My wife wants either the new Canon EOS Rebel T1i 500D or the
Nikon D90. The D90 has been out for a while and has excellent reviews, but like everyone else, we’re waiting for the reviews of the new Canon T1i/500D before making a decision.**
I don’t have the T1i/500D and I haven’t seen any reviews on it yet. This is not a review. These are just my thoughts (as a travel and adventure photographer) as I help her with the decision process.
Buy The System
Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Camera bodies get updated more frequently than lenses. Rather than buying into a specific brand’s entire system because of a current camera model, look at what each system (ie. lenses, flashes, accessories) has to offer and see if that fits your needs. Although it is not true today, there used to be a little truth in the saying: “National Geographic photographers use Nikon, Sports Illustrated photographers use Canon”. If you’re not sure what your needs are, find a ‘mentor’, a friend or pro whose style of photography you like, and follow his recommendations for equipment.
One part of the system is the lenses available. For the cropped sensor bodies like the Nikon D90 and Canon 50D and T1i/500D, you should know that Canon does not make a fisheye lens yet. If you want a fisheye lens, currently your only choice is Nikon’s 10.5mm fisheye.
Another point to note is that the ‘crop’ on Nikon and Canon sensors aren’t the same, so the same lens behaves slightly differently. For example, the 18-200mm lens on the Nikon D90 will behave like a 27-300mm lens on a 35mm film or full frame body. That same lens on the Canon T1i/500D will behave like a 29-320mm because of the slightly different sensor sizes.* The 18-200mm lens makes a nice all-in-one travel lens, but you’ll need to decide if Canon’s 29mm equivalent is wide enough for you. If not, you’ll have to carry a separate wide-angle lens. Canon’s 29mm is not wide enough for me, but Nikon’s 27mm comes close.
Price and Ergonomics
A direct comparison between the D90 and T1i/500D is a little unfair. These cameras are targeted at different market segments. Canon’s T1i/500D (US$866 body only) is an entry-level camera and Nikon’s D90 (US$975 body only) is targeted at mid-level users.
Personally, I feel it should be the other way around. Nikon’s D90 has two control wheels and is a better tool to learn the craft of photography with manual exposure control. The Xti/500D has only one control wheel, which effectively precludes using manual exposure control mode. You can still control exposure using exposure compensation in conjunction with one of the semi-auto modes (Aperture or Shutter Priority), but that’s a slightly more advanced concept.
Nikon D90’s bigger and brighter viewfinder is also preferred, but only you can decide how important this is to you.
Size and Weight
The D90 weighs 620g and the T1i/ 500D weighs 480g without batteries. For a travel and adventure photographer, weight is important since we often hike or bike with all our gear.
Performance and Image Quality
Nikon’s D90 fires off 4.5 frames per second, compared to the 3.4 FPS on the T1i/500D. This could make a difference to those who want to shoot sports.
The most important consideration should be image quality and the D90 has a solid reputation for getting high quality images off its 12-megapixel sensor (processed through its 12-bit Analog-Digital Converter). On the other hand, the T1i/500D has upped the ante, and managed to cram 15-megapixels into its sensor, converted at a higher quality 14-bits. Canon has also specified a larger useable ISO range of 100-12800, compared to the D90’s 100-6400. We’ll have to do some ‘pixel peeping’ and I’m keen to see what the pro-reviewers think about all this.
There are other minor differences in the type of metering, quality of HD video, number of AF Points, but are not enough to sway my decision one way or another. If the image quality turns out to be comparable, my preference is get the Nikon D90. For the higher price, you get a body with better ergonomics (two control wheels, bigger viewfinder), although at the cost of greater size and weight. It also shoots 1 frame more per second, useful in fast action (Wait for the reviews though: The T1i/500D does have 25% more megapixels converted at a higher 14-bits). I also prefer the Nikon lenses and system for adventure and travel (10.5mm fisheye available, 18-200mm behaves wider, built-in remote flash commander).
* Camera sensors come in different sizes and the same lens will behave differently on a different size sensor. For ease of comparison, we convert the different sensor formats to the old 35mm film, or ‘full-frame’, format.
** There are complications. My wife already owns a number of Canon lenses, so what we ultimately end up buying may not reflect what I've written. As always, make up your own mind!