996GT2's Complete Camera Choosing Guide

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
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UPDATES IN PROGRESS March 2011


This guide consists of 3 main sections

1) Point and shoot cameras
2) Digital SLR cameras


Entry Level Point and Shoots:

Canon SD1300 IS: A good camera for those who need to take snapshots. Nothing too fancy here, but good image quality and features for the price (which is just over $100). Has optical IS and a wide-angle zoom lens.

Midrange/Budget Enthusiast Point and Shoot:

Samsung TL350/WB2000: At about $240, this camera is extremely full-featured, with a bright 5x zoom lens and 1080p video support. As a bonus for enthusiasts, it features manual controls and also the ability to shoot in RAW. The 10 megapixel, 1/2.3" Backlit CMOS sensor is not as good as the larger sensors found in the high-end P&S cameras below, but is better than your run of the mill P&S camera.

High End/Enthusiast Point and Shoot:

Portable Recommendation: Canon S90/S95. Fast lens, large sensor, RAW shooting, and small size. That's all there is to it.
Slightly less portable Recommendation: Olympus XZ-1. Even faster lens than the Canon S90/S95, slightly better high ISO noise performance. If you don't mind the larger size, this is the one to get.


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SLR Section:


FAQ: A guide to choosing digital SLR camera bodies

Many people are confused when faced with the often overwhelming number of choices available to them in the world of digital SLR bodies. The fact that these cameras command quite a price premium over typical point and shoot compacts does not make the decision any easier. Image stabilization? Live view? Low viewfinder blackout? These terms may seem alien to someone just delving into the world of SLR photography, and thus the goal of this guide is to clarify these terms and help the potential buyer choose an appropriate DSLR body.
In this guide, I will focus on cameras from all of the major DSLR manufacturers: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, and Panasonic.



I. Important terms:

Before we begin, here are some terms you should become familiar with:

Focal length multiplier
: For any non full-frame camera, the focal length written on the lens is NOT the effective focal length of the lens in actual use. APS-C cameras only use the center part of a lens's field of view, so to obtain the effective focal length in use you should multiply the printed focal length of the lens by one of the following values:

Nikon, Pentax, Sony APS-C: 1.5
Canon APS-C: 1.6
Sigma Foveon: 1.7
Olympus 4/3 system: 2.0

This "focal length multiplier" is great if you shoot a lot of telephoto, but not so good if you shoot wide angle. To compensate, manufacturers have released digital-only lenses that start wider than traditional film lenses. For example, the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with a Canon Rebel XSi has an effective focal length of 18*1.6 to 55*1.5 or 28.8-88mm, closely approximating the popular 28-80mm lenses often used on 35mm film cameras.

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Sensor size: This is the physical area of the camera?s sensor. A larger sensor usually means better high ISO performance, since each individual photosite can be made larger.
Full frame (Nikon D3, Canon EOS 1Ds series, etc): 864 mm^2
Canon APS-H (EOS-1D series): 548 mm^2
Canon?s APS-C sensor (Rebel and xxD series): 329mm^2
Nikon/Sony/Pentax APS-C: 370 mm^2
Olympus 4/3 system: 225 mm^2
1/2.5? point and shoot: 25 mm^2

Live View: Live view sends a video feed of what the camera ?sees? onto the rear LCD screen, giving you a point & shoot camera like experience in composing your shot. This is especially handy when you are shooting on a tripod, since you can zoom in and manually focus for maximum focus accuracy.

In-body Image stabilization: A feature found in most Sony, Olympus, and Pentax cameras, in-body IS provides image stabilization for ANY lens attached to the camera. Instead of moving an element in the lens, the camera?s sensor is moved to compensate for shake. The downside is that that the user cannot see the effects of image stabilization through the viewfinder. In-body IS has also been claimed to be less effective, although in practice its performance is similar to in-lens IS (usually around 2 stops of stabilization)

Pentaprism/Pentamirror viewfinder: Most lower-end cameras feature pentamirror viewfinders, which are cheaper to manufacture than pentaprism viewfinders. The downside is a slightly darker viewfinder image. Cameras which have pentaprism viewfinders include the Canon xxD series and above, Nikon D80 and above, Pentax K20D, Olympus E-30 and above, and Sony Alpha A700 and above.

Flash-sync: This is the highest shutter speed that can be used with flash (without using a dedicated external flash with high-speed mode). 1/250s is considered good, but some cameras have an excellent 1/500sec flash sync. A faster flash sync is useful when using fill flash in daylight, or for shooting fast-moving objects.

Continuous Drive: This is a measure of how quickly a camera can shoot with the shutter button held down (in frames per second). For sports, the ability to shoot many frames in a short time is helpful. Usually, entry level cameras have continuous shooting speeds of ~3 FPS, with mid and high-level cameras exceeding 5 FPS and professional cameras reaching 10 FPS and above.

