by Tony Gomez
Published Spring ’09
A Big Improvement Over The D80
hen Nikon announced the D90 DX-format (non full frame) D-SLR a few months back, they trumpeted the fact that it was the first D-SLR capable of recording High Definition video (720P). Since then many other D-SLR manufacturers have also added this HD recording feature to their equipment (see my Digital Insider column for more information). But HD recording isn’t the only big improvement in the D90 from its predecessor, the D80, to make it a standout camera.
Improvements Over The D80
The D90 has a larger, 12-megapixel CMOS sensor (4288×2848), which is an improvement over the D80’s 10MP CCD sensor. And more resolution means better captured detail, especially when making large sized prints. You can also capture stills at two lower resolutions—7MP (3216×2136) and 3MP (2144×1424) if you are short on memory. The D90 also has a larger and brighter 3-inch LCD screen, up from 2.5-inches in the D80, as well as a faster Auto Focus system, a faster continuous shooting mode, Automatic Sensor cleaning, and the previously mentioned HD Video Capture—720P at 24 frames per second.
Live View Monitoring
As if these big improvements weren’t enough to excite you, the larger LCD screen also incorporates the latest Live View monitor technology, which has been one of the most discussed features in D-SLRs for the past two years. This is the technology that lets you preview your scene before you actually shoot it. Pioneered by Olympus a few years ago, it’s all but commonplace in most of the leading D-SLRs today. Many professional photographers scoff at it, preferring to use their viewfinders instead, but if you are coming from a point-and-shoot camera, Live View is what you’ve been used to all the time. So Live View monitoring should make you feel right at home with the new D90.
The D90’s all black body exudes an air of professionalism. The body only weighs in at about 1lb 6oz., but when you include the optional 18-105mm zoom that I tested it with, it’s about 2.5 lbs overall. That combined weight, while much lighter than the more professional Nikon D-SLRs, should be tolerable for the hand-held shooter, although, the D90 is definitely a two-handed camera. The optional 18mm – 105mm VR (Vibration Reduction) zoom lens provides a very good degree of image stabilization when the D90 is hand held. However, some enthusiasts might want to use a monopod or tripod.
The menu controls and mechanical buttons on the D90 are laid out very logically. The Menu button opens up a variety of sub menus, displayed in large letters on the large LCD screen, including ISO, Image Quality and Size, Movie Quality and many more. All menu adjustments are made with the easy to use 4-way controller. The Live View button is conveniently located just to the right of the LCD screen. The Info button shows the various conditions the camera uses for image or video capture, and it also displays a convenient cross-hatch pattern to help you keep horizons or objects straight. A manual exposure compensation button allows images to be under or over exposed depending on user needs. These compensation effects are visually displayed on the Live View monitor.
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by Ron Eggers
Published Summer ’09
Serious Capabilities In A Small Package
Each new generation of consumer digital cameras includes significant advancements over previous models. Higher resolutions, less electronic noise in captured images, larger and more viewable screens, faster response times and broader zoom ranges are making it increasingly attractive to use relatively inexpensive consumer cameras for serious photography.
One of Canon’s newest consumer digital cameras, the PowerShot SX110 IS, is a compact 9-Megapixel camera with a 10X optical zoom lens. While, at $249.99,it’s priced closer to entry-level consumer models, it’s closer in resolution, capabilities, responsiveness and image quality to the company’s high-end G-series cameras that have become very popular with professional photographers as a take-along camera for those quick shots when professional gear isn’t available.
