Desiderata Photographica

Posted on 31 January 2008

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I don’t want the latest gaming system. I don’t even want a large, plasma display TV….but, I haven’t attained enlightenment yet, and there are still a lot of things that I can’t help but feeling lusty about. Here’s a brief list of the gadgetry I would like to be able to use:

One of the following DSLRs:

1. Sigma SD14 body (~$699 on Amazon, used to be $1700!) with Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 lens (~$375) or just the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC lens (~$375) for a total of about ($1,100). If it stays at this price, the Sigma would probably be my choice. Too bad about the limited choice of AF lenses, though, and I’ve read so much negative publicity about this thing!

2. Sony α700 (~$1,399) with Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 EX DC lens (~$375) for a total of $1,775. This price is definitely interesting, and offers real competition to the Sigma setup listed above. Any owners care to comment on its quality in relation to that of its competitors?

3. Canon EOS 40D body (~$1,094) with Canon 28mm f/1.8 EF (~$399) or the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 (~$ for a total of around $1,500…the EOS 5D body at (~$2,109) is just too pricy for what I would really need, and the additional features aren’t that useful for the amateur.

4. The Nikon D80…but, for some reason, it seems less exciting; I guess it’s because I’ve just had bad experiences with Nikon point-and-shoots. In any case, the Nikon D80 is (~$781), so with the 28mm it would total about ($1,100). Otherwise, the Nikon D300 body (~$1,859) with Nikon 28mm f/2.8D (~$299) and maybe 50mm f/1.8D AF or the f/1.4 for low light situations, according to ken rockwell, and bought used). Damn, it’s almost as expensive as the EOS 5D, too.

Still, I’m so torn. Part of me wants to just get a classic point-and-shoot for the sheer practicality of it, part of me wants to be able to take pictures of sunsets eclipsed by leafless trees five miles distant and to later be able to count the twigs on a 40×60 inch print with a ridiculously impractical but undeniably effective Tachihara 4×5 camera and Velvia 50, and part of me is very seriously considering just giving up on the whole large format/digital thing and finding an old Pentax 67 or some decent 35mm film SLR and blowing through tons of film until I can afford more than one camera.

Outcomes will be posted as my mood progresses. In my dreams, Foveon will come out with a low-priced full frame X3 sensor with correspondingly better signal-to-noise and resolution; Sigma will then place this “24-48MP” sensor in a solidly-built and intuitively-designed body. And it will autofocus in 11 spots and have perfect auto white balance. And it will be waterproof.

Fat chance.

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Update (2-9-08): I went to Best Buy to find a copy of Paprika…with no luck. But…lo and behold…among all of the tiny point-and-shoots, they had in stock the EOS 40D, the EOS 5D, the D80, the D300, and the α700! Find below a summary of my impressions of these camera bodies; this will not be a scientific comparison.

Canon EOS 40D: Surprisingly cheap and plasticky feel…and the menus were bad. The layout was simpler than the Nikon, which was nice, but the grip was unimpressive…and the shutter button is very wishy-washy. Not a positive-contact, solid feel at all. I’m sure it takes beautiful photos, but holding it doesn’t make me want to take photos. That sucks.

Canon EOS 5D: Feels a lot ike the 40D, but with more buttons; I wasn’t impressed by its feeling of ruggedness–I was thinking if I gently dropped it, it’s all over. Big mirror and sensor, though. I had very high hopes of this, because it’s so impressive on paper. Biggest disappointment of the bunch.

Nikon D80: similar in feel, but not complexity, to the D300. Heavier than I expected.

Nikon D300: the best feel of the bunch. Holding it makes you want to scream “ROBUST!” The grip, while less contoured and cushy than the Sony’s, was the best fit for my hand. The controls are nicely laid out and feel solid.

Sony α700: Disappointing. I was hoping it would blow away the Canon and Nikon, but it was very similar. The display was nice, and the grip is more rubberized and contoured than the others. Too square in overall shape, though, and it was too small to fit my hand. Too awkward. It’s the prettiest of the bunch.

No Sigmas or Pentax at Best Buy, but they may have both stepped farther forward of the pack after this visit. I was really unimpressed by the feel of most of the dSLRs. I’m basing this largely on the feel of the old Minolta my Mom and Dad used to have, but basically all of the cameras in the lineup felt really cheap and awkward. I seriously may just forget about digital for now and buy an old film 35mm in the meantime. If I get this Japan internship I’m working on, I’m totally finding a place to rent a 4×5 camera while I’m there!

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