shoot is a Pentax – but the K10 is pretty much the same price as the Nikon D80 and the K100 didn’t fare as well in a DPReview head to head with the camera I did end up chosing…
The Nikon D40. This is the newest of the cameras here, and at just under £400, it’s not too pricey. Its 18-55mm kit lens enjoys a much better rep than the Canon’s, as do the camera’s ergonomics. The only downside is that the D40 has no built in motor with which to auto-focus – it relies on the lens’s, so this obviously limits the lenses you can use (only AF-S ones) – however, I don’t have any lenses so I can make sure ones I buy will work with the camera. Worst case scenario is that I have to manual focus them. Ultimately, I didn’t think it was worth paying the extra £300 for a D80 over the D40, especially for a dSLR novice like myself. Pro photographers like Ken Rockwell speak very highly of it, too (his excellent write up is well worth a look, esp if you want a more considered look at the lens issue), and the photos other Flickr users have got from it look tremendous.
So that’s why I’ve ordered the D40 and a 2GB SD card; it’ll be in my grubby little mitts on Tuesday apparently, and I’m already far too excited 🙂