Compact & Full-Featured
The SX110 IS has a lot going for it. The 10X optical zoom extends from 6mm wide angle to 60mm telephoto, which is the equivalent of 36mm to 360mm on a 35mm camera. That telephoto range is extended through a 4X digital zoom. There are consumer cameras on the market with longer telephoto capabilities. Several companies are marketing so called “ultra-zoom” digital cameras with 18X -20X zoom lenses, but they’re considerably larger, heavier and bulkier than the SX110 IS. The SX is extremely compact for its capabilities. It weighs less than 8.7 oz., and extends only 1-3/4-inches when the lens is closed. It easily fits into a shirt pocket, and most ultra-zooms can’t do this. Even with the lens extended, the camera is still only 3-inches deep. It’s possible to take the Canon along just about anywhere when you want to capture high-quality images with a lightweight camera.
Having a 10X optical zoom is great because it enables you to capture close-up images of subjects that may be too far away to shoot with a zoom-challenged conventional pocket camera. And, unlike some ultra-zoom cameras, where images taken at the high end of the optical zoom range are marginal because they’re a little too soft or not focused quite correctly, the quality of the images taken with the SX100 IS is excellent throughout the entire zoom range, including the maximum optical zoom focal length.
The 4X digital zoom makes it possible to move in considerably closer to your subject. But the image quality is degraded when the optical and digital zooms are extended to the maximum, so I tend to shoot with the digital zoom set to “off.” It is possible to limit the digital zoom to 1.3X or 2.2X to reduce the degradation of image quality and still go slightly beyond the 10X range. Like all digicams that have a variable aperture rating depending on their zoom setting, the f/2.8-f/4.3 lens is relatively fast for a consumer model. This is especially true at f/2.8, when shooting wide angle images. With normal focusing, it’s possible to focus down to 1.6 feet. There’s also a macro focusing mode that allows you to focus from about a half of an inch to the normal focusing range.
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by Tony Gomez
Published Winter ’09
“Full-Frame” FX Format D-SLR
One of the key features that distinguish a “professional” D-SLR from the more common variety is the ability to capture images with a larger sensor, often called a “full-frame sensor.” With a full-frame sensor, you can capture every bit of imagery the lens sees. With a non-full-frame sensor (the vast majority of D-SLR cameras are non-full-frame), you are capturing on a smaller-sized sensor. This results in a magnification factor, multiplying the effective focal length of your lens- ranging anywhere from 1.5X to 2X. So, for example, a 30mm lens on a non-full frame sensor D-SLR with a magnification factor of 1.5X is in reality a 45mm lens (30mm x 1.5 = 45mm). For many D-SLR shooters, this magnification factor is acceptable, but to most professionals and advanced users, it’s unacceptable. They want every millimeter of focal length they paid for to shoot with. That’s why they cough up more money for a “full-frame” D-SLR body. These are much more expensive D-SLRs. Even Nikon’s D3 full frame D-SLR costs $5,000, body only. By comparison, Canon’s two full frame D-SLRs, the 1Ds Mark III and 5D Mark II are about $8,000 and $2,700 respectively. So we’re talking about a big investment on the camera body alone.
But D-SLRs also evolve, become more compact, retain many of the best features of their more expensive brothers, and become more affordable too. Nikon has recently introduced their 2nd generation full-frame D-SLR (they refer to it as the FX format)—the D700 (www.nikonusa.com). It’s much lighter in weight than the D3 (1.8 lbs as compared to 3 lbs), but has the same great 12MP (12 megapixel) CMOS sensor, yet is more affordable at $3,000— body only.
So what features can you expect from the D700? First and foremost is the FX format, which allows you to use every bit of the focal length of the lenses you get for the camera. It’s only the second full-frame format ever offered from Nikon, the D3 being the first. The pixel resolution is 12.1 megapixels, so that definitely qualifies as pro quality. But more importantly, the size of the individual pixels in the CMOS sensor is relatively large (8.45 micrometers), which allows for greater light gathering power and a better dynamic range of captured images, all contributing to an improved signal-to-noise-ratio. This means that even in the lowest light situations, bumping the ISO all the way up to 6400 will still give you images that are relatively clean from the noise artifacts that continue to plague captured images in other D-SLRs, based on smaller sized pixels used in their sensors.