Weather-sealing: Most semi-professional and professional cameras are weather-sealed to some extent against the elements. The range of sealing can vary from only the battery/CF compartment doors to complete sealing of all buttons and switches. However, if you don't want to shell out the $$$ for a weather-sealed camera, the much cheaper option is to simply buy a rain cover ;)


II. Entry-Level cameras


The cameras in this category are most appropriate for the person wishing to upgrade from a point and shoot camera, or for someone who simply wants to enter the world of DSLR photography as a hobby. They feature many of the notable advantages that DSLRs have over traditional P&S cameras (compatibility with a wide range of lenses, less ISO noise, faster continuous shooting), but make concessions in build quality and features to reduce price. As a result, some of these cameras do not cost more than a high end point and shoot. The cameras in this category are also smaller than mid-level and high-end DSLRs, which may be important for the user who does not want to lug around a big, heavy brick of a camera.

Canon Rebel XS: This is Canon's currently lowest-priced DSLR. In terms of features, it is similar to their previous generation entry-level camera, the Rebel XTi. However, it makes concessions in several notable areas compared to the XTi, such as having a 7 point AF system to the XTi's 9. Like the XTi, the XS also does not feature spot metering. The XS does have live view, which the XTi does not.

Nikon D40/D60: The D40 was Nikon's most popular DSLR, and for good reason. It was compact, nicely featured, capable of great images, and came with a pretty decent 18-55mm kit lens. The D40 has been officially discontinued, but is still available from some stores. It only has 6 megapixels, but this is still more than enough for most enlargements. The D40's notable omissions are the lack of in-body drive motor, lack of exposure bracketing and a relatively slow continuous drive speed of 2.5 FPS. Also, both the D40 and D60 are equipped with relatively primitive 3 point AF systems that are not suited to tracking motion. The lack of an in-body AF drive motor is a very big con for the D40 and D60, since it removes AF abilities with all non AF-S or AF-I Nikkor lenses (such as the excellent and inexpensive Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D).

Olympus E-420: The E-420 doesn't have any really standout features in terms of image quality or performance, since its ISO performance is hindered by its smaller 4/3 format sensor. However, its main selling point is its small size. The E-420 is notably flatter than the DSLRs from other makers, mainly because it omits a real hand grip.

Pentax K-M (K2000D): This camera is packed to the hilt with features, including Pentax's SR in-body image stabilization, 5-point AF, 3.5 FPS continuous shooting, and the ability to take AA batteries (which may or may not be a plus, depending on how you look at it). In-body IS is particularly notable, since you can use a wide range of manual and auto-focus lenses with the K-M and still get image stabilization. One of the K-M?s cons is the small buffer of only 5 JPEG frames or 4 RAW frames when shooting in continuous drive, which makes it less suited to shooting fast action.

Pentax K200D: The K200D is now discontinued, but it is still available in many places so I have maintained the information here. The K200D maintains the K-M's desirable features such as in-body IS and the ability to take AA batteries, but adds a weather-sealed body, 11 point AF, and slightly larger screen (2.7 vs 2.5 inches). It is good value for money, unless you shoot a lot of sports or fast action. The reason it suffers in these areas is due to the slow continuous shooting speed of just 2.8 FPS and the tiny buffer of just 5 JPEG or 4 RAW frames.


Nikon D5000: The D5000 is Nikon's newest entry level DSLR, replacing the D40/D40x/D60. It is a little bit bigger than the 3 cameras it replaces; the D5000 is closer to the old D50 in terms of size. As far as the important specs go, the D5000 inherits the same 12.3MP CMOS sensor from the D90 and D300, so its image quality and high ISO performance are excellent. Continuous shooting performance is also quite good, with the D5000 being capable of 4 FPS with a decently sized buffer. The D5000 also offers some other trick features, such as 720p HD recording @ 24 FPS, a tilt/swivel 2.7" screen (albeit lower res than D90/D300), and numerous touch-up and post-processing features built right into the camera.

***However, the D5000 still lacks an in-body AF motor, so potential buyers should be aware that their lens selection is reduced quite a bit, especially in the area of fixed-focal length lenses. Nikon is making some progress towards introducing more fixe-focal AF-S lenses (35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.4, for example), but their fixed-focal length lens lineup still features screw-drive AF for the most part.

