DSLRer's: Nikon D70 vs. Canon Rebel XT

I’ve narrowed down my decision for my first real DSLR camera: the ones mentioned above.

The reason I’m looking to upgrade from a p&s is because I’m getting more into action shots now, and my current camera just isn’t going to handle it. So, after much reading, (yes, includng dpreview.com), I’m pretty much settled on these two.

Now, I’ve taken a photography class before, so I understand the basics to the point that I think I can actually buy one of these and not totally be wasting nearly a 1000 bucks. BUT, these DSLRs have just have so much I can’t really decide which would be better for my situation. Most of the action shots I intend to take are almost all going to be indoors of martial artists. The Nikon sounds slightly faster, but is it going to offset the price difference? It also sounds like the Nikon in general has a better sensor and can give you better photos, I’m just worried I won’t be good enough to exploit it.

So I guess that’s my whole hangup. Can a noob with a beginner’s class in photography exploit the features of the Nikon enough to make the higher price worth it?

And oh, I don’t imagine I’ll really end up with more than 3 lenses, max. I hear the Nikkor lenses are better, but the guy at Ritz said not for consumer level lenses, and that the prices are pretty much the same as the Canon. Any input on this?

Thanx in advance.

Here’s the premier digital camera review site

Here’s a side by side feature review

I bought the D70 when it first came out and thought it was much better than the original Rebel because of the programmability. It just seemed easier to use and navigate through the menus for stuff like indoor light temperatures. The new Rebel is probably a major step up from the original. One thing to look at is the better resolution of the Cannon vs the faster shutter speed of the Nikon. If you’re going to blow up the images beyond 13x19 then the higher resolution might benefit you.

Since digital photography is still sub-par to that of film I would suggest an alternative to both. There are a number of fixed lens camera’s out there that might actually give you a better picture for what you’re doing. Panasonic has an 8 meg 12X optical camera with image stabilization. If you don’t need more zoom than that and are not working in low light situations than this camera will give you more bang for the buck. This will help you with action shots. Try pricing image-stabilizing lenses for the camera’s you’re looking at to get a feel for how much these things cost.

If the current crop of fixed-lens camera’s had been out when I bought my D-70 I probably would have given them a serious look. There is still a lot of room for improvement with digital technology so I don’t see the need to pay a premium price for something that will become a paperweight in the future. The only reason I can think of for buying a digital camera body is start the process of collecting good lenses. Lenses will continue to provide utility value down the road and will still be useful as digital bodies improve.

If you go with the D70 I recommend you buy it with the Nikon lens and also to shoot in the programmed mode, especially when using flash.

To answer your concerns about your ability to make use of all the features of the D70… Yes. The great thing about using a digital camera is that you can burn 100’s of test shots for free. Different shutter speeds seem to work better with a flash and you can set it up to take 3 shots in a row with progressive F stop settings (of your choosing). I’m not familiar with the Rebel but the Nikon camera records all the settings for each picture which makes it easy to see what works and what doesn’t. If you start a portfolio of what works best in specific lighting situations you will greatly improve the final product.

Just as you can burn and dodge film prints you can also do this on your computer (and much more). Unlike film though, you are more limited in difficult lighting situations. Digital cameras have less latitude in situations of extreme light variations. Once you get into an overexposed situation the info is gone. There is no way to coax it back like there is in film. The Nikon will display overexposed parts of an image by outlining and then flashing them on the display.

I have a Canon 20D, which spec-wise, looks very similar to the Rebel XT, although i haven’t put much effort into determining the differences. I suspect you’ll be very happy with either of these cameras, perhaps look into the amount of noise you get with both of them shooting at the highest ISO, as this will be very useful shooting fast action in low light.

