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Starting DSLR - Nikon D40 or other (D80, Canon 40D...)?
I have been reading reviews and this forum for months at least, and am trying to come to a purchase decision. This is yet another "what camera should I buy? post", though I've worked through a lot of the thinking, have tried various cameras out in stores, and would like some feedback on my thinking and approach (this site being among the best it seems for serious discussion)..

First off, my photography background and needs. Decades ago I had a 35mm Konica range-finder w/ 50mm lens, and learned my photography on it. B&W, developed my own, and Kodachrome or Ektachrome slides (depending on use). So I understand how to play with DOF, tradeoff between speed and aperture, and about post-processing. I also have done a lot of work as a microscopist (cell biologist), in both 35mm then digital ($15,000 cooled-CCD camera, $100k+ microscopes, etc), including extensive processing in photoshop. This is all to say, I think I can handle the technical aspects if I need to go there..

But right now my needs are much more practical. Right now I'm using a Canon SD600, and like it very much, but am limited by it's poor low-light performance and shutter lag. I want the artistic flexibility, speed, lower-light performance, and improved image quality of a DSLR. I also want something I will actually use - that is, take with me when leaving the house or on vacation. Based on my past and current interests, I want to take pics of my kids, portraits, landscape, and travel shots..

My preliminary decision then is to go for something relatively light and versatile, at lower cost (since I'm still exploring my interests here and want to get out and take photos), with the option to upgrade later as I learn about what I really want / need. That is, a good walk-around camera + lens starter combo. I've been seduced into wanting the Nikon D300 or Canon 40D, but have a hard time justifying the price at this stage (though I'm willing to hear arguments otherwise), and they are big cameras that I'm just not sure I'll shove into my bag and use as readily..

So I'm thinking - get a Nikon D40 with 18-55mm kit lens, as it's hard to beat the price ($480). Then go for the 18-200mm VR lens ($700), as it's so versatile and generally well-regarded (yes, one can pay a lot more for a much larger, faster one that I won't take with me). Perhaps adding a starter flash, SB400 ($110 or so). The D40 with 18-200 is also both Ken Rockwell's and David Pogue's recommendations for newbies (don't ridicule; I'm persuaded by their arguments). Taking this approach means that, a year or so on, I could consider a body upgrade (or second body) and a prime lens, as I won't feel terrible on the "loss" of having spent under $500 on the first camera to begin with..

BTW, I like the ergonomics on the D80. The D40 seems OK as well, probably fine for what I want. The Canon 40D felt OK, but not quite as immediately nice to me as the D80..

My concerns:.

- The D40 doesn't autofocus with the prime lenses. For low-light use and all-around work, the 50mm f1.8 appears to be great value, or for more $ a 35mm from Nikon or Sigma..

- Would I grow out of the D40 too quickly? Perhaps I should spend the extra $500 now on the D80? Or a little more than that on the Canon 40D (though I'd not have the versatile 18-200 VR lens option)?- The D40's 3-point AF and manual focus screen options (none) seem limiting..

- Would I be able to sell the D40 on eBay or Craigslist in a year or so, if I wanted to upgrade? There didn't seem to be many used models on sale just now when I checked, though that doesn't mean there wouldn't be demand..

- Perhaps wait a bit longer for the D80's successor and either get that or a reduced-price D80? The D80 seems to be what fits me now if price were less an object (though the Canon 40D seems awfully nice as well)..

Please comment - I would really value this forum's feedback and opinions!.

Michael J..

Comments (19)

The D40 or D40x are great values. The 18-55 lens also offers great image quality. There is also a VR version of the lens coming out soon. The 18-200VR lens, while generally acceptable, has some IQ issues, especially at the extremes of it's range and at larger apertures. I have one, and mostly use the 18-70 and 55-200VR instead..

While Canon doesn't have an 18-200, it does have a 17-85IS, which is a really useful range and a quality lens. I've seen it and a 40D for $1499...

Comment #1

Greg Nut wrote:.

The D40 or D40x are great values. The 18-55 lens also offers greatimage quality. There is also a VR version of the lens coming outsoon. The 18-200VR lens, while generally acceptable, has some IQissues, especially at the extremes of it's range and at largerapertures. I have one, and mostly use the 18-70 and 55-200VR instead..

An 18-70 seems like a more useful range vs 18-55, but it's the 18-55 in the kit (no body only option) and great price. I've heard of the IQ issues with the 18-200, but these seem a fair trade-off for versatility given the price. Do you use the D40/40x?.

While Canon doesn't have an 18-200, it does have a 17-85IS, which isa really useful range and a quality lens. I've seen it and a 40D for$1499..

