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First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

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First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby windknot » Thu Jun 07, 2012 12:23 pm

I'm in the market for my first DSLR after years of just using point and shoots. I currently use a Panasonic Lumix LX-3 and enjoy the extended range of manual control this little camera offers over more basic P&S cameras, but I feel it's time to graduate to the next level. With that said, I'd love to get some opinions from all of you talented photographers who know way more about this than I do. The number of DSLRs available is a bit daunting for someone looking to get into more serious photography, and the research I've done finds two camps with equally compelling arguments for either getting basic, entry-level gear or buying better equipment.

Since where many of you already are is where I aspire to be, I figured there's no better place to start than here. Knowing what you know now, if you were to buy your first DSLR again, what would be your priorities in deciding on a specific manufacturer/model? I'll be using it mostly for backpacking/fishing trips for the rest of the year, but I'm moving out of the country next February and intend to use it for general all-around landscape/people/place photo opportunities in a mostly rural area.

I appreciate any and all input.

Best,
Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 07, 2012 1:09 pm

PM sent.
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby fishmonger » Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:14 pm

if I were to buy my first DSLR today, I'd save a little longer until I can afford a full frame body. The sensor size decision is the most important one, and nowadays when you can get an APC/DX sized sensor in a super compact "point-and-shoot" that can use DSLR lenses, the benefits of a non-full-frame DSLR body are mostly limited to fast AF and other stuff not directly related to image quality. For landscape shooters then, once you are willing to lug around a DSLR setup, the real upgrade is a full frame sensor body. If you shoot action sports and other things that require fast AF or frame rates, a DX body can be quite nice, but if you want quality from a DSLR that cannot be had with a compact point and shoot body, you really need to look at D700/800 or EOS 5D mk2 and similar stuff.

On the other hand, if you are shooting only for web publishing and never print bigger than 8x10, stick with DX and spend the money on the best glass you can get for that platform.
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby windknot » Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:33 am

Thanks maverick and fishmonger. This is very helpful advice and especially useful for weighing the pros and cons of a DSLR compared with a P&S (and the marginal value of upgrading from the latter to the former).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby Mradford » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:55 pm

I would look into getting one of canon or nikons full frame cameras that doesn't have the grip built in. I would suggest the Nikon D700. It's a professional camera without the added bulk. And if you want you can always buy the separate battery grip. I've been using the D700 for my professional work and LOVE it. I wish I would have bought it first rather than gettIng an entry level dslr first. The sensor is amazing and the color I get out of it is legit. Pair it with the 50mm and watch your portraits POP. Use the 35mm for landscapes. But honestly any full frame camera you get will blow your mind when you see the results. I am just pumped on my d700 haha Also check out Plus filters for up close shots of trout and flies and save money on not buying a macro lens. They are amazing and really cheap and screw right onto your lens.

Good luck and can't wait for a new post on your blog!

-Mike
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby fishmonger » Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:26 am

Mradford wrote: The sensor is amazing and the color I get out of it is legit. Pair it with the 50mm and watch your portraits POP.


hmm - you are familiar with this comparison?
http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d90/sh ... arison.htm

color clearly has nothing to do with sensor size, and even sharpness under ideal conditions is really no different with the bigger sensor. what you get is less noise at higher ISO, something that rarely matters for landscapes, as well as a much nicer viewfinder. The other big difference is that wide angles remain wide without the 1.5x crop happeneing on the small sensor, but with cheaper glass, you also get the fuzzy corners of those lenses. Wide angles especially perform the worst in those image areas a crop sensor loses on the outside edge. Only advantage here is that if you like super wide lenses, the full frame sensor will give you a lot of lens options, even affordable ones. To get a 20mm equivalent on a crop sensor, you need a 14mm lens, which costs multiple times more than the 20mm. In return, if you were to shoot race cars for a living, the crop camera could save you thousands in eliminating your need for the very long glass.

