I’ve Decided on a Camera

So, as per my previous post, I'm considering a big full-function SLR to augment my micro-sized point-n-shoot Canon SD500. In the last day or so, my feeling has gone from “considering” to “will buy” to “have ordered”.

To some extent, the decision about what to get is easier with an SLR than with a point-n-shoot; with the latter, the choice for me involves balancing three things (cost, features, size), while with an SLR it's just two (cost and features). Of course, with an SLR there are many, many more features. I don't have a lot of “boy toys” so I'm tending to let myself splurge a bit this time, concentrating more on features than cost...

So, what features do I really care about? Of course, I'd like to have the best blah blah blah, but I don't really need them. In the end, there will be (as JR says in a comment to my previous post) annoyances with whatever I get, so which annoyances do I really want to avoid?

When it came down to it, the one thing I really wanted was an autofocus assist lamp. This is the often dim red light you see with many point-n-shoots just before a shot is taken. The little bit of light helps the autofocus focus before the flash fires to actually take the shot. I also wanted a built-in flash. But here's the kicker: I want the autofocus assist and flash to be different.

As a bit of background, it seems that SLRs that have a built-in flash generally have it as a pop-up like this:

(photos from Digital Photography Review)

You pop the flash up when you need it, and tuck it away when you don't. However, if the camera doesn't have an autofocus-assist light, it's the flash that needs to provide the light. But if the flash isn't up, it has to pop up automatically on its own (or, if it can't pop up on its own, it has to display a warning of some kind that the autofocus can't work without more light).

Now, this may sound like a small thing, and I'm sure to many people it is, but it would drive me absolutely batty. When this first happened to me while at the store looking at the Canon Digital Rebel XT, the loud kachunk of the flash popping up on its own startled the heck out of me. Once I knew to expect it, it merely annoyed me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I chose that camera, I would regret having chosen it every time that darn flash popped up. If I'm going to drop a big chunk of change on a camera, I don't want to regret it every day.

So I started looking around with a wider perspective, and found that the Nikon line of digital SLRs generally have the autofocus assist light I desire. The main prosumer models are the D70 and the older D100, both of which are 6 megapixel cameras, and look very nice. The newer D70 has a faster shutter, larger image cache, orientation sensor (so that images can be auto-rotated to compensate for shots taken sideways) and a slightly higher better image-postview screen on the back.

Considering, though, that my tiny walk-around SD500 has 7.1 megapixels, it seems somewhat backwards to “move up” to a smaller size. This also concerned me about the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D that my sister loves so much.

Then I found out about Nikon's just-released (hit stores a week ago!) D200 and wow, it didn't take long before I knew it was the camera for me:

  • Strong, professional construction
  • 10.0 megapixel, large (1.5 crop) image sensor
  • Wide ASA range (100-3200) and fast shutter (to 1/8,000 sec)
  • 5 frame/sec continuous shooting (for at least 22 raw images)
  • Huge 2.5", 235,000-pixel screen on the back

Frankly, I wish it were 8.0 megapixel instead of 10.0, since I think 8.0 is enough (both in practice, and for my mental comfort). As it is, the D200's 10 megapixel raw images are 16 megabytes each! And that doesn't include an associated JPG you can also have made at the same time. I've never shot with a camera that can save in raw format, but I imagine that if I did, I'd have it save a small- or medium-sized JPG as well. I could use the JPG for easy viewing/sorting/filtering, yet have access to the full-size raw data for those occasional really great shots. Anyway, at 20 meg for each combo, I could get only 50 or so shots on a 1 gig card!

One of the things that really sealed the Nikon decision for me is that Nikon just came out with an 18-200 VR zoom (The VR stands for vibration reduction; the optical image stabilization I mentioned in my previous post). Due to the D200's 1.5x crop, this is equivalent to a 27-300 zoom for a standard 35mm SLR. However you measure it, it's an 11x zoom. Wow.

It's only f/3.5 at the low end and f/5.6 at the high end, so it's a bit slower than I'd like (“slower” means that it doesn't let in as much light as some other lenses might, such as an f/1.4 50mm lens), but considering the D200s sensitivity range (ASA to 3200) and the kind of shots I'll be using it for (family, nature, and about town), the wide zoom range makes it more than worth it. (Anyone even vaguely professional would probably never make this choice, but I'm not a professional photographer and for whatever reason I really hate having to change lenses, so a zoom is the way to go for me.)

Ken Rockwell has a somewhat nutty, over-exuberant review of this lens. I saw somewhere someone saying something along the lines of “when I read Ken's review of the D200 I thought he was a bit nuts, and when I read his review of the new lens, I thought he was really nuts, but having now seen the camera/lens for myself, I realize that he's right”). If you read around forums and such, you'll find that a lot of people think Ken's a bit of character. I don't have an opinion one way or the other, but the exuberance he's able to communicate in his review makes for a very fun read.

Anyway, I've basically decided on the D200 with the new lens. I went to a store yesterday to see the camera, and placed a non-binding order for one. They're quite popular and on back order, and the store has no idea how long it might take (two days or two months; no idea). If I get time, I'll write about the trip to the store and my first impressions of the actual camera, as that's a story in itself.

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

I drool in your general direction…

— comment by Jeremy Zawodny on January 4th, 2006 at 2:12pm JST (18 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

If you don’t post a review of this after you get it, I will be very disappointed in you.

Oh, and by the way, the D70 lets you shoot at lower res if you like. I also usually shoot high quality JPGs as the Nikon RAW format is more proprietary than I prefer (and frankly, I’ve yet to see an application where I need THAT much detail in common areas).

Either way, have fun!

— comment by jr on January 4th, 2006 at 3:51pm JST (18 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Assuming that the UI on the D200 is only an improvement on the D1 that I’ve got:

You’ll be able to save non-RAW “slightly lower rez” pics simply by changing a setting on the back of the camera. If you really do want the ultra-high-rez pics, but don’t want RAW, on the D1 at least, there’s an option to store the highest-level as a TIF as well.

Don’t be scared of RAW, though, lots of applications (including iPhoto) all “get” RAW now. I seem to remember reading somewhere that while Nikon “owns” RAW format, it had opened it up more than it had previously been so as to foster increased use of it, not just with software apps, but also with other camera manufacturers.

I do think you’ll be really happy with the D200, though. Like JR says, you definitely need to post a review after a couple months of use.

— comment by Derek on January 4th, 2006 at 9:11pm JST (18 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Now is time to redo photos of Kyoto temples and gardens withyour new camera. Looking forward to it.

— comment by Sergey Kolychev on January 5th, 2006 at 12:06pm JST (18 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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