Home Cameras SLRs How To Choose A Digital SLR
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How To Choose A Digital SLR

What to look for...and look out for

D-SLRs range in size from tiny (4.9x3.6x2.6 inches, 15.3 ounces) to relatively huge (6.1x6.2x3.1 inches, 43 ounces), and I've carted both extremes up local mountains seeking photos. It's definitely easier to carry a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT or Nikon D50 on a long hike than a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II or Nikon D2x.


But size has its advantages, too. I find it easier to hold a larger camera steady with a long lens, and bigger bodies have more room for buttons, permitting more camera settings to be made without scrolling through pages of LCD monitor menus. It's a good idea to hold each camera you're considering and see how it feels in your hands, and how easy the controls are to operate.

Today's D-SLRs are surprisingly sturdy. The top pro models are the most rugged, of course, but also expensive and heavy. I've taken several tumbles with my original midrange D-SLR while hiking, including one in which I landed right on the camera, driving the top of its finder into the hard dirt-and-rock trail. Amazingly, the camera still works fine, and the flash unit still pops up and fires on command. Most of today's D-SLRs are well-built, and should last a long time in normal use.

Operating Speed

Early D-SLRs took a painfully long time to start up and to wake up from the energy-saving "sleep" mode. Today's D-SLRs are much quicker. Definitely check the startup and wake-up time in the camera store if "decisive moments" are important in your photography. You can also check the camera specifications on the manufacturers' websites.

All of today's D-SLRs have continuous shooting modes, in which the camera will take a series of images if you hold down the shutter button. How quickly they will shoot them and how many they will shoot before filling their memory buffers varies from model to model and depends on image size (they will shoot more JPEGs than RAW images because JPEGs take up less memory space) and memory-card speed. The fastest of the current D-SLR crop are the Canon EOS-1D Mark II N (8.5 fps) and the Nikon D2x and D2Hs (8 fps).


Lenses & Accessories
D-SLRs made by companies that manufacture 35mm SLRs generally can use the lenses film cameras use, so if you have an AF 35mm SLR and several lenses, you can save money by buying a D-SLR from the same manufacturer. But the smaller-than-full-35mm-frame image sensors in most D-SLRs allow for smaller lenses with smaller image circles, so the D-SLR manufacturers and major independent lensmakers also offer "digital" lenses optimized for D-SLRs. Most of these digital lenses can't be used on film cameras (or full-frame D-SLRs) because their image circles are too small—they cause vignetting.

Most D-SLRs from film-camera companies accept many of the accessories that film SLRs take. If you plan to do serious macro photography, you might want a D-SLR whose system includes extension tubes or a bellows unit. If you want to use multiple off-camera flash units with wireless TTL control, make sure you get a camera that supports it.

Unique Features
Some wonderful special features are out there-though not in the same camera. My favorites include Konica Minolta's body-integral Anti-Shake (in the Maxxum 7D and Maxxum 5D), which turns all your lenses into anti-shake lenses; Nikon's Lock-On (in all its D-SLRs), which keeps focus locked on the subject if it momentarily passes behind something, such as a bird flying past a tree; and Olympus' Supersonic Wave Filter, which vibrates dust off the image sensor every time you switch on the camera. There's also the Canon optional Data Verification Kit, which confirms that an image hasn't been altered (handy for forensic photography), and optional wireless image-transmission systems for Canon and Nikon pro D-SLRs.

So what's the "best" D-SLR? It's not necessarily the one your best friend uses, or even the one your favorite famous pro uses. It's the one that makes it easy to do what you need it to do and is in your price range.

> Digital SLR Chart

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