8 Apr 2012

How to choose a new camera body - my approach taken several years ago

I am up to change my primary camera body. What I have chosen and how I'll describe later. But first let me make a short retrospective of my selection process I did 6 years ago, when I decided to take the photography more seriously. Since my decision-taking process worked out quite good, I'd like to share it.

In 2006 I had some (somewhat limited) experience with digital photography. We had the point-and-shot camera from Canon. Good enough to discover the advantages of the digital photography. On the other hand we (my wife and myself) took our 'quality' photos with the analogue SLR from Canon - EOS 300.
The possibilities (and eventually the quality of photos) offered by the SLR camera were much broader comparing to the point-and-shot digital one. On the other hand I was not living under the rock and realized that the time of analogue (film) photography was coming to its end.

So my next camera would be a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. Then the decision process could start towards a specific model.
The factors that I took into account from the very beginning were:

  • The budget (of course)
  • The flexibility of the set. Six years ago I had no idea how my photography will evolve. So to be on a safe side I decided to look for something universal, yet adaptable to my (likely) changing requirements.
  • The extendibility of the set. When you start you realize after some readings and talks that technique being universally good rather doesn't exist. So you need to have possibilities of extending your basic set with some extra's (like lenses) that would make your gear more powerful over time.
  • The durability of the set (or rather the stability of the hardware ecosystem). When you spend quite some money on the set and decide to have an option of extending it over time you need to consider the camera manufacturers that are established players with the clear focus on their roadmap with respect to the photography.
The above four are quite generic criteria that can be applied to pretty each tangible, extendible system. Those four criteria helped me to make at least a 'short list' of the brands. I came to either Canon or Nikon gear. Remember, we are talking about 2006: Sony was starting with the digital photography, Olympus was not there (as far as I can remember), others didn't seem to have a stable portfolio.
Then reading of multiple pages of specifications started with a lot of tables putting the parameters next to each other, looking for the 'perfect' gear. Guess what? It didn't work  so well. The 'perfect' didn't exist.
If one camera had one important option (say Super option 1), the other one lacked it. For the other option (Super option 2) it was exactly the opposite.
I needed to revise my process and challenge my engineering mind to stop this 'specification madness'.
What has worked for me was the following additional criteria:
  • How does the camera feels? By comparing them one by one in a photo store I was able to decide almost instantly. Nikon was laying in my hands much better than Canon, I felt more comfortable with this gear.
  • How much help can I find about my gear? In 2006 I have discovered a very nice community of photographers called Nikonians. With a lot of information, reviews, comments, and very good sphere. I couldn't find anything similar for Canon users at this time.
Then things started to become easier. The only limitation was the budget. So finally I have chosen to start with Nikon D80 and Nikkor 18-200, 3.5-5.6 VR II lens. And had a lot of pleasure taking some good (and many bad :)) pictures. Later I extended the set with a Speedlight from Nikon (SB-600) and discovered the off-the-camera flash techniques (and the i-TTL system). So SB-900 was to follow (remember the extendibility criteria? Nikon D80 turned to be a perfectly extendible body). Later more lenses came (Tokina 11-16 mm, Nikkor 50 1.4). The journey continued. Six years later I am up to a newer gear, but I never regret my initial choices. 

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