Saturday, April 19, 2008

Choosing your first Canon DSLR

If you do not yet have a Canon DSLR body and you want one, you have to make a decision between the various models available. This article is designed to help.

A couple qualifiers regarding this article:

  • The purpose of this post is NOT to perform a comprehensive technical assessment of these Cameras

  • The purpose is also not to do a detailed technical comparison.

  • The purpose is not to review these cameras.

The purpose is to let you know which Canon DSLR's are 'contenders' for your purchase with the core differences between each model, and my 2 cents.

In the Canon family, here are the current DSLR options (as of 3/28/08):

  • Digital Rebel XTi + 18-55 Kit Lens $590 $US

  • Digital Rebel XSi+ 18-55 IS Kit Lens $900 $US

  • 40D + 18-55 Lens $1250 $US

  • 5D + 24-85 Lens $2500 $US

I've included a 'kit-type' lens (of similar quality) with each body so each package is 'similar'.

The XTi, XSi and 40D all excellent 'first DSLRs'. The 5D is also an excellent first DSRL, it's just a little spendy for your first DSLR.

Here are a some generalities about the different family of Canon DSLR bodies:

Canon Digital Rebel Series:

  • Canon's least expensive family of Digital SLRs

  • Very small form factor. Because this camera is so small, you may be more likely to bring it with you. The small grip may not feel comfortable for folks with larger hands.

  • Lots of plastic in the build quality. This keeps the camera light and inexpensive, but the 40D/5D have a significantly better build-quality. If you have any doubt go to a camera store and pick them both up, you'll understand.

  • The 8-10 MP APS-c CMOS sensors on these cameras are excellent. Put some good glass in front of these camera bodies and they are capable of producing awesome quality.

  • Delivers exceptional functionality for the $.

Canon 40D

  • Very durable Magnisium body. Very solid build-quality.

  • Beefy-grip that fits comfortably in your hand.

  • Adds a convenient 2nd LCD display on the top of the camera.

  • Should last longer than the Rebel's

  • There are some added 'bells&whistles' that the Rebel doesn't have.

Canon 5D

  • Very similar build-quality to 30D/40D (perhaps even a little better)

  • Slightly larger body than 30D/40D.

  • Large viewfinder

  • Huge full frame sensor for image capture (856 sqmm sensor vs. APS-c 338 sqmm sensor)

  • The difference in image-quality from the large sensor vs APS-c is really only noticeable in very large prints.

  • Support for very shallow depth of field (because with the larger sensor you need to get closer to your subject to achieve the same framing.)

  • Superior high ISO performance to Rebel, 40D. ISO 1600 is 100% usable.

  • No built-in-flash.

My thoughts:

  • If you're looking for the least expensive family of Canon DSLR, the Digital Rebel is your ticket.

  • If you're trying to decide between a point-and-shoot and a Rebel XTi, I would choose the Rebel XTi over any point-and-shoot.

  • In the Canon family, the 40D is the Cadillac of APS-c format cameras. Awesome auto-focus system, 6.5 fps, all the latest 'bells & whistles.'

  • The 5D is very much a specialty camera. For those who want full-frame, this is your camera. The 5D with it's larger sensor can offer slightly shallower depth of field than the APS-c sensor DSLRs. In my opinion this is a 'lot of camera' for a first time DSLR user. But, if you can afford it, it's an extraordinary machine.

  • The XSi offers incremental improvements over the XTi: more MP, larger LCD, 'Live view', etc..

  • All these camera's do support full 'auto' modes, so you can use any of them as a 'point and shoot' if you wish.

Image quality depends on both camera's sensor and the quality of lens. Don't under-estimate the importance of good glass to produce great images. The lenses do matter. This doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune of 'L-class' zoom lenses. Canon offers some amazing values, particularly in their family of simple prime lenses (they don't zoom). Example: The 50m f1.8 lens is $85.

DSLR bodies drop in value very quickly. Good lenses can last you a decade - and quality Canon glass holds it's value surprisingly well. If you truly get bitten by the photography bug, you'll likely upgrade camera bodies every 2-4 years. On the other hand, good lenses could well serve you for a decade and they hold their value well. I do believe in investing in good lenses (but 'cherry-picking' the best values in the Canon lens line-up.)

If you don't have a Digital SLR today and you want one, run, don't walk to your local camera store (of and order the one that makes your heart go 'pitter-patter'.

For my suggestion on lenses for your first Canon DSLR, go here.

For detailed technical reviews of each camera, go to DPreview.

For reviews of these camera by your peers, go to Fred Miranda.

You can purchase these camera on here:


Brett said...

thanks for this post Clint. Thanks to your easy to read and understand posts, i've purchased my first DSLR (the 450D) and have been loving the learning! Keep up the great posts.


swimlappy said...

I'm a very happy Rebel Xti owner, my first DSLR camera. However, I did go into Best Buy a few weeks ago, and I picked up a 5D body just out of curiosity. I have to say, I really like the size and weight more than my Rebel. I never realized how much smaller the Rebel was. Excellent post!