DSLR Holiday Roundup 2007
Megapixels are Just Part of the Story
Ten years ago the hot-shot DSLRs of the day included Nikon's E2N and Kodak's DCS-420 / DCS 3-series cameras, all chunky imaging tools that packed 1.3Mp (2.7x) CCD sensors and set you back about $10,000 a pop. As for image quality, they rivaled the best of today's $99 point-and-shoot digicams, albeit substantially larger, heavier, and totally un-ergonomic in design. Wide angle shooting? Come back in about five years. But that was then and now is now, and boy have things changed.
The big screams of the season have to be Canon's EOS 1Ds Mark III (CAE1DS3) and Nikon's D3 (NID3), a pair of more-than-capable full-frame DSLRs that have more than a few medium-format shooters - not to mention camera manufacturers - looking over their shoulders.
Built around Nikon's new all-but-full-frame (36x23.9mm) FX Format, 12.1Mp CMOS sensor, Nikon's D3 (NID3) can harvest up to 9 frames-per-second (fps) in full-frame mode, and up to 11-fps in a cropped DX Format (30x24mm). When the high-speed mode is engaged (or when a DX-series Nikon lens is attached) the D3's focusing screen automatically masks the ‘live' area for accurate image framing. Either way, the newest Nikon should have sports shooters and journalists in burst-rate heaven.
Speed aside, the new D3 features 14-bit analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion with 16-bit imaging processing, which is driven by Nikon's EXPEED image processing engine to provide expanded dynamic range, most noticeably in highlight and shadow areas. Nikon's Scene Recognition System utilizes Nikon's patented 1005-pixel RGB metering sensor to enhance and refine the camera's autofocus and color-balance capabilities.
Other new technologies include a 51-point AF system, an ISO range of 200 to 6400 (expandable down to 100 and up to 25,600), Active D-Lighting that enable pre-set curves for improved shadow & highlight details, dual CF card slots, a 3" LCD screen, a tough-as-nails body & chassis, and Live View with 10x zoom capability for real-time LCD focus-checking and image composing.
For the prosumer market, the Nikon D300 contains most all of the advanced features found on the Nikon D3, in a smaller, lighter body. Featuring an updated 12.3Mp DX Format (1.5x) imaging sensor, the D300 can knock out up to 6 fps in normal mode, and up to 8 fps in Rapid mode. Like the D3, the D300 takes advantage of integrated 14/12-bit A/D image conversion with 16-bit imaging processing, and Nikon's EXPEED image processing for robust, wide-gamut image files.Some of the niftier features found in the Nikon D300 include Live View with 10x zoom capability, a 51-point AF system, an ISO range of 200 to 6400 (expandable down to 100 and up to 25,600), Active D-Lighting for improved shadow & highlight details, a 3" LCD screen, a built-in Speedlite with i-TTL flash control, and a tough magnesium-alloy body. Both new cameras also support Nikon's Wireless Transmitter WT-4 (optional) and Nikon Capture NX imaging software.
Other Nikon DSLRs available from B&H are the Nikon D2Xs, Nikon D200, Nikon D80, Nikon D40x, and Nikon D40 as standalone camera bodies as well as in kit form.
If you want to see how fast you can choke an 8-gig memory card, simply set your Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III (CAE1DS3) on ‘Continuous' and let it rip. Canon's engineers managed to shoehorn an additional 4 million pixels into their full-frame CMOS sensor to up the count to an amazing 21.1 megapixels, which is further buoyed by 14-bit A/D image conversion. Images can be captured in either sRGB, or Adobe RGB, and open up to a whopping 60-plus megabytes. If you've been toying with the idea of upgrading your computer's memory, now might be a good time.
Flat out, the EOS 1Ds Mark III can nail up to 12 RAW files (or up to 56 full-resolution JPEGs) at 5 fps. If desired, you can also shoot RAW and JPEG files simultaneously. To help manage all this data, dual DIGIC III image processors are employed to keep the show moving smoothly while maintaining the highest levels of image quality. The LCD has been upped to 3", and now features a Live View Function for real-time image checking.
The Mark III's body, as its predecessors, is sealed to the hilt against the elements, and utilizes an Integrated Cleaning System to keep dust bunnies in check. Images can be written to either UDMA-compliant CF cards, SDHC / SD cards, or simultaneously to both. For times you need wireless image transfer, the Mark III can be used in conjunction with Canon's WFT-E2A Wireless Transmitter.
Exposures are processed by a 63-zone TTL system, while the AF system employs 45-point accuracy (19 cross-type AF points plus 26 assist AF points). ISO can be set from 100 to 1600 in full, half, or one-third increments, and expanded down to 50 and up to 3200 as needed. As with the 1Ds Mark II, the shutter in the new Mark III goes from 30 seconds to 1/8000th and syncs with flash at speeds up to 1/250th.
If you need the brawn, dependability, and structural integrity of the 1Ds Mark III, but need faster burst-rates even at the expense of file size, the Canon EOS 1D Mark III might be what you're looking for. Introduced earlier this year, the 1D Mark III utilizes a smaller 10.1Mp APS-H size CMOS sensor (1.3x) that bangs out frames at a rate of up to 10 fps, and features most all of the features and attributes of the full-frame 1Ds Mark III.
