Digital SLR?

I think I mentioned a couple of entries back that my trip to Pittsburgh got me thinking about getting into photography again. I have a couple of friends who have nice SLR cameras and I like the idea of being able to take really nice pictures. For most applications, my point and shoot camera is fine. It takes reasonably good pictures and is small enough to stick in my pocket when I’m heading out to some kind of social event. However, I have been frustrated by its limitations when it comes to shooting landscapes and other more specialized types of pictures. I’d like to learn how to take good pictures with an SLR and it seems like the easiest (though not necessarily cheapest) way to do this is with a digital SLR.

I’ve been looking around online at the various entry-level offerings by the big camera manufacturers, like Nikon and Canon. At the moment, I don’t know enough about SLR photography to really understand the differences and evaluate which company has the better offering. For those of you who have a digital SLR or experience with SLR photography in general, I would appreciate hearing your comments. I don’t have the money right now to go out and buy one of these cameras, but I’m keeping an eye on them for the future. Plus, my birthday and Christmas aren’t all that far away.

22 Responses to “Digital SLR?”

  1. August 28, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I’m going to start right off by contradicting you. Personally, I think the easiest way to learn how to take good pictures with an SLR is with a fully-manual SLR, like a Pentax K-1000 or an Olympus OM-1.

    Here’s where I back it up – What I’ve seen with people who go from shooting with a pocket digital to a DSLR is this – they go from shooting fully automatic to shooting fully automatic. I happen to think this is the worst way to get good pictures possible. I will say that automatic mode is fantastic for group shots, family reunions, etc, but if you’re really going to try and take “more specialized kinds of pictures,” you’re going to have to venture out of the world of automatic into the world of spot-metering, aperture-priority, and no flash. Being the luddite that I am, I’d prefer to avoid the crutch all together, and start off with a chisel, rather than a chainsaw.

    I think this because frankly, the basics of good photography are simple, and can be learned in 20 minutes. After 5-10 rolls with a manual camera, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for in a DSLR, how you’re going to be using it, etc, etc. At which point it would be a fantastic idea to buy a D70 or a D50, because the used market is going to be full of them once the D80 comes out.

    Also, it’ll be nice to have something with which you can shoot b/w, because it’s still hard to get a decent b/w shot from a DSLR.

  2. August 28, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    I’ll probably get the D80 (Nikon) when it comes out, but I’m married to Nikon lenses at this point. It looks like a pretty sweet body though.

    I’ve heard good things about the Canons too.

    I love film too. There’s nothing that looks quite like Velvia, Tri-x 400 or Neopan 400. You can get good use Nikon bodies for pretty cheap. I’m sure you could get a decent body and lens for ~$250 or $300 these days, which is significantly cheaper than the list price of $1299 for the D80+lens kit. Certainly less convenient than digital, though.

  3. August 29, 2006 at 1:04 am

    It’s really a toss-up between Canon and Nikon. They’re both strong lines, with professional spokesmen on either side. I probably spent more time than I should have researching the differences.

    The lenses drove my decision. I already owned three Canon lenses and a good 35mm body. You’re a little different because you’re starting from scratch. Check out DPReview, if you haven’t already. It’s a good site for general and specific information.

    My advice would be to go to the store and get a feel for them. Check out the interfaces and the kit lens. I remember liking the Nikon UI a little more. The Nikon also seemed to offer a better kit lens. Since I already owned some lenses, I just had to buy the Canon body.

    The entry level Nikon is the Nikon D50. The Canon is the Rebel XT.

    You can read about some of my camera research here. If we talk on the phone about mp3 players, we’ll have to talk about this as well. Good luck.

  4. 4 Colin
    August 29, 2006 at 7:42 am

    Yeah, you mentioned the D80 on your blog. That’s a little rich for my entry-level blood at this point. If I get a Nikon, it’d probably be the D50. The Canon 350D seems like the other contender. Olympus and Pentax also make digital SLRs, but I don’t know if they’re any good. The D50 has been well-reviewed and seems like a good camera, but I like the fact that the Canon has a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD, like the Nikon. That said, it seems like Nikon has done a good job of reducing the inherent noisiness of CCDs, even at pretty high ISO values.

    I don’t have anything against normal SLRs (with film) and I’d like to get one at some point. However, I feel like I could learn to use an SLR more easily by starting digital – i’d have instant feedback and I wouldn’t be wasting rolls and rolls of film with crappy pictures. How did you learn to shoot with an SLR? Did you have a lot of frustration/wasted film up front?

