As a result of the recent rush to 10 megapixel digital SLR cameras, everything that has been held sacred in the camera business is now upside down. At the price of yesterday's 6 megapixel cameras you can now buy almost twice the resolution - and you can definitely see the difference in pictures taken at 6 and 10 megapixels. The $1700 Nikon D200 is now mostly the same feature set and virtually the same 10 megapixel sensor as the new $999 Nikon D80, and the $800 Canon Rebel XTi has almost the same processing engine as the $1500 Canon 30D and a 10 megapixel resolution compared to the 8 megapixel of the 30D. Since so much has progressed so fast in the last few months, it is time for a hard look at what is available in the hottest digital camera segment - digital SLRs.

The new "entry" level digital SLR market, generally defined as digital SLR cameras that sell for $1000 or less, has certainly expanded at both the bottom and the top. Today you can actually buy a digital SLR camera in the $400 to $500 price range, which was unheard of as recently as last year's Holiday buying season. This lower entry price has practically made the popular fixed lens SLR and "quality" pocket digital cameras all but obsolete. Why pay $800 for a fixed lens digital when you can get more features and flexibility with an interchangeable lens digital SLR at a lower price? This "prosumer" category of the past is rapidly disappearing, but it is worth pointing out that there is always room for a high-quality, pocketable fixed-lens digital camera.



The $1000 and under segment, which used to be entry level SLR cameras, now includes10 megapixel models at the top, and the feature sets for this new generation include enhancements previously available only on much more expensive cameras. All of the 10 megapixel SLRs are faster than their predecessors - borrowing processing engines from higher priced models (Nikon and Canon) or pioneering new high-speed processing circuits (Pentax and Sony).


The "entry" market is now segmented into true entry level SLR cameras in the $400 to $600 price range, the new 10 megapixel mid-range SLRs at $700 to $1000, and a couple of mid-range 8 megapixel SLRs that straddle the middle in the $600 to $700 range. In practical terms it is very difficult to tell any difference between 6 and 8 megapixel images, or between 8 megapixel and 10. However, there is a discernable improvement in moving from 6 to 10 megapixels.

This SLR Buyer's Guide will take a closer look at the top of this range, comparing the new 10 megapixel models. We will also compare models in the true entry level $400 to $600 range. The 8 megapixel models will be considered at both ends of the spectrum for features and value. Prices quoted in this guide are based on the best prices we could find at major online retailers like Newegg or Amazon. These are also typical prices in our own price engine. The prices quoted should be available to any online shopper, but you may find even better prices if you are willing to do more searching. Conversely, local photo specialty retailers normally provide better customer support and return options than etailers, and their prices for the same item will generally be higher.

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 Buyer's Guide. If you're a photo hobbyist then dive in. Our advice is not jaded, and many will be surprised that Nikon and Canon were not our first choices in every category. 2006 was definitely the year of the Digital SLR camera, and the names that are new or that resurfaced this year are definitely making shopping for a new Digital SLR more fun than it has been in a very long time.

10 Megapixel SLRs
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  • astroidea - Sunday, December 31, 2006 - link

    You still don't seem to get it.
    This article isn't about rating lenses or what is the best DSLR to get if you have $2000 to spend. It's to talk about the latest released bodies in the sub $1000 sector, NOT the professional sector.

    Just because Canon/Nikon makes multithousand dollar professional equipment, it doesn't mean their consumer product line is the best too.

    And as for the 50mm MK1 not being an L, there has been many canon owners that owned the Canon 50mm F/1.0 L and the Pentax 50mm F/1.4, and just about everyone of them will tell you the latter is better.

    Many photography review sites tested the 200mm macros, and have all concluded that the Pentax FA* 200mm F/4 macro is the best they've ever seen.
    The Pentax DA 14mm F/2.8 is rated to be better than both Nikon and Canon versions, and costs half the price(due to being APS cropped).
    Sigma has many lenses that are better than Canon/Nikon's too. All makers have their gems and their dogs. Don't be silly.
    Again, if you don't even have the slightest clue about the pentax lenses you are talking about, don't come up with ignorant assumptions.

