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Digital Camera Reviews - 10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Digital SLR
 

Digital Camera Reviews - 10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Digital SLR

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Digital Camera Reviews

Digital Camera Reviews

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    Digital Camera Reviews - 10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Digital SLR Digital Camera Reviews - 10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Digital SLR Document Transcript

    • 10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOWBEFORE BUYING A DIGITAL SLR...SLR advantagesThe advantages of SLRs over compact cameras are many and varied — starting with the all-important imagesensor.Many compact cameras may equal or eyen exceed some SLRs in their megapixel f count, but outright resolutionisn’t the primary concern. Image sensors in SLRs are physically larger than those in compact cameras, giving twokey bonuses. First,Bigger sensors mean bigger pixels that i individually capture more light. This has the potential to massivelyreduce digital image noise, which can give photos a grainy appearance, especially when shooting at higher ISOsettings. Second, larger sensors enable a smaller depth of field (the distance between the nearest and furthestpoints in a scene that can I be kept sharp), enabling you to throw the j background out of focus and make themain point of interest really stand out. This is especially useful in portraiture. Another critical benefit is that anSLR enables you to literally look through the lens when composing shots. There’s no beating an opticalviewfinder that leads the eye right into the scene with perfect clarity and sharpness.The perfect cameraErgonomically, the larger build of an SLR makes for much more natural and comfortable handling, while manualzoom and focusing rings on the lens enable far greater precision and control when composing and focusing.Furthermore, buy an SLR or a compact system camera and you’re literally buying into a whole imaging system,with the possibility of buying additional lenses and accessories that can turn your camera into the perfect toolfor any shooting scenario. Over the next few pages, we’ll take a detailed look at the principal differencesbetween different types of SLRs and CSCs (which feature interchangeable lenses, but have no reflex mirror) sothat you can make the best possible choice when picking out your new camera. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Traditional SLR design, new SLR features Most digital SLRs look just like their film-based predecessors, but look a little closer 1 and the latest models offer a host of innovative refinements  Shooting modes All SLRs tend to feature the conventional range of auto, program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting modes, generally available from a simple mode dial on the top of the camera. Those aimed at beginner and intermediate users, such as the Canon EOS 550D and the Nikon D3100 also Traditional SLR design, new SLR features include dedicated modes such as ‘scene modes’ on compact cameras, for portraits, landscapes, sports and the like.  LCD screen LCDs are not only important for accessing the camera’s menus, but are also vital for I reviewing shots to check exposure accuracy and sharpness. Budget cameras such as the Canon EOS 1100D often have relatively 7 low-resolution LCDs of about 230k pixels, whereas upmarket models such as the Canon EOS 60D deliver razor-sharp displays of 1,040k.  Reflex action The main difference between SLRs and CSCs is that SLRs have a mirror assembly that directs the image from the lens up into the optical: viewfinder, enabling you to see the exact effects of focusing and zooming with absolute clarity. The viewfinder itself tends to be more refined on upmarket model, while the reflex operation of the mirror flipping up when you take a shot, so the light can be redirected to the shutter and sensor behind it, is also usually quieter.  Autofocus Larger numbers of autofocus points enable you to select one that exactly matches the critical point of focus in a shot, and multiple point s can track erratically moving objects in continuous autofocus modes. Cheaper cameras usually feature nine or 11 autofocus points, whereas more sophisticated models often have more. The Nikon D300s provides no fewer than 51 points  ISO sensitivity This is an aspect of SLRs that’s been considerably improved over the past few years, with higher maximum ISO ratings enabling faster shutter speeds in low- light shooting. Increasing the ISO makes the sensor more sensitive, allowing your camera to take pictures in poor light without the need to use long shutter speeds. The higher the ISO number used, the higher, the sensitivity; but the greater the level of digital noise. Older designs, such as the Canon EOS 1000D, usually offered a maximum of IS01600, whereas current models, such as the Canon EOS 1100D provide a much higher sensitivity of around IS06400 in the standard range, with expanded (lower image quality) options of up to IS012800. Top pro models, such as the Nikon D3s, allow you to shoot at up to IS0102400. Improved sensors coupled with smarter image processors bring the possibility of high ISO settings with impressively low noise. