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Nikon & DSLR Cameras

{Reported by Noel Culbertson}

For my 30th Birthday a few years ago my husband and parents went in together to get me my first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. Although they knew exactly what they would be getting themselves into... they picked me up the Nikon D80 kit from Costco. I was already an obsessive picture taking freak, but the DSLR definitely brought it up to a whole new level (if nothing else but the sheer volume of pictures)! My poor over-shot family! I am now the proud owner of the Nikon D300 and several other Nikon goodies.

I always say that moving from a point & shoot camera up to a DSLR is like going from dial up internet to high speed. Once you make the switch it's really hard to go back. They turn on instantly (no load time) and the shutter fires right when you push the button (no delay). When you've got little ones running around, or impatient relatives the no-delay shutter is a Godsend!

the family that plays

The DSLRs also come in shrouded in a bit of mystery, with their own myths and legends.

Myth #1: If I get a better camera, I'll get better pictures.
Well, not really but maybe. How's that for a straight answer? In the end the photographer still takes the picture. So whether you've got a fancy camera or a very handy pocket camera... you're the one composing the picture and pressing the shutter. Just like getting a fancier car doesn't make you a better driver. However, there are definite benefits. You'll be able to get pictures faster without the delay. So there will be less of the "I missed the moment because of that stinkin' delay" moments. Another benefit is just being able to take pictures faster. The more you take, the better you get... the more you learn the more you can do (I sound like a Dr Seuss book). So will just purchasing a DSLR give you amazing pictures... no. But do you have the potential to get them with a "fancy" camera... absolutely!

Myth #2: DSLRs are way to complicated and expensive for a beginner
The happy answer is not really! Most consumer DSLRs have incorporated is the no-training-necessary features. They come with full auto settings, so you can unpack it, charge the battery and start taking pictures with no additional training! How great is that?! Many of them also have scene settings like portrait, night scene, landscape, etc to help get the shot in different circumstances. The prices of DSLRs have really dropped in the past few years, too. Depending on the lens you choose, you can often get into a DSLR for under $400.

yippy skippy

Myth #3: If I'm going to get a DSLR I should get the most expensive one
This is another hairy one with a yes and no answer. It's true the more expensive the camera the more options you will have with it. However, it goes back to the fact that the photographer still takes the pictures. So you can get fabulous shots with a lower end DSLR as you can with an upper end one. In my experience, it's not really worth getting the most expensive camera until you really know how to use it. Otherwise all of the options in the world do you no good if you don't know or want to learn how to use them all. We're all friends here, right? As a friend I'd say, a DSLR starter model. Since I'm more familiar with Nikons, I'd recommend a D40, D60 or even a D90. Learn everything you can with that camera body. Your next investment will probably be a great lens, a remote and some other do-dads. The great thing is that if you stick with one brand your lenses are compatible from one camera body to another. So when you're teetering on the edge of thinking you're going to need another full time job to support your new hobby, think about upgrading your camera body. There will always be something bigger and better out there. Once you're at the place where you really know what they're saying under that technical specs area of the order page, you'll know whether or not you really want to take the plunge for a more expensive camera body.

Myth #4: Nikons are better than Canons
Ha! I threw that in for all of you die hard Canon lovers out there. If you asked 1000 hobbyists, you'd probably have a pretty close split between those who love Canons and those who love Nikons. The bottom line is, they're both fantastic cameras and reputable brands. There are tons of tutorials and online help for both. So, in my opinion, you're not going to go wrong with either. When you're choosing a brand go to a camera shop and hold each model in your hands, take a few pictures, scroll through the menus. The thing is when you get home with your new camera in hand... it's YOU who will be using it. So get the one that feels right to you. If you're familiar with either a Nikon or Canon menus, that can be very helpful leaning the settings on a new DSLR. Now I can sit back and watch the onslaught of Canon & Nikon lovers duking it out on which one is better for whatever reason. :)

beautiful in God's eyes

In my camera bag:
-Nikon D300
-Nikkor 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 VR lens
I love this lens because I don't have to change it out to go from wide angle to zooming capabilities, since kids don't care about lens changes!
-Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens
Great for low light. A pretty inexpensive lens for portraits & getting that blurred out background.
-Super-Secret Spy Lens
This one is strictly for fun, it screws onto an existing lens. Although it has some learning curve since it takes pictures sideways with a mirror, it can come up with some very fun candid shots. Also consequently, it is very fun for people watching. I personally got some great laughs getting some roller derby girl shots on the sly.
-Nikon SB 600 Flash
I'm just learning how to use this speed light flash. I'm not very good at it, and learning lighting is a whole new realm. But I'm sure it'll come in handy when I get it figured out!
I had this remote for my D80 (which also works with the D40, D40X, D50, D60, D70, D70S, D90, Coolpix P6000, N65, N75, Coolpix 8400, 8800, Pronea S, Nuvis S & Lite Touch Zoom Cameras). For just under $18 it was probably one of the best camera tools I've ever gotten! When I upgraded to my D300 I picked up this remote on eBay that works both wired and wireless.

