On Consumer Goods, or “Why I waited before buying a DSLR”

This week I finally bought a digital single lens reflex camera. I first became interested in photography during a road trip with Dave and Vashti to San Francisco in 3rd year of my undergraduate. I remember – at the start of the trip I thought Dave was being a bit silly with his big fancy camera, but by the end, I was converted and wanted an SLR of my own.

The best photography I have done, I have done on trips like that one. For instance, the next year I travelled to Phoenix and back during reading week with Dave and Milan. And then, that summer, my trip to Germany as a CISV trip leader.

Shortly after that, I picked up a tiny Rollei 35 which strangely enough almost single handedly killed my interest in shooting large SLR cameras. I found the photos I took with it (and these are not the best examples), tended to be far better than what I shot with my F90x. I carried it with me everywhere, so I always had it when a great photo opportunity came along. It was also around that time that I purchased my first digital camera. From then on, I tended to do my serious photography with the Rollei, and snapshots (i.e. Cabin Feevers) with my various pocket digital cameras (I replaced them as they broke, and I never took terribly good care of them). I still used the F90x on trips, such as the road trip with the CISV interchange leaders through British Columbia, but in general the large camera felt more and more out of place.

I eventually replaced the Rollei 35 with an Olympus stylus epic – which is an epic camera due to its being as technically good and small as the Rollei, and much more automated. (I don’t actually know where my Rollei is at present, but I hope it’s in my room in B.C.) However, I’ve never shot with the Olympus much since the cost of film, while not prohibitive, is a dis-incentive when one has a perfectly good digital camera. Also, internet publishing is how photos are displayed primarily today, so it just seems a waste to shoot film mostly so it can be scanned and put online.

Small cameras are wonderful. However, they do have limitations – they usually do not offer as much control as an SLR, they do not do wide angle well, and they do not have good sensitivity for low light (although the Canon S90 seems to solve these problems – I almost bought it instead of the D50!). Also, an SLR camera allows interchangeable lenses, and this D50 will work with my father’s 50mm AF F1.4 prime lens. And, since the sensor is smaller than a film negative, the 50mm effectively becomes a short portrait lens (80mm). So, while the D50 takes no better pictures than my A510 in normal situations (average light, average focal length), this combination will allow me to shoot indoor portraits in low light. This is especially exciting considering that some of my favorite photography was exactly this – shooting indoors, pushing black and white film to iso 1250 or 1600.

So far I’ve been enjoying the D50 greatly. I would say it seems to perform better than the A510 in real world situations, and I have a feeling it deals with contrast in a more elegant way (apparently it automatically adjusts its contrast setting based on feedback from the 420 segment meter!) Also, it has much better high ISO capability (it looks better at iso 1600 than the A510 does at iso 400!). However, it does not have IS, which means that without (yet) a faster lens this makes less of a difference than you might think.

Probably the best thing about the D50 is the lenses which can be used on it. It’s really the ideal consumer good, because it always has the structure: “What should I buy next?”. Ken Rockwell knows that it’s the photographer who makes the picture, not the camera, and that the person who mistakes technology for talent is on a lifelong search for that one lens which will make his pictures great. This lens, of course, doesn’t exist, and they will actually spend the rest of their life buying amazing junk they can’t use. This doesn’t mean, however, that buying a new lens doesn’t open a new field of possibilities – for instance, the first roll I shot with a properly wide angle zoom (a cheap knock off 19-35) on my F90x produced results I liked a lot, and could not be replicated any other way. However, the cost of a similar lens for DX format is high – the ideal nikkor 10-22 costs 800 US dollars. What would make more sense is the 55-200 DX VR telephoto, which is only about 230$, or the 70-210 F4 AF zoom from the late 80s which is rarely available, but very desirable due to its low cost and fast F4 aperture at the long end (also, it works on full frame cameras).

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8 thoughts on “On Consumer Goods, or “Why I waited before buying a DSLR”

  1. As for lenses, if I am going to buy another one it will be the apparently excellent 55-200 VR nikkor. It seems like an incredible deal at 230 US dollars (new!)

    The non-vr model is even cheaper (I’ve seen it on craigslist for 100$), but much less desirable – vibration reduction means the slow F5.6 aperture on the long end is less of a problem for low light.

  2. That is my experience with Canon’s 70-200 f/4 IS lens, but it isn’t guaranteed to be the same with the Nikon lens you’re considering.

  3. On the other hand, a 70-210 F4-5.6 can be had for about 100$. It doesn’t have IS, but it is a well built nikkor from the 90s and would work on FF cameras.

    Although, on the other-other hand, I hear the DX (crop sensor) 55-200 actually works better than expected on FF cameras.

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