    And you must have some insane brand loyalty if you found wesley's article to be anti-nikon, when he placed their camera has #2 best choice.
    Only Canon's was placed last, and deservedly so with the poor viewfinder and flimsy construction. Now don't tell me you're blind enough to defend Canon's subpar build too?
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Sunday, December 31, 2006 - link

    No, the article is, according to its own author, "not a review of the cameras", it is "a buyer's guide".

    A "buyer's guide" for SLR cameras must take into account the fundamental difference between SLRs and compact cameras. When you buy an SLR, you do it for the lenses and accessories. Either that or you're a masochist, because SLRs are more expensive, heavier, bigger and harder to use than compacts (and that's why even pro photographers with a ton of high-end equipment often carry around a small P&S).

    The only other reason to use an SLR would be speed (faster power-up, faster shooting, etc., so you don't miss any good shots). But, guess what, the "article" doesn't cover that, either.

    As to your claims that certain lenses have been very higly "rated", could you post some links or references? To tests with actual images? That's another thing this "buyer's guide" is missing: comparative photos taken with each camera. I guess that's an insignificant detail when comparing cameras, what really matters is the spec sheets and which one is 10% cheaper... sigh...

    As to Sigma, they have a couple of lenses that are indeed better than the equivalent ones made by Canon or Nikon (although, to be honest, that's only because both Canon and Nikon have pretty crappy lenses for some focal lengths)... Anyway, Sigma sells nearly all of them in Canon and Nikon mounts, so if you have a Canon or Nikon camera, you have access to pretty much any Sigma model. And that goes for most manufacturers.

    Sigma lenses with EOS mounts are part of Canon users' lens selection. As are Tokina or Tamron (or Leica) lenses with EOS mounts. In fact, you can even put Pentax M42 lenses on an EOS camera (but not the other way around). How's that for lens selection?

    I'll be the first to agree that both Canon and Nikon have some real stinkers (as does ever manufacturer). But that's not the point. You don't have to buy the stinkers. The point is that when you pick a Canon or Nikon SLR, you have access to pretty much any lens out there. And that particular point (which is a fundamental one when it comes to SLRs) was completely distorted in this "buyer's guide". Maybe this was "Pentax fanboyism", as some people have suggested above, but personally I think it was just ignorance or lack of experience.

    And that is why I suggest that anyone who wants to buy an SLR spend some time reading articles in photography sites, first to understand the difference between SLRs and compact cameras, and then to understand what are the ascpects of SLRs that they should be comparing, depending on what they are planning to do with them.

    P.S. - I don't like the Rebel XTi, as I mentioned on another post above, and I'd never buy one, mainly due to ergonomics. But it has the best overall image quality of the four cameras tested here, and by far the best lens selection on the tele end.
    Reply
  • astroidea - Monday, January 1, 2007 - link

    Ok, so you like to tout your high and mighty canon/nikon lens selection.
    They do have very amazing lenses for professionals that Pentax lacks and dozens of lenses overlapping the same focal range.
    However, as of March 2007, they will come out with their own line of DA* lenses, that will directly compete with Canon/Nikon's professional like. They will have the quick focusing USM motors, weather sealing, very high optical quality, and fast apertures.
    http://www.dpreview.com/news/0609/06092102pentaxda...">http://www.dpreview.com/news/0609/06092102pentaxda...

    This will fulfill pentax's most lacking sector in their lenses.
    Now, with the introduction of these lenses, tell me what part of Pentax's lens selection is lacking, that a user will find themselves starving of lens choice?
    Pentax may not have a dozen lenses that overlap the same focal range, but they are certainly adequate in covering their bases. Does that make them inferior? Does the lack of dozens of lenses that overlap the same focal range make pentax an unworthy competitor?
    I don't see your line of reasoning in that Pentax is inadequate in their lens selection.
    But tell me this, does Canon have a high quality 16-45mm F/4 zoom that costs $350? Does Canon have a high quality 14mm F/2.8 prime that costs $600?
    Canon has their pro base covered with full frame 17-40mm F/4 L, and a full frame 14mm F/2.8 lens. But what about their semi-pro range for those who don't want to splurge a car worth for a camera? They'd have to pay double for full frame equivalents. How is that a good buy?
    That's where Pentax excels in. It may not be the best choice for professionals that depend on their camera system costing five figures that puts food on the table. But for your average consumers, it'll easily give canon/nikon a run for its money.

