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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:32 am 
A bit of history ...

Up to now I've been a point and shoot kind of tourist-style photographer. I have used olympus compact zoom cameras mostly when traveling or at parties. However, I want to take up photography more serious.

Looking at the pictures I have taken over the years as a means of immortalising the memories of my travels leaves me dissappointed that the photographs are not better composed and do not have good enough image quality (light balance, a lot of red-eye photos, strange skin tones, light reflections from objects causing flare) to be turned into wall-hanging photos. My keeness to improve the quality of images that I capture both for photo albums and for wall-hanging pictures is motivating my interest to get more into photography as a subject and as a hobby.

You may have thought that I would involved myself in photography as during my career I have designed lenses for scientific applications and appreciate the beautiful engineering in a lens, zoom or otherwise. But frankly, I've been too busy doing research and writing up my Ph.D to have any serious free time!

So .... Lets get serious.

I have read lots of reviews regarding digital SLRs and the most informative have been those posted on CameraLabs.com. I am deeply indebted to Gordon Laing in directing my thoughts and succinctly presenting the relevant technical information and personal impressions of the cameras he reviews.

Probably like many browsing folk to CameraLabs.com and other similar websites I am left a little frustrated that I can't just be told to buy one camera or another. I generally like to make my own mind up about purchases but when it comes to cameras it is quite easy to make some expensive mistakes.

Before we compare camera bodies ... lets consider the type of photography I will be doing ...

(1) Landscapes / building scenery ... I enjoy building forms / architectural features and sceneries with buildings taking in daylight and at night.

(2) Social events ... pictures indoors and outdoors of family and friends at social events. These events usually includes 10 to 50 guests in resturant style environments or someones home/garden. In Greece it is common to make use of gardens / large verandas for social events.

(3) Indoor pictures of family, friends ... close ups and wide-angle shots would be interesting.

(4) Sport events ... wide angle and close-ups of family / friends taking part in an event.

(5) Portraits.

(6) ... and I may get into astronomical photography !!! Not really in the near future but it is something I find interesting having a brother-in-law who is both a teacher of cosmology and a hobbiest astronomer.


So .... my first group of questions is on lens selection ...

(Q1) There are wide-angle lenses that are fixed focal length whilst others that are zoom capable. In practice, would I really need the zoom function and are such zoom based wide angle lenses well compensated for distortion over all their operating range. Any lenses you highly recommend?

(Q2) I've noticed that there are some impressive telephoto zoom lenses out there. I an keen to purchase one for my honeymoon trip ... a safari in South Africa. I have seen the CameraLabs review of the Nikon AF-S DX VR 18-200mm. This sounds an almost perfect lens. How does it compare to the Nikon AF-S VR 70-300mm lens?

(Q3) How close does body based (sensor movement) vibration reduction come to the performance of lens based VR? Which is better in terms of image blur. I would have thought it would be lens base VR as individual element and group motion can be compensated individually leading to better aberration compensation. Again, my techy viewpoint but do they actually compensate between groups or just for module tilt?

(Q4) Do you know how to get hold of the optics prescriptions for commercially available lenses to check out their optics performance in lens design programs? I need the surface radii, element thickness, glass descriptions and spacings for a few representative zoom positions. Maybe I'm being a bit too scientific with my analysis ... but optics analysis programs tell you pretty much everything about the distortion and aberrations of a lens.



Camera body time ....

The D200, D80 and the Canon EOS 400D look affordable and very capable. But which to go for. The Canon seems nice but a few professional photographers I have talked to suggest that the D80 and D200 are more convenient for their work ... suggesting they are better all round cameras. They all use D200's, Dx2's and some have a D80 as a backup. Mostly they are wedding photographers (killed two birds with one stone ... found wedding photographer and did a survey of what cameras professionals use!) but maybe their choice of these models is biased by this.

The difference between the D80 and D200 doesn't seem huge and I am not convinced that even these professional photographers make use of all the extra features on the D200 compared to the D80. I am thinking that its more that "we're supposed to be professionals so we need to look the part".


So ... questions ...

(Q5) Why to prefer Nikon over Canon? Particularly for these models. Canon works out cheaper but this isn't really my concern.

(Q6) Your survey regarding the choice of bodies by users also suggests D80 is a more popular choice (it is becoming my favoured choice too) but is this survey overly biased by cost considerations or based on performance and what a photographer really needs?



Well, this should be a good start to getting feedback regarding my first dSLR purchase!

Many thanks for reading and contemplating on my behalf.

Mike.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:53 am 
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Hi Mike, welcome to the Cameralabs forums!

