Guide to digital SLRs

Last updated 16:33 02/10/2008
ODDJOB: The Sony A350's live view and swivel screen makes it good for shooting at strange angles and heights.

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This year's digital-camera makers have introduced some fascinating features. Here's a run-down of the top digital SLRs on the market.

Nikon D90
Rating: 5 out of 5
Due in November
http://www.nikon.co.nz

The price of the D90 makes it the odd one out in this round-up but we included it because it is the first D-SLR to shoot movies. Far from being a gimmick, the videos it shoots are actually very good.

Because of the big image sensor in the camera, you can shoot in lower light with better results than a regular video camera and shooting through the SLR lens gives you movie-style focus with beautiful blurry backgrounds.

The main limitation is no autofocus in movie mode - so it's best suited to fixed scenes rather than moving action. Apart from the movie mode, it has great specs: 12.3 megapixel, 4.5 frame-a-second shooting and a spectacular screen on the back of the camera with nearly 1 megapixel resolution.

Pentax K200D
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
NZ$1099
http://www.pentax.com.au/

Despite an attractive price, this camera doesn't skimp on features, with a sensor self-cleaning system, vibration reduction built into the camera itself (the image sensor moves to compensate for camera shake), so any lens you use will be optically stabilised, and good 10.2 megapixel resolution.

Pentax also points out it's one of the most weatherproofed entry-level D-SLRs with 60 seals around the body. Also, unlike many cheaper D-SLRs, it has a top-panel LCD display to make adjusting settings easier. There's no live-view, though. The price includes a Sigma 18-50mm lens.

Canon EOS 1000D
Rating: 4 out of 5
NZ$899
http://www.canon.co.nz

A couple of years ago, a camera half as good as this would have cost twice as much - thank goodness for the ceaseless march of competition between consumer electronics manufacturers. The EOS 1000D is a D-SLR with a 10.1 megapixel image sensor, three frame-per-second shooting, and optical image stabilisation.

A live-view mode lets you shoot like a compact camera, monitoring the scene you're shooting on the LCD display at the back of the camera. The main downside is arguably an upside - the camera's small size, which makes it less comfortable to hold for any period of time than most D-SLRs.

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Olympus E-420
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
NZ$869
http://www.olympus.co.nz

One word that comes to mind when discussing digital SLR cameras is "lug". They can be quite large and heavy. Not so this one from Olympus - the 10 megapixel E420's selling point is that it is one of the smallest, thinnest D-SLRs on the market, weighing only 380g (body only).

Olympus also sells a 25mm "pancake" lens that completes the skinny package, barely protruding from the camera's body. While the small size makes travelling easier, it's not as ergonomic to hold as a regular D-SLR, especially when used with a heavier lens.

The camera isn't heavy on features (there's no image stabilisation for instance) but does have a good live-view mode with autofocus.

Sony A350
Rating: 3 out of 5
NZ$1299
http://www.sony.co.nz

More like a compact camera in many ways, the Sony A350 packs D-SLR-like specifications such as 14.2 megapixel resolution and interchangeable lenses. However, Sony is upfront about the fact that it's designed to be used with live-view on the camera back, not viewfinder.

The way Sony has implemented live-view is unconventional - rather than shutting off live-view to focus, Sony shuts off the viewfinder, allowing live-view to continue operating.

As a result, with its tilting and swivelling 6.9cm screen, it's an ideal camera for shooting at odd angles or heights where it's not convenient to put your eye up to the camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
(due in November)
http://www.panasonic.com.au/

The DMC-G1 won't be available till November but it might be worth holding out for. It's a really interesting camera because it's the first digital SLR to do away with the bulky rotating mirror mechanism inside - quite a technological breakthrough.

