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Digital SLR Recommendations


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It's a rather convoluted thing though, Nikon's lens history. Certain modern bodies will work with most older lenses however lower end modern bodies will lack certain features and may not be compatible, in fact damage due to mounting is possible. Similarly Nikon's T/S lenses may not work on all modern or older bodies either.

In terms of in-production lenses (Nikon's lens history more or less thouroughly pwnz Canon's) Nikon is better than Canon at the wide end for exactly one reason: the 14-25mm F/2.8 zoom. It's sharper than Canon's 14mm F/2.8 (II) prime, and costs the same price or less. It's so good that well-heeled Canon owners are buying a GBP150 adapter that allows them to use it with their full frame Canon bodies. (The adapter is that expensive because the 14-24 is a "G" lens and lacks manual aperture controls and requires an electric interface.) Apart from that, Canon wide lenses are quite good. The EF 16-35mm F/2.8 II is a killer lens, if quite spendy. The EF 17-40mm F/4L is basically as sharp, but not quite as wide, and a stop slower. It's much lighter and cheaper, however. I own one and love it. For cropped sensors, Canon makes the best ultrawide, period. The EF-S 10-22mm is a ridiculously good piece of glass, and none of the competing models are anywhere close to it.

The 14-24 is an unusual and stellar lens. Likely outperforming many Nikon wide primes as well from what I've seen. The 16-35 and 17-40 from Canon are very good as well, and price wise (always a factor) are very competitive with anyone else. The 10-22 is an amazing lens for the money, too bad I cannot use it on my main camera. Like you the 17-40 is my lens of choice at the wide end, I do not need the speed generally and the size and weight savings means I can carry that much more other crap.

The 14-24 is a powerful argument for going with the Nikon system (provided you are getting a full frame sensor) and it illustrates Nikon's real strength: specialty glass. Nikon's fisheyes are pretty much universally better than Canons, and their best (the absolutely bonkers 8mm F/2.8 ) is in a class by itself. Nikon also makes two brilliant portrait lenses, the 100mm and 135mm F/2 "Defocus Control" primes. Both have a secondary control to adjust spherical aberration and adjust the quality of the bokeh (out of focus area) of the shot. Only the even more insane Konica Minolta 135mm STF is better in this area. [Warning: latenight tangent] The STF is F/2.8 but it's transmission factor is equivalent to F/4.5, a stop and a third slower than its maximum aperture. This is due to a special conical element it has designed to product gaussian distribution of out of focus highlights. It's such a cult lens there's a site dedicated to it. [end tangent]
I'm not sure I'd say the 14-24, Nikon's defocus controls, Canon's T/S or any of the other lenses are strong arguments for either system in most senses. If you need them you're essentially an outlier in the photographic world, a unique case, and of course you will acquire the equipment you need and it may dictate the system you choose. I for example have been shooting Canon for a long time and up until a few years ago lens-wise it wouldn't have mattered what I used. However the Canon 24-105 4L IS and 17-40 4L are perfect lenses for my needs, I don't need or want their faster counterparts. The IS on the 24-105 allows handholding at lower speeds at the apertures I use which are generally not wide open but two stops down ore more, the 2.8L would be a worse lens for me. Nikon for instance has nothing that really can match the two of those lenses, and yes i know about their 24-120 VR.

It wasn't until a little over a year ago that I bought the 24 TS-E and 90 TS-E that I really had something that Nikon couldn't even approximate let alone match. Now they do have equivalents but I don't feel personally the very large price increase is worth it for theirs anyway so I'm quite happy with what I've got.

Nikon announced a bunch of new super-expensive teles a while back, and I must admit I've paid virtually no attention to them. $6000 400mm F/2.8 image stabilized primes are of no interest to me. Their release is a sign that Nikon wants back into the pro/sports market, where they haven't had much of a footprint in 20 years. I think Canon still has the edge in the long (witness the 800mm F/5.6L) but Nikon is definitely encroaching on their territory.
Nikon has regained most of that ground. They are very competitive with Canon on the super-teles but as with every other part of the focal length range each one has the upper hand in certain cases in performance, as well as cost.

