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Gear Guy

Any ideas for a decent SLR camera?

For a very long time I've been looking for a camera to take backpacking. I messed around with digitals, but decided they were not practical and didn't have a good enough zoom for my purposes. So, now I'm looking to get an SLR. Do you have any recommendations on a good camera and some good lenses for an amateur not wanting to bother with tons of manual setup? Benjamin Tempe, Arizona

A: Everyone uses cameras with automatic settings these days, even the pros. They may take more advantage of the overrides and adjustable settings than everyday picture-takers, but when they're after a shot they do NOT fool around with setting F-stops and shutter speeds and the like. It's autofocus, auto-exposure, lock and load, and shoot!

I think the perfect combination of features, weight, durability, and flexibility in an SLR (single-lens reflex) is to be found in the Canon Elan 7e. This terrific little camera came out about three years ago, and I fear it may be Canon's last serious foray into SLR film photography, aside from some specialized cameras for pros (who, it must be said, are all going digital too). It has a superb seven-point autofocus system, Canon's still-amazing eye-controlled focus, shutter speeds up to 1/4000th (as ifB), and a terrific metering system that is almost impossible to fool. Street price for only the body is about $450; they pop up on eBay, too. Nikon's N80 is similar in size and overall features, albeit without the eye-control focus. Also costs about $450 for the body.

Notice I mention body-only prices. Don't waste an extra $100 to $200 buying a kit with a cheap zoom lens someone wants to foist on you, even if it's a Canon or Nikon brand. Their low-end zooms are as crummy as the next maker's. Get a Sigma 28-105mm, f/2.8-4.0 Aspherical lens—street price $200. Good quality, very useful focal length, good lens speed. It'll cover you for 90 percent of the pictures you're apt to want to get. Maybe later you can add a big telephoto or a super-wide angle lens. But you'll love the Canon or the Nikon with that lens on it. Trust me.

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