Photography — a creative art, an essential tool for some and a hobby for many others. Today, we have reached a stage where everyone should have a camera.
Photography started with film cameras and they were always thought of as difficult devices to use and rightly so for many reasons. They were difficult to maintain and operate. You had to truly understand photography to be able to take good photographs. For the rest who wanted a camera as a utility, something to keep memories as prints, there were the simple handheld cameras of their time. These were compact cameras and they were certainly cheap, and they made taking photographs much simpler, but not totally foolproof. There were still problems common to both SLR and point-and-shoot users. Film developing was a costly affair and plenty of photos were lost due to mistakes during shooting — this was a time before digital sensors or preview LCD screens.
Digital cameras gained significant acceptance quite quickly. They fixed many of the problems associated with film cameras — the instant ability to view your shot, most importantly, but they did so at a price. Even the really early digital cameras that lacked the refinements and the automation that we see today were much costlier than the then-available decent film SLRs that were generally considered to be great cameras for professional and amateurs alike. As we’ve seen in the past with every new technology, users should perhaps have delayed purchasing these expensive gadgets, but instead the take-up of digital cameras was fast, and the market has continued to grow ever since.
It has been years now since point-and-shoots (P&S) were developed, and the pace at which developments and improvements have taken place has been staggering. Within a decade, we’ve gone from film cameras that couldn’t guarantee a proper set of photos in a film to digital point-and-shoots that can detect faces, store them, click photos when people smile and there’s hardly any cost involved in using them!
What else could anyone want? There are those who look at point-and-shoots and think of them as toys and consider the only proper cameras to be the dSLRs. Speaking practically, point-and-shoots are actually pretty decent. Prosumer P&Ss, such as the Sony DSC H5, the Canon SX 10 IS, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS and many more, have closed the gap between standard point-and-shoots and dSLRs. Easy operation, and the ability to take macro photos to telephoto shots on a single camera without the need for changing any lens or settings. For hassle-free photographs, these prosumer cameras are very good.
However, if you are serious about photography and are analytical about quality and perfection, then we and other enthusiasts will tell you that you ought to buy a dSLR. If you are a professional photographer using a P&S camera, then we honestly aren’t sure why....
dSLRs bring a lot to the table, and there are good reasons for their weight, size and the number of knobs and settings they carry. You don’t just go out and buy a dSLR and walk around with it in your pocket. They require a rather more considered approach. They are meant for those who’ll sit an entire weekend in a nursery taking photos of flowers, go out and do some wild life photography, sports photography and will take that kind of dedicated time on the camera trying out all kinds of shots. dSLRs are modular gadgets. So over time, you’ll be drawn into buying an extra lens or two. The type you buy and the amount you spend will obviously depend on your requirements.
Canon EOS 400D
Canon’s EOS 400D is a slightly older camera than the rest. It followed the EOS 350D and is well known as a cheaper version of the EOS 450D.
The 18 — 55 mm autofocus lens that comes with the camera is average. It’s not going to be particularly useful when you go out on hiking trips or for wildlife photography. The lens does not provide sufficient zoom for that kind of photography, but for casual photographs portrait and closed ranged photography, it will do.
The buttons are small and the jog dial is a little hard to roll. A single jog dial is used to cycle the settings and a button is used together with the jog dial when combinations are required. All the settings expected from an entry-level dSLR are present. There are no limitations with this camera in terms of features.
Taking close-up shots is difficult with the standard shooting modes. The flash unit isn’t particularly good either. It’s bright enough for close areas and is too focussed on a narrow area. The build quality of the hinge and the flash unit isn’t very good.
Although this was a good entry-level Canon dSLR prior to the release of the EOS 1000D, in comparison, using it isn’t a very simple task, given its user interface. The menus are basic and sketchy. Using it with the Auto shooting mode gives decent results though.
Getting good shots in low-light situations can be a little difficult. It often requires you to increase the aperture size by a significant amount and also set the ISO to its maximum — 1600 to use a 1/30 second shot. Fortunately, the amount of grain at higher ISO levels is low and manageable and image adjustments can fix this.
The camera uses CompactFlash memory. The EOS 500D has just been launched and so the EOS 400D will slowly be phased out. Availability might soon be a problem, but at the same time, it’s also interesting to find low prices for the EOS 400D.