The real step up in resolution is the D800 (36 megapixels, D700 is 12MP, EOS 5D mk2 is 21MP), but as I pointed out, that only matters if you print very large, crop heavily and still print large (bird shooters like that). For better color quality, well, mostly you really need to buy good lenses and not a larger sensor. In most focal lengths other than 50mm those high grade lenses usually cost more than the camera, and don't forget good filters. For good macro shots, get a couple of extension rings instead of the +3 filters, as they don't affect the optical quality at all. It also helps to save some money for Adobe Photoshop or at least DXOlabs software to process images after shooting (RAW file format, obviously - if you shoot in-camera JPEGs you should never buy a camera for more than $500). At the very least use the software for the lens correction feature, because even a $2000 zoom lens will have distorions and other flaws that can be corrected in software.

A few more differences: Crop camera bodies are smaller than even the compact full frame cameras. The D700 is about 4 ounces heavier than the D7000, and full frame lenses tend to be heavier than the consumer glass you can get for the crop bodies. I carry a D7000 and two plastic zoom lenses on long trips, but I do carry a battery grip as well since it allows me to use AA batteries to keep the camera going while far away from power outlets. I've tried the solar thing and sold all that junk. AA lithiums are light and bulletproof reliable. If I really cared about dropping weight, I'd use a Sony NEX 5n with Nikon lens adapter while in the deep backcountry, as that little thing will save me a few more ounces. However, I'm not anal about this stuff and really don't like the handling of any point-and-shoot. Knowing your camera controls well is more important than the weight of a candy bar in my pack. If you do care about the weight of a few candy bars, take a look at this image thread showing off what these small NEX bodies can do in the right hands with the proper glass (this is page 351 of a very long thread)
http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/969329/351

I like the fact that a DSLR has the ability to use remote releases (I have a tiny infrared trigger, as well as a wired trigger). This may not sound that important, but if you hike alone, it matters, and if you use accessories like a panorama bot to control your camera, you'll need the wired remote jack on the camera. Some people use timers to shoot time lapses, and if your camera body doesn't have that feature built in, you'll need the cable connect again. DSLRs are much more likely to work in situations like that.

One thing I really like about my D7000 (also true for D700 and D800 in full frame) is that I can still use lenses I bought in the 80s (used... some were made in the late 1960s), and it has absolutely no issues with them. OK, so there is no auto focus, but who needs that anyway? Before the 1990s, we all were able to focus our lenses manually. I would like to have a full frame body for those old lenses, because their much larger and brighter view finder makes the manual focusing a lot easier for my aging eyes. Cheaper DSRL bodies don't do any of that and you are stuck with modern lenses. What people don't realize is that there are some fantastic manual focus lenses out there that cost a fraction of what you pay for a modern AF equivalent. Having a camera that can take full advantage of such glass may actually pay for the full frame body investment.

For example, next to some vintage Nikkor glass, I also use some Korean made manual focus lenses (Rokinon, Samyang brands) that cost about 1/5th of the Nikon equivalent, but consistently match or beat them in tests, except for being manual focus. On my crop D7000, I have a hard time focusing the Rokinon 85mm f1.4, even with the camera's focus aid indicator dot in the view finder. I can only imagine how well this thing could perform on a full frame body...

If you shoot video, the newer the camera body is, the better the video features will be. That means you get AF while shooting, more choices on frame rates, higher quality compression at faster data rates, etc, but it doesn't always mean the more expensive camera is the better video body. Nikon's D4 for example has horrible image sharpness in video mode, while the D800 works great in 1080p, sucks in 720p. The D7000 is just as sharp as the D700, but it won't do 60p. Anyway, if you are into this stuff, you probably wouldn't be asking for advice here on a mountain forum. For quick documentation of backcountry trips, a GoPro or ContourHD are perfect, cheap, and light, and you can do awesome stuff with these little things if you are creative. I bought a ContourHd on SteepandCheap for less than I paid for a 72mm polarizer filter...

If you like to shoot stars at night, especially the very popular star time lapses you see so frequently these days, you do need that full frame body - D700 or EOS 5D mk2, plus a very expensive 24mm f1.4 lens to go with them. No need to look at the crop cameras, as they just won't grab enough light per pixel, nor can they cover the sky as wide as the full frame, unless you put on a 16mm lens or wider, but those don't come at f1.4. The new D800 is not that great for this purpose having "too many megapixels" - noisy images result from those small pixels when shooting at higher ISO at night.