And for the fashionista in all of us...
-My camera bag
I have the Kristine Shooting bag and this flap. They are all handmade and the flaps are interchangeable. So you can change it up to suit your mood... which is handy for a moody girl like me. lol.
-My camera strap
Another fabulous handmade find from Etsy.

What I love about my Nikon D300 and DSLRs in general
- Super speedy shutter release & no start up time required
- Full auto features to help with the learning curve
- Fantastic high resolution pictures

What I dislike
- The fancier the camera the bigger it is. Oi! Mine can get pretty heavy!
- There's always a new accessory I wish I had (this is mostly something my husband dislikes)
- I've had to invest in a bunch more external hard drives for backing up my tens of thousands of pictures

Bottom line: If you are in love with taking pictures and want something faster than your point and shoot, a DSLR is a fantastic investment!
MSRP for Nikon D40 with 18-55mm Nikkor lens: $499.99
Comes with: Nikon D40 Camera Body, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.5 lens, lithium-ion battery & charger, USB cable, camera strap, manual and 1 year Nikon warranty
Reputable Camera shops online: B&H Photo, Ritz Camera and Costco*

I also wanted to point you in the direction of some very helpful Nikon & digital photography resources that I have used a lot.
-D Town TV
The amazing Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski post a new video each week about Nikon cameras, features and equipment. There are also some photo editing tips, and they even regularly answer questions in the comment section.
-Nikon Digitutor
A handy resource for Nikon users with info about your camera settings & features.
-Clickin' Moms
A great members only message board of shutterbuggin' moms. *See our previous review of Clickin' Moms here.
-Digital Photography & Digital Photography Volume 2 by Scott Kelby
A great set of easy to follow & humorous books on the ins and outs of digital photography.

Tell us what you think! Do you have DSLR questions, favorites, frustrations? Tell us about them!


AJ said...

I'm not going to start the fight about which is better, Nikon or Canon, LOL! But I will say that I own a Nikon D50. You didn't mention that one in your review probably because Nikon doesn't make it anymore. You can find it on E-bay for fairly inexpensively. It does have some advantages over the D40 and D60, mainly that the motor that drives the autofocus in the lenses is in the body of the camera, not the lens. So you don't have to buy special lenses to autofocus. For instance, the 50mm 1.8 won't autofocus om the D40 or D60, but it will on the D50. But the 50mm 1.4 will (it just costs about $400 instead of $100.)

I absolutely adore my camera. I'm always finding new gadgets I want, too! Right now it's a SB800 flash. They don't make them any more either, but there are plenty available on E-Bay. They cost about $400 used. That's a lot right now, so I'm just dreaming :). In my bag I have my trusty Nikon D50, the 18-55 kit lens, the 55-200 kit lens, a 50mm 1.8, 105mm macro, and a 35mm 1.8. I don't carry the full kit all the time. Mostly I use the 35mm 1.8. Love it!

I have played with my friend's Canon 40D and found it very frustrating. I have to have the camera manual open on my lap to figure out how to use the features. When I bought my camera I held both the Nikon and the Canon in my hands and the Nikon was just more intuitive to use. So that's the one I picked.

For taking pictures of kids, I'd like to recommend You have to register to see the free forums but it's worth it just for access to their search feature. If you can think of a question about child portrait photography, it has been answered on that site somewhere. It's an awesome resource.

I love the Scrap Review! I enjoy your articles even though I don't comment every time. Thanks for the great work!

Amanda J.

Annie said...

fab review!!!
you take the most gorgeous photos ever......
lovely layouts with this!!

Yaritza said...

I have a digitial SLR. I'm not an expert with it but I gotta say that the pictures that I do take with it come out very nice and crisp. I don't have one of the more popular models. I have the Olympus E510. It was far less thant the most popular brands so for a beguinner this has been a fantastic camera. It has never broke down or diven me any troubles at all. The lence it came with was not very good but I was able to get a better lense later on when I had saved some cash. If you can afford to get one I would say do it. For those nice family outings when you don't have to worry about logging this big camera around they work great. I still have my small point and shoot camera for when pocket storage is necessery.

Joyce D said...

Noel - perfect timing! We have just started looking at DSLR cameras and you answered most of my questions/concerns! I'm really looking forward to never having to say - I have to wait for the camera! Thanks!

Rebecca said...

We were happy to upgrade to our Nikon D40 and got a good price (going out of business sale). We did have to mail the lens in for repairs, but so far it's being covered by the warranty. Let's hope it stays repaired.

We have found our pictures are simply a better quality and really enjoy crisp, clean pictures. We were hesitant to make the leap, but were glad we did. We haven't started looking at accessories, but I'm sure we'll get there!

