What Kind of Camera Should We Buy?

It’s time to buy a new camera. We’ve had our trusty Nikon D70 for over five years. I forget how you check, but last time I did, it had taken over 11,000 photos. I think this was one of the first photos I took with it:

Cuba Sign and Cococab

Interestingly, the D70’s use on Flickr has been in sharp decline this year–apparently the camera is reaching its end of life for lots of users. The current most popular camera among the Flickr community, after the iPhone, is the EOS Digital Rebel XSi.

I don’t feel a lot of loyalty to Nikon. We have one additional, cheap Tamron zoom lens, but we rarely use it, so I don’t have a lot of money invested in Nikon. I’m happy to be convinced to switch to Canon, for example.

I know that the common wisdom is that the magic of the camera is in the lenses, not the body, but the reality is that we’ve used the same default Nikon (35mm to 70mm, I think) lens for 95% of our photography. I’m happy to buy a premium lens with a new camera body, if that’s what experts recommend.

I don’t want to get hung up on the question of megapixels, but it’s worth noting that I recently considered printing a biggish version of one of our photos, and the resolution I’d shot the photo at wasn’t big enough. I’d wanted to print something roughly 14″ x 17″, and the 1998 x 3024. I’m not sure if that’s the maximum resolution for the D70, but I’d like to go somewhat bigger.

So, what kind of camera should we buy? I think our Nikon D70 cost about $1500 all in, so I’m prepared to spend roughly that much again. Of course, if there’s an awesome camera for $1000, all the better.


  1. It’s hard to make a bad choice in that price range these days. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony — all make good cameras that will take good photos. Most of them have movie modes these days, though Canon’s are better in that respect (and I’m a Nikon guy).

    The advantage of staying with a Nikon is that you’ll pick up where you left off. The controls work in basically the same way, and you can continue to use the two lenses you have, so if you want something different you could spend money on, say, a non-zoom lens that’s better for low light.

    For instance, in your circumstance a Nikon D90 plus Nikon’s 35 mm f/1.8 lens will let you take much better photos indoors or in low light conditions (without having to use a flash) than you can do right now.

    In your budget, the Canon EOS 50D or Rebel T2i, the Nikon D90 or D5000, Pentax Kx, Olympus E-30 or E-620, and Sony A550 or A500 will all do the job.

    I have a Nikon D90 myself, and am quite happy with it. But if you want a camera that takes better video, or is physically smaller, some of the others might do better for you.

    It would be a good idea to go to a local camera store with a good selection and staff (London Drugs counts, by the way) and try out a few of the models to see how they feel in your hand, and how the controls work for you.

    Incidentally, as a contrast, the latest camera I bought was an eBay find: a Nikon FE with a 50 mm lens, originally released in 1978. Works great, if you don’t mind using film again.

  2. This probably isn’t enough information.

    Assuming you’re happy with the D70 and it’s not broken, have you considered buying $1500 worth of lenses, flashes, etc.?

    If the D70 seems too big, get a micro-4/3s camera like the adorable Olympus EP series.

    If you want to shoot video (imho THE killer feature of new-gen DSLRs), the Nikon D5000 is probably the sweet spot for you.

    Given that you have little investment in lenses right now, I’d make my Pentax-obsessed bid for you to buy a Pentax K-x (a ridiculously good value) with the kit lens, and then a 50 f/1.4, one other “special” lens (maybe the pancake, maybe a nice long lens if you like birds, etc…) and a really good flash.

    It also shoots video, etc. etc.

    There are many other good DSLRs that meet your needs (Sony alphas, Canon T2i, &c.) but the pros and cons are minor.

    One last thought on lenses: if you really are doing most of your shooting with that (rather odd for digital) 35-70, and you really need extra blow-up capability, I’d lean towards buying the D5000 and a Nikon 18-200, which is sort of a super-sawzall lens that costs about US$850 and will free you of the need to ever change lenses again :).

    1. I’ll second the suggestion that an 18-200 mm is about as amazing an all-purpose lens as you can get. Canon has one too. There are obviously optical compromises with such an ambitious design, but for most people they’re not material.

      And Pentax remains among the best deals in digital SLRs and lenses these days, so the K-x is certainly worth considering.

