As I mentioned before, I am going to use Canon as a case for this series of posts, so here is the first brand-specific post.
There are 3 main classes of Canon DSLR cameras which (somewhat) correlate with their model number ( I include models current to the time of the post):
- Rebel (aka NN0D outside of US) – T2i (550D), T1i (500D), XSi (450D), XS (1000D) – Started in 2003 with the original Digital Rebel/300D, this line of cameras is perfect intro into Canon DSLRs. Small and light due to plastic bodies, the Rebels are compatible with the most accessories. All of the models have the “cropped” APS-C chip.
- N0D – 50D, 60D – mid-range cameras for pros and serious amateurs. They are heavier and larger than the Rebels, but they have some weather seals, mostly metal bodies (see below), and most of the features of the top line. Similar to the Rebels, they carry the APS-C chip.
- ND – 1D Mark III, 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark IV, 5D Mark II, 7D – the top of the line, creme-de-la-creme cameras for professional photographers. These cameras have the most advanced features, carry a lot of metal and are heaviest in both weight and price tag, but the price you pay gets you a camera that will work after being dropped into mud from a height of an elephant, and could be used as a melee weapon.
Nikon has a similar breakdown into classes with D3 being the flagman and D3000 being the intro.
Canon lineup seems to be drifting, and in the direction I do not really care for: the latest 60D camera, while, according to the model nomenclature, belongs to N0D line, does not have the metal body as its predecessors, such as 50D. At the same time, up until the introduction of 7D, the delineation between the N0D and ND was quite clear with the “pro” level reserved for the 1D/5D cameras. Now, however, at almost half the price of 5D Mk II, 7D places itself closer to the N0D series. 1Ds and 5D models have the full-frame sensor, while others have cropped versions.
While some people may want to invest the most money into the best camera they can afford, in my opinion, one should also remember that the more expensive the camera body is, the more expensive the accessories. While a remote control compatible with the Rebles will cost you about $30, remote controls for the 5D Mk II will require a $700 of disposable income. Sure the more expensive remote has A LOT more features that are useful for the pro, but it all comes down to want-vs-need in combination with sober realization of one’s current abilities as a photographer.
Additionally, there is a cost of lenses to consider. At the current state of technology, one wants to invest the most money into the “glass”, not the electronics. A good lens can serve you for a very long time, across many bodies. The picture will be only as good in terms of clarity, colors and lack of distortion, as the lowest common denominator will allow it to be, so a 1Ds Mk III with an EF 75-300 f/4.0 will make a picture only as good as the lens will allow it.
What it all comes down to? Here is what I think:
- Purpose, Frequency of Use, Weight, Size. If you are going to be carrying the camera chasing butterflies in the fields you probably want to start with the Rebels. The same applies if you are traveler-type with ambition to one day make it to the National Geographic, however, if you expect to be in the wild more than walking the streets of foreign cities, you probably want to start with the 50D or 60D due to their sturdiness. And while the 500 gram vs 700 gram difference may not seem significant at first, it will become obvious soon.
- Price of Accessories. As I mentioned above, the top line requires the top accessories and deep pockets
- On-board Flash. As much as we curse at it, it is used quite often, even if you soften it with a sheet of paper. 1D/5D camera bodies do not have a built in flashes, so you will have to purchase a separate flash.
- Video Capabilities. The newest cameras have video capabilities with a variety of quality levels spread out between the Rebel T1i with basic specs and 5D Mark II (logically) with top of the line specs (the season finale of House MD Season 6 was shot entirely using Canon 5D Mark II).
- LCD Size and Brightness. On a bright sunny day outside, a bigger, crispier LCD certainly helps checking if the picture needs to be re-taken. For some people, LiveView is also important. Initially, the DSLRs had very limited LiveView capabilities, but modern cameras have addressed most of the issues. Personally, I prefer the viewfinder.