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

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 3, 2007 8:45 AM PDT

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. Here?s my summary of what to look for:

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

Digital SLR?s 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, SLR?s 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 SLR?s 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 you?re just getting started with SLRs, you don?t 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 SLR?s 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, you?ll 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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dSLR, or high-level SuperZoom camera?

dSLR have their place, but from your desired objectives I would first consider a SuperZoom camera from Lumix or Canon. These cameras have fast shooting speeds, fast boot-up times, extensive adjustments, and in the case of the Lumix external Zoom and Focus rings just old-school SLR zoom lenses. Unlike old-school, however, this camera offers image stabilization and a whopping 12x zoom range. Unless you have some need for specialized lenses that beyond this, this should work well for you and fits within your budget well. The Lumix I refer to is the DMC-FZ50. The Canon is the PowerShot S2 IS. In addition, these cameras offer excellent video modes with sound. There are expensive compromises to made in making a lens removable, especially in your price range. I am not against dSLRs in principle, I just suggest that you will get more bang for your buck and may be better served by one of these super zoom cameras.

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Canon Rebel XT

I had the same problem as you couldnt make up my mind as to wether I should stick to normal point and click digital cameras or buy an SLR I take alotta sport related pictures, and as well as landscape, and pictures in movement. I bought a Canon Rebel xt it is well within the price range you have, and it takes good pictures without having to be a pro, or shelling out a couple thousand to buy a similar camera. Id recommend you to try it out, and if not to at least look into it.

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Re: Canon Rebel XT
by Watzman / May 4, 2007 10:41 AM PDT
In reply to: Canon Rebel XT

The problem with your post is that it reflects the same thinking as that of the person asking the question: It presumes that the only choices are "point and shoot" or DSLR. When, in fact, there is a whole body of very sophisticated "SLR-Like" cameras that have all of the features and sophistication of an SLR, but which simply don't have the reflex optics (who needs a mirror that isn't even in use when the actual picture is being taken?), and that don't have interchangeable lenses (but that DO have a single fixed lens with, approximately, a 24mm to 290mm zoom range). See my post below.

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Wow! Bold statements.
by joeblowfromcocamo / May 4, 2007 3:27 PM PDT
In reply to: Re: Canon Rebel XT

The problem with your post is that it reflects the same thinking that my Toyota has all the sophistication and features of a Porsche. Yes they both drive, they both have air conditioning and similar features. One major thing sets them apart, the Porsche is made as a high performance high end luxury vehicle that handles well and has a feel of its own in terms of responsiveness to driving. The Toyota can't compare they are 2 different animals.

There is no such thing as an SLR-like camera. This is a sales tactic for the unsuspecting. True some non SLR cameras may have some of the same features and yes many are sophisticated, but that means nothing if you are in the middle of a photo shoot and the camera locks up because of poorly written software that runs the camera.

There is no mystique to an SLR. With the SLR your are looking through the lens at your subject. There are some digital models that will look through the lens, but I am skeptical and they suck a lot of power.

The lens quality of SLR's are exponentially better than your typical point and shoot cameras. After all with SLR cameras you are mainly paying for the lenses. It all comes down to what the end product is - how the picture looks. Are any optical artifacts present because of poorly ground glass or cheap lenses? Would you rather go to a cheap eye doctor that cuts the bottom of a coke bottles and uses them for your eye glasses or would you go to the eye doctor that fits you with precision made hand ground eyeglasses with no optical distortions.

Many single lens point and shoot consumer cameras have severe optical distortions that are inherent in the cheaply made components.

Some people actually like to look through their lens and compose a photograph using the lens instead of post production using computer software. You also can grow and experiment with different types of lenses on an SLR. Does your point and shoot do true non digital macro photos, can you take fisheye photos with your point and shoot?

I guess I and the other millions of people around the world using SLR cameras must be wrong Happy

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Bold yes; but still valid
by Watzman / May 5, 2007 11:16 AM PDT
In reply to: Wow! Bold statements.

Agreed that there are many "point and shoot" consumer cameras that, as you say, have severe optical distortions, etc. and are really not very sophisticated .... they are for the "snapshot crowd".