As a result, this 12.1 megapixel camera is 20mm thinner than a standard D-SLR and lighter too, at only 385g (body only). As a result of the removal of the mirror, the viewfinder is now electronic, providing a tiny, live 1.4 megapixel display you can put your eye up to, and it includes full-speed autofocus. There's live-view on the swivelling 7.6cm LCD screen on the camera back as well.

NOT SLRs, BUT STILL WORTH A LOOK
Fujifilm Finepix S100FS
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
NZ$960
http://www.fujifilm.com.au

You'd be forgiven for mistaking this camera for a D-SLR - it squarely competes with entry-level DSLRs despite having a non-removable lens. It has an absurdly large zoom for a compact camera - 14.3x optically stabilised (28-400mm equivalent in D-SLR terms), matched with an 11.1 megapixel sensor.

It uses an electronic viewfinder (a tiny screen inside the viewfinder). It can also shoot video - but only up to VGA resolution. On the flipside, though, you'd never find a video camera with an optical zoom this good. It writes JPEG and RAW photos and can even capture three consecutive RAW frames a second.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
(coming to NZ soon)
http://www.nikon.co.nz

It's hard not to get excited about this camera. It's the first on the market to include in-built satellite positioning (GPS) reception, so it can pinpoint exactly where you take photos - as well as the usual date and time.

It also has a 13.5 megapixel sensor and a high-quality lens using ED (extra-low light dispersion) elements and optical stabilisation. It's also the first camera to include a built-in Ethernet connector, allowing you to connect the camera to your home modem/router and upload pics directly to the internet. The only disappointment is the zoom tops out at 4x.

Kodak Easyshare Z1015
Rating: 4 out of 5
(out in NZ this month)
http://www.kodak.co.nz

It looks like a D-SLR but Kodak claims it has the simplicity (and, might we add, the price tag) of a point-and-shoot. The 15x optically stabilised zoom - equivalent to 28-420mm in D-SLR terms - and 10 megapixel image sensor are impressive.

The shooting speed is good too (first shot within a fifth of a second). But it's in video that this camera really shines. It can take 1280 x 720 video at 30 frames a second - something very few cameras can handle, especially at this price.

It has an electronic viewfinder and a 7.6cm display on the back - thank goodness the era of tiny digital-camera displays has gone.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ28
Rating: 4 out of 5
NZ$799
http://www.panasonic.com.au/

The showstopping feature of this camera is the 18x optical zoom (equivalent to 486mm in D-SLR terms) in a Leica lens that starts at 28mm, allowing you to also capture very wide-angle shots.

Its image sensor captures at 10 megapixel and a speedy image processor internally means you can snap up to 11 shots a second in 3 megapixel resolution.

It also sports autofocus tracking, so you can lock the focus onto a moving object and the camera will continuously refocus. The 6.9cm screen on the camera back could be a tad bigger.

Ricoh Caplio R10
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
NZ$499
http://www.tasco.com.au/

This camera has the form factor of a traditional compact but some quite advanced features, such as the ability to set a point in your scene where you want the camera to focus and set exposure from. This level of manual control is rare in compact cameras and makes getting a good shot much easier.

It also has great macro-photography - zoomed out, you can go as close as 1cm to the subject and, at maximum zoom, as close as 25cm. At 10 megapixel, with a 7.1x optical zoom and big 7.6cm display, it's worth considering, especially as it's a lot cheaper than other advanced compacts.

Sigma DP1
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A$999 (NZ$1180)
http://www.sigma-dp1.com

It's built like a tank and is the closest thing to a D-SLR ever made in a compact camera. In fact, it actually has a D-SLR image sensor inside, about 10 times physically larger than a compact-camera sensor, producing far lower noise in photos than regular compacts.

It has a 14.1 megapixel resolution with a very sharp lens and can save in RAW format. That said, it's a curious camera - the lens is fixed length (16.5mm or 28mm in SLR terms) with no zoom and no image stabilisation. But its superior tech specs are very attractive - though, at the price, you could pick up a real D-SLR.

 

- Sydney Morning Herald

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