      Then again, if you so rarely change lenses, do you really need a digital SLR? You might find yourself happy with something like a Canon S90 point-and-shoot, which is a lot easier to carry around.

      1. I’ve got the 18-200 lens on a D80, I don’t think Ive ever had it off the camera.

  3. The Canon T2i looks pretty amazing. HD Video, 15mp. Good quality camera. Might be worth adding to your short list.

  4. Our last 2 video cameras (one pro-consumer and one high-end consumer = used on SiftingRealities) and last 3 cameras (2 digital & one 35mm) have all been Canons, so obviously we like ’em. Just FYI.

  5. The 18-200 VR lens is a little heavy and large, BUT it’s the most versatile, amazing lens you can imaging. Add a 50 mm 1.6 for $150 and you’ve got a perfect set.

  6. A few other geeky technical points:

    1. I have Nikon’s 18-105mm lens (one of the kit lenses included in some bundles with the D90), and it’s also a good general-purpose zoom that isn’t as big or pricey as the 18-200.

    2. Canon DSLRs like the 50D and T2i will work fully with any Canon EOS lens made since the company’s big changeover to autofocus in 1986 or so. Older Canon “FD” lenses are completely incompatible.

    3. Nikon is more complicated. Any Nikon lens made since about 1977 (including manual focus) will mount on current cameras, but with sometimes very limited functionality. Any autofocus Nikon lens will mount and work with metering and so on, but whether it will actually autofocus depends on the lens and which camera you buy.

    Older Nikon lens designs (known as AF and AF-D, many still made and sold new today) use a motor in the camera body to focus. Only higher-end models, from the D90 and D300s up, have that motor, and so did previous models like the D50, D70, and D80. Newer lens designs (known as AF-S and “G”) have the motor built into the lens itself, and work with all Nikon DSLRs from the low end to the top of the line. The issue here is that some of Nikon’s best lens deals (such as the AF 50 mm f/1.8) won’t autofocus on a D5000, but will on a D90. And Darren’s existing lenses may use that older autofocus design too, so the extra money for a D90 would be worth it if so.

    4. Pentax, like Nikon, still uses the same lens mount (the K mount) as it has for decades, so older lenses will work on new cameras, but again with varying functionality.

    Since Darren already has a D70 and a couple of lenses that he might want to continue using, making sure any new camera works fully with those lenses is important (i.e. probably a D90 rather than a D5000). On the other hand, switching to another manufacturer like Canon, Pentax, Sony, or whatever means starting fresh without such worries, but with a bit of extra expense for lenses.

    On the other hand, if you do switch, you can sell the D70 with its lenses (or sell the lenses separately) and make a bit more money back.

  7. Canon or Nikon are probably the best choices, other companies make great cameras but for variety of lenses and accessories you’ll be hard pressed to beat those. If your D70 works that would be an argument for sticking with Nikon and using the D70 as a spare camera.

    Which ever brand you choose the cameras will all have similar features in the same price range so I’d recommend trying them out in a shop. Get the assistant to take down a bunch of cameras in your price range and see which one feels most natural for you to use. You dont want to spend the next 11,000 shots bugged by the way your little finger doesnt fit in the grip or not liking the way the buttons are out of reach compared to where they were on your old camera.

    Of course the D70 is still a good camera so perhaps you could extend it’s life by buying a new lens? No need to go super expensive, pick up a 50mm 1.8 for $124 and try it out, you will notice a huge improvement in your photos.

  8. I recently looked into a DSLR for my wife, but was disappointed by the Canon offerings. We were upgrading form a Canon Point and shoot that was great, so we anted to stick with Canon for quality and familiarity. The EOS xsi seemed perfect until I realized it doesn’t have movies (kinda required with a kid–and the only thing worse than changing lenses all the time is carrying two devices). plus it has the older digic iii chip. The next step up is the Tsi, and at 18MP + raw I’d have to get a new computer too. And then the kits come with dinky zooms now and I only had 1K budget.

    In my case, I ended up with their powershot 20 xs, a 20x superzoom (more lens than I wanted, but they don’t make a 10x and 15x to choose from). Image quality isn’t the same as a dslr, but it sure is versatile and that extra movie button is handy.

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