Many predicted that 2007 would be the year of the digital SLR, and industry shipments confirm the huge growth in DSLR sales. In a time where home sales fell through the floor in the US and gas prices began to soar, digital SLR sales have grown dramatically. In the third quarter of this year digital camera sales increased 22% compared to the previous year, but industry breakdowns show DSLR sales almost doubled in the same period.

That means that this holiday season many of you will be looking for a new digital SLR camera to replace an aging point-and-shoot digital or an earlier DSLR. While there haven't been many new entry-level models in the last year, the $1000 "advanced amateur" models of last year are today's entry-level DSLR. Several manufacturers have also redefined "entry-level" SLR down to $400 and have very capable models selling for that price, including a lens.

Only a few new models have appeared in "Entry-level" this year. We will cover these in a look at entry-level choices. However, the last few months have seen a deluge of new "prosumer" digital SLRs aimed at the photo hobbyist, advanced amateur, and even some pro photographers on a budget. The important thing about the advanced amateur and prosumer DSLR markets is the influence those cameras will eventually have on entry-level models. For that reason, we will explore some of the most interesting features of the new prosumer models.

The digital SLR market has also seen the downward push of pro or near-pro models into the consumer space. A prime example of that is the Canon EOS 5D full-frame SLR. When it was introduced a couple of years ago it was hailed as a true bargain at around $3500. If you look around today, you will find this popular semi-pro model has dropped to a $2499 list price and you can actually find the 5D for around $2000 if you shop carefully. That is certainly close to the $1400 to $1800 prosumer price range, providing an additional option for photo hobbyists or pros looking for a good buy.

If you are shopping for a digital camera but you're not really a photo hobbyist, you might want to start with our overview of digital photography in Digital Photography from 20,000 Feet. In that introduction, we cover the terms and concepts used in this DSLR Buyers' Guide. If you're already a photo hobbyist then dive in.

To put the current DSLR market in perspective, the full-frame (24mmx36mm) sensor and the Olympus 4/3 sensor (13.5mmx18mm or half the diagonal of full-frame 35mm) represent the two ends of the current DSLR market. Full-frame DSLRs use traditional 35mm lenses, so you don't need to worry about multipliers. 4/3 is a digital-only standard supported by Olympus, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma, Fuji, and Sanyo. Lenses designed for 4/3 will work on any 4/3 camera and they are not designed to be used with larger or smaller sensors. Since the sensor diagonal is half the size of 35mm, the 4/3 lenses behave like 35mm lenses that are twice their focal length.



You can see these two ends in a Canon 5D with an optical image-stabilized 28-135mm lens sitting beside the diminutive Olympus E-510 with a 14-42mm lens and body-integral (mechanical) image-stabilization. The full-frame Canon 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark III and upcoming Nikon D3 are even larger than the EOS 5D, but you get the idea. Similarly, the Olympus E-410 is even smaller than the E-510.

However, the majority of today's digital SLRs fall in between these two standards, using a very nonstandard sensor somewhere around APS-C size (22mmx15mm). This is why we have a range of lens multipliers on today's DSLR cameras, depending on brand. Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Samsung are at 1.5x, Canon is at 1.6x, and the specialized Sigma Foveon sensor is at 1.74x. These multipliers represent how 35mm lenses will appear on these cameras - because they mainly use 35mm lenses. That means an 18-70mm lens on a 1.5x camera would appear like a 27mm-105mm lens on a 35mm film camera. There are also dedicated lenses for these in-between sensors with names like DX. They work fine on the digital SLR, but they are not usable on full-frame DSLR or 35mm film cameras.

It isn't as complicated as it sounds, since you mainly will pick your camera brand and stick with it, buying camera maker lenses or those compatible with the DSLR you choose. However, understanding the larger picture also helps in making informed long-term buying decisions.

