The Digital Deluge
Making Sense of the Selection
by Gregory Scoblete
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Digital Photographer
If the digital camera market was a restaurant, it would be an all-you-can-eat buffet. In the recent wave of digital camera introductions there is literally something for everyone, and every budget. Just be careful not to gorge yourself.
If you have about $1,700 burning a hole in your pocket, you won’t want for choices in advanced digital SLRs. Sony, Panasonic, Nikon and Olympus all updated their enthusiast/pro-level DSLRs in the past few months.
Nikon went first with the D3 and D300, successors to the D2x and D200 (which stay on the market). The D3 marks Nikon’s entry into “full frame” DSLR photography, meaning a full 35mm sized CMOS sensor, which the company has dubbed an FX-sized sensor (for use with the firm’s FX Nikkor lenses).
These 12-megapixel (12MP) shooters feature a new 51-point autofocus (AF) system and a high resolution 3-inch LCD screen. Both DSLRs will feature HDMI outputs for HDTV connectivity and a new “Active D-Lighting” mode. Formerly available only in playback, Active D-Lighting lets you brighten underexposed areas of a photo before you record the image. Speaking of the dark, the cameras also feature light sensitivities to ISO 6400.
The D3 can burst at 9 fps at full resolution using the full frame of the sensor. It can reach speeds of 11fps when snapping 5MP images using a smaller portion of the sensor (what Nikon calls the DX format). Since the D3 uses the larger FX sensor, the camera will automatically switch to a DX-format image if a Nikkor DX lens is attached to the camera body. The D3 will cost $4,995 (body only).
The D300 uses a 12MP DX format CMOS sensor. It is capable of shooting 6 fps bursts at full resolution or 8 fps using an optional battery back. The D300 also offers a “self cleaning sensor” that vibrates to shake off dust. It will retail for an estimated $1,799 (body only).
Speed was on the mind of Olympus when it updated its E-series with the top-of-the-line E-3. The camera’s 11-point cross type autofocus has been redesigned using microlaminate technology and a temperature sensor for improved accuracy, speed and performance. Olympus claims it’s the fastest in the industry when paired with the new ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 SWD (24-120mm, 35mm equivalent) lens (sold separately for $999).
The camera offers a 5fps burst mode for up to 16 RAW image files and an unlimited number of JPEGS using supported memory cards. It also uses a CCD-shifting image stabilization system. Like previous Olympus DSLRs, the E-3 will incorporate a Live View LCD and a supersonic wave filter dust reduction system, a tiny motor that vibrates the image sensor to shake off any dust that has glommed on during a lens change.
Olympus also added a higher resolution LCD screen, weighing in at 2.5-inches and 230,000 pixels. It can be swiveled on a dual axis and the camera offers an optical viewfinder with 100 percent accuracy. A body-only version will set you back $1,699.
Panasonic has thrown down the gauntlet to its more established rivals with the Lumix L10. This 10MP model has face detection, normally associated with point-and-shoot models.
Like its predecessor the L1, the L10 features a supersonic wave filter to shake dust loose from the image sensor and a live-view LCD screen. The 2.5-inch screen can rotate 270 degrees from the body of the camera and can adjust its brightness automatically based on the surrounding lighting. The L10 has burst speeds up to 3 fps to the capacity of an SD memory card. (See review of the Panasonic L1 in this issue.)
Unlike the other DSLRs mentioned previousy, the L10 does ship with an optically-stabilized Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm/ F3.8 lens in the box for $1,299.
Sony, another relative newbie to the SLR market, launched the Alpha A700, which works with the existing store of Minolta Maxxum and Dynax lenses. The 12-megapixel camera has a max burst of 5 fps for an unlimited number of JPEG images and up to eight RAW files.
The camera uses a sensor shifting mechanism for image stabilization and, like the D300, L10 and E-3, offers a vibrating sensor to shake off dust particles.
It has a very high resolution LCD screen: 3-inches and 921K pixels. For the HDTV owner, it’s also HDMI ready (though no cable is included). A dual memory card slot accepts Memory Stick Duo cards and CompactFlash memory. Depending on the lens configuration, you’ll pay between $1,400 and $1,700.
FULLY LOADED CAMERAS
Sony dealt a severe blow to its MemoryStick business with its Cyber-shot DSC-T2. The camera packs a whopping 4GB of internal memory, enough to store thousands of photos. Coping with this capacity, Sony has incorporated several file management capabilities into the camera including a calendar view and a “favorites” folder.
