Sub-$1000 DSLR w/3 lens kit and low-light performance

Started Nov 22, 2009 | Discussions thread
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ishu
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Sub-$1000 DSLR w/3 lens kit and low-light performance
Nov 22, 2009

I've read these forums and taken away a great deal of information and questions--and I'm aware of many of the trade-offs. I hope that gives a focused discussion and minimizes fanboy-ism.

I'm looking for a low-cost DSLR system to attach a normal prime lens. My budget is $700-$1000 but I'd like to keep it as close to the lower amount as possible. I would like to do "family" indoor photography without a flash and also develop my knowledge about photography. (So a fast normal prime would serve both purposes, wouldn't it?) My current cameras are a Canon SX10 IS and a Panasonic LZ8. For three years, I shot very happily with a Fujifilm S5200 until the zoom jammed.

More about my needs:

1. I think that a three-lens kit would serve me well for years: normal prime, wide zoom, tele zoom. A two-lens kit plus a prime should do, and that rules out a number of options (see below). I am unlikely to invest a great deal in lenses at this time; and would like a camera I can grow with. So I am willing to switch systems with a body and lens system upgrade--if and when I need to.

2. I would prefer a smaller camera over a larger camera for portability, and I have small hands so I'm not concerned about smallness.

3. I am unlikely to print at very large sizes (> 8x10), though I might occasionally crop for small prints.

4. I am interested in developing my eye and skills with landscapes and portraits/indoor subjects.

5. I will shoot almost exclusively in JPEG, and probably in the 5-6MP image size. I don't see myself doing RAW unless I get really serious. (or someone convinces me that conversion is easy)

6. The SX10 is my wife's camera, and "bad things" happen to her pictures when I "fiddle with" the settings. So one motivation is to let her have run of that camera. However, if the SX10 would suit my needs, though please make the case. (I'm not happy with the low-light performance of it, for what that's worth.)
7. I like to fiddle with controls and change settings.

One key question: Is there a meaningful trade-off between a camera with a faster lens (e.g., Nikon 35mm 1.8) and no IS vs. a camera with a slower lens (Olympus 25mm 2.8) and IS? (I know about the high-ISO noise on the 4/3 cameras, also.)

So I'm leaning toward the low-end of my range (for $6-700, D40 + 35mm and/or kit lens) or the high-end of my range (for $1000 e620 + 25mm and 1 or 2 lens kit; or D5000 + 35mm and one kit lens). I have handled the e600 and D3000 and D40, and Rebel 350. I really like the idea of the Oly pancake, but I'm trying to get some views on these specific trade-offs.

You're an opinionated bunch, so I'm curious to see what you all have to say.

Candidates, and a thumbnail sketch of the trade-offs as I see them:

D40: Low cost, good imaging, DX 35mm normal lens; but no IS. Fewer direct-access controls. I recall handling better than D3000; will try my sister's D40 at holidays. I know it's semi-discontinued, but can be found.

D3000: Good value, good imaging, DX 35mm normal lens; but no IS; limited controls

D5000: Good imaging, good hi-ISO; DX 35mm normal lens; but no IS; is "big" for a compact DSLR

e520: Good value w/2-zoom package; in-body IS; 25mm 2.8 prime; 4/3 sensor w/hi-ISO challenges; heard low light autofocus is weak; bigger than e620 offsets pancake advantages

e620: In-body IS; 25mm 2.8 prime; better hi-ISO than e520; 25mm 2.8 prime; noisier hi-ISO than APS-C; heard low light autofocus is weak

Pentax K-x: Good value; in-body IS, but no normal prime lens in budget. But I would welcome a recommendation for used lens to fit the bill.

I don't like the way Canons handle, but I've looked at their trade-offs anyway:

Rebel XS/1000 or XSi/450: Good value; good hi-ISO performance; no IS; 28mm prime is more expensive

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