I have been trying to decide on a half decent digital camera for a long time now, and I narrowed the choice down to a Nikon D50 or a Canon EOS 350D. The original list also included Nikon D70s, Olympus E500 and a few others. By and large my budget was for about Â£500, but for the right deal I’d have gone higher.
So what did I look for?
First and foremost I do not consider myself to be a ‘pro’ photographer – I am fairly experienced around cameras, but probably still have a great deal to learn. My major prior experience is with Canon video cameras such as the XL1 and GM2(both of which I love using, by the way), so I bring no preconceptions to this – except possibly that Canon cameras are great! What I wanted was a camera that would take different lenses and would take rock solid pictures time after time, with enough room for me to ‘grow’ into it.
I read a lot of reviews online and in camera magazines. In nearly every case (but not all), the Canon came out just slightly ahead of the Nikon, largely because of the greater resolution (8 Megapixels instead of 6.1). I was particularly interested when it came to image quality and, despite the greater resolution, the Canon didn’t seem to be so favourably compared… the Nikon seemed to have the edge – clear, sharp images with few artifacts, etc.
So I went to a few shops and tried them out. My very first impression was that (looking at them) the Canon appeared so much more than the Nikon – nicer style, I suppose. However, when I picked them up, the Canon felt small in my hand – the little finger of my right hand seemed to slip off the bottom of the grip. When I held the Nikon, it felt so much better – a full grip and a great texture to hold. With the Canon I’d have ended up paying another Â£100 for a grip to make the body a bit larger…
I don’t actually have large hands, so I was a little surprised to find the Canon so small. I guess that for a lot of folk, compact is good – but for me in this case I was less worried about that aspect.
Next up came the cost. The Canon is more expensive at every store, and online. I found a couple of places that would do the Nikon for a little over Â£400, but it was bare bones stuff. Ultimately I didn’t want to wait four days for a camera to arrive from a dealer I had never heard of before, but equally, I didn’t want to pay over the odds just to get it immediately. The answer came from Apple who were doing a package deal of the Nikon D50 plus a 1Gb SD card for Â£479 (The deal seems to have gone now – 6th April… sorry!). This is about Â£60 cheaper than Dixons, for example, including lens.
As luck would have it I was walking past Dixons in Chelmsford and decided to pop in to see what they could offer me as a deal. I got talking to the salesman (for once, a grown up, and one who knew a little bit about the subject i wanted to talk about!) and he told me their best price. I asked for a discount, but he was sure he couldn’t match the Apple price for the camera and memory card… until the manager walked up. I happened to say that if they would match the Apple price, I’d pay there and then… and that is exactly what happened. Dixons in Chelmsford, 10am midweek is not too busy, and I felt well cared for as a customer… plus I got the camera I had my eye on there and then at an online price. You can’t ask for much more than that, really.
So, having had the camera for a few days now, what is it like? Well, I really like it! Each time I pick it up I feel like I want to take pictures. I am more than able to find my way around the controls, which fall in to really comfortable places – my fingers fall right onto them even when I am looking through the eyepiece. The on-screen display is informative, the LCD screen large enough and the feature set is good enough for a beginner like me… in fact, probably too good at the moment. The images I have taken are very sharp and shooting in RAW has been a revelation as well – all of the image information is in there just as the CCD captured it, instead of using a JPEG which has had some compression applied. It captures in JPEG as well, if I want, and I am switching between the two formats from time to time until I settle on the one I want to use constantly.
The battery seems to last an age as well – I have had the camera ten days or so as I write this, and have taken probably 300 shots in that time. The charge indicator hasn’t dropped at all, which has surprised me. When it starts to go down, I bet it drops very fast!
The flash seems a bit weedy to me – perfectly adequate for indoor casual stuff, but it gets a bit lost outdoors on a dull day I think. It won’t be long before I buy a larger flashgun… Having said that, it isn’t a problem and as the histogram shows, the camera is capturing the right amount of information each time.
The more advanced tools are still a bit lost on me – but I am learning. Shooting in manual mode seems a bit hit and miss, but the pre-sets in the camera are well tuned as far as I can tell.
All in all I am brilliantly happy with the camera. Ultimately, the decision came down to two things – firstly, the Nikon feels so much better in my hand and if I am going out day after day I wanted a camera that wouldn’t irritate me by feeling wrong. Secondly, Dixons matched the online price Apple were offering – I felt this was a very decent offer and thoroughly recommend you go and ask for a deal like that yourself!
Finally, I want to say thanks to a small camera shop in Cambridge, just off the market square called Campkins Camera Centre (no website I can find, but here’s the phone number:01223 364223). The staff in there are so patient, knowledgeable and helpful – I asked all I could ask and they were polite right through to the end. I kind of wished I had bought from them, but ultimately it was a budget thing!