Nikon D3100
Nikon D3100

For the last three years I’ve had a Canon PowerShot SX20 IS camera. Before that, when I wanted to take nicer photos than my smartphone could muster, I borrowed Melissa’s PowerShot S3 IS—a camera that I really liked, until it died with a sensor failure. I was borrowing it from Melissa often enough that it made sense for me to get my own camera, and since I liked the S3 and was comfortable with it, it was only natural that I get its successor, the SX20.

Both cameras were slotted into the Canon product line as ‘prosumer’ or ‘bridge’ models. They sort-of looked like full digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras and had similar interfaces, but they used a slower (and smaller) sensor system, an LCD view-finder, and didn’t have an interchangeable lens. They also cost a lot less than DSLR’s, which was a big part of the decision process. I’m not a pro photographer, so spending a thousand dollars or more on a camera was hard to justify. The SX20 cost less than half as much.

It has served me well, but lately I’ve found myself longing for an upgrade—something with interchangeable lenses, faster auto-focus, a usable manual focus, and quicker image capture. Initially I considered one of the new compact mirrorless camera systems like the Canon EOS M or Nikon 1 Series, but I soon found that full DSLR cameras are available in the same price range. Entry-level DSLR offerings from both Canon and Nikon are available for less than five hundred dollars, which definitely wasn’t the case when I bought my last camera!

I decided on the Nikon D3100 with included 18-55mm lens, which was available on Amazon.com for less than $450. I’m partial to Nikon for SLR’s, but Canon fans can find a similarly priced EOS Rebel T3 package. I’m planning to sell my SX20, which is still in great condition, to recoup some of the cost.

Yesterday, Melissa and I went out to Great Falls National Park so I could try it out and start getting used to it. I’m satisfied with the results, generally speaking. I spent most of my time in automatic mode, since I am finding that I need to brush up on my technique and re-familiarize myself with f-stops and shutter speeds before I start doing anything advanced. I will also be upgrading the lens at some point (for something with a better zoom and manual-override) . . . but this one will do for the time-being. Read on to see a bunch of shots from my first outing with the new camera. Since I want you to really see how the camera performs, I’ve only done some minimal straightening and cropping. I’ve made no adjustments to the levels or anything else. Enjoy!

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.