However, there ARE cameras that are essentially as sophisticated and "high quality" as DSLRs ... but which are not DSLRs, rather they have a fixed "super zoom" lens (10:1 or greater zoom ratio) instead and no "reflex mirror". THOSE are the cameras (the ONLY cameras) that I am talking about. You seem to thumb your nose at them, but some of them are very good, very good indeed, and may better meet the needs of MOST of the people who are buying DSLRs. And another aspect of my post is that if the Camera industry and consumer would look at this objectively, forgetting the "Mystique of the DSLR" (e.g., to use your post, "The Mystique of a Porsche"), the Camera industry could produce a Super-zoom that was ABSOLUTELY as good as a DSLR, but better for most people for the reasons that I enumerated in my full post (below).

I'm not talking about $100 to $250 snapshot cameras; I'm talking about $350 to $600 cameras that have the build quality and features of a DSLR; they simply don't have interchangeable lenses and a reflex mechanism (which does absolutely nothing for the picutre, since is is literally retracted and not even present when the actual picture is taken). The only think lacking, so far, is a full size 35mm sensor, but many of these do have APS size sensors, which is in fact the same sensor size found in the lower-cost DSLRs. And they don't lack either megapixels or lens quality (or lens size, either). Now I won't argue that no 10:1 zoom is going to be as good across it's entire range as individual fixed length or narrow-range zoom lenses. But this fact not withstanding, quite a few of the 10:1 zooms are indeed very good, and the majority of people who are buying low-end DSLRs are not buying a whole range of lenses to carry with them all the time and frequently change. And if they do, they are running into a lot of other problems with sensor dust and dirt. Not to mention, again, that DSLR's generally can't shoot video at all, period.

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Wow! Bold statements.
by singhlin / May 12, 2007 12:18 PM PDT
In reply to: Wow! Bold statements.

Yes, I have been taking fish eye photos using Nikon CoolPix 4500 which is a Point-And-Shoot camera


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Wow! Bold statements.
by singhlin / May 12, 2007 10:42 PM PDT
In reply to: Wow! Bold statements.

I have been taking many beautiful photos using Canon PowerShot S2 IS which has 12X optical zoom and is a Point-And-Shoot camera. Some examples of nice photos of beautiful iris flowers taken by this camera are on my web page with background music at:

Many friends have enjoyed the beautiful photos of iris on this web page and none of them ever mentioned or detected any "severe distortion" of the lens of this Point-And-Shoot camera.


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Selecting a digital SLR for newbies

Well, this goes beyond your question, but I?m going to suggest that you reconsider the move to a DSLR. Personally I find the move to DSLR?s hard to understand, and I think that the camera industry could make a much better camera, that almost (ALMOST !!) all non-professional photographers would prefer to a DSLR, if it wasn?t for the ?mystique? of being a DSLR.

Now let me say that I?m a fairly sophisticated photographer, and I?ve owned SLRs with multiple lenses ever since my Minolta SRT-101 back around 1970. And all of my film cameras were SLRs. But there were two reasons for that:

-I wanted ?what you see is what you get? -- a viewfinder image that was exactly what I would shoot
-I wanted lens flexibility, wide angle to long telephoto

But in a digital camera, ?what you see is what you get? is inherent ... you can?t get anything other than the image you will actually shoot through the very same sensor that records the image when you do shoot.

And as for lenses, where I am suggesting that you do go is to a ?super zoom?, a non-SLR camera with a 10:1 or 12: zoom lens .... in terms of 35mm equivalents, a lens that is roughly 24mm to 290mm.

Thus, I think that in the rush to DSLRs, the entire reason for [film] SLRs in the first place has been lost, and the industry and the consumers have made a move that really doesn?t make a whole lot of sense.

So tell me, are you so professional (definitely some photographers are), or so perfectionist (and that is your right also) that the lenses in ?super zooms? really are not acceptable, and you must actually change lenses to get acceptable wide angle and zoom? Because for myself, I?ve found that not being a professional photographer, and taking pictures for my own pleasure during my own vacations and leisure activies, the act of carrying around a camera bag with multiple lenses that borders on being a suitcase, and fooling with those lenses and other accessories detracts from my own enjoyment of the moment.

Yes, I want the pictures, and so I?m willing to carry around a relatively large and heavy, relatively sophisticated camera. But not a whole suitcase of lenses, etc. And if you are not going to be changing lenses, then the whole point of an SLR starts to get lost. I mean, what does all of the mechanical complexity and cost of a flip-up reflex lens system really buy you? It only really buys you two things, interchangeable lenses, and a true optical viewfinder (more on that below).

