Nikon's latest data point represents a delicious addition to the line: the D50, due next week. It takes the same spectacular photos as the bestselling D70S -- for a list price of $750.
(These prices are for the body only -- bring your own lens. With a great starter lens, the D50 will be priced at $900. Prices online will be even lower once the camera has been on sale for a few weeks.)
Now, $900 may still sound like a lot, but these are professional cameras -- or were, until amateur shutterbugs started snapping them up. And that price frees you from the teeth-grinding annoyances of everyday consumer cams.
For example, the D50 powers up in two-tenths of a second, so you don't miss shots because your camera's not ready. You don't worry about running out of battery power by lunchtime at Six Flags, either; the D50's battery lasts for weeks on a charge. (It has a 2,000-shot capacity, compared with 200 to 400 on a pocket-size consumer cam.) And a digital S.L.R. reduces shutter lag -- the half-second delay after you press the shutter button -- to zero.
But a digital S.L.R.'s most important advantage is that it takes infinitely better pictures than those little pocket cams. These are big, bright, sharp, professional-looking photos, with ultra-sharp subjects and gently blurred backgrounds.
You can freeze motion, making a pool splash look like crystallized ice; you can shoot in the dark, leaving the shutter open to record the orange trails of car taillights; and you can fire off several shots a second, improving your odds of catching the bat meeting the ball, the cork exiting the Champagne bottle or the 5-year-old sitting still.