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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  • creidhmeach - Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - link

    This article is not up to the usual standard. There are too many instances of phrases in the vein of "from a brief comparison" and "the Pentax image stabilisation is said to improve by four stops..." without any corroborating evidence.

    Anandtech wouldn't publish a comparison of an nVidia and ATI graphics card with "from a brief comparison" and "the nVidia card is said to have..." without any comprehensive testing, and Anandtech normally never believe published specifications and advertising without proof from testing first.

    Anandtech has built a reputation for well balanced, comprehensive reviews; I understand your point in publishing a brief buyers guide for first-time dSLR buyers, but please endeavour to make them a little more comprehensive in the future. In particular, please don't utilise advertised specifications as a recommendation to buy a product without showing us that they actually perform as the manufacturer says.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - link

    Someone let this thread die, the article was not very thorough, there wasnt any hard testing, and nikon/canon are the best and youll pay for that.

    pentax is bang for the buck...but not a long term solution if you are really into photography.

    the end.
    Reply
  • dextro - Monday, January 08, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the great guide Wesley. I've been an AT reader for a couple of years for good reason. I used to patronize many more sites including and Tom's Hardware, as well as AT and Tech Report and others. After spending a good amount of time on all of those sites, I generally find myself only visiting AnandTech and The Tech Report for reviews. I'm a young guy and I don't have that much cash, so I especially appreciate the attention to price/performance and value without compromise in quality.

    I was going to go for the Nikon D40 originally, but after reading this article and doing a bit more research to verify, I picked up the Pentax D100 at B&H, and I love it. Yes, this is my first SLR, but the price and features were right for me. I really enjoy using hardware with high build quality, and the camera fits me very nicely. I like it so much that after having it for only a couple of weeks I'm already about to buy my first new lens, a 50mm f/1.4 pentax prime which I hope will serve me well.

    I think most people who go to AT know that its not smart to judge purchases based only on the brand, so ignore the fanboys man. Thanks again for the great article and you should know you've made at least one person very happy and perhaps helped to start a future career in photography.
    Reply
  • aljohnso - Saturday, January 06, 2007 - link

    Not with the review - with most of these comments.

    1. You could tell that the author knew what his conclusion was going to be before you reached the end of the article? You mean, you are surprised that the author did his tests, reached his conclusions, and then wrote the article? You were expecting something more stream-of-consciousness style? "I then tried the Canon, went to the bathroom, had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich...."?

    2. Ad hominem attacks normally mean that the attacker is compromised, either in his own standing or in the argument he is bringing... shame on you (and you know who you are).

    Which brings me to what I expect is the major conflict here - the article is not complementary to Canon products to the level to make people who have spent several thousands (sometimes on a single lens) to feel validated in their life choices.

    I have owned both Pentax and Nikon equipment - I found, in my limited way, that the pentax pancake lens was wonderful, but that since I wanted to do a fair amount of macro work the Nikon lens selection was better. I gave my Pentax kit to my brother - who has a much better handle on picture composition than I have.

    I studied the resolution of my Nikon lenses in some detail (I do know the difference between a double gauss and a tessar - both in terms of design and in results) and have posted results to usenet in the day.

    I have stayed out of the fray in the digital realm since only recently has Nikon had a DSLR that looked like it had hit a sweet spot in terms of moderate price and usability (something between the D80 and the D200), and since Canon changes mounts and such in a way that did not allow me to consider the lenses as general optical elements in the way you can with Nikons (there is good reason why you can get c to T to N mount adapters, and almost no adapters to Canon).

    The item I found interesting (and non-obvious) was the problem with sensor dust - I shall have to get more information on that. In verses Out of body camera shake compensation is rather trumped if in keeps the sensor clean and out does not.

    The difference in Canon and Nikon lenses in the film days (and here I am primarily speaking prime lenses - zooms are interesting and useful compromise lenses), (other than that derived from Nikons longer back focal distance) can general be said that Canons have better sharpness over the field edge, and somewhat better color rendition. Nikons have better center sharpness and a less "artistic" color balance.

    All of that may have shifted - computer design and more exotic glass choices shift the compromise balance, and in particular the smaller field being taken from the lens by the smaller digital sensor (as well as the shift in effective sensor thickness) make the design process and optimization results much less challenging in digital, until perhaps recently where sensor size and pixel size starts to get close to film again.

    You have old lenses to mount? I would expect Nikon old stuff to work better than Canon - better center sharpness. Longer back focal distance also means deeper sensor active regions can be accommodated. I may be wrong - I would be interested in finding out.

    However, the authors stated purpose/point-of-view was more along the line of "if you were going to spend a few hundred (and not too far back, more than several hundred) on a prosumer TTL fixed lens camera - you know, 10x zoom, slr like body... say, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS... and now consider if you could get similar capabilities from a DSLR with the kit lens or cheap upgrade".