Also, if you are shooting indoors where there is a reasonably low, light coloured ceiling, get a good high-powered flash and learn how to bounce it well. I have a 580EX which consistently gives me some fantastic indoor shots, and by bouncing it, your pictures gain a lot more depth (they don’t look like flash photography)

another advantage of going Nikon is that the Nikon “F” lensmount has not appreciably changed since it was introduced, you can take an old Nikkor lens made back in 1958 and mount it on the D70 (i have a 35MM F4S camera myself, so i’m a little biased there…), yes, you’ll be limited to Aperture-Priority or Manual exposure and manual focus (obviously), but it’ll still work

Canon cameras limit you to the EOS line of lenses, the FD manual-focus lenses don’t directly mount to the EOS series (i think there’s an adapter to make them work, but i’m not sure…)

I can’t agree with this advice for your proposed application. You’re proposing to take pictures indoors of martial artists. E.g. fast action/low light. I’m assuming flash photography is frowned on but you can get fairly close to the action. So you want the fastest sensor you can get and the widest lens. The Panasonic has a f2.8 lens at all zoom ranges which is really quite good, but the tradeoff is that the sensor is small and noisy. Its maximum ISO is 400 and that’s very noisy. The Digital Rebel XT can do 1600 with acceptable noise because of its larger sensor. So if you buy the cheap but highly regarded f1.8 50mm lens (or the more expensive but even more highly regarded f1.4 lens) for the Rebel, you’ll have as good a camera for your purposes as you can get.

The Panasonic’s image stabilizing lens will be only marginally helpful because it is only really useful at low shutter speeds (or with very long lenses). It doesn’t do anything to help with action shots.

As for the difference between the Nikon and the Canon – totally a matter of personal preference. I’d lean towards the Canon because you can, on occasion, get them very cheaply from Dell, and, while I don’t quite agree with Magiver that digital is noticeably sub-par from film, it is true that the technology is going to evolve, so there’s no sense in investing the ranch in your camera body.

I really don’t agree with either of these things.

Firstly, on resolution. Sure, the Canon has 8 million pixels, and the Nikon has 6 million, but the Nikon’s sensor is actually larger than the Canon’s, and sensor size (and the size of each individual pixel) is as big a factor in image quality as the number of pixels. Even the dpreview.com review of the new Rebel says that the jump from 6 to 8 megapixels is pretty much the least of the camera’s improvements.

And on shutter speed, how often is the OP really going to need a shutter speed faster than 1/4000? This is much faster than necessary for most action shots, even a sport as fast as hockey. Hell, even if you wanted to take pictures of the actual puck in a 150mph slapshot, the puck only travels about 3/5 of an inch in 1/4000 of a second (if i’ve done my math right). That shutter speed will be more than enough for the OP’s martial arts needs. My old film cameras (Minolta Maxxums) had the 1/8000 option, and i don’t think i ever used it once.

I’d definitely go for the SLR, not the Panasonic. Check the reviews of the Panasonic, and you’ll see that its noise levels are far higher than either of the SLRs that the OP is considering, and image stabilizing technology (designed for use with slow shutter speeds) isn’t going to be too much use when using fast shutter speeds for action shots. In fact, your suggestion (above) that the OP might want the Nikon’s faster shutter speed is inconsistent with a recommendation for a stabilized camera, because the two features are there for precisely different things.

Also, as you point out later, at least with SLRs you can begin to build up a collection of lenses. With the Panasonic, once it’s done, that’s it—you have nothing to show for it. Also, if you bust the lens or the body, then you lose the whole camera; with an SLR, if the body dies you still have the lenses, and vice versa.

I think this is rather overstating the case. The current crop of 6-8 megapixel D-SLRs produce very high quality images and have a good range of features, and there’s no reason they can’t do a very good job for quite a few years. Sure, sensor technology will improve and better sensors will get cheaper, but if you worry about this sort of technological creep, then you’d never buy a piece of technology. In fact, the cameras the OP is looking at are probably the optimum ones to buy right now, because they are not right on the cutting edge, so their level of performance is comparatively cheaper than the high-end models. An $8,000 Canon EOS-1Ds will not give images 8 times as good as these two cameras. Hell, for 90% of situations, you could probably barely tell the difference.