Panasonic GF1/Olympus E-P1: These cameras are not really SLRs (no mirror), but they do have large sensors and the ability to use interchangeable lenses. The big advantage to these cameras is their size-they are much more pocketable than even the entry level SLRs. Without a lens, the GF1 and E-P1 are only about 15-20% larger than a Panasonic LX3. Of the two, the Panasonic GF1 is my preferred pick due to its faster autofocusing, better LCD screen, and built-in flash. Neither camera has an optical viewfinder, but both have excellent screens and full time live-view. Both cameras can use existing Four-Thirds system lenses (some require an adaptor). Adaptors to use other lenses also exist, such as one for Leica lenses.

For the ultimate in portability, the E-P1 is available with a 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens, while the Panasonic is available with a 20mm f/2 pancake lens.


III. Mid-level APS-C:

The cameras in this category add features such as faster continuous shooting speeds, weather sealing, and in the case of the D90, HD video recording. These are more appropriate for someone looking to move to digital from film, since these cameras more closely mimic the "feel" of film cameras than the smaller entry level bodies.

Canon Rebel XSi: This is a step above the XS, adding 2 more megapixels (for a total of 12), spot metering, .5 fps faster burst shooting, and a larger viewfinder. In terms of size, it is very similar to the XTi and XS. Canon's slight advantage over most of the other manufacturers is high ISO performance. The tried and true combination of Canon's low noise CMOS sensor and well-developed noise reduction algorithms means that Canon's entry level cameras have slightly less visible noise at high ISOs compared to Sony, Pentax, and Olympus. The XSi's body is all plastic on the outside, without any weather sealing.

Canon Rebel T1i: The T1i is the newest member of the entry to mid level EOS line, replacing the Rebel XSi. It has the same 15 megapixel sensor as the EOS 50D, but introduces an HD video mode: 720p @ 30 FPS or 1080p @ 20 fps. The T1i uses Canon's new Digic IV processor, whereas the XSi used the Digic III processor. The increase to 15 MP has increased the inherent noise of the sensor, but the better processing of the Digic IV sensor should mean that the XSi and T1i have similar image quality (with the T1i perhaps being somewhat more noisy at higher ISOs).

Nikon D90: This is the long-anticipated successor to the Nikon D80. As of now, it is one of 2 DSLR cameras that can shoot HD video, with the other being the Canon 5D Mk. II. However, in the case of the D90, video clips are restricted to 5 minutes or less. The D90's sensor is very similar to the D300's, so image quality is very comparable as well. The D90 performs well at high ISOs as a result. The D90 is capable of shooting at 4.5 FPS in continuous drive mode, which is noticeably faster than the D80's 3 FPS. The D90 shares its 11 point AF system with the D80, and does not have the 51 point AF of the D300. The However, the D90 does have the D300's excellent VGA screen. It is not weather-sealed, just like the XSi. One of the biggest reasons to upgrade to the D80 or D90 from the D40/D60 is the in-body AF drive motor of the D90; this allows the D90 to support AF, AF-D, AF-S, and AF-I lenses (the D40 and D60 cannot AF with lenses from the first 2 categories).


Pentax K20D: This is the highest-end camera in Pentax's lineup, featuring in-body IS, weather-sealed body, and a 14.6 megapixel sensor. It shares some features with the K200D, including the 11 point AF system. The K20D also has a much bigger continuous shooting buffer than its siblings, but that's not saying much since its JPEG buffer is still only 38 frames and its RAW buffer is just 14. Continuous drive speed is 3 FPS.

Olympus E-620: The E-620 is a newly announced camera from Olympus; it packs in numerous features into a body that is still roughly the size of the E-420 body (read: small). Standout features include in-body IS, 4 FPS continuous shooting, and a swing/tilt 2.7" screen

Sony A200/300/350: This is Sony's entry to mid-grade series of cameras. Image quality is quite competitive, since the sensors in these cameras are similar (if not the same) as those used in Nikon, Pentax, and other makers' cameras. Sony's live-view design is very nice and allows AF to be easily used in live view mode. All 3 of these cameras feature in-body Super SteadyShot IS.

-A300 is A200 with live view
-A350 is A300 with 4 extra megapixels


IV. High-end APS-C:


These are the best APS-C (non full frame) cameras, with very fast AF systems, fast continuous drive shooting, and weather-sealed magnesium alloy bodies.

While the cameras here cannot compete with full-frame cameras on image quality and high ISO performance, they may be a better choice when the focal length multiplier of these cameras is desirable. One such application would be shooting birds from a distance, since the field of view crop on these cameras essentially makes a 400mm lens into a ~600mm lens, saving you quite a bit of cash and eliminating the need to buy teleconverters for FF cameras in order to reach longer telephoto lengths.

