I recently made the transition from digital point and shoot, all in one cameras, to a digital SLR. That’s “single lens reflex” for those of you that don’t know this. I am going to assume you have at least rudimentary knowledge of the SLR camera, if not, bookmark this blog post, then go to this site. Digital SLR Wiki. It contains a lot of useful information on DSLR cameras.
I have always had a film SLR laying around somewhere for those times when I wanted to get the really good shot. The latest was a Minolta Maxxum 400Si 35mm AF that I picked up years ago. I have also shot with older Pentax and Canon gear in the past. The problem was that I never really delved into the technical side of the film camera because of the cost of the film, processing and the wait time for the developed image to come back. On top of all that you had to learn what f-stops, aperture and ISO speeds were, and do this terribly complicated math formula to figure out what combination of those three things to use to get the shot you wanted. Way too much work for a techno geek like me. I want to see it right now, and I want to be able to change it if it’s wrong. I also, at first, wanted a camera that would help me get those shots when I didn’t understand how to get them. With the advent of affordable DSLR’s this has changed significantly. A large part of my generation has adopted the “Right now” mentality when it comes to technology. Why wait for film when we can get it right now and delete it if it’s a bad image etc.
For the last decade or so I have had several P&S cameras from .5mpx up to the latest which is 8mpx, The latest did take a nice picture, but did not allow me any control to speak of over depth of field, and I was limited to a 3X optical zoom. At the Nascar races last fall I couldn’t zoom in on Mark Martin’s face inside the #5 car so the wife could see it clearly. She’s a big fan BTW. Those Limitations are what prompted me to research an upgrade to a DSLR.
Everyone that knows me will say that I suffer from “Feature Disease”. This is where you pick an item you want, that is in your
price range, and find a feature in the next higher priced model that you can’t live without. Then you look at the next model up and find more features, and so on and so forth. You then justify the extra cost, based on those features. Then you try to figure out where the money for that higher priced model is going to come from. I started out with a price point of $250 to $300 for a DSLR. I’ll tell you right now, I missed that price point by a mile. Even after I made my purchase, I was seeing features that I didn’t get on my camera and thinking of when I could afford the one that does have them.
After doing some research on DLSR’s, I had a rudimentary idea of the features I wanted, but had “NO” idea how many features were actually available. I hadn’t heard of HDR, image stabilization, full frame sensors, self cleaning, DOF preview, mirror lockup and on and on and on. Those things are beyond the scope of my blog here but I may get into them in another one later on. Since I already had some Minolta camera gear I started looking at them first. Only to realize that they were no longer in the camera making business. They had sold the rights to their technology to Sony. I was leery of buying gear from a company like Sony only because they were just starting out in the SLR business. I didn’t take them entirely out of the mix though because I had Minolta glass laying around and their price to feature ratio was better than the others.
I had narrowed it down to 3 models, the Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel Xti. I compared features on a dozen different reviewers sites and compared prices. The Nikon and Canon were higher in price than the Sony, so to compensate, I moved the Sony model up to the A500 since it’s price point matched the other two manufacturers. This evened the playing field a little bit.
Next I decided I needed to take it to another level. I actually left the house, went to a store and held each camera in my hands. I was able to snap a few pictures with each model. I went to one place where I knew the models on display would take abuse, and hopefully give me some insight…. Walmart. I know it’s not a Photography store but it was close by. I was able to eliminate one camera right off the bat. The Canon on display had a broken on camera pop up flash that wouldn’t stay shut. Someone had pried it open not realizing that it was automatic. I asked the clerk how long it had been out, and she informed me that it had just been out since that morning. I reasoned that this was good enough to eliminate that one from the mix. It also didn’t feel very good in my hands. I know it’s not a technical reason, but at this point I was getting that cloudy gray haze that slowly descends on your brain after doing something for way too long.
So we’re down to the Nikon and the Sony. I picked up the Nikon, and I liked it overall but again it didn’t quite feel comfortable in my hands. Not as bad as the Canon but not right yet, they both felt small to me btw.. I like the overall look and the layout of the Nikon best of all three cameras. I picked up the Sony and loved the feel of it in my hands right off. The outer casing on the camera didn’t feel as, for lack of a better word, refined as the Canon and Nikon. But it still felt good in my hands. This decided me on the A500 right there. Or so I thought.
My next logical step was to start comparing accessory prices. There are a lot more manufacturers of after market gear for the big two, that is for sure. Sony also seems to be rather proud of their accessories as far as price goes. But when it comes to aftermarket/used lenses, the Sony wins hands down. What I found, in pawn shops, on Ebay, and thrift stores, is that you can find all kinds of older Minolta AF Glass that works great on the new Sony. Not only that, they are cheap, and I mean really cheap. a 70-300mm 4-5.6 Quataray I found in a pawn shop for $25(Nascar here I come). A Sigma 100-200mm Telephoto for $50. Not high end lenses but they work fine for us amateurs. Compare that to $125 to $200 for a used Nikon or Canon lens of the same quality. Part of this is because the Sony line of DSLRs utilize “in camera image stabilization”. Canon and Nikon have it built into their lenses, which of course raises the cost of the lens. You go to any large photography shop that takes lenses in trade and you’ll see cases full of Canon and Nikon lenses, and maybe one case of old Minolta glass. You’d think that being rare would make them more expensive, not true. Plus it’s a blast to find these treasures when your out perusing around.
I get home and decide I am ordering the A500 right now. So I start looking at the cheapest place to buy it, and find a few stores with good deals. There is only one real problem. I don’t have that much cash in my pocket. I don’t think I have EVER had that much cash in my pocket. So I realize now that since I have succumbed t to “feature disease”, and am looking at a camera in the $1K range that I am going to have to use Credit, and do a “LOT” of dealing to get the price down.
I had recently received and e-mail from Dell that gave me 10% of my next purchase of $250 or more from a laptop I picked up not too long ago. During the process of researching the cameras I had determined that Dell sold Digital SLRs now. So I goto their site, and they are the highest priced out of all the websites I looked at. But with my coupon it gets it down to the web average. Then I start looking around on their site and see they have a sale going on the A550 model for $200 off the regular price. It’s the same as the A550 with a better resolution live view screen and a few more features as well. I add it to my cart, and then I apply my discount coupon. I got the Sony A550L which includes the Camera body, Charger, one battery and the 18-55mm Sony kit lens for $599.
It took a week to arrive, with me constantly checking UPS tracking numbers to see it’s progress. When it arrived, I un-boxed it and proceeded to go picture crazy. I love this camera, I have taken somewhere around 2500 pictures with it since I got it, and I even won a local photo contest, which paid me $100, with one of the pictures I took. The down side has been that since then I have succumbed to GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). I look for deals everywhere and by gear at the drop of a hat, all just to be able to take that one shot I haven’t been able to do.
The main thing for you when purchasing a DSLR is to make sure it has everything you want in it up front. Make sure you like the feel of it, and that your satisfied with it’s performance. Take your time and research it, look at all the models, and know what the features mean. I guarantee you will be looking to upgrade in no time if you buy the cheapest unit that you can afford. Ignore brand names, and you’ll do just fine.