If you're into Canon but don't need or want the bulk, speed, and/or brawn of the Mark III-series DSLRs, have a look-see at the compact Canon EOS 40D. Built around a 10.1Mp APS-C size CMOS sensor (1.6x), the 40D can bang out up to 75 consecutive JPEGs or up to 17 RAW images at a burst-rate of up to 6.5 fps.The newest 'D'-series Canon shares many of the improvements found on Canon Mark IIIs. Included in this list of goodies are a 3" LCD with Live View Function, a DIGIC III image processor, a maximum shutter-speed of 1/8000th, a top sync speed of up to 1/250th, and Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System to snag those pesky dust bunnies.
Other Canon DSLRs currently available at B&H – body-only or in kit form – include the EOS 1DS Mark II, EOS 5D, EOS 30D, and EOS Rebel XTi, which is available in Silver and Black.
The Pentax K10D is Pentax's heavy lifter of the season. The K10D packs a 10Mp APS-C size (1.5x) CCD and will bang out up to 3 fps. A fiber-reinforced polycarbonate body surrounds a stainless steel chassis, all of which is weather and dust resistant. Pentax's in-camera Shake Reduction (SR) system enables hand-held shooting 2.5 to 4-stops slower than normal using Pentax lenses going way back to the original K-mount lenses. A 22-bit analog-to-digital converter enables high levels of dynamic range, as well as improved highlight and shadow detail.
Other features of the Pentax K10D include a Dust Removal (DR) system, a 16-segment metering system, 11-point AF, advanced color-balance controls, RAW plus JPEG capture, SD/SDHD compatibility, a 2.5" LCD, and a monochrome capture mode.
If a 6.1Mp CCD is enough to fill your needs, the Pentax K100D should make you a happy camper, especially if you have access to most all Pentax KAF2, KAF, and K-mount lenses. Like the K10D, the K100D Super features in-camera Shake Reduction (SR) and automatic Dust Removal, a 16-segment metering system, 11-point AF, advanced color-balance controls, a choice of RAW or JPEG capture, SD/SDHD compatibility, ISO 200 – 3200, and a 2.5" LCD.
If the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro reminds you of a Nikon D200, that's because it started life as a D200, but 'looks' is where the comparison ends. Once you get past the looks and lens mount (Nikon, of course), the S5 Pro is pure FujiFilm technology, beginning with the imaging sensor.
Though technically a 6.17Mp sensor, the S5 Pro's Super CCD utilizes dual photodiodes per pixel – one for highlights and one for shadow detail – to deliver image quality and sharpness levels rivaling many 12Mp sensors. Another key benefit of using dual photodiodes is a greatly expanded dynamic range, which yields far more shadow and highlight detail as compared to comparable imaging sensors.
Other features of the FujiFilm S5Pro include compatibility with most all Nikon lenses, speedlites, and other imaging accessories, 42-Bit RGB image processing (14 bit A/D converter), RAW plus JPEG image capture, and Face Detection Technology (LSI), which can recognize up to 10 faces in any given scene.
The Olympus E-3 claims title as being the world's fastest-responding AF system when used with the new Zuiko Digital Specific SWD 12-60m lens. Combined with a top shutter-speed of 1/8000th and a top sync-speed of 1/250th, the E-3 swims laps with the best of the big boys. Built around a 10.1Mp Four-Thirds (4/3) Live MOS imaging sensor (2.0x imaging factor), the Olympus E-3 can nail Image Stabilized images at up to 5 fps. The camera's Live MOS imaging sensor enables live image preview with the ability to zoom in 5, 7, or 10x for critical focusing.
Other user-friendly features of the Olympus E-3 include an electronically-applied focus screen grid to aid leveling horizon lines, a TruePic III image processor, a Supersonic Wave Filter for dust control, RAW plus JPEG capture, a truly user-friendly 2.5" LCD that swivels most any direction for times when peering through the viewfinder isn't feasible, all packaged in a splash and dust-resistant, magnesium-alloy body.
Other Olympus DSLRs worth considering include the E-510 and E-410.
Panasonic's offering for the holiday season is the Lumix DMC-L10, which sports a 10.1Mp Four Thirds (17.3x13mm) Live MOS imaging sensor. Among the selling points of the top-dog Lumix are MEGA O.I.S image stabilization, live image preview off a 'Free-Angle' LCD that swivels 180° left & right and 270° front to back for easy viewing at most any angle, a Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm zoom (28-100 equivalent), Face Detection that recognizes up to 15 faces in any given scene, automatic dust reduction, and MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization.
Also available from B&H is the L10's predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1, which has many of the L10's features, a 7Mp sensor, and will leave less of an impression on your next credit card statement.