Nikon D300: This is the replacement for Nikon's D200. The biggest improvements are in the AF, sensor, and continuous shooting. The D300 uses a 51 point AF system, the same as the D700 and D3. However, since the D300 is an APS-C camera, its 51 AF points fill the entire screen instead of just the center portion, as on the D700 and D3. This makes the D300 a very capable sports camera, especially when paired with the MB-D10 battery grip that allows the D300 to rip away at 8 FPS (6 FPS without grip). The D300 also features a very nice VGA screen and the ability to meter with many older Nikon AI and AI-S lenses.

Canon EOS 40D: The EOS 40D, which has been replaced by the EOS 50D, is still a very good camera and a bargain at the prices it's currently available at. The 40D's highlight features include a magnesium body with weather sealing (although not full weather sealing), 6.3 FPS continuous shooting, live view, and built in sensor cleaning. The 40D features a huge shooting buffer, so with a decently fast CF card you can snap away well over 100 JPEG FINE frames at 6.3 FPS (over 20 seconds of shooting at full speed). The RAW buffer is also very impressive at around 20 frames. It's worth noting that the 40D can shoot more frames continuously than the Nikon D300. The 40D's 9 point AF features 9 cross points, but since it does not have as many points as the D300 the Nikon is a better camera for tracking fast motion. However, the 40D is slightly faster when both cameras are used without battery grips, clocking 6.3 FPS to the D300's 6. Both cameras are comparable in terms of image quality and ISO performance, but the 40D can be had for quite a bit less than a D300 if you do not need the better AF and other features. It's also worth noting that many of Canon's higher end lenses feature fast, silent ring-type ultrasonic focusing motors, while many of Nikon's lenses are still using the slower, much louder in-body screw drive.

Canon EOS 50D: This is the replacement for the EOS 40D, but does not add a whole lot besides 5 extra megapixels, VGA screen, ISO 6400 & 12,800, and AF microadjustment. The last feature is the most interesting, since the 50D allows you to calibrate the AF for each lens you own without having to send the camera and/or lenses to the factory for calibration. The 50D's ISO performance is similar to the 40D's considering the 5 extra MP. The screen on the EOS 50D, despite being the same size, has 4 times the resolution of the 40D's screen (VGA vs. QVGA). The 50D also features HDMI out and contrast-detect AF in live view mode (no need to flip the mirror down for AF, like with the 40D).

Sony Alpha A700: The A700 was Sony's flagship camera before the introduction of the full-frame A900. It's still a very capable camera, with a weather-sealed body, 11 point AF system with dual-cross sensor in the center point, and 5 FPS continuous drive. The A700 actually uses the same sensor as Nikon's D300, and recent firmware updates have improved the A700's high ISO performance considerably to a point where it is competitive with rivals from Nikon and Canon.

Olympus E-3: This is Olympus's flagship camera in their 4/3 system, featuring a fully weather-sealed body, tilt/swivel screen, 5 FPS burst shooting, and an 11 point AF system that Olympus claims to be the fastest in the world when used with certain zoom lenses. Image quality wise, this camera cannot compare fully with APS-C rivals from other companies, mainly due to the limitations of the 4/3 system sensor. However, Olympus makes some very nice lenses (albeit expensive) like the 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD.



V. "Compact" Full-frame:


All the image quality of a professional FF camera, minus the battery grip. Continuous drive performance is usually a bit slower compared to professional FF cameras, but the price tag of these cameras is considerably less than their behemoth professional counterparts.

Nikon D700: Full frame sensor from the D3. 12 Megapixels. 5 FPS. 51 Point AF. Up to ISO 25,600, and the same excellent VGA screen from the D3. What more is there to say? This is THE camera to have for someone who often shoots in low-light, or wants most of the performance and features of a D3 and all of the image quality of a D3 without the price tag and larger size. Rumors are that the D700 will get a new sibling in the form of a D700x later this year, with the 24 MP sensor from the D3x. The D700 is the ONLY full frame digital SLR to have a built-in flash; many people have criticized the inclusion of a built-in flash in a professional grade DSLR, but it may be useful in an emergency use context.

Note: The D700 with battery grip installed will reach up to 8 FPS in continuous drive shooting, making it nearly as fast as a D3. It is notably faster than all the other cameras in this category when the battery grip is on.

Canon EOS 5D: Though this is a discontinued camera, you can still find them pretty handily on many forums and on sites like eBay. Packing 12.8 MP into a full-frame sensor and a midsize body, the 5D is a good choice for someone who wants to take the plunge into full-frame DSLRs without the heft price tag of every other camera listed here. The 5D is a camera best suited to portraits and other types of relatively non-moving photography. It is usable for sports, but the slow 3 FPS shooting speed and 9 point AF (w/ 6 more assist points) aren't as suited to sports photography as the Nikon D700. However, image quality is superb, and even though the 5D Mk. I only goes up to ISO 3200 it is perfectly usable at that ISO setting.