Brandi Wiggins-Côté said...

Noel, your review couldn't have come at a better time! I'm starting to shop for a DSLR and I'm LOST!!! No longer, my friend. Thanks for a great review that gave me some fantastic info!


Jenn said...

I've always been an SLR girl and was skeptical to even switch to a digital SLR, but I love it! I can get great pictures like I could with an SLR but I don;t have to print them all out and I can see what I am taking. BEST INVENTION EVER! hehe ok maybe not, but it's great. I feel bad for my poor neglected SLR in the closet, but I can part with it either. oh, and I have a Pentax K100D with a tamron lens 28 200 lens :)

Chrissy said...

Perfect timing! My 30th Birthday is a few weeks away and I have asked (pleaded) for my husband and parents to go in to purchase me a DSLR. I am still up in the air but your review has been tremendously helpful!

Anonymous said...

i have the canon rebel and love it. I do tend to take a lot of pics with it but that is why I always get the perfect shot. I could never go back to a point and shoot. This was a great review. Thanx! Stacy

Sam said...

Great article! I've just started my search for my next camera and your comments gave me something to think about. Thank You!

Rosemary said...

I have the Nikon D40 and an added lens 55-200. What I need is a lens that comes in a little closer than what this $200.00 one does, but certainly don't want to spend toooo much wish I had waited just a few more months to purchase my camera. I want the D60 because of the stop motion feation. I think it's pretty cool..

Anonymous said...

Great article but what about the Sony. I bought one about 2 years ago and LOVE it. EJ

BethW said...

My biggest frustration is I don't have one. Many years ago #1 husband had one. I loved it. When we were in Germany he even taught me how to develop pictures. So now-only in my dreams.

Christine(MA) said...

Thanks for the review. I love to take loads of pictures. and at times are frustrated by my point & shoot for action shots. May need to save my pennies for an upgrade. Thanks also for explaining the differences. I was a bit in the dark.

Jewel said...

I just bought my first DSLR camera a few weeks ago and am so happy I did! After much research, I bought a Canon Rebel. I have always had Canons so was familiar with how they work and liked how it felt in my hands. I am amazed at how quick the camera is and I am getting sports shots I have never been able to take with my point and shoot. I am taking some online classes to learn more about the settings and how to use the manual functions for the creative results I want. Now I have to save up for some lenses. Any my husband thought scrapbooking was an expensive hobby......

Erica Hettwer said...

I love my dSLR and am so glad I bought it! I'm just about to upgrade from the Rebel XTi to the Canon 50D and I'm over the moon about it. I agree, you should know why you want the better/more spendy model before you get it. Whenever I have more than a split second to get a shot, I shoot manual and I've gotten good enough to be frustrated with what my XTi can't do. :)

Cassie said...

I have a Canon Rebel XTi. I also have a Nikon point and shoot and miss photos all the time due to the shutterlag. I also notice that my photos have a much better quality or crispness to them with the DSLR. My biggest frustration with the DSLR is that I only know how to use it on the automatic setting and the preset ones such as "sports". I don't even know where to begin to learn how to use this.

Mary F said...

Since this article came out I've been spending time on the camera bag site----oh my I'm in SO much trouble-they are on sale!!!!!! So are the flaps that you can get to change with the bag....Thank you for telling me about this and the info on the camera's but I've been looking for a bag like this forever and I found them just in time since they are "retiring" A HUGE THANKS!

noel joy said...

last year (i think) twopeas ran a 10 weeks to better photos on their site. i think it's still available. it was a great course for getting to know your camera settings. i also really enjoyed scott kelby's books.

i'm so glad you like the bags! i've been so happy with mine. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm happy someone else mentioned the Olympus, so often the only cameras in this discussion are Nikons and Canons, but people are missing out if they don't consider the Olympus either. I have the E-510 as well and find it so easy to use both adjusting manually and on the auto or programmed modes. The kit lenses are great, but they are a great starting point, I'm a year and a half in and now am hoping to add a wider angled lens and an external flash.

Elizabeth said...

I love my DSLR...mine is a Sony (why isn't there any Sony love..LOL). I agree the camera doesn't make you a better photography, but most times post processing makes a big difference. That's where I need to improve my skills. Great Article!!

JoLynn said...


Well done! My Nikon D60 and I have been together for a year now. Truly, my photos have never been the same. Your list of myths is perfect! I do not really know what makes one a Nikon person and what makes one a Cannon person. For me it was price. The comparable Nikon was cheaper when I needed it to be.

One thing I would recommend is for buyers to look beyond the package deals. While getting two lenses sounds fantastic, truly, I covet a lens that has a wide range so I don't have to keep changing lenses. My best photos are taken with my 55-200, but I can't use that for everything. When I photoraph my cards or some close-up shots of things close by, my 18-55 is what I need. So, if you are considering a purchase, be very careful with your lens choices, if possible.