Tax Refund Special: Upgrading to a dSLR

Tax Refund Special: Upgrading to a dSLR

Summary: The economy has most of us on an austerity program these days. But your tax refund is almost like found money and we all need a little cheering up, so why not at least fantasize about ways to treat yourself with a splurge? With that in mind, I've put together a list of must-have items for shooters who are looking to make the leap from compact cameras to a digital SLR--all of which can be had for less than $2,429--the average tax refund for 2008.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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If you're like me, the sad shape of the economy has you on an austerity program these days. But your tax refund is almost like found money and we all need a little cheering up, so why not at least fantasize about ways to treat yourself with a splurge? With that in mind, I've put together a list of must-have items for shooters who are looking to make the leap from compact cameras to a digital SLR--all of which can be had for less than $2,429--the average tax refund for 2008. (Besides, if you find yourself having to sell off your other belongings on eBay, you'll need to shoot some decent photos of them!)

Canon EOS Rebel XS Back in August of last year, Canon slipped this aggressively priced 10-megapixel model in below the higher-end 12-megapixel Rebel XSi (it launched with a $699.99 list price, and is now available for $599.99). Though it doesn’t beat all of the specs of its predecessor, the 10-megapixel Rebel XTi (with only 7-point autofocus rather than 9-point, for example), it offers the best photo quality among similarly priced competitors and it doesn’t scrimp on the features that will be important to new SLR users (adding a LiveView mode, the newer Digic III processor, as well as features borrowed from its higher-end siblings like the customizable My Menu and the Auto Lighting Optimizer). Plus, Canon's switch from CompactFlash to SD memory in this camera means you can probably use the cards you bought for your old point-and-shoot rather than coughing up the cash for new ones.

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Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS Lens The Canon EOS Rebel XS comes with an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens, so for a full setup, you'll want to add a good telephoto zoom lens to complement your package.  The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS lens is a versatile and well-priced (about $300) option that extends your zoom range to 84mm to 400mm equivalent. It's a great option for the entry-level dSLR user, serving up optical image stabilization as well as automatic panning detection, which automatically turns off the image stabilization when you're tracking moving subjects (either horizontally or vertically). Though its plastic build feels a little cheap, it also makes the lens nice and lightweight--a big plus in my book--and of course is a lot easier on the budget than higher-end metal alternatives.

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Gitzo Mountaineer A good tripod can be an invaluable addition to your dSLR setup and Gitzo models are among the best.  The Mountaineer line (originally launched in 1994) comprised the first carbon-fiber tripods, delivering durability in a lightweight package. The current line uses a 6x carbon fiber tube made of six crossed layers, which the company says maximizes rigidity and vibration absorption while maintaining the light weight. The compact Series 1 versions can accommodate dSLRs with 135mm lenses (up to a maximum of 200mm). The Series 2 versions can support dSLRs with 200mm lenses (up to a 300mm maximum).

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Epson P-7000 Multimedia Photo Viewer

This great photo accessory isn't a very budget-conscious addition to the list (at $749.99 after an instant rebate from Epson), but it's such a useful tool that I'm slipping it in (besides, I'm still well under our tax-refund budget so far). Essentially a portable video player, the P-7000 (and its predecessors, the P-3000 and P-6000) was designed specifically to cater to digital photo enthusiasts. It's bulkier than other portable photo storage solutions, but sports a beautiful 4-inch LCD (with over 16.7 million colors) for previewing your photos on the fly. The device includes CompactFlash and SD card slots so you can download photos directly onto its 160GB hard drive and comes with a travel pack that includes a travel case, dual battery charger, viewing stand, car adapter, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and protective film for the LCD.

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Crumpler Sinking Barge Backpack You won't get very far without a good camera bag to stow all your goodies, so let's round out our Tax Refund wishlist with one of my favorites: The Sinking Barge Backpack from Australia-based Crumpler will hold your compact dSLR (like the Canon EOS Rebel XS) with kit lens attached, plus an additional lens up to 15cm long (say, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS), along with other camera accessories, PLUS a 15-inch laptop. The shell is water resistant and durable, and the compartments are fully padded. The removable laptop sleeve is a nice touch, and the brushed nylon camera compartment includes two configurable dividers as well as a ton of pockets and other cleverly designed features.

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Topic: Hardware

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5 comments
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  • What is a good DLSR camera?

    I will buy when:
    1. the camera is all manual, like my K1000 Pentax

    2. the camera has a full frame sensor (35mm)

    3. the camera uses my great glass lenses from my Pentax film camera

    4. the very high profit margins are reduced so the camera is
    reasonably priced.

    5. the all plastic bodies are strengthened and the cheap shutter
    mechanism is improved.
    gertruded
    • There are cameras that meet all those qualifications

      But don't expect them to be cheap anytime soon. The fact is that most click-and-point or point-and-shoots get better quality than those old 35mm cameras, contrary to popular belief, if you use 6MB Best mode on your camera.
      Lerianis
      • I respectfully disagree.

        The 35mm film cameras can get much better resolution than a 6MB point
        and shoot for several reasons. However, good grade film is required, not
        the current Kodak crap.

        Good fine grade film is getting expensive.

        I use both my K1000 and a point and shoot 8MB digital.
        gertruded
    • I agree

      I must agree camera manufactures have fallen too much into digital
      gadgetry over building quality camera bodies and lenses.
      I good photographer that wants a SLR also wants manual focus that
      they can control on the lens barrel. Manual Aperture settings on the
      lens barrel. Shutter Speed on big dials that can be set buy touch
      without having to take the camera down from your eye.

      Now you can get close to what I want in a professional level DSLR for
      close to $5000 (body only) But even the Nikon D3 (the best digital SLR
      body in my opinion) Is very fragile when you compare it to the very
      strong Iconic Nikon F3 Film SLR Or Cannon F1 so popular with photo
      journalists. I can not see a photo journalist in a war zone running
      around with any of these digital SLRs without having to constantly
      replace them. Nikon and Cannon should let professional
      photographers design the cameras not electronics engineers . Actually
      they only need to look at their own old film cameras and talk to the
      users of those cameras and I bet that more automatic electronics and
      auto focus is not high on the list of needed features but a very strong
      body (made from Titanium or solid Brass) and durable high quality
      lenses (With manual focus and manual Aperture) are.

      Now if you offer a Digital camera with settings on dials not a menu
      screen and take out auto focus and use the same lens mounts as their
      very popular FD lenses for Cannon and Nikkor F mount lenses for
      Nikon. The EOS lenses are crap compared to the Solid FD lens. Really
      SLR cameras are only for serious photographers even if they are
      Amateur photographers so a entry level DSLR should offer what entry
      level Film SLRs did. Simple manual control. (Like the K1000)
      Michael Fournier
  • offtopic...

    Janice, splitting a rather short article in 5 pages with one or two paragraphs per page is at least obnoxious, if not an insult to your readers. Usually in these situations I try to use the "print" view, but I see that on zdnet that doesn't really work (like I would like it to work - open a view with the whole article). I'll try to avoid these blogs from now on (and possibly zdnet altogether)
    ranjix@...