Past EED rants


Live leaderboard

Poker leaderboard

Voice of EED

Friday 10 June 2005

DSLR Hareem [Spiny]

This is a big one, go & get a cuppa...'re back!

Spiny gets with the program

Just for the record, I'm what the texting generation might call an 'oldskool' photographer. We're talking f-i-l-m here kids. I've done courses, read far too many books & magazines, processed my own film, blacked out the windows, dodged & burned to the wee hours and even made my own developer (Pyro, good stuff, virtually grain free ISO 400 8x10s & hand made from nasty carcinogenic ingredients). I breathe the zone system.

But. [hovers precipitously close to a cro'ism]

Since getting a digital compact a few years ago, my SLR had lain dejected & alone at the bottom of the camera bag, slowly devaluing.   Kids, time, lack of resolution & expense meant I'd forgotten my art and become a compact wielding snapper. Digital photography as you know, dear reader offers a vastly better process with feedback from the moment you release the shutter. Prices have tumbled in the last 18 months so I set out to kit my selfout for the new millennium.

The Quarry

I decided to go for a DSLR (Digital-SLR, duh) as opposed to a 'prosumer' type camera. While the prosumer models offer tons of flexibility, enabling you to live preview your shot with histograms, tilting screens, compact package etc they do suffer from some problems, notably:
  • No option for extra lenses (discounting adapters).
  • Small sensors (they have to turn the gain up on a small sensor to get the sensitivity which leads to high noise levels at anything over ISO200)
  • No really that much smaller than the small DSLRs, still a bit of a fag to lug around.
  • Poor focusing in low light.
  • Slow start up time.
  • Shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter & image capture)

There's a  DSLR from most of the major camera manufacturers, but if you want to get in as cheap as possible, there's only a few realistic options (read less than 800 earth pounds). I'd narrowed the candidates down to the following:

I'd rules out other candidates such as the Sigma & Pentax models on brand bias & price (sue me). I excluded the new D50 as a) you can't buy it yet, b) It's v1.0.

Most of the web reviews seem to put the 350D and the D70 very close & mark the E-300 somewhat a disappointment. If you want anal level linkage, these sites are pretty good:

Print reviews seem to back up the web reviews conclusions but with less technical detail as you may expect.

The Hunt

Based on these alone, I would have probably plumped for the E-300. Mainly because on the face of things, it offers better value than the others at . The reviews all mention good build quality. Reports of unpredictable underexposure seem to be negated on the forums with lots of posts claiming this problem has been fixed by a firmware update. Strangely no web reviews have received updates to this effect though. The 8mp image was also tempting the spec whore in me.

As mentioned at the top of the blog I'd got some old FSLR (work it out) kit. Too much of a wuss to ebay it I'd not had a sniff with a couple of other sources. So, bag in hand I wandered down to the town centre where I work (cough Swindon* cough) to hawk my kit round the camera shops in hope of a part exchange. The third place I tried offered me a pretty good deal, so I decided to go with them, providing the prices were OK too. If you're near Sw-Sw-Sw (sorry, I just can't) where I work,  check outGreat Western Cameras.

I tried out the cameras above & was immediately struck by these impressions:
  • 350D    Light, even flimsy. Definitely  built to a price with a very light lens. No spot metering.
  • E-300   Well built, nice ergonomics. Green mode snaps looked underexposed in comparison to the others, even on the LCD back.
  • D70s    Very well built, great ergonomics. Snaps looked OK. 1% spot meter. I felt very at ease with this camera straight away even coming from a Canon EOS 5. All the controls are very obvious, I could have been shooting on manual & tweaking exposure compensation metering & ISO straight away. (Can you guess where this blog is headed?)

The guy also rolled out a Canon10D. I have to say this looked a great camera if you didn't have to lug it around. Build quality was the best of the bunch but the thing was h-ea-v-y. A real big brick of a camera, must have weighed close to 2lbs with no lens. They had it on special for £599 body only (£100 less than Amazon). Tempting, but I decided that it was out of my budget what with no lens 'n' all and it was just too heavy. Still, a great bargain if you want a decent 6mp for shooting landscapes or motor sports, studio or other situations where you're fairly static. It's also over 2 years old, so no doubt in camera image processing has moved on from then.

The observant among you will note the D70 & D70s prices are pretty steep in comparison to the E300, so why was I leaning to those? Well, clearly they were the best cameras. The build quality was the better than Canon & Olympus and if every review I've read was to be believed, image quality was as good as or better.  6mp rather than 8mp didn't bother me as I won't need to print A1 size, 6mp can quite happily deliver a good A2 print at normal viewing distances. Now, as I mentioned I was getting a fairly good trade in for my old kit. Coupled with this, Nikon are currently offering a cash back on the D70 of £100 if you buy the Body + 18-70 lens till the 19th of June. Oh yes, and the starting price at GWC almost as cheap as I found it on the web which would offer no trade in.

The icing on the cake was that the 2.0 firmware update for the D70 brings it within a gnats chuff of the D70s specs, bar the 0.2" increase in LCD size of course. The review of the D70s in Amateur Photography magazine even says that they don't know why Nikon bothered with the D70s as it's nigh on the same camera as the D70.

The Verdict

I'm very happy with my purchase, it's not a point & shoot camera by any means. Some of the scene mode stuff does some dreadful things like focus on the nearest object (... the waiter takes a photo of you at the dinner table, but the bottle of wine is in focus when you aren't). But, you can set the camera up to avoid these & I wanted it for the control the manual modes bring anyway. If I feel brave enough I may link to some of my work sometime.

* Footnote: The local Swindon paper has had several front pages of late on how people bash Swindon & how great it really is. Tell me this though, if the town is so great, why do they have to put posters up in the town centre telling people how good it is?. I'll leave the final words to Empire Magazine: "...unless you live in some culturally unaware backwater, AKA Swindon."


  1. PS: If you want a very good photoshop book, this is it. The Elements one is good too if that's your bag.

  2. I have a Nikon D70 and it's the dogs danglies, superb camera. I managed to pick mine up for £300 though, which was by far the most important reason for choosing it. I have a great time with this camera, it's very tough, and it needs to be with me lugging it around on the bikes all the time.
    I shoot in NEF raw format only, then process the pictures on the computer, adjusting the white-balance and the like. Great way of working, the picture quality is superb.

  3. I have a couple of camera nerd friends, they both have D70s and are very happy with them.. so good choice I guess. :)

  4. Rest easy Spiny, Teeth's mates have D70s too.

  5. You look at the olympus C8080ws? I'm really pleased with mine - 8m pixel and a lot cheaper than the D70.

  6. Yeah, I did. Would have been my top choice for non-slr. Wanted an SLR really though. The price on the C8080 has dropped even further now. It's not being made any more so I think the shops are dumping their stock. Well worth picking up if anyone's thinking of getting a prosumer type camera.