Nikon DSLR camera recommendations for early 2011

When friends and family ask me for camera recommendations I post the info to my blog in the hopes that it will help others too… Here’s a recommendation for Nikon DSLRs:

Summary of recommendation:

  • #1 – A very capable companion: Nikon D7000
    • Pros: good image quality, excellent ISO quality, fast focusing, +1080p video, smaller size and lighter weight (than D300s)
    • Cons: may be pricier than the D90 without drastic improvement
    • Deciding factor: if you find a good price and you value the 1080p video (for playback on a bigscreen LCD for example) then you can’t beat the D7000!
  • #2 with a vengeance: Nikon D300s
    • Pros: one of the most impressive DSLRs ever, excellent build quality, supreme autofocus and high ISO  performance
    • Cons: higher cost, only 720p video, BIGGER than D7000, WEIGHS MORE than D7000
    • Bonus: Samantha’s mom shoots with a predecessor of the D300 series and I’ve been very impressed with her photography and her camera
    • Conclusion: if you want maximum still-image performance and are willing to pay the price (both monetarily and in additional weight/bulk)  then this is the camera for you.
  • #3 not the latest, but still capable: Nikon D90
    • Pros: good image quality, good ISO quality, fast focusing
    • Cons: only 720p video
    • Bonus: some of our friends shoot with the D90 and do a great job with it
    • Deciding factor: if video is more of a novelty for you and budget matters, grab one of these if you can find a killer deal on it! 🙂
  • TRY BEFORE YOU BUY: I know you’re planning on heading to the camera store and that is a GREAT idea.  Here are some additional tips for in the store… Get a good feel for all the DSLRs you’re considering and make sure to get a good feel for them. You may find that you love the rugged feel of the D300s, or you may like the lighter weight of the D7000. Camera feel is a very personal thing :-). Also, pick comparable lenses and checkout the viewfinders (you may find one viewginder significantly more pleasant than another).
    • Some stores will let you bring your own memory card which you can take test shots on and then review at home
    • Some stores will let you take the camera outside to take some sample photos
    • When I was deciding between an Nikon and an Olympus E-1 many years ago, the store let me buy both to try for a week with the explicit understanding that I’d be sending one of them back. (the point is that a good camera store should encourage you to truly get a feel for which camera is best for you personally)
  • EVEN BETTER, CAN YOU TRY A FRIEND’S NIKON? If you have a friend that will show you how their Nikon DSLR operate, it might make you even more comfortable when you head into the store. If not, don’t worry as many camera stores have very helpful employees that are more than happy to assist.

D300s product page:

D300S from Nikon

D300S from Nikon still and HD video imaging performance converge in the fast and agile 12.3-megapixel, DX-format D300S, delivering D-SLR versatility.

Detailed comparison between D7000 and D90:

Nikon D7000 review: verdict, Nikon D7000 vs Nikon D90

Nikon D7000 review: verdict, Nikon D7000 vs Nikon D90 theory this makes the D7000 one of the most powerful mid-range DSLRs on the market, and one which in some respects even treads on the toes of semi-pro models, including…

Beyond the summary, all the details:

I found out my cousin was interested in a Nikon DSLR but I still needed to know what exactly she wanted to take photos of (as there is a big difference between macro photography and sports photography for example). Thankfully Nikon makes some amazing DSLRS, so without further ado, here’s what my cousin is planning to use the DSLR for and I’ll take it point-by-point.

I’m going to get a DSLR, and I would be using it for just about everything. I LOVE taking pictures. Obviously I will be taking the most pictures of the kid’s, but I also love taking pictures of sunsets, rainbows, flowers, food…anything pretty I see, I run for my camera!

That’s awesome! A DSLR with appropriate lenses can handle all those occasions and more :-). Judging by the variety of situations you’re describing, from wide angle landscapes (sunsets) to macro plant photography (flowers), you’re going to want a camera that supports a wide variety of lenses.

With Nikon this is particularly important as some of Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs don’t support autofocus with older lenses. Specifically, some of the older lenses require the camera to mechanical autofocus via a drive motor (which the low end DSLRs lack).

Since old lenses can be fun and cheap, especially for niche photography areas, I’d recommend sticking with the mid to high end Nikon DSLRs that support pretty much all the Nikon lenses. Example: say you want to do some  macro or food photography and your zoom lens isn’t cutting it, by buying an older used lens you can have a dedicated macro lens potentially at a very reasonable price.

Our top 3 candidates above all have good lens compatibility, and we’re excluding the low-end Nikons.

From my cousin:
I have been told by friends that I need a “zoom” lens for sports. And I know what lens I choose is most important. I’ve been looking at “packages” on Best Buy, and, and quite frankly…I’m overwhemled. My friend (a photographer) told me that the 10.2 mp would be just fine when I asked her about the differences in 10.2, and 14.2 . I’m also interested in the HD video capability.

Your friends spoke the truth: lenses are very important and a versatile zoom lens can be ideal for sports.

If I were to pick ONE lens for the cameras listed above, it would be the:

AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II

Whew, that’s a mouthful. You can just refer to it as the Nikon 18-200mm and they should know what you’re talking about at the camera store, or if spoken I’d say it as follows: “the eighteen to two-hundred millimeter” lens. 18mm refers to it’s widest angle, 200mm refers to it’s highest zoom. The “ED” refers to the type of  Extra-low Dispersion glass used (to reduce optical problems) and the “VR” refers to vibration reduction (to help eliminate shake).

Some more info on lenses:

Nikon SLR Lenses

Nikon SLR Lenses puts a ton of effort into the quality and construction of their lenses. Over time (a lot of time) these lenses have gained a reputation for creating clear, crisp and…

A few misc things to watch for:

  • Focal length is measured in mm (millimeters) the lower the number the wider the lens can go, the higher the number the more you can zoom in.
  • Some examples:
    • 18-105mm
      • Fairly wide to fairly zoomed
    • 18-200mm
      • Fairly wide to even more zoomed
    • the wider the lens the more of a scene you can fit in the frame (important for nature landscape photography, usually not important for sports where you want to be close to the action
    • minimum focusing distance is also important for macro/flower phtography for example, b/c some lenses require you to be a significant distance away from the subject before you can focus

Continuing on…

From my cousin:
I’m going to go to Ritz Camera in the next day or so, and look at some different lenses, BUT… I wanted to be a little knowledgeable, before I go in. Any little tips from you would be greatly appreciated. I don’t want to over spend for features that I won’t use…. but in the same breathe I want to take awesome pictures. Easter is sneaking up on me, and I’m running out of time. My sweet child broke the little Sony that I had, so I have nothing to capture those precious moments! Thanks J.D. for your time! Hazel is such a princess! I am so happy for you and Samantha.

Thank you, I’m so excited that you’re taking your photography to the next level! I’m also very happy that you’re headed to a brick and mortar store to checkout the DSLRs in person.

The good thing is that any Nikon DSLR with even a basic kit lens is going to take some pretty darn good photos. Stepping up to a D90 or above gives you a LOT of photographic capability, enough to go from a starter to “pro level” all with one camera. I realize I mainly talked about cameras here and not much about lenses.

The reason I recommend the 18-200mm is that it is a good quality “all around” lens. A lens that you can put on the camera and cover probably 80%-90% of the situations you’ll encounter. After you have really learned to max out your camera and your lens, then I’d recommend exploring further lens options. Of course you can go with a lower priced “all around” lens, but I just wanted to start you out with a lens recommendation that would be an equal to the great cameras you are considering.

I hope this helps! Happy photo-taking. 🙂

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