This is one of the combos I've been debating. Can't get that combo on Amazon, but my local camera store has it for $1599. Where is it $1499 (in the US)? Still, that's $1000 more than the D40 kit, albeit with better range lens and IS (not to mention the camera!)..

Michael J..

Comment #2

Michael,.

It's easy to spend other people's money, but I think you really fancy the Nikkor 18-200mm (Canon do have narrower zoom range lenses + there's also Sigma & Tamron options together with other Nikkor mixes etc but, like you, I think the 18-200mm is the best "one lens for all" option) so that leads you onto a Nikon camera..

By your comments, I'd say that although the D40 would suffice you could be kicking yourself if you didn't go for the D80 (with it's extra features/lens compatability) + 18-200mm to begin with and get those plus points straight away. Who knows, but that combination together with a prime lens could be all you want camera/lens wise for quite a while - might not even want to upgrade to D300 etc!.

Admire the way you've thought things through + sounds like you're probably already in a position to make the final decision yourself..

Regards......Caster.

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Comment #3

MDJ458 wrote:.

Greg Nut wrote:.

The D40 or D40x are great values. The 18-55 lens also offers greatimage quality. There is also a VR version of the lens coming outsoon. The 18-200VR lens, while generally acceptable, has some IQissues, especially at the extremes of it's range and at largerapertures. I have one, and mostly use the 18-70 and 55-200VR instead..

An 18-70 seems like a more useful range vs 18-55, but it's the 18-55in the kit (no body only option) and great price. I've heard of theIQ issues with the 18-200, but these seem a fair trade-off forversatility given the price. Do you use the D40/40x?.

I have a D40 for personal use as well as for a backup for my backup. Professionally, I use a D80 and D200. The 18-70 was from a D70 I used to have..

While Canon doesn't have an 18-200, it does have a 17-85IS, which isa really useful range and a quality lens. I've seen it and a 40D for$1499..

This is one of the combos I've been debating. Can't get that combo onAmazon, but my local camera store has it for $1599. Where is it $1499(in the US)? Still, that's $1000 more than the D40 kit, albeit withbetter range lens and IS (not to mention the camera!)..

My local store had it for $1599-$100 rebate..

Michael J..

Comment #4

Caster the Dog wrote:.

...I think you really fancy the Nikkor 18-200mm (... like you, I think the 18-200mm is the best "one lens for all" option) so that leads you onto a Nikon camera..

Yes, you're probably right, I'm influenced by that "one-for-all"option. And I should therefore factor in the body-only option in a D80 rather than getting the kit lens..

By your comments, I'd say that although the D40 would suffice youcould be kicking yourself if you didn't go for the D80 (with it'sextra features/lens compatability) + 18-200mm to begin with and getthose plus points straight away. Who knows, but that combinationtogether with a prime lens could be all you want camera/lens wise forquite a while - might not even want to upgrade to D300 etc!.

You've nicely rephrased the dilemma I'm dealing with: low-cost entry point with the D40, or pay about $500 more and get the higher-entry and fuller-featured D80 right away?.

Regarding the D80 - am I likely to be dissatisfied with the lack of sensor cleaner, lower high-ISO performance, or 12-bit vs 14-bit, than higher-end models like the Canon 40D or Nikon D300 (therefore go for inexpensive D40 and wait for high-end later)? Though I may be just putting off my satisfaction  Feel free to tell me that these extra features on the 40D and D300 don't matter that much for what I'm likely to do .

Michael J..

Comment #5

I'm a nikon guy...I ordered the D40x....after spending alot of time on the forums and doing ALOT of reading, I determined that I would not be happy with that camera once I figured out all the settings and once I got more advanced I would need to update. Hence, I returned it before I even got it (bought a Best Buy) and bought the D80. I started using it yesterday and everytime I grab it I know I made the right decision spending the extra money to get the 80. After it was all said and done, I got the D80 w/ 18-135, Nikon Accessory Kit which included extra battery and a really nice case, as well as two DVD's. I got all of that for $1049. I pricematched Wolf Camera (who was offering it with a 18-55 AND 55-200) but best buy said they could just give me the one, plus the free accessory kit to make up for it. In short, I spent slightly less than 300 more for the D80, and it's a camera that will never run out of settings for me...

Comment #6

Wow - what a good deal. I'll need to go price-shopping....

I've been using as reference Amazon: D80 w/18-135, $1060 (no accessory kit); $790 body only..

Michael J..

