Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Camera Purchase Guide Part 2: DSLR and EVIL Cameras

    In the first Camera purchase guide, Part 1, I discussed some of the features to look at when buying a P&S camera, rather than specific models. Today I will be doing the same thing, but this time looking at entry level and amateur level Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) cameras. Some of the principals I suggested people look at when buying a P&S camera also applies to buying a DSLR or EVIL camera.

Should I consider a entry/amateur level DSLR or EVIL camera?
    This is the most important question to ask yourself before you go out to buy a DSLR or EVIL camera. First of all, if you are going to buy a DSLR or EVIL camera, you have to consider the cost of buying into a system, not just a camera. This is especially true if you are interested in a certain kind of photography. For example, if you are interested in macro photography, you would want to buy a macro lens for your camera, which depending on the camera system you choose, would cost a minimum of $350-$500. Of course in the SLR world there is the option of getting used lenses, if your system is comparable with older lenses from the manufacture. If you just want a camera to cover all the basics, such as family photos, parties and travel, then you will likely be fine with the kit lens or lenses that come with most entry level DSLRs and EVIL cameras. The biggest reason people look at DSLR and EVIL cameras is superior image quality of those cameras, which is a result of having larger sensors. 

Lenses: The First Step
    You might be asking yourself, why would the lenses I choose be the first step, what difference does it make? If all you are going to buy is basic kit lenses, such as options from Nikon and Canon, 18-55mm and 55-200mm/55-250mm options, or the 14-42mm and 40-150mm  kit lenses that often come with 4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic then the lenses may not have much influence on what camera brand/system you buy into. On the other hand, if you are wanting to buy specialty lenses, such as macros, wide angel, or telephoto lenses, then you must consider what lenses are going to buy and what lens system offers what you want in the price range that you are willing to pay for. 

    Once you figured out what lens system meets your needs best, also consider the future. Camera bodies come and go, but when you buy a lens you may very well be using it for 5-10 years. One of the best parts of buying into an interchangeable lens system is that you do not have to buy everything at once! You can start out with a kit lens system and then over time buy lenses that better meet your needs. Most of the camera brands also offer "super zooms", which offer everything from wide angel to well into the telephoto range. Is that something you want, or would you rather have a few lenses cover the same range? There are advantages to both. 

    If you only have one lens then you do not have to worry about dust entering the system (this is an issue with interchangeable lens cameras), nor do you have to worry about not being able to go wide or reach far enough if you come across something of interest. There are also downsides to only having one of those super zoom lenses, in that they tend to have inferior optical quality to than if you had several lenses covering the same range. 

    There is a lot more I could say about lenses, but to be honest lenses and lens choices is a huge topic, and I may write a separate purchasing guide for that in the future. 

Camera Bodies: What features do I want or need?
    Once you have picked a lens system that meets your needs, then you can start looking at cameras. Thankfully, by picking the lens system you want, you also choose the brand of camera you will be using, which makes picking a camera body a lot easier. Each manufacture has a number of cameras covering everything from small light entry level models all the way up to tough, weather and dust sealed professional grade camera bodies. I wont talk about semi-professional or professional grade cameras at all today though, as that will be saved for part 3 of the camera purchasing guide. In some cases your choice will come down to price, while in other cases you'll make a choice based on features. Here are a few things to consider. All of these cameras, other than some of the low end EVIL cameras, offer everything from full auto modes to full manual control over everything from shutter speed, and the aperture, to ISO and whether or not the flash activates on its own accord. 

    Entry Level DSLR Camera Bodies: In the entry level range, you might have one or two choices, which makes picking the camera you want extremely easy. If all you ever want is the basic kit lenses, you'll want to look at the different brands and decide which body has all the features you need, that would make your choice somewhat harder. One way to narrow your choice would be to consider how the camera feels in your hand. Is the camera too heavy or hard to grip? If you have picked a brand based on lens choices, you might just have to live with a body that is not comfortable, until you can afford a higher end model. Most of the cameras in the entry level range ($350-$600, body only) have the same features, although at the time of writing this guide some of the entry level cameras do not have liveview. The entry level cameras with liveview, at the time this guide was written, are the Canon XS, Pentax K-X and Olympus E-450, while Nikon and Sony's entry level cameras do not have liveview. Considering that liveview on DSLR cameras at this time is realistically only effective for stationary subjects, I wouldn't pick a camera based on whether or not it had liveview. 

    Amateur/Advanced Amateur Level DSLR Camera Bodies: Once you step up from the basic entry level cameras then you start to see differences, such as the difference between the Nikon D5000 and D90, or the Canon T1i, T2i and 50D. In this range cameras all of them have liveview, and in most cases a video mode as well. Also in the advanced amateur range you'll find that most of the cameras are reasonably well made and can stand up to a few more bumps or falls. These cameras will generally have some features you will not find in most entry level cameras, such as depth of field preview, larger brighter viewfinders, possibly mirror lockup and in a few cases, some degree of water and dust seals. You might find that a brand has two or three cameras in the amateur/advanced amateur range, and your choice may simply come down to price, rather than features, such as the difference in price between the Nikon D5000 and D90, or Canon's T1i, T2i and 50D. 

    EVIL Cameras: It is hard for me to say much in this section as I have not used any of the EVIL cameras that are on the market today, but I think a lot of the same things to look for in an EVIL camera lines up with what type of DSLR fits your needs or budget. Pick a kit based on what you will find most useful. Olympus and Panasonic EVIL cameras share the micro 4/3 mount, which means there are more lens choices. Samsung released the NX10 a few months ago, which has an APS-C sized sensor (similar in size to a sensor in a Canon/Pentax or Nikon crop sensor DSLR). Most of the EVIL cameras today are expensive, with the cheapest being $699 in a body only kit. Unless you really need a camera smaller than an entry level DSLR, I would steer clear of these cameras for at least another year, as they have only been on the market for a year. 

    Update on EVIL cameras: May 12, 2010
    This year has seen the introduction of some interesting new EVIL cameras from Sony. Initial reports show that the NEX 3 and NEX 5 could be very good cameras, for people who want a better point and shoot camera, or as a camera for amateurs and pros who want a small compact body. Only time will tell if that is the case though. 

There are a lot of choices to make when you consider a DSLR or EVIL camera. The most important thing to consider is the lens system that best fits your needs and budget. From that point on it makes the choice of cameras a lot easier, whether you choose an entry level or amateur grade camera body. That concludes my guide for purchasing DSLR or EVIL Cameras.