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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  • mostlyprudent - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    WOW! I had a difficult time deciding where to put this post so I gave up and added a new thread.

    I agree with some of the criticism, but think much of it would have been of more value if put in constructive terms instead of insults to the author. What bothers me about the article is that over 3 months ago we were promised "reviews" of several 10MP DSLRs, but this reads like something that was thrown together in a hurry. Are those reviews still coming?

    I have been shopping for a DSLR body for many months and have read just about every review I can find. I only own a couple PAS digicmas (1 Canon, 1 Fuji) so I really don't have any bias (or expertise). But as a well accomplished overshopper...DSLR's are all about the lenses!

    A casual shooter who is going to stick to the kit lens and maybe 1 other lens probably cannot go wrong with any of these cameras. For example, most review sites agree that the Olympus E-500 is outclassed by the competition. But if you read user reviews of casual shooters at various retail sites, they all are thrilled with their purchase. For casual users, spending an extra $200-400 for 2 more MP or spot metering is probably not worth it.

    If you are looking to become a hobbyist photographer (or more) it's all about lenses.

    In the case of the D40, if all you plan on using is the kit, go for it. If you plan on building a system, think twice. Your first Nikon lens upgrade is going to cost you over $1,000 (unless you don't mind manual focus only). But why limit yourself when Nikon has a great line of affordable AF lenses that will autofocus on their other DSLRs?

    Personally, I like the entry price into the Pentax K searies, but having spent so much time reading lens reviews, Canon offers the most comprehensive line of lenses that fit my anticipated uses - with Nikon as a close second. For me it's a long term investment I cannot quite find satisfaction in the Pentax line of lenses - at least not comparatively speaking.

    As for the Rebel XTi build quality, it feels plenty sturdy to me. Is it built like a tank? No, but I don't think any of the other DSLRs will survive a fall from the second story balcony. CAlling it the lowest quality camera is not accurate. So, I like the compromise of material in favor of portability (although that 30D is so tempting).

    I have been an Anandtech reader for at least 6 years. I recently spent 2 hours at a Christmas party having an electrical engineering PHD candidate help me start to understand (on some level) all the information I have stored in my head about processor pipelines, FSBs, digital vs. analog signals, etc. (many of the other guests, including my wife, were giving me the "what are you talking about" look). But that is what I appreciate about Anandtech articles. Eventhough I cannot always fully understand AT's processor and video card achitechure articles, I always enjoy making the attempt. The attention to detail and methodology are almost always impressive. I have come to trust AT conclusions more than any other tech site.

    If you're going to do digital camera reviews, I think you have to go all the way. Take them apart...help me understand why camera's with the same sensor perform differently, etc.
    Reply
  • Swampthing - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    This comparison is frankly ridiculous. The sony over the nikon and the canon? Please people do yourselves a favor and read a real site that knows something about camera's. The sony has been shown on tons of pro camera sites to be a noise laden monster and doesn't hold a candle to the XTI or the nikon offerings even though the nikon uses the same sensor as the sony it still takes a better picture. Plus you have a ton more lens choices with the nikon and canon. And on top of that once you outgrow that body if you upgrade your canon or nikon to the next level you still are able to use your lenses. What's sony got for a higher level offering that compares with the canon 5d, or any of the higher level nikons. There's also a bit of misinformation about the XTI in this article, i would think the reviewer would do better to do his homework a little more. Next time just save your review and post a link to dpreview or somewhere else that does more exhaustive and accurate reviews. Reply
  • mongrelchild - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    A ton?

    Really?

    So Minolta's history of excellent lensmaking, much of which is compatible with the sony DSLR is to be conveniently forgotten?
    Reply
  • Rick72 - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    There are a number of areas within the article that I feel should be revised. If not, it should at least be understood that they are not accurate. For example, everything i've read states that more than 6mp makes no difference unless your prints are huge. Anything larger than 12x24 and you're not going to see a difference.