To get back to the original point of this thread: Nikon makes much better kit lenses (Canons tend to suck), and has some select specialty models that best Canon by a wide margin. Canon's current line of glass is better than any other company's and Canon is able to introduce more new models more often and get them to market faster than anyone else. Witness the new 17mm full frame tilt shift lens, which wasn't even though possible until Canon pulled it off.
For what it's worth many of Nikon's kit lenses are generally a bit more expensive than Canon's and while sometimes technically better, they're still not terribly good. However for most people if they're sticking with the kit lenses they're likely going to be the kind of shooter that's fine with either.

Realistically, I'd suggest a Nikon D60, D80 or D90, and VR version of both kit lenses (the 18-55 and uh, 50-200?) Don't skimp on the VR. Later look at the 35mm F/2 or the new DX-only 35mm F/1.8. Also consider the 50mm F/1.8 and 85mm F/1.8. That's all any sane person is likely to need.
That would be a good way to start however you'd also have the Rebel XSi, an older XTi or the 30D or 40D to consider on the Canon side with similar lenses. Ultimately your best way to decide is to try them all out. Just like shoes or cars, cameras from different manufacturers (or even models from the same manufacturer) work, fit and feel differently.

In the Canon world, a new old stock 30D is quite a bargain if you can find one, and the 40D is heavily discounted as well. the X0D bodies are built like tanks and have very nice ergonomic controls. At least for someone with ginormous hands like myself. I do not like the Rebel series. I find them to be cheap feeling, and they have fiddly controls and dim viewfinders. The EF-S 17-85mm IS kit lens is not perfect, but it's lightyears beyond the 18-55. It makes a great one lens solution. The EF 35mm F/2 is the best deal in the entire Canon lineup (and cheaper than Nikon's 35mm, to boot). The 50mm F/1.4 is not a great lens, but it's the cheapest way to get F/1.4. The only way under a grand, in fact. The EF 85mm F/1.8 is best bang for the buck, if you care about bokeh (PROTIP: life is easier if you don't.)
Ergonomically the Rebel series and the lower end Nikons are both compromises. They both have small and dim viewfinders and both have focusing screens that make determining real depth of field very difficult if not nearly impossible. The XSi is a brigther viewfinder but like the other lower end Nikons and Canons it's still on the smaller side. Still for a casual shooter that may not always be something that concerns them.

Controls, layout, size and overall fit and finish of the lower end cameras are not as good as the higher end. The Nikon D60 may feel a bit tougher but it isn't any tougher than the XSi and feature wise they differ some so look at features if they matter, however more important in most cases is whether the camera works for you and whether you have specific needs for certain optics.

Pentax beats Canon and Nikon on lower model build quality and ergonomics IMO but falls behind on the features. Very nice cameras regardless.

Regarding fast lenses to choose from. The Canon 50 1.4 is a fine lens, better than the older Nikon 50 1.4 but certainly probably bested by the new one but I haven't used the new Nikon 50 1.4 (or the new Sigma 50 1.4). The Canon 50 1.8 is an amazing deal and a very solid performer for all of $80 or $90 so if you want something fast on a budget consider it. I'll second the 85 1.8 suggestion and I hear the 100 f/2 is very good but I've never used it. I've got the f2.8 USM macro myself.

So my suggestion as always to someone looking at jumping in to a new system with cold feet is to go to a store that has a variety to choose from and try everything in your budget out. Never just take one person's advice to buy from camera x or brand y, decide for yourself because one camera might fit your hands better or you'll like the interface better. If you do it right you'll have a system you'll be happy to grow in to and grow with, if you do it wrong and you get in to it you may find yourself losing money in a change to another system. Major players in the DSLR business are Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and trailing somewhere behind with the 4/3 system is Olympus. Personally the 4/3 system is not worth it generally but if it feels right don't run away from it.

If I weren't getting Canon or Nikon I'd go with Pentax. That's just me though.

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The nikon folks I know eventually tired with this lens and stopped taking it out for just this reason (this is a problem with most of both nikon and canon VR/IS consumer-class zoom lenses), and it's a bigger issue with the newer bodies, because the 12MP+ resolution really lets you know when your lens isn't quite sharp enough. These lenses are great for casual shooting and family photos, but if you're a detail lover (architecture, landscape photography), it will drive you to swap out eventually.

