DSLR shopping 2007

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Digital SLR camera shopping 2007

I started to shop for a new digital camera - a DSLR, not a pocket-sized point-and-shoot - in the summer of 2007.

But I've decided the investment in money, time, bulk, and care in carrying plus care in picture taking isn't worth it. Since my little Canon SD800IS has dust on the lens, I need to decide whether to repair or replace it.

One problem with the Big Camera is the bag you have to carry it around in. Watch the bag, don't leave the bag, excuse me while I squeeze by carrying this bag...

Another problem is that you look like a Photographer. With a little pocket camera nobody freaks out when you want to take a picture of their dog: it's clear you're not commercial. But with a big honkin' SLR they wonder if they should sign a model release or ask for a cut of the proceeds.

Of course I could get both a DSLR and a pocket cam, but the DSLR would get even less use in that case. 

What I want:

  • Small, pocket-size form factor. Not sure FZ8 is small enough, might not have the right "look" (see above).
  • Wide-angle (28mm or 24mm equivalent) or an attachable wide-angle converter for panos
  • Decent zoom (more than 3x might be nice since starting so wide)
  • Ability to turn down/off in-camera sharpening and other effects even for JPG capture. My SD800IS lacks this.
  • "RAW" mode would be nice, but a high-quality JPEG setting will do in a pinch
  • Image stabilization because I don't hold steady very well
  • At least 7 megapixels; more is not better considering the tiny sensors...
  • It would be nice to have a remote shutter release so I can build a pano shooting robot, but I'm unlikely to get that.
  • Larger lens opening is better for more light / fast shutter speeds

Probably no flat-shape pocket-size will have remote release; few will have RAW. Many will have 10mpix because of marketing.

Here are notes from reviews I've read in this category, so I can stop re-reading the same reviews all the time:

A search of Compact+IS+28mm on dpreview.com turns up only Panasonic Lumix: DMC-LX1, LX2, and DMC-TZ3

Panasonic Lumux DMC-FX01:

  • Aggressive NR and no way to reduce it
  • only 6.4 mpixels
  • tiny "ultra compact" (but my SD800 is too)

Fuji Finepix F480 28-112 no reviews anywhere

  • 28mm wide, only 3x zoom (or so)
  • but the 470 is well-reviewed at imaging-resource.com
  • cheap! Under USD200

Panasonic Lumix TZ3

  • 28-280!
  • DPreview seems to say you can intentionally shoot slow, how?
  • TZ3K (black) on sale at Circuit City USD303 9/3/07
  • Use only at ISO 100 or get Venus III chroma smearing
  • dpreview: output with default settings is soft and flat; OK for pp

Any other content for pocket cams follows here. 


What follows is the old content on this page from when I was still shopping DSLR: 

Conclusions table, so I don't have to keep re-reading the same reviews:

Name
Minolta DiMAGE A1: bad. Poor IQ.
Minolta A2, A200: Bad. Overall softness, focus errors
Olympus SP-550 UZ: bad. Slow to write to flash, clumsy controls
Panasonic Lumix (entire line): Bad. Noisy sensor.
Lumix DMC-FZ18: too new; bad if same sensor as F8 etc.

 

Name
Rebel XTi: 18-55 lens, focus problems. Sigma 18-200 w/IS $480+, no LCD framing
Olympus E410: live view! Reduce noise filter and sharpening $540 body only (JR) 18-180 $370 buydig.
Olympus E-410 body only Amazon: $539 from adorama; lens, can't be sure it's 4/3.
E410 at ritz online: $699 one lens kit, $500 18-180 lens
JR.com: E410 body $540; Canon 18-180 lens $405, has 30-day return
Sigma 18-125 "for Olympus and Panasonic" Amazon $270
E410 at Abe's: $540 body, lens $261
E410 body at Abe's $540, lens avail in kits


 

I need to figure out everything about the marketplace: cost, quality, features, etc. What brand to commit to, what body to buy, whether to get a kit or separate components, etc.