    "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 really makes no sense. If you can't see a difference between 6 and 8mp images and you can't see any difference between 8 and 10mp, then doesn't this mean that you can't see a difference between 6 and 10? It's exactly what it means. Again, you're not going to see a difference in day to day use.

    Another statement that concerned me:
    "The Nikon D40 is a significant upgrade to the D50 it replaced, with a larger LCD and faster operation."

    Completely subjective, yet stated as fact. These cameras are given their names for a reason. Nikon had originally planned to give it the D60 name, yet it was dropped and rebadged as D40. Why? Well...when compared to the D50, the D40:
    - loses 2 AF Sensors (has only 3 AF points)
    - AF-S (internal motor) lenses only. Won't focus with older (or current, brand-new non-AF-S) AF lenses
    - No top LCD (those who have been using this for years will miss it)

    The D40 does have a bigger/nicer LDC. Not sure i'd trade it for the above missing items, though.
    Reply
  • mongrelchild - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Previous SLR was an old Minolta SRT-201 with a wonderful - and cheap! - 43mm prime. It is about that time that Sony bought Minolta, and I wanted nothing to do with them as a result.

    I got my first DSLR back in July. After mych deliberation, i had narrowed it down to 3 choices.

    Canon Rebel XT, Nikon D50, or Pentax *ist DL. All had similar kit lenses.

    After using the Canon for about 20 minutes, i rejected it ouright. It felt cheap, it was way too small for my hands, and the viewfinder was atrocious. I didn't like the menus either. Another problem I had was that the images looked oversharpened and overprocessed... Coming from film, this was not something I wanted, but I can see how it would appeal to others.

    Nikon vs Pentax now:

    What is never mentionned is that for the 6mp class, Nikon D50 and ALL the Pentax cameras of the time had the exact same (sony) ccd. Differences were in the processing.

    I liked the Nikon picture quality. I liked its heft. I liked its multipoint autofocus.

    I hated the menus though. The li-ion battery didn't appeal to me either but it was not a dealbreaker.

    Pentax DL
    The viewfinder was AMAZING, and this is just the crappier pentamirror, not that much better than the Nikon's, but lighteyars ahead than the awful Canon.

    The image quality was excellent, easily on par with the Nikon.

    Nice, quick menus.

    So I bought it. It was around the same price at the time, maybe 50 bucks less or so.


    After using it for a while..

    Pentax has a collection of TOP-NOTCH, cheap primes, every last one of which works flawlessly on the DL.... All the way from the 1940s-era M42 mount to the latest, greatest digital-only AF bayonet mounts.
    Good high-iso performance.
    very intuitive control

    The faults?
    "Soft" JPEG images means careful attention for pics on the wide end. It's a very film-like softness but pics are somewhat sharper in RAW. This may not bother some though.
    Lame, 3-point autofocus.
    Ugly, Canada-only silver body... irrelevant.

    All the above faults were fixed on the k100/110d and later cameras.

    So, 2000 pictures and 2 'new' lenses later?
    50mm f/1.4 (circa 1975)
    DA 50-20mm zoom (brand new)
    and of course, the 18-55 kit lens...

    I am completely satisfied with the camera. Picture quality blows me away time after time, and completely destroys my P&S Canon SD600.

    The 3-point autofocus wasn't really a limitation, as I find that I use spot-focus almost exclusively.

    AA-NIMH batteries are widely available and cheap.

    All I wish was that I had waited 4 months for the k100d! I despise flash and when it's dark, you have to be real careful about camera shake, but the 50mm made this much easier. I have a decently steady hand... But SR in any form would take some of the pressure off....

    BTW, for software:

    I don't know what Nikon's software us like.

    If the Canon software for DSLRs is their Zoombrowser suite (also included with their P&S models)... then I feel very bad for Canon owners.

    Pentax's suite is based on Silkypics. Not the fastest software out there (not smp-optimized... why!?) but it is extremely powerful and gives excellent results.... better than Adobe Camera Raw.