So what should you be looking for? And as much to the point, what should the camera companies be making for customers like me who take a lot of pictures, who understand exposure and depth of field and composition, but who don?t want the pleasure of a vacation experience to be burdened by equipment that, really, only a professional photographer would NEED:

1. An SLR-like ?Super-Zoom? camera with one really good fixed lens that is likely to meet all of your needs. 24 to 290mm, give or take at bit at either or both ends (but not less than 10:1). And all of the features (and complexity and sophistication) of an SLR. But no reflex optics, and no interchangeable lenses.

2. An electronic viewfinder that is as good as optical. Bright, very high resolution and refreshed fast (at least 60 times per second). Easily possible; but many cameras ?cheap out? and don?t do it.

3. A large image sensor, possibly 35mm full-frame, but not less than APS size. Big enough, and good enough, that ISO 800 (and maybe even 1,600) is not only present, but useable.

4. Good, effective image stabilization (electronic or mechanical)

The 3rd point is really WHY DSLRs generally are superior to non DSLR cameras; yet, there is no actual connection between having a reflex SLR mechanism or not and the sensor size. The advantage of a large sensor is low noise, which in turn enables good results at high speed (e.g. low-noise high ISO performance). Most non-DSLRs still use ?tiny? sensors (6 to 10 megapixels in a sensor the size of the eraser on a #2 pencil), but a few do use APS size sensors (sensors the size of the film negative on an APS camera), while most DSLRs use sensors the size of a 35mm negative. But there?s no reason that a non DSLR can?t use a full-size sensor, and, actually, for most people an APS size sensor (and these do exist in some non-DSLR cameras) probably is good enough. Of course, it?s harder to do a high-ratio, high-quality lens with a larger image sensor, but it?s not impossible: Tamron has been making some very good quality 28-200mm and 28-300mm lenses for FILM SLR cameras for more than a decade. But this is another reason that an APS sized sensor (but nothing smaller) may be most appropriate.

So why not go SLR?:

-SLR?s generally cannot do video
-SLR?s have really serious problems with dust & dirt getting on the image sensor
-SLR?s are mechanically complex for no really justifiable reason
-SLR?s cost more ... STARTING about double what some very good ?Super Zoom? cameras cost

Now no one makes the perfect ?Super Zoom? ... yet. But there are some cameras that are very close. As an admitted Fuji fan, I like the Fuji S6000fd (only about $330) and the S9000 (about $100 more). And there are some other very good (perhaps better) choices. But the ?perfect? Super Zoom is not far from being realized, and when all things are considered, even existing choices may come closer to meeting your needs than a DSLR unless your really NEED to be able to change lenses. SuperZoom cameras like the S6000fd are very good cameras, they are NOT ?point and shoot?, and they have pretty much all of the ?bells and whistles? of the DSLRs, without some of the problems, without all of the cost, and with one major feature (video) that for me is a ?deal killer?.

Now, however, regardless of the type of camera that you get, I have found the most useful camera site to be They have detailed, exhaustive and very professional reviews there that will answer all of your questions that don?t require spending ?hands on? with the camera that you are considering, and the forums will allow you to discuss your candidates with people who already own them and have real-world experience with them. It?s invaluable, and it?s where I?d start.

Best of luck; all of the digital cameras available today are so much better than what we had just 2 or 3 years ago that you almost can?t go wrong.

Barry Watzman

Message was edited by: admin

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Typo correction
by Watzman / May 6, 2007 12:06 PM PDT

"I wanted lens flexibility, telephoto to long zoom" should read "I wanted lens flexibility, wide angle to long telephoto"

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(NT) I edited it for you Barry.
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 11, 2007 7:12 AM PDT
In reply to: Typo correction
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Some SLR advantages not yet doable in compacts
by Screaminlizard / May 8, 2007 8:44 AM PDT

You make some very good points about DSLR's vs. compacts but there are a couple of limitations to compacts.

It's true that larger sensors tend to produce less noise at higher ISO settings and that is why the vast majority of DSLRs have sensors 26-43% of the size of a 35mm frame. There are only a few full frame sensor DSLRs, 3 that I can think of. Digital compacts typically range from 2-7%.

