Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Buying a Digital SLR Camera – Canon Or Nikon

Buying a DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex camera) is an exciting task. It’s like buying a car … or a house. Be warned, once you start this addiction, there is no way back.

SLRs are much more flexible than compact cameras due to interchangeable lenses. Shooting Architecture, Sports, Insects … no problem, same camera, just change the lens. The image quality is far superior to compact cameras as well. You “pay” for that with money, size and weight.

So, it’s not (only) about the camera. Cameras come and go. Normally you will upgrade the body (=camera) every 2-3 years. However glass (=lenses) last for years or a decade. Accessories will cost you too. That’s why you are buying into a system!

It simply means if you go Canon, all your lenses and accessories will work on Canon cameras only. The good thing is that – in general – all lenses that fit a current model, will also fit the next model of the same brand. However, if you bought into one system (= brand), there is no way back … unless you are willing to buy everything again. Just to stretch the point, an entry-level body costs you about 800 US$, but each lens will cost you between 300 and 1500 US$. High-quality lenses start at about 600 US$. High-quality telephoto lenses can cost you several thousand. (Prices Dec 2006)

That is the reason why I highly recommend: Do not compare two camera bodies (e.g. Canon 400D (= Rebel XTi in the US) vs Nikon D80) alone. Also compare the entire lens range of the brand. Remember, the camera goes in 2-3 years, the lenses will last.

Ok, let’s get practical. In reality there are only two brands to choose from: Canon and Nikon. These are the two established manufacturers with the most experience and the widest range of lenses and accessories available. On top of that there are also other companies (Sigma, Tamron, …) that manufacture lenses that fit Canon and Nikon bodies.

The Canon vs. Nikon debate gets battled out in every photography forum on a daily basis. Again, people are passionate about their toys and like to show off. That’s all fine, just be aware that you might not always get the reaction you expect. The truth is, both companies make excellent cameras (and lenses) that will produce fantastic results … in the hands of a talented photographer.

So how to choose? Easy - 2 criteria: Ergonomics and Affordability.

Ergonomics: Check out the camera, take it in your hands (!), change the settings, and look into the menus. If one model is more intuitive to use and feels better in your hands, you should consider this one.

Canon’s entry-level model (currently 400D = Rebel Xti in the US) has the reputation of being small, light and cheaply built (=plastic). However, persons with small hands who like to travel light actually like that! Be careful here. When I bought my first DSLR, I liked the low weight and also preferred the silver body (only available for the entry-level SLR cameras). Also the silver body is about 30 US$ less than the black one, same camera! In the end I decided to buy the mid-range body, 20D (magnesium alloy). The larger body adds stability to larger lenses. Also changing settings on the mid-range models is much more intuitive and faster than on the smaller entry-level models. The mid-range models have more buttons and reels to change setting. Entry-level cameras often require on-screen/ display menus to change settings. You might miss what you want to shoot.

And by the way, black is much better than silver, trust me on this one ;-))

Quick tip: If you like the Canon entry-model, but think it is too small for your hands: Ask for the “vertical battery grip” and try it then.


I personally think Canon offers more “bang for the buck”. That’s why I went with Canon. You can get great technology from Canon in their mid-range products, e.g. USM lenses (fast and silent ultrasonic autofocus motor) and IS (image stabilization). Also the F4 L range lenses (L for luxury?!) offer top class optical and built quality for a “relatively” good price (17-40, 28-104, 70-200 mm). If you lost me at F4, don’t worry about it for now … you will get there.

If you want to get similar technologies from Nikon, you will need a bigger budget.

Currently (Dec 06) a Canon entry-level package (400D + EF-S 18-55mm + 2 GB CF card) ships for 850 US$. That is the absolute minimum to get you started (not considering used gear). Well, currently you can still get the previous model Rebel XT (=350D) + EF-S 18-55mm + 2 GB CF card for 650 US$, new. Consider this set-up only if you really have to look at every $$$. You will get much more out of this camera with a better lens.

Other Considerations

  • Nikon is supposed to be superior when it comes to wide-angle lenses
  • Optical quality of Canon’s low priced/ kit lenses is not as good (especially the 18-55mm kit lens has a bad reputation)
  • Nikon has the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX VR II, most likely the best all-in-one lens (750 US$) available. If you walk/ hike a lot, want to travel light and don’t like changing lenses (outdoors), consider it! None of the all-in-one lenses for Canon will match this one.
  • If you have a good friend or family member with a huge arsenal of Canon or Nikon lenses, do not hesitate. Buy the same brand … if they are willing to borrow their glass that is

Usually Canon has large rebates in November / December each year in most countries. That is for buying a body plus one or more lenses of a selected range. Very interesting if you want to buy a body and lens(es) are the “Triple Rebates” for US customers. You need to be a US citizen to participate, but you can save (and spend) a fortune here. Look into it!!!

An important remark here: Canon’s EF-S lenses only fit their “crop bodies” (400D (= Rebel XTi), 30D). They do not fit the Canon full frame bodies (eg 5D). So if you decide to upgrade later, these lenses can’t be used anymore. The EF lenses do fit all digital Canon SLR models. More on what model and lenses to choose when buying for the first time in an other post.

Good sites for tests and reviews:


Bye for now.


Gdog said...

I have the Kiss Digital X, the Japanese branded XTi/400D. It's an amazing camera, I love it. Got the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens with it, an amazing combo!

Thorsten said...

Hi gdog,
yes, that is a great combo! Do you have any photos online?

Eric said...

The EF-S lenses fit almost all of the "crop" bodies EXCEPT the 10d.