    All in all, each brand has their own strengths and weaknesses. To claim a brand is the end all-be all is just ludicrous. It's up to the consumer to decide what they find is important and to find the brand that best suits their needs.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Monday, January 1, 2007 - link

    > However, as of March 2007, they will come out
    > with their own line of DA* lenses, that will
    > directly compete with Canon/Nikon's professional like.


    Yes, I'm sure that in March 2007 they'll magically be able to match the line-up that Canon and Nikon (and Sigma, etc.) have put together over the last decades... sigh...

    Are you seriously saying that people should pick an SLR system based on some vague marketing promises for the future...?!?

    And, as I've written above, what matters isn't the lenses that Canon (or Nikon) makes, it's the lenses and accessories that can be used with their cameras. And virtually every good lens out there comes in Canon and Nikon mounts, if only for economic reasons.

    Calling the DA 16-45 a "good quality lens" is stretching it a bit. If that's your idea of good quality, I guess we're playing on different leagues. I've seen Mini DV cameras with less chromatic aberration and better corner sharpenss.

    http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26868740">http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26868740
    http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26883592">http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26883592
    http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26883311">http://www.pbase.com/tcom/image/26883311
    http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/parts/image_for_...">http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/parts/image_for_...
    http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/parts/image_for_...">http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/parts/image_for_...
    etc.

    The only "good" (meaning sharp, balanced, CA-free) images I've seen from a DA 16-45 were scaled down to 640x480 and so post-processed that I felt sorry for the original photons.

    It's not exactly up to the level of a Canon 17-55 2.8 or even a 10-22 (which isn't even considered very sharp). Yes, I know those are more expensive, but there are also cheaper alternatives for Canon / Nikon cameras (from the original manufacturers as well as from Tokina, Tamron, Sigma, etc.). Canon's 18-55 kit lens costs $100 and if it's not sharper than the DA 16-45, then at least it's very, very close (for 1/3rd of the cost!). Pentax makes a few great lenses, but that ain't one of 'em. In fact, can't say I remember any Pentax zoom that I'd rate as "good" (they do have some good primes).

    Anyway, my point is that if you want a good lens, and you have a camera with a Canon / Nikon mount, you can get it. Reading this AT "article", one would get the impression that K-mount cameras not only have the best of the best lenses, but also the widest lens selection, which is simply not true.

    If you read my posts above, I've written that every camera body in this test is a good one, and they can all be "the right choice" in some circumstances. My issue is with the way the article is written, and how it distorts or selectively omits facts to support its conclusions (ex., the comparison of lens lineup or the comparison of IS/VR with sensor stabilization).

    Either the author did that deliberately, or he's written an "SLR buyer's guide" without understanding the point of SLRs (as compared to lighter, cheaper, smaller, and easier to use compact cameras). Either way, it's not a very good service to readers (as isn't the complete absence of comparative sample photos, but I see that more as a symptom than the cause).
    Reply
  • gibhunter - Monday, January 1, 2007 - link

    You're right about lens selection. Canon and Nikon win hands down. Though once Pentax comes out with those three DA* gems they will match the former at those focal lengths.

    Having said that, Canon and Nikon will still have the fast ultra zooms (600mm) and they will still have much faster AF speeds in low light. Lets face it, all dslrs have good speed with adequate light but as light levels fall, Canon, Nikon (from D80 and up) and Sony have fast AF speed. Pentax? They refuse to even acknowledge that they have a problem!

    Sony's low light images are too noisy though and Canon XTI has less detail in their ISO 1600 images than the XT had which tells me that they are applying too much noise reduction.

    No camera system is perfect. Pentax is good in just about everything but lens selection in pro-level glass and AF speed. Sony has noise issues in high ISO. Canon and Nikon do not have built in SR like Pentax or Sony. Pick what deficiency you can live with and base your decision on that.

    For me I get irritated with AF speed on my K100D, but the more indoor shots I take, the more I realize that I could not get by without SR and clean high-ISO images I get, so for me the Sony, Canon and Nikon are out.