The problem is that when you enlarge the sensor size, you're lens size also grows. That is why older lenses have their focal length multiplied by a factor of 1.5 when used on most DSLRs. This difference in focal length is also why compacts have greater depth of field than DSLRs and can usually perform macro right out of the box.
Putting a full frame sensor in a compact is not possible and so the challenge becomes how to make the smaller sensors perform better at higher sensitivities. When this happens, we'll all be shooting with smaller, lighter lenses on more compact bodies.

The other issue is with the viewfinder. I think most people would agree that it's still easier to see fine details through the lens before it's been pixilated, as long as the camera uses a good pentaprism.

You're points are still good ones though, and I'm sure that your vision is where things are headed. I've often marveled at how good some compacts are getting.

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Yes and no ....
by Watzman / May 10, 2007 4:07 AM PDT

On the sensor and lens, it's possible to do a sensor that is low-noise enough for ISO 800 and even 1600 (a useable 1600) and still get good performance with a high lens ratio (10:1 or more). Tamron has been making 8:1 and 10:1 zoom lenses (28-300mm) for FILM 35mm cameras since the early 1990's that are quite good. In fact, I'd argue that the Fuji S6000fd already has a fully acceptable combination of lens and sensor, but it lacks one feature that, thus far, Fuji has been "behind" on, and that is image stabilization. Reportedly, this is coming in the fall.

As to the viewfinder, first, there is a tremendous range in electronic viewfinders as to the resolution, brightness and refresh rates of the viewfinders. But a viewfinder that is entirely acceptable isn't a problem, some cameras have them. You made the point that "most people would agree that it's still easier to see fine details ...". But I'd ask, "is that even relevant?" The only real purpose of the viewfinder is to frame ... compose ... the picture for shooting. Seeing fine details isn't really necessary; the bigger conerns are seeing things in low light, and seeing them in "real time" if you are shooting an "action scene". And, again, it's all possible, it's all being done right now in some cameras.

My point to the camera makers is that while some products have gotten very close (very close indeed), and while all of the elements -- lens, sensor, viewfinder, image stabilization, resolution -- all exist ... IN DIFFERENT CAMERAS ... no one has put it all together yet in a single camera. So, camera makers: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER IN A NON-DSLR SUPER-ZOOM. It's a BETTER solution for most (not all) camera buyers, if you do it right. That means a good (and therefore somewhat large .... that's ok) lens with something like 28-290mm (35mm equivalent), 6 to 10 megapixels, low noise performance useable to ISO 1600, image stabilization and a fast, bright, high resolution viewfinder. You can do it; and we are not expecting it to be a $250 camera, this is, after all, a DSLR alternative, so $400 to $600 is not at all out of the question. All of the components exist (in different cameras), and some of your current products are breathtakingly close. But no camera manufacturer has yet put all of the pieces together in a single product.

And my point to Stefan (the original question) is that he's budget constrined to $500 to $700. Yes, he can get a DSLR (with probably ONE lens) towards the high end of that range. But it might not be the BEST solution, when there are some very, very good non-SLR (but NOT "point and shoot") "Super Zoom" cameras available in the $350 to $600 price range. He may get a better camera, with a lot more lens (zoom) flexibility and the ability to shoot video, and without the issues related to interchangeable lenses, and possibly for half the price of a low end DSLR and lens combination.

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Larger image sensor means larger lens diameter
by Screaminlizard / May 10, 2007 4:09 PM PDT
In reply to: Yes and no ....

Increasing the sensor size means that you have to increase the lens diameter and the coresponding length to achive the same zoom. For example: A digital compact camera with a 75mm lens would achieve the same field of view as a DSLR with a full frame sensor with a 300mm lens. Bigger sensor = bigger glass required to project the image onto it.

That's why you see so many digital compacts with huge optical zooms for so cheap. Smaller diameter glass and shorter overall lenght, means the glass is thinner (less loss of light and less abberation)making the lenses cheaper to produce.

Not many people would consider a digital compact with a 28-300 1.3.5-5.6 very compact. So it's easy to see that the goal has to be to make the smaller sensors better at high sensitivities.