Canon EOS 5D Mk. II: The long-anticipated successor to the original 5D packs in numerous headline features; among them are a 21 MP sensor similar to the one in the EOS-1Ds Mark III, full 1080p video recording, VGA screen, and 3.9 FPS continuous drive speed. The AF system is the same as the one used in the original 5D: 9 points with 6 assist points. At a price of between $2500-3000 for the body only, the 5D Mk. II is an excellent deal. Image quality is said to be superior than that of the Canon flagship 1Ds Mk. III. This is a good alternative for people looking for image quality comparable to the Nikon D3x, without the $8,000 price tag.

Sony Alpha A900: Sony's new flagship camera packs 24.6 megapixels onto its sensor...which happens to be very similar to the one used in the $8000 Nikon D3x. The A900 is full of features, with some notable ones being in-body IS (the first in a full frame DLSR), 5 FPS burst shooting, 9 Point AF with 10 assist sensors, and a VGA screen...all at a cost roughly 1/3 of the D3x's asking price. However, the A900 disappoints at higher ISOs due to Sony's noise reduction algorithms. This is a problem that can easily be fixed in firmware, so in theory the A900 should be able to produce images similar to the D3x in quality...


VI. Professional Full-Frame:

*Canon EOS-1D Mark III: This camera actually uses Canon's APS-H sensor, which is roughly 65% the size of a full frame sensor (1.3x FOV multiplier). However, since it is a professional camera aimed at professional sports shooters, I felt that it should be placed here. All other cameras listed in this section are full-frame.

The EOS-1D Mark III is Canon's professional "sports" camera. With a smaller than full frame sensor and "only" 10 MP, the specs don't seem that impressive. When you consider that the 1D III can shoot at a blazing 10 FPS, however, it's quite an impressive feat. HOn the other hand, this camera's speed and image quality are eclipsed by that of the Nikon D3, which manages 9 FPS shooting in full frame mode and 11 FPS shooting in DX crop mode.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III: This is Canon's professional full-frame camera, with a 21 megapixel sensor and the ability to shoot 5 FPS. Nikon did not really have an answer for the 1Ds III until the introduction of the D3x a few months ago. However, the much cheaper 5D Mk. II offers most of the features of the 1Ds III, and even adds some useful features like the ability to record 1080p video.

---It should be mentioned that both of Canon's professional cameras are due for an update soon.

Nikon D3: Nikon left out the "H" in the D3's name, but it should really be called the D3h to follow the trend of the D1H, D2H, and D2Hs. This is the best "fast" DSLR camera on the market right now; it is just as fast as the Canon 1D III in terms of raw shooting speed, but offers better image quality, a better screen, and the option of ISO 6400, 12800, and even 25600 (none of which are available on the 1D or 1Ds Mark III). Luminous Landscape suggests that the Nikon D3 offers a 1 stop noise advantage over the also full frame Canon 1Ds III, which is pretty impressive.

Nikon D3x: This is Nikon's answer to the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. Using a slightly modified version of the Sony A900 sensor and carrying over most of the D3's features, the Nikon D3x doesn't seem to be all that revolutionary at first...especially at the asking price of $8000. However, the camera does offer better noise characteristics than the A900 (mostly due to Nikon's superior NR algorithms). It will be interesting to see whether the Sony A900 can match the D3x with firmware updates to its NR algorithms...



VII: Recommended lenses

Introduction:
All lenses listed below are what I consider to be good choices in each category. I've left out lenses that do not offer good value for money, such as the Canon 70-300mm DO IS or Nikkor 70-300mm VR, or lenses that have considerable image quality issues. Each lens would be a good choice in its price range, but the different lenses in each category all offer something unique. For example, the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 offers the widest wide-angle at 10mm, but the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 has a faster maximum aperture and the Sigma 12-24mm is compatible with full-frame cameras. It's up to you to decide which feature (longer range, faster aperture, inclusion of image stabilization) is more important to you.

Notes and terms:

Image stabilization acronyms: Canon-IS, Nikon-VR, Sigma-OS, Tamron-VC. Sony, Olympus, and Pentax lenses do not have IS because the image stabilization is done inside the camera body via sensor shift.

Focusing motor types:

DC: conventional motor used in cheaper and older lenses
Screw-drive: many older Nikkor lenses are driven by an AF motor in the camera body. This is quite loud, but speed can be good (although no match for the fastest ring ultrasonic motors)
Ultrasonic micro-motor: used in budget lenses; offers quiet focusing but without the speed of ring-type USM and without full time manual focus override (Except in the case of the Canon 50mm f/1.4)
Ring-Type Ultrasonic motor: The fastest AF motors. Ring-USM focusing speeds for most lenses range from fast to unbelievably fast. Lenses like the Canon 135mm f/2L USM focus almost instantly, and almost completely silently. Ring USM also adds the inherent benefit of full-time manual focus override.

