SLR or Digital

Jamie Lahowetz

I know that this question has probably been asked before but maybe an update is in need.
Anyways, I bought a Fuji Film S3000 at the beginning of the year. Well after some use i found out that it takes bad pictures in minimal light which, in this hobby, is something that is needed. So it may be seen on ebay very soon. If that happens I will be searching for a new camera for next year. So i guess my question is which camera would you recommend for a price range of 400 dollars? What kind, SLR or Digital?
None in that range, and plan to add a lense to the DSLR that ain't in that ragne Fun stuff this hobby of ours.


I think the only camera that would fit your price range would be a good used SLR. Pick a good brand name such as Canon, Minolta or Nikon; often you can get a good assortment of lenses as well (I bought a used Canon a few years ago with all the goodies from sombody that had "upgraded" to digital). A good combination of camera, lens and film can exceed the results from a DSLR in the right hands (although there would be a whole host of uesful features that you would be missing out on).

This will at least get you into the game and give you time to save up for that "beast" later on.
Yeah, I wish i could buy a monster for a camera, oh well. I was looking at the SLR cameras at Bestbuy and they are not a bad price. Maybe if i coupled them with a great lens they may take great pictures. In particular I was looking at the Nikon N75, anyone have any opinions on this one????


I would not buy anything that expensive at Best Buy. You can always find stuff a lot cheaper on the internet. For example I bought my Mini DV camcorder at last year for $150 cheaper than what Best Buy was selling it for. The buying process went very smoothly and I was very happy with my purchase. This will also allow you to upgrade to a better model than what you are wanting now if you have a spending limit. I would definately look on the web first. A website that I like is

Good luck
B&H is probably the most reputable photography store on the web. They have the best prices and they ship very quickly. Ask any pro and they would recommend B&H, but they also serve the regular consumer just as well.
John's right about buying used. It's the only way you'll get a decent SLR setup at your price range.

For extra value, consider the really old manual focus stuff. The hardware is very solidly built (metal bodies and lenses - Oooh!) and will outlive the energizer bunny. Lenses cost ~25% of new autofocus glass. Maybe even something like this?! (My baby - please forgive the mild proselytizing. ;) )

is another reputable new and used dealer. They offer a good warranty and large selection. You can find better prices on E-bay, but you can also 'buy' a bucketload of grief if the seller isn't playing nice. Prices at camera shows are probably the lowest, but you'd better know what you want and how to wring it out before buying.

You could also buy a mid-line digicam. Don't sweat the Megapixels. A 4 or 5 MP camera with good glass, decent features and fairly solid construction will take fine shots. IMO, look for manual override options, aperture and shutter priority exposure modes, exposure compensation (a must) and as many other user controll features as you can find. You don't want a one button 'PHD' (push here, dummy) camera!

I do have my doubts regarding consumer digicam longevity. IMO, the mfgs are pimping megapixels and other baloney, and aren't building terribly durable instruments. Make sure you handle the camera before you buy. Look for flimsy cover panels, and other exposed parts, including extending lens assemblies, that may be damaged if the camera gets dropped or swung onto a hard surface. If it feels like a cheap plastic toy ..... it probably is!

Keep in mind that the camera is NOT taking the pictures, you are! Any camera with usable controls will produce fantastic images if the bells, whistles, and automation help you, rather than geting in the way. At the same time, you'll need to familiarise yourself with the camera, and how it 'thinks', to make it do what you want.

I would agree with the above suggestions of getting a used SLR. I bought a Canon Rebel G with a wide-angle lens off of Ebay for $150 a couple of years ago and it has served me quite well. It's's been knocked over by RFD and dropped on the red sandstone of Utah and still works fine. Of course, you're probably not as clumsy as I am. :)

Another advantage of buying a used SLR is that you can use the $$ you save for filters, lenses, a sturdy tripod, etc. A circular polarizer and GND filter will work wonders for those sky scenes, no matter how expensive the camera body is. Of course, there isn't always time to use these filters in chase situations, but they come in handy for other scenes like sunsets and reflections.
Sounds like Film SLR is the way to go for my price range. But there are so many of them out there, How about some recommendations?? New or Old
I used a Canon Rebel SLR (35mm film) for several years and was very happy with the results. It has several setting arrangements including full manual. You can get various lenses also. I liked its performance so well that this year I got a Canon Digital Rebel. The lenses are interchangable and the performance seems to be as good as the film type. They both work well in very low light and also bright light fast speed.
I have taken pictures of lightning, race cars (over 150 mph) and regular family photos and I am very pleased with the outcome.
The type of equipment you buy will depend somewhat on what your immediate needs.


