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Is DSLR better for novice?


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#1 Jack Seaman

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:11

The 17 year old daughter of a good friend has become interested in photography. She is artistic and has a good eye for composition. I took up photography in the 1960's with Nikormats, and later with Nikons. For me, looking into a viewfinder was, and remains essential to totally immerse myself in the image. Photography taught me a new way of looking at things, which is really that it taught me to observe certain things that I did not formerly pay much attention to, such as light and composition. I don't get that immersion when I look at an LCD screen on the back of a point and shoot. (Or any camera)

Getting back to my friend's daughter, her teacher suggested a Nikon D3100. Personally, I think a D5100 would be a decent choice. However, there is a concern about size and weight. For these reasons, I thought that a micro 4/3rds camera might be good. However, I come back to my preference for a viewfinder. I know that some m4/3rds have viewfinders, and some, like the Lumix, have an add-on viewfinder. I also know that many of you are excited about m4/3rds, especially when paired with a great lens. My concern is that perhaps an M4/3rds is better for someone who already has experience visualizing (like most of you).

Her fFather is looking to spend up to around $1,000.00, but might go a little higher. He likes to buy high quality with an eye toward keeping it a long time. I explained that this doesn't really apply to digital cameras. (He has two old Leica rangefinders that were his father's and still work fine). Daughter has talent and wants to learn. Father picks up my D700 w/70-200 zoom and knows it is way too heavy for her.

Query: Should she get an slr or a mirrorless camera? Any suggestions and comments would be appreciated. I go back and forth between the D5100, an Oly OM-D with Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 (or a Panasonic pancake 20mm), or a Lumix DC-GX1 with the collapsible power zoom kit lens. So many choices and the future of a budding photographer in the balance.

Thank you!

#2 yunfat

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:47

Learn on a DSLR, that way, you have a good idea of what to hate in the future.

#3 schwett

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:21

i think a small slr is the best bet. the poor tracking autofocus of mirrorless, with a few exceptions, is frustrating for a novice. espeically if she expects to take photographs of anything moving.
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#4 black_bird_blue

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:51

I think I agree. I there is something fundamentally different about using a viewfinder compared to holding up a mini screen in front of you. Through the viewfinder, the image is your whole view; on the screen it's a tiny version of it against a wide backdrop and I'm not convinced human vision is very good at that. I don't have any evidence for that statement, hence "I'm not convinced". I also think it's just difficult to see the damn things properly. I struggled with the DX viewfinder on my D200 and was flippin' relieved when I got a D3 with a proper size viewfinder again, and I really struggle on the odd occasion I use my phone. But maybe I'm just not practised at it?

In any case, I don't think there is any reason a DSLR can't last quite a long time, in principle. It's only our endless Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) that keeps us replacing perfectly functional cameras.

And finally, the DSLR is part of a system that can grow and expand as your interests take you - macro and ring flash, multiple flash CLS setups, studio flash, birding lenses, fast reportage lenses, primes, travel zooms...etc etc. I'm not really convinced the m4/3 cameras offer that kind of flexibility.

The real question is whether or not to be a brand slave. I always suggest to friends to go for a Nikon because they can borrow bits and pieces of my kit to see what else they might like to try. If there's no sense of the camera as the kernel for a future system, there are cheaper brands out there to get started with...

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#5 Alan7140

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:55

Wanna learn photography? - the last thing you need is to learn to rely on auto focus. Betcha Sebastian Vettel knows how to drive a stick shift, even though the Red Bull is a semi auto.

Small DSLRs have the worst incarnations of optical viewfinders as well.

OK, a small film SLR is a bit past it as the recommended tuition tool these days, but if learning is the real objective, get a used D700 with either a 35mm or 50mm AI-s lens on it. It's easier to go from manual to auto than the other way round. Plus the single focal length will help make her work at composition with what she has, rather than staying planted and zooming all over the place. You should be able to make budget with this combo as well with a bit of judicious ebay work.

#6 FoveonRules

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 04:36

A youngster doesn't want a used camera! So, what new camera with lens can be purchased for $1,000? Also keep in mind that the Leica loving father is concerned with getting ultimate IQ for his budding artist.

Are there any new cameras with lenses can you get for $1,000 that produce great images? I know of one - The Sigma DP1(or DP2) Merrill. Simple, fixed, non-zoom lens. Lloyd Chambers said it has "remarkable IQ"!

#7 Dallas

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 04:55

A mirrorless is a great tool to learn on, provided it doesn't impede the learning process with a lot of hidden menus, etc. I am not a fan of the EVF, but I don't think it will necessarily impact on one's artistic vision to the extent of thwarting potentially great images.

The Lumix GF-1 was a great little camera and I often pass it off to my son and let him go and find stiff stuff (thanks Fred!) to shoot. he doesn't find it difficult to use as a P&S.

