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Digital SLRs

2005-10-29 6 min read Gadgets marco

{moszoomimglink:canon_eos_digital_rebel_xt}I have been a fan of digital photography since the early days (for amateurs). My Nikon 950, despite its shortcomings, shot wonderful pictures. So did the 990 that replaced it. Unfortunately, I was always dreaming of something better. I remembered my old days with the first autofocus cameras, my first EOS 650, and the beautiful pictures it shot. Stolen by a vandal in Amsterdam, it was replaced with a Minolta that, I am sure, was state of the art back then.
Now I have been disappointed by too many digital cameras. All of them are ok, but none of them can really convince me. The Powershot 100 I used to own is no good, because it shoots at too low a resolution and because it takes it 2 seconds to fire up. The Fuji Finepix has a miserable battery life. The Canon G3, my most expensive digital to date, annoys me all the time with the stupid settings ring that decides to move on its own, forcing me to either keep the monitor open at all times (reducing the battery life), or to risk losing a good portion of my pictures.

Hence, a new shootout for the best digital SLR, since those are getting close to affordable. The mission: going to Hawai’i next time, and shoot a set of gorgeous pictures of the waterfall, of the house, and of everything I love about the island. Next time is Thanksgiving, and by then I don’t want any crappy pictures.

The candidates: I searched for the longest time, and I am settling on four options.

  1. Canon EOS 350D Rebel XT
  2. Nikon D70s
  3. Canon EOS 20D
  4. Nikon D200

I have not tried any of the four, but I have read as much as I can, and here are first impressions:

The Rebel is by far the most popular Digital SLR, according to a variety of sites. Digital Preview has it at double the clicks of the other two, and CNET has the four variants of the standard package above any other camera. It gets the best reviews of the trio, with the 20D being in the far shadow.

The main reason for the gushing seems to be that the camera is the cheapest of the three, by some $200-$300, depending on version and variant. It is also much lighter (by 100g) than the other two, and it boasts the most accessories, thanks to wider audience.

Its relationship with its bigger sibling, the 20D, is studied on the corresponding page. Suffice to say that the two are marginally different according to the specs, but the 20D counts as professional SLR, while the Digital Rebel is a prosumer. If the label is the whole difference…

The Nikon D70s, on the other hand, was placed squarely against the Digital Rebel. That is, except for the much higher price, that reminds us much more of the bigger sister. As a matter of fact, the D70s and the D20 are very close.

So far, what speaks in favor of the Digital Rebel is its popularity. Although I am reminded of the German saying: “Eat shit! Billions of flies can’t all be wrong!”

If you check the web, the D70s has no chance against the Digital Rebel. On a technical level, some of the choices made by Nikon are indeed questionable. Why, for instance, have the expensive camera not match the pixel count of its cheaper competitor? 6MP against 8MP really looks bad.

Then there is the annoying choice of a proprietary format for the RAW encoding. If you want to get to your pictures, you have to either pay Nikon for the software, or you download and install a free tool – not from Nikon, of course. That’s plain silly and has no business in a world where you are charging more than your competitors, anyway.

The Nikon D70 was aimed as a direct hit against the first Digital Rebel, the 300D. When Canon upgraded its camera, it gave it almost all the D70 had, plus 2MP (to match the Olympus competitor, the E300). Nikon upgraded to the D70s, but some of the key annoyances were not fixed.

Now, my past tells me I should go Nikon. Even the 2.11MP cameras shot pictures that I still love looking at, while the darker and bluer tones on the Canons… well, check them yourself. But is the past a good indicator?

The big brother of the 350 has all the features of the smaller cousin, plus a few extras that match the performance of the D70s. Is it worth it? Well, if I want to compare apples to apples, I would have to compare the D70s with the 20D. The prices and performances are similar.

Too bad I think the price/performance ratio is really not there. And that might be the clincher, in the end. Just like it was foolish to buy an HDTV plasma four years ago, because with the money you saved then you could buy two plasmas now, so it might be better to just buy a camera, and think about upgrading when the technology is better. I could see how higher resolutions, faster sensors, better processors could all make a significant change for the better in the future.

As usual, the choice is not easy. And to be fair, aside from the Nikon fundamentalists, most commentators say you can’t go wrong either way. If you have to choose between the 350 and the 20D, make it about the money. If you have to choose between the Digital Rebel and the D70s, make it about personal handling. What you save buying a Digital Rebel you will have to spend in a better lense.

One commentator (the lead at Epinions) went as far as saying that the better lens in the Nikon more than made up for the 2MP difference in resolution. Canon, of course, has better lenses than the one it ships with the Digital Rebel, and so the 2MP could be back with a vengeance.

If only one could buy the body of one and the lenses of the other… Actually, I think there is even an adapter for that.

None of this makes my choice easier, of course. Will keep you posted.

Placed after the shootout, this camera was announced on November 1st, just a few days after I wrote the original post.

The D200 is much more expensive than the other models in this list and is positioned to compete against the even more expensive Canon 5D (almost twice as much!). The buzz is on, and everyone is waiting for the new camera to come out.

Its specs look fabulous: 10MP, sturdy body and professional construction. It’s almost a dream, positioned as it is against a background of impossibly expensive options. It looks like Nikon learned from Canon (the printer maker) and is selling the body cheap, well knowing that the lenses will make up for the difference (and then some). A wise move!