On the optical viewfinder vs. digital display topic... have you ever shot macro photography? If so, would you want to use a digital display to focus your shot? Or how about a telephoto shot with a wide aperature where your depth of field is very limited... are you ready to focus that shot with an LCD? Not me, they're not there yet, not even close. Or try this, take out your DSLR and take a picture of a poorly lit subject without flash. My guess is that you ended up with a blurred and probably underexposed shot due to the very slow shutter speed that was used. Why did I say not to use the flash? Because your image sensor will not be using the flash at 30 times per second to give you a fluid preview of what you're shooting. As a result, all it can do is slow down the shutter speed to try to get enough light for a preview of the image. Ready to try to focus with an LCD yet? Now, try that same shot looking through the viewfinder... see how bright it is? The point is, you eye is far more sensitive to light than any CCD/CMOS sensor and because your viewing it before it hits the sensor, you're seeing it in the very best possible way. That's what I meant about seeing finer details, and yes, it is relevant. Sure LCD's are fine for casual shooting, but that's not why people buy an SLR. For most, it's because they're ready to go beyond casual.

Your point about Stephan being able to buy a better Super zoom compact than DSLR for his budget was a good one. At 700.00 the best he's going to do is the Nikon D40 kit. Maybe in a few months the D40X or Canon XTi might come down enough. And althogh he'd certainly be getting a toatlly loaded digital compact for that price, he'd still be stuck with the same low light performance and limited dynamic range of the smaller sensors. It would be interesting to see how they stack up.

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Focus does not have to be an issue ....
by Watzman / May 11, 2007 1:26 AM PDT

Fuji has a feature where you press a button and the center section of the viewfinder (or screen) "blows up" to the point where you can easily manually focus. A tiny "spot" of the image takes up nearly the whole viewfinder of screen, but it's so blown up that focusing is not an issue (indeed, that is precisely what the feature is for).

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Nice feature
by Screaminlizard / May 12, 2007 3:33 PM PDT

That sounds like a nice feature. It sounds like a well thought out camera. How does it deal with the slow frame rates that you encounter in poorly lit environments? Doesn't the viewfinder go dark or the frame rate drop to a ridiculously slow refresh rate in order to capture enought light to compose the image?

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by LaJan7 / May 12, 2007 4:01 PM PDT

Now if I can just get those pesky insects and hummingbirds to wait a moment while I zip a piece of them into focus. LOL!

My autofocus isn't as accurate as my eye is, either. But with eyes going bad, my manual focusing is slightly worse than terrible. Without a big screen TV for a monitor, odds are I'm better with the autofocus and I'll leave you with better eyes to that interesting Fuji feature. :-/

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Here's a simple trick I use.
by Screaminlizard / May 13, 2007 3:24 PM PDT
In reply to: Cool!

Did you know that you can put almost any insect in the freezer for 15 minutes to put into dormancy? It's true, catch a butterfly or whatever you want to macro, place in the freezer for 15 minutes, take them out and place them on a leaf where they will be able to stand normally but they will be unable to fly away until they heat up again. You usually have about 5 minutes to take your shots. This does not hurt the insects at all as long as you don't leave them in there for days. Black flies and some others can withstand prolonged exposure to freezing and then be brought back to life with warmer temperatures.

Makes that close up a whole lot easier.

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Valid, but...!
by Getriebe / May 12, 2007 8:01 AM PDT

Hey barry,
you clearly do have some good points in your comments, but i think you ought to consider the fact that Stephan seems to want to venture into the realm of DSLR's and is looking for a way to 'test the waters'. If Stephan intends to do No More that he/she is already doing, then your arguement could hold, but if the intent is to increase and explore new areas of photography, then your views, if accepted and followed will only serve to quench or at least 'bottle-neck' Stephan's aspiration rather than steer in their intended direction.

I am actually in a simillar position to Stephan, but previously owned and used an mid-range SLR for a number of years. Five years ago i took the digi plunge in the form of a Fuji 6000Zoom. I decided not to change it because i fully intend to go DSLR in order to go even further with my photography. I am not a pro, but don't have to be to take photography to deeper levels.


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I thought - I didn't write a review, did I?
by briegull / May 12, 2007 10:22 AM PDT

You have really described the way I feel about a high-quality non-SLR.

Before digital, I never had anything BUT an SLR, then my first digital was a perfectly adequate Minolta dimage, which made good images but had no real telephoto capabilities. Before I went on my last trip - to Angkor Wat, where I anticipated distant deities looking down at me - I bought the Panasonic DMC-FZ7. 12x optical zoom, god knows how high digital (I think it's like 48). I came home with roughly 2.5 1 gig cards close to full. From that, there were maybe two dozen that were seriously no good, blurred, poorly exposed, whatever. Two dozen!! I'm not saying all the pictures were fantastic, I'm talking about exposure and focus, etc. Plus I had some great videos.