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by Theano Nikitas
Published Winter ’09
Sony Goes For The Gold With A 24 Megapixel Full-Frame Digital SLR
“Thin is in” for compact cameras, but not for digital SLRs—especially the new Sony A900— a full-frame camera that features a record-breaking 24.6 megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor. In the same vein, the megapixel war may be over for most digital cameras, but it appears to be alive and well in the full-frame D-SLR arena, and once you see the detail captured by the A900, you’ll understand why.
But the A900 is not just about megapixels. The camera is equipped with a solid feature set and a lot of tweaking ability— more than enough to satisfy serious photographers, but with a low learning curve. Sony’s SteadyShot technology is in the camera body and provides built-in image stabilization. Also, an on-board sensor cleaning mechanism helps keep the sensor dust-free. The A900 doesn’t have Live View technology (the ability to see your image in the LCD right up through capture), which may or may not make a difference to you. I certainly didn’t miss it.
Compared to other full-frame D-SLRs recently introduced, the A900 is competitively priced with the Nikon D700, but about $300 more than the Canon 5D Mark II. However the A900 is less than half the price of the new Nikon D3X. The A900 is available in a body-only package. Bundled with the camera is a Lithium-Ion battery and charger, video and USB cables, a remote commander and software, a shoulder strap with eyepiece cap, and a remote commander clip so you don’t lose them. The bundle also includes a body cap, accessory shoe and a printed manual. Additional software includes an Image Data Converter, Image Data Lightbox, and Picture Motion Browser (PMB is Windows only). You might also want to pick up a MiniHDMI to HDMI cable to connect the camera to your HDTV for playing slideshows.
Sony offers a wide array of lenses, but since the camera is equipped with a Sony/Minolta A-type bayonet mount, anyone with a stash of Minolta glass should take a very serious look at the A900. I tested the camera with Sony’s 24mm-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens—a pricey $1,750, but a great lens.
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by Don Sutherland
Published Spring ’09
Compact And Packed With Features
A lot of people looking for the best camera for snapshots mistakenly say, “I’m just an amateur, I don’t need a lot of features. I just want something simple.” Well, today’s “simple” camera comes standard with loads of high-end features. Sony’s DSC-G3 Cyber-shot includes face detection, smile shutter, touch screen LCD and even the ability to access the internet via wireless connection for transferring photos direct from the camera to popular photo sharing websites. All this, yet the camera is quite tiny, fitting inside a shirt pocket with room to spare.
With a camera so compact, you need never be without it; with so many features, there’s practically no picture you can’t take. That’s a lot of camera for a list price of $499.99 (or less—as this is written, we’re seeing it advertised for as low as $432.00).
Of all the novelties in the Sony G3, the most celebrated is its Wi-Fi Internet connectivity. Several pro cameras have this kind of feature, but the G3 is the first in the snapshot market. Under the right conditions, it can greatly expand the fun of taking and sharing pictures.
The benefits accrue to the traveling photographer, wherever a hot spot is to be found.
A wireless transfer, all other things equal, may be slower than a hardwired connection, but it’s a lot faster than none at all. If you have friends eager to see your photos and videos, the G3 is prepared to abide.
The wireless system in the G3 can communicate with its counterpart in your computer, although you may have to work your way through issues like encryption and firewalls before connecting (as you would with most devices). For uploading to online photo sharing sites, the G3 can connect directly to a half-dozen popular destinations including Picasa, Photobucket and YouTube.
The wireless transfer has the broadest benefits to users in the field—out at a location where their computers and drives and storage solutions are unavailable. Some may find it frustrating that only one file at a time can be uploaded to the sharing sites mentioned above, however. Batch uploading several photos at a time would eliminate the need to choose “the best” under conditions that might be hurried and distracting. I’m guessing this is a firmware consideration in the G3, and possibly future editions of the camera (or firmware upgrades) will correct this restriction.