    Certainly this guide was not focused on those looking to spend ~$2k+ to get into the business... so for DSLR "newbees" function with kit lens is important, quality of exotic lenses (such a super telephoto or wide or macro) is not important, and brand loyalty is a very low priority.

    The author was surprised with the quality of the Pentax product. It did have the examples of the majors to work with before release, it must be mentioned (which he did).

    A useful review for me - your mileage will, of course, vary.

    It might have been improved with some links to other sites with more detailed reviews, but Does Macy's tell Gimbel's?

    Allen
    Reply
  • Clones123 - Sunday, December 31, 2006 - link

    Wesley,

    Thanks for an interesting and informative amateur’s buying guide. I'm shocked at how heated and nit-picky the comments have been. I fail to see how a brief DSLR buyer's guide on a computer web site can be faulted for not having been far more detailed and analytical than it was ever intended to be. I have forwarded your buyer's guide to numerous friends who, after seeing my photos, are interested in perhaps buying a DSLR themselves. I strongly suspect that NONE of those friends have either the time or the desire to read a long, complex and detailed comparative analysis of entry level DSLR's had you written such a thing.

    You’ve introduced AnandTech to some new people who may not have previously visited AnandTech for it’s computer-related content. So, THANK YOU for your efforts which, I assure you, ARE appreciated by a silent majority of visitors to this web site.
    Reply
  • skyyspam - Sunday, December 31, 2006 - link

    Overall, your review is unsatisfactory. Your tone is more subjective than objective, and the content you did provide was superficial. You could learn a bit from reading Jeff Keller's reviews over at dcresource.com--he runs one the most objective digicam comparison programs around. Every camera he gets is put through exactly the same rigors, and those tests are designed to make it very easy for a reader to differentiate between a camera's performance in distinct categories.

    Quite dismayingly, you never show your readers any sample photos of your tests; you only report your own observations. For example, instead of just telling your readers, "From brief comparisons the Pentax and Canon XTi are the best at controlling noise at high ISO ("film") speeds," why not show us actual images from each camera, taken of the same subject at different ISO speeds? Going back to Jeff's reviews at dcresource.com, I've probably seen his Chicago skyline ISO comparison so many times that I can practically draw the city scene freehandedly. When he reviews a new camera, without reading a word, I can go directly to the ISO comparison samples and say, "Damn! That's one hell of a noisy picture, for only being ISO 200!" The same goes for his Mickey Mouse macro subject, which brings me to the question: did you ever compare the macro performance of the cameras? In more areas than I feel like discussing, you seem to have overlooked the importance of providing us with substantial review content.

    In conclusion, your review lacks enough content to make it worthwhile, and I'm further annoyed by its overall subjective tone. For digital cameras, proof of performance is most easily shown and comprehended by using test images, and you provide your readers with no such examples.
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    I creted a forum login for just this one post :-)

    The article is interesting, funny and inacurate at times.

    I respect it is a buyers guide, however you cannot do a buyers guide on SLRs by just comparing the specs.

    1. SLRs offer GREAT FLEXIBILITY. Macro, landscape, sports, wildlife, architecture etc. Depends mainly on the lens you use, the camera is mostly irrelevant (except some areas, focus speed and sports f.e.). This is nowhere even considered in the whole article.

    2. SLRs are all about lenses (as mentioned above). Now I know this may be disputed by many, but you totaly forgot 3rd party lens manufacturers (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina to name a few). True they may not have the same quality as genuine brands, but are still a consideration. Now most offer Canon, Nikon, Minolta mounts. That's all. Pentax is almost non-existent. This widens the lens selection for the named 3 brands.

    3. In some parts you are praising Pentax for lens compatibility with older lenses. So you are buying an AUTOFOCUS camera to use with MANUAL FOCUS lenses? Come on. There are adapters for M42/canon/nikon mounts made by 3rd parties. This is not even a point. Check out ebay for lenses and compare the amount available for each brand. Canon leads by a horse lenght followed by Nikon. This is the true benchmark for lens availability.

    4. Metering system comparison? Metering systems are NOT MENTIONED in the whole article IIRC. This is on of the MOST important points of SLRs and make a buy or leave difference.

    5. Pentax K100D. A friend bought this camera recently and I got to use it for a couple of indoor shots. Being used to Nikon I was lost with the controls. Focus point selection for example? I can do it blind with Nikon and after a brief look on Canon. I did not figure out on Pentax without consulting the menus.

    6. I guess you miss the Nikon viewfinder picture in the review.

    7. VR/IS/AS or whatever you want to call it. With lenses you don't loose it when changing bodies. It is the number 1 reason for pentax and sony miserably batery lifetime. VR lenses from Nikon are made cheap these days. Check out the new 70-300 AF-S VR.

    8. Image format options ? RAW+JPEG ? Service centers availability ? f.e. you can find Canon gear in almost any village at the end of nowhere. Try that with Sony/Pentax.