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • CSCs - the new breed of cameras Halfway between compact cameras and SLRs, so- called compact system cameras 2 (CSCs) give you interchangeable lenses in a smaller, more portable package  Look, no mirrors The main difference between a CSC and an SLR is that a CSC has no flip-up mirror assembly or optical viewfinder — so although it has interchangeable lenses, and sometimes an electronic viewfinder, it’s not technically an SLR. The revolutionary design means fewer moving parts, and the possibility of smaller, CSCs - the new breed of cameras lighter designs. Yet another diversion comes in the shape of the Sony SLT cameras, which have a fixed, translucent mirror that splits the light path between the main image sensor and a separate phase-detection autofocus sensor.  Viewfinder Some CSCs rely on the main LCD screen for framing shots because there’s no viewfinder. Models such as the Panasonic G3 have electronic viewfinders (EVFs) built into the body, whereas others, such as the Olympus PEN E-P3, include an optional EVP as part of the camera/lens kit. These EVFs are certainly improving, but (apart from the one in Sony’s new NEX-7) they still lack the sharpness of an SLR’s optical viewfinder.  Compact design Offering significant downsizing from relatively chunky SLRs, a CSC such as the Sony NEX-5N body measures just 110.8x58.8x38.2mm (WxHxD) and weighs 210g, compared with the (still relatively small) Sony A290 SLR (128x97x79.6mm and 456g). Most models come with the option of a fixed focal length ‘pancake’ lens that, while not offering any zoom facilities, and continues the miniaturization theme with ultra-compact dimensions.  Image sensor The physical size of the image sensors are a match for their SLR counterparts, with Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras both using the same dimensions as for sensors in Olympus Four Thirds SLRs (such as the E-30 and E- 5). Sony and Samsung sensors are larger, with a more regular APS-C-sized sensor, similar to those fitted to all but pro-level full-frame SLRs. There’s typically no shortage of resolution either, with pixel count ranging from around 12Mp to 16Mp in the latest models.  Interchangeable lenses The key benefit of CSCs over compacts is that lenses are interchangeable. Olympus PEN and Panasonic Lumix G series cameras are best sellers. They share the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, while the Sony NEX cameras use Sony’s proprietary features, such as autofocus, may not work. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Its not just about the camera body... SLRs are often called ‘system cameras’, because the camera body itself acts as the 3 hub of an expandable system that includes lenses, flashguns, remote controls and other accessories. It’s crucial to consider the quality and scope of a manufacturer’s system as a whole, rather than getting hung up on features that are specific to just a particular camera body  A lens for all reasons From wide-angle and fisheye lenses to monster telephoto zooms that have Its not just about the camera body... telescopic reach, the real versatility of SLRs stems from the fact you can swap lenses in just a few seconds. It’s important, therefore, to look at the breadth of lenses available when choosing which make of camera to buy, depending on the type of photography you most enjoy. Canon and Nikon offer the widest ranges of lenses, but keep an eye on prices, too, as these can vary wildly. For example, a Nikon AF-S DX 10-24mm f/3.5- 4.5G ED will set you back £670, whereas the closest Four Thirds equivalent, the Olympus ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 7- 14mm 1:4.0, costs around £1,550.  Third-party add-ons You can often save money without sacrificing quality by going for third-party lenses and other accessories. For lenses in particular, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina all make good-quality alternatives to own-brand lenses. However, some of their most I desirable newer lenses are only available in Canon or Nikon mounts, so, again, it pays to check the availability of specific types of lenses that you think you might want to add to your collection in the future.  Get flash Most SLRs come with a built-in pop-up flash, but these are no substitute for a proper flashgun, which offers much more power; Good flashguns also include bounce and swivel heads for softening the quality of light by bouncing it off ceilings or walls, as well as motorized heads, which can automatically increase the flashgun’s reach when using longer focal length zoom settings. Dedicated flashguns enable automatic flash zooming, along with accurate through-the- lens (TTL) metering for correct exposures. All SLR manufacturers offer their own flashguns, but as with lenses, good third- party equivalents are often available at lower prices from the likes of Metz, Nissin, Sigma and Sunpak.  Better connected Some ‘system’ features extend from the camera in a particularly digital way. For example, while there’s nothing new about sockets for plugging in a remote control to avoid camera shake, extra connections include anything from USB terminals for downloading your photos, to mic sockets for plugging in external microphones, and HDMI sockets for viewing your photos on a high-definition television. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Pixels: how many do you need? The megapixel count is often the first thing consumers consider when choosing a 4 new camera. But are massively high sensor resolutions really that important, and is there a catch?  