    Yes, I could get IS or VR in Canon or Nikon lenses, but I would have to pay through the nose for it. 18-50 f/2.8 IS or VR are in the $1500 range, 3 times the cost of my camera and nearly four times the cost of Sigma's brand new 18-50 f/2.8 Macro which will be stabilized on my K100D.

    So yeah, go ahead, buy Canon or Nikon, but be prepared to pay extra for it.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Monday, January 1, 2007 - link

    I wouldn't describe lenses I've never seen as "gems", especially considering the quality of Pentax zooms I've used (ie, not very good).

    Sony actually has pretty good noise reduction in their compact cameras, borrowed from their camcorders. I haven't used the Alpha, but the sensor is supposed to be the same as in the D200, and the D200 is pretty good. Still not as good as Canon's, noise-wise, but close enough to be competitive (which, for a long time, Nikon really wasn't). So if the Alpha is noisy my guess is the D200 does good post-processing. It preserves detail very nicely.

    The XTi has a higher pixel count than the XT with the same physical sensor size. Less light per photosite means more noise. Overall, you probably have the same detail for the whole image, but less detail "per pixel". I think the XTi also comes with different image processing defaults (i.e. "0" sharpness on the XTi is actually the equivalent to "2" on the XT). But I think you can turn NR off, anyway. My real problem with the XT and XTi is the ergonomics. The menus and buttons are ok, but the viewfinder and the grip are just terrible. Don't know what they were thinking. The sensor is still the best out there, unless you go for (physically) bigger ones (1D, 5D, 1Ds).

    Unless you have Parkinson's, image stabilization at 18mm is pretty much useless (even "proper" optical stabilization, which is better than sensor stabilization, and fine-tuned for each lens). Using a faster lens (ex., f/2.8 instead of f/4) will give you much more noticeable improvements than stabilization. Stabilization is only really useful above 50mm or so. Below that, in 99% of cases, blur is caused by subject motion, not camera shake, and a stabilizer won't do anything about that; what you need is a faster lens, good low-light AF and low noise.

    People can put the Sigma 18-50 on their Canon or Nikon cameras, and it costs exactly the same as the Pentax mount version, so no, you don't have to be "prepared to pay extra" (for the same). The difference is that if you're willing (and able) to pay extra, you can get something better.

    The Sigma 18-50 is pretty good at f/5.6 and above, but if I'm going to pay for an f/2.8 lens, I want it to be good at f/2.8, and at that aperture the Sigma doesn't really come close to Canon's 17-55, for example.

    Yes, that extra quality has a price (+200%, in this case). But if you're not going to buy good lenses for your SLR, then chances are you're better off with a compact P&S (some have image stabilization, too, and pretty decent lenses).

    A "budget SLR" seems like the worst of both worlds. I don't mean the camera itself; newer, better and cheaper cameras are released every 6 months (and you can pick up last year's model for peanuts, in 2nd hand). I mean the lenses. A top-quality lens doesn't devalue, and will give you better results with future cameras. A so-so lens will only look worse as sensor quality increases, and effectively limits your image quality, crippling your fancy new camera.

    Reply
  • mongrelchild - Saturday, December 30, 2006 - link

    quote:

    So, no, I'm not saying, nor have I ever said, that "Pentax sucks".


    Yes, you did in an above post, completely without explaining your reasoning and labeling the author as clueless for prefering one.

    As for primes, one of the best ever pentax lenses is the 28 f/3.5 and is regarded as being massively better than even the 50mm

    Here is what you are: A nikon fan who thinks there are no other viable options and who disseminates misinformation, a la ken rockwell to convince newbies to think like you.

    Maybe for you there aren't any other viable options. But I could never choose the oversharened messes Canon outputs to the film-like output of a Pentax. I just don't like the way the Canon pictures look. Having never used Nikon (except for a few minutes), Olympus or Minolta , I can't judge their products.

    But to imply that anyone who chooses pentax is a clueless fool is ludicrous. Ask ANY current pentax owner is they're satisfied, they'll say yes. Pentax has up until recently been THE standard SLR, whether you like it or not.

    Their lenses are exceptional for ludicrously low prices, and their DSLRs are very capable products.

    I didn't like the article even though I mostly agreed with it. But it's important to remember it's not a review. Just the author's opinion and weighting of different specifications.

