My first DSLR

Well, I did it. I ordered a new camera. This will be my first DSLR, though I have been wanting one for close to 20 years. Even though it is my first, I am no stranger to using and understanding SLR cameras. I started using SLRs in college some 20 years ago and spent A LOT of time in the dark room and understanding the use of a manual camera. I still admit to being a pure amateur, but I am a competent amateur.

My Choice

I went with the Nikon D5300. I did a fair amount of research on this. I tried to find a Canon that would work for me, but at under $2000 I could not find a Canon with acceptable low-light performance, which was one of my deciding factors.

In Canon's I looked at the T5i, the EOS 60D, and even the 7D (which was out of my price range).

The color depth scores on the Canons were only slightly lower than the Nikons (22 vs 24 bits). The dynamic range scores were a little more significant in their difference (11.7 EV vs 13.9EV). Where the Nikons really shone was in their low light performance.

The lower-end Canons all had sub-standard performance in low light according to the benchmarks (and in my own experience with the t3i).

The DXOMark benchmark defines the low light score as, "This refers to the maximum ISO at which the camera still captures excellent quality images."

I experienced this with the t3i (which has a higher score than the t5i, t4i, and a comparable score to the 60D.

The t3i has a low light score of 793 ISO, which is essentially saying that if you go higher than 800 ISO sensitivity, you stop getting high quality pictures. The highest scorer above was the 7D which had a score of 854 ISO. Which is pretty good. That means you can still shoot at 800 ISO and get quality shots.

The Nikons, however, have low light scores in the 1100-1300 ISO range. The Nikon D5300 I chose has a rating of 1338 ISO. Which means I can easily go to 1200 ISO when shooting in low-light and still get high-quality photos. That is in addition to the better color depth and dynamic range scores in the Nikons.

Now, I understand that lens quality also makes a huge impact on image quality and low-light performance, but it is not the only factor. The sensor is an important piece, and it seems that the entry-level Canon sensors are not as good as those of Nikon or Pentax.

I am not saying Canon sucks

I want to be very clear about this. I think Canon is great. Their popularity is evident, and I have no doubt that they make great cameras. But the entry-level Canon's, on paper, do not appear to be as good.

Now at the higher levels (semi-pro to pro) the Canons rock just as hard as any of them. If you're willing to throw down $2000-$5000 on a DSLR, canon offers some fantastic options. You can get great low-light scores (2000 ISO or more) and great color depth (23-24 bits) and better dynamic range (12.7 EV). At those levels the Canons are, for practical purposes, just as good as the Nikons (even though Nikons numbers are still better).

But I am not in the market for a $2000+ camera. As I said, I am an amateur and just doing this for fun.

Features

For the rest of this article, I will use the Canon 60D and the Nikon D5300 as my comparisons. Those were the two cameras I was evaluating most, in my price range with some or all of the features that were important to me.

The 60D, without question, had the better viewfinder. This is exactly as my pal Jared said. The view finder on the 60D was HUGE compared to the Nikons. To get a comparable viewfinder in a Nikon I would have to move up to the $2000 Nikon D610 area. The pentaprism viewfinder on the Canon was head-and-shoulders above the D5300.

The low light performance was one of the biggest deciding factors for me. In bright sunlight at 200 ISO the Canon and Nikons are probably pretty damn close to the same. But the activities I will be shooting are primarily figure skating and hockey. Indoor, low, florescent lighting. When I shot figure skating a few weeks ago with a borrowed t3i I was definitely having issues with the low-light performance and the 60Ds low light score is only slightly higher than the t3i.

The crop factor of the D5300 (1.5x) is better than that of the 60D (1.6x).

The D5300 captures 33% more pixels than the 60D (24 megapixel vs 18 megapixel)

The D5300 has 60% of the weight of the 60D. Now that is because the 60D is a sturdier built, partly metal camera. But it is also a very heavy camera.

The D5300 has built-in GPS. Not sure I care, and I hear it sucks, but I guess we'll see.

The 60D has a slightly faster continuous shooting rate (5.3 fps vs. 5 fps)

The battery life on the Canon is almost twice that of the Nikon

The D5300 has 39 focus points, the D60 only 9. I am not good at manual focusing, so the more helpI can get with that, the better.

The 60D's shutter can go considerably fast (1/8000th vs 1/4000th), but most of my work will be far slower than 1/4000th anyway.

DXOMark Scores

And finally, the DXO mark scores. I am still not sure how much weight to give these scores, but no one has yet given me reason o not accept them at face value.

60D: 66 D5300: 83

That is a considerable difference.

The breakdown of those scores:

Lowlight 60D: 813 ISO D5300: 1338 ISO

Color depth 60D: 22.2 bits D5300: 24 bits

Dynamic range 60D: 11.5 EV D5300: 13.9 EV

Conclusion

For a comparable price the D5300, in theory, give me more than the Canons can. With some exceptions (viewfinder, battery life, shutter speed, continuous shooting rate) the Nikon out-shines the Canon, and it is in all the ways that are important to me.

So I chose the Nikon. Perhaps it will turn out to be a decision I regret, but I doubt it. Nikon has been making quality cameras for a very long time. I have no doubt that I will love this camera and be very happy with it for a long time.

Your comments are welcome but will be treated with care proportional to the amount of thought you put into the comment.

