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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  • IronChefMoto - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    Here's my 2 cents -- the poster who called Wesley's article "sad" is sort of right. If you want the most comprehensive reviews of digital cameras, those and other websites are the place to go.

    Does it mean that Fink's article is "sad?" No -- he probably put some decent work into it. Give the guy a break. I did detect a hint of Pentax love in the piece, but whatever. I'm a Canon convert from Nikon of late, so I'd probably lean Canon if I were writing it. Do I agree with that sort of slant? Absolutely not, but we're not writing the articles, are we?

    Honestly -- if you're coming to Anandtech for photography hardware reviews, you need to buy a handheld point and shoot. Otherwise, you're going to get a 5 page review on 4-5 cameras and come away with...a Pentax recommendation (niche product?) with props to a great rebate on the camera (???). That said...

    ...if you're serious about trying a dSLR, and my Rebel XT is my first, ask someone who already shoots with one, if you're uncomfortable reading the other website reviews (complicated and such). I knew enough to read the articles (with some photography background and instruction) AND ask questions of owners. But you ALWAYS ask questions of owners who know what they're doing with their hardware. If they shoot professionally, they can be a really great resource.

    Most folks I asked pointed me to one thing -- lenses. You buy a body as an accessory to lenses that you already own. If you don't have any lenses, then you start from scratch, and the buying process is much more involved. The body may have features this or features that, but all the image stabilization and doodads on the body aren't going to help the operator (a) compose and (b) shoot a better picture. The glass will help paired with good skill.

    Read fred-miranda.com (???) for reviews of good lenses by real users. Pick one out that may meet your day-to-day use needs. I selected a pricey Tamron 2.8 28-75mm lens that does well in a lot of lighting/portrait situations, and I couldn't be happier with it. I spent about $200 more than the kit total from B&H, but I also have a lens that I can move to a new body later on.

    Finally -- DO NOT BUY FROM THE CHEAPEST SHOP YOU FIND ONLINE! There's a website out there where visitors post photos of the addresses for the Brooklyn and NYC scam shops that sell grey market camera equipment. I can't remember the address, but it's scary -- Russian mafia scary. Think abandoned warehouse from Robocop scary. B&H is your best bet for getting quality service and reasonable pricing. Can you save going other places? Yeah. Can you get your CC # and home address back from the Russian mob after you get your grey market camera? Probably not...
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Yes, I completely forgot to mention Fred Miranda's site. Not as thorough as the others, but lots of different opinions, which is always good (also because it gives an idea of how good the quality control of each manufacturer is).

    I was a Nikon user for a long time, then I sold my gear and switched to Canon when I went digital. I missed Nikon's wide-angle lenses, but Canon's teles and amazing IS made up for it. Now Nikon has pretty much caught up in terms of image quality (they still don't have any 35mm sensors, though), and Canon also have a couple of good wide lenses (the EF-S 18-55 2.8 IS is amazing, shame it's not an EF). If I was going to start from scratch today I'd probably go for a Nikon D200. All things considered, I think it's the best value for money, at least until Canon releases a successor to the 30D.

    Reply
  • Justin Case - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    If you want to read about cameras, check out DPReview, Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, etc.. This article is just sad. It seems that it was written by someone with 6 months' experience in photography and basic "Google skillz".

    http://dpreview.com/">http://dpreview.com/
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/">http://www.luminous-landscape.com/
    http://www.steves-digicams.com/">http://www.steves-digicams.com/
    http://www.imaging-resource.com/">http://www.imaging-resource.com/
    etc.
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    If you want to just come and post hate and tell people to look elsewhere, please just STFU. Your post is just inflammatory. It seems like it was written by someone with 6 minutes of skimming the article and basic "Asshole skillz".

    We all know there are other sites that do digital camera reviews. They often go way overboard on features table and jargon use without just giving the basic information of "why is this particular camera better?" As a quick introduction and BUYER'S GUIDE this gives people a lot of good information. I own a Canon Digital Rebel, and it works fine for me, but I'm sure it is far inferior to the latest models and I frequently think about upgrading.

    What I got from this review: Canon and Nikon seem to be resting on their laurels quite a bit, and no doubt they will still sell a crapton of cameras. Bigger doesn't mean better, though - unless you think Dell makes the best PCs? Personally, I'm glad to see people like Pentax challenging the big players with features that are truly useful (builtin stabilization rather than expensive in-lens solutions). That doesn't mean I'm going to buy a Pentax right now, but maybe Canon will finally get off their asses and make something a bit more revolutionary than just a quick regurgitation of last year's model with a higher MP sensor and a few other tweaks.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    Canon and Nikon are light years ahead of the competition, as anyone who really understands photography can tell you. Even the original Digital Rebel will wipe the floor with anything Pentax has to offer, simply because it has better colour rendition, better SNR, and (above all) a much, much better lens line-up (which is the whole point of SLRs).

    8 MP are more than enough to print at any normal size; beyond 6 MP or so, what matters in a sensor is its physical size. Cramming more pixels into the same space only produces noisier images. A bigger sensor with the same number of pixels will have less noise, and therefore produce better images, especially in low light situations. Not to mention give you more room to play with DOF.