Anyway, I've been on the fence between crop camera and full frame for a while now. Ideally, I'd like to have both, but the cost is just ridiculous for the full frame system if you only need some of the benefits once in a while. If you can make money with these tools, well, it's a no-brainer to go full frame. I don't print images very often, but I do like the low light capabilities of full frame, and I love what a 14mm flat field wide angle can do on a full frame body. Still, I can get a crop-sensor optimized 8-16mm zoom for my crop body for a fraction of what a full frame camera costs, and it will do the job. So I keep talking myself ouf of the full frame digital camera. I do have two old film cameras that are full frame, and I can get a ton of Velvia film for the price of a new camera...

If you don't mind buying used, the D700 and EOS 5D mk 2 bodies are coming down in price these days because their successor cameras have just been released and people are upgrading. I've seen nice D700 bodies go for $1500-1700 and I bet they will get even cheaper soon. My problem is that a friend bought the D800 and I had it in my hands and there is just no way I'll buy a D700 after that experience. Stay away from that camera if you are easily impressed by awesome machines :unibrow:

There are rumors of a D600 body coming out that will bring down full frame entry prices even more, and that will get you used D700 bodies at less than $1500. If I wasn't all set on Nikon, I'd really go for a used 5D mk2, though.

and a last thought about costs - if your budget is below $1000, don't even bother with anything I just talked about. Get a NEX 5n and a sharp kit lens. Later you can add an adapter and some old sharp manual focus lenses from ebay.

slow morning here :D
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby windknot » Sat Jun 16, 2012 2:00 am

Thanks so much for this very thorough post. I've read through it twice, and will likely read through it a few more times before I can process it all. I know most/all of this is old hat to experienced photographers, but some of the most seemingly basic tips (shooting in RAW, the NEX 5n as a hybrid option, and most importantly, it's the user more than the tool) are incredibly useful to hear reiterated.

Cost isn't a concern, but I'll be using this in an area with higher theft rates than here so I am leery of dropping a couple thousand on equipment that I have to protect like a newborn all the time. Large format printing is also virtually a non-issue, so it looks like the best options for me at this point would be to keep my current P&S or get a NEX 5n to play around with. I can buy one used and spend a few months seeing if I like it enough to get some better glass; if it turns out that I'm not willing or able to make the educational adjustments necessary to take advantage of the greater opportunities afforded by the upgrades in lenses, then I can turn around and sell it for what will amount to a reasonable rental fee.

Anyhow, thanks again. I appreciate it.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby fishmonger » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:31 am

If the Nex 5n makes sense based on your needs, you may find this review useful:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/revie ... view.shtml

I fogot to mention that the Nex 5N allows you to add an electronic viewfinder, which changes the handling of the body more to what folks expect from a DSLR - making it even more of a hybrid solution. If you like the idea of a viewfinder, you probably should just look at the Nex 7, since the cost of the add on OLED viewfinder for the 5n is rather steep.

thorough review of the 7n
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/revie ... view.shtml

For lightweight hiking trips, I've been trying to score a used 5n without OLED, but they are hard to come by on the used market.
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby windknot » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:55 pm

Thanks fishmonger, these are great reviews (both in scope and depth, as well as in verdict).

I have a feeling I'll be busy for the next few weeks with used camera market research!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby tim » Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:18 am

I really like my NEX-5n. I'm by no means a great photographer but the huge step up in quality from point & shoot is very noticeable and with the 16mm lens you can keep it on your belt while hiking just like a point & shoot (we have the 18-55 and 55-210 lenses as well which provide a fairly good range of options).

Here's a few photos taken with it:
viewtopic.php?f=1&t=7702
viewtopic.php?f=8&t=7316
viewtopic.php?f=1&t=7275
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby fishmonger » Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:24 pm

windknot wrote:I have a feeling I'll be busy for the next few weeks with used camera market research!


I saw a 5n with 18-55mm sell for $530 on ebay a few days ago, and I'm sure there are more. I am looking for just a body to use my Nikon lenses on it, and that is much harder to find.
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Re: First DSLR for amateur photog - suggestions from the experts

Postby maverick » Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:05 pm

Hey Fish,

Can get you new NEX 5n body($450), still in the box, PM me if you interested.
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Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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