However, both companies are upgrading all these lenses because of these complaints, so it's good to keep an eye on the reviews.

The 18-200 VR AF-S is an impressive achievement for what it is and what it does compared to all the other 18-200 lenses. But you pay a price and for that price the performance just isn't there so unless you value that convenience very highly and don't mind a slow lens I don't think it's a very good value or wise choice.

That pretty much mirrors my impressions, maybe it's because of my big hands but the XSi just didn't feel right to me at all. I really didn't expect ergonomics to play that much of a role but they've pretty much ruled the XSi out for me. The 50D was much better ergonomically and is built extremely well but it's out of my price range. The D90 felt great, has a little more weight than the XSi which I liked and overall seemed to fit my hand better.

Not an uncommon complaint towards the Rebels although something which many people seem to find is fixed by using the vertical grip Canon sells for the Rebel. Not all the Nikons can use a vertical grip technically because Nikon doesn't make one, but there are third party options.

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I'm going to visit a couple more camera shops over the weekend but right now I'm leaning toward the following:

Nikon D90

18-200mm VR

SB-600 flash

I'll be doing quite a bit of indoor and low-light shooting so I think the sb-600 makes sense.

Regarding the 18-200mm, has anyone tried out Tamrons new 18-270mm? Has the extra 70mm and is $100 cheaper.

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I'm going to visit a couple more camera shops over the weekend but right now I'm leaning toward the following:

Nikon D90

18-200mm VR

SB-600 flash

I'll be doing quite a bit of indoor and low-light shooting so I think the sb-600 makes sense.

Regarding the 18-200mm, has anyone tried out Tamrons new 18-270mm? Has the extra 70mm and is $100 cheaper.

How big is your budget again? ;D

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I'll be doing quite a bit of indoor and low-light shooting so I think the sb-600 makes sense.

Regarding the 18-200mm, has anyone tried out Tamrons new 18-270mm? Has the extra 70mm and is $100 cheaper.

1. Yes, the external flash is absolutely worth it, I'm 99% sure that's the same flash I use and love. Get yourself a diffuser (~$20) for times when it just isn't possible to bounce.

2. It's almost guaranteed the Tamron is nowhere near as good as the Nikon.

As for those that say the 18-200 isn't sharp enough, jesus christ you guys must be those that shoot full resolution RAW and then examine every pixel at 100% zoom on 24" monitors looking for a lack of sharpness. Or professionals, in which case the lens was never meant for you. For hacks like myself (and I suspect Todd) the gear is so far from being the limiting factor in our images it's laughable.

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I'm going to visit a couple more camera shops over the weekend but right now I'm leaning toward the following:

Nikon D90

18-200mm VR

SB-600 flash

I'll be doing quite a bit of indoor and low-light shooting so I think the sb-600 makes sense.

One of the things I like about the Nikons better are the flash options, if you're doing a lot of indoor shots, that's probably a solid plan. Don't forget to pick up or DIY a diffuser, and if you get really ambitious about lighting, there's always cheap strobist kits out there.

More evil ways to drain your wallet, that's all we need! :D

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As for those that say the 18-200 isn't sharp enough, jesus christ you guys must be those that shoot full resolution RAW and then examine every pixel at 100% zoom on 24" monitors looking for a lack of sharpness. Or professionals, in which case the lens was never meant for you. For hacks like myself (and I suspect Todd) the gear is so far from being the limiting factor in our images it's laughable.

When you can't afford a nice 300mm+ telephoto, you find yourself wanting to crop a lot when you're shooting things (animals, buildings, sunrises, etc.) at a distance. That's the biggest benefit of these new high resolution sensors for everyday use - lots of room to crop and recompose your shot after the fact, and still get something nice to show to the family. If the lens can't keep up, you lose a lot of that wiggle room because the resolution isn't doing you any good. You'll note that I specifically said it's frustrating to detail freaks, but fine for everyday use - I have a similar lens myself and totally agree.

That, and you have to realize that as audiophiles of various degrees, most of us have the personality type to begin with! More detail! More range! More bass... wait... ;)

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Pretty clear in the 1st post ;) $1k for body-only or w/ kit lens

Gotcha, for some reason, the second part of that sentence made me think it was $1k for everything, including body and lenses.

