Film / TV



New digital SLR cameras focus on performance and affordability

Jay Dougherty | May 4, 2004

WASHINGTON — Have you been yearning for an affordable digital camera that feels and acts like your film camera of old? Lots of people have - and their wishes have come true.

Thanks to competition and the inevitable price drops that accompany advancing technology, the Nikon D70 and the Canon Digital Rebel have caused quite a stir among consumers.

These units are seen as "groundbreaking" in the industry, since they're the first to offer consumers responsiveness and a quality picture-taking experience while not breaking the budget.

"They're very popular," Jeff Taugner, sales manager at Badger Graphic in Wisconsin, told the German Press Agency dpa. "We sell them as fast as we get them in."

It's easy to see why. Most people's idea of a digital camera these days is a tiny device that fits into your pocket and allows you to take pictures by looking at an LCD screen on the back of the camera.

While novel, these tiny snapshooters leave a lot to be desired when it comes to operational efficiency and, often, picture quality.

It's not uncommon, even with expensive digital point-and-shoot cameras, to experience a slight delay between pressing the shutter button and actually capturing an image. Other operational deficiencies are common, as well.

"Every digital camera I owned before came up short in one way or another," said Jennifer Holehouse, a technology trainer and camera buff in Washington, D.C. "I was waiting for the day when digital cameras worked like a camera should."

Those days are here with the Canon and Nikon offerings. Aimed squarely at the camera enthusiast who previously eschewed digital cameras because the truly good ones costs many thousands of dollars, the D70 and Digital Rebel are considered trend-setting in the industry, says Taugner.

What they offer In a nutshell, what these cameras have over previous-generation digital cameras are familiarity, speed, quality, and compatibility with a wide range of existing photographic lenses.

Referred to as digital SLRs (single-lens reflect cameras), the D70 and Digital Rebel allow you to frame your pictures by looking "through the lens," just as you did with film-based cameras.

The advantages of being able to look through the lens are considerable. You can see, in real time, the accuracy and brightness of the image in your viewfinder, gauge exactly how your picture will look, and not have to wait unnaturally as you "zoom" in and out.

A possible downside is that digital SLRs do not accommodate the LCD screens found on most smaller digital cameras.

Snapping pictures with these cameras is a joy compared to the experience offered by sluggish pocket cameras. When you press the shutter button, the picture gets taken.

And thanks to the cameras' use of larger image sensors - the chips inside the camera responsible for translating what you see through the lens into a digital file - the resulting picture will be of potentially higher quality.

Finally, each camera opens up to you a full line of high-quality photographic lenses and accessories from the two leaders in the field of professional photography. A high-quality lens can mean the difference between a mediocre camera and one that's special.

What they cost Both cameras sell at retail level for under 1,000 dollars. Each can be purchased in a body-only kit for those photographers who already have a stable of Nikon or Canon lenses.

Each manufacturer also offer bundles that include a general-purpose lens.

Although the cost of these cameras still represents a sizable investment to many, they are no more costly than high-end point-and- shoot digital cameras that do not offer interchangeable lenses or the kind of real-camera feel that these do.

To understand just how affordable these cameras now are - and why they're considered groundbreaking - one has to look only at the recent past. Just last year, cameras with equivalent functionality sold for twice as much. Go a few years back, and you'd be looking at professional-level digital cameras that could cost as much as 20 - 25 thousand dollars each.

Is it time to buy? There's always the chance that technology prices will come down in the future, so is this the bottom for prices for good-quality digital cameras? "I don't know if we've reached the point when price cuts slow down, but we are getting pretty close on the consumer end," Taugner says.

It's telling, too, that digital cameras in this category are retaining their worth on the used market fairly well versus their lower-priced cousins.

The question of which camera to buy is as important as when to buy. Keep in mind that when you choose Nikon or Canon, you're buying into a camera company that has a proprietary system of lenses, accessories, and other gadgets. So investigate the systems, not just the cameras.

In general, both will provide you with all the tools you need to take stunning photographs. Canon does have the lead in implementing image stabilisation in its line of lenses, especially longer telephoto lenses, but Nikon seems slowly to be catching up. Nikon, conversely, draws praise for its sophisticated flash system. Both systems will have strengths and weaknesses.

It's a good idea, as well, to research the Nikon versus Canon question on Internet-based photography forms, such as dpreview or Photo.net. –Sapa-DPA

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