  • Canon Digital Rebel XT w 18-55 II EF-S: $590
  • Canon Digital Rebel XTi w 18-55 II EF-S: $760 (body only $660)
  • Canon EF 15mm fisheye $600 - are they quoting 35mm equivalents?
  • Nikon D40 w 1-55 AF-S II $570 (note, not D40x)
  • Nikon D80 w 18-55 AF-S II $1040, just over my $1000 budget
  • Olympus Evolt E-330 $970, more than the E500's
  • Olympus Evolt E-500 kit 1: 14-45 & 40-150 Zuiko $630
  • Olympus Evolt E-500 kit 2: 14-45 lens only $700 (explain?)
  • Pentax
  • Kodak P880 looks like a fixed-lens DSLR replacement and cheap and high quality, but the slow speed of writing to the flash memory is a killer. Also it resets JPG quality to "standard" when you change modes.

I've purchased the Rebel XTi and I am trying it out. With the kit lens it doesn't blow me away compared to my little pocket Canon. With Victor's 17-40 L lens the jury is still out, but that's a lot of dosh. Neither lens has the telephoto I would want for a walk-around lens. Nobody makes 28mm (equiv) wide that goes out to more than 70 in a single lens. Ultra-zoom point-and-shoots do, but so far they all have an Achilles' heel.

Also consider Sony Alpha DSLR-A100, it was $999 a year ago but now under $700.

Advice I got from Victor:

  • Go with Canon Digital Rebel XTi.
  • Body-only, the kit lens is crap. After he got the "L" lens he never uses the kit lens.
  • The kit lens gets better if you stop it down, more of a pinhole. The problem with it is that it robs contrast and has chromatic distortion, making things mushy.
  • The lens he likes is EF 14-20 4L ... maybe $650 on eBay. The "14-20" is focal length (28-40 rough 35mm equivalent); the 4 is f4.0 aperture, and the L is "Luxury," with higher-quality optics (denser material) than the non-L lenses. Works great in all light.
  • The EF-S lenses are strictly for digital - if you get then you can't take them up to a "full-frame" 35mm camera.
  • Another good lens for telephoto is the EF 40-200 4L - same family, zoom. He also likes the 18-80 L lens for $600; this is the same range as the kit lens but uses L-quality optics.
  • Finally look at the 50mm EF 50 1.8 (no "L") for around $70. It's a fixed-length 50mm lens at f1.8, and it's gorgeous. This plus the 14-40 4L is all you need.
  • BestBuy has a bargain polarizing filter that works great.
  • For a UV filter, cheap is $14 and pro is $150. You can tell the difference on a white sheet of paper.

Advice I got from the LDR list:


I've pretty much decided on the Canon Digital Rebel XTi body. The kit lens 18-55 is described as good for its price ($100 above the body-only price) but maybe I can get a Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4.5 DC Macro Lens for Canon AF for $389 at ritzcamera instead. Take $100 off the kit price for the body only and it's like this lens is only $290, right? Like the f2.8 wide, and 4.5 tele - so it's wider, more tele, and faster than the kit lens which is 18-55mm and F3.5-5.6. Wonder how big/heavy it is? Looks a little longer than Canon. Review at photozone.de says use f/8 to remove corner softness.

But B&H has the Canon kit for $760 including the kit lens and 2GB fast memory. 

Then somebody says the Tamron 17-50 which is f2.8 all the way. Smaller, lighter, high IQ, $400. Filter size is 67mm. At BHPhotoVideo.com they have one used $394.

A good Canon is the 17-85 IS but it's slow, F4-5.6 at $529 (SJCamera). The IS lets people shoot at 1/8 to 1/10, somebody even claims 1s but that's silly.

The Canon 17-55 IS F2.8 is very good but over $1K.

