I'm a photog N00B, but I need to buy a DSLR for some international travel... help me?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by spaceballl, Mar 20, 2010.

  1. spaceballl macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2003
    San Francisco, CA
    Hi All,

    First off, thanks in advance for any pointers you might be able to give me. I've never been to Asia before, but thanks to work, I'm going to be going to Dubai, Chennai, Delhi, Beijing, and a few other places within the next 6 weeks or so. I want to capture the memories!

    I currently have an SD850 point-and-shoot. I love it, but I really want to get something great to take lots of great pics. I've done some research, and I really don't want to spend more than $600 to $700, preferably even less. I am not sure if I should get a traditional DSLR or a micro 4/3 camera (and i don't totally know the dif, still learning), but I think i've narrowed my choices down to a couple...

    Pentax K-X - I can get it for $529 on amazon, seems like a great deal, and this might be the perfect entry level DSLR camera for me

    Olympus E-PL1 - This one looks nice too. Seems to be getting a lot of good reviews, but auto HDR mode on the K-X is drawing me in.

    Am I not considering some models that I should? Also, I typically travel light, but any cases / accessories I should get? I figure that I should get a couple huge memory cards, a gorillapod, and a case.

    And finally, my last fear is that I won't really know how to get the best shots out of this camera. I've read a couple DSLR guides, but I get lost in the technical jargon (funny to hear an electrical engineer refer to camera terms as "technical jargon" haha).

    Anywho, any advice you can give is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  2. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    Others will give you more advice about which particular camera to buy. I can only say: don't get your hopes up too much about getting better pix straight away with a DSLR. There's a learning curve, and six weeks just ain't enough... ;)

    You can experiment, to see what works and what doesn't. And if it's a scene you particularly want to get right, you can bracket (ie take shots with slightly different exposure values), to ensure that one of them will be about right. Or you can leave the DSLR on program mode, enjoy the trip and leave the 'heavy duty' learning till you get back. Program modes kinda replicate the point 'n' shoot experience, but, obviously, with better image quality all round. Bon voyage!
  3. telecomm macrumors 65816


    Nov 30, 2003
    The difference is the size of the sensor. Ignoring some of the technicalities, the short of it is that bigger is better. (Since micro 4/3 systems are typically made to be small, they sometimes forgo the optical viewfinder as well.)

    That's why people pay big money for full-frame DSLRs, and why people pay $20,000+ for even larger medium format cameras.

    One thing you'll have to consider is camera size (here bigger most definitely isn't better!). Is it something you want to be able to keep in a (big) jacket pocket, or are you OK with the thought of carrying a separate camera bag with you?

    The only other advice I would offer concerns memory cards. If you're travelling with a laptop, you might be better off getting a few smaller cards instead of one or two huge cards (then just transfer pics each evening). You pay a real premium for very large cards, and if the unthinkable happens and one gets lost/corrupted you lose a million photos instead of a thousand.
  4. Abraxsis macrumors 6502


    Sep 23, 2003
    If you plan on continuing the learning curve once you return, then I would recommend a DSLR. The Nikon D3000/5000, Canon XSi, and the mentioned Pentax are all within your budget. All three would be excellent choices, although I am partial to all things Nikon.

    If, however, you would rather just have a killer P&S you could pick up a Canon G10 or S90 ... both are small, easy to carry, and offer some advanced settings that can enhance your creativity with a little practice.

    I personally dont have much experience with Micro 4/3 cameras, although the EP1 is supposedly a stellar camera.

    It really just depends on what your plans are for the future to get the biggest bang for your buck.
  5. jbernie macrumors 6502a


    Nov 25, 2005
    Denver, CO
    My first suggestion is that you go to your local store where you can see the equipment you are looking at, get it out on the counter, pick it up/put it down, and then ask yourself one simple question:

    "Do I really want to carry all this stuff around?"

    If you buy a DSLR you are going to be carrying more stuff, if you get a very nice P&S like a Canon G10 you will travel light. Depending on what you actually take with you, you bag packing decisions could be...
    a) after I pack the camera & passport will I have any room left to carry anything else?
    b) after I pack all my clothes & books & stuff, I can tuck the camera into the rain jacket so it is padded

    Dont think about the trip, think about post trip, a P&S may not get every picture you want, but it sure beats lugging DSLR gear everywhere and continually compromising over what you take for the day.

    My parents both carry small Canon P&S cameras on their trips, my mother mentions how she misses not being able to get any telephoto shots, but when she sees how much you have to carry for a 40D with the 28-135 lens she really doesnt miss the telephoto shots that much :). Also when back home she can carry the camera in her pocket and it is much much easier to get photos of the grand kids or kids at the preschools she works at.

