Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DSLRS For The Minimalist

By The Editors Published in Digital SLR Cameras
DSLRS For The Minimalist


All entry- and mid-level DSLRs have built-in flash units, which come in handy in a pinch. Many also offer similar capabilities as the pro cameras when using external flash units, including wired and wireless off-camera TTL operation. None of the $5,000-plus pro DSLRs has a built-in flash unit.

Pro and mid-level DSLRs have built-in PC terminals to connect studio flash units, which the entry-level models lack. So if you do studio work with corded studio flash units, the entry-level DSLRs aren't ideal (although they work well with hot lights and can trigger studio flash systems via an accessory trigger). All DSLRs offer a wide range of white-balance adjustments (and full control in postprocessing if you shoot RAW files), so this makes them all excellent for a wide variety of lighting situations—a big advantage over film.

Battery Life

Pro DSLRs will make a lot more shots on a single battery charge than lower-level cameras—4,000 or so, compared to 1,000 to 1,200 for a mid-level model and 500 to 600 for an entry-level camera. But this is a big concern only if you shoot on location where you can't recharge batteries easily. And many mid- and even entry-level DSLRs have accessory battery holders available, which provide more heft and more battery life.


The top pro cameras start at $4,999. If you need their specific advantages, they're worth it. If you don't need all of those assets, however, there's not really much reason to pay for them. A DSLR doesn't have to last 10 years; it will be technologically obsolete long before that. But another consideration is client perception. It sounds silly, but it's absolutely true—if your client is going to be there when you shoot, you may get some flak about using a "lesser" camera for the job. The distinct looks of your pro-series lenses should reduce any whispering behind your back, and if you do get some sideways glances, you always can tell the client that being a gear minimalist helps you focus on the shot instead of the camera.

Lenses For Minimalists

If you're thinking about being a DSLR minimalist, the lens is an equalizer. In the film era, many pros would have argued that the lens was much more important than the camera for making top-quality photographs. While digital cameras do a lot more than film SLRs ever did, the importance of the lens in the image-making chain hasn't diminished.

A mid-range DSLR such as the Canon EOS 7D or Nikon D300S and a fast pro lens likely will give you better results than a top-of-the-line body (the Canon EOS-1D series or Nikon D3 series) with a lesser lens. That's because the pro lenses offer more highly corrected optics, are more rugged and have better AF motors. Pro supertelephoto lenses also have AF-lock buttons and AF-range limiters that can speed operation.

There are some advantages to using a higher-end body with the pro lens. For one thing, the pro body may provide features or performance you need. For another, many higher-end DSLRs have AF sensors that are optimized for use with fast pro lenses. An ƒ/2.8 lens provides the system with a wider beam of light than an ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6 lens, and the higher-end cameras have sensors that can provide added AF precision when ƒ/2.8 or faster lenses are used. When you put the ƒ/2.8 pro lens on a lower-level DSLR body, you get its benefits of better optics and an AF motor, but you don't get the added precision of the wider-based AF sensors, since lower-end cameras don't have such sensors. Many mid-range DSLRs do have at least one ƒ/2.8 AF sensor, but no entry-level DSLR does.

Also, newer pro lenses tend to perform better on DSLRs than older ones. That's partly because older lenses were designed for use with film and partly because lens technology has come a long way in the ensuing years. So buying an older used pro lens may not produce a great advantage over a newer mid-range lens that was designed for use on a DSLR.

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