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A Basic DSLR - what features do we need or want to pay for?

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by Chester AP, Feb 12, 2018.

  1. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    Before putting the Christmas Bumper Issue of AP in the recycling box, I read again the ‘Dear Santa’ article in which two of the team wrote about new models they would like to see in 2018. Conspicuously absent was any kind of basic DSLR that would be the digital equivalent of camera bodies like the Practika L, Olympus OM1 or Pentax MX: basic bodies that offered all many of us need, to which we attached the best glass we could afford.

    This prompted this wish list, with some consideration of manufacturing cost. I assume that mechanical parts must be as simple as possible (not the latest technology), and that the electronics and software need not be the latest and most expensive. I must admit that the following is purely personal, after careful consideration of the features I have used (or missed most) when using Pentax K10 and K5 bodies after 27 years with a wonderful small and light Pentax MX film body. Perhaps the question is 'how many of the current must-have features do we need or want to pay for'?

    Must-have features

    Decent build quality – not necessarily waterproof, but good for many years of careful use.

    Mechanical shutter 1-1/1000 plus B and flash sync at 1/60 or 1/125

    TTL exposure meter centre-weighted

    16-20 megapixel sensor that works at 50-6400 ISO, probably older model Sony half frame (APS-C) to minimise cost

    Split prism focussing aid in viewfinder

    Exposure guide (-/correct/+) visible in viewfinder

    Current aperture, shutter speed and ISO visible in viewfinder

    Aperture, shutter speed and ISO to be adjusted by separate dials on the camera top plate (with the aperture one easily overridden if the lens has an aperture ring)

    Regrettably, the body would probably have to have electronic linkage with lenses because many modern ones do not have aperture rings

    RAW files to be in DNG format, with JPG in best quality 'daylight' balance only (anything else can be obtained from the RAW file later) - no other image processing facilities needed in the camera body

    Screen on rear of body for review, with optional histogram display with more detail than viewfinder display

    Tripod socket

    Cable release

    Nice to have features, but not if they greatly increase cost, size or weight

    TTL exposure ‘spot’ metering of small area in centre of viewfinder

    Basic histogram display in viewfinder (5 or 7 bar) to replace under/over exposure indicator

    Top shutter speed of 1/2000 second

    One automated exposure option – ISO controlled by exposure meter so that we can fix the aperture and shutter speed (I have found thus useful when using an old 400 mm lens)

    Option to vibrate the sensor to help dust removal

    Autofocus (without this, presumably the body’s mechanical and electronic build could be simpler)

    Features not wanted because of cost, size and weight - if you want these features, buy a more expensive camera

    Image stabilisation (in camera body or with electronically linked lenses that have it)

    The ability to shoot many frames per second

    The ability to shoot at six figure ISO settings

    Any form of video recording

    Any form of wireless communication with mobile devices or social media


    Perhaps somebody with a factory in China is already thinking of this?

    Would it be possible to make one body, but sell it with a removable lens-mount block so that a variety of lens fittings could be to fit the body? (Again, without autofocus or image stabilisation in the lens could this be possible?)
  2. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    The Nikon Df is already pretty close to this, but it ain't cheap. I can think of at least two reasons why. First, durable cameras cost more to make than consumer junk that is traded in every few years. Second, too many people are too addicted to bells, whistles and gew-gaws.

    Some of your criteria are a bit disputable too. Mechanical shutters tend to be quite a bit bulkier than electronically-governed and are unlikely to stay as accurate for as long. Sensor vibrators add quite a lot of bulk and expense; video adds neither.