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#8 Alan7140

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 06:21

A few bucks over budget for a Fuji X100, then? The Leica buff would probably take it over himself, though. :)

(bad typo in your last, Dallas :D )

Edited by Fred Nirque, 20 November 2012 - 06:23 .


#9 Airee

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:01

That's probably a good choice. Having a viewfinder is essential to get "immersed" into what one is doing. Screen only is not something I would recommend. OVF or EVF is a secondary matter (and at least OM-D offers DOF preview).

Zooms are better avoided, but being able to work with std/wa/tele is important. I always felt the usage of WA challenging (ie both difficult and rewarding), careless shooting resulting in "catch all, show nothing" pics. Maybe 35mm equivalent is the right entry point.

#10 Larry

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:14

I would recommend taking a look at the NEX-5N. Though recently discontinued and replaced by the NEX-5R, it still has the same sensor which is still one of the best in its class. The NEX-5N can be had for about $430 with a kit lens as of this writing. The Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is an excellent but pricey $1,000+ addition so may be best put-off till a later time if she decides to get serious in photography.

The NEX-5N is as small or even smaller than many m4/3 camera but has an advantage in terms of a slightly bigger sensor. As a mirrorless camera, one can dispense with having have to bring up the mirror to get the best results. The NEX-5N has an IR port for wireless shutter release which can be set to be always on so one can switch from hand-squeezed shutter release or to shutter release by IR. The camera can also be set to face recognition mode so focusing for solo or group portrait is fast and quick. The camera can also operate as to recognize specific faces in a group and to rank priority among the faces registered in the camera. At this point, the NEX-5N takes care beautifully of mirror-up, focusing and shutter release issues.

For live view shooting, there is no Nikon dSLR or m4/3 camera that can better the NEX. It betters the Nikon dSLRs by a wide-margin. The NEX allows the user to magnify the view for manual focusing (with peaking function to further aid Manual focus) or for image review without losing detail unlike many Nikon dSLRs. Letting the photographer accurately see the image before takings its photo can be very helpful to a beginning photographer. Moreover, the articulating rear LCD screen is very good and makes it very convenient to shoot from a low position whether handheld or from a tripod. This ease of shooting from a low position that the NEX confers the photographer is a great advantage over another photographer using a dSLR who will have difficulty viewing and composing from a low position.

If desired, the NEX-5N can be outfitted with a very good external viewfinder than can swivel to 90 degrees. This is helpful not only for framing the shoots (whether looking straight ahead or looking down at the 90-degrees articulated screen) but also for reviewing the photos outdoors under direct sunlight when the LCD screen is washed out in the sun. This eliminates having have to bring my Hoodman Loupe which is practically a necessity when shooting outdoors with my Nikon dSLRs.

The NEX-5N currently has limited native E-mount lens choices but the situation is improving and will be considerably better by next year. The ability of the NEX-5N to use virtually all F-mount lenses via an adapter ensures that the user will have all the lenses that he needs even if aperture and focus is done manually. The expected introduction of an active adapter by late 1Q 2013 will allow the use of AF-S Nikkor lenses which will now be able to set the aperture electronically and will support auto-focus as well. Zeiss will also introduce 3 new AF lenses for the NEX by 1Q 2013 - 12mm f/2.8, 32mm f/1.8, 50mm f/2.8 macro.

I should add that the NEX takes good video and is much easier to use for this purpose than most video-enabled Nikon dSLRs though it is not as good as the Panasonic GH2 which I use for video. Manual adjustment of aperture and shutter-speed is quick and easy.

If there are two areas where NEX-5N is weak, it is when it comes to using it for covering events and for flash supplemented shooting. Here, the dSLR still excels.

To get the beginner off to a good start, I would suggest including a light tripod with the camera. Not only will this enable the starting photographer to join in the photo, it will also aid her and allow her to take her time when composing her shots, as well as enable her to get long-exposure shots. The NEX-5N excels in this type of shooting where it's light and compact size allows the use of smaller tripod and where its live view and articulating screen plus IR makes it very quick to set up and use.

Edited by Larry, 20 November 2012 - 19:56 .


#11 Jyda

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:35

Is there any evidence that a prime lens and manual everything is the best way to start in photography? My take on it is that a beginner learns best by having fun and being able to experiment, not by being artificially restricted. If she's having fun and gets curious of how various settings and focal lengths effect the resulting image, she'll learn that anyway. So my recommendation is a light camera with a zoom lens, DSLR or not.
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#12 Airee

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:54

It all depends on the individuum. Getting nice results and not knowing why is ok for a beginner. The next stage is, still getting nice results, and knowing why. I understood that the second case was more in line with the intention to spend 1000USD or more. Of course, one can revert to manual focus and exposure etc. with any dslr. Zooms however make it difficult to play with low light and shallow DOF, especially in the case of smaller formats.