  5. 5 Colin
    August 29, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Andy, sorry your comment got trapped in moderation for awhile there. Anyway, thanks for your input. My comments on DSLR being easier were based on a guy I know here who worked for MIT’s newspaper. He said that they really liked training people who were new to SLR photography on DSLRs because of the instant feedback. However, I see your point about just using the automatic settings. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t use them at least to start off, but maybe I would. I have to say that I’m a little reluctant to pay the money for a new DSLR, so going with a regular SLR is attractive from a monetary point of view. If I were going to get a fully-manual SLR, what do I need to know to make a good choice? Where should I get more information and where should I look when I’m thinking about making a purchase?

  6. August 29, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    Even before I saw Andy’s comment, I was going to write what he wrote. I had two automatic SLRs, a crappy Olympus OM-77AF and the Nikon N70 and I still didn’t know how to take pictures. Then I got (for ~$50) an old Zeiss Contaflex (that thing had gorgeous lens). It was all manual with a built in but external-to-the-lens light meter. It didn’t have any batteries at all.

    That’s when I had to start setting the aperature and shutter speed myself. I learned what those things mean and how to use them, what changing them does and, though the feedback process was longer, how exactly those change photos.

    Pentax K1000s and MXs are two other all-manual cameras that are rock solid and pretty much dirt cheap.

  7. August 29, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    I can definitely see how instant feedback would be nice, especially for more technically interesting shots, and learning how to properly expose. My gut instinct is that there’s a bad side to immediate gratification, but I can’t really put it in words, and it could just be my dislike of “high-tech” cameras.

    As far as Film SLR bodies go, there’s really a wealth of options.
    On the dirt cheap, there’s thrift stores. I have seen some really fantastic cameras at thrift stores. Whether or not they worked is another question. There’s a few things you want to look for here more than other places (though this applies to all cameras).

    1. The pressure plate – Pressure plates hold the film in the proper plane of focus, and the foam on a lot of plates in older cameras can be rotted like crazy. This is a bad thing. It’s easy enough to get repaired, but let’s avoid that for now.

    2. The shutter – Is it actually moving at the speeds it’s supposed to be? This is pretty darn hard to tell without specialized machinary, but try out the extremes, and make sure that the fast exposures are fast, and the long exposures are long.

    3. The lens – How’s the glass? Older lenses can start to grow fungus. This is bad. Scratches and dirt are bad. Also, how’s the aperture leaf? Does it actually stop down when it should?

    4/5. Mechanics, Meter – Does the camera actually function? Does it advance film? And does the internal meter work?

    And then there’s that fellow Craig’s List. I’m sure it’s fairly active in Boston. Most of what you’re going to find on the CL is newer film SLRs – the market is pretty glutted right now, and a lot of N-series NIkons are going pretty cheap. They’re a little more advanced than the basic Pentax K-1000, which could be good or bad, depending on what you want.

    Then there are the camera stores – you’ll probably find the old standbys (K-1000) pretty cheap, but the prices on other stuff will probably be a little high.

    Personally, I’d talk to someone camera-nerdy in Boston, and see where they get their stuff, and what they’re using. See if you can use one of their cameras for a bit.

    If you’re looking for a little reading, google “film slr buyer’s guide” and similar phrases. There’s no dearth of opinion out there, and you should be able to figure out anything you don’t know.

    Oy. That was long. It may or may not make sense. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if it doesn’t.

  8. 8 Colin
    August 29, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Dirt cheap is good. Plus, I want to really learn how to shoot good pictures, not just buy a camera that has more advanced automatic features. I think I’m sold on the fully-manual SLR approach. Maybe once I get a camera and start shooting, I’ll put up a photoblog of all the terrible pictures I take at the beginning.

    If I do get a fully-manual SLR, what lenses should I get? Mostly, I’m interested in portraits and landscapes. Should I buy specialized lenses for those purposes or zoom lenses that cover a lot of ground? Any recommendations?

  9. August 29, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Honestly, I’d recommend just geting a body with a 50mm lens (lower aperatures indicate better lenses; a lot of these lenses that come with old Pentax bodies are 50mm f/1.8 or f/2. They’re good.) 50mm is approximatey what the human eye sees.