I've heard nothing but good things about the 18-200, so I'd recommend sticking with that. I'd also recommend picking up the 50mm f/1.8, since it is relatively cheap, and gives you some creativity options with such fast glass. Everybody should have a nifty fifty in their kit anyways.

[edited for clarity]

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Both are great lenses without a doubt. It really comes down to shooting prefernces. While the 35mm will give you the more native POV on cropped sensors, I love the 50mm on my there even more, as it gives me a fantastic, speedy portrait lens that suits my shooting style well.

At less than half the cost of the 35 f/2.0, I'd still recommend the 50mm as the gateway into both primes and fast lenses.

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I disagree. Once one has calibrated how nuts and biased K-Rock is, it's possible to subtract that quantity from his reviews and extract some meaningful information. Additionally, he's often quite an entertaining read, though seldom in the manner he intends. The Fake Ken Rockwell can be amusing as well. For serious reading, I prefer The Online Photographer, who is wonderfully articulate and very cranky. His decimation of the Leica M8 is one of my favorite reads. Sadly, the field test of the M8 in Iraq he sites appears to be offline now. Back when Mike was known as the Sunday Morning Photographer, he wrote a guide to 35mm lens focal lengths which was instrumental for me my early days of SLR shooting.

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As for those that say the 18-200 isn't sharp enough, jesus christ you guys must be those that shoot full resolution RAW and then examine every pixel at 100% zoom on 24" monitors looking for a lack of sharpness. Or professionals, in which case the lens was never meant for you. For hacks like myself (and I suspect Todd) the gear is so far from being the limiting factor in our images it's laughable.

It is plenty sharp for me - certainly much better than any P&S I have ever used. But I am still happy to admit that it isn't something a 'pro' would be happy with. Do I care what 'pros' think? Not really :)

2. It's almost guaranteed the Tamron is nowhere near as good as the Nikon.

Never used it, but according to dpreview, it is quite good optically. What turned me off was the reportedly very slow auto-focus. The Nikon is very fast and accurate, and I love being able to quickly override the autofocus.

Nikon D90

18-200mm VR

SB-600 flash

I'll be doing quite a bit of indoor and low-light shooting so I think the sb-600 makes sense.

Sounds great, and getting the SB-600 for indoor shooting is a great idea. A lot smarter a purchase than trying to buy a full complement of f/2.8 glass straight away, and STILL needing the flash every now and again......

I'd also recommend picking up the 50mm f/1.8, since it is relatively cheap, and gives you some creativity options with such fast glass. Everybody should have a nifty fifty in their kit anyways.

In my experience, a 35mm prime is much more useful on an APS-C sensor than 50mm. For me, my 35mm F/2 is my one lens solution.

In my short time with the 50mm f/1.8, I have lamented it being both too long, and too short. I guess that means it is about right for me, and I need to be less lazy when taking photos :)

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I don't find Nikon lenses to be particularly overpriced (in this category of lens) and to think that someone else could cover more length for significantly less money seems unlikely. And as someone else noted, it's reportedly very slow in use which to me just about negates any usefulness if it happened to be optically superior. By all accounts Nikon hit a home run with the 18-200, while it's not perfect in any respect it is the perfect consumer-grade lens.

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I disagree. Once one has calibrated how nuts and biased K-Rock is, it's possible to subtract that quantity from his reviews and extract some meaningful information.

Sometimes, but he can be wildly inconsistent and unclear at times so I always recommend people either ignore the site or look to it for giggles.

The thing he does best is confuse and hamper the progress of inexperienced photographers.

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Well I ended up spending more time with the various canon and nikon models at the local Ritz Camera yesterday. Decided to go with the D90, the price @ Ritz wasn't very good so I just ordered the following from Amazon:

D90 Body

Nikon 18-200mm

Nikon 50mm

SB-600 w/ diffuser

I don't currently have a camera bag big enough for all that so I'd like some suggestions for a relatively cheap bag.

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Todd,

I've had good luck with Lowe Pro bags and use a Off-Trail 2 when I need to take the whole rig or just a Topload Zoom 2 which can take the camera, 18-200 (attached) and the flash.

Off Trail

18-1981-IMG1.jpeg

Topload

18-2052-IMG1.jpeg

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