Be honest here for a second.
If you're taking pictures with an SLR, there's a very good chance you're using either a Nikon or Canon camera, and therefore there's a good chance your loyalties are set. But what would you do if asked to give advice to somebody upgrading from a compact camera to a single-lens reflex model? Or what if you were a pro making a fresh start?
With SLRs suddenly very popular, we decided to run a poll to see what the fans out there have to say. So take a step back, think carefully for a moment, cast your vote in the News.com Poll box, then weigh in with your opinion in the Talkback section below.
Here's how I see the competition right now. Canon has dominated the digital SLR market, but Nikon is coming on strong.
Nikon's entry-level D40 and D40x models are relatively affordable, and it's putting image stabilization into even entry-level lenses. The image-stabilized 18-200mm lens has been Nikon's best-selling model ever, and Canon still doesn't have an equivalent for the folks who either want just one all-purpose lens or who are looking for a single lens to schlep on a vacation. Nikon's D80 and D200 were solid mid-range models, and the new D300 looks to be another strong contender.
But Nikon's real broadside came with the D3, the first SLR to follow Canon's high-end lead with models featuring image sensors the size of a full frame of 35mm film. Most SLRs feature less-expensive, smaller sensors that, at least in theory, have lower sensitivity for a given number of pixels, and that make SLR lenses behave differently compared to the film era. The D3 emphasizes pixel quality rather than pixel quantity, with ISO levels reaching to 25,600 in a pinch. Unlike Canon's full-frame models, it accepts lenses designed for smaller-sensor cameras by employing data only from the smaller central portion of the sensor.
Take the case of Greg Wilson, whose side business is Tiger Aerial Photography and who just bought a D300 even though his D200 is relatively new. "With the D300, I can now shoot at ISO 400 or even ISO 640 and get the same quality image as my D200 at ISO 200," he said. "If I did aerial photography 40 hours per week, I'd jump at the D3."
At the same time, Canon stumbled with its new EOS-1D Mark III, repairing and updating thousands of cameras after problems with a central feature, autofocus. Longtime Canon photographer Michael Reichmann decided it's time to let Nikon back into the fold.
But it would be foolish to discount either Canon's current popularity or its future product pipeline.
Here are some strengths. Its midrange EOS 40D has won favorable reviews for features such as revamped autofocus, a fast frame rate, weather sealing, and low image noise. Canon's third-generation full-frame flagship, the 1Ds Mark III that just started shipping, has a whopping 21.1 megapixels, leading Canon to position it against even higher-end medium-format rivals. Canon's solid base of professional photographers, built up through years of work, helps ensure a steady supply of high-quality new lenses. By designing and making its own SLR sensors, it's able to control some its destiny and tightly integrate technology. And it's adding image stabilization to lower-end lenses.
Perhaps Canon's best competitive point against Nikon is its EOS 5D, its lower-priced full-frame camera. It currently costs about $2,100--not much more than a $1,800 smaller-frame D300 and a lot less than the $5,000 full-frame D3. The 5D is popular with enthusiasts, landscape photographers, stock-art specialists, and wedding photographers. And it's 2 years old, so don't be surprised if the rumored sequel (the 5D Mark II? The 7D?) is announced pretty soon.
I know there are plenty of other single-lens reflex choices out there besides the two heavyweights: Olympus, Sony, Sigma, Leica, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung. We'll save that for our next poll, though.