People have been asking me about my recent camera purchase, so here are some thoughts. My real photographer friends (Eric, Jen, Viv) are welcome to weigh in.

Professional photographers might not like to hear it, but here’s what I think about the digital revolution: The gap between the expert and the novice has been cut in half. In the old film days, pre-auto-exposure and auto-focus, taking good pictures was 90 percent photographer and 10 percent equipment. Once AE and AF came around, it was more like 75-25. Now it’s about 50-50.

Any schmoe with a digital point-and-shoot can take better pictures than a lot of pros could in the film days, and any schmoe with a digital SLR can take brilliant pictures with the thing set on auto. (I know, I know, there’s still an art to photography, and those who have a good eye and lots of knowledge are still far more likely to take good pictures than the schmoes are.)

In addition to the auto-everything ability of new cameras, there’s the simple fact that you can take thousands of pictures without paying for film and developing. The old blind squirrel adage applies.

So that means for most hobbyists, or people wanting to take pictures of the family for posterity, not for art or a living, a cheap camera is fine — about 100 times better than 10-20 years ago. Those Canon powershots with the attached lens take really nice pictures and have a killer zoom on them for shots of birds and the feeder and such.

If you want the ability to change lenses, or you just like hanging an SLR around your neck, a cheap Canon Rebel or Nikon D40 or D60 is great. It’ll have more features than you know what to do with, but if you’re interested in learning more about SLR photography, there’s plenty to play with and learn about. They’re cheap enough that you can grow out of it in a few years and upgrade. As they go up to 12-15 megapixels, the 10 mp cameras might be selling cheap.

I was really close to getting a D60 rather than the D80 just to save a couple hundred bucks. As someone who is a bit more than a novice, I knew the D60 had everything I needed.

What finally changed my mind was the lens that comes in the kit. The 18-135 that comes with the D80 is probably worth $100 more than the 18-55 that comes with the D60, making the $200 price difference insignificant.

Other things I liked about the D80: A bigger, pro-size body that balances better with long lenses (I plan on getting a 70-300 from Viv cheap — another reason to go Nikon). An LCD screen on the top, with lots of quick and easy ways to change shutter speed, aperture, ISO, flash, etc. I’ll be taking sports pictures, which makes those things nice, though not necessary. You can make all the same adjustments with a D60, but it’ll take you an extra five seconds.

Canon people and Nikon people are like Ford and Chevy people. The strength of their loyalty is not proportional to the differences in the products, if that makes sense.

I was a Canon guy in the film days, mainly because my dad was. He was more of a Ford guy, too, but I bought an old Chevy truck last year and love it.

I went with a Nikon mainly because that’s what Viv shoots at work, and Rob will soon be using, so we can swap lenses and information, tricks and tips, etc.

Some people will tell you Nikon-made lenses are better than Canon-made lenses, but I don’t know if that’s true.

The people who seem most trustworthy are the ones who say to go to the store and try them out. See what feels good, what’s more intuitive, what fits your hand, what’s easy to use. Both brands have great entry-level cameras that are rated high by people in the know.

Nikon is known as being the more intuitive, user friendly brand, but I’m not convinced that the differences are that great. There’s quite a learning curve for a person going from an old-fashioned film SLR to a digital SLR, or from a point-and-shoot digital to a digital SLR, so the differences in “interface” are not that significant, IMHO (don’t you hate those abbreviations?).

I did a lot of reading, first debating between Canon 30D and Nikon D80. 30D is on closeout, so it’s cheap right now. The 30D is more a low-end pro model (like a Nikon 200D) and the D80 more a high end hobbyist model for the semi-serious “buff” (like the fancy Rebel xsi or xti or something). Prices were similar, but the screen on the 30D was a little smaller, and the lens I wanted would’ve made it more expensive than the D80 kit. The 40 and 50D have nice big screens and live view and all the bells and whistles. And about a zillion megapixels (anything over 6 is plenty unless you want to make wallpaper of your photos).

I’m already a little bit remorseful for not buying the d90 for the video because I take a fair number of videos for work, but I can live with a little video camera. The extra 4-500 wasn’t possible anyway.

Someday we’ll probably all have a telephone that does everything the D90 does (plus a computer/ipod/television/transporter). Till then, I’ll be having fun with what I got.


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