    I maintain that if you are not Ken Rockwell, then you are his child molesting twin brother.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Saturday, December 30, 2006 - link

    I see you have me all figured out... except... I don't own a single piece of Nikon equipment, I had no idea who Ken Rockwell was until I searched for it, and no, I never said that "Pentax sucks". So either you got me mixed up with someone else, or you live inside a reality distortion field, or you're the article's author posting under a different name... either way, not really worth the time to read, let alone reply. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    Thanks for taking the time to post detailed comments.

    1 - I certainly agree SLRs are about lenses and I talked about this in depth in my earlier article "Digital Photography from 20,000 Feet". I did not feel it needed to be repeated in a Buyers Guide, but your point is well taken.

    2 - Sigma makes almost all their lenses in Pentax AF mount. It is true they are not available everywhere for Pentax, but you can find the popular and unusual ones like the 10-20mm on eBay, at Amamzon, and some large etailers. THere are MANY more Pentax KAF mount lenses available from 3rd parties than 4/3 mount lenses for example - if that matters to you. It is true Tamron has fewer Pentax mount lenses available, particularly in their newest designs, where the newest Sigma designs are almost all available in Pentax/Samsung.

    3 - Compatability does not mean just older MF lenses. THere are many Pentax AF lenses available that are fully functional on the new K10D, K100D, K110D. There are also many KA lenses that do all metering functions on the new Pentax - everything except AF and there is focus assist built-in for that. Older K-mount lenses from Pentax and many other makers also will meter but they do not provide complete lens info to the body - you need to tell the cmera the focal length for AS with the early K lenses. Any lens you can mount - directly or by adapter can meter manually, focus with viewfinder aids, and utilize AS after providing the camera with focal length. This is certainly more than basic compatibility and is worth praising in my opinion.

    4 - I agree metering systems are critically important, and should have been covered in the Guide. The K10D offers accurate 16-segment metering and the ability to select multi-zone, center-weighted, and spot metering. You can also turn on (or off) the linking of the active AF point to metering. I did mention the unique exposure programs like the Sensitivity Value program and Hyperprogram with user adjustable aperture and/or shuter speed.

    5 - The Nikon D80 and Pentax K10D both provide the most extensive options in the guide. If you are familiar with Nikon menu logic, as you are, the D80 makes perfect sense. However, many have complained that the D80 has everything buried in mensus and is very complex. I find the K10D very easy to use and particularly like the Fn dial with the most commonly used menu items and the RAW button for when you want to shoot a few RAW shots spontaneously. I find the D80 equally satisfying, with great options.

    The rest of your points have been addressed in other comments here. In general we are back to the question of what role AT can play in Digital Camera reviews. While you may not agree with my picks based on your personal situation, I think most people will find my expressing an opinion and rational for that opinion more useful than 4 reviews that all end with the same buying rating.

    Computer parts are becoming cookie-cutter similar in some categories, while Digital SLRs still have unique personalities and unique lens capabilities in each lineup of new lenses and in the very active used market for lenses. We hope we can provide information so our readers can better navigate that landscape.
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Friday, December 29, 2006 - link

    after 3 tries with always an error when posting the reply:

    I agree for most part. Of course my comment was biased with my own experiences :-)

    Anyway since my previous reply to you was lost (probably login timeout), I'll keep this short.

    Looking from a lens point of view, Canon and Nikon are the clear winners.
    Looking from a body features point of view, the Pentax followed by Sony.
    Looking on the price, Sony wins (IIRC).

    There are many points to argue in between (like weight and bulk of the Pentax body vs the weather sealing). And many people will come down to price (Sony) and accessory options (Nikon and Canon win here).

    If you want a faster P&S and you'll never use any other than the kit lens, you missed 80% of what the SLR can do for you. Image stabilisation is available in fixed lense cameras, you don't have to worry about dust on sensor, they offer larger zoom range than any kit lens (up to 12x). Sure they are slower, there's always a negative point somewhere.

    As AT is not a photo site, I'd expect a buyers guide to reflect the PC guides. In those you start with a budget and draw out a picture of the capabilities you expect from the PC in the respective price ranges. Than you start to assemble them to meet the stated minimum functionality. I'd expect something like that also from this SLR BG.

    Anyway the article is not that bad, has some nice information.
    Reply

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