But once again, it boils down to the maturity of the 'pupil'.
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#13 nfoto

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 09:27

I'd suggest a Nikon DSLR (small models such as D3200, D5200 etc.) and a 35/1.8 lens. None of the fuss observing the image such as with the mirrorless cameras, much better handling, and speed enough to shoot everywhere. In particular when the better high-ISO quality is kept in mind. These models can be set to programmed modes or operated manually with just the flick of a switch,

I firmly believe that all photographer should spend *considerable* time with just one camera + one lens. This in order to establish the concept it's the photographer, not the camera or gear, that brings the pictures. You will simply become a better photographer if you do this and learn to "see". Better start early than late.
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#14 kristian skeie

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:28

Anyone can learn the technique, that is not the hard part. I agree with Bjoern, a basic Nikon with the 35 f1.8 is a great tool to learn photography for a young person. Using a single lens(non zoom) will make the person work harder on composition and mature as a photographer better.
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#15 armando_m

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:33

I think the important part is having someone to comment on her photos

having a view finder is in my opinion irrelevant for the young people, they can easily bridge from the little screen on a device to a larger image on a bigger device, ipad, or laptop.

I can take well composed images with my cell phone, any decent P&S will allow her to grow into photography

My daughter (13) took ownership of my EPL-1, I got her a VF-2 and I have seen her use it maybe twice, still she takes good shots, and often criticizes my own :D

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#16 Dallas

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:54

I agree with Armando. since I got a m43 camera I prefer to shoot with live view than using a viewfinder. Provided you can see the screen composition shouldn't be an issue.

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#17 nfoto

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:57

The problem with the mirrorless cameras using the rear screen is that you get a really poor handling that lends itself to increased camera shake. Besides, not all persons have perfect eyesight and then the LCD monitor is hellish to observe, plus it is virtually impossible to use in bright light. Even the pentamirror finder of the lower-end DSLRs is a blessing in comparison.
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#18 Dallas

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 12:03

The problem with the mirrorless cameras using the rear screen is that you get a really poor handling that lends itself to increased camera shake. Besides, not all persons have perfect eyesight and then the LCD monitor is hellish to observe, plus it is virtually impossible to use in bright light. Even the pentamirror finder of the lower-end DSLRs is a blessing in comparison.


Hence my proviso. I have no problem seeing the screen.

Something else I find myself doing a lot these days is pre-visualising an image in my head before I even look through or at the camera. The tilting screen of the OMD is a wonderful tool. Plus of course you have the IBIS helping with any camera shake.

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#19 nfoto

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 12:07

Previsualisation is good - no matter what camera system is used. But more often than not, getting the focus placed where you wish it to be is also an important aspect of the process, and then we come back to viewfinder properties and ultimately, the handling of the system under field conditions.

Since there obviously is a wide range of personal preferences any system for consideration should be tested for actual photography.
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#20 Bart Willems

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 13:48

(...)Father picks up my D700 w/70-200 zoom and knows it is way too heavy for her.(...)


That is mainly the 70-200 that makes it too heavy, I would think. My sister used a Zenit-E until she was 17, and then handed it down to me (when I was 13). Both of us had no problem handling that pinnacle of Soviet manufacturing, and I can assure you that the camera was heavier and harder to hold than a D700. Not saying “get her a D700 anyway” but I would not be seeking out a smaller system over, say, a D7000 for the sake of lighter/smaller only.

It all depends on the individuum. Getting nice results and not knowing why is ok for a beginner. The next stage is, still getting nice results, and knowing why. I understood that the second case was more in line with the intention to spend 1000USD or more. Of course, one can revert to manual focus and exposure etc. with any dslr. (...) But once again, it boils down to the maturity of the 'pupil'.


I fully agree with the above statement. Learning styles differ and what works for one individual does not work for another. I always explain the Zenit mentioned above to people unfamiliar with it as “anything in a camera that can be automated, was manual on that camera.” It wasn't the most convenient tool for taking pictures, but you learned very quickly the relation between ASA, aperture and shutter speed setting (or you couldn't take pictures at all) and manually stopping down taught me really what an aperture does.

It doesn't hurt to have a camera that allows manual control over those kind of settings. Experience is still one of the best ways to learn things, and when many moons ago I took a photography class (being fairly well versed at the technical aspects but it never hurts to have some extra education) it struck me those students who decided to “stick to P-mode anyway” (no matter what the teacher asked them) had a very hard time figuring out the relation between the various exposure variables and how they can use them to control the final result. A camera that allows a more direct way of controlling that (through knobs and buttons, as opposed to menus) would be preferred in that sense. And the student will need the discipline to struggle and not revert to “easier” automatic modes.
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