-->Canon's ultrasonic motor is Ring USM, Nikon's is Ring SWM, Pentax's is SDM, and Sigma's is Ring HSM. Tamron currently does not make any lenses with USM.

It is worth noting that Pentax's SDM implementation is not quite as fast as the fastest Canon USM, Nikon SWM, or Sigma HSM lenses.


Except where denoted, all listed Canon USM, Nikon AF-S, and Sigma HSM lenses feature ring-type USM motors. Lenses without a USM, AF-S, or HSM notation feature DC motors, or, in the case of Nikon lenses, are screw-driven. All Pentax lenses are screw-driven unless they are listed as SDM lenses.

-->Nikon lenses with a "G" in the name lack an aperture ring.

**Except where noted as "APS-C only," all lenses are full frame compatible, meaning that they will work with APS-C DSLRs, FF DSLRs, and 35mm film cameras.


a) Canon

Landscape/Ultra Wide-Angle lenses:

Budget (used): Sigma 15-30mm f/4.5-3.5
Midrange: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 HSM (APS-C only, nicknamed "Wigma"), Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 HSM, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (APS-C only), Tokina 12-24mm f/4 (APS-C Only)
High End: Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (APS-C only), Canon 14mm f/2.8L USM, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM


General Purpose Walkaround Zooms:


Budget: EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (the IS version is much better than the non IS, both are APS-C only)
Midrange: Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro, Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II, Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (all 3 are only compatible with APS-C cameras), Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (full frame compatible), Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di XR, Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 HSM Macro
High End: Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC (Image Stabilized), Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM (APS-C only), Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM, Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

-If you care more about convenience than image quality, one of the following lenses is for you:
Canon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC, Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS (all APS-C only, all have IS)


Portrait Lenses:

Budget: 50mm f/1.8 II
Midrange: 50mm f/1.4 USM (Micro USM), 85mm f/1.8 USM, 100mm f/2.0 USM, 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX HSM
High-End: 50mm f/1.2L USM, 85mm f/1.2L USM, 135mm f/2.0L USM (the latter 2 are part of the "holy trinity" of 35L, 85L, and 135L because of their spectacular image quality).

General Purpose Telephoto Zooms:

Budget: Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO, Canon 70-210mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (APS-C only)
Midrange: Canon 70-200mm f/4L USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 HSM
High-End: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM (with or without IS), Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM, Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 HSM ("Bigma"), Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 OS HSM ("SigmOS")

Macro Lenses
Budget: Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro, Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX Macro
Midrange: Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro, Canon 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro (APS-C only), Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro, Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro, Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Macro, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 HSM Macro, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 HSM Macro
High-End: Canon 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro

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b) Nikon

Landscape/Wide-Angle lenses:

Budget (used): Sigma 15-30mm f/4.5-3.5
Midrange: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 HSM (APS-C only), Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5, Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 HSM, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (APS-C only), Tokina 12-24mm f/4 (APS-C Only)
High End: AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 (APS-C Only), AF-S DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 (APS-C only), AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 (a truly extraordinary lens judging from reviews)


General Purpose Walkaround Zooms:


Budget: AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (APS-C only, get the VR version if at all possible, uses micro USM instead of ring USM), AF-S DX Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 (lacks VR, but is faster, has more range, and ring type SWM focusing motor with manual focus override)
Midrange: Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro, Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 (all 3 are only compatible with APS-C cameras), Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di XR, Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 HSM Macro
High End: Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II VC (Image Stabilized), AF-S DX Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (APS-C only), AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 (APS-C only), AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8

-If you care more about convenience than image quality, one of the following lenses is for you:
AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC, Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS (all APS-C only, all have IS)

-->of the three, the Nikkor has the best image quality, but at a higher price


Portrait Lenses:

Budget: AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D
Midrange: AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 D, AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX HSM
High-End: AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D, AF Nikkor 105mm f/2 D DC, AF Nikkor 135mm f/2 D DC (high end prime lenses with ultrasonic focusing is one area in which Nikon is lacking compared to Canon)

General Purpose Telephoto Zooms:

Budget: Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO, AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6 D, AF Nikkor 70-210mm f/4, AF-S DX Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR (APS-C only)
Midrange: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 HSM (nikon doesn't really make any spectacular midrange telephoto lenses...the slow-aperture 70-300mm VR isn't really worth the asking price)
High-End: AF Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 D, AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 HSM ("Bigma"), Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 OS HSM ("SigmOS")