As an old lady (my first 36mm was an Argus) I really don't like to carry a heavy camera or the rest of the stuff. A camera bag these days is a thief magnet and seems to cause problems going through security at planes, not to mention tagging one as a tourist without further examination. You can buy lens filters and I gather some kind of expensive further zoom, but I have found I really don't need it! This decent-sized NON-slr is fine for anything I've tried to use it for, including macro photog. And I have had NO problems with paralax, the old bugaboo of point-and-shoots.

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Quality Repair for an Old Minolta SLR - circa 1985
by sammygayle / May 14, 2007 3:31 AM PDT

Hi Barry:

I too love my old Minolta automatic / program SLR & the lenses I've invested in. The unit that contains the batteries to advance the film & indicate the info in the Program window is malfunctioning. Can you recommend a good repair place to have it fixed or where I might be able to purchase a replacement unit ? I live in New York City.

Thanks .... samantha

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Response to Newbie selecting a digital SLR
by debsam21 / May 15, 2007 12:29 AM PDT

Can I assume from your article that the two Fuji cameras that you mentioned have the larger sensor? Do you know of any other brands that also have them? Thanks.

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And, the question was.....
by imdan / May 25, 2007 12:38 PM PDT

This person simply wants to buy a DSLR and wants to know which one he/she should buy within a given price range.

I'm amazed at the firestorm some have created out of this person's very simple question.

I'm amazed at how few writers have actually offered their advice... and have instead elected to climb up their soapbox to air their views for or against DSLR's.

Dan the Man

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The answer...

If I was on your budget I would opt for the Nikon D40X, which has almost all the features of its bigger brothers, uses the excellent Nikor lenses and is almost instantaneous in its response.


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Digital SLR for Newbies

Skip the dSLR. Take a hard look at Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50 Superzoom. It fits your budget and features 10mp resolution, 12x Leica optical zoom lens, optical stabilization, a fully articulated LCD viewer, RAW capability, etc. It looks and feels like a dSLR, and with a lens that ranges from macro to 12x zoom - stabilized, I can't think of many features it lacks. It also shoots video, a feature most dSLRs lack. You'd need to spend at least twice it's price to match it with a dSLR.

Leica likes it well enough to sell under their label, although at a higher price, through Hammacher Schlemmer, I think

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An Alternative


I've been an avid photo buff for decades. May I suggest that you take an intermediate step before the dSLR. Due to some of your requirements like fast capture, large zoom range, no shutter lag, and most of all your budget, I would suggest a digital zoom like the Canon S3 or similar. While dSLR's keep getting better and better with each generation your budget really will only allow you to purchase the body and basic lens.

Purchase of a digital zoom will provide for all your requirements in one neat package, and well under your budget. The savings can be applied to additional high speed memory and other goodies for your camera bag

From personal experience, there are many times I'd trade my dSLR with a bag full of lenses and accessories for my spouse's S3 and it's awesome capabilities.

Jerry S.

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by dynamius / May 12, 2007 11:06 AM PDT
In reply to: An Alternative

An optical zoom is a better alternative! Digital zooms often degrade with increased 'magnification'. DON'T BE MISLEAD.

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Re: digital SLR for newbies

Photographers are often just as rabid in their support for the brand of camera they use and derision for the other brands as any Apple vs Windows debate, so take it with big grains of salt when a Canon user sneers at Nikon cameras or vice versa.

All of the big-name traditional camera makers -- Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, etc -- make excellent DSLRs and other companies previously known for electronics also make excellent DSLRs -- Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, etc, etc.

Some of the digital photography magazines have buyer's guides, but I find they're more useful for their descriptions of what a feature is and how it's used or if it's useful, than their rankings. The buyer's guides will help you figure out what features you need, what features you'd like, and which ones you can ignore because you'll never use them.

I've been a pro photographer for 20+ years. Each time I've bought new cameras, there were features available on some that weren't on others and it would be great to be able to pick and choose from a list and assemble a dream camera. However, you'll probably have to settle for whichever one has more of the features you need that any other camera has. Check to see when it was first released as it might soon be due for an upgrade or replacement. When it is, you can either buy the improved one or look for a reduced price on the "suddenly obsolete" one.

