“Buying your first dSLR” or “Analysis Paralysis: A Retrospective”

Okay, first a bit of history. While growing up I was oddly attracted to two things: watches and cameras. I have no idea what was the attraction to either, but both remain quite strong and have been strong threads through the tapestry of my life. Didn’t that sound all artsy-fartsy?! Anyway, By the age of 12 I was rather informed about 35mm SLR film cameras simply by having collected brochures from the various manufacturers whenever I was at a store that carried camera equipment. Just from the brochures I had a basic understanding of f-stops, aperture, shutter speed, depth-of-field, film ASA/ISO numbers and how they interplayed with each other. Mind you, I didn’t have a camera. Hell, my parents didn’t have a 35mm SLR camera, but the usual point-and-shoot things from the likes of Kodak. My favorite camera line at that time was Minolta. I don’t recall why I liked them best, but there you are.

Years later (post moving out of my parents house) I purchased my first 35mm SLR camera; a Minolta. I took a lot of pictures back then, but had neither the money nor inclination to take up creative photography. Regardless I very much enjoyed taking pictures and regularly documented the life and times of myself and my friends. As a matter-of-fact I was typically the only one who ever had a camera handy and as such I’m the only one with a collection of pictures of my ‘crew’ from ‘back in the day’.

This particular camera served me well for many years, but wasn’t perfect. It had been purchased used and the flash unit I owned didn’t work properly with the camera. In 2003 I was asked to take pictures at my sister’s wedding as she and her fiance didn’t want to spend the dough on a professional and preferred to sink the money into a nicer wedding. Sounded reasonable to me and thus I found myself in the market for a new 35mm SLR camera. I ultimately settled upon a Nikon N65, Nikon flash and a Sigma 28-200mm telephoto lens. This was an excellent choice as it was reasonably priced and offered a plethora of standard features for a film-based 35mm SLR camera.

Now you may wonder why I didn’t purchase a digital camera right then and there. Well, if you recall 2003 properly you might find that digital photography was still in its infancy in many ways. It’s absolutely mind-blowing how much progress there has been in the realm of digital photography in just the past two-years, never mind five-years.

Since then I have purchased and still own two compact digital cameras: a Canon A95 and a Canon A630. Both were recommended purchases at ConsumerReports.org and I have been very, very pleased with both. Yes; they both suffer from some of the same problems that plague all compact and subcompact digital cameras. However, I have found each camera to be well built, very functional (i.e. loaded with manual options) and capable of producing very nice photographs for my everyday/around-the-house needs. But about two years ago I decided that both my needs and desires had developed such that I wanted to make the upgrade to the world of dSLR.

I started the process by doing lots of research about both dSLR cameras as well as printers, media cards and software. Each item is very important because each contributes to the overall success of any serious photographic work. After combing through magazines, web sites and anything else I could get my hands upon I decided the Nikon D80 was the choice for me. It was a clear step above the Canon Rebel and Nikon D40 lines, but didn’t quite touch the prosumer level with its subsequently higher starting prices. Unfortunately I was unable to afford the purchase at the time I came to the decision, which was around Christmas 2006. However, I hung in there and waited and by Christmas 2007 I was in a position to make the purchase. However, nothing in the consumer electronics arena stays the same for that long and over those 12-months many things came to pass.

Primarily what came to pass were the Nikon D300 and Nikon D80. I returned to my local camera shop and once again familiarized myself with the Nikon D80, but having read about the Nikon D300 I asked if I could ‘play’ with it. It was love at first touch. It is markedly larger than the Nikon D80, which is a good thing for me. At 6’4″ I’m no average Joe. The D80, while a nicely sized and proportioned camera, is small in my hand. The Nikon D300 was bigger and as such the controls fell more readily to finger. It was a camera I actually had to grip as opposed to the D80, which I overwhelmed. Of course, there were many other things about the Nikon D300 that were attractive: 51-focus points, an absolutely gorgeous 3″ LCD screen, Live View, etc. It represented the immediate future of dSLR cameras, while the D80 represented the past. I HAD to have this camera. However, there was a problem. More specifically there were one-thousand-seven-hundred-ninety-nine problems. As in dollars. The Nikon D80 with a complete package (case, two lenses, extended warranty, media card and some software) cost just over $2,000 including tax.

This was a problem. My lust and my checkbook were locked in mortal battle and I was afriad, yes afraid that lust would win. I worked hard to make the case for the purchase of the Nikon D300 over the D80. What wound up happening is that I suffered from analysis paralysis. If you are not familiar with this expression it basically means you have so much information related to a decision making process that you cannot make a decision. No clear winner comes from your analysis so you go back and re-analyze everything and once again come to no conclusion, and then re-analyze your data, etc., etc., etc. It is a vicious problem and one that I had never experienced before in my life. I have always been good about researching before making a decision, but I was always able to find a winner and run with it. Not this time. D80 or D300. D300 or D80. Less money or more camera. More camera or less money. What was I to do?

