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Realizing that:

  • no single brand or camera model is perfect,
  • most DSLRs are "good enough" for most situations
  • there is no single right answer to which camera should be purchased

...what are some things that should be considered when choosing a brand for a DSLR?

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Also, since lenses are one of the most important differences, you might want to go straight to How much do lens lineups vary across DSLR platforms? –  mattdm May 1 '13 at 12:23

11 Answers 11

up vote 22 down vote accepted

I think the top consideration would be the lenses that you have available. If you already have lenses with Canon mount, and if you want to keep those lenses, then stick to Canon. In practice the investment is in lenses, not on the camera body. Lenses should drive your decision.

If you don't have any existing lenses try to review lenses before buying the camera that fits them so make a more informed choice. I can't really recommend any other way without getting into brand wars.

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1  
+1, but I'd strengthen the last paragraph even further: buy one or two lenses by comparison, and then pick a camera that fits them. :) –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 20:55
    
you are right! if not it's a bit contradicting! thanks! :) –  Rezlaj Jul 15 '10 at 21:03
2  
Lenses already available is definitely #1. In the majority of applications, each mount really does not vary much in lenses available. The biggest difference is in specialty lenses and primes. After that, I would say the biggest difference between brands is ergonomics and perhaps accessories. Try to hold each brand (and not just at the level you are buying at, but upgrade paths), especially the lesser known POS brands (Pentax, Olympus and Sony :). –  Eruditass Jul 28 '10 at 14:34
    
Agreed; now follow-up by reading How much do lens lineups vary across platforms? –  mattdm Aug 30 '11 at 13:48
1  
@Eruditass: I agree that ergonomics are important, but I think the "hold it at the store" advice is over-given. In order to really understand the ergonomics of a camera, you need to take a few thousand pictures with it. Some features which seem vital (or awful) on first impression may turn out to be inconsequential in real daily use; on the other hand, after serious use, there will be things you didn't notice at first which you find you can't live without — or are hard to live with. So don't worry too much if you can't find a camera you want in a local store. –  mattdm Aug 30 '11 at 13:53

Consider what brand of camera/lenses are used by your close friends or associates who are also photographers. It can be helpful if you're able to borrow or share lenses, flashes, or other accessories with one's friends because you all have compatible gear.

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This is good advice. –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 20:45
    
You can also borrow their cameras before buying and see how they feel when you hold them. –  Josh Goldshlag Jul 15 '10 at 20:50

If you plan to do off camera lighting with flashes, I think nikon has a leg up right now with their CLS. If money is no object, you can negative this difference with some radio transmitters. Otherwise both Nikon and Canon offer high and low end lens, high and low end bodies, and plenty of overpriced bags :)

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Canon also has remote controlled flash similar to CLS, but their flashes don't have all the Nikon features (such as optical slave, iirc). –  che Jul 15 '10 at 21:17
    
Pentax, Sony, and Olympus also offer TTL-wireless remote, but also not as sophisticated as Nikon's (which gives you control of relative flash levels of different flash groups from the camera body, for example). –  mattdm Apr 8 '11 at 11:24

It's important that the camera fit you, ergonomically and aesthetically. Otherwise you won't use it. So, it's very important to see/feel/touch a new camera in person, especially if you haven't used that brand before.

For example, I think the low-end Canon and Nikon offerings are just vile - they feel like cheap plastic toys to me. But you'd never get that from the fancy pictures online. Also, others might feel differently.

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this is more of a consideration of specific models of camera than of a brand...as you note, within Canon and Nikon their cameras feel very different depending on which model you purchase –  ahockley Jul 15 '10 at 21:08
    
Does this really deserve a down-vote? Camera lines do have consistent ergonomics and usability from body to body. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 21:09
    
on the other hand, when you're considering a brand, it may not be the best thing to stick for example to Olympus because you like how their entry level model feels in your hand. (It's more relevant if you don't plan to advance to other bodies in the system, though.) –  che Jul 15 '10 at 21:19

See whether friends or family are using particular brands. If you have a common brand, it is easier to lend/borrow/swap lenses and related accessories.

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This is a hot topic of religious proportions. I discuss it in-depth in my "What DSLR should I buy article". In the end, you are buying into a system and those who are around you with gear in the same system has a benefit. Canon and Nikon both make excellent products and some even like Sony as a system, but personally I strongly advise you stick with one of the two big players. See my article for more details and as I say at the end of the article - do your own research and judge for yourself. Just realize you'll get a lot of heavily biased and usually heated responses from people on this topic.

