Digital SLR recommendations

Week of April 3, 2005

Q: I am looking for a digital camera with the qualities a film SLR: fast responses and excellent results. I want to keep the cost under $1,000. What do you recommend for a high megapixel digital camera with 10x zoom lens, having speed and good quality?

-Richard Skinner, Poughkeepsie, New York

A: To get the response and quality of a film SLR, you need a digital SLR. An entry level digital SLR will provide a 10x zoom range if you add a second lens (an 80-200mm zoom, around $100 for an amateur model) to currently available camera/lens kits.

As prices of digital SLRs come down, more and more emails are sent to the column asking about them. Those who buy these cameras are ecstatic when they see what they can do. SLRs respond immediately (no more missed shots) and with interchangeable lenses and low-light capability, they have unmatched flexibility. They also produce incredibly sharp, colorful images that can be enlarged to poster size.

Any of the following cameras would work well for yourself and other readers considering an inexpensive digital SLR.

The 6 megapixel Canon Digital Rebel sells for $799 including an 18-55mm lens. Not much is left to be said about this popular camera- it produces great images and you have access to Canon’s extensive lens system. It’s a great camera and a safe bet.

The new 8 megapixel Digital Rebel XT is now available but sells for $999, which won’t let you fit in a second lens for $1,000.

A unique camera that also fits your needs is the Olympus Evolt E-300, an 8 megapixel digital SLR using the “Four-Thirds” system. Olympus started with a clean sheet of paper to create a whole new camera and lens system that is designed to be digital from the ground up, unlike most other digital SLRs which use film cameras as their starting point.

The quality of the Olympus lenses is excellent and the camera is extremely well made, with one of the best LCD screens I have seen. The Achilles heel of the Evolt is low-light capability. Other digital SLRs produce better images when light is dim and you aren’t using flash.

The Evolt is a good value. You can get an Evolt with two lenses for around $1,000, excellent for an 8-megapixel digital SLR outfit.

Rounding out my recommendations is the Pentax *ist DS. I was able to handle this camera recently and was extremely impressed.

The *ist DS is a visual and tactile delight. It looks great and feels solid, with curves and grippable rubber in all the right places. The *ist DS has an expensive feel the Digital Rebel doesn’t quite have. Though the Pentax is smaller than the Canon, when you look through the eyepiece the Pentax’s viewfinder is much larger- a big plus.

My web research shows owners of the *ist DS’ predecessor, the slightly more expensive *ist D, to be very happy and their sample images are excellent. Both cameras will accept older Pentax lenses, a feature that seems to be a big hit with its owners. I will be trying the *ist DS soon and will report my own experiences with it.

The Pentax *ist DS sells for $899 including an 18-55mm lens which is reputed to be very good. Though as a professional I own Canon digital SLRs, if I was an amateur starting with an under-$1,000 digital SLR I would strongly consider the Pentax by virtue of its quality construction, big viewfinder, and the ability to use old and new Pentax lenses, which are outstanding.

If you are a budding professional, you are better served investing in the Canon system. Pentax currently lacks the enormous depth and breadth of Canon’s professional camera and lens system, which includes 16 megapixel cameras and some very expensive special purpose lenses.

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