The Camera

My final purchase was:

  • Nikon D5300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera
  • Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S lens
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens

References:

Canon EOS 60D vs Nikon D5300
Canon EOS 7D vs Nikon D5300
DXOMark D5300 Review

Comments
Mary Jo's Gravatar I recently moved from my favorite DSLR to one of the new mirrorless systems, I went with the Fujifilm X-T1, the quality of the pictures and features of the camera in such a small package is truly amazing! We have a FB page for fans of this line of cameras and it's amazing to see the number of pros now looking into these new systems. I particularly appreciate them when I travel, although sports shooting is still sub-par compared to my DSLR system...but getting better!
# Posted By Mary Jo | 4/22/14 6:53 PM
TomasF's Gravatar Congrats. The D5300 is supposed to be an excellent camera, and I'm sure you'll be really happy with it, though in truth I think you'd be happy with pretty much any camera in that segment. Scott Bourne used to write in his gear recommendations that 99% of today's cameras are better than 99% of the photographers, and I think he might be right :)
I would have liked to hear a bit more about your choice on lenses though, as good lenses is usually something you have for longer than even good cameras, so that's usually where the focus ought to be.
Enjoy your new gear!
# Posted By TomasF | 4/22/14 10:56 PM
Jared's Gravatar Congrats dude!

Like I said on FB... these days a body's a body. Everything's a trade off... if you're happy with your choice, AWESOME!

The Nikon is a fine camera... though I fear you may eventually wish you got the weatherproofed body with the longer battery life. That said, rarely do people only ever buy one camera. ;)

The thing I really wanted to mention is the lenses... 5.6 is not a good low-light lense. 3.5 isn't bad, but you're going to find that your high ISO is offset somewhat by the max aperture size on your lens at full telephoto. And in cases when you're shooting at the max of your telephoto lens (in low light, anyway)that in low light, even with high ISO you're going to lose a lot of detail. At least that's what I found with my rebel XTi.

Just some thoughts from the field. The most important part? Go have fun with it! :)
# Posted By Jared | 4/23/14 7:39 AM
Jason Dean's Gravatar Thanks for the comments.

Lens choice was definitely a difficult one. I looked at a lot of them.

I know that the f/3.5-5.6 is not great for low-light. f/2.8 or even a fixed f/4 would be better, but those were beyond my budget right now.

When it comes to shooting the important events (hockey tournaments, figure skating competitions, etc) I fully intend to rent an appropriate lens.

Recently my daughter had a figure skating competition, I borrowed a Canon t3i and took it to the arena with the stock lens and took several hundred test shots at different ISO and aperture settings. What I found, obviously, was that the pictures ALL sucked.

So I went to West Photo in Minneapolis and rented the Canon 70-200 f/2.8. That was an AMAZING experience. I was able to shoot my daughters competition and get some amazing shots using a $2400 lens. The cost for the rental was $30.

I appreciate the need, and desire, for super-high quality glass, but that needs to be combined with a high-quality body with the features I want. It is more economical for me to buy the body with some pretty-good lenses and then to rent the $$$$ lenses when I need them.

The Nikkor 18-140 lens is a pretty good lens in its class. Note, I said "in its class". Please don't try to compare it to a $2000+ lens and say how much it sucks, I know that much. But in its class it has good clarity, decent focal length, and "Ok" aperture range for a sub-$1000 lens.

It's retail price is $599, it was included in the bundle I purchased for $250. If I had purchased the body alone and tried to find a comparable telephoto lens, I would have far exceeded my starting budget.

I know that there are better telephoto lenses available for my low-light needs, but they start at $1100-$1400 and go up drastically from there. For now, I'd rather rent those when I need them. If my rental costs start getting to high too often, I will consider the investment in an higher quality lens.

The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 (which I just realized I mistyped as f/18 above, I purchased just as a good, low-light portrait / general purpose lens. For family reunions, pictures if the kids and the pets, and general walking-around-the-town photos. My daughter has her figure skating club banquet this weekend, I will likely use it for that.
# Posted By Jason Dean | 4/23/14 9:19 AM
Eric Cobb's Gravatar I got a Nikon a few years ago (D3000) and I love it! Having no experience whatsoever with a DSLR, it was a great entry level camera for me. While I don't use it nearly a much as I would like to anymore, I'm already looking forward to the day that I decide to upgrade.

I originally looked at Canon as well, and their cameras actually seemed to fit my hands better and were a little more comfortable to hold. But, I eventually went with the Nikon because it was on sale and I got it a few hundred dollars cheaper. :)
# Posted By Eric Cobb | 4/23/14 9:43 AM
Mary Jo's Gravatar Jason - I actually own the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens and you are right, there are very few lenses that can match it for sports shooting (I also used a 135mm f/2.0 indoors which was fantastic as well, and the 50mm f/1.8 even would come out for certain situations). You can sometimes find these lenses used, the one I have was without the IS which added considerably to the price but is of little use for sports shooting, so that might be a consideration if you do get to a point of wanting to own one yourself (or the Nikon equivalent). The 35mm prime (or 50mm) is definitely always one of the best lenses anyone can get for the price, particularly for indoor shooting. Consider also getting a decent bounce flash for indoor family shots, best investment you can make for improving your indoor non-sports photos.
# Posted By Mary Jo | 4/23/14 12:03 PM
Jason Dean's Gravatar @Mary Jo,

Thanks for the advice. I am very much looking forward to getting the 35mm lens. I actually have never owned a prime lens like that, so I am excited to see how well it works.
# Posted By Jason Dean | 4/23/14 2:37 PM
Jason Dean's Gravatar @Eric,

The Canons did have a nice feel, I won't deny it. But that was not as important to me.

My camera should be waiting for me when I get home today. w00t! *giggle*
# Posted By Jason Dean | 4/23/14 2:39 PM
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