Des-res How much resolution is desirable? The first consumer-level SLRs had sensors capable of producing images of about 6Mp in size. This seems tiny by today’s standards, but even this was plenty for producing excellent poster-sized prints. Pixels: how many do you need? The smallest pixel count you can expect from a current SLR is 12.1Mp, while Canon, in particular, is pushing the boundaries with its intermediate- level range, with all of its current line-up except the EOS HOOD and EOS-1D Mark IV offering resolutions of at least 18Mp. As far as APS-C cameras go, Nikon is playing catch-up, with its APS-C range offering pixel counts from 12.3Mp to 16.2Mp. Nikon’s full-frame D3x offers a whopping 24.5Mp, however, which is bettered only by the Sony A850 and A900 (both 24.6Mp). By comparison, both Canon’s current full-frame SLRs (the EOS 5D Mk II and EOS-Ds Mark III) offer resolutions of 21.1Mp. Ultimately, 12Mp is plenty for most practical situations.  Creative cropping Images with higher resolutions enable tighter cropping, so for example, if the lens you’re using won’t give you enough telephoto reach, you can take your shot anyway and cut out just the section you need. Even so, there are dangers with this, as very tight cropping places much greater demands on lens quality, because any lack in sharpness or the presence of chromatic aberration (color fringing) will become more noticeable.  File sizes Higher resolution images inevitably mean bigger file sizes, especially if you shoot in raw mode to enable corrections to exposure, white balance and picture style (color and contrast options) later on at the editing stage. For example, a typical raw file from an EOS 550D or EOS 7D can be around 25Mb in size, whereas the same image might only be about 10Mb from a Nikon D90 or D300S. This not only means that your memory cards will fill up much quicker, but also that the camera can slow down in a shorter space of time when shooting in continuous drive mode, because you’ll have to wait for the camera’s internal memory buffer to clear to the memory card.  Image noise To squeeze more pixels onto a sensor that has the same physical dimensions, each ‘photo site’ needs to be smaller, and can therefore capture less light. The trade-off for higher resolutions is often an increase in digital image noise, which gives pictures a grainy appearance, especially when shooting at medium to high ISO settings. The latest sensor designs aim to minimize the gaps between adjacent pixels, coupled with advanced in-camera image processing to smooth out the noise. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Sensor sizes: which is best? CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensors were used in many early SLRs, as well as some 5 current models such as the Sony A390, but CMOS (Complimentary j Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensors j are nowadays generally preferred. Advantages include much lower power consumption, which extends camera battery life, and the fact that CMOS chips can process as well as capture the image  APS-C The vast majority of SLRs currently on the market use an APS-C-sized sensor, Sensor sizes: which is best? approximately based on the size of a frame of APS (Advanced Photo System) film. APS film cameras themselves were quite short lived, bridging the gap between film photography and the advent of digital. A frame of APS film is somewhat smaller than that of regular 35mm film, measuring about 25x17mm as opposed to 36x24mm. APS-C digital sensor sizes vary slightly between manufacturers, with Nikon, Pentax and Sony making sensors that have a 1.5x focal length conversion factor (or crop factor), and Canon producing very slightly smaller sensors that have a 1.6x conversion factor. APS-C sensors are much cheaper to make than full- frame sensors (see below), making this type of SLR far more affordable. Another advantage of APS-C sensors is that the conversion factor of 1.5x or 1.6x gives a telephoto lens of, for example, 300mm a longer ‘effective focal length’ of 450mm or 480mm respectively, therefore giving you more telephoto reach with relatively small, lightweight and inexpensive lenses.  Four Thirds Pioneered by Olympus, the Four Thirds format gives a slightly squarer image than most SLRs, due to its 4:3 aspect ratio. ‘Designed for digital’, it’s more in keeping with the aspect ratio of traditional compact cameras, televisions and computer screens, but now that everybody’s gone widescreen it seems to have been a step in the wrong direction. Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds image sensors (the latter used in CSCs), are larger than those of compact cameras, but smaller than sensors in APS-C cameras. The result is a 2.0x focal length conversion factor, which is great for extending the effective reach of telephoto lenses even further, making Four Thirds a good choice for sports, action and wildlife photography. The flip side is that it fails to produce such a shallow depth of field, making it harder to isolate foreground objects by blurring the background. Increasing the resolution of these smaller sensors without increasing digital image noise is also more of a technical challenge.  Full Frame As its name suggests, full-frame sensors are the same size as a full frame of 35mm film. There’s no focal length conversion factor to apply, so lenses act in exactly the same way on this type of SLR as on a 35mm film camera. Pro photographers, especially those involved in portraiture, i love them because they offer a much shallower depth of field than APS-C or Four Thirds cameras at any equivalent ‘effective’ focal length. