Aaah Christmas, and with Christmas comes presents from your family or, from yourself but you just needed a reason to remove that guilty feeling when buying a new camera :)
Anyway, you made up your mind: you will get your first or upgrade your DSLR camera. The good thing is, you have plenty of choice, the bad thing is, you want to make sure you will spend those hundred or thousands of dollars wisely. Here is a guide to choice a DSLR, and my advice for this 2011 winter.
- Step 1: Canon or Nikon ??? Of course there are other DSLR brands like Sony, Pentax, doing a good job too, but I will exclude them for one simple reason : poor lens choice. So here we are, Canon or Nikon? This is a never ending debate and fanboys from both sides will counter argue forever, but well, there is some good advice I can give you.
RULE NUMBER 1 : THE LENS MAKES THE IMAGE QUALITY, NOT THE CAMERA BODY. Therefore pick the lense you like best, according to your photographic preferences (see my guide for lens picking here). Then pick the camera accordingly. Canon or Nikon, whatever you take, will both be good choices if you have the right lenses.
I however will share my bias toward Nikon, for reasons that I believe are quite objective:
-Better built quality, just handle a Nikon D700 next to a 5D mk II, it speaks for itself
-Nikon customer service is known to be the top.
-Nikon rules the world of high sensitivity sensors, the new D7000, a $ 1200 body, destroys everything that exist in the high ISO range. They just know how to do it better, and keep improving fast.
-Metering (what measures exposure and light in your camera) from Nikon is far ahead. 2000 RGB sensors in the finder when Canon still uses B&W sensors. This is since the old F5...a long time without improvement from Canon.
-Quality prime lenses in an affordable price range are more numerous at Nikon (35f2, 85mm f1.8). Canon primes are excellent too, but pricier.
Once again, Canons are good camera (got a S90 for my mum this Christmas, don't tell her yet), and you are the one to make the good pictures, not your camera. But if I had to chose, I'd go Nikon.
- Step 2: entry level, middle range or full frame DSLR?
This of course highly depends on your revenue. So I'll assume you can stretch up to the top if you have a good rational, but still are under money constraint.
I would avoid entry level for one reason: they don't have the built in motor to use autofocus on many prime lenses. Basically you try your new 50mm f1.8 and...no AF. That sucks. Also the few extra hundreds in this part of the range will give you great improvements, which is not the case in the highest prices tags (a $ 1200 D7000 is 95% as good as a $ 7000 D3X).
Top of the range FX (full frame, meaning that the sensor is the size of 35 mm film, 24x36) are if you are rich, or a pro, or a landscape lover. Otherwise they won't make any difference compared to a mid range DSLR in terms of picture quality. They have one fine characteristic however, that is no crop factor. A DX (non full frame, pretty much all DSLRs) has a sensor smaller than 24x36, so the image is cropped. With a 50mm lens, you in fact have a 85mm since it fakes the effect of a zoom. It's annoying for landscapes and wide angle users would might want to go full frame.
Mid range cameras such as Canon 550D & 7D or Nikon D90, and D7000 would have my preference. They are all good, but the D90 is getting a bit old. You have Canon lenses, go 550D. Cheaper than the 7D and I don't see much reasons to get the 7D.
You don't have Canon lenses? My choice among all of DSLR would be this: Nikon D7000 16.2MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only). Why?
- best metering system, AF and sensor that exist in this format in the world (so pretty much all the main features of a camera)
- is 95% as good as the terrific $7000 D3X for $1200, and smaller / lighter.
- is Nikon.
I totally share Ken Rockwell's opinion on the D7000. The Nikon D700 FX is bloody fantastic already, and performs better in color noise, but the difference in price tag make the D7000 a better camera for the money. At the same time, D700 prices are dropping lately...
My dream pack for Christmas : D7000 + 35mmF2 for artists, D7000 + 16-85mm for the rest. With the light sensitivity you get on this body, no need for super large apertures.