I suspect that almost everyone who is serious about photography has had to decide among the major brands. Whether you ended up with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus or another brand (I'm talking DSLRs here) you probably entertained two of them seriously, and then took the plunge based on something. Some because they have friends with the same brand, or know someone that loves it. Others because it felt right in their hands, etc. I really do feel that your ability to actually use the camera you've chosen trumps any advantage one brand might have over another in terms of specs. Image quality may be one person's primary concern, while another must have an articulating screen, superior AF and high frame rates or wears glasses and needs a high eyepoint.
As a beginner moving up from a compact camera it must be bewildering to ponder what might be the standout features for you in a year's time. I catch myself regularly wondering about the other brands only to bring myself back to reality. What brings me back to reality is actually trying some of the other brands. It is surprising to me how different they feel. I have a Canon 40D, and recently had the chance to play with a Nikon D200, and also have a friend with a Pentax K10D. In using these cameras I couldn't quite put my finger on why I didn't like them, but they just felt awkward.
This is not a blog about how my camera is better, though, but an attempt to put into words what it is about Canon's design that I personally find most appealing. Every brand has something for somebody, but I feel it would be helpful to put into words what a beginner might not notice or ask until too late. Until you've used a camera for a while, it is hard to know what features you will appreciate most, and what becomes important to you. Hopefully this can help steer someone towards (or away) from the wrong choice for them!
Here then are some things I like about the way the Canon 40D does things:
1. Ability to shoot without taking the camera from my eye, or taking my hands off the camera. With my eye to camera, my left hand under the lens and my right on the shutter I can adjust ISO, shutter and aperture, exposure compensation, and pre view the depth of view. Plus select the AF point, lock exposure and override AF. Since my main adjustments are exposure compensation, ISO and AF point this is great.
2. Speed. Compared to earlier Canon cameras I've used, it just never has me waiting for it. When I take a string of shots on high speed (6fps) you can view the previews on the back before it has finished writing to the card. On older cameras I've used it showed me the first, then each would slowly trickle in as they wrote to the card. The fact that the camera shoots at 6fps is almost useless to me, but I love being able to set it to 3fps and still take advantage of the low blackout time and faster mirror. More time with an eye on the subject is better!
3. Viewfinder. The 95% viewfinder is nice - noticeably bigger than the smaller DSLRs. This is an area where a beginner might not care, especially if they are used to a compact camera with a horrible or non-existant optical viewfinder. For some the tradeoff of more weight and a higher price might not justify the viewfinder, but for me it is important. Despite the larger viewfinder I can see everything with my glasses on...
4. Customization. The 40D has extensive customization, as do many DSLRs. What I find most useful is the ability to store a complete camera setup in up to three immediately accessible mode dial slots. As well, a set of 6 menu items can be placed in a 'favorites' set for immediate recall. I rarely need to go into the regular menus.
I want to stress that these aren't things that Canon necessarily does better - they are just those things that I find most useful for my shooting style. Please comment on what you like most about your DSLR - how else will I ever find out what is great about Nikon, or Pentax, etc. without buying one :)