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DSLR Guide News - Go Forth and Shop
November 29, 2009

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DSLR News - November 2009

Welcome, one and all, to the 2009 pre-holiday edition of the digital SLR newsletter!

In the paragraphs that follow, I'll break down some options for you to consider - whether you are buying a brand new DSLR system or adding on to an existing one.

And if you're getting gifts for loved ones, there are a great number of ways that you can accessorize a digital SLR (without having to buy a $600 USD lens).

Before we get into that, I'd like to address a question that's been posed by a lot of visitors lately: should I get a digital SLR camera kit, or just get the camera and buy the lens separately?

I'll be direct with my answer to this: it all comes down to money.

If you are pinching pennies due to the recent wreckage of the global economy, then just get a camera with the kit lens - this is by far the most economical choice.

Simply put: when you purchase a camera with a kit lens, you often are getting the lens for a fraction of its retail price - and kit lenses already cost less than many other lens alternatives.

But what if you're not on a restricted budget? What if you've been diligently saving up for months now, and you've figured out that buying a less expensive camera body will let you get a superior lens?

In this case, follow your instinct and forget all about that kit lens.

When it comes to optics, not all lenses are created equal. The more expensive ones capture images that are sharper, bolder and more colorful regardless of the camera they're attached to.

This means that a cheap, poorly-made lens will REDUCE the image quality of even the most expensive camera body. After all, light has to pass THROUGH the lens to reach the camera's sensor.

If the light passing through the lens isn't perfectly focused onto the camera's sensor (due to imperfections in the lens glass) then all the photos you take won't look as good as they could.

In This Issue
  • Are Kit Lenses OK?
  • DSLR Cameras
  • Lens Options
  • SLR Accessories

Latest SLR Guides
Canon Rebel T1i Nikon D5000 Nikon D90 Nikon D60 Canon Rebel XSi Pentax K20D Canon 40D Olympus E-510 Nikon D80 Canon Rebel xTi Nikon D40

Digital SLR Terms
Megapixels Stabilization ISO / Image Noise Sensor Dust Crop Factor RAW vs. JPG Continuous Photos Autofocus Points Aspect Ratio

Lens Terms
Focal Length Prime vs. Zoom Maximum Aperture First vs. Third Party SLR Lens Features Canon Lens Glossary Nikon Lens Glossary

Stay Updated!

The Digital SLR Guide is now on Facebook. If you're on Facebook, drop on by to get frequent updates about new digital SLR cameras and photo techniques.

Digital SLR Cameras

In the past couple of issues of the newsletter I've run through many of the new camera models released in 2009.

For the benefit of new readers - and to have them all in one spot - here's a complete list of the new cameras that became available in 2009:

Since these cameras run the gamut from basic beginner models (Nikon D3000) to ultra-expensive professional models (Sony A850), let's break the cameras down further.

Beginner models often have very basic feature sets and are therefore the least expensive digital SLR cameras you can buy. They are small, lightweight and very easy to use. Beginner models are designed for people making the transition from point-and-shoot compact cameras to digital SLRs.

Intermediate models offer more features for people who have at least some familiarity with digital SLR cameras (however, they also all run just fine in AUTO mode). Many of the cameras at this level include a video capture mode (the latest "it" feature for digital SLRs) with the exception of Sony — none of their cameras released this year can capture video.

The semi-pro models include the speed and performance that more advanced photographers expect in a camera. Beginners can certainly buy these cameras, but will pay a hefty premium for a lot of manual controls that they may never use.

NOTE: All cameras with a video capture mode are noted with an asterisk (*).

Beginner ModelsNikon D3000, Olympus E-620, Pentax K-x *, Sony A230, Sony A500
Intermediate ModelsCanon T1i 500D *, Nikon D5000 *, Olympus E-30, Olympus E-P1 *, Olympus E-P2 *, Panasonic DMC-GH1 *, Panasonic DMC-GF1 *, Sony A330, Sony A380, Sony A550
Semi-Pro ModelsCanon 7D *, Nikon D300s *, Pentax K-7 *, Sony A850

Let's slice and dice these cameras once more: based on the all-important price. You should notice that there is a lot of overlap between the price of the cameras and the level of photographer they are designed for (beginner, intermediate, semi-pro) - the more basic the camera, the less it costs.

$600 USD or LessNikon D3000, Sony A330
$601 to $1000 USDCanon T1i (500D), Nikon D5000, Olympus E-620, Olympus E-P1, Olympus E-P2, Olympus E-30, Pentax K-x, Sony A380, Sony A500
More than $1000 USDCanon 7D, Nikon D300s, Panasonic DMC-GH1, Panasonic DMC-GF1, Pentax K-7, Sony A550, Sony A850

To see the current prices for all these cameras (and more) take a look at the page that compares digital SLR camera prices (recently updated with all the latest cameras and prices).

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons

  • Master the controls of any digital SLR
  • Dramatically improve the photos you take
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Download each lesson as a PDF
  • Ask me questions
Learn More

Great Lens Options

Now that we've covered some of your camera options, let's talk about lenses.

A new lens is a great gift idea for someone who already owns a digital SLR. You may also find yourself choosing a lens if you decide that a DSLR camera kit is not what you want.

Let's get the price disclaimer out of the way right here and now: lenses are not cheap (the good ones, at least).

The whole point of a lens is to focus an image precisely onto the camera's sensor. This optical precision requires multiple glass elements all perfectly positioned within the lens.