Canon EOS 1000D
Canon’s new EOS 1000D competes with the Nikon D60. The 1000D lies at the bottom of the pyramid of cameras from Canon. The EOS 1000D is a smaller camera and also a light one. In looks, it appears a little more refined and polished than the other cameras. The corners are rounded and so are all the buttons. It almost feels like a P&S from the rear end of the camera around the screen. The finish isn’t very nice. It feels very sandy and it’s not the best feel you would wish for when you’re holding a camera. It’s also light and so attaching a big lens will probably upset the balance significantly. Very light dSLRs are probably not a good idea.
Large markings are present everywhere to inform the user of the controls. Clearly, this camera was made for a beginner who possibly might even buy a dSLR as his first camera. It’s not as impressive as the D60 though.
One of the key features of the EOS 100D is the Live View. It’s similar to the one found in the Nikon D90. It lets you use the LCD screen to focus. This should prove convenient to P&S users not used to a viewfinder. There is a slight delay as expected and we’re really not so impressed — many would agree that the old viewfinder way of focussing is the way to go.
The buttons on the EOS 1000D are flat and easy to push. The jog dial feels as if it has large notches and isn’t as smooth and light as the other buttons and dials on the camera. Unlike the other Canons and the Sony, the EOS 1000D uses an SD/SDHC card. The body is built well and the flash hinge and structure is slightly better on this than the 400D. The lens itself looks similar and has a slightly silky grip which we didn’t like. There’s also the missing thumb-grip near the screen which was present in the EOS 400D.
The menus on the 1000D are basic but not as amazing as the 50D. The controls are a little more manual with the 1000D. Most of the controls are to be changed using the button and jogdial combination instead of using the direction keys in the software menu. The zoom buttons for the preview are set into bevelled slots on the back of the camera.
Focussing is simple and straight forward. Macro shots are fairly easy to take as well. The camera feels and works a lot like the EOS 400D and it also happens to replace and take its place in the price range.
The menu drags it all down, unfortunately. The A200 in comparison feels richer. The EOS 1000D is a slightly better camera than the aged 400D in image quality, but we preferred the body and ergonomics on the EOS 400D. The MRP for the Canon EOS 1000D is Rs. 34,995.
The Nikon D60 falls into the entry-level dSLR bracket. This category has been bubbling with activity with manufacturers trying hard to get the attention of eager enthusiasts who might take the leap. Like the rest of the contenders in that price range, the D60 is a 10.2 MP camera.
The biggest and the most prominent feature about the D60 is the usability of the functionality. Nikon has a done a lot to ensure that the user is never lost in a sea of options. All of the features and options are clearly distinguished and a dedicated help button gives a short description of each of the feature’s details. The menus are very warm and the main interface displaying the aperture size, shutter speeds and all the settings is highly interactive and animated. All this user-friendliness does not make the camera feel very bare and toned down — it still has an edge over the other dSLRs in the same price range.
Holding it is as difficult as with the other small dSLRs. The body is close to the hand grip with just enough space for your fingers. However, the build is superior to the Canon EOS 1000D, 400D and the Sony A200.
Images turned out well and the Auto shoot mode does its part nicely. The noise at ISO 1600 is very manageable and is on a par with the EOS 1000D and the 400D. Nikon supplies a good 18–55 mm VR lens, which makes a big difference. The VR works pretty well, but a lens of this calibre doesn’t really need it.
At the end of the evaluation, it’s the D60 that seems to be preferred; and rightly so, for its ease of use, it features excellent menus and has a user-friendly design. It feels very much like a refined camera than an attempt to tone everything down too much for the sake of ease of use.
Nikon’s D90 is one of the newest entries to Nikon’s line-up. The D80 was known for its really great quality sensor and the D40X was another camera that used it. The D80 was previously known as a great mid-range dSLR. The D90 therefore has a lot to prove, especially as it is quite costly.
The biggest difference going from a D40X or any other entry-level dSLR is the sheer size. It’s more or less the same as the D80. The D90 we received for review from Nikon came with an 18–105-mm VR lens. It’s functions and this kind of range lets the user to capture from wide-angle images to good telescopic images (for better telescopic images, you would consider the Nikon 18-200 mm lens.). This lens could be described as having a 6x optical zoom. As an overall solution, this lens with the D90 body makes an excellent choice.
Operating the D90 is pretty straight forward, although it isn’t as simple as the D60 or the D40X. There isn’t the help menu for every single feature that you find on the entry-level cameras that are intended to attract the new dSLR user. It’s assumed that the D90 user would be well-versed with dSLRs or photography basics.
