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THE camera for $500-ish

I see lots of people asking for advice on their next camera. But prices are converging and its making it harder than ever to decide. For @ 500 you can get the Nikon d40 + lens and 2GB card at Costco (wow!). You can get the Canon G9. You can get the Lumix Z3 or sub-compact Canon powershot 870IS (I like the wide angle feature so opt for this over the 850). Are pictures visably better as 8X10's on the dSLR vrs the sub-compact? The speed of the dSLR is fantastic compared to the powershot 870, but if you leave the camera at home then it just doesn't matter. The G9 might be a good compramise, or is it neither as fast nor as compact so its not worth consideration? The lumix optical zoom is impressive, but its expensive and - at least on the Cnet review - gets bad marks for dark shots and noise.

So, what is order of preference(or other camera) you would want for @$500? and why?

I am starting to think if I wait for the next nikon I could get the d40 AND the powershot 870 for $500... :*)


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Difference is in method, not in result

In reply to: THE camera for $500-ish

Frankly, I'll say that there's little difference in how the picture ends up, it's all (or mainly) about how the picture is taken. I'll start with differences between the results, because they still are present. DSLR's have superior noise control, and more importantly, slightly more dynamic range, which I think is more useful than noise control. Most compact cameras have well enough sharpness (lens and sensor combined). Colour tends not to be a concern, because it's usually not a problem, and can be altered both in camera, and afterwards.
I would have to say the difference between using a D40 and A630 are lightyears apart. Using a D40 feels so intuitive (although I'd opt for more external buttons) and the command dial helps a lot. Compared to the A630, it feels really clunky, slow, and clumsy. Unintuitive, to say the least. Well, that applies only if you bother at all with advanced settings, and manual or semi-manual exposures, otherwise, any camera can do Auto no problem.
I'd say the Nikon P5100 would be the closest you can get to a Nikon DSLR experience without having to purchase DSLR. For the P5100, I wish they didn't use a 12 MP sensor, but at least it's physically larger to help combat noise.
Personally, I'd take the D40, but if I had to get a compact, it'd be the P5100 since it includes a command dial, and large buttons, and Nikon's GUI.

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In reply to: Difference is in method, not in result

also a good camera, thanks for adding that one. It has a standard lens (35mm) and I often find myself wishing I had a wider view. That maybe just me remembering the few times I needed to get a group shot indoors or some cool landscape. But, I see more offerings for wide angle all the time. (exception being the G9 which gave it up after G7 included it).

As I consider the pros and cons I really see two cameras in my future. The Nikon D40 for all the reasons you mentioned (speed and low noise/ high light gathering) and the 870 from Canon for my spur of the moment at the beach or other spontaneous events.


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Camera in the $500 range

In reply to: P5100

michiganagain, Check out that powershot G7 again.
Not a DSR but darn good. Image stabilization and a darn good Canon lens.
Joe Randolph had some good things to say about it. It certainly is not a D40. You wanted a camera about $500ish. $565 at Amazon. Nice camera and fits your bill.
I purchased one for my son this past April. Impressive images I have to say.
Someone also told you it is not the camera. It is you and your skill with producing a good photo. Did Ansel Adams have a digital camera?


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In reply to: THE camera for $500-ish

I do love my D40. Now, a DSLR really does take more learning/effort to justify its cost and somewhat larger size... but don't let that steer you away, for the technical aspect of photography is really quite addictive. But it's going to take you some time. There are some excellent manuals to help cut down that time.

If you get anything less than a DSLR, for a similar price, you're going to get a lot more zoom, most likely, than a D40 kit lens. But you will also get noticeably lower image quality, even at 8x10 if the camera has to use a higher-than-base ISO to compensate for less-than-ideal lighting. Especially with the latest run of compacts, manufacturers tend to add aggressive noise reduction technology which will affect every photo you take, some to quite an extent. That is not always the case, though, and you can always get a Fuji compact for better low-light performance.

One other ability of the DSLR (present in some compacts, but not that many) is RAW format; this saves a lot more detail, resulting in an image with greater dynamic range which must be edited to bring out its superiority and be displayed and printed, but is capable of fantastic results, especially from a large DSLR sensor.

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In reply to: THE camera for $500-ish