Macro Lenses
Budget: Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX Macro
Midrange: Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro, AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 VR, AF Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 D, Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro, Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Macro, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 HSM Macro, , Sigma 150mm f/2.8 HSM Macro
High-End: AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR, AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D, AF Micro-Nikkor 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6 (the only true macro lens that zooms)


c) Pentax (with help from FlippedGazelle)

Landscape/Wide-Angle lenses:

Budget (used): Sigma 15-30mm f/4.5-3.5
Midrange: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 HSM (APS-C only), Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (APS-C only), Tokina/Pentax 12-24mm f/4 (APS-C Only, these two lenses are essentially the same)
Pentax doesn't really have any high-end ultra-wides that are comparable to the likes of Canon's EF-S 10-22mm or Nikon's 12-24mm. Their 12-24mm is essentially a rebadged Tokina model.


General Purpose Walkaround Zooms:


Budget: Pentax DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
Midrange: Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro, Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II, Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4, Pentax DA 17-70mm f/4 SDM, Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM

Again, Pentax doesn't really have any "truly" high end normal zooms that are comparable to the likes of Canon's 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L, or the equivalent Nikkors. Their high end 16-50mm f/2.8 is essentially a rebadged Tokina 16-50mm with an ultrasonic AF motor added.

-The Sigma and Tamron superzooms are offered in Pentax mount, and pentax also has their own version of Tamron's 18-250mm superzoom.


Portrait Lenses:

Budget: WIP
Midrange:
High-End:

General Purpose Telephoto Zooms:

Budget:
Midrange:
High-End:

Macro Lenses
Budget:
Midrange:
High-End:


EDIT: This is still a work in progress. Feel free to leave any comments/corrections you may have. I will add info as time goes on.
 
Last edited:

soydios

Platinum Member
Mar 12, 2006
2,708
0
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Lots of nice info there. It helps to get all the bullet points in one central location. Welcome to the FAQ club. ;)
On the Nikon D40: as a prior Nikon lens owner with four screw-drive AF lenses and only one AF-S lens, the lack of an in-body focus motor in the D40/D40x/D60 is a glaring omission by Nikon. I thus recommend a used D50 over the D40, or a used D80 over the D40x/D60, any day.
That said, I <3 my D90. :)

EDIT: mods, sticky this please.
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Originally posted by: Muadib
Any chance you can add the cameras due out this year?
I will try to do so sometime in the coming days

Originally posted by: fuzzybabybunny
What's with all the sticky worthy stuff today?
We're just that good, fuzzy
 

PurdueRy

Lifer
Nov 12, 2004
13,837
4
0
Canon 50D adds peripheral illumination correction as well which is very effective.

In addition:

1. It adds ISO 6400 as well (How usable it is depends on your expectations)
2. Contrast detect in live view
3. Better control over noise reduction
4. HDMI out
 

Flipped Gazelle

Diamond Member
Sep 5, 2004
6,666
3
81
You may want to drop the Pentax K200D, as it has been discontinued because of feature overlap with the K-m. And anyway, you are probably being too kind to the K200D, as it is more of an entry-level model. I'd put the Pentax K20D in the "midrange" segment, because even though it is Pentax's "high-end", it's more of a competitor to the Nikon D90 and Canon XSi, in price as well as features.
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Originally posted by: Flipped Gazelle
I hope folks will read this lovely write-up, prior to asking questions.
I hope so too...lately a lot of the threads in here have been really redundant
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Added some noteworthy point and shoots, such as the Fuji F100fd and Panasonic TZ5/TZ7.

Edit: Also added recommended Nikon lenses
 

extra

Golden Member
Dec 18, 1999
1,947
6
81
may wanna add super zoom category for point and shoots. ;-) For portrait lenses for canon, at 50mm, you have the f1.4 listed..you may want to specify that the sigma and canon 50mm f1.4 are both good options. May want to add the sigma 150-500mm OS in your mid range zoom thing for canon too..it can be had for around a grand and is pretty amazing for the price.
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Originally posted by: extra
may wanna add super zoom category for point and shoots. ;-) For portrait lenses for canon, at 50mm, you have the f1.4 listed..you may want to specify that the sigma and canon 50mm f1.4 are both good options. May want to add the sigma 150-500mm OS in your mid range zoom thing for canon too..it can be had for around a grand and is pretty amazing for the price.
Ah yes, I forgot to add the Sigma for Canon (have it for Nikon though)

I'll add superzooms sometime later this week...I already have 1 on there, the TZ7
 

extra

Golden Member
Dec 18, 1999
1,947
6
81
Cool cool, good info...I duno if I'd call the tz series a superzoom, although imho it really is..but those little things are in a category of their own...

Only downside is that to get that huge zoom range in such a tiny package the sensor needs to be teeny.

