The Selmer of Cameras
by Paul ButziI’m a fan of the Leica M cameras, so I read with interest Ben Lifson’s glowing review of the Epson R-D1. I disagree with much of what wrote, but I was struck by his assertion that the R-D1 is “the closest thing we have to the Stradivarious [sic] of digital cameras.”
It’s interesting in some camera buff sense to argue about which camera is actually the digital photographic equivalent to a Stradivarius violin (I’d argue for an Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P45 back, myself). But I’ve been teaching private photography lessons recently, and so I’m more interested in a different question— which camera is the digital equivalent of the Selmer Clarinet? Sure, it’s nice to aspire to the legendary status of the Stradivarius. But no one learns to play violin on a Stradivarius. Most of us took music lessons on lesser instruments—like the ubiquitous Selmer clarinet. I’ll bet millions of folks who learned clarinet in their youth learned to play on a Selmer, or an equivalent. In terms of aggregate musical appreciation, you could probably mount a convincing argument that Selmer Instruments outranks the Stradivarius family.
So, I think it’s interesting to ask which of the current crop of digital cameras is the photographic equivalent of the Selmer Clarinet—a robust, serviceable camera that is easy to learn on, offers capabilities that allow room for substantial photographic growth, and doesn’t suffer from crippling misfeatures which make it hard to learn good photographic habits. What I have in mind, here, is something akin to the estimable Pentax K-1000, the camera that was purchased by the thousands as parents went out to buy cameras for their kids taking photography classes. Decent lenses for the K-1000 were plentiful and cheap. It allowed full manual control of aperture and shutter speed.
Right now, the Canon Digital Rebel XT/EOS 350D seems like a good choice. It’s reasonably small and light. It’s a capable camera. At under $700 with the entry level zoom it’s not appallingly expensive for a digital camera. The rest of the Canon digital SLR lineup provides room to grow if the student outgrows the limitations of the Digital Rebel/XT. I’ve had a number of students with this particular camera, and they all seem pleased with it.
And, at the risk of getting caught by the Pinker Effect, the Pentax K100D and K110D which look pretty interesting although I haven’t actually seen on in person. In particular, the image stabilization seems pretty appealing.
There are a slew of contenders out there.
Posted by PAUL BUTZI