So which camera should you use to take your award-winning photographs? This digital camera comparison will help you make that important choice.
However, we are not actually comparing different models on this page, but rather equipping you to be able to do that for all models you are interested in. I tell you below what features to consider when doing your digital camera comparison.
I will assume that you have progressed to the point where you realise that top quality nature photography is not feasible using a compact camera system. Come on, you are way past that point, right?
Why digital camera comparison? Why not camera comparison, or film camera comparison? I assume that you are streetwise enough not to spend money on a new film camera this late in the game. We all know that the switch to digital is a reality, and even the most conservative and film crazy professionals have given up and bought a digital SLR.
Therefore this digital camera comparison page was written assuming you are in the market for a new digital SLR camera body (or second hand if you are lucky enough to find one).
That is not saying that film cameras are out, I have friends still winning salons with their Canon EOS 30 bodies. However, to equip most of my readers for their next digital camera comparison I am speaking to those wanting to get a new camera body. And digital SLR camera bodies should really be all they consider…
Features to consider in your Digital Camera Comparison
1. What brand?
I touched on this point on my Nature Photography Equipment page, and will not go into too much detail here.
I use Canon. Most other professionals I know use Canon. The rest use Nikon. That is about as much as you need to know…
Therefore, it is a simple choice between the two top dogs in the 35mm photography world, if you are clever… This choice will most probably be influenced by the lenses you already own.
Other manufacturers have some ground to cover before I will recommend their products. If your heart is set on a camera from another brand, at least take the time and do the digital camera comparison between that body and a similarly priced one by Canon for the same price. Then and only then make you purchase. I have wasted money with other brands, and I do not want you to make the same mistake.
The argument for Canon (or Nikon if you have to) is very, very compelling indeed, and to take your money elsewhere you have to have an excellent reason.
You can easily investigate the features listed here for any other digital SLR and see if it makes good photography sense to invest in such a camera body.
The cost of a digital SLR body is a very important consideration. In fact, sometimes this is as far as you get with your digital camera comparison, because you can’t buy something you can’t afford. You need to have good glass (lenses) as well, and I always recommend rather going for a cheaper camera body and more expensive lenses.
There are currently fairly priced consumer digital SLR bodies available from both Canon and Nikon. Only the wealthiest among us (that definitely excludes me) will be able to afford the best camera bodies, like the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II. The rest of us will have to be content with our Canon EOS 10D’s or 20D’s. Heck, I even have a Canon EOS 300D in my camera bag! However, I do think the Canon EOS 350D is a big improvement on the 300D.
The Canon EOS 350D (or similar) must be the perfect model for beginners. I saw it for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised at how small it is. It is also priced right for a serious amateur photographer.
If price consideration is where your digital camera comparison stops, the EOS 350D is an excellent choice.
3. Megapixels and the RAW image format
Strangely enough, the amount of megapixels is not important at this level. All consumer and professional SLR bodies have sufficient megapixels to take on film images. The reduced noise in modern digital images also makes them more attractive than their film counterparts. However, I would say for any digital image to compare to a film image it has to be taken in some RAW format where you have all the data available for post shot settings.
It might be necessary to increase the number of pixels afterwards in Photoshop using the brilliant Genuine Fractals plug-in. This is what professional digital photographers do to match the high resolution of scanned images.
White balance settings on a camera works best if set to automatic in, lets say, 70% of the cases. The rest of the time, it is better to be able to alter this on your PC afterwards. That is another good reason to get a camera body with the capability of taking images in a RAW mode.
But wait! There is more… The size of the image sensor and the amount of megapixels it takes its pictures in could be a consideration. If you are not stocked up with a monster 600mm f4 lens and a 2x converter, then you are going to crop certain images. This is when having lots and lots of pixels can be a big advantage. It enables you to crop more of the image away afterwards, while still having enough data left for publication…
4. Possible ISO settings
I would recommend that you go for a camera body that can take pictures in ISO 100 mode or lower. When taking pictures in ISO 200 mode, I pick up visible noise compared to ISO 100. However, I would not decide between bodies on this point only. ISO 100 or lower is a nice to have.
5. Focus selection options
Focus selection options. This is something that almost drove me crazy with my Canon EOS 300D (especially back when that was my only digital SLR). When photographing a flying bird or other fast moving object, you need to have you camera body set to continuous auto-focus mode, agreed? Now that is not possible in any of the creative modes on the Canon EOS 300D, while these in turn are the only modes in which the RAW format is selectable.
BIG mess-up. You have a continuous auto-focus mode for the creative zones, but it is supposed to recognise automatically that your subject is moving and on the 300D that took way too long. I am afraid that the same problem might be prevalent in the EOS 350D, so be careful if you are considering that body.
I would rate this as a very important consideration in your digital camera comparison.
6. Mirror lock-up
This is again maybe a nice to have. I have not used it often but at a focal length of 800mm it might be necessary. That is the focal length (a massive 1280mm after multiplying by the crop factor) I will be using in my June 2005 Moremi and Chobe Botswana trip, so I will reserve judgement on the mirror lock-up till after then. Some of my pro buddies love using the mirror lock-up, so ask yourself the “Will I be using this?” question in making your decision.
7. Built-in flash
Some people get very upset if the built-in flash does not operate well. It is really weak on some camera bodies, so I will recommend buying a proper flash unit with your body if you will be using flash. However, if you plan using the built in flash, make sure it lifts up high. I was really disappointed with the height of my Canon EOS 10D body’s built-in flash. Almost any lens will get in its way…
I have a Canon Speedlite 420EX these days, but I operated for years without using any flash. Therefore, do not bash your head against the wall over this.
8. Focal length multiplier
This is a beautiful feature of digital camera bodies for the wildlife photographer. I was really excited when I saw Canon increasing its megapixels while keeping the focal length multiplier (also called the crop factor) unchanged in their EOS 20D and 350D bodies.
I love this feature because I want longer lenses, zooming in closer on my subject for wildlife photography. The focal length multiplier makes the focal length of your lens longer by 1.6 times for most Canon bodies. This makes a 400mm lens a very decent 640mm lens for bird photography. Now throw in a 2x converter…
9. Lens mount
Make sure that the body uses the lenses you want to fit onto it. This will generally not be a problem due to backward compatibility by big manufacturers.
10. Storage type
This will be a consideration if you have a micro drive but the camera cannot use those. Be careful to make sure you investigate this if necessary.
11. Number of auto-focus points
This might seem important, but all consumer and professional digital SLR bodies have a sufficient amount of auto-focus points. I tend to use the middle one most in any case. It gives me more control, enabling me to select exactly where the sharpest area of my picture should be.
Therefore, do not let this final feature count too heavy in your digital camera comparison…
Digital Camera Comparison – Conclusion
Is that it? Yes that’s it. So little? Yes, because that is all you really need to consider when choosing a digital camera body nowadays. Some people will want to throw me with stones for simplifying it this much (especially the EOS 1 fans), but in my opinion rather spend more time taking pictures than making you digital camera comparison an all consuming exercise.
If you carefully take the above features into account, you will be able to do a proper thorough digital camera comparison, and buy the right body for you. Once you have this body, think lenses, lenses, lenses. Lenses have a much bigger impact on the resulting photograph than the camera body used…