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Next Step Up

July 29, 2009 - Dave Hecei
I’m lucky in that I have been in photography long enough to have seen many changes and evolutions in camera equipment. I have lived through roll film (120, 620, and 127), cartridge load (126 and 110), 35mm, instant films (both Polaroid and the short lived Kodak), and now digital.

My camera of choice is an SLR. Just as it was with film, digital SLR cameras come in tiers. Some manufacturers have models in each tier, some only in one or two. The three tiers are Entry/Consumer, Mid-line/Prosumer, and Professional.

Entry level models are of course the least expensive DSLR models. Canon’s Digital Rebel line is a good example. The original Digital Rebel, introduced almost 6 years ago, was the first DSLR under $1000.

An Entry level DSLR has all the features that most photographers will ever need. The latest batch of models from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. is now in the 12-15 megapixel range. Most of these models also have the ability to shoot HD quality video.

While an Entry level DSLR should easily fill the needs of 90% of the photographers out there, if your photographic needs are more advanced then you may want to take a look at a more advanced DSLR. Both Canon and Nikon have some amazing mid-line/prosumer models. In the Canon line you have the choice of the 50D or the new 5D mark II. In the Nikon line there is the D300 and the new D700.

Both the Canon 50D and the Nikon D300 have a APC-sized sensor so there is a built-in magnification factor for any lens you attach. The Canon has a 1.6x factor and the Nikon is 1.5x. This essentially means that if you attach a 70-210mm zoom lens from a 35mm film SLR onto the Nikon D90 it will effectively become a 105-315mm zoom. This is great for sports and nature photographers where magnification is important.

The Canon 5D mark II and the Nikon D700 have full sized sensors. This means that the sensor is the same size as a frame of 35mm film. Since there is no magnification factor, a 70-210mm zoom works as a 70-210mm. Full-frame sensor cameras are great for landscape photographers or anyone who needs to shoot wide-angle more than telephoto.

When you compare an Entry-level model to a Prosumer model one thing you will notice is the build quality. To keep costs as low as possible, Entry models us plenty of plastic and sometimes carbon fiber. Prosumer models are usually built to withstand more abuse. There is less plastic and more metal, usually the core frame of the camera is metal.

The one thing most photographers need is speed. Prosumer and Pro models are much faster. They have faster processors and also use faster motors. These models usually have the ability to shoot 5 frames per second or more.

For the true professional photographer both Canon and Nikon have excellent models, for a premium price. Canon has either the EOS 1D mark III or the EOS 1Ds mark III (the Ds is a full-frame model). Nikon has the D3 and D3x, both have full-frame sensors. These are heavy-duty camera models meant for heavy use, thousands of shots per week. They are extremely fast and strong and have extra seals to keep out water and dust. The bad news is that these models usually start around $4500 and can go up to $8000+, which is out of the range of most amateurs and advanced amateurs.

So if you have an entry level DSLR now and have started to outgrow it, or you are looking to get very serious about your photography and think that an entry model won’t handle it, take a look at the excellent mid-line models available.

The camera body is only a tool. Buy the model you can afford and spend more on the lenses. If you buy great lenses today they will stay with you. You can always upgrade to a better camera body later on, from the same maker, and still use all your same lenses. Great glass will take great pictures on any model DSLR whether it’s an Entry level or Pro model. Remember, the most important piece of equipment is a good ‘eye’.


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