Comment #7

Wolf camera had it with both lenses, bag, DVDs and some other free stuff you had to buy and send rebates. I didn't want that but I HAD to buy at best buy due to a large gift card there. Wolf Camera advertised it for $1099. So I took the ad in there, and talked with them about what they could do for me. He said they didn't offer the 18-55 with the D80, but he'd be more than willing to give me the 18-135 for the same price. I said that was fine (i really wanted th 18-135 anyways) and what about a bag? He then proceeded to say I could pick out any bag in the store I wanted.

He said that he couldn't do that, because it's actually an accessory kit but he'd take 50 dollars off. I told him I wanted it for free since I was not getting both lenses, but only one. He said he had forgotten and I could have it free. He grabbed both DVD's and said you get these too. They are those "Nikon School" DVD's..

Anywqays, I tried to return the D40x I bought. Problem was, I bought it at another store, with a Gift Card. It took them about 45 minutes to figure out how to return it since I didn't have it. So for that time, they took another $50 off..

In short, I would have been happy to get all I got for $1099, but am even happier for $1049..

In an even shorter short, I really felt like I would have disappointed with the D40x since photography is something I intend to do for quite awhile. Everywhere I read people suggested you'd get bored with the D40(x) and that was not something I wanted to happen. Everyone said just get the D80 for a little higher price. At first, I thought they were crazy, but when I held them both, I knew the D80 was the way to go...

Comment #8

The D80 is the best of the three and, of course, has an AF motor built into the body. It's all a matter of how much you want to spend..

Keep in mind that Nikon is offering $100 off when you purchase either a 55-200 VR or 70-300 VR lens in conjunction with a D40, D40x, or D80. (The offer goes through the end of this month.) From your original post, it sounds like you may not need the 70-300 VR. You might want to consider the D40 kit with the 18-55 mm lens and the 55-200 mm VR, which you can get for about $700 total right now..

Price around (B&H, Beach Camera, New Egg, Adorama, etc.) before you decide to buy. I was able to get a D40x body, a 70-300 mm VR (for my telephoto/cropping needs), and a 2 GB SD card for only $1000 from Beach Camera...

Comment #9

I was in a similar boat to you: hand on some really nice gear through various channels, but having a hard time justifying any of it for my own purchase. I was all set to plunk down the $$$$ for a Canon 40D and the 17-85IS......

Then the Nikon D40 kit + 55-200mm went on sale at Amazon and I got the works, including a pair of UV filters, for $622 including overnight delivery..

I can't tell you that I'm 100% satisfied with the D40. I have already wished for some faster glass, mostly because it's darned tough to get a nicely blurred background at f/5.6 (no problem getting good exposures though. The high ISO performance of this thing rocks . This leads me to want a fast prime or two, not a completely straight forward proposition with the D40. Manual focus isn't the end of the world though. How quickly I forget that *all* my lenses were MF with my beloved Olympus OM-1..

However, none of the other issues that you mention are really a bother. The 3 focus points are plenty 99% of the time. The D40 offers all the controls I feel like are necessary in the camera itself. Anything more than what the D40 does image processing wise is probably better left done PP anyway..

Overall I think I made a good decision. The setup is compact, light weight, and I don't worry about it much because I don't have two grand tied up in it. If I could have gotten the D80 for < $300 more I would have, but only to satisfy my "toy urge". I don't for a second believe that my pictures would be *any* better...

Comment #10

My 18-200 VR lens I use for travel and wide angle VR needs simply BLOWS AWAY the 18-70 I borrowed for a few days when I first got my Fuji S5 before my 2.8 glass came in. It has better color, sharpness and contrast at ALL focal lengths and all apertures. Other than predictable distortion at wide end and bokeh it is indistinguishable from pro glass...

Comment #11

I was in the same dilemma as you about a month ago. I was also upgrading from the Canon SD600 P&S. I took great pictures with it on my Honeymoon but I wanted more. I opted for the Nikon D40x. Here's my reasoning.1) This was my first dSLR so I wanted something easy to use and lower cost..

2) I can't afford expensive telephoto lenses so the extra Mega pixels (over the d40) allows me to crop in closer in post process..

3) I loved the size and feel of the camera when I looked at it at Best Buy (Over Canon's equivalent).

4) I didn't opt for the D80 because I'm a tech loving guy and by the time I grow out of the D40x there will be something better and cheaper, and I always crave the latest and greatest. ..

Comment #12

You say you are a beginner, but you are looking at some advanced cameras. If I were you, I would begin at the beginning with a D40, D40X, XT, or XTi. After a couple years, you will be ready to move up to a more sophisticated camera..

Jerryhttp://jchoate.zenfolio.com/..

Comment #13

Michael,.

You wrote:-.