    Built-in image stabilisation will never come close to Nikon's VR, let alone Canon's IS (which is in a league of its own). Not unless they start making the cameras much bigger, to acommodate complex optical stabilisation systems. Anyone with a bit of experience with professional equipment knows this. Good optical image stabilisation takes up space.

    Your complaints about dedicated camera sites "going overboard with features and jargon" could make some sense if this was a review of pocket digicams (then again, you'll find that the sites I listed above have perfectly accessible reviews of pocket digicams, too). But it is not. This is an article about SLRs. Someone who doesn't know anything about cameras shouldn't even be consideirng an SLR - it's more expensive, it's heavier, and it's harder to use. A dummies' guide to SLRs is like a beginner's course for supersonic fighter pilots. They don't put you in one (and you shouldn't want to be put in one) unless you've had a lot of experience flying simpler, safer aircraft, and understand the concepts involved.

    If you have some experience with compact digicams and are considering an SLR, then what you need to read is an article about photography (Dan Rutter has a couple of good ones on dansdata.com, as do the sites I listed above), not a (clueless) review of different models, that seems based on the spec sheets instead of any real experience. And once you do understand how SLRs work, go read a review written by an experienced photographer (or two, or three).

    When I want to read about computers, I go to an IT site. When I want to read about photography, especially professional and semi-professional equipment (which is what SLRs are) I go to a site run by photographers. But hey, maybe I've been doing it the wrong way around. I can't wait for the new article on database servers from Luminous Landscape...!
    Reply
  • appu - Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - link

    I agree with Justin. I respect Anandtech and have been a regular reader for 5+ years now. I will give credit to Wesley for taking the effort to summarize what's at best a very difficult market but I don't agree with the conclusions he's drawn. Price and in-camera stabilization alone do not make a particular SLR better than another. I tend to think Wesley *knows* his cameras and photography and that this article is probably an effort to make a review more appealing to the IT-centric minds of AT readers. However, I will say that a buying guide for cameras should be decided on different criteria, and much as I appreciate Wesley and AT for making this effort, I'd rather they do not. They would just be doing themselves a great injustice.

    Unfortunately for cameras in general and SLRs in particular, digital has made them commodities just like IT components. There was a time when camera bodies really were an investment. Digital SLR bodies however are like computer peripherals - obsolete by the time you decide to get the model you like. The newer ones are always better and are released so soon (upgrade cycles of 12/18/24 months on consumer/prosumer/pro lines) that all the money you spend on your camera body isn't going to get you anything in return when you upgrade. In that sense, an AT review to identify "value" among camera bodies makes sense, because for the average amateur or hobby photographer, it makes more sense going for a slightly less sturdy (but nevertheless rich-featured) camera body and put the hard-earned cash down for some good lenses, because it's the lenses that really make a camera body sing (or draw, whatever) after all. So I'd like AT to - if they continue reviewing digital SLRs, that is - focus (please excuse the pun) on this angle and make it explicit that it's this angle they are focusing on.

    What I'm saying is that their articles should probably state at the outset that they're targeted at the casual amateur photographer who is looking for a lot more flexibility over what's offered by pocket-sized digital cameras. The serious photographers (read: those who want to make it a profession or dedicated hobbyists) can obviously go elsewhere.
    Reply
  • vailr - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    Did you overlook Fuji D-SLR's?
    Example: FUJI FILM FinePix S9100 9.0 MP Digital SLR $444.89
    http://www.abesofmaine.com/viewproduct.asp?id=fjfp...">http://www.abesofmaine.com/viewproduct.asp?id=fjfp...
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    The Fuji does not have the ability to change lenses, it uses a viwfinder like move cameras rather than true optical viewfinder,like you find in SLRs in this guide. It uses a much smaller sensor such as you will find in point and shoot cameras instead of the APS C size or larger sensors found in SLR cameras. It is "SLR-like" but not an SLR. It is a fine camera for what it is, but it is not in the same category as the cameras metioned in this guide.

    Fuji does make a specialized digital SLR, the S3 and recently announced S5, that use Nikon lenses. Prices have recently dropped on the S3, but it has sold in the $2000 price range and is a favorite of some wedding photographers.
    Reply
  • AxemanFU - Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - link

    I had to take exception to this. Nikon has never made one of their budget scale downs better than the predecessor, though they do sometimes make them almost as good. The D40 lacks an integral autofocus motor, so it relies on the AF lenses to have their own autofocus, and most lenses still don't have that integrated. This means it is somewhat useless for your older Nikon AF lenses unless you enjoy manual focus. The D50 optics and autofocus are also virtually identical to that of the D70, while the D40's are substantially less sophisticated. The D50 is a significantly more capable camera over all, though the D40 is a nice camera in it's own right. New buyers getting new lens kits can go with a D40 and be happy, but anyone that has invested in Nikon lenses previously would be wasting thier money most likely.
    Reply
  • ElFenix - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    quote:

    If you already own Nikon lenses the new 6MP Nikon D40 is also a good choice
    well, not really, unless they are the AF-S models, as the lack of in-body autofocus motor makes all the other nikon lens into manual focus, iirc. better to get the D50.
    Reply

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