I think the tz6/7 now have a real aperture so I was kinda sad they didn't add more manual modes, but oh well.
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Completed P&S section. I added all the P&S cameras that I would personally recommend in each category; if there are any others that you feel are worth adding, post them here.
 

extra

Golden Member
Dec 18, 1999
1,947
6
81
"However, unless you specifically want a larger camera" ...i'd add to that, or need manual controls. :) Good guide man. :) Will hafta keep an eye out and see how the new TZ competitor from canon performs, and for super zooms, how that nutty 24x zoom one from kodak performs, haven't really found any decent reviews of either and have not seen either in person.
 

Alyx

Golden Member
Apr 28, 2007
1,181
0
0
I think I'd bump the 50-500 to mid-range. Its $300 cheaper (used) than the Canon 100-400, and in the high end most folks will go for something different.
 

Flipped Gazelle

Diamond Member
Sep 5, 2004
6,666
3
81
Some recommended Pentax lenses:

Pentax SMCP-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED, ~ $300. Very highly regarded.
Pentax SMCP-DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED (IF) SDM, ~ $700 (weather sealed, as are all DA* lenses)
Pentax SMCP-DA 16-45mm f/4 ED AL Lens, ~ $300
Pentax's strength in lenses are the primes. 14, 21, 31, 35 (macro), 40, 43, 50 (macro), 55, 70, 77, 100 (macro), 200, 300.
 

Flipped Gazelle

Diamond Member
Sep 5, 2004
6,666
3
81
Hmm, a couple more Pentax thoughts:

Since you've mentioned performance aspects of the cameras like continuous drive speed and buffer size, I think it's fair to mention that both the Pentax K200D and K20D have generally slower AF than the competition. Personally, I've noticed that the Nikon D40 and Canon Rebel XT have faster AF than my Pentax K100D. The K-m, OTOH, reportedly has faster AF, on par with other cameras in it's class.

The Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM may not quite match the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, but it's close. Center sharpness between the 2 is similar, but the Pentax has weaker edge sharpness and suffers from some CA.

No mention of the excellently sharp Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8? Or is the range too oddball for your taste?

 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Originally posted by: Flipped Gazelle
Hmm, a couple more Pentax thoughts:

Since you've mentioned performance aspects of the cameras like continuous drive speed and buffer size, I think it's fair to mention that both the Pentax K200D and K20D have generally slower AF than the competition. Personally, I've noticed that the Nikon D40 and Canon Rebel XT have faster AF than my Pentax K100D. The K-m, OTOH, reportedly has faster AF, on par with other cameras in it's class.

The Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM may not quite match the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, but it's close. Center sharpness between the 2 is similar, but the Pentax has weaker edge sharpness and suffers from some CA.

No mention of the excellently sharp Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8? Or is the range too oddball for your taste?
I haven't gotten around to adding lenses mainly intended for FF yet...usually people go for the 17 or 18-50mms if they are shooting crop cameras.

Will get to that after midterms...linear algebra tomorrow, oh joy :(

 

Flipped Gazelle

Diamond Member
Sep 5, 2004
6,666
3
81
Originally posted by: 996GT2
Originally posted by: Flipped Gazelle
Hmm, a couple more Pentax thoughts:

Since you've mentioned performance aspects of the cameras like continuous drive speed and buffer size, I think it's fair to mention that both the Pentax K200D and K20D have generally slower AF than the competition. Personally, I've noticed that the Nikon D40 and Canon Rebel XT have faster AF than my Pentax K100D. The K-m, OTOH, reportedly has faster AF, on par with other cameras in it's class.

The Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM may not quite match the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, but it's close. Center sharpness between the 2 is similar, but the Pentax has weaker edge sharpness and suffers from some CA.

No mention of the excellently sharp Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8? Or is the range too oddball for your taste?
I haven't gotten around to adding lenses mainly intended for FF yet...usually people go for the 17 or 18-50mms if they are shooting crop cameras.

Will get to that after midterms...linear algebra tomorrow, oh joy :(
Letting school impose on your responsibilities at AT?! How weak... :evil:

Good luck on your exam! :)
 

996GT2

Diamond Member
Jun 23, 2005
5,212
0
76
Added the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and newly announced Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 HSM Macro.

The latter is especially interesting. Now that the popular Siggy 24-70 comes equipped with quick ring HSM focusing with full manual override, it becomes pretty serious competition for the high end Canon and Nikkor 24-70mms at a fraction of the price.
 

sygyzy

Lifer
Oct 21, 2000
14,001
4
76
996GT2 - YOU ARE THE MAN. This really makes things easy for someone looking for a camera. You know exactly what you are talking about and I have so much confidence in your knowledge, that I'd feel safe buying any camera on the list. Thanks.
 

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