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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  • 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?

    John
    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

    John
    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

    John
    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

    John
    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

    John
    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

    John
    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

    John
    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

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

    This isn't a bad buying guide and certainly better than wired magazines recent guide which was horrible.

    My main concern(and I am a photography teacher) is that these guides don't ever really take into account one of the primary reasons for buying a DSLR...the lenses & accessories. There are many reasons why most pros or semi pros choose nikon or canon(and I am a canon guy myself). They have lenses and accessories for everything. Need a macro lens, got it, need a tilt shift...got it...super tele for birdwatching or sports...got it...super low light prime...got it. And I think sports will be a main reason for many families buying DSLR's. Nikon and Canon are far superior for shooting sports. There are 3rd party alternatives for many other brands, but they often are not as good as the manufacturers lenses or have issues with focusing or compatibility(sigma is well known for this). Then there are the accessories...off camera flashes, macro flashes, off camera cords, battery grips...the list goes on. Some of the other brands might have some of these as well...but at some point, if a photographer progresses they will likely reach a point where sony or olympus or even pentax doesnt have the lens or accessory for what they want to do. Might not happen, but if you get really into the hobby it probably will. There is also the factor of the used lens market...It is far easier to find used lenses for Nikon and Canon on ebay, FredMiranda, B&H, etc.

    I also fully agree with some of the above comments about image quality. These are DSLR's NOT point and shoots...I think people have gotten obsessed with features with point and shoot cameras, but with DSLR's its about the image quality...and what these articles frequently forget is that the image quality often comes down to the glass. You are really buying a lens system, not a body...Megapixels, in camera stabilization, and sensor cleaning really are not that big a deal.

    The only '3nd tier' brand that would be interesting is Pentax, since you can use their older lenses...a big factor, since many of the older primes are great lenses and can be bought cheap. I would never recommend Sony or Olympus to students or friends.

    If magazines and websites are going to start talking about DSLR's, they need to not focus on the bodies so much and start seriously talking about the lenses and recognize that Canon and Nikon are on top for a reason...they have everything you will ever need for your camera.

    just my .02
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, November 24, 2007 - link

    Actually we chose the Olympus E-510 2-lens kit BECAUSE of the superior imaging quality of the kit lenses. Both kit lenses, which cover the 35mm equivalent of 28mm to 300 mm are far better in image quality than either Canon or Nikon kit lenses. Check out other review sites and you will see many other sites agree the Olympus kit lenses are better quality than the competition and that Olympus 4/3 lenses in general provide better image quality than competing lenses on APS-C cameries.

    Do we ignore image quality and select Canon or Nikon because they are better known in DSLR? We agree and stated that Canon or Nikon are the safe choices, but thy are not necessarily the best quality in digital imaging.
    Reply

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