If you're looking for a neat DSLR package that won't break the bank take a look-see at the Samsung Digimax GX-10, a compact DSLR kit that packs many features per shekel. Among the highlights of this camera are a 10.2Mp CCD, the option of shooting JPEG or RAW files, optical image stabilization OPS), 22-bit A/D conversion, a weather and dust-resistant body, a 2.5" TFT LCD, 3 fps shooting, up to ISO 1600, an 11-point AF system, a shutter range of 30 seconds to 1/4000th, and a 16-segment metering system.
The GX-10 comes equipped with a Schneider D-Xenon 18-55 zoom lens, and is compatible with all other Schneider D-Xenon lenses as well as all Pentax KAF2, KAF, and K-mount lenses.
OK… so the Leica M8 (Black- LEM8B or Silver- LEM8SC) isn't a DSLR, but if you're toying with the idea of purchasing a truly wonderful imaging machine, the 'Digital M' is worth some serious eye-balling. Based on a camera system that has been spinning legends for over half a century, the M8 contains a 10.3Mp, APS-H size (1.3x) CCD sensor, and with the exception of a few early Angulons, will work with most every Leica M-series lens made since 1954.
Current M lenses are 6-bit encoded to communicate with the M8, and older M-series lenses can upgraded to 6-bit spec for about $125 per lens. These lenses will work without the upgrade, but you lose TTL-flash and hamper the camera's ability to optimize image data based on the focal length of the lens, as well as store complete metadata and exposure information. That's the so-called bad news. The good news is that you can still use old Leica glass even without the upgrade.
The Leica M8 offers the option of Aperture Priority or Manual exposure, with a shutter that takes you from 1/8000th to 32 seconds in Aperture priority (4 seconds in Manual). Flash sync tops out at 1/250th, which is light-years away from the rather sad 1/50th sync speed of traditional 'M's. Images can be captured in up to 2 fps in either JPEG or RAW mode, using SD or HDSD memory cards. If you currently own a Leica M film system, you couldn't ask for a better segue to the wonderful world of digital imaging.
And for those times when a 35mm-based DSLR Just Won't Do…
What makes the Mamiya ZD Digital System so tasty is that for about the same price point as a top-shelf 35mm-based DSLR you can now buy a medium-format digital imaging system that includes a Mamiya 645AFD II camera body, an 80/2.8 lens, and a 22Mp Mamiya ZD capture back.
What you get for your money is a very capable 22Mp, 14-bit capture back that contains a sensor that is physically twice the size of a full-frame 35mm-based imaging sensor, regardless of the numeric pixel count.
Mamiya's popular 645AFD II features a fixed prism with an especially bright viewing screen, a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/4000th, a top sync sped of 1/125th, and all of the AF and metering features you'd expect on a pro-level medium-format camera system.
The ZD back, which is also available as a standalone product, can capture RAW, JPEG, or a combination of RAW & JPEG, at a rate of up to 1.2 fps in bursts of up to 10 frames. The native ISO is 50 and can be boosted to ISO 400 when necessary. As for the ZD's smallish 1.8" LCD, hey… it's less than half the price of comparable 22Mp medium-format capture backs… you have to cut them some slack someplace… right?
And if you absolutely, positively, must have the best darned DSLR currently available in the free world, look no further than the Hasselblad H3DII-39. Designed around the third generation of Hasselblad's H-series camera system, the H3D II-39 is first-class every step of the way.
The heart of the beast is a 39Mp CCD that's twice-up in size from the best 35mm-based DSLR both physically and in terms of pixel count. We're talking serious resolving power here folks… very serious… serious to the tune of 117Mb TIFF files. Aside from all this resolving power, all images are captured in 16-bit color to ensure the smoothest transitions between highlights and shadows, not to mention detail in places you never even thought of looking for detail.
Phocus, a new software application for processing Hasselblad RAW files, can eliminate moiré from most any image file without additional masking. Phocus can also take advantage of GPS technology for linking images to Google Earth, as well as act as an aid for image storage and retrieval. When shooting tethered to a computer, Phocus also allows for advanced camera control when shooting from a remote location.
Digital APO Correction optimizes the camera's AF system, as well as each lens' optical performance by analyzing the focal length of the lens and the distance of the subject to the lens in order to tweak the focus as well as correct any optical aberrations that rear their ugly heads.
Other pro features found on the Hasselblad H3D include a shutter speed range of 32 seconds to 1/8000th and a top sync speed of 1/800th, which should prove to be invaluable to studio shooters, not to mention those who depend on fill-flash when working outdoors on bright, sunny days.
Captured images can be stored onto CF cards, the optional Image Bank 100GB Portable Hard Drive, or directly to your computer via FireWire 800. When shooting non-tethered, images can be reviewed off the H3D's 3" LCD, which features both a histogram and a zoom function for scrutinizing image details.
Other new toys from Hasselblad include the Hasselblad H3D-22, which offers most all of the cool features of the H3D II-39, albeit with a 22Mp sensor (same 36.7x49mm size, but lower (sic) resolving power) for about $8000 less than the H3D II-39, and the Hasselblad H3D-31, which contains a physically smaller (33x44mm) 31Mp sensor, but a slightly faster burst rate (1.2 seconds between exposures as compared to 1.4 seconds with the H3D II-39).