    All the above points are more or less relevant. However what you realy missed is the 1st point. You can do specs comparison on a P&S small digicam because you can 100% sure say it will be used for snapshots on vacation and parties, so the purpose is very limited. Not so with SLRs which fill many roles.

    Just to end my rant, do it in reverse next time. Do extensive reviews of each camera and then make a buyers guide as a summary after all of them. With references to the previous articles. Will be much better.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Thursday, December 28, 2006 - link

    > Now I know this may be disputed by many,
    > but you totaly forgot 3rd party lens
    > manufacturers (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina to
    > name a few). True they may not have the
    > same quality as genuine brands, but are
    > still a consideration.


    And then there's Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander, and I suppose one can say that those don't have the same quality as most Canon or Nikon lenses, either, but they're only a consideration if you robbed a bank recently. ;^)

    BTW, compact digicams offer great flexibility, too. The difference, as you point out, is that with a compact, it's the camera that matters. With an SLR, it's the lens selection. So, when you buy an SLR, you should buy the SLR that will take the lenses you want to use, not the other way around.
    Reply
  • astroidea - Friday, December 29, 2006 - link

    Have you ever even bothered to read about Pentax lenses before you brushed them off as being inferior?
    It sure doesn't seem like it.
    Because if you have, you'd realize that Pentax is legendary in making primes, and their lenses are often considered as poor-man's leicas as the offer nearly the same quality for a fraction of the cost.
    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-02-05...">They only make the best autofocus lenses in the world
    And this link is from luminous landscape, one that you said is credible.

    http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic2/238813/0">Oh and here is a 40yr old Pentax lens blowing the socks off a modern canon lens

    If you want to argue about pro equipment, then yes, a Canon 1DS MK2 or a Nikon D2X with multi-thousand dollar pro zooms that costs more than a car, would blow the socks off anything Pentax has to offer. But we're not talking about pro equipment here. We're talking about sub $1000 prosumer cameras. And that's where Pentax shines.
    What you're saying is basically if I argued that Canon and Nikon was junk because Hasseblad's 39MP MF back destroys anything Canon/Nikon has to offer. It's simply comparing apples to oranges.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Friday, December 29, 2006 - link

    Pentax has some very good primes in the 35-135 range. Nikon has had better wide angle lenses for a long time, and Canon has had better teles for a long time (Canon's 50 mm MkI is nothing to write home about, BTW - it's not even an "L" -, so that comparison is hardly surprising). And both Canon and Nikon have been improving their "weak ends" recently (ie. Nikon has improved their teles and Canon has improved their wides), and both make much better zoom lenses than Pentax (arguably, even Sigma does).

    When you go SLR, you're buying the system (unless you plan to replace your camera and all your lenses each time something new comes out). So the fact that Canon's and Nikon's high-end stuff is the best out there (unless you're willing to use manual focus, anyway) should definitely weigh on your decision, no? And should, at the very least, be mentioned in a "buyer's guide".

    If I was going to buy something today, on a low budget, know what I'd get? A second-hand Digital Rebel (yes, the prehistoric one), and one good lens (ex., an 18-55 f/2.8). And I bet I could take better pictures with it than I could with a brand new $1000 Pentax (or Canon, or Sony, or Nikon) camera and the kit lens.

    The whole point of SLRs is lenses and accessories. Picking a system based on a single camera and a single (cheap, kit) lens is missing the point. People who aren't planning to buy more lenses would be much better served with a compact camera (cheaper, lighter, smaller, easier to use). Unless this is a buyer's guide for posers and masochists, it's a very poor buyer's guide.

    In fact, as other people have pointed out before, it seems that the "conclusion" of this "buyer's guide" had been decided long before it was written, and information is selectively omitted or twisted to support that conclusion (i.e., dishonest comparison of Pentax's lens lineup with other manufacturers', dishonest comparison of IS/VR with sensor stabilization, lack of comparative sample images, lack of objective performance measures, etc).

    So, no, I'm not saying, nor have I ever said, that "Pentax sucks". I said this article sucks, and I'm saying it again. Bigtime.

    Go read the articles about these cameras on DPReview, for example, and you'll see that they are all very good cameras (each with certain strengths and weaknesses, but all very capable). The issue isn't the cameras; the issue is the article itself, which seems to be a 20-minute job based on a previously decided "conclusion" and marketing leaflets. The K10D can be the best choice, under certain specific circumstances. As can any of the others. But the "blanket" anti-Nikon and anti-Canon statements in this "article" only show the author's lack of experience and understanding of pro photography (and yes, any of the cameras in this review can produce professional results, in the hands of a good photographer - in fact, pretty much any dSLR released in the last 3 years can). There is a reason (several reasons) why 95% of professional photographers pick Canon or Nikon. They are not all completely stupid. And if you're buying an SLR, maybe you should be paying some attention to the choices of the people who use them every day, and depend on them for their work.

    P.S. - Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a poor man's Leica. :P
    Reply

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