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Digital SLRs Compared

Digital SLRs Compared
Jim Doty, Jr.

Based on my emails and website search engine data, there is a lot of interest in how digital SLRs compare to each other. I should say at the outset that all of these digital SLRs are capable of taking fine pictures. Some cameras do have an edge over other cameras in one feature or another. That might make a difference for some kinds of photography. If you do serious sports photography, autofocus speed is an important consideration. If you do portraits, image quality and skin tone reproduction will matter a lot. For general photography, all of these cameras should do the job.

COMPARISONS

Two recent magazine articles did a comparison of current digital SLRs, one in PRACTICAL PHOTOGRAPHY, and one in POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY.  I will give a brief summary of some of the results here. This is not a replacement for reading the original articles.  The summaries below will get you started and you can follow up by buying one or both magazines.

PRACTICAL PHOTOGRAPHY is published in England. I have found their reviews and ratings to be useful. A set of lens comparison tests they published several years ago was quite helpful and generally agreed with other sources that I trust.

The April 2005 issue compares the following 6 cameras:

Canon 20D
Fuji FinePix S3 Pro
Konica Minolta Dynax 7D (Maxxum 7D in the U.S.)
Nikon D100
Olympus E-1
Pentax *ist D

It would have been a better review if they had included the Olympus Evolt, the Nikon D70, and the Pentax *ist DS. (I think the Nikon D70 is a better camera than the D100 in most respects.)

Each camera was rated on a 1 to 5 star scale (5 being best) for the following: Handling, Key Features, Software, Performance, Image Quality, and Value. Each was given an Overall rating. These ratings are summarized in the following chart (I am omitting software).

DIGITAL SLRs COMPARED
1 - 5 SCALE, 5 IS BEST

Camera

Handling

Features

Performance

Image Quality

Value

Overall Rating

Canon 20D

5

5

5

5

4

5

Fuji S3

4

5

3

4

2

3

K-M 7D

5

5

2

4

3

3

Nikon D100

5

4

4

3

3

3

Olympus E-1

4

4

4

3

4

4

Pentax
 *ist D

4

3

3

3

3

3

To learn more about the above results and to fill in all of the details, head to your favorite news stand and buy the April 2005 issue of PRACTICAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY compared 9 digital SLRs in the April 2005 issue:

Canon 20D
Canon Digital Rebel
Fuji FinePix S3 Pro
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D (Dynax 7D in the U.K.)
Nikon D70
Olympus E-1
Olympus Evolt E-300
Pentax *ist DS
Sigma SD10

Each camera was described in terms of Ease of Use, Control, System Flexibility, and Image Quality. A section was devoted to what each camera is best for, as well as a "Bottom Line" summary. Test results were given for each camera for Resolution, Color Accuracy, and Noise at various ISOs. A data and specs section gives the price, speed and stamina, and vital statistics for each camera. If a camera ranked first, second, or third in a particular category, that was listed too. First Second, and Third place category winners are listed below.

Digital SLRs COMPARED
Category Rankings

Camera

Image Quality

Ease of Use

Control

System Flexibility

Overall Rank

Canon 20D

First

Second

First

First

First

Fuji S3

Second

       

K-M 7D

 

First

Third

Third

Third

Nikon D70

Third

 

Second

Second

Second

Pentax *ist DS

 

Third

     

For all of the details, I would encourage you to get the April 2005 issue of POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY. The Pop Photo  website is here.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Let me say again that all of these digital SLRs are capable of taking fine pictures. The most important considerations in choosing a digital SLR are the lenses you may own already, the lenses and systems available for the digital cameras you are interested in, and special camera features you need for the kind of photography you do.

Don't fall into the trap of chasing the latest and greatest camera body. Every digital SLR currently on the market will eventually be replaced by a better model. If brand X has the best camera in a particular price range today, brand Z will have the best tomorrow. It would be both foolish and costly to change camera brands and lenses in a never ending attempt to own the digital SLR of the moment.

Ask yourself a few questions. What kind of photography do you like to do?  How specialized are your needs? Are there important features you need in a camera body? What brand of SLR lenses do you currently own? Are your lenses adequate for the photography you do? If not, do the lenses you need exist in the brand and mount you currently work with?

If you like the SLR lenses you now have for your film SLR, it makes sense to buy whatever brand of digital SLR will use those lenses. In the digital world, camera bodies get replaced - lenses last a long, long time.

My photographic needs are pretty specific. I like Canon lenses. I do a lot of ambient light, hand held photos for print publication so Canon's wide range of Image Stabilization lenses are a huge plus for me. They will work fine on any Canon digital SLR. The Canon tilt-shift lenses are also a plus for my landscape and architectural photography. I really like the specialized Canon 1x-5x macro lens (high magnification only), not to mention the more general use 100mm macro lens. Your lens needs may be less specialized than mine.

"Mirror lockup" and "Depth of Field Preview" are absolutely  essential for my work. My film and digital SLRs have these two features. Canon provides both features in relatively inexpensive camera models, both film and digital (Elan series, EOS 3, Canon 10D and 20D), and all of their top of the line bodies. Some manufacturers don't provide both features unless you buy a very expensive model. With film SLRs I need a simple multiple exposure provision. With my digital SLRs I combine images in Photoshop. Your camera needs may not be as specific as mine.

If you like your current lenses and your camera needs aren't highly specialized, get a digital body that will take your current lenses and have fun. If you aren't happy with your lenses, or the digital SLR that will take your lenses lacks important features, then your choices are more difficult. You will need to pick the lenses and/or camera features that matter to you.

For hand held, low light photography, any Canon D-SLR will work fine with the Image Stabilization lenses. The Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D has "Anti-Shake" built into the camera body. It is also an excellent choice for hand held, low light photography.

For serious sports and action photography, the Canon 20D and Nikon D70 are the best choices in the under $2,500 price range.

For portraits, the Canon 20D, Fuji S3, Nikon D70, and Olympus E-1 are good choices.

If you want the biggest enlargements possible, the Canon 20D and Olympus Evolt (E-300) lead the pack.

For family, travel, vacation, and other all around shooting, any of the recent digital SLRs will do just fine.

If you are trying to decide which digital SLR to get, this information will get you started. Reading one or both magazine articles will give you a lot more details. Read any reviews that are available for your top camera choices at DP Review or Megapixel.net. Happy Shooting!
 

Buy one of these cameras from Adorama, one of the biggest, best, and most reliable photography dealers on the internet.


March 30, 2005
Updated April 3, 2005

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