After about 5 years of using my 3.3 megapixel Olympus C-3040 digital point-and-shoot camera, I decided that I was ready for a digital SLR. The Olympus has been a great camera over the years. With its fast f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, it has the ability to take some nice shots even in low light. The photos have turned out nice and sharp under most conditions. However, I’ve learned a lot about photography in the past few years and have felt limited by its point-and-shoot feature set. I had a Minolta 35mm SLR prior to the Olympus and was just getting up to speed thinking in terms of aperature and shutter speeds before I went digital. The Olympus supported these features, but accessing them required drilling down through a few menus. Not only that, but like many digital cameras of its day, its shutter lag requires that I anticipate shots before they happen. Much of the time I’m pressing the button as a smile is forming. I realized that I was ready for a faster camera with controls that allow me to access the functions I need quickly.As I started to research my options, my criteria for the camera and lenses were as follows:
- Lightweight – I wanted gear suitable for taking on backpacking trips (such as my 3-week John Muir Trail hike). Therefore one of my primary criteria was that it had to be light. I did a lot of research on ultralight backpacking strategies before the JMT hike and I knew that if I really wanted to go light I could carry an ultra-compact point-and-shoot, but I didn’t want to give up the opportunities that the SLR would allow.
- Appropriate for my photographic needs – It needed to be great for mountain and landscape photography, but just as useful when not on the trail such as at family gatherings and candid shots around the house.
- Capable of high-quality photos (sharp, little chromatic aberation, little flare) – If I’m going to bother to carry the gear, it had better produce some worthy photos.
- Headache free (e.g. good build quality, under warranty) – I don’t want anything falling apart on me, but if it does, I want to be able to exchange it for another one. While doing my research, I read too many testimonials in online forums from people who found that they had to return a lens once or twice that did not meet their expectations.
- Inexpensive as possible without sacrificing the above qualities – In the spirit of Albert Einstein: as cheap as possible, but no more.
After doing quite a bit of research, I settled on the following equipment (getting as much of it as possible from a local camera store in order to make it easier to exchange if necessary):
- Canon Digital Rebel XT – black – body only (not the lens kit)
- Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (Ultra-Wide zoom)
- Tamron SP AF24-135MM F/3.5-5.6 AD Aspherical (IF) Macro
- SanDisk Ultra II CompactFlash
I’m posting this information for the benefit of fellow hikers with similar criteria in a digital SLR. It took quite a while to do the research, so hopefully this information will save other people some time. Granted, the technology and product line-ups change fairly often and prices go down over time, but I think these things should prove a sound investment. Chances are a camera body with more features will come out in the next year or so, but it is unlikely to get any smaller or lighter for ergonomic reasons. The lenses should be compatible with any future body, though I’ve seen some concern about the use of the EF-S mount in future Canon camera bodies. Only time will tell.Please read on if you’d like to read more about the decision making process. Disclaimer: some of the links that I’ve included go to online retail sites. I have no affiliation with any of them. They just happen to be where I found good information to link to! Also, please note that I wrote the majority of this entry in May 2005 but didn’t get around to finishing it until November 2005. I’ve updated the text appropriately but have left the prices at the original May 2005 values. Continue reading