Cerebral Gibberish

What's on my mind, might just blow yours.

Camera Research: Part 2

Posted by heymoe on July 29th, 2007

I’ve spent a lot of time in forums on several websites related to photography and found several people that are in the same position that I am in. They are looking to buy their first DSLR camera or want to upgrade to a different body but don’t know which one to get or they have already narrowed down their selection to two or so and post questions like “Which is better X or Y”. You’ll also see questions like “How does X work for [insert style of photography here. IE: nature] photography.” and of course you’ll see a lot of technical questions about different brands as well. One thing to note about a lot of forums is that they are broken up by manufacture and / or model so if you ask a question about which is better X or Y into the forum that is dedicated to brand X, chances are just about all the responses are going to be positive for brand X and not so much for Y. People don’t like making bad decisions so they’ll most likely support what they bought. So you might have to post your questions to both brand’s forums try to pick out the least biased responses for both brands.

After filtering though the responses, the most unbiased answers I saw were the ones from people that had experience with all the cameras question and provided their personal pros and cons list for each camera. Another helpful answer that might not be considered when shopping for a camera are relate to the ergonomics and general usage of the camera. Several people recommend going to a store and actually holding and using the camera. See how well the grip fits into ones hand. How heavy is it and does it feel balanced with a lens attached? How easy it is to change some of the common settings like ISO, white balance, aperture and shutter speed? Do you have to dig though several layers of menus to make common changes or are their dedicated buttons for them? It does not matter how good the features of the camera are if the actual feel and usage of the camera makes you want to put it down.

To get an idea about the ergonomics of the cameras on my list I stopped by my local Best Buy and Circuit City. You might not be able to get answers to specific questions at these types of stores but they did have every camera on my list, except for the Nikon D200, out on display with easy access without having to deal with a sales person except to tell them you’re just looking. I had to visit my local Wolf Camera to get my hands on the Nikon D200.

Here is the size and weight of each camera in my list.

Size and Weight:

  • Nikon D40 – 126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) – 522 g (1.2 lb)
  • Nikon D40x – 126 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) – 522 g (1.2 lb)
  • Canon XT – 127 x 94 x 64 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) – 540 g (1.2 lb)
  • Canon XTi – 127 x 94 x 65 mm (5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in) – 556 g (1.2 lb)
  • Nikon D80 – 132 x 103 x 77 mm (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in) – 668 g (1.5 lb)
  • Canon 30D – 144 x 106 x 74 mm (5.6 x 4.2 x 2.9 in) – 785 g (1.7 lb)
  • Nikon D200 – 147 x 113 x 74 mm (5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in) – 913 g (2.0 lb)

NOTE: Weights are made up of the body and the battery only and I don’t make any guarantee that these number are 100% accurate.

As you can see in above, the Nikon D40 and the D40x as well as the Canon XT and XTi are pretty much the same size and weight. Overall I felt that all of these felt small in my hands. Wrapping my right hand around the grips felt like most of the support was being supplied by my palm and finger tips leaving the rest of the surface area of my fingers floating over the grip. To me this made the cameras feel less stable when you had to move the index finger around to make changes or take a picture. The grip on the D80 and the 30D felt good and did not feel like I was having to use only my fingertips and palm support the body like I had to with the smaller bodies. I could tell the difference in weight between the D80 and the 30D but it was not that bad. I think the D200 had the best feeling grip of them all and it felt solid but I wish it was a little lighter.

Usage wise the menu system across each model of the same brand had pretty much the same layout. I felt that both systems were organized in a logical manner that one could quickly find their way around the menus after using them for a while. The D80, 30D and the D200 had the added benefit of dedicated buttons for a lot of the common settings which I found nice instead of having to navigate through the menu system to make those changes. The D80 and D200 had a nice feature called Auto ISO which allowed you to set the Max ISO setting you wanted to use as well as the slowest shutter speed you wanted to use thus allowing the camera to change the ISO setting as needed for you. The 30D had a really nice dial on the back that allowed you to quickly scroll though the menus as well as to make changes to the different settings quickly.

All in all after physically laying my hands on each of the cameras and using them in the store I’ve dropped the D40, D40x, XT and XTi from my list. I really did not like how these four felt in my hands, some lacked features I was looking or were to much of a entry level body that I felt I would grow out of it to quickly. All four of these cameras are fully capable of taking excellent pictures and some have the features like the D80, D200 and 30D. So if you’re in the market for a camera, don’t toss these four out from your list just because I did. Go and try them yourself.

So now we are down to three: Nikon D80 & D200 and the Cannon 30D

I’ve already made my decision and my new camera will be here tomorrow. Which one will it be? You’ll have to wait and see. I’ve already wrote about the lens I got so that might give you a clue.

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