But lenses aren't just tubes with a bunch of glass plates inside: they also have sophisticated autofocus motors, multi-blade aperture rings and (sometimes) image stabilization systems.

Once you realize just how much work a lens is doing to help you capture great pictures, it makes more sense why they cost so much.

Having said this, the lenses that follow are all relatively inexpensive ones that I could find that still have a lot of positive online reviews and don't compromise on image quality.

I've picked one lens for each camera brand to give you a sense of what's out there.


Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD
Price: $460 USD
Info: This is a great all-around lens for any Canon DSLR owner. It works pretty well for landscapes (although could be wider angle) but it covers the perfect range for portraits. I've been using this lens for about 3 years now and have zero complaints about performance or image quality.


Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM
Price: $420 USD
Info: If you want a wide constant maximum aperture paired with a great zoom range for landscapes and portraits, then this is a good lens to consider. Image quality is on a par with lenses that are significantly more expensive - unless you're really picky about image quality, the photos you take with this should look great.


Olympus 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED
Price: $255 USD
Info: Get up close and personal with your subject without breaking your bank. With the 2x crop factor on Olympus DSLR cameras, a full telephoto this lens frames images like a 600mm lens. The only issue? You'll need plenty of light to ensure that your images are nice and sharp.


Pentax 16-45mm f/4 SMC PDA ED AL
Price: $315 USD
Info: If you'd like a superior lens for your Pentax DSLR, look no further than the highly regarded 16-45. With a constant f/4 maximum aperture, this lens captures images with great clarity and plenty of color. The zoom range is great for landscapes and portraits.


Sony DT 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3
Price: $530 USD
Info: While this lens is more expensive than some of the others I've listed above, it's for good reason: instead of having to buy TWO lenses, just get this one, and you've got the entire range from wide angle to telephoto covered. It's a great option if you don't want to haul around a pack of lenses.

Accessorize Your DSLR

Modern economic times being what they are, not many people have $600 to $1000 to throw down on a camera and lens...but for people who already have those two covered, cheaper gift options abound.

Option #1: Lens Filters

Lens filters screw onto the front of any DSLR lens and are used for a variety of reasons. The two most common filters are UV filters and polarizing filters.

A UV filter is essentially a clear piece of glass that you stick on the front of the lens. Its main purpose is to protect the front of the lens from getting scratched. UV filters can cost anywhere from $15 to $30 USD (depending on size) but that sure is a lot cheaper than the cost of a new lens.

A polarizing filter is a huge asset for landscape photographers. Polarizers neutralize reflections, and this can be used with water to reduce glare, but it also work very well to reduce the shine from tree leaves to capture more natural colors.

No polarizer - shiny leavesPolarizer - reflections eliminated

All filters come in a variety of different sizes (measured in millimeters) so be sure you know the thread size of the lens before you go out and buy one (you can often determine the thread size of the lens by looking on the INSIDE of the lens cap).

You can find tons of different filters at both Adorama and B&H Photo Video.

Option #2: Flash and Flash Modifiers

Our next category of accessories is for photographers who are fans of portraiture (since a flash out in the wilderness isn't going to light up very much of the scenery).

At the inexpensive end of the scale, check out the $19.95 USD Professor Kobre's Lightscoop.

This little device sits on top of your DSLR camera (connected to the flash hot shoe), and it redirects the harsh direct light from your popup flash up toward the ceiling, resulting in a MASSIVE improvement in portraits taken with on-camera flash.

The only drawback - of course - is that you need either a low ceiling or a nearby wall that you can use to bounce light. If you're taking pictures in a large room, the lack of ceiling and walls can be remedied with an inexpensive piece of white posterboard. Just position the posterboard to bounce the light from your flash and the results will be better than if you blast your subjects with direct light.

Direct FlashFlash With Lightscoop

If you're willing to spend a bit more, then a great investment for any portrait/family photographers is an external flash unit.

External flashes are not only much more powerful than the small built-in units - capable of lighting much larger areas more evenly - they also completely eliminate red-eye in your photos since they are positioned further away from the camera lens.

Many external flash units also have flash heads that swivel and tilt, providing you with a lot of options about where to point the flash (rather than straight at your subject).

Many flash units are manufacturer-specific. Here are some external flash options for different camera brands:

Canon430EX II$250 USD
NikonSB600$218 USD
OlympusFL-36R$204 USD
PentaxAF 360 FGZ$226 USD
SonyHVL-F36AM$250 USD

Photo Links

Other Photography Sites

  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • - plenty of learning resources and examples of exceptional photography
  • Borrowlenses - rent lenses to use on your digital SLR before you spend tons of money on one
  • Photojojo - tons of photography do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • - read product reviews from other consumers like yourself

Great Photo Blogs

  • Digital Photography School - hundreds of photo tips and techniques
  • Strobist - everything you ever wanted to know about lighting with external flash
  • Joe McNally - get the "behind-the-scenes" thought process from a professional photographer

Recommended Digital SLR Retailers

(These are the three online stores that I use to purchase all of my digital SLR photography gear)

In Conclusion

Well, I wanted to wedge more into this newsletter but ran out of time. That always seems to happen at this time of year.

Since you won't receive the next newsletter until after the holidays (unless a miracle occurs and I get it out sooner than the end of next month) I wish you and yours a very happy holiday season.

May you receive all the DSLR gear that you've been wishing for and may all your photos be bright!

Until next time, happy picture-taking!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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