Regarding the D80 - am I likely to be dissatisfied with the lack ofsensor cleaner, lower high-ISO performance, or 12-bit vs 14-bit, thanhigher-end models like the Canon 40D or Nikon D300 (therefore go forinexpensive D40 and wait for high-end later)? Though I may be justputting off my satisfaction  Feel free to tell me that theseextra features on the 40D and D300 don't matter that much for whatI'm likely to do .

40D & D300 do have many extra features over D80 (live view, faster fps + many others in addition to ones you mention) that's why they cost more and only you can say if you need them or perhaps more to the point "can you live without them"..

I still think the D80 is a good camera but get a feeling from your comments that the D300 could be the one you really want - if I'm right and you can't afford/justify it now but still want a camera, I'd therefore get the D40 + 18-200mm VR (or 2x lens kits posted) and enjoy that until you can afford to step up - that way you won't have wasted D80 money as a stepping stone..

All the best.....Caster.

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Comment #14

Both your logic (get the D40/D40x as in my initial proposition), the logic of another responder who suggested the D80 (I'll soon get dissatisfied with the D40 limitations) have competing good points. Hell, if it weren't price, I'd go straight for the D80 and probably be happy for some time until (or if ever) I want another upgrade (D300 or successor)..

Right now I'm mulling whether I can justify the price of the D80 + 18-200 VR. If I get the body only on the D80 and add the 18-200, the difference vs D40 kit + 18-200 VR is just over $300. Which steers me towards the D80 option, as long as I'm happy foregoing the D300 (or Canon 40D) for a while to come. Which I think I can be happy with - realistically, I'm just fueling my urge for bigger, shinier toys!.

And the cost of over-indulgence will be much greater if I consider the damage my wife will do to our wallet when I can't say "hold off buying that expensive bag, honey, we really need to watch our spending... gotta put the kids through college...". No need to have an arms-race with her in the spending department or our kids will definitely be going to the local community college .

And another point for the D80 - it feels right to me. That intangible sense that has less to do with reviews and specs. Though trying it in a store is not the same as using it in the field of course..

So, I'll have to decide whether to go for it now (before our trip in 2 wks to Amsterdam and London), or wait for the D90 or the sale of sales or whatever...(a game one can play forever)..

Michael J..

Comment #15

I agree in general, which is why I started with the proposition of getting the D40 (value for $ is excellent). But as I wrestle with my own sense of what my learning curve will be (I'm not really a beginner photographer, just with DSLRs); and that there are certain limitations with this and other entry-level cameras that I am uncomfortable with (inability to use a prime lens with AF; size/feel is overly small for my large hands). Hence my thinking about the D80, but working through the $$ tradeoffs..

It's all about tradeoffs, costs vs present and future expectations of fulfillment. Which means, realistically for me, no need to wish after cameras more sophisticated and pricey than the D80 right now..

Michael J..

Comment #16

Seriously, get the D40, your initial logic is good, and by the time you've played with it enough to start to want something else there will be a newer, better body out than the D80. Concentrate on the photography, not the technology. Your D40 will make a good backup body for whatever comes next..

Paulhttp://PaulDRobertson.imagekind.com..

Comment #17

I'm new here and totally new to photography but I was in the same position of trying to figure out what was the best package to buy. There is so much good info on this site, it's amazing. However, it's also extremely confusing when you have so many conflicting opinions posted one after another. It's all good though because that's what you want, isn't it? Others opinions?.

The actual hard part is making the FINAL decision as to what's the best thing for YOU to do. I know it was for me. My personal recommendation is to take all of this in and then take a step back and think about it logically..

How will I use this camera?Does it have all of the features I NEED?Does it have all of the features I WANT?Will I outgrow this camera before it's time to upgrade?.

Will it truely make a difference to my pics if I go with the higher end camera now?And on and on..

Then decide..

I ended up starting out looking at the D40/D40X and the more I read and looked around and asked, I then started to look at the D80. It's pretty damn easy to go up one model for 'just a bit more'. For me, I finally figured out that it's not the camera that will limit me, it's me that will limit me. I initially decided to split it right down the middle and get the D40X. I brought it home and almost immediately realized that I should have just gone with the D40 so I brought it back and exchanged it for the D40. I ended up with a D40 w/18-55 kit lens, 55-200 VR lens and the Nikon accessory pack (Nikon School DVDs, Nikon Bag) for $649.



Good luck making your decision. It's never easy..

Jeremy..

Comment #18

How do you find the issue of swapping between the 18-55 and 55-200? That is, if you use the 18-55 as the default, walk-around lens, under what conditions do you decide "I'll need the telephoto"? I'm guessing nature photography, some landscape, and some sports or activities where you want a close-up from far away (duh...). But in practice, what do you do? And would you prefer the 18-200 VR if given a choice?.

Michael J..

Comment #19

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