So, What DSLR Should I Buy?

Saturday, August 25th, 2007, 1:36 am

I looked through all the photos I took at the World Series and I’d guess that only 10% were worth a damn. My little PowerShot is fine in sunshine, but when the lights go down (like in a tournament ballroom) it ain’t so hot. I can’t tell you how many dark, blurry photos I took during the World Series. Probably about a thousand. And only 900 or so were of Isabelle Mercier.

So I’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a camera. I thought I’d decided on the Canon Rebel XTi, but after doing a bunch of research and giving a few models the once-over at Circuit City, I think I might go for the EOS 30D. A bit pricier, but I forgot I had some money sitting in PayPal and I might even dip into my poker funds to make up the difference. Poker isn’t treating me that well these days.

So, fine, I think I’m gonna get the 30D. Of course, that’s only half (if that) of the equation. Now I gotta decide what lens to get. I don’t know if I should just get the lens that comes with it and upgrade later, or spend a few extra bucks for a slightly better lens. I’m not gonna go and drop a grand on a lens just yet, but I don’t wanna get one that would make a better doorstop. If there’s a entry-level lens I should go for, or avoid, let me know. I guess what I’m looking for is a walk-around lens that can take a decent picture in low light. I don’t mean dinner-by-candelight darkness, but the lighting gets tricky during those doggone tournaments. And of course I plan on using the camera for more than just poker tournaments, but using it for work is definitely a priority.

Did I mention that poker isn’t going too well lately? Last night I somehow managed to lose 30BB in 71 hands. That’s impresive.  Today I dropped another 20BB. This has been, by far, the worst month of poker in my life. The good news is that I’m only down about 150 bucks. The bad news is that I was up around $400 after the first five days in August. The other bad news is that I’m starting to think that I suck at poker. At least I suck at shorthanded limit games. So I think I’ll stop playing them. You can only smash your head against a wall for so long.

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12 Responses to “So, What DSLR Should I Buy?”

  1. alan Says:

    How soon do you want to buy it? Canon just announced the 40D, and according to Amazon, the release date is Sept 20. It’s probably worth the wait, though it may not be the easiest thing to find once it’s out.

    As far as a lens goes… I’m not sure how close you get and what focal length you need for shots at poker tournaments, but the 50mm f/1.4 (http://www.amazon.com/Canon-50mm-Medium-Telephoto-Cameras/dp/B00009XVCZ/) seems like it might be good for it. If you need a little more telephoto, the 85mm f/1.8 (http://www.amazon.com/Canon-85mm-Telephoto-Lens-Cameras/dp/B00007GQLU/).

  2. Gene Says:

    OK….looks like I’m getting the 40D now. I think I saw it was coming out but it didn’t register. One concern I had about the 30D was that it didn’t come with the integrated cleaning system, but the 40D does. Along with a more sensitive image sensor, 2 more megapixels, bigger LCD…yeah, this is the one.

    The 50mm f/1.4 is one I was thinking about, it’s superfast for indoor shooting, I just worry about it taking outdoor shots, which I’ll be doing as well down there. The other lens I’ve been considering is the 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6, which gives me some versatility but I’m not sure about low-light conditions.

    It comes out on the 20th, I leave for Aruba on the 29th, so that’ll give me…five days to play with it before I leave!

  3. KenP Says:

    Well, my expertise is so dated…

    The lens choice seems in the 35mm range and if that is the case…

    Slow F-stop are overcome by faster film (camera sensitivity for digital) and a steady hold.

    The 28-135 is a very flexible choice. Wide angle starts at 35mm and 28 is a good one without a lot of distortion that you would get from a true fish eye. It gives better depth of field. 135mm is in the mild telephoto class.

    You can hand hold easily at 1/60 sec with normal or wide lens. You need to be reasonably steady at 1/30 and need a tripod and not much subject movement below that. And for telephoto you might bump that up a setting.

    50-1.4 is the standard for 35mm SLR and the default lens. If you can move to frame the shot it is a good choice with reasonable depth of field.

    If you can move around the tournament area, you’ll be able to frame better using a fixed focal length. If you are forced to the rail, the variable aspect becomes a big help.

    Depth of field is an important component. Sometimes, less is better. If your picture is of a subject and the background distracts. You would speed the shutter to minimize depth. Conversely, scenic shot with interest in the foreground and background would be shot with the slower shutter to add depth.