Lens choice depends on what you plan to photograph, but I recommend a zoom instead of the 50mm "normal" lens. (I'm using focal lengths for 35mm film cameras in this.) A 35-70 or 28-70 is very useful, gives good results, isn't heavy, and doesn't cost a fortune. What you get both longer and shorter than those ranges depends on what you shoot. There are some impressive zooms with very long ranges from short to long that can replace many lenses in your camera bag, but they're big, heavy, and pricey. For those times when you would only take the body and one or two lenses, owning that kind of wonder-zoom requires that you have "all" (so to speak) of your lenses mounted on the camera, even when you want to travel light.

If it's allowed here, I'd like to recommend a terrific book on photography. It's "Photography for the Joy of It" by Freeman Patterson. (Not to be confused with Kodak's "The Joy of Photography".) It's a marvellous book about how to "see" a photo before you shoot it and how to get that pre-visualized image on film or on a memory card. It never fails to inspire my photography whenever I read it. (Patterson has other books that are also good, but that's the best one to start with.) Whether you're a complete newbie or a pro, it's a great book.

I used to tell new photographers that film is cheap, in other words shoot a lot and learn from your results. Pixels are even cheaper, so get in the habit of shooting different angles, or with a different lens, or different shutter speed or whatever. Break the snapshooter's habit of quickly taking only one shot of a subject and moving on. When you look at all your shots of each subject, compare them critically and see what worked, what didn't -- and why.

You'll be fine regardless of which of the major camera brands you pick, but do try to ignore the brand arguments by people who should spend more time shooting pics than fighting about brands. If all of your friends use one brand, then unless you really love a particular camera model of another brand, then consider getting the same brand as them so you can borrow lenses to try out for the subjects you shoot. Otherwise, buy what's best for you. The Nikon/Canon, Coke/Pepsi, Windows/Mac debates are almost always ridiculous and unhelpful.


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This is the most honest answer I've read so far.
by daa2 / May 13, 2007 9:33 PM PDT

Ignore the make of the camera. Comfort, price and features are usually what really make the difference for me.

Always physically hold the different cameras. If it isn't comfortable you won't use it no matter how much you pay. Some cameras feel more awkward to hold than others. I've never been a gameboy user and find navigating menus by thumb control on digital cameras irritating. That's why I got a camera that has more manual dials and controls. It really is about comfort.

Prices are always changing. The prices of cameras are almost like computers today in that they tend to drop quickly as new features and advances arrive on the market. Try not to get caught in the 'latest greatest' craze. The camera is a tool and the better you know it the more likely you'll be able to get the shots you want.

The features affect the price. One feature I find extremely useful is the image stabilization/shake reduction feature. It will help you get blur free shot in lighting conditions where you would normally need a flash and/or tripod. You can easily find this feature with the big names on the market like Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony. The cost of the feature is very different though. Nikon and Canon use stabilized lenses. Lenses with this feature will cost significantly more than standard lenses. Pentax and Sony have the stabilization built into the camera so that every lens is stabilized. As with any technology, people will argue about which is the better approach. The average amateur user will not likely notice the difference. Since cost is an issue ($500 - $700 you say) I'd look at Pentax and Sony if you want this feature.

Lenses - The interchangeable lenses offer great choice. I'd stick with the kit lens that comes with the camera before laying out extra cash on another lens. Play with the camera and you will find the kind of shots you like you like to take. Then you'll have a better idea what kind of lens or lenses you might need.

Most importantly, never forget you take the picture not the camera. Good or bad, the image is the result of the photographer.


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You need to find a salesperson!

You can read all you want, compare specs you probably won't understand etc etc. But what you really need to do is find a reputable local camera dealer and ask for their best salesperson. You'll be glad you did. This person will probably show you Canons, Nikons, Pentax and maybe a couple of others. They are all just about the same- in the price range you are suggesting. Find the camera that fits your hand, have them explain what additional lens you'll need, get a nice bag to schlep it all around in and go out and shoot a bunch of photos. Have fun!
The best part of this whole thing is- if you have more questions, you'll have an advocate at the camera store who will be there to hellp you. Big box stores and on-line purchases are great-if you already know what you want.

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You need to find a salesperson!
by mrputney / May 17, 2007 2:39 AM PDT

Great way to get taken to the cleaners. All this will do for you is convince you to spend hundreds more than you were willing to at the start.

Don't get taken by a salesman. A lot of them probably don't even know how to operate a digital SLR. Go with the original advice, it is sound.

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