Prosumer SLRs
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  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - link

    I'm sure the answer to a better Photo Editor would be you. We understand you are disappointed that Anand did not hire you to write for AT, but the years of criticizing the Editors he did choose to hire is getting very tiring. You really need to get over it and move on. Reply
  • KorruptioN - Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - link

    Burn. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, November 26, 2007 - link

    The Sigma lenses for 4/3 are not designs purely for 4/3 as the Oly lenses are - they are mount adaptations of existing lenses such as the Bigma.

    Some notes on the different implementations of AF in Live View between the different manufacturers might have been useful, as well as noting that the best AF performance will still be obtained through use of the real viewfinder.

    Finally I agree with the need to go physically try a camera before buying. For example the reviews at DPReview typically complain about the grip of the 400D/XTi, while praising the A100. However I find that the 400D is much more comfortable as my pinkie just curls up below the body, while on the A100 the grip is too long to do that, but too short for the pinkie to actually grab, so my pinkie just kinda hangs in space.
    Reply
  • melgross - Monday, November 26, 2007 - link

    [quote]The Sigma lenses for 4/3 are not designs purely for 4/3 as the Oly lenses are - they are mount adaptations of existing lenses such as the Bigma. [/quote]

    That's correct.

    As far as I'm concerned, the 4/3 system, which I was initially excited about upon its announcement, is not worth the long term purchase of the equipment.

    Olympus could have used the image circle of the APS C sensor for a larger image sensor, which could have been done, but chose not to. So, instead of having a magnification of possibly 1.4 to 1.3x, it's 2x. A poor choice. Also, if they hadn't done that, all APS C sensor lenses would have the same magnification as Olympus's lenses, and better S/N, rather than worse.

    As they made no concession to size when designing the cameras and lenses for this system, there is no advantage there either.

    It seems to be a bastard system to me, and conveys no advantage.
    Reply
  • frombauer - Monday, November 26, 2007 - link

    ... the largest (or tiniest) problem with 4/3 cameras like the Olympus. The ridiculously small and dim viewfinder. It's like looking through a small tunnel. Simply not practical. Just looking at any Nikon or Canon VF makes a world of a difference. I'm not even talking about the 5D. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, November 26, 2007 - link

    I generally agree, and even the Pro E-1 was pretty small and dim. However,Look throught the E-3 viewfinder with a standard 1.15x viewfinder. I suspect any doubts that a 4/3 viewfinder can be huge, bright, and very easy to use will disappear. It took a few years but the E-3 viewfinder is definitely a huge leap forward for the 4/3 system. Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Saturday, November 24, 2007 - link

    The Digilux 3 is the Leica branded version of the Panasonic DMC-L1 and they're both relatively hefty cameras when compared to the smaller E-410/E-510 cameras or even their Olympus sibling the E-330. Although not anywhere near as big as something like the 5D, the Digilux 3 is bigger than the E-510.

    The Digilux 2 was a smaller camera (Leica version of the Panasonic LC-1) which may be the one you're thinking of although this wasn't an SLR despite the similarity in design to the L1/Digilux 3.

    Also, the E-3 doesn't have a lens cleaning feature:

    "The E-3 is also the first Olympus pro model to feature built-in flash, and it's dust and splash sealed. Auto lens cleaning is a feature, image stabilization is built in and works with all lenses, and the latest incarnation of Live View with a fold out articulating LCD screen is featured."

    I assume you're referring to the sensor cleaning feature?

    This section refers to the E-510 having multiple cross type sensors:

    "However, the autofocus is still a weakness in an otherwise very capable system. It uses the somewhat dated 3-point autofocus, but cross sensors provide for greater sensitivity. "

    Or at least that's how I read it, of the three AF points only one of them is a cross type (the centre one) while the other two are vertical only.

    John
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Saturday, November 24, 2007 - link

    ...turns out it was posting them despite it erroring and not showing initially... Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, November 24, 2007 - link

    Yes I was thinking of the 2 as they long similar. Thanks for the info. I have corrected the reference. Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Sunday, November 25, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the correction, the other errors (E-3 lens cleaning and E-510 AF) are still there though.

    John
    Reply

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