    If you go with the variable, work with the extremes in practice before the trip. Shoot angles with the 28mm setting to see how distortion can affect things. At 128, look at what is clearly focused and avoid the flattening aspect that telephoto introduces.

    Pokerrooms provide a lot of varying light. The 50mm may not offer a great way to minimize that. You may have to work close to make a good picture in that environment. Look at more than the subject. Often the background will distract and you can find a better angle to get rid of that. That’s the old flagpole growing out of the subjects head problem.

    Which ever lens you choose, it will be the right choice if you can optimize your understanding of it strengths and weaknesses. Shoot a lot of pictures before the trip. You can do a lot with depth of field shooting counter tops and the like. The multiple items translate to wide table shots.

    One of the big amateur mistakes is shooting from eye level. It is easy to do. But it can bring distortion. If you can get the cat to sit still and go with the variable lens, shot angles with all the focal lengths and you quickly see what works and what doesn’t.

    Over time you’ll concentrate on everything in the shot and what might improve it using your cameras capabilities and that’s when you’ll be like Flipchip.

  4. KenP Says:

    Went and looked at the prices. You are serious. And, I imagine you’ve thought it through. But, you might review your goals. If you want to do some art grade photography or work for the Daily Bugle, it is a great choice. But, like owning an Aston Martin doesn’t make us James Bond, we all fall into that neat idea as an early implementer. And that can lead to serious bucks and, if you base it on my past, a closet full of neat stuff that gets limited or no use these days.

    SLR’s claim to fame is lens interchangibility and you’re struggling with that one. You can get almost-grade on the features in a fixed lens setup that will weigh less and make as good a picture most of the time. If you go with the SLR, hit a local camera shop and pick out a really comfortable next strap. By the end of the day that SLR is going to seem to be as heavy as a sack of flour. And, you sure won’t want to leave it anywhere in a poker area but around your neck.

    Take a look at best buy. grab an associate with a bit of merchandise knowledge. get them to take a camera you like down one of their darker aisles and shoot some pics. You can probably find one that fits the almost category to a tee and less than half the price.

  5. Patrick Says:

    I have a few suggestions. First, I suspect you’ll probably want a zoom lens for covering tournaments, as the primes suggested above rely on you “zooming with your feet”, which may not be possible in a crowded room. His point about lens speed was dead-on, though. I would absolutely recommend a f/2.8 zoom, and hope you don’t mind moving to a 3rd-party lens. Sigma makes a good 24-70mm f/2.8 and Tamron has a 25-78mm f/2.8 that are both very well reputed (I love my Sigma 24-70, for what it’s worth). Going up a bit more in price, there’s a Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 that’s made for digital cameras. I’m not sure what focal length’s you’ll need, but I’d suspect one of the first two would be pretty close. The image-stabilized lenses might be good for you, but remember they only help steady the camera, not freeze action. The smaller apertures, even f/5.6, will probably not isolate your subject as well either. If I had to pick a kit, I’d suggest: the kit lens, solely for the wide-angle, if you need it, a 24-70, and the Canon 50 f/1.8 (a $70 cheap, fast lens). You could always also just rent a lens until you figure out exactly what you want or need.

    My next suggestion is to look at an older camera, since this is your first one. The 40D will be $1300, while you could pick up an old 20D or 350D (Rebel XT) for a lot less, probably around $600-700 and $400 respectively. The capabilities are not that significantly different for your needs, unless the 40D has made some big leaps in ISO sensitivity. The common DSLR wisdom is to get glass first because lenses last longer and they’re a much bigger determinant in image quality. The other big win for getting a used, or at least older camera, is that you can get it now. Trying to use your first DSLR in a real-world situation days after getting it will be a recipe for frustration.

    Finally, since you’ll be in Aruba, figure out how to get your camera outside without fogging up! I just spent a week there earlier this month. Moving from cool indoors to humid, hot outdoors means instant condensation. Maybe a sealed plastic bag with some dessicant pouches would work.

  6. DuggleBogey Says:

    In GENERAL, the default lenses that come with the DSLRs are CRAP. They 18-55 that came with my Nikon is okay at 18mm (F/3.5) but it is GARBAGE at 55, very muddy and incredibly slow at F/5.6!!