I wound up buying a Canon 40D.

I know what you’re thinking. WTF? And I don’t blame you. It was really a very all-of-a-sudden thing. There I was, back at the camera shop and making my salesperson’s life miserable, hemming and hawing over the D80 vs. D300 debacle. I was so despondent I took a step back and noticed the case with Canon cameras and asked the salesperson about the new Canon 40D (which came out at almost the exact same time as the Nikon D300). Why I hadn’t looked at Canon to begin with is a bit strange considering I already owned and had been quite satisfied with my Canon compact digital cameras. Well the answer is fairly simple: I wanted to own a Nikon. It was the manufacturer I had selected as being the better of the two and that was that.

The Canon 40D, surprisingly, felt even better in my hand than the D300. It is very similar in size and weight, but I found that my fingers fell onto the appropriate places even better with the 40D. Sure, it didn’t have the 51-focus points or the stunning LCD screen, but here is what it did have: a price tag of $1,499, including a kit 17-85mm lens. I returned home and began researching the Canon 40D and its system of lenses. While it wasn’t as advanced as the Nikon D300 there wasn’t anything missing from the Canon that the Nikon offered which I couldn’t live without. Or better put: the D300 offered nothing that would make me a better photographer over the Canon 40D.

I returned to the store on 20 December 2007 and purchased the Canon 40D with kit lens. I took it home and it sat on top of our fridge for a week before I would open it. I was suffering from buyers remorse. I WANTED the D300. It looked better in my opinion. It had two more megapixels. It had the beautiful 3″ LDC screen. It had this and that and that and this and it was the one I wanted. Period. Rational discussion was out the window as we were talking lust. I finally took the damn thing out of the box and started taking pictures. It was great. It did what I want. My fingers fell readily into place. It felt good in my hand and responsive to my inputs. While this did nothing to negate my D300 lust it did go a long way to convincing me that I had made the right decision.

The bottom line was dollars and cents. Think of it this way: the D300, the okay 18-200mm lens, decent flash and tax would have set me back over $3,000 and all I would have would be the camera, a single lens (and regardless of the praise some heap upon it, I think its levels of distortion are too high across the entire focal range) and the flash. On the other hand I now own the following: a Canon 40D dSLR, a Canon 580EX II flash unit, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, a Canon 17-85mm USM IS lens, a Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM IS lens, a nice Canon camera bag, a 2GB SanDisk Extreme III media card and a 4GB SanDisk Extreme III media card ALL for about the same price.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t still lust after the Nikon D300, but I’ve come to terms with my decision and believe that it is ultimately the best one I could have made. I have a camera that will serve me quite well (or so I hope) and with the money I saved I was able to buy other necessary equipment. Oh, and the Canon came with software that will allow me to connect the camera to a computer and run the camera from said computer. The Nikon would have required that I pay for that software (an $80 or so purchase).

This was an incredibly difficult decision for me. I suppose that my fiscal situation had a very strong impact upon my decision making process even though I didn’t want to make dollars and cents part of the equation. If better equipment costs more, then you buck up and pay the money for it. But in this case I don’t think the additional cost was going to provide me with that much more and certainly with nothing that will have made me a better photographer. I’m finally happy with my decision and even happier that my bout of analysis paralysis is finally over.

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10 thoughts on ““Buying your first dSLR” or “Analysis Paralysis: A Retrospective”

  1. do you love the 40d yet? i just bought a 20d from a friend and love it LOVE it!

    Hello Goodbear. I very much like the camera thus far, but I have had little chance to use it to be frank. It’s been below freezing here of late and I don’t want to risk damaging the LCD monitor in such weather (which I’ve heard is possible, but I don’t know for certain). From what I’ve done in the house I’m quite satisfied.

  2. Spotted this post in my tag-surfer. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it and can identify only too well with the “Analysis Paralysis”… think its an old friend of mine!

    Well, having read the post thought I’d check out your blog only to find you’ve just recently started it (something else I relate to as well).

    Looking foward now to further musings from you.

    mike

    And hello to you Mike. Thanks for the positive comments regarding my foray into sharing my thoughts about this new journey. I see at your site you are head and shoulders above my station in the world of photography. Plus it looks like you have the lovely English countryside to which to venture for photographic needs. You’re quite lucky. And I find it very funny that I have heard from you as I’m something of an American anomaly seeing how I’m a Gunners fan and always support England at whatever ODI/Test/etc. they find themselves.

