“You guys take really nice pics. What kind of camera do you use? I’m interested in photography and thinking about buying a camera.”
We get this question a lot. To answer the first question “What kind of camera do you use?“, Adam shoots with a Nikon D300 and I shoot a Nikon D300S model. These aren’t the cameras we started with (which were a Nikon D70 and Nikon D80, respectively), but they’re the pro models we’ve grown into over several years – there are no ‘training wheels’ or auto features, which makes them very difficult (in my opinion) to learn to shoot on for first-time DSLR users and impossible to hand over to a non-photographer to get a decent pic of you when you’re on vacation with that stellar background that you bought the cam to capture in the first place! Why Nikon? I shoot Nikon because Adam already had Nikon when I bought my first “big girl” camera and it made sense to have the brands match so that we could share lenses (the real expense to quality photographs). Adam chose Nikon years before that, quite simply, because of the way the camera fit in his hand when compared with the Canon models available at that time.
Which brings us to the real question, “I want a ‘grown-up’ Digital SLR. What kind of camera should I buy?” The short answer is: the camera body that fits easily into your hand and your budget. While having a top-of-the-line camera body is nice once you really know how to take advantage of all the features, you can just as easily get amazing photos with an inexpensive camera body. Going for more than the entry-level consumer model isn’t going to earn you anything but a painful learning curve and bragging rights for having lots of cash to burn. Save your pennies for the lenses. That’s where the magic truly happens!
I started with a Nikon D80. As a beginner, I loved the Auto feature which allowed me to let the camera choose what it thought were the best settings, then switch to manual and set the camera to those same settings so I could play around until I got just the look I wanted. If you can’t lay hands on a well-cared-for used D80 (or even D40, D60, or D90), I would recommend Nikon’s D3000 for beginners to the DSLR camera as it has similar features and runs around $550 new.
As I’ve said, we’re Nikon users, but if we started over today with all new gear we would be just as likely to end up with Canon gear. They both make great products. To compare the Nikon D3000 to Canon, I’d pick up the EOS 1000D (aka Rebel XS), which you can also purchase for around $550 new.
The only time I wouldn’t bother to compare the two is if you’re intending to study photography in college and/or work professionally photographing sports or news. In those cases, due to the quality of canon lenses 20+ years ago (they’re about the same quality now, but that wasn’t always the case), most school and news institutions have cabinets of canon lenses available for their people. Much like my decision to go with Nikon because I could share glass with Adam, I wouldn’t even bother looking at Nikon if I were going in to a situation where tons of expensive Canon lenses were going to be available for free/super cheap.
When I first started researching cameras, I considered a Sony. While they do have some innovative products (such as their Steady Shot INSIDE (TM) image stabilization) that seemed attractive at the time, they’re also very proprietary. That means that the storage card won’t be anything you can use in another camera, nor will any of the cables, tripod mounts, etc. None of their gear is standardized to be swapped with the big 2, which in the long-run makes it very expensive to own a Sony. There is no competitive price war to make the accessories more affordable because you must buy everything for your camera from Sony. If you ever hope to use your camera as more than just an expensive point-and-shoot, I’m afraid they’re too impractical to recommend.
Sources: Side-by-side Nikon/Canon comparison courtesy of dpreview.
Do you have experience with or opinions about the brands or models discussed? Feel free to weigh-in by leaving a comment.