    What it comes down to is that Pentax DSLRs are right for me.
    Everyone I have seen who owns one is completely satisfied also, and there are some wonderfully sharp and contrasty, ancient lenses to be had for cheap.

    SR/VR/IS is not a necessity if you know what you're shooting and plan accordingly. But it's a nice feature to have. But to pay 800 bucks per lens that has it seems ludicrous to a hobbyist like me.

    What it comes down to is personal preference. Most Pentax owners act like fanboys because of an addiction to their cameras.

    I don't know about pro-level, I am not a professional. But at least for the consumer/hobbyist level, Pentax offerings are extremely viable.

    What it comes down to is preference. Try each DSLR you're considering and decide what you want and which is right for you. Brand reputation is meaningless nowadays and listening to fanboys in either camp is a sure-fire way to make a bad purchase.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Thank you for commenting. The K110D, K100D, and K10D all three now have 11 point autofocus. The processing engine in the K100D/K110D are now faster in focusing and better in image processing than the earlier models. The K100D and K110D are identical except for the Anti-Shake included in the K100D. When you consider the K110D has 11-point AF, user programmable Auto ISO to 3200, fast autofocusing, and the new processing engine it is an amazing buy at $400 for the kit ($350 body only).

    I did point out in the review that all the cameras except Canon use the Sony sensor. Another exception is the smaller 4/3 sensor in the Olympus. But it never hurts to mention it again. I am amazed that many Nikon owners don't even know that Nikon does not make sensors for Digital SLRs.
    Reply
  • spazmedia - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    But Nikon does make the equipment necessary to fabricate sensors, which Sony uses. Reply
  • AxemanFU - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Makes sense though. Nikon makes good, reliable, top quality bodies pretty consistently, but what they specialize is in the optics. Nikon has never been an electronics company, per say. If you look at their product ranges, it is more about imaging, printing, and all fields of optics from microscopes to binoculars to camera lenses. All still imaging, too.

    Sony has long been a general electronics company, so it is not so suprizing that they'd have dedicated lines of component manufacturing. I for one am not suprized Nikon would use the same quality components that Sony uses itself. The Japanese tend to be a bit xenophobic about such things that have their major national labels on them. Canon has a relatively broader range of products than nikon, so I'm not suprized they also have their own line of optic sensors, rather than take them from Sony. Canon competes with Sony in many more areas than Nikon does.

    That also explains why Sony always seems to bump up the megapixels a few months before Nikon does..they know the new CCD sensor is coming from their own R&D firm further ahead of time.
    Reply
  • dlxmax - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    LOL, Sony is the pick in the 10mp range? Clearly Anandtech doesn't know squat about DSLR's. The lenses for the Sony are markedly inferior to those available for Canon or Nikon...and everybody should that it's the lenses that are available and their quality that truly matters. The camera body is secondary. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Sony was chosen as the best value, at a current $720 for the body and 18-70mm lens at Amazon. The lens covers a greater range, equivalent to 28-105, and it is optically superior to the kit Canon lens. The Sony lens/body is solidly built and selling for a street price about $80 lower than the tiny, plasticky Canon Rebel XTi.

    Minolta has also produced some very well-regarded lenses over the course of many years so you are frankly just misinformed. You probably don't even know that Pentax pioneered autofocus and Minolta made the first successful autofocus camera. Just when the world seemed to be all Canon and Nikon (who buys their sensors from Sony (Minolta) by the way) Pentax and Sony/Minolta have produced very competitive new models. Popular Photography must also be misinformed, since they named the Sony A100 the Camera of the Year 2006. This was before the Pentax K10D was introduced.

    Our pick for best 10 megapixel camera is the Pentax K10D. The Nikon D80 follows closely. Those Canon and Nikon fanbois posting comments about our stupidity should also mention whether they have ever even held a Pentax K10D or shot with the 21mm F3.2 pancake or 31mm f1.9 or 77mm f1.9 Pentax lenses. We agree that you buy an SLR for lenses, and some of the most innovative and high-quality lenses for digital in the past year have been produced by Pentax.
    Reply

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