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Lights, camera, action... Until recently, the ability to capture video in what was primarily a stills camera was 6 the preserve of digital compact cameras. The advent of live view, which enables you to compose shots using the camera’s LCD rather than the viewfinder, means that more and more SLRs boast HD video-shooting capabilities  Evolution The first SLRs to feature video capture were quite high-end affairs, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mk II, but HD video has rapidly filtered down to more affordable Lights, camera, action... models such as the entry-level Nikon D3100 and Canon EOS 550D. Considering its rich video-capture heritage, Sony was comparatively slow off the mark, but models such as the A580 and SLT A55 brought the company up to speed.  HD formats Video capture has, by and large, kept pace with popular consumer television specifications, so cameras launched a year or two ago typically offered a maximum high-definition resolution of 720p, dividing the screen image into 720 horizontal lines and using the progressive capture technology, which refreshes the whole picture every frame. By comparison, 720i (interlaced) only refreshes alternating lines with successive frames. The latest cameras typically offer Full HD video recording, which is 1080p.  Frame rates A range of frame rates, including 24,25,30 and 50fps (frames per second), enables conformity to basic and high- end video production, television and film standards around the world. This is becoming particularly important because SLRs are increasingly being used to shoot professional video for TV adverts and dramas, especially as the increased image sensor size of SLRs enables greater blurring of the background, with a tighter depth of field for that filmic look.  Keep it sharp One area that most SLRs struggle with is autofocus during video capture. The Nikon D3100 leads the way here, being the first SLR to offer fast, constant autofocus while shooting. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • What Price Quality? It’s often hard to spot the difference between images captured on a £300 entry- 7 level SLR and a fully professional model costing upwards of £5,000, so you have to wonder why there’s such a huge range in prices, despite the obvious sensor size and resolution differences. The devil, as always, is in the detail  Material gain It takes a tough camera to stand up to the rigours of daily professional use, firing shots all day or night and quite literally getting bounced around from pillar What Price Quality? to post. Most budget cameras have a plastic shell, which is more than capable of giving good service over many years of Careful use, but to take the bumps and scrapes of heavy use, upmarket models such as the Canon EOS 7D, Nikon D300S and their ilk generally have a tougher, magnesium alloy shell. Top-flight professional cameras such as the Canon EOS Ds Mk III and Nikon D3x are even more rugged — literal heavyweights in the field with battleship build quality  Whatever the weather Most of us are rightly wary about getting our cameras out when it’s pouring with rain — electronics and water never make a good mix. However, pro photographers covering news, sports or even weddings don’t have the luxury of waiting for the rain to stop, so pro-spec cameras usually feature extensive weather-sealing around I all the buttons, switches, memory flaps and battery compartments, along with any other joints that could ingest dust or water. This makes production much more expensive, usually leading to a significant hike in the purchase cost.  Built to last Even the keenest amateurs might only average a few hundred shots each week, but professional photographers can end up taking thousands of shots per day so their kit has to be built to last. High-end and top-spec cameras are created with this in mind, often having shutter mechanisms that are built to last for anything from 150,000 to 300,000 shots. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • You can see clearly now… The viewfinder is your eye on the world, so the bigger, brighter and clearer its 8 image, the better. This helps not only for accurate composition, but also for greater precision when adjusting focus settings  Pentamirror Cheaper, entry-level SLRs such Its the Sony A390, and even some more expensive models including the Canon EOS 550D and Nikon D5100, use pentamirror viewfinders. These are cheaper to manufacture and lighter in You can see clearly now… weight than ‘proper’ pentaprism viewfinders, being constructed from a set of three separate mirrors. The main disadvantages of pentamirror-based SLRs are that the images they produce are a bit dark and gloomy, and can be a little lacking in contrast and outright sharpness. This doesn’t affect the recorded image, just the image you see through the viewfinder.  Pentaprism Based on time-honored tradition, the best viewfinders, as fitted to upmarket cameras including the Canon EOS 60D and EOS 7D, and the Nikon D7000 and D300S, as well as all full-frame cameras, - are of the pentaprism variety. Constructed from a single, five-sided block of glass, the pentaprism reflects the image directed up from the reflex mirror twice, so that it appears the right way up and the right way around when viewed through the eyepiece. Pentaprism viewfinders are relatively heavy and expensive to make, when compared with pentamirror viewfinders, but produce better quality, brighter images.  