    Or you can get a camera kit that comes with a few primes (fixed focal length lenses). Another thing about the fully-manual force-your-self-to-learn-right approach, I think, is a fixed focal length lens (like a 50mm). It forces you to think about framing and composition and things like that. With a zoom lens, you can just just zoom in and out and do those things without really thinking about them.

    if you’re buying from ebay or shopgoodwill make sure the lens is clean and the body’s working. ask the seller if you need to. The body can be beat up and scratched and everthing. What comes between your film and what you’re shooting is the lens.

    I don’t know if Andy and I are atypical about this, but I honestly believe that without the full year of almost exclusive use of the Zeiss I had, I wouldn’t be a decent photographer. Even after that one broke, I bought another Zeiss and a K1000 because sometimes I feel like I need to go back to basics and get the feel of photography again.

    As for paricular lenses for portraits or lanscape–people sometimes use a 100mm or 135mm for true studio portraits, but out-and-about portraits (for example, taken with a Pentax K1000, 50mm lens), anything, I’d say above a 45 or 50m is fine (unless you want it to start distorting. I’ve taken some nice ‘portraits’ with my 20mm). Landscapes, a 50mm will give you what your eye sees (cropped into a rectangular format). Sometimes you can’t get to exactly where you want to get the shot so maybe a 70 or 80mm is good in that case, or you want to get a wide angle, which is

  10. August 29, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Adrian pretty much beat me to everything here – stupid job getting in the way of posting on the intarweb.

    I’d reccomend, in order of usefulness –

    A 50, for the reasons mentioned above
    A 28, because wide is beautiful. I personally like landscapes shot with wide lenses more than landscapes shot with narrow lenses.
    An 80, for when you’ve got to do typical portraiture. I think this kind of portrait, shot with a long lens, is a little played out. I definitely prefer to get close.

    And I definitely prefer primes, for the same reasons.

  11. August 29, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    my comment got cut off. I think it finished like this:

    “or you want to get a wide angle which is

  12. August 29, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    Oh the sweet irony. I think there’s something in your quote that is breaking Colin’s blog. STOP BREAKING COLIN’S BLOG.

    One more reccomendation – if you can get your hands on one, I’d also reccomend the Nikon FT3. It’s fairly equivalent to the OM-1 and the K-1000.

  13. 13 Colin
    August 29, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    Adrian, are you aware of any used camera shops in Boston where I could go and take a look at some cameras? I’m reluctant to buy from eBay – I don’t want to get screwed. I’m willing to pay a little more to be able to see the camera in person and hold it in my hand.

  14. August 29, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    I don’t know of many. I tried to find a couple. I’d heard of a couple but I don’t remember them now.

    I think it was the “less than or equal to 30mm” symbol that I put in there that was breaking stuff.

  15. 15 Colin
    August 29, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    What would you consider a fair price for a fully functional K1000 body? The prices I’m seeing are all over the map (though still a lot lower than a DSLR body). What should I expect to pay for the lenses that were recommended (28mm, 50mm, and 80mm)?

  16. August 29, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Ahh, I remembered what the other thing I wanted to reccomend was – If you want to shoot any black and white, you might want to try some of the Chromogenic b/w. Basically, these are black and white films that can be developed like color films. Which is nice. You shoot the film, drop it off at a 1-hour place, pay $3 for processing, and take your negatives home. Kodak makes BW 400CN, Fuji makes Neopan 400CN, and Ilford make XP2. This way you don’t have to find yourself a specialty lab, or wait a week for your local lab.

    . Scan the good ones, start a photoblog, and become an internet superstar. See how easy it is?

  17. 17 Colin
    August 30, 2006 at 8:24 am

    I found a Pentax P30t on Craigslist in really nice shape plus a 50mm lens for $100. What do you think? Do you know anything about this camera? They don’t have any info about it on camerapedia.

  18. August 30, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t know that body. I’ve used both the K1000 and, briefly, the MX, both of which are pretty nice. I paid ~$60 for my K1000 and 50mm lens on ebay, but I think if you get one for $100 that’s in good condition, that’s still a fair price.

    I don’t know what the going price for lenses are, but sometimes you can find a kit with a couple lenses and a body for ~$150 or so and that can be a good deal.

  19. 19 Colin
    August 31, 2006 at 12:15 am

    With lenses, does the following:
    2:8 135mm
    mean that its f-stop range is from 2 to 8?

  20. August 31, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Pretty much all lenses will go to at least f/22, but they’re always specified by their largest aperature (smallest f stop number). I think that maybe should have been a point (.) as f/2.8 is a very common f-stop on a lens. If it’s truly a colon, then I’m not sure.

  21. October 9, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Good observation, your ideas are right on.

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