  3. Pingback: “Buying your first dSLR” or “Analysis Paralysis: A Retrospective” | digital cameras

  4. Head and shoulders nothing. I’m still very much fumbling my way around and simply shooting loads of pics just to get familiar with the camera(s) and, if I’m lucky, begin to understand how all this photography stuff works. (I’ve just about got my head around f-stops in terms of what’s happening with the lens and depth of field, and I think I’m beginning to get the hang of ISOs, so I’ve taken a few quick forays into the world of shutter speeds and how they all interact together… and rather rapidly forayed out again!).

    And a p.s.: I tend to rather like anomalies, being something of one myself.

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  7. ForkBoy, I am faced with EXACTLY the same dilemma though I have yet to handle a d300. I can afford to pick up a 40d now at a little over $1100 and a 70-200/2.8 within 3 months.

    Should I do this or wait for enough to get the d300 body and a 35mm prime?

    Brax
    Hawaii

    P.S. I will be shooting both landscapes and surf.

  8. I wish I felt comfortable enough providing you an answer. My decision to purchase the Canon was based upon a number of factors with the greatest being price. Like my post says: $3,000+ for one system with camera, flash & one all-purpose lens or another system with a camera, flash, and three markedly different lenses.

    But I will go out on a limb and say these things (based solely upon my research and opinions based upon said research): the Nikon represents a certain leap forward in dSLR camera technology when compared to the Canon 40D. Both take very similar photos, but the Nikon comes with some nice additional features (2 more megapixels, super clear and detailed LCD screen, 100% viewable area viewfinder, markedly more focus points, built-in wireless flash capability), but at a fair bit more money. Don’t get me wrong; the additional money is well worth it if you happen to have it or don’t mind waiting to save up the extra cash to make the purchase.

    Mind you, I don’t think that any of these extra features will make anyone a better photographer, but it’s nice to be on the cutting edge of a rapidly changing market.

    Finally, another reason I made the decision to go with the 40D was lenses. I originally thought I had more and better choices from Nikon, but upon doing more and more research my personal opinion changed to regard Canon as the better choice. First, I think that comparative lenses (between Nikon and Canon) are less expensive on the Canon side of the equation. Second, with Canon you immediately know if you’re purchasing a high-end lens as they include the “L” nomenclature in the lens’s name, while with Nikon you simply have to know, or ask someone, or guess.

    In regard to your interest in the 70-200mm f/2.8 I will again throw out an opinion based upon my readings. Try reading the reviews of this lens as well as the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM IS at http://www.photozone.de. After reading reviews there (and elsewhere, but I like photozone the best for lens reviews – just my opinion) I abandoned the markedly more expensive f/2.8 for the f/4.

    Lastly, buy the 40D now or wait for the D300……one bit of advice given to me by another online photography person was this: Buy now and start taking pictures as waiting is no fun and there will always be a new and better camera in the near future. While I didn’t want to admit he was right, he was, but ultimately it’s your choice. Heck, I still lust for the D300 – it’s just so damn hot, isn’t it?

  9. Pingback: On having purchased the Canon EOS 40D « Forkboy’s Photographic Travails

  10. The same “Analysis Paralysis” happened to me like a month a go. As a previous point-and-shoot user, I have been doing continuous DLSR research since 2005 (or so) hoping that I would buy one of these hefty photo-machines. When I finally decided to spend some money on one, I was really trilled to take a D300 over D80 (samsungs, sonys and pentaxes were out of the question). D80 is a nice body, but I found the pictures coming from D300 to be much better. On the other hand, lets be honest, body like D300 must be paired with a serious (and expensive) set of lenses, otherwise there would be no real advantage of such a great body.

    These painful doubts were moreover mixed with the fact that I always had some special feelings with respect to canon xxD series. Specifically, it often happened that I saw some amazing picture and wondering which camera did it – I checked the exif and guess what: it was 20D, 30D, 40D and 5D. Also with respect to lens line-up, I considered canon to be superior comparing to Nikon (and all other brands of course).

    So, I was hoping that a friend of mine who was the most experienced photographer I knew (he is really amazing – he has been shooting with SLR’s for years and already owned Nikon, Canon and Minolta/Sony systems) will help me with the choice. Therefore, I sent him an email with all my opinions on these three cameras. His answer was brief: “Go and handle them all again. One of them will speak to you. If not, buy them all and cut this bullshit.” He also made one remark: “If you like 40D, then take it – in terms of IQ, speed and usability it sheers the same shelf as D300 and is less expensive. Moreover, buying a canon will bring you to a huge family, so you can share some lenses, equipment, etc.”

    So, I bought 40D with 17-85 kit lens and never looked back. The camera is amazing and I love it. Moreover, one of my colleague already has an extensive Canon system so I have an access to whole range of sigma lenses. Looking back to D300 makes no sense. I wish you good light.

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