I highly recommend the Nikon D70. We bought one for our trip to Africa this summer and it’s a fantastic camera. We shot a lot of action shots, and it performed really well. We’re not photographers by any means, but there is a nice range of automation from fully automatic to fully manual with several stages in between to allow for just as much control as you want. We had also considered buying the Canon, which also looks like a great camera, but most people we talked to and reviews we read pushed us toward the Nikon. No regrets here.

If the Panasonic is producing a lot of noise at ISO 400 then I retract my recommendation to consider it for indoor use. I take a lot of shots of live bands and 400 wouldn’t come close in a non-flash situation. 800 or 1000 would be more practical. I regret not purchasing the Nikon lens that was offered with the D70. I bought a Tamron 28-300 and it doesn’t do anything particularly well. I could really use a 1.8 wide-angle lens.

I disagree that digital is even remotely close to film in either quality or versatility. It’s the convenience factor (and the cost of processing) that makes it so attractive. I can burn through a gig of memory (250 pics?) and chose the 10 pictures I want. Can’t do that economically with film. And you’re totally screwed if you overexpose something digitally. With that said I’m hooked on digital cameras and I’m generally happy with the quality of the D70. I’ve learned to accept the limitations created by poor lighting. I like the ability to reconfigure the camera for different types of indoor lights and also the ability to lock the metering (which is essential if you do panoramic shots and can’t go full manual on the lens). I also like the compact flash card because of its size and durability. I noticed they switched to a smaller card on the D50. Hopefully the D70S remains the same. Oh, and the battery life is phenomenal. I’ve never had to change out a battery in a weekend day of shooting. They use a camcorder battery.

From the dpreview.com review of the Panasonic:

That REAALLY sucks. Glad it was pointed out.

IIRC, with anything less than the D1/D2 series you only get manual exposure with older lenses. The meter doesn’t even work.

But you can still take a test shot and look at the histogram to judge the exposure. This isn’t as much trouble as it sounds. (I have to do this when I photograph my dog because the pre-flash used for auto-exposure causes her to shut her eyes. I just set the flash to manual and adjust its output until the histogram looks right.)

Hey, thanx a lot for the advice, guys! I was leaning just a bit towards the Canon because of the price issue, and from what it sounds like, it seems as though the Canon will fulfill my needs, even if the Nikon can do it a little better.

Does anyone have any opinions on buying a refurbished camera from eBay or some other online source? I don’t mean the shadiness thing, because I’m going to stay clear of those that are obviously way too good to be true, and using resellers.com at the same time. I mean the quality of a refurbished camera and lens. I’ve been told a lens might not be too good an idea to buy used online because there’s a fair chance they’re going to have some sort of defect. I’m seeing a lot of listings for the EOS-350D on eBay for about $750 with the kit lens, all refurbished. One of the last hold-ups is that I’m going to start reseraching more on comparisons between the quality and prices of the lenses between the two brands. If you guys can impart more your wisdom on this matter I’d appreciate it :smiley:
And oh, here’s pretty much the situation I’d be working with (7.5mb):


And here’re some pictures the newspaper took directly from that tournament:


I know the images are compressed beyond all recognition, but can you guys tell if these two cameras are both good enough to the point that the faster shutterspeed, bigger sensor, better white-balancing, and better workings at 1600-ISO of the Nikon isn’t much of an issue? I’m thinking the light is unfavorable, but it should be fine at 800 ISO and sub-1/4000 shutter speed, right? And yes, I’d be at ringside.

Thanx again.

Something else to consider for action work is shutter lag.

I’ve got a P&S camera that will sometimes take a second or so to adjust exposure, focus, adjust white balance, etc. between pressing the button and actually making the exposure. Needless to say, that’s useless for catching action.

Just thought I’d post some random thoughts.

On cameras:

You should consider looking into the D50, which is Nikon’s closest direct competitor to the Rebel XT. It’s more comparable to the XT’s price than the D70 and contains most of the D70’s features. The Rebel XT’s biggest advantage is 8 megapixels compared to the 6 MP of the Nikon cameras but that is offset by the larger Nikon sensor sizes.