There is also still the option to download images from your camera to your computer by removing the Memory Stick and inserting it in a reader. This is my preference, as it’s the fastest, simplest, and least error-prone approach. The G3 also comes with about 4GB of internal memory, which can be transferred to your computer by wireless connection, or using a special cable supplied with the camera.
Touch Screen Control
The G3’s monitor screen is quite large (about 3.5-inches wide) and very bright, but it still could be overwhelmed if struck directly by sunlight. An optical viewfinder, or eyelevel EVF, would have been a thoughtful addition for conquering those tough moments.
But also, a touch screen for camera settings instead of separate buttons in the camera body keeps costs down, as virtual “buttons” on a monitor screen cost nothing extra to construct. In addition, physical buttons create spaces through which moisture and dust can enter the system. A touch screen reduces this prospect.
One of the helpful features of this touch screen is that you can frame-up a scene and then touch the part of it on the monitor that you want the camera to focus on, and it will.
Face detection has taken the market by storm, and for good reason. By locking onto a face, the camera’s auto focus can follow it around the frame and maintain settings for the face itself and not other components in the scene.
Adult faces have different characteristics than children’s’ faces do, so the G3’s face detection mode can be adjusted for either kind, enhancing its accuracy according to subject.
In addition, the system can recognize a smile and cause the camera to do something in response— such as taking a picture. The smile shutter permits your stepping into the scene and joining a portrait, with no remote-control devices needed other than your grin. Since some people smile more broadly than others, the “smile sensitivity” of the G3’s system can be adjusted to suit.
The imager includes 10.1-megapixels, all or some of which can be used for different frame formats. Maximum picture size is 3648×2736 pixels, a 4:3 format matching traditional TV and computer screens. You can also select the 16:9 HDTV format (3648×2056 pixels) or the 3:2 format (same as “full frame” digital SLRs) at 3648×2432 pixels. Or, you can take internet-ready pictures (around 640×480 pixels) in-camera, for upload to a website directly.
The G3 also can shoot movies at 640×480 size, and 320×240, which Sony suggests for e-mail attachments.
The Carl Zeiss Tessar lens provides a 4X zoom range (35-140mm, 35mm equivalent), which covers moderate wide angle to medium telephoto— a respectable range for a camera this small. The optical steady shot system provides image-stabilization. Maximum aperture range is f/3.5-4.6, which would be more-or-less characteristic of a camera of this class.
Picture quality with the Sony G3 Cyber-shot strikes me as very good for a camera of this class. Being the tinycam it is, it uses a smallish imager which is not expected to reproduce quite the fine detail as a 10MP D-SLR, with its large imaging chip. That said, you couldn’t slip a D-SLR into a shirt pocket. I’m confident you’ll find the picture quality of the G3 completely satisfying. And with its loads of additional features, refinements, and fine-tunings, you’ll be impressed with how versatile and flexible today’s “simple camera” can be.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3
- 4-1/8”W x 2-1/2”H x 25/32”D, 7 oz.
- Image Sensor:
- Maximum Resolution:
- 3,648x,2736 pixels
- 3.5-inch LCD, 921,600 pixels
- Still Recording format:
- Memory Stick Duo, plus 4GB RAM internal
- Exposure Metering:
- Focusing Capability:
- Normal, Macro, and Close-Focus settings to approx.1/2-inch
- Special Features:
- Wireless connectivity, built-in web browser, Face Detection, Smile Shutter, 10 Scene modes, Touchscreen Focus, Optical Steady Shot image-stabilization.
- Video Recording Mode:
- MPEG1, approx. 12 minutes/GB in fine mode, 44 minutes/GB in standard mode, 2:57 hours in half mode.
- Provided Accessories:
- NP-BD1 Li-Ion battery, charger, touch screen stylus, combination USB/AV cable, wrist strap, Station Plate (for use with optional accessory).
- Power Source:
- NP-BD1 interchangeable Li-Ion battery.