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Dilvish the Deliverer

Camera question-good all around camera

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Question for all of you photo heavy individuals. I know that most of the advice here is mini specific, but I'm looking for some advice pertaining to a good all-around shooter. My multi-talented wife has been really getting into photography lately. Mostly wildlife shots (she basicly runs a bed and breakfast for birds out of back yard, nevermind the free loading squirrels and dropin deer and ground hogs). I'm looking at splurging this year and getting her a decent camera. She's been getting some really good shots with an 8MP Olympus point and shoot, but the zoom leaves something to be desired. I was thinking of getting a DSLR of some sort but I'm kinda camera stupid (unless it is contained in a submarine periscope, then I'm all over it). Any help would be greatly appreciated.

 

Requirements:

300-400 dollar range. Less is fine but the ones I've been looking at seem to be around this

Good zoom. the point ans shoot she has now is 5x optical and is not cutting it.

Decent macro. She also takes shots of plants/flowers and if it's good then I may just "borrow" it occasionally for mini shots.

SD/XD storage- I've got a bunch and am not looking to have to switch to a different storage medium (I'm looking at you Sony)

Decent battery life. She has an Olympus so it has a removable battery that has it's own charger. That's ok, but something that could use my stack of rechargeable AAs would work fine too.

 

I've looked at some of the Nikon cameras and I have heard that they use the same lens collar as all of the film Nikon. That means that there should be older lenses available for expansion. Any one know if that is true? I'm not set on anything particular. Just looking for some recommendations from people who are more knowledgeable than I. The big thing is to get a good camera for what she needs (zoom/macro, some motion shots) that she won't outgrow for several years. Thanks in advance and I'm looking forward to any suggestions.

 

-Jeff

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Yes, Nikons generally work fairly well with older lenses. Depends how far back you go... My dad recently got a D3100 (iirc) and it works fine with his 20-30 year old lenses and filters.

 

SD storage - yep. Used to be CF, but I think they all use SD now, especially the ones at the lower end of the price range.

Battery - should be fine. Generally a purpose-made removable lithium.

Zoom and macro - any Nikon or Canon SLR body will be fine. They have the capability to record the image, the question is whether you have the right lenses. You need to pay attention to what lenses are included in the kit, rather than the camera body. There will be a standard set which will most likely have a portrait / general use lens or two which may or may not be suitable, but camera shops will often put together their own packs with different lenses that may be more suitable.

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Check out the new Canon Powershot SX 260 HS. I just got it last spring. Does everything you ask and more. Best camera I have ever owned. I just read some of the reviews and a few give it reduced marks on battery life, but that has not been my experience with it at all. I took it on a 7 day cruise to AK and never had to go to my back up battery.

 

What I really like is the ability to take awesome macro shots in nature even in lower light conditions WITHOUT a tripod. I even do WIP mini sculpting shots with it just holding it in my hand.

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$300-400 will not get you a recent DSLR and lens, especially not a wildlife lens.

 

"Zoom ratio" refers only to the ratio between shortest and longest focal lengths. For example, an 18-55mm lens (the standard kit zoom for entry-level DSLRs) has a 3x zoom ratio. The 55-200 (an inexpensive telephoto zoom) has a zoom ratio of about 3.6x, but it is also a 3.6x stronger zoom.

 

If you want to have some idea what you'll actually see, compare 35mm equivalent focal lengths. In general, a small-sensor point and shoot will have a longer 35mm equivalent focal length for a given price than a DSLR. The DSLR will have far better image quality at a given focal length, especially in challenging situations.

 

You probably don't need true macro capability. A true macro lens (Nikon calls them "micro") will project an image onto the sensor at full size. With a 16 MPx APS-C sensor, that means that you could print a photo of a 1" long object at about 17" long and 300 dpi. Nearly any lens will do a good job with flowers unless you're wanting to take photos of the hairs on the stamen. Remember that online images run around 1 Mpx (1200x900 pixels or so), which means that you can get a good image from nearly any camera if you manage your camera and light well.

 

Nearly all P&S, EVIL, and entry-level DSLRs use SD cards and support SDHC cards.

 

DSLRs normally use dedicated batteries that will commonly last for around 1000 shots if you aren't using live view. I carry a second charged backup battery and seldom need to use it even when I'm out for a full day of shooting.

 

Many P&S cameras can use rechargeable AA batteries (I recommend Sanyo Eneloops or similar low-self-discharge batteries). Bring several sets.

 

Nikon DSLRs can use any Nikon SLR or DSLR lens built since the late '50s. Canon APS-C DSLRs can use any Canon DSLR or SLR lens built since the late 80s (they had a mount change in 1987); look for EF or EF-S mount lenses. Both brands have excellent glass, with each having advantages in specific lenses.

 

Recommendation: If budget is a significant concern, do not look at DSLRs. An entry-level body will blow through your budget by itself, and good lenses will cost you significantly more than the body. Specifically, you can get a decent (but not excellent) long telephoto zoom for around $1000. A serious wildlife lens can cost upwards of $6000. What you will get for that money is a very versatile tool that will allow you to customize your kit to take sports photos in low light, or shallow depth of field portraits, or very wide-angle landscapes, or whatever you need with brilliant image quality and excellent ergonomics.

 

If you decide to go with a DSLR, even an entry-level body will give you better image quality than you can probably manage to take advantage of. Both Nikon and Canon have excellent lens systems and excellent bodies. Pick both up and see which fits your (or your wife's) hands better. FWIW, I shoot Nikon D7000 and D300S bodies and have been very happy.

 

If you decide to go with a good P&S, look for something with a decent-sized sensor that has been made recently. Big sensors mean big pixels, which have much lower noise in any sort of challenging light, and cameras are heavily affected by Moore's law, so even a less-expensive modern sensor will often outperform a more-expensive older sensor.

