Choosing a DSLR Camera: My Journey

Just so you know: I’ve had a Canon Powershot A610 since July 2006 – a 5MP ‘compact’ camera with 4x optical zoom, a flip-out screen, and, features-wise, can still outperform modern compact cameras and compete with bridge cameras. It has a mode dial, for instance, and even the P, Tv, Av and M ‘manual’ modes – I struggled to find this level of functionality on new/2017 types of cameras including compact, super-zoom and some bridge cameras.

My Canon A610 is a unique camera, and has set me up nicely for DSLR photography as I’m now used to fiddling with settings in the Manual modes to get the picture I want. The camera’s only real limitation is its fixed lens, and therefore its inability to use DSLR lenses.

As such, I initially wanted a Compact System/Mirrorless camera (CSC), as it’s a DSLR in compact form – the best of both worlds. But I didn’t know what to get. It was while searching for a CSC that I realised my initial, maximum budget of £300 for the camera alone (or with a bundled kit lens) would need to be doubled, in order to accommodate my minimum requirement of having a flip-up, variable angle (‘vari-angle’) Live View screen. It’s something you wouldn’t miss if you’ve never had one before, but as I have, I would miss it.

In fact, having used my father’s Nikon D3100 for a while, I just couldn’t get on with it as there was no flip-out screen, meaning the perspective and composition of shots was greatly impaired.

I wanted a CSC/mirrorless to help me expand my photographic skillset beyond compact cameras and smartphone photography. I’ve had smartphones since 2013, and before that I used the 5MP sensor on my Nokia X2-00 candy bar mobile phone. I’ve become accustomed to the convenience of smartphone cameras – whip your phone out of your pocket, snap a photo and share it.

Although I purchased a set of clip-on exterior lenses for my Galaxy S7 last year, which I’ve used a fair bit, these aren’t perfect and so I wanted a dedicated camera system that could optically zoom in on a distant focal point, rather than cropping the image on the screen a la digital zoom on smartphones.

However, having looked at models from Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fujifilm and Canon, I almost immediately ruled out mirrorless Compact System Cameras due to their size. While I had been looking for something pocketable, their small form, together with the omission of camera grips near the shutter button, meant I couldn’t comfortably hold a mirrorless camera. I couldn’t get a tight grip on them, not like with a DSLR or Bridge camera, or even my old Canon A610 compact.

Also, because they are ‘mirrorless,’ CSC’s also omit the optical viewfinder, meaning an add-on electronic viewfinder is needed – which can almost certainly double the initial outlay. Although some cameras come with one built-in, like the Panasonic G7, I was concerned that because this style of camera is still relatively new, they’re very trendy and fashionable, two words that always seem to equate to higher costs.

Also, because they’re new, there is no back catalogue of compatible lenses and accessories, meaning only newer made-to-measure accessories are available for any given camera. I did find that some models from Sony’s lineup offer the freedom of using any lens, which is great for professional photographers, but again, especially on models below £700, the mirrorless form and thus the omission of the optical viewfinder was too big of a price to pay for huge functionality in compact form.

For instance, if I went down the mirrorless route, I’d want the camera to be just as functional and capable as a DSLR. Using the Canon EOS M6 camera as an example, which has a fairly grippy and comfortable camera grip, the initial cost of the camera and kit lens bundle would be £699 at John Lewis (EOS-M 15-45mm IS STM kit lens). Essential accessories such as the Canon EOS-M adapter at £88, needed to use Canon EF/EF-S DSLR lenses, or the add-on EVF-DC2 electronic viewfinder at £209, would’ve brought the initial outlay of the camera, in the equivalent form to a DSLR, to a whopping £996. For that price, I could have bought a decent mid-range DSLR, such as the Canon EOS 800D or Nikon D7200, and possibly even an extra lens as well.

The search for the DSLR

At this point, I started looking at DSLR’s and narrowed down my list only to those models which had a flip-out vari-angle screen – cameras without this, in my mind, were inferior to my 11-year-old compact Canon A610.

Although CSC’s can come with flip-out screens, many of them are 180-degree ‘selfie’ screens, which wasn’t vari-angle like on a camcorder. I did still consider the Panasonic G7, however, as I was impressed by its touted ‘4k Ultra HD Video’ capture.

The first DSLR I looked at was the Canon 100D, mainly because it was available at a cheap price with two kit lenses as part of a bundle. However, it and the entry-level 1300D suffered from the lack of a vari-angle screen, and I discounted both immediately.

