The Hyperpessimist

The grandest failure.

Picking a Camera

So, a friend of mine got a DSLR (a Canon 600D) so I was hard-pressed not to be out-geeked by her and was looking for cameras. Lo and behold, it took me the better part of three weeks to figure out what to do so I might just as well explain my priorities and choices.

At the start, I thought that I might as well buy a second-hand Canon 450D. Fortunately a friend of mine planned to sell one for cheap so I first borrowed it to figure out whether I like it. Three weeks after I can say: yes and no.

The 450D has a number of things that I like:

  • Light. Especially compared to newer models the 450D feels super light. Maybe a little bit flimsy even, but I dislike lugging heavy clumps of electronics with me if I can avoid it.

  • The price. This camera is from 2008 and available for really decent money.

  • The features: I mean, its got most essential DLSR functions. And it is not a total entry-level camera so it supports bracketing. The 12 Megapixel are still pretty decent for non-professional photos. And I’m no professional.

  • The handling: it just works, the UI is reasonable for the most part (some things are retarded though, mind you). Build quality doesn’t disappoint, Canon seems to have nailed it pretty much.

I am really happy that I was able to use the 450D for 3 weeks. Learned a lot both about photography, my requirements and the 450D itself. It seems to be a really great idea to just get a camera and test it for couple days. Trying it out in a brick and mortar shop does not even come close. But there are some things that I didn’t really like.

  • The screen is awful. The 600D screen blows it right out of the water and not only because it is articulated. The resoulution is so much higher which is to me a big advantage.

  • Getting sharp pictures is near impossible. I managed to figure out a stance where I stand like I expect an earthquake and press the camera into my face to stabilize it. It might be the kit lens which sports “Image Stabilization” but as far as I experienced it, IS is completely useless. Maybe a better lens does better.

  • Low maximum ISO. I do a fair bit of inside shooting and the automatic ISO mode maxes out at ISO 800, the manual at 1600. It is not even bad, just too low to make photos that aren’t crazy blurry in low-light.

  • The continuous shooting buffer is kinda small. I use continous shooting basically always. 4 full size RAW pictures was best it could do. Not that much of a problem, but since we’re complaining, I might as well.

So, while a good deal, I didn’t think it was for me. But what is? Compact point and shoots are kinda pointless, since the argument “always with you” doesn’t work out. For these cases I have my smartphone. So something larger. Choices there are DSLRs, Mirrorless and bridge cameras.

After some thinking, bridge cameras do seem to be the best choice for people who want to upgrade from a compact to something bigger. They won’t change the lens anyway and the superzoom lenses are a good deal better than the kit lenses (if you want to know my preference, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 with its f/2.8 Leica lens is my favorite by far. I was also positively surprised by the quality of the DMC-FX33 previously, Panasonic seems to be doing something right). But I was really thinking of changing lenses.

Mirrorless then? Forget about Canon and Nikon then, as they don’t seem to have any compelling cameras. Each has a new mount which requires new lenses. Oh well, that sucks. Might just as well go for Sony. Somehow, the mirrorless cameras look mostly like compacts which makes them balance weirdly and the lack of an optical viewfinder is kinda odd. Every time I tried live view, I despised it. But it might well be that mirrorless cameras are indeed the future. Let Canon do a couple more iterations of the EOS M, Sony figure out whether they want to continue with NEX or Alpha cameras. Not excluding I’ll switch in the future but I tend to be late to most trends, so might as well give it a few years.

That leaves me with DSLRs. I wanted to pick something common, so there will be decent toolking and support on the Internets. So, Pentax is, despite good reviews out. Also, the cameras look quite ugly, sorry to say. I wasn’t terribly happy with the Sony SLT cameras when I tried them in real life, so they go too. The easiest choice would be Canon by far. Can’t go wrong with Canon, right?

Well, not really, but still:

  • The 600D while pretty nice and in my 400€ price range is missing some nice features from the 650D like AF in movie mode. I thought about making movies, so that might be useful.
  • The 650D has a couple of useful improvements but is more like in the 600€ range
  • The 700D is more of the same and in exactly the same range. No idea why they created the 700D, since the differences are really minor.
  • The 1100D looks and feels very much like the absolute entry model where they leave out whatever they can to reduce the price and segment the market.

Also, the DxOMark scores of the three-digit Canon models (~60) have been a good deal worse than the equivalent Nikons (~80), so maybe Nikon?

  • D3100 and D3200 are entry-level cameras. Tried them, they don’t support bracketing, but them right back.
  • D5200 is a really nice camera, but still on the expensive side. Maybe with the announcement of the D5300 prices will drop, in which case this will be an excellent choice.
  • D7100 is overkill. Nice camera, but a league too high.

So, the D5100? I tried it in real life for a couple of minutes and it seemed nice. Especially the Nikkor lenses on Nikon cameras make quite a good impression, even the kit lens features an ultrasonic motor for autofocus which feels really, really nice. To cut things short, after reading the excellent DP Review I happened upon a great deal and got one. To avoid the “you won’t use anything but the kit lens anyway” I also got myself the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G prime as well.

Overall, the camera is okay. Frankly, I really am torn between the D5100 and the 600D. Let’s check:

  • The Vibration Reduction (VR, like Canon’s IS) seems to be working really, really good on the kit lens. You can see the image shifting a bit in the finder when VR kicks in, but the functionality itself is top notch. I think that’s one of the best features, I got a sharp photo indoors, shaking my hands. The prime doesn’t have VR, though.

  • The screen rocks. Just as good as the 600D

  • The strap is nice, I kinda prefer it to the Canon strap. Nitpicking, I know.

  • The SWM motors rock and the camera looks expensive.

  • The M/A autofocus mode of the prime is really nice. You can change the focus without having to turn off autofocus.

  • Image quality seems to be good. From what I saw it makes pretty acceptable low light photos by picking high ISOs. Which works decently. Haven’t taken that many pictures yet.

  • Nikon rotates everything the other way round, annoying if you switch between brands. Some things don’t even make sense. I suppose it is like this because Nikon always did it this way, before this pesky Canon came along 50 years ago, but it still sucks.

  • The scene modes are completely useless. Sports mode uses a shutter speed that is way too low. Party mode has some 1 second shutter delay. It seems to be doing the opposite of what makes sense.

  • The continous shooting buffer is nice and long and it does a decent amount of FPS. Unless you switch to a scene mode, which deavtivates continous shooting. You can re-enable it, but by the time you realize it’s off again it’s too late and you missed a good shot. I hate the Nikon scene modes with a passion.

  • Ergonomics are worse. The 600D had buttons for most used things, whereas you have to navigate the menu in the Nikon camera. Also, the shape of both lenses and camera makes more sense in Canonland.

  • Build quality is so-so. I had to stick tape on the SD card slot cap to stop it from making noises. Ghetty repair job on brand new camera does not make me very happy, but at least it worked out.

  • No dedicated ISO button and the Auto-ISO can’t be easily overridden even if you map the ISO button to Fn (as every D5100 owner ever does!). This bugs me a lot.

  • The caps for the lenses and camera rotate only slightly so they come off easily. Quite sloppy.

So this is it for today! I hope my random odd observations helped you in some way, and expect to see more complaining about photography topics :-).