 

If you are ambivalent, you might take a look at an EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) camera system like the Olympus Micro 4/3 or the Nikon 1. They're a compromise with some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of both high-end P&S cameras and entry-level DSLRs.

 

For general camera information, I strongly recommend Digital Photography Review.

 

Hope that helps.

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I've looked at some of the Nikon cameras and I have heard that they use the same lens collar as all of the film Nikon. That means that there should be older lenses available for expansion. Any one know if that is true?

 

Yes, just about every detachable Nikon lens fits on just about every Nikon that takes lenses ever made. Some of the older lenses don't give all the advanced automatic bits when you fit them on a modern body (the electronics to make it happen aren't there). Also if you put newer lenses on really old bodies you won't be able to adjust the aperture. But the lenses will fit.

Edited by Ampersandrew

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Pentax also allows you to use most old film lenses on the DSLR bodies. Plus, the image stabilization is in the for Pentax DSLRs.

 

But, generally, I'll reiterate Doug's advice, above.

 

(Also, I recently got a Sony mirrorless for all around shooting and am pleased so far)

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If you're willing to tweak budget, you might consider taking the DSLR plunge anyway. You can get an older DSLR body such as the Canon XT or Nikon D70 used on Amazon for under $300. The beautiful thing about DSLRs is that you can grow your gear as you expand your hobby (i.e. as you find more money LOL). If you can find an older model body, that's perfectly okay. Save some money back for your first lens, and in your wife's case a fine first lens might be a 50-250mm zoom for those wildlife snaps. If that lens seems to be a bit too big for a "first", consider the 50mm prime lens. It's usually priced right around $100 new, and because it has so few elements and is capable of f/1.8, it can get you some incredibly fast shutter speeds. It's also an excellent all-around snapshot lens AND for portraits such as smaller wildlife or flowers delivers excellent bokeh.

 

Not to disrespect the point-and-shoot cameras at all...because the technology has evolved with them also, but where a P&S will eventually wear out or become outdated tech, when your DSLR body becomes old-hat, you can upgrade to a newer make and still have your lens(es).

 

The other thing the DSLR exceeds the P&S at is shutter reaction. For wildlife, that quarter-second delay on a P&S can be the difference between a beautiful shot of a perched robin and a photo of blurred tail feathers.

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Fuji FinePix SL280 you should be able to get it under your budget (I paid $260) and it has many of the features you want from a DSLR making it a good camera to learn how to use all the features of a DSLR. With 28x optical and excellent macro modes it will do what you are asking for just fine. It does have point and shoot mode through to full manual mode.

 

I do recommend getting a tripod as well.

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I'm in the same boat as the OP, i'm thiunking of taking the DSLR plunge mainly because I can't adjust the depth of field on my Fujifilm JX530 and despite it being a 14MP camera the colour separation for miniatures isn't cutting it. I've taken a few shots with my brothers DSLR and the difference is significant.

 

So my question is, would an older DSLR like a Nikon D80 with a 105mm f/2.8 Macro Lens suit miniatures photography?

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As long as you have lots of light* and want a shallow depth of field**, it should be fine. That's a very good lens. If you need deep DoF, you'll probably need to do focus stacking if you're shooting at true macro distances. (I'll also note that it's a brilliant portrait lens; if a bit slow focusing.)

 

* Diffuse sunlight or strobes recommended. Bright indoor lighting isn't very bright when you're working at small apertures.

 

** At 10" and f/16, you'll have about 0.09" DoF. Go to f/32 and your DoF goes to 0.17" and the diffraction will be quite noticeable. This is a function of the physics of a large-sensor camera, btw, not brand-specific.

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Ok a bit of an update. A couple of weeks ago I got to have a go with my friend's Nikon D4. He's a professional photographer and really knows his business so I value his judgement highly.

 

First off I was comprehensively intimidated by the technological complexity of this bit of kit. Bear in mind just the body of this monster costs £4000+ (about $6k) with lenses being equally expensive at the level he works with.

 

And I had a bit of an epiphany.

 

I really do not need a camera anywhere near as complex as that, nor could I ever justify the cost for my very limited talent or requirements. If I bought a DSLR i'm sure I would fool around with photography more but that's not really my aim, i'm not looking for a new hobby, just a way to get good photos of my current one. My desire for a super shiny DSLR is just that, desire with a side order of good old fashioned greed.

 

So i'll be getting the Nikon L810 for Christmas this year. I'm sure it'll take great photos and i'll do a comparison between my old Fuji compact and this one once i've got it and report back.

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First of all, let me say thanks to the many fine people who have replied and educated me on these intricacies of cameras. The discussion has been insightful. Right now it looks like I may have found the camera for my wife that will do most of what she wants (for now) and is expandable for later: a Nikon D3100 DSLR (18-55mm lens).

 

It goes on sale at my local Navy Exchange for $475 (same price as Amazon) which is a little over my original budget but in addition to not having to pay sales tax, I won a gift card to the NEX at my boat's Christmas party plus I have a "mystery" discount scratch off to the exchange that can save me anywhere from 5%-50% off. That should bring it down to a comfortable range.

 

Think that is what I am going to get unless someone has had a bad experience with this particular model. All of my research says indicates that this is good model for amature photgrapher starting with a DSLR (and that it has an auto mode which will work for me if I somehow manage to pry it out of her hands at some point).

 

Once again thanks for all of the information and advice, especially to Doug and his lenghty point by point post. It was very much appreciated.

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The D3100 is a good entry-level body, very comparable to the entry-level cameras from Canon, Sony, and the rest of the market. I think you'll be happy. Let me know if you have questions after you get it.

 

And glad my post was useful.

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