    I havent seen any of the 4/3 cameras in person, but if you do go the DSLR route, even just the basic setup is going to be around double the cost of a good P&S and depending on your future intentions you will get a lot more value for your money by going cheap/easy to carry.
  6. Chundles macrumors G4


    Jul 4, 2005
    I bought a Canon G11 over a DSLR for my last trip. I reckon I took probably twice as many photos as I would have if I'd lugged a DSLR + lens/es about, most of them in places I just simply couldn't carry all that weight (on the ski hill in my ski jacket). The little bugger's tough too, just had it in a ziploc bag to keep the moisture out and it coped fine with a few little "tumbles".

    It has great image quality (in my opinion) and works pretty damned well in low light too. Full manual controls and the twisty screen makes for some great angles.

    I decided on flexibility over pure image quality and I don't regret it for a second.
  7. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California

    DOn't fall into the trap of thinking "If only I had a better camera..."

    Also never take a brand new camera on a trip like this. I'd think you should shoot 1,000 images near your house first. If you can't buy the new camera early enough to shoot many images and learn about it then just take the camera you have.

    Next, One buys equipment to solve a problem. You need to name a few problems with the current camera. Maybe you don't like the shutter lag or you really need a way to do bounce flash or you need improved noise or higher ISO setting or some other very specific thing you can name.

    When you do decide to buy a new SLR. Don't think about camera bodies. Decide on the body last. First find the brand that has the lenses you like. Then look at the overoall SLR system. Then from that system choose a lens or two, then choose a body.

    If you want better pictures the best thing to do is get a book or two on "Travel Photography" and then pretend you are visiting the place you live and take the kinds of shoots the books talk about but all with in 2 miles of your house. Give yourself some assignments, shoot 100 images per assignment then find the best ten and process them into a small album. Then go to the next assignment. Do one a day if you can. Work each day on one theme like architecture or "people" or whatever is in the book. This will help more than buying a camera. You have to figure that if you can't get any good shots in a place you know well you will do worse in a place you don't know well. Learn the craft in an easy familiar setting
  8. leighonigar macrumors 6502a

    May 5, 2007
    I always love this. It sounds like such good advice, but at the entry-level all the manufacturers have similar lenses, and even if they didn't Sigma/Tamron/Tokina are more than happy to fill in. The camera body is the bit you have to really understand and enjoy holding etc, etc, so I wouldn't underestimate the importance of the body. With that said, lenses (if you get good ones) last a lot longer than I imagine a DSLR will remain usable for.
  9. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    A big difference between Micro 4/3 cameras and dSLRs, currently, is that dSLRs have faster operation - autofocus lag, power-on time, shot-to-shot time - than their u4/3 cousins (Panasonic's are a little faster than Olympus'). This is on an order of seconds, but those add up, and can mean the difference between getting or missing a shot, especially when you compare the 1-2 second power-on time of a u4/3 camera versus the < 0.1 second it takes for most dSLRs. The obvious advantage of u4/3 is portability. If you don't typically take pictures of moving objects/people, then u4/3 is a good choice, but you may end up missing more spontaneous moments.

    It's hard to go wrong with an interchangeable lens camera (i.e. dSLRs and u4/3). Go to your local camera store so you can get a feel for which camera body feels right in your hands, while ignoring whatever sales tactic that's being thrown at you. Forget lenses, because you're going to be using a kit lens anyway, and there isn't much difference between them.

    As far as knowing "how to get the best shots" out of a camera - it takes time, with any given camera, even a point-and-shoot. You'll still be getting much better ones than you would with your SD850 (you might want to take it along anyway, since it fits in a pocket, you know how to use it, and it's always good to have an extra camera - I always carry a photography sidearm, even with a dSLR). You don't have to know everything about [insert favorite photography jargon] to take advantage of having a better camera. I have a friend who shoots with a Canon XTi exclusively in full Auto mode, and she's consistently happy with what she gets, and in the end, that's what really matters.

    @Those suggesting Canon G10/11 and other high-end P&S: Why? The image quality isn't that much better than a typical P&S, and you have to know what you're doing to really get the image quality advantage (and if I'm going to be shooting in full auto with a P&S, I'd rather it be smaller than a G-series). For a couple hundred more bucks you can get a far superior u4/3 camera that is just as portable.
  10. Chundles macrumors G4


    Jul 4, 2005
    I found the image quality to be great from my G11, the zoom lens is very handy to have, especially on a holiday where something can just appear from nowhere.

