My Camera’s Fit of Jealous Rage; Looking for a D-SLR

I really like my little Canon SD500, or, as it's called here in Japan, the Canon IXY Digital 600 (what is it with cameras and silly names here?). It takes great shots (see my archive of pretty-photos blog posts, and nice photos gallery), and have no plans to replace it any time soon.

Still, it's fun to daydream about a big hefty SLR with a large image sensor, fast shutter, good lenses, and features like shutter- and aperture- priority (which are basic, but point-n-click cameras generally don't have).

So, lately I've been browsing the most-excellent Digital Photo Review site, dreaming about what I'd get if I got something. Yesterday, I was reading about such-and-such a feature on a Canon camera, and I wondered if my current Canon had that feature, so I grabbed it and turned it on, but instead of turning on smoothly (lens sliding out), it made a nasty grinding/clicking noise and displayed “E18” on the monitor. Uh-oh.

It was definitely not working, other than making un-camera-like grinding noises. And gee, I was only looking at other cameras!

It's still under warranty, so I brought it in today and the guy at the store guestimated that I might get it back toward the end of the month. Sigh.

Well, since I was at the store I checked out two cameras I'd been looking at online. One is the Canon EOS 350D “Digital Rebel XT” — in Japan called, I kid you not, the EOS Kiss DIGITAL N (What is it with Japanese camera names?). Digital Photo Review has a 31-page review of it.

The other was the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D — in Japan called α-7 DIGITAL (which is a much better name than its little brother, the α SWEET DIGITAL — What is it with Japanese camera names???). It turns out that I ended up actually looking at the latter (α SWEET) by mistake, although I didn't realize it until I got home.

In any case, I didn't really care for either. Both happened to have zoom lenses attached at the store, and neither could apparently focus well. I'd zoom out, focus on something, than zoom in only to find that it was woefully out of focus. I have a hard time believing that modern zoom lenses don't hold focus across the zoom, so I tried taking a picture and then reviewing the shot on the camera display, zooming up visually on the central part of the pic. They were out of focus.

These cameras were heading toward $1,000 (they list for $1,500, but since they've been out for a while their price has come down) and they were woefully disappointing. I hope it's just because they were floor models. They seemed cheap, had flashes that popped surprisingly up when the auto-focus needed them, and had thumbwheels (for changing options) that were rough and hard to use. Ugh.

My sister has the Maxxum 7D and loves it, and a friend who is a fantastic photographer recommended the predecessor to the Canon 350D. I don't know what to do.

Can you recommend a good Digital SLR (where the definition of “good” is partially defined by this wishlist:

  • Large image sensor (crop of 1.6 or less, none of those 1/1.8" micro types)
  • Auto-focus that does not need support from the flash
  • Built-in flash would be nice (a decidedly un-pro request, I know)
  • 8 megapixels or so
  • All “everyday” controls accessible directly, without the need for menu surfing
  • Ability to take 2+ or 3+ photos per second, at least for a few seconds
  • Optical image stabilization (either in body, like the Maxxum 7D, or available in the lenses)
  • A really killer “walk around” lens that has a nice 5x+ zoom range (it's probably the case that you can get a nice lens, or a nice zoom range, but not both )-:
  • Ability to save raw data

Despite the break-down of my current camera, I really like Canon and wish my experience checking out the Kiss DIGITAL N (silly name!) today had been better. Perhaps I should look at the next step up, the EOS 20D. (The next step above that costs $4,000, which is by far more than I'm willing to spend).

What to do....?

All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

Don’t discount the Nikon line. I’ve been extremely happy with my Nikon D1 that I bought “back in the day”, although its MPx value shows its age these days. But I have friends with D100 and D70 models, which are in the “prosumer” market, as opposed to like the D2X which is definitely in the “pro” range, and they’re extremely happy with them.

— comment by Derek on January 3rd, 2006 at 1:23am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

The 7D specs look quite impressive esp with the inbuilt anti-shake system. But at the end of the day, you will need to decide on the system coz once you are in a system, you are stuck to it. Canon and Nikon rule the DSLR market now and you have wide range of lenses etc to choose from which you will not find in Minolta. It’s like using Ruby for web apps when everyone else uses php and perl. If you like the camera and do not plan to upgrade to better lenses anytime soon, I’d say go for the 7D. If you want a standard camera and see lot of upgrades etc, I’d say go for Canon or Nikon.
Nikon D70s and Canon 350D are the low end prosumer cameras and are very good. If you want something slightly more.. consider Canon 20D or the new Nikon D200 which has just come out (it comes with a kickass vibration reduction lens)

— comment by Kalyan on January 3rd, 2006 at 5:00am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

For what it’s worth, I’m still a big fan of my Nikon D70. It’s got some annoyances, but nothing major:
1. It “helpfully” will switch autofocus to nearest point rather than center spot. I’m old school and prefer to focus center before I frame my shot. I’m sure there’s a way to beat it into submission, but I haven’t found it yet.
2. I seem to have picked up a signature dust speck on my CCD. It shows up as a very faint circle in the upper right quadrant whenever I shoot clear sky’s or solid colors. Again, not super annoying, and something I can always clean up in post production, but it’s also defied my simple cleaning steps.
3. Finding a small camera bag for the beast is impossible. I almost always have to take the lens off when I travel.

That said it’s also lightning fast, takes great shots, the battery lasts for freaking ever and it’s just the right weight for me.

Oh, and about that “zoom/focus” thing. Yep, the focus will almost always change when you zoom. This is actually normal, since the function of zoom is to alter the distances between the lenses. If you shot film in full manual, you’d have to do the same thing.

Best thing to do is to have two cameras. One for “quick pics” that you can shove in a pocket, or bag, and the DSLR for “real pictures” when you want to haul it around. Before digital pocket cameras, professional photo guys used to walk around with 110s in their pockets.

— comment by jr on January 4th, 2006 at 9:20am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

About the zoom, JR, I really do remember from my old days (circa 1980, when I last had an SLR) that zooms held focus. The common technique was to zoom up, focus, then zoom back to whatever framing you wanted. When reading advertisements (although I could afford nothing, it didn’t stop me from eargly browsing ads in Popular Photography, etc.) it was always mentioned as a feature (or not mentioned if not).

Maybe the need for it has diminished with the advent of AF, and so it’s gone the way of the 8-track tape.

As for a little carry-around camera, indeed, I’ll keep my SD500 (once it gets back from repair).

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on January 4th, 2006 at 9:30am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Wow, weird.

I just checked on my Canon AE-1 with a 35-70 and it loses focus. Not dramatically, mind you, but it does require adjustment. The outer area is fine, but in the inner focusing prism it’s evident. It’s about the same level of adjustment that the D70 is making, (again, minor, but there).

I’m not doubting that you’re not seeing it, and maybe I’m just overly sensitive to it or something, but I remember having to do it with an old Pentax too. I never even thought it was unusual until you pointed it out.

Ah well, I’ll chalk it up to me being insane.

— comment by jr on January 4th, 2006 at 4:03pm JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

ive got an advent cmera and the lense is stuck inwards and when i turn it off and on it wont come back out.
how do i make the lense come out ?????

— comment by Rooely on February 22nd, 2007 at 6:52pm JST (17 years ago) comment permalink
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