I’ve used both the D70 and D50 and taken some test shots with the Rebel XT but I ultimately chose the D50 which I’m very happy with. I made this decision for 3 reasons, 1) Price, 2) it felt sturdy and substantial compared to the small and flimsy feel of the Rebel XT and 3) the picture quality of the D50, esp. at high ISOs, appeared superior (to me) than the D70 and Rebel XT.

On low-light shooting:

http://www.wonjohnsoup.com/taijijian2.jpg looks like it was shot with a short or mid-range telephoto lens. The blurred background indicates the relatively short depth-of-field that results from a wide aperture such as f2.8 or larger. To freeze the action without motion-blur requires a fast-shutter speed so a large aperture and/or high sensor sensitivity (ISO setting) is necessary to compensate.

Both the Canon and Nikon DSLRs perform well even at ISO 1600 but I give a slight edge to the D50. There will still be noise but it will be minimal compared to what you’d get with a P&S and it can easily be reduced or removed with software utilitlies such as Noiseware or Noise Ninja.

You’ll also need a good fast (wide aperture) lens. The above mentioned 50mm f1.8 (either Canon or Nikon) provides excellent, sharp photos at a very cheap price. However, if you want a fast (f2.8 or larger) telephoto zoom then you’ll pay a premium in size, weight and price. If price is an issue, then you’ll have to get closer to the action instead of zooming.

On white balance:

All DSLRs have a range of white balance options but if you’re concerned about tricky lighting, then take a white card with you and manually set white balance. Or, better yet, shoot Raw format (CRW for Canon, NEF for Nikon) which allows you greater post-processing flexibility than JPEG. Raw files aren’t actually a format but are merely the raw, unprocessed image data captured by the camera sensor. You can then manipulate that data, including white balance, sharpness, contrast, saturation, etc., after the shoot on your computer.

On preview, I see gotpasswords mentions shutter lag. That’s not an issue with DSLRs. There’s zero shutter lag with DSLRs and power-on times are typically measured in 10ths of a second. This is actually one of the major selling points of DSLRs over consumer P&S cameras.

Yep. Pretty much non-existent shutterlag on the Canon (at least the 20D). And the multiple shot feature is pretty nice for action shots. I think the XT will do 3 shots/second.

Dunno about buy a refurbished version. If it were me, I’d go with a reputable dealer. As I said, Dell will run a sale on digital photo gear about once every month or so. But check dealcam for the best current price.

What ISO settings were you using that you liked the D50 better and did you set the D70 on Program vs Auto?

I bought the Nikon software but have to confess to never using it. I’m still tinkering with Adobe Elements. Does the RAW format actually deal with overexposures like film based images?

Magiver, I spend most of my time in Program or Aperture priority mode. As for ISO settings, I only really noticed differences in noise levels at 1600 and even then they were slight. Check out this comparison page on DPReview (probably THE best camera review page on the net, IMHO).

Which version of PS Elements are you using? If version 4, you’ll be able to open Nikon’s NEF files directly in the included Camera RAW utility. You can change exposure plus or minus 4 stops giving a total adjustable range of 8 stops. If you have the Nikon software, I’d suggest playing around and seeing what you come up with. I haven’t used it but I hear it’s quite good.

Of course, it’s best to try to expose properly in-camera but in tough, high-contrast lighting situations using RAW can save otherwise impossible shots. The rule of thumb for shooting digital is to try to expose as brightly as possible without losing detail or blowing-out the highlights (the histogram function is invaluable for this). The bulk of tonal information is contained within the mid and high-range tones so when you brighten up an under-exposed photo you have less information to work with and will therefore see more noise or banding. This problem is greatly reduced using 16 bit RAW (which has a range of more than 30,000 tonal values compared to 8 bit JPEG with a measly 256) but it doesn’t disappear.