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Step 3Choosing a DSLR Brand

DSLR Brands

Before buying a DSLR, it is critical to choose a brand for very practical reasons. Each DSLR brand has its own strengths, philosophies and limitations. As system cameras, DSLRs quickly acquire a multitude of dependent accessories which make switching brands more and more costly as time goes by.

There are 4 brands that still produce DSLRs: Canon (20), Nikon (18), Pentax (7), Sigma (1), while Sony and Panasonic have each discontinued their DSLRs in favor of mirrorless cameras.

Canon EOS 6D

Lens Mounts

DSLR brands dictate a camera's lens mount and that determines which lens lineup is compatible. This is by far the most significant difference between brands. Anyone with a sizable investment of lenses is bound to prefer a compatible digital camera. Lens lineup vary greatly by manufacturer and each one has unique lenses. This is a major topic which is covered in its own section below.

Stabilization

There are two ways to offer stabilization for DSLR and each brand only does it one way. Nikon and Canon, the market leaders by volume, which have offered stabilized lenses for a long time use the lens-based approach and so does Sigma. Panasonic DSLRs also relied on in-lens stabilization, just like their mirrorless cameras.

Pentax, Olympus and previously Sony who got the technology from its inventor, Konica-Minolta, all use in-body stabilization. These companies do not offer any stabilized lenses as all lenses automatically benefit from this feature. Interestingly, Sony uses in-body stabilization for their SLT cameras but in-lens stabilization for its NEX mirrorless system. Those with legacy lenses can greatly benefit from these DSLR brands.

Sensor Size

Full-frame DSLRs offer greater image quality, lower image and higher dynamic range than cropped-sensor models of the same generation. Only two brands offer full-frame models: Canon and Nikon. These are costly cameras which require costly lenses but even if you buy a cropped-sensor DSLR, knowing that your chosen brand offers an upgrade path can be a real bonus to keep some of your existing lenses in the future.

In-body stabilization combined with bright F/1.4 lenses can offer the ultimate in low-light performance without going full-frame since very few bright lenses are stabilized.

Sensor size and lens size are somewhat correlated. If compactness is important, cropped-sensor cameras offered by all DSLR brands are beneficial. Plus, for wildlife and other types of photography where telephoto lenses are needed, the FLM works in your favor.

Pentax K-5

Advanced Features

There are a number of advanced features which drastically improve certain types of photography. These may not exist or be equally well implemented among all manufacturers.

Partly due to their smaller lens lineups, Pentax, Olympus and Sigma have a smaller foothold in the pro market and therefore have developed fewer such features including high-speed autofocus and continuous drives. The only DSLRs to shoot at 10 FPS or more are from Canon and Nikon. High-end Canon and Nikon cameras have more autofocus points too which is advantageous to track moving subjects.

Weather-sealing lets cameras operate in adverse conditions. Pentax builds some extremely tough DSLRs and have the only ones rated to work below freezing Down to -10C or 14F. They have also introduced weather-sealing in their mid-range DSLRs along with matching lenses. With the Canon and Nikon, you need to buy rather expensive cameras and quite expensive lenses to get a weather-sealed system.

Pentax uses a magnetically suspended sensor and lets it stabilize the image by shifting and rotating. This alone gives them the unique ability to automatically correct for camera tilt Up to 2 degrees either side. and change perspective right in the camera, like a shift-lens. This can improve photography since doing the same by software reduces image quality.

Canon and Nikon are the big players in the DSLR market. This gives them more attention and support from third-party vendors of photographic equipment and software developers. Rental companies act the same way and many only rent equipment compatible with DSLRs from these two brands.

Ergonomics and design philosophy differ among manufacturers. This is partly due to their target audience and also part of their identities, meaning sometimes something is done differently just to be different, not because its better. These are difficult to generalize and reading reviews of specific models is most helpful for these.

There are more feature differences which will be more or less significant depending on the type of photography you do. Many of these apply to flash and studio work. Sony DSLRs use a hot-shoe inherited from Minolta which is physically incompatible with ones from other brands.

DSLR Lens Line-ups

Lenses are key to the versatility and performance of DSLRs. For this reason, considering the lens lineup of a brand of DSLR is critical. This is also where brands show more significant differences.

Numbers & Focal-Lengths

When it comes to choice and variety, Canon and Nikon lead by a huge margin. These brands have the largest lineups and the biggest support from third-party vendors. Canon, Nikon and Sigma offer the widest range of focal-lengths of any brands.

LensesCanon
EF / EF-S
Nikon
F
Pentax
K
Olympus
Four-Thirds
Sigma
S
Sony
Alpha
Brand 70 71 34 20 58 32
Focal-Range8 - 800mm 10 - 800mm 10 - 560mm 7 - 300mm 4.5 - 800mm 11 - 500mm
Third-Party *Irix, Samyang, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Zeiss 100 98 60 14 0 70
Focal-Range4.5 - 800mm4.5 - 800mm 4.5 - 500mm 8 - 800mm N / A 4.5 - 500mm
Weather-Sealed36 17131232

There are more differences than simply number of lenses and focal-length. Keep in mind that Canon, Nikon and Sigma have several lenses in both stabilized and non-stabilized versions which is not needed by brands which rely one in-body stabilization.

Canon has the most weather-sealed lenses, the most stabilized primes and the most weather-sealed primes. Pentax has most of the smallest lenses and most of those are of extremely high-quality. Pentax lenses can save size and weight since they only need to be designed for cropped-sensors, although a handful of legacy lenses have full-frame coverage.

Specialty Lenses

Lenses for special purposes are rare and those aimed at professionals are mostly found on brands with full-frame DSLRs.

Lens data collected February 2013. Excludes exotic brands with limited worldwide availability.

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