You can move photos stored on the 8MP camera into a “sharemark” folder. When you connect the camera to your computer, Sony’s PMP Portable software will automatically open, allowing you to upload the images stored in that photo to popular photo sharing and video Web sites (Shutterfly, YouTube™, Flickr and Photobucket, among others).
The T2 also features Sony’s Smile Shutter (first introduced in August on the T200). When activated, the camera can automatically detect a smile and capture the photo without the user pressing the shutter. Using the 2.7-inch touch screen LCD, consumers can choose which face in a scene of multiple faces the camera will monitor for a smile. Up to six photos can be captured automatically without pressing the shutter in smile capture mode. You can also use the touch-screen a focus point or, in playback mode, a magnification point
Oh, and did we mention there’s face detection, optical image stabilization, ISO sensitivities to 3200 and the ability to add up to eight different creative effects to images in-camera? The T2, in green, blue, pink, white or black will sell for $350.
Nikon’s Wi-Fi enabled Coolpix S51c is another forward-leaning technology statement. It connects to open Wi-Fi networks and comes with six months worth of free access to T-Mobile hotspots for uploading your images on the go (after that you’ll need a subscription). The 8MP camera connects with Nikon’s My Picturetown online service for storing up to 2GB worth of images.
You’ll also get a 3-inch LCD, 3x zoom, optical image stabilization (or VR in Nikon parlance) and face-priority autofocus for $329. If you like all that but don’t want to be bothered with Wi-Fi, Nikon offers the S51 without it for $279.
Filling out the company’s line are the L14 (7MP) and L15 (8MP). Both give you a 3x optical zoom, face-priority AF, 15 scene modes and in-camera red-eye correction. The $149 L14 sports a 2.4-inch LCD. The L15, for $179, features a 2.8-inch LCD and optical VR.
If you’re craving more resolution, Pentax’s Optio A40 sports a 12-megapixel sensor that can shift to provide image stabilization. The $299 point-and-shoot features a 2.5-inch LCD, a 3x optical zoom lens and MPEG-4 DivX video recording at VGA/30fps. That video can be edited in camera.
In addition to manual controls, the A40 has a new “half length portrait” mode which uses face detection to find a face and capture an image of your subject from the shoulders up. It also incorporates a dynamic range adjustment tool to properly expose under- or overexposed portions of a photo. You can reach light sensitivities of ISO 3200 when snapping 5MP images.
Pentax also launched the 8MP Optio V10 ($249) with a 3-inch LCD, 3x optical zoom lens, facial detection, digital blur reduction, 16 scene modes and an automatic macro.
If you’re one of a growing number of consumers with an HDTV, you should seriously consider a digital camera capable of displaying images in HD. Most cameras output VGA-resolution images to both standard and HD televisions, although that’s steadily changing.
Kodak is now providing two on-ramps to the HD highway. The first is a trio of “HD” digicams, including the 12MP V1253 and V1233. Both record HD video at 720p at 30fps. It won’t compare to standalone HD camcorders, but it’s an impressive compliment to a still camera.
Both models share a 3x optical zoom lens, face detection focusing, 32MB of internal memory and ISO 3200 when snapping 3MP stills. The V1233 ($249) sports a 2.5-inch and you’ll pay $299 to get the V1253’s 3.1-inch screen.
If you need more optical punch, the 8MP Z812 IS ($299)offers the same HD capture options with a 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It’s also offers a new “smart scene mode” for adjusting camera settings according to the type of scene being photographed. You’ll also find a 2.5-inch LCD screen, electronic viewfinder and shutter and aperture priority modes.
Your second on-ramp is a new HD dock which can connect select Kodak cameras to an HDTV. The $99 device can also display images stored on SD cards or USB drives.
Not interested in dropping more than $1,000 for a high-end SLR? DXG’s 10MP DXG-110 will sell for a paltry $169. The camera features a 2.5-inch LCD screen, 3x optical zoom lens, VGA/30fps video capture and 32MB worth of internal memory.
The camera also features face detection, AF tracking, a focus illuminator and ISO 1600. A new automatic contrast management feature analyzes an image’s contrast levels and adjusts the dynamic range in high contrast scenes. Also new is a dynamic fill light which brings out details in high contrast scenes, such as details obscured by backlighting.
Another new budget cam is Norcent’s 7-megapixel DCC-725. For all of $107, you’ll get a 2.5-inch, scratch-resistant LCD screen, a 3x optical zoom, 15 scene modes, and a 4-shot burst mode. It also offers VGA movie capture and 16MB worth of internal memory.