After much deliberation over several weeks, my list grew smaller until I was considering only 7 cameras. These were:

  • Canon 700D
  • Canon 750D
  • Canon 200D (released in 2017)
  • Nikon D5300
  • Nikon D5600
  • [Ricoh] Pentax K-S2
  • [Ricoh] Pentax K-70

Comparison/contrast of my Shortlist of Seven:

Wireless connectivity was a feature that the latter 6 shared, and unfortunately, although the 700D was cheaper, many retailers had stopped stocking and selling it, each claiming it had been superceded by the newer 750D, which was £200 more expensive and shared the same, maximum video capture resolution of 1080p/30fps or 720p/50fps.

Although I would never have previously looked at a Nikon, my limited experience with my dad’s D3100 left me with a good feeling towards Nikon DSLR’s, and so I started looking at the D5300 and D5600. The initial cost of the D5600, at £699, was off-putting, but the lack of 1080p/60fps video capture on the inferior D5300 meant it was my only option if high-quality video capture was a requirement.

Despite the controversy surrounding Pentax and their loyal band of supporters, now owned by Ricoh, Pentax are still a respectable name in the photography world, and two of their offerings, the K-S2 and K-70, appealed to my tastes. They are both weather-proof/resistant, and come with specs that can at the very least compete with those models from Canon and Nikon.

In low light situations, Pentax’s cameras seemed, on paper anyway, much superior to models from other manufacturers, with maximum ISO levels hovering between 51,000 and 102,000. Many of the DSLR and mirrorless cameras I considered from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and others were much more inferior in this area, with some cameras only capable of capturing photos up to a maximum ISO level of 12,800.

Ultimately, however, the cheap-feeling build quality of the two Pentax’s, as well as sketchy video capture in review videos, made me think twice about leaping aboard the Pentax train. I would, however, consider buying a Pentax in the future as a secondary/backup camera.

Bridge Cameras for the win?

With DSLR offerings ranging from dwindling models to really expensive, supposedly entry-level ‘budget’ cameras, I turned to Bridge Cameras. I’d always discounted bridge cameras because of the fixed lens, and because I feel I’m ready for the challenge a DSLR would bring. But DSLR features in a bulky DSLR-like body (actually a positive point, relative to my earlier point about not being able to properly ‘grip’ a CSC/mirrorless camera), and ‘super’ optical zoom levels seemed all too enticing. Couple that with a great image sensor, and 1080p/60fps video capture, and you can’t go wrong. Right?

The one that stood out for me was the Canon Powershot SX60 HS. All the above, with an electronic viewfinder that was exactly the same as the Live View, and 65x optical zoom. I’d heard that the Nikon P900 had a better zoom range, but lower Nikon models were a risk, and given my 11 year experience with Canon, I wished to stay with them.

Further reading, and talking to experts from Wex Photographic as well as Philip’s Cameras (both in Norwich, UK), confirmed to me a huge negative with bridge cameras: ultimately, a bridge camera is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. And when I was going to be spending hundreds of pounds on my camera, and probably half the price of an EOS 750D, this moniker was too big a price to pay. If the SX60 HS came with the ability to switch lenses, as with DSLR’s, then it would’ve been a no-brainer.

Pentax/Bridge cameras ruled out, now it’s Canon DSLR’s vs Nikon DSLR’s

Ruling out Pentax brought me back to the Canon vs Nikon debate. I put the Canon 700D on the back burner due to it only having 9 Autofocus points, as well as its lack of wireless connectivity, but I didn’t rule it out altogether.

That left just the 750D and 200D from Canon, and although the latter was due to be released, it was touted as the successor to the highly ‘compact’ 100D DSLR. But it also had a RRP of over £800. Upon release, this dropped down to the sub-£600 mark, but although I had been impressed by its spec sheet, with Full HD video capture at 1080p/60fps, it only featured 9 AF points in contrast to the 750D’s 19 cross-type AF points.

Again, its size, similar to that of a mirrorless, was almost too small, the D-pad buttons too small, and it felt too light and fragile – I was concerned that it wouldn’t be great at balancing-out the weight of a heavy telephoto lens. I was also concerned that although Canon were marketing the EOS 200D as a great starter DSLR, many expert reviewers were quick to assign it as a great ‘secondary’ camera for a professional photographer, great for vlogging and its portability, but almost everyone seemed to brush over it being a suitable replacement for a more traditional DSLR.