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+1 Nice article. –  alexandrul Jul 28 '10 at 5:18
3  
He asked the questions: what things should you consider when choosing a brand<br> He did not ask the question what brand do you recommend or what DSLR should he buy. –  labnut Sep 26 '10 at 18:04
2  
Wow: "your buyers remorse is sure to be strong" if you buy Sony/Olympus/Pentax? You don't think that contributes to the "heavily biased and usually heated" atmosphere of these discussions? –  coneslayer Apr 20 '11 at 14:46

If you've got no current investment in a system, it's worth remembering that Pentax and Nikon both use lens mounts that allow you to use their old lenses without too many problems - if you're doing things "on the cheap" this may be a factor.

The older lenses (before the early 90s) tend to be manual focus, and often don't support full metering (leaving you with centre-weighted or spot), but this may not be an issue (for example, I do mostly landscape, so lack of AF hasn't been a huge problem). The quality of some of the old lenses can be very good for the price, too.

Ken Rockwell has a list of the compatibility issues with Nikon bodies & lenses, and Thom Hogan has another.

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Old lenses also have an aperture ring which is a feature only found in expensive lenses nowadays. –  MJeffryes Nov 27 '10 at 21:05
    
While Nikon F and Pentax K can use old manual focus lenses natively, Canon EOS, with simple adapter rings, can adapt old manual focus lenses from Nikon F, Pentax K, M42, Contax/Yashica, Leica-R, and Olympus OM mounts. Nikon F cannot. Pentax K can only adapt Nikon F, Leica-R, and M42. And EOS dSLRs will retain focus to infinity and accurate stop-down focusing (which entry-level Nikons won't). –  inkista May 10 at 16:23

Agreed that lenses are a huge factor in the buying decision. The quality, diversity, price, and availability of primes were a large factor in my buying into Pentax. Ebay is a virtual candy store of quality, cheap old primes that will fit basically any modern Pentax body. Pentax also has probably the most diverse set of modern primes of any of the manufacturers. As for long zooms, the selection is so-so, unfortunately--the other manufacturers probably have a leg up here.

Also, to paraphrase a wise forum user somewhere on the net, it hardly matters which brand has the absolute best quality lenses, if you are unwilling to shell out several thousand dollars for a single top-of-the-line lens. Keep that in mind when shopping for a system.

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Agree with all of the above. Just another consideration to the mix:

Have some close friends (close as in people who live within a few miles) who own DSLR's? Buying the same brand can help knowing the camera, specially for newbies, and may even give a chance to borrow different lenses

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Consider the lens lineup of the manufacturer. For example, Canon and Nikon each have their own boutique lenses which may sway you to one brand or the other.

I am thinking of the Canon 85/1.2, Canon 200/1.8 (if you can find one) or Nikon 12-24/2.8. The latter actually has made me think about getting a dedicated Nikon body, strictly for wide shots. Canon has no such zoom, and its rectilinear wide range ends with the 14/2.8.

Both Nikon and Canon bodies are excellent. The best photographers in the world create beautiful work with either. The technology is not holding you back. However, the ergonomics will, as Nikon typically has more control surfaces on their bodies than Canon and you may find one model fits better into your hand than another.

At the moment, Nikon does not have a prosumer equivalent of the high-resolution 5D Mark II. If you want full-frame at 20+ Mpix on the cheap (relatively), then Canon is your obvious choice.

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I think its important to look into the photography culture of each brand. Each company's system works great for general photography but there are some strengths and weaknesses to each brand.

For example, I shoot Pentax, and it is known for lightweight pancake primes. If you are a photographer looking for a light set of primes whether for landscapes and street photography, Pentax is the way to go. For me, this means it's easy to go hiking with lightweight primes. I don't really need the full 24-70 + 70-200 range. Also, with the primes it's easy to be discrete, so you can carry the camera with you every day, if you are into street photography. Coupled with body IS it increases te flexibility of each Lens.

Ofcourse, we do not have as good of an Af system as the other brands, and many lenses still use screw drive which can be loud. Additionally we don't have the regular set of fast cheap primes like Canon's 85 f1.8, and we don't have Nikon's CLS system.

Nikon and Canon are both good options, but they aren't the only options!

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