Electronic For CSCs that lack a built-in optical or electronic viewfinder, there’s often an electronic device available as an optional extra, such as the Olympus EVE VF-3 viewfinder for the Olympus E-PL3. Optional EVFs usually slot into the hotshoe at the top of the camera, but they are typically expensive at about £150 to £200. Drawbacks are that you can’t use the viewfinder and a flashgun at the same time, and that electronic viewfinders lack the clarity of an optical viewfinder, being essentially mini-LCD screens. Sluggish refresh rates also tend to give the viewed image a smeared appearance when panning  Field of view Ideally, it’s good to be able to see the whole of the image that you’ll capture in the viewfinder, but in practice, this often isn’t the case. Many viewfinders, especially cheaper pentamirror types, typically only give a 95 per cent field of view, so you can’t quite see everything that will appear in the picture. In practice, this isn’t too much of a problem, as it’s good to have a little Spare to play with, because the edges of an image can be lost if you need to straighten it (eg level the horizons) when editing. Good pentaprism viewfinders often creep up to around 98 per cent coverage, and the best.... provide a full 100 per cent view.  Magnification In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Power with control Power, as they say, is nothing without control. That’s particularly true in advanced 9 digital photography, because while a camera can give you all the advanced features under the sun, they’re not much use unless they’re also easily accessible under your fingertips On the button For more advanced, creative photography, it’s vital to have quick access to important imaging parameters such as metering mode, exposure compensation, Power with control white balance, ISO, autofocus mode and drive mode. There’s nothing worse than missing a priceless shot because you were too busy hunting through arcane menu systems to find the setting you needed. Advanced SLRs generally make more of these settings instantly available, with dedicated buttons on the top and back of the camera. Information overload? There’s a lot of information that’s worth keeping tabs on while you’re shooting, including aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation and autofocus confirmation, at the very least. All SLRs should give a constant supply of these, right in the viewfinder where you need it most. The majorities of current cameras usually give the option of viewing wider-ranging information on the main LCD at the back of the camera; while more advanced models generally have a supplementary black-and-white mini- LCD on the top plate, so you can always see exactly what’s going on, even when shooting with a tripod. Perfect fit The size and shape of a camera body is surprisingly important. If you’ve got big hands, a small lightweight SLR with a tiny hand grip simply won’t feel natural, and apart from being awkward to use, your shots will be more prone to camera shake. It’s well worth trying a few different bodies in a camera shop to get a feel for them before buying. Quick control A little help can go a long way, and cameras increasingly have on-screen help systems to guide you through their features and functions. A pared-down shooting menu is also often delivered on the main LCD, enabling quick access to important shooting parameters while keeping button layouts simple and uncluttered. As you like it Fussy photographers like to set up cameras to the nth degree, so that all the finer points, such as the size of the ‘center’ in center-weighted metering, is exactly as they want it. As a rule, Canon, Olympus and Pentax cameras offer a reasonable amount of customization, Sony less so, and Nikon’s options are almost endless. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com
    • Speed Thrills For action and sports photography when you’re trying to capture the critical 10 moment, it’s handy being able to fire off a rapid burst of shots. But high frame rates are equally useful in portraiture, enabling you capture fleeting expressions when speed is often of the essence Continuous drive Switch to continuous drive mode and your camera will keep .taking photos for as long as you-keep your finger on the setter button. Buffer memory constraints Speed Thrills aside, continuous drive rates vary between about 3 fps (frames per second) on the Nikon D3100 and a blistering 8fps on the Canon EOS 7D. Other cameras come close; the Nikon D300S shoots at 7fps and this increase to 8 fps if you fit the optional MB-DIO battery grip with an EN-EL4a battery or fill it with AA batteries, other cameras may enable you to boost the continuous drive rate by disabling autofocus tracking and metering corrections during the sequence Processing power To make the most of-high drive speeds, cameras also need to be big on processing power, they can handle all the images in quick succession. The latest- cameras’ image-processing chips are generally much more powerful than models. Some cameras, such as the high-speed Canon EOS 7D), actually feature two image processors for an even greater performance boost. Buffer memory Shoot in medium to high resolution JPEG mode and you can often maintain the maximum burst rate of your camera’s continuous drive mode almost indefinitely. Switch to raw image quality and it’s likely you’ll clog up the camera’s internal memory buffer after just a few seconds. You’ll then have to play the waiting game, while the buffer memory is written to the memory card — depending on the speed of the memory cards you use, this can take quite a while slowing your potential maximum frame rate to a crawl. In-depth 100% User Generated Video Reviews for the latest models and online prices please visit www.DigitalCameraReviewsv.com