Two jog dials are present — one at the front of the shutter release button and one on the rear near the screen. Accessing them is simple and the feel of the dials is very nice as well, but holding the camera might be a problem for users with smaller hands. The same old tiny directional key set is still present on the D90. On a camera this size, a larger set of separated keys would have made better sense.
The focus ring on the lens is located on the body instead of the tip of the lens as on some of the other cameras. The camera focuses quickly, even in low-light, and the manual focus is very easy.
The 3-inch screen is exceptionally good and Nikon has implemented Live View in this camera — this lets you focus using the screen. The general reaction from professional photographers is that they aren’t really fond of it. The other interesting addition to the camera is the HD 720p video recording function. dSLRs have until recently lacked video recording functionality so we think it’s a nice function to have in a dSLR, especially for a regular user. The quality of the video is surprisingly good too. The only drawback here is manual focussing.
The D90 together with the AF-S DX 18-105/3.5-5.6G VR lens is priced a bit higher than the D80 at Rs. 83,950. It’s a great enthusiast multi-purpose camera, though!
Sony, in comparison to the other brands, is a newcomer to dSLR cameras. It recently took over Minolta-Konica’s dSLR business, so things can’t be as bad as some might expect. The Sony A200 is one of the cheaper offerings amongst the entry-level dSLRs in the market.
There is a 10.2 MP CCD sensor onboard the A200 and Sony bundles an 18–75 mm lens with the camera; this is a decent lens for medium distance photography. It’s not as powerful as the Nikon’s 18–105 mm VR lens, but is a small step up from the 18–55 mm lens supplied with starter dSLRs from other brands. The focus ring is positioned on the outer edge of the lens body. It has a fine gear-teeth-like feel to it as you focus. It’s different from other lenses but some might find this distracting or awkward. It doesn’t get in the way of functionality or performance, though.
The size also seems a tad larger than the EOS 400D and the EOS 1000D. It’s easily the heaviest of the entry-level dSLRs. The quality of the camera is pretty good, although it feels of plastic almost all over.
The display quality of the 2.7-inch LCD screen is average. Sony has brought in colourful menus to the dSLR and everything looks very user-friendly, but there’s little help to guide users through the menus. The buttons on the back for operating the camera are well considered. The direction key set, for example, lets you scroll through images diagonally. The buttons are flat, soft and effortless to use. But wear and tear on them through months of rough use might concern some.
The controls are placed in different areas of the camera and not cramped all together. This might be comfortable for use once you get used to this kind of layout, but it also means that you have to move your fingers all over the camera to access them. It’s probably not the most optimal layout. While dSLRs try to give users the quickest access to controls, the A200 has a few settings hidden away behind a Function button. These include the flash mode, metering and autofocus mode settings. Noise reduction features for ISO and long exposure shots are also present.
We’re quite impressed by the features and design effort that Sony has put into this entry-level dSLR. One such feature is a meter that measures the amount of movement while you are taking a photograph. A flashing indicator next to it warns you of it. The stabilization control is present as a simple slider on one corner of the camera and not on the lens. The stabilization is average, but just the warning is enough to get your attention and put that extra care into holding the camera steady.
The other very impressive feature is the flash. With almost everything automated, the flash is able to measure the light very accurately. We tried all kinds of shots with objects really close and some moderately far away. The amount of light fired is accurate and the backgrounds are rarely drowned in darkness. If you think that the flash on the Sony isn’t sufficient, then you might face a problem. Sony uses a different flash-mount compared to Canon and Nikon, so purchasing a third-party flash might turn out to be a bit of a problem. It must be said that this mount feels more solid than the rest. The grip too is a little nicer than on the Canon cameras.
Image stabilisation is present on the camera and not on the lens with the Sony A200. A sensor detects your face in front of the eyepiece and then turns on the focussing and turns off the LCD, as with some of the other cameras. Those with high-definition TVs and monitors will be interested to know that this camera shoots at 16:9 aspect ratios. This means you don’t have to go through the trouble of cropping every single photo manually or automating it using an image editor, which often can crop out areas of interest to you.
The camera isn’t very fast and the drive speed at 3 frames per second is also not as impressive as the upper-end cameras, but it does easily make a match for other cameras of its category. The A200 uses CompactFlash memory and not Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo like its point-and-shoot cameras.