This is when I started to seriously consider the Nikon D5600. 39 AF points, 1080p/60fps video capture. It seemed perfect. But, its price meant it was now an extra £100 above my already doubled maximum budget, and only 9 of its AF points were cross-type. Cross type AF points are essential in locking-on to and tracking moving subjects, and if the D5600 and cheaper D5300 only had 9 of them, what was the point of having the other 30 AF points?

Although not a deal-breaker, this was a huge disappointment. I was reeling from the fact that, on paper, the Canon 750D had 19 cross-type AF points but lacked the D5600’s 1080p/60fps video capture, and that although the D5600 came with 39 AF points, only 9 of them were cross-type, ultimately pitting it against the much cheaper Canon offerings in the form of the EOS 700D and the recently-released EOS 200D.

Panasonic G7?

I briefly considered the Panasonic DMC G7 at this point, at just under £450 with 4K Video capture. However, the fact that it comes with a smaller two-thirds sensor meant that image quality would’ve taken a hit.

Also, the G7 is actually a Compact System/mirrorless camera – which ultimately means a limited catalogue of compatible, expensive lenses and accessories. The small size of its D-pad buttons was also a negative, and it joined the Canon SX60 HS, Pentax K-S2 and K-70 on the cutting room floor.

Back to: Canon vs Nikon DSLR’s Battle

Video reviews hinted towards the Nikon D5600’s trouble at focussing during video capture, and just as I was about to go for one anyway, I spotted the Canon 800D. 45 cross-type AF points, Full HD capture at 1080p/60fps. Again, this seemed perfect. The only problem? Its initial price with the standard 18-55mm kit lens stood at a whopping £869. My budget was already stretched out to a maximum of £600. I just couldn’t afford the EOS 800D.

And that’s when I turned back to the 750D. The 800D, while very, very perfect, brought everything back into focus (excuse the pun) and brought me back to the reality and gravity of the task at hand. I’ve been comfortable with my Canon Powershot A610 for 11 years, so why change camera brands?

The EOS 750D might not have had the higher video resolution, but Canon DSLR’s in general were highly recommended for video capture by the many YouTube reviewers who use them on a daily basis, and who ultimately helped me to make my decision: TheCameraStoreTV, TheSnapChick, UnboxTherapy, Tony and Chelsea Northrup, Kai W, and DigitalRevTV to name but a few.

Reasons for choosing Canon EOS 750D:

John Lewis (UK) were offering the EOS 750D as part of a bundle with an addtional LP-E17 battery pack for a grand total of £639.95 – the cost of an extra battery would’ve been £60, on top of the cost of the camera at £599, which would have cost just under £660. It was a good deal, and one that I simply couldn’t ignore.

Battery Grip: the newer EOS 200D and EOS 800D don’t seem to have a battery grip available, whereas the EOS 750D does: the EP-B18, which costs £99. Once purchased, this will allow me to double my maximum battery capacity as the grip can house two LP-E17 battery packs, and plugs right into the main battery compartment on the 750D body. It also has an extra shutter button, main dial and a few other buttons that mirror the rear interface layout of the camera for use in portrait photography when the camera is tilted 90 degrees on its side.

Canon lenses are also slightly cheaper than Nikon lenses, but at this stage I won’t be pilfering for anything expensive. I’ve already picked out a Tamron 70-300mm macro/telephoto lens at £90, which is at least £200 cheaper than Canon’s own 70-300mm lens.

19 cross-type AF points. Initial impressions are high, with enough sensor coverage to capture motion blur and freeze moving subjects. Similar, if not superior, to my Galaxy S7 smartphone, with the added ability of being able to optically zoom in on a focal point. Like my Canon Powershot A610, but much better image quality and higher control over autofocusing.

Hybrid AF, which is very good despite being one step down from Canon’s hyped Dual Pixel AF technology. Together with the touchscreen, focussing on a focal point or tracking a moving subject with the EOS 750D is a breeze – much like on a smartphone. In fact, its ease of use means there isn’t a huge learning curve.

In conclusion, while I could’ve gone for a much better camera, or hopped over to Nikon with the D5300 or D5600, I felt that I’d set out to get a Canon in the first place, only looking around to justify that I was buying the right model. And in the end, that model was the EOS 750D.

– Chris J.K.

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