Before going any further, we do have a section which tells you what to buy if you don't want to wade through the reviews!

Have a look at our Best Buys section for budget DSLRs

Since you are an optical professional, I think you may be disappointed by some of the cheaper lenses which come as kits. Have a look at the results pages of our lens group tests for Canon and Nikon (links below) and see if they are acceptable. If not, you may prefer a fixed lens as they generally have better performance than a zoom.

Nikkor lens group test

Canon lens group test

As for bodies, it's important that you pick them up in person to see which feels best to your hands. You'll find that one will almost certainly feel much better, and so long as the specification and price is ok, that should be the one to buy.

Gordon

PS - If you're interested in astro-photography, you might find this thread in the Cameralabs forum interesting!

http://www.cameralabs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=206


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:08 pm 
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Don't need the D200, stay with the D80 and invest the money in lens(es) or an extra flash (SB-600/SB-800)

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:32 pm 
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It's not really my subject but I've heard the D80 isn't so good for astronomical work because of a 'hot pixel' issue.

In my opinion, and it's only my opinion, I think all things being equal any body within a certain price range will be able to capture a great image. It's mostly down to ergonomics which is best, and for that, you need to handle them yourself.

I would have bought the 18-200mm VR myself if money wasn't tight. As it is, my lens is only barely hand holdable in low light. Any more magnification and I'd say VR is a must...or a tripod.

VR in a lens is bound to be better than in the body, that's logical. It's also far more expensive and effectively rules out a whole swathe of second-hand classics. How big's your wallet?

I think the only real competition to the D80 at the moment is the Pentax K10D. It has even better build quality but it felt weird in my hands. Not natural like the D80.

Prime lenses should always be better, optically, than zooms. That's a given. You do get what you pay for in photography.

Zorro.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 9:08 pm 
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Yeah, prime lenses!
but for (2), (3) and (4) it's more important to be able to quickly go from wide to tele to wide again. For these tasks I recommend the 18-200mm!
PLUS is has VR, so you're done :!:

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 Post subject: Budget?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 9:59 pm 
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Mike,

With your background you are obviously more than comfortable with the idea that you are buying into a lens system with your first DSLR so the choice of body may be the first budget-driven compromise you have to make in order to safeguard the longer term investment represented by the lenses you choose now and in the future.

Having chosen a lens system manufacturer have a look (reviews and in person) at the relevant body and the lens (or lenses) that come as standard. How many boxes do they tick in your list of uses? Such lenses are built to a cost but they do a job and buying the body with a standard lens may make it easier to sell on if and when you wish to upgrade.

Then decide if you need and can afford to buy additional lenses in order to achieve better quality, features or different focal lengths. If you need to do so but are constrained by your budget then it may be necessary to start again by choosing a different manufacturer.

Finally, to borrow from Tolkien, "advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise". Your priorities for use of the camera are likely to differ from all of us who share our thoughts on your purchase. I certainly hope that whatever you decide you avoid the path described by Tolkien where the quote above finishes "and all courses may run ill". Good luck.

Bob.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:23 pm 
I can very much relate to where you are in deciding what to buy, though I'm not currently in the market :) If I should choose today I would say D80 for the performance, Canon for it's huge range in lenses, Pentax for et weather seal and in-body IS and Olympus for the underwater case, size and price. Sony has also announced that they want to lead the DSLR market and will come out with a couple of bodies and lenses soon which doesn't make the choice easier. In the end I would probably base my decision based on what lenses I found most interesting based on my own (short) experience in the DSLR market.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:00 pm 
Hi all,

Many thanks for the advice. I had written a long reply to your comments and something happened ... my log in timed out! Lost the message and I was trying so hard to make it humorous.

More briefly this time. I have been popping into many camera shops in Athens and found that ...

(a) I can see the usefulness of vibration reduction (VR) on most focal settings of a lens. In-body VR works well on the Pentax at least ... but at longer focal settings I think that in-lens VR has the advantage.

(b) Choice of wide angle lenses seems to be my biggest constraint for choosing a brand. Some of these lenses show huge chromatic aberration and uneven image blur. Canon and Nikkor prime and zoom lenses do seem very good in this area. I don't see the benefit of having a zoom, particularly if it costs more. I would only use the widest angle setting in most cases. The cost of the Nikkor lenses is much higher for prime and zoom wide-angle ... plus the performance differences are not noticable.