If you don't anticipate buying a DSLR for a few more years, and want a complete system now, I'd suggest the low-budget manual focus SLR route. Get a solid body and hunt down several cheap lenses on Ebay and elsewhere. (IMO, Ebay lenses are a resonable risk, it's the more complex bodies that I'd want a hard warranty on.) In general, the older MF lenses won't work with a future ubercamera. Canon's old stuff is completely incompatable, while Nikon, Pentax, and others will physicaly fit the camera but will offer only partial functionality. AFAIK, old Nikon lenses will 'work' but only in 100% manual mode - you will lose autoexposure and other essential abilities. Dunnow about Oly, Pentax, and others, but I assume similar limitations will apply.

In the Manual Canon realm, I'd suggest an A1, T70, or T90.

The A1 is the most capable of the totaly manual cameras. It has a wide variety of exposure modes and is pretty much bomb proof.

The [url=]T70 is the bargain of the bunch. It is an ugly, motorized A1. It's big shortcoming is the lack of straightforward exposure compensation. (You can tweak the film speed, but that's a PITA. IMO, EC is a very important feature.)

At the top of the FD food chain, the [url=]T90 rules supreme. Apart from auto-everything (except focus), it has one of the most powerful exposure systems going - a multi-sample spot meter. Using this, you can take spot meter reading from multiple areas in the frame, and see - on an exposure ladder display - where the various subjects will fall on the exposure scale. You can then apply exposure compensation to move the entire range up and down. The system offers feedback similar to the histograms of modern digicams and assures you that your exposure setting will be accurate. The only weakness is a flaky shutter release solenoid than is prone to malfunction if the camera is left unused for a long time. Without gushing to extremes, I can only say that this is the most 'transparent' camera I've ever used. By that, I meant that it doesn't get in the way of what you're there to do - actually taking pictures. Compose, determine exposure, shoot. No need to 'pull out' of the viewfinder to tweak akward buttons or mode switches; everything can be done with your right hand while you look throught the viewfinder. The fit, finish, control location, and features are all superb. Apart from the missing AF, it is full the equal of the EOS3, F4s, and other high end AF cameras that cost several times more.

I don't know anything about older cameras from other manufacturers, but just about everyone has cameras of similar capability in their lineup.


Your alternative is to buy a low end autofocus camera and one (probably all that will fit in your budget) nice AF lens that will work with any future DSLR you may buy. I'm not familiar with ANY of these. A cheap Rebel, or something like that Nikon N75 you were lookin at sounds just right. Look for a camera with some manner of semi-inteligent 'matrix' metering. (I'd reccomend the multispot EOS-3, but it's way too spendy.) Consider the body a semi-disposable item, and put your $$$ into quality glass that will last for years. This will get you going; as you take more photos, you'll bump up against the camera's various shortcomings. This is good in that you will know what features to see when you pop for that 'uber camera' down the road. AF is also the way to go if your vision is not so hot, or you intend to do lots of action potography.

Check the forums for brand specific advice regarding AF SLR bodies.


Along the way, give Ken Rockwell a read. His [url=] 7 Levels
is a little closer to the truth than many would like to admit. Also see this article. He overstates things somewhat, but his main point is plenty valid.

Sorry I can't offer more specific info.

That was a great article. And your opinion was well thought out. Thank you much!!
I relized that I have a year to purchase a camera. This gives me much more time to save up. So my price range has doubled to 800 to 900 dollars. I have a buddy who owns a Canon Digital Rebel 300D and i love it. So that camera may now be a possibility.
So now with a price range of 800 to 900 dollars, what would be a safe bet, SLR or DSLR?? Any recommendations??
Heh, you just keep adding more worms to the salad!

At that price you'll certainly be able to get a respectable DSLR. It's anyone's guess what will be out a year from now... That 300d will be positively OSOLETE by then, and should be available for cheap. Alternately, maybe you can pick up a used unit from one of the gearheads around here? :wink: I'd imagine the same basic rule will apply - start with a modest body and spend the $$$ on the glass.

With a year to wait, you could still ;) ;) go with a cheapo film body, just to have something to shoot in the meantime.

Here's a nice setup I stumbled onto while window shopping for telescope toys.
You can't see the price unless you're logged in (easy enough to do) - he's asking $125.

The N60 is a bit of a stripper, but should work well enought in most situations.

Nikon has gone through several flavors of lenses - here's a chart showing what lens generations will work with what cameras:
The lens in the Astromart add should work with any Nikon DSLR you may choose to buy in the (near) future.