    For poker you need the fastest lens you can get. With no flash you need a F/1.8 or F/1.4 and the only decently affordable ones are the 50mm lenses (the ones that used to be the default ones back in the day.)

    The nice thing about the affordable DSLRs are that they are a 1.6 crop camera, so a 50mm F/1.8 lens is actually getting you a bit of telephoto, equivalent of an 80mm lens, without any speed loss.

    Get yourself a decently fast zoom lens for your other pictures, but for indoor no flash pictures you’ll never regret buying a 50mm (normal) lens.

  7. Gene Says:

    Lots of good info, thanks much. Yeah, I’m having second (or third, or ninth) thoughts about what I’m gonna get, what I need, how much I’m willing to spend, etc. I know I need a better camera. I just don’t know how GOOD a camera I need. And while I don’t mind spending a bit of money on something I’ll hopefully use for business, I’d prefer to spend less money if that’s at all possible.

  8. Gene Says:

    OK, still chasing my tail a bit, think I’m gonna go back to my original plan and get the much-cheaper Rebel XTi, get a good lens for shooting in low light, and go from there. It seems silly to drop a ton of money on a high-quality camera when I get can a still-high-quality camera for A LOT less that will doubtless do what I need it to do. And if I decide to upgrade in the future after taking thousands of award-winning photos, I can still use the lenses and other stuff.

    Yes, I do most of my heavy thinking in my own comments section.

  9. alan Says:

    Seems like a good idea. The 28-135 is a pretty decent all around lens. I’ve got one, and it takes fine pictures. I’m not sure how good it’ll be inside, though, especially near 135/f5.6. You could up the ISO and probably get decent enough shots.

    I love my 20d, passed on the 30d because it wasn’t enough of an upgrade. I’ll be getting a 40d by sometime early next year, I’d guess. The Rebel XTi is a great camera, though, especially for the price.

  10. Kim Says:

    good glass makes a world of difference. i shoot a ton in low light, and a 2.8 lens is a must have for me. fwiw, i bought the sigma 24-70 2.8 to save money over the canon version, end ended up upgrading a few months later anyway. unless i got a skunky lens, the difference between the canon lens and the sigma is dramatic, and worth the $ difference.

    the kit lens is dookie- don’t even bother with it, imo. i recommend getting the body only and spending the difference toward a nicer lens. also- try out the xti before you make a commitment. it’s a great camera, but it’s tiny. i have girl hands, and i had a hard time navigating the controls and finding a comfy position to hold it with extended shooting- my hand started to cramp. i’d imaging man-hands would make it all the more difficult. (unless you have unusually small hands; in which case negate my previous comment, and forgive me for opening up that wound).

    a used 20d is a great option, and canon makes a 17-40 f4 for around $600 (my first choice for a high quality, great all-around lens would be the canon 24-70 2.8, but it’s over $1000), so all in you’d be around $1200…plus cf cards, uv filter, extra batteries…ah, crap.

  11. KenP Says:

    that xti looks like a super choice. try to visit a local shop. as kim mentioned, feel is important. my first good camera was a Minolta. I upgraded to Nikon. Frankly, I was never as comfortable with the body as I’d been with the old, cheaper camera. it never made the second nature feel that is important working available light.

    the xti has really all the features one could think of as a starter camera. it really has features that go well beyond the starter category and will make up for a lot of early sins as you feel you way shooting in Aruba. Let the camera do all the work there and work on framing the shot and you’ll get great pictures.

    if you can, work with the mid-range focal points. they give you the best compromise of depth of field and sharpness. once that seems understood, you can move to getting artsie-fartsie.

    btw, linda has the canon eos which appears the predecessor. i’m sure you’ve seen her table pictures and they are nice clean shots. the newer one maintains color fidelity on its own to start and that will be a big learning help too.

  12. Shelly Says:

    I got my first dSLR a few months ago – the Canon Digital Rebel XTi. Since I’m new to SLR photography, I wasn’t ready to sink much more $$ into this hobby (plus, I also wanted to get the 70-300mm telephoto lens with image stabilization, as I like to shoot wildlife, and that lens cost nearly as much as the camera body).

    if I had more $$ I may have gone for a higher end Canon, but I am 100% happy with the Rebel XTi, fwiw.

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