Many people have asked this question but it is not easy to answer without knowing what you use the camera for. I have both kinds and I can share my experience.
First of all, I agree with everything said above. It is absolutely true that a nice bulky camera that stays home will not do you any good for some spontaneous moments of photo opportunities. It is also absolutely true that your creativity and photography lies in you and not the camera. There are professional photographers that use advanced compact instead of D-SLR for their projects.
The PS camera is compact and light, and can travel with you anywhere. It is generally easier to use if you are the kind who like automatic operation. Most PS cameras nowadays can take good to excellent photos. One advantage (or disadvantage) of PS camera is the greater depth of field than D-SLR. A greater depth of field will keep everything better focused in the photo including the wanted/unwanted background. A shallower depth of field when using a large aperture lens with D-SLR will keep the subject in focus but the background blurred (this is done often with portraits). So if you are taking tourist type of photos with your family standing in front of the beautiful scenery, the PS camera will keep the background scenery in better focus than the D-SLR in general. The D-SLR may have problem blurring the subject or the background scenery. Of course the main disadvantage of PS camera is the lack of flexibility and customization. It is harder to use the manual functions with cumbersome hidden menus. It also has poorer low light high ISO performance, and has limited capabilities for low light photos, and more than frustrating performance with low light action. You can of course try to overcome the low light problem by using flash and tripods. But low light action remains a challenge to PS cameras.
The D-SLR camera is actually quite easy to use, with more options to change lenses, customize settings, and room to expand your creativity. It has faster and better low light autofocus and high ISO performance, and easily outperforms PS camera in low light actions. The main disadvantage is its bulk and cost. You often have to carry the camera body and at least 2 lenses to be equivalent to one PS camera. A good general purpose lens for D-SLR usually is no more than 3-4x zoom equivalent of a PS camera. There are ultrazoom lens that has more than 11x zoom equivalent, but these usually have lower quality optics and may not be that much better than PS cameras.
You probably know all the above already and can read widely anywhere on the web. But let me share with you about my personal experience and you can see whether this answers your question. The main reason I buy a D-SLR is because it outperforms PS camera in low light action, so I can capture my fast moving 3 year old in any situation. To really be able to achieve this and notice a big difference from my PS camera, I need to buy a large aperture zoom lens (or you can buy large aperture prime lens) with at least f/2.8. These lenses cost more than the D-SLR. Yes, the D40 with kit lens are quite cheap, but it cannot take low light action photo without flash or tripod. Using flash is too slow since it will slow down the shot-to-shot time significantly and I will miss the moment, not much better than the PS camera. A Canon or Nikon general purpose zoom lens with f/2.8 aperture with image stabilization can do the job, but will cost about $1000. And a tele zoom lens with f/2.8 and image stabilization costs close to $2000. And you will need both lenses, which will put the cost up to $3000 without the camera body. Getting a cheap slow kit zoom lens will not give you good enough low light action performance. Of course the D-SLR with kit lens can freeze action in low light with flash, but so can PS cameras (though D-SLR will still have faster autofocus and shot-to-shot time than PS cameras).
If you do a lot of portraits and like to have blurred backgrounds, then D-SLR will shine over PS cameras too, but again you will need a large aperture lens to get a nice bokeh effect. There is the cheap 50mm f/1.8 lens under $100 from both Canon and Nikon.
But if you do landscape, or just like to take tourist type or spontaneous photos or group shots of family or friends, then the PS camera is almost as good as the D-SLR for many casual users. There are wide angle optional lens for PS cameras that can be used for those rare occasions of large group of people.
So it is still true that your creativity and photography depend on you rather than the camera. However, the tool sometimes can limit your capability for certain tasks, but that does not mean you cannot produce some great works with a PS cameras. You just have to realize the limitation and how you can adapt and change your method to achieve the result. So if you want to freeze action in low light with PS camera, you just have to know how long your camera may take to take that shot, and trial and error to find out how to time your photo to capture the moment. It will be more difficult and takes more skill than using a $4000-5000 camera and lenses that can keep snapping away. If you spent the money, then life gets a little easier, just like many other things in life. On the other hand, having the expensive camera will not automatically improve your skill and composition (the art side of digital photography). The D-SLR may sometimes have too many distracting features that can distract you from learning the composition of the shots.
The bottom line is that if you are not going to be very serious about photography and like to take pictures mainly while traveling or for spontaneous moments, then a PS or advanced compact camera will be adequate. But if you want to get good low light action photos and curious to learn more about the different controls and settings, on the perfectionist side (and don't mind carrying the load), then D-SLR will be a better fit.

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depth of field

In reply to: PS vs D-SLR

hey thanks, I have tried for years to use the manual mode on my P&S to vary the F-stop and try to get a blurred background like I used to do with my old 35mm. I never understood why it would not work. I did not realize the larger focal lens is needed to provide that.

And the blurr feature that is available on Picaso is useful, but difficult to get exact results and in elements its more capable, but also more time consuming.

one more thing to consider.

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DOF in PS cameras

In reply to: depth of field

The small sensor size of PS camera essentially will need a very short focal length to capture the same framing (field of view) as the larger sensor camera, thus will have several times greater depth of field than the larger sensor camera. So even you pick a larger F number on the PS camera, the DOF is much greater than that you find on the same F number on 35mm film camera. In other words, the DOF is inversely proportional to the format size. The smaller the sensor the greater the DOF, and dialing the F number alone is not going to give you the same result. If you are used to the f/2.8 aperture for 35 mm camera, then you will need a much smaller f number to achieve the same DOF with the PS camera. These are web links that go into great details in explaining DOF and format/sensor size. The greater DOF will be great for landscape and travel/tourist type of photos, but will frustrate those who like to get a blurred background in portraits or macro.

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Sorry about the typo

In reply to: depth of field

"So even you pick a larger F number on the PS camera" should be "So even you pick a SMALLER F number on the PS camera", the DOF is much greater than that you find on the same F number on 35mm film camera...

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