BHPhotoVideo: XTi body-only $640 plus shipping; their kit $760 includes kit lens, 2GB fast CF memory. Body only plus Tamron at $400 = $1040.  

Return policy at Ritz Camera / Wolf Camera is only ten days!

Price Club has XTi at online price, with 90-day return. Asked their "Email us!" address about the warranty coverage, some indications are it's double the mfr's period (thus two years) but what terms? Repair or replace? Etc.  

Canon says they honor the warranty when you buy at Price Club. So the 90-day return, good price, and full warranty are good reasons to buy at Price Club. They do not extend the warranty the way they do with some other electronics products.  

Just found a "wide converter" 0.45x that screws to the front of the kit lens. See the ebay store at http://stores.ebay.com/everfull_Wide-Angle-Fish-eye-lenses_W0QQcolZ2QQdirZQ2d1QQfsubZ2QQftidZ2QQtZkm but they don't list the mfr or model so it's hard to do research. The size to get for the kit lens is 58mm.

Remote control for shutter release:

The shutter release for the remote control is "a dead short across all three wires," with a 2.5mm male stereo plug. Shouldn't be hard to build one myself. The tip is pin 3, middle is 2, ring is 1. Ring is ground. Short 1-2 for autofocus (like the button halfway down), short 1 to both 2 and 3 for "all the way down" to take a shot. Simple normally-open button: ring to the other two and Robert is your mother's brother.


Results from the Canon Digital Rebel XTi

I had a bad time with the Digital Rebel XTi. Going out to the quad at work and shooting test shots, many of the shots were marred by bad focus. I don't know if it was me, the camera, or the lens, but several comparison shots were unusable because of focus.

Hey, I could check that: the "SubjectDist" field in the EXIF data tells what focus the camera believed it had gotten. If it says "0" or "infinity" while other shots have a real distance, that would explain a lot. If it has the same number as other shots then it means the lens failed to focus where the camera thought it had been.

Besides that: in daylight shooting of flowers etc., I found I liked the images from my pocket Canon better than the ones from the Rebel. But they had a lot of sharpening artifacts; maybe I could get the same results from the JPG or RAW by adding sharpening etc. Adjust in-camera settings so the JPG+RAW processes the JPG the way I want, while still saving the RAW for processing later.

The kit lens zoom range 18-55mm isn't enough for me: the wide is as wide as my pocket camera (very nice) but the tele isn't tele enough.

I hate having to look through the viewfinder: it means I can only frame shots when I can get my face behind the camera. See Olympus E-410 below.
 

Olympus EVolt E-410

This is available as a $799 kit at Costco including two lenses (14-42 and 40-150) and a 2GB CF card. I think I saw this in the store for more, but the price has come down - at least the online price.

The two lenses sound like fun. The "equivalent" zoom range is double the actual size, so 14-42 is 28-85. This means it's no wider than the Canons (pocket or XTi). But the kit comes with the other lens I would want: 40-150 is 80-300 equivalent, which sounds sweet. (Part of the problem with the Canon kit is not enough zoom, too much money to get a longer lens.)

This camera has "live view" so you can use the LCD display on the back as a viewfinder. I really think I would like that, so I can frame shots without holding the camera to my face. Also, it has a magnified manual zoom assist, and it lets you preview the exposure and see the histogram. It might even blink the highlights or shadows.

According to dpreview, you have to turn the Noise Filter off and reduce sharpness to -2 at ISO 100 and 200. Shooting at higher ISO you want to undo that. (But with RAW you do that in the darkroom, neh?)   

Differences from the Rebel:

  • Live view
  • Two lenses, same price
  • Not yet disappointed in the autofocus 

 Camera has a feature to "develop" RAW images to HQ JPG (not SHQ) using current camera settings for white balance, sharpness, etc. so you can do that in camera instead of in darkroom. HQ is about 1/5 the size of RAW, but CF is cheap - just shoot RAW and take it home.


This page was last edited April 26, 2008.