    To get the flexibility of the G11's 28-140mm lens, you'd need a fairly hefty lens on that similarly-sized GF1 or EP1. Totally negating the size similarity and adding a good amount of weight. When I'm skiing, the G11 is the heaviest thing I would ever want to carry.

    Yes, "zoom with your feet" is all well and good and "zoom lenses suck, primes rule" and "DSLR or nothing" etc. But sometimes you just need to get the shot and if I was carrying a DSLR or a micro4/3 + lens I wouldn't have been able to get the shot.

    I'd rather have a photo at reasonable quality than not have a photo at all because my camera and lens wouldn't fit into my jacket pocket.
  11. deep diver macrumors 65816

    deep diver

    Jan 17, 2008
    Solon, OH
    There is a lot of good advice here. I have not read every word, so I apologize if I am repeating.

    A camera has to feel right in your hand. You can't judge that without holding it. I'd go to the local chain stores and try them. (I have a problem with people shopping at the specialty stores, taking advantage of their advice and guidance and then buying elsewhere. Yes, I know others will disagree with me on this. I did not share this thought to open a debate on the topic.)

    The second thing is that a technically good image is not necessarily a good photo. Framing and composition is so important. I'd recommend a good basic photography book or find a couple of articles on line that talk about composition.
  12. millar876 macrumors 6502a


    May 13, 2004
    Kilmarnock, Scotland UK
    A lot of people will probably slate me for this, but if you're a noob, why not get a bridge camera. There are some quote good ones out there just now and although they have a smaller sensor than an SLR they tend to have fixed lenses that have a wide range of uses and long zoom arround 600-700mm all the way down to macro shootingand the newest ones can shoot in raw too. They have a lot of the easy features of p&s cameras whilst still having apeture priority, shutter priority and fully manual mode. It might just be an idea, and it will cut down on the ammount of kit you have to kart arround.
  13. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    I'm not saying the G11's quality is bad, I'm just saying that it doesn't justify the added cost, size, and weight over the average P&S to most users. The OP already has a good compact camera (from the same company as, and with a similar focal length range to the G11), and the G11 wouldn't improve much upon that, especially for a user who is less versed in tinkering with ISO, exposure compensation and other manual controls.

    The OP is also, obviously, willing to carry something that will be a little large to fit in a pocket, opting instead for image quality. The slightly increased size of a u4/3 camera shouldn't be an issue to someone willing to carry something outside of a pocket: With the 14-42 kit lens, the E-PL1 has a depth of about 3.25" - 1.5" without the lens - compared to the 2" thickness of the G11, and weighs only about 150 grams more. I have a Leica D-Lux 4 (which should tell you that I have no bias against high-end P&S), which is about 1.5" thick, and I even find that to be a bit much to carry in a pocket unless I'm wearing bulky winter clothes or cargo pants/shorts.

    Also, I don't remember bashing zoom lenses. If you really want zoom flexibility, something like the Panasonic ZS7 or Canon SX200 would be more appropriate, for a compact.

    To reiterate:
    - A high-end P&S (especially one with a sensor optimized for low-light shooting like the G11) isn't going to provide much of an advantage in image quality over a less expensive one, when the user doesn't know how to take advantage of its manual features.
    - A Micro 4/3 camera isn't that much bigger than a G11 (which is big for a P&S anyway), even with a reasonable zoom lens. A person traveling doesn't have the same carrying restrictions as a person skiing.
    - I like point-and-shoots (especially hideously overpriced ones, apparently).
    - I have nothing against zoom lenses. My favorite lens for traveling is the Nikon 18-200mm VR.
  14. spaceballl thread starter macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2003
    San Francisco, CA
    Hey all,

    Thanks so much for the advice! I know some have recommended models, but that's what I'm most curious to know at this point. What would you buy for $600 or so? I'm thinking of getting the Pentax K-X, a 32gb SDHC card, and a gorillapod.

    For those suggesting the point and shoot, thanks for the advice. I already have a great Canon point+shoot camera. I plan to use it a lot while i'm abroad! However, I would like to do a couple excursions to do nothing but snap great pics w/ the SLR.

    So does my choice of equipment sound reasonable? I don't yet want to buy all the accessories / lenses. I can wait a bit on that.
  15. spaceballl thread starter macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2003
    San Francisco, CA
    I made the purchase!
    - Pentax K-X
    - 32GB SDHC card
    - caselogic case
    - gorillapod

    Out the door for just a hair under $700 all-in. Looking forward to getting my new toy!

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