  3. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    1/2000th would be on my must have list but why bother with a basic camera when you can have a used camera with, probably, a higher spec for a few hundred quid?
  4. Roger_Provins

    Roger_Provins Well-Known Member

    That's why I hang on to my Sony a900. Fits or exceeds most of your criteria.
    SqueamishOssifrage likes this.
  5. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    I recall your article in AP after you had invested in the Df and used it with a secondhand lens. The Df is a full frame: I suggested using an older model Sony APS-C sensor because of cost. My K5 has a 16 megapixel Sony APS-C sensor, and with a decent lens gives images that I have had printed to 50 x 75 cm, and suspect would print larger if needed. I never noticed any problems with the shutter in my MX during 27 years of use, but that may have only been 10 or 20 thousand shots. AP reviewers appear to shoot this many during a mere handful of camera body or lens reviews.

    I put the sensor vibrator in under 'nice to have' because I suspected it added mechanical complexity. I could live without it.

    re. bells. whistles and gew-gaws. I suspect that camera manufacturers feel the need to sell to a generation that has grown up with mobile devices, quick fixes and an expectation that they will have to upgrade with 2 or 3 years. Have you noticed how many 'what camera should I buy' threads there are on the website? And how many queries could easily be answered by reading the instruction book?

    I expect some of the younger members will treat you and I as old farts who don't understand modern stuff, rather than adults who are wary of designed obsolescence and continued expenditure on the bells, whistles and gew-gaws.
  6. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    Size, weight, unwanted complexity? If a basic DSLR existed, imagine what they would sell for secondhand...
  7. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    For a basic DSLR I'd settle for a modern version of my Nikon D50 but with a more up-to-date sensor, say 12Mp, offering a decent ISO range (100-12800), a higher resolution rear screen and twin control dials - I can work with the single dial arrangement but two is better. I'd be quite happy if it only has manual and Aperture priority modes and I could live with centre weighted metering though spot would be useful.

    Basically Mr Nikon I'd like a digital FM or FE please...
  8. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Just thought I would add a 2p worth

    I once had a Canon AE1 and now have a Canon 6D From the many advances between the two generations here are my comments on the new facilities that I actually use.

    1... I only had S and M settings - nowI have P and A as well and do use them I never use the various scene scettings
    2 I really, really appreciate the extraordinary low light capability of the new model
    3 I also appreciate the fine AF of my new camera
    4 Shutter speeds - it is rare for me to go beyond 1/1000 so I can live with that
    5 I do prefer the DOF etc. results from the 24x36 format but perhaps that's just old habits dying hard.

    When new the AE1 cost (I think £200 including a 50 mm lens. the 6D cost well under £2,000 and included a 24-105 L series lens. Allowing for inflation I rather suspect the the 6D is the cheaper model. Both would probably survive being used as weapons in a street fight.

    You will gather that I am well pleased with my current gear and I do not mind extra facilities being present - if that increases the production runs.
  9. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I'm happy using my 5D MK1s and my 1Ds II. I really have no desire for anything newer. They provide images as good as the best 35mm film SLR with ordinary films and developing can achieve and that's all I desire from them. My M43 kit provides excellent images for a fraction of the weight and bulk. For travelling really light I've got the £5 Fuji and the little Sony HX90. I'm sure GAS will kick in some time but for the moment I'm in remission. :D
  10. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I use all my cameras just like I did my film Canon 50E. The AF is better now but I wouldn't say I use the camera any differently. I just ask that it focusses and meters accurately.
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    I suggested 24x36 mainly because there are so many "legacy" lenses out there. Also, you can get better quality or higher ISO or both. It seems odd to me to skimp on sensor size on a camera that you intend to use for more than a very few years.

    As for mechanical shutters, I have a shutter tester. You might be quite shocked at the discrepancies between marked and true speeds: take a look at Five Leicas for worked examples.


  12. SqueamishOssifrage

    SqueamishOssifrage Well-Known Member

    Quite! I'm hanging on to my pair of A850s, because they have all the facilities I need. A bit more dynamic range on the sensor wouldn't go amiss, but as I mostly do landscapes and architecture, and have a good tripod, HDR hits the spot.

    I got twenty years use out of my Rollei 2000/3003 system, so I don't plan to change from Sony Alpha A-mount for some time!

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