(c) There is a huge variety of lenses to choose from for the Nikon and Canon models I am considering. I am more inclined to consider the Canon more seriously at this moment as I like the cost and performance of its wide-angle lens offerings. However, Nikon offers some very nice and affordable telephoto zoom lenses. I haven't spent any serious time searching through the telephoto zoom lenses in the Canon catalogue as yet.

(d) I am fed up with overly keen sales assistants trying to show me what all the buttons on each model do and why I should buy one over another just because one has this wonderful function and the other doesn't. I'm likely to leave the unit on auto a lot initially and work through the manual to improve my technique with the machine whatever model I purchase. I'll take the advice from the user community as being gold with respect to what they find easier to use.

Many thanks again.

Mike.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:11 pm 
Any suggestions regarding afford Canon telephoto, long reach (say 200mm to 300mm) zooms that are out there ... for use in the day mainly so a higher f-number should be fine.

With VR ... I mean IS.

Mike.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:23 pm 
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Tele-zooms:

Canon:
1) EF 70-300mm 4.0-5.6 IS USM around 540 EUR streetprice
2) EF 70-200mm 4.0 L IS USM around 980 EUR streetprice
3) EF 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 DO IS USM around 1050 EUR streetprice
4) EF 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 L IS USM around 1450 EUR streetprice

Nikon
1) AF-S VR DX 55-200mm 4.0-5.6G IF-ED around 290 EUR streetprice
2) AF-S VR 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G IF-ED around 500 EUR streetprice
3) AF-S VR DX 18-200mm 3.5-5.6G around 680 EUR streetprice
4) AF VR 80-400mm 4.5-5.6D ED around 1440 EUR streetprice
5) AF-S VR 70-200mm 2.8G IF-ED around 1800 EUR streetprice

So let's face it: Nikon has more and cheaper stabilized tele-zoom lenses than Canon PLUS it has the famous 18-200mm super-zoom, that can be your only lens that you ever need!

Wide-angle zoom:
Canon is a little more attractive with the EF-S 10-22mm 3.5–4.5 USM at around 680EUR
whereas Nikon has the AF-S DX 12-24mm 4G IF-ED at around 980EUR

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Last edited by Thomas on Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:36 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:28 pm 
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It's also worth considering the non-IS version of the Canon 70-200 L lens - it's about half the price of the IS version, but still fantastic quality.

Gordon


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 10:47 pm 
You could also look at affordable alternatives at Sigma (to make your decision even more complicated) where you can get a 70-200/2.6 around 975 EUR or a 70-300/4-5.6 APO around 225 EUR :)

Personally I would go for the Sigma 800/5.6 prime at around 6150 EUR thats 5kg glass :shock: who buy those anyway? On Sigmas homepage they have a sample shot of a train, is this a trainspotter lens :)


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 7:48 am 
My 2 pennies worth...

Gordon Laing wrote:
As for bodies, it's important that you pick them up in person to see which feels best to your hands. You'll find that one will almost certainly feel much better, and so long as the specification and price is ok, that should be the one to buy.


I'm sure this would be obvious to you but this is very important in my view. It's easy to be caught between two very similar camera models and be spending weeks trying to come to a decision. But often when you go into a shop, handle both models, you're decision will be made almost instantly.

Good luck. :)


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:20 am 
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TelexStar wrote:
My 2 pennies worth...

Gordon Laing wrote:
As for bodies, it's important that you pick them up in person to see which feels best to your hands. You'll find that one will almost certainly feel much better, and so long as the specification and price is ok, that should be the one to buy.


I'm sure this would be obvious to you but this is very important in my view. It's easy to be caught between two very similar camera models and be spending weeks trying to come to a decision. But often when you go into a shop, handle both models, you're decision will be made almost instantly.

Good luck. :)


I second this.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2007 7:37 pm 
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Some comment on telephoto from my experience this weekend at the Rhine, where you have the "Rheinauen" as a substitute to tropical rain-forest:
(1) 200mm is not really enough for the animals out there. Normally they are at a distance where you could easily need 400mm and above: Dragon flies, frogs, small reptiles, interesting flowers
(2) If you're lucky enough to have the interesting flora and fauna on your own path (not across at the other river bank), you should look for a decent macro, because again: your subjects turn out to be small. But take at least a 105mm macro, because most "things" are shy and don't allow you to get too close...
(3) If you're really zooming in on those small but interesting bugs, etc. carry a flash with you. You'll need all the light that you can get! That cannot be compensated for by a larger aperture (although most macros are at f2.8 and thus better positioned than the super-zoom at f4.0.

So forget about the "feeling" of a cam-body: It's the len(es) that count :!: :idea: :shock: :wink:

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