Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Battle Of The DSLRs
Everyone aspires to a top-of-the-line, super-trick, über-pro DSLR, but what are you really buying, and can a mid-level model actually give you better images?
Pro DSLRs have big, bright pentaprism viewfinders that show 100% of the actual image area. Mid-range models have bright viewfinders, but they don't always give you 100% coverage. Lower-end DSLRs often have pentamirror finders, which are dimmer and show less of the actual image area. Sony's SLT cameras have high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinders rather than SLR optical finders. This, with the SLT fixed semitranslucent mirror design, allows the cameras to provide continuous phase-detection AF at all times, even for video, with eye-level viewing. Some love electronic viewfinders, some don't, especially for action subjects.
Higher-end DSLRs are more likely to offer interchangeable focusing screens and viewfinder angle adapters that make low-angle shooting easier. Of course, with a digital camera, you can always use the external LCD monitor to compose odd-angle shots (assuming your DSLR offers live-view operation, which almost all do today).
Pro DSLRs have big (3.2- or 3.0-inch) state-of-the-art external LCD monitors with 921,000- to 1,229,000-dot resolution, but so do many mid-level and even higher entry-level DSLRs. None of Canon's or Nikon's higher-end cameras has a tilting/swiveling monitor, while some of their entry-level models do. The Olympus E-5 and all of Sony's SLT models have tilting or tilt/swivel monitors. The vari-angle LCD monitors are especially handy for low- and high-angle shooting.
The advantages of multiple card slots with today's high-megapixel cameras include more total memory. You can set the camera to switch to the second card when the first one fills, or you can save RAW files to one card and JPEGs to the other, still images to one card and video to the other, or the same file to both cards as backup. When using two cards, some cameras will have read/write speed limited by the slower card. This can be an unwelcome surprise if, for example, you have the camera set up to save video to a very fast card while you're using an older, slow card for still photos. Before you mix and match fast and slow cards, check your DSLR's manual to see if you'll have any problems.
Pro DSLRs use bigger batteries, providing more shots per charge (2,600 shots per charge for Nikon's D4, 1,120 for Canon's EOS-1D X, per CIPA testing standards), especially handy when covering fast-breaking events. Mid-level DSLRs provide around 1,000 shots per charge, and entry-level models give you about 500 shots per charge. Sony's higher-end SLT models get around 500 shots per charge because they only have Live View mode or the EVF, both of which can consume a fair amount of power. Newer higher-end DSLRs can tell you what percentage of battery life is left, which is convenient when you have multiple batteries.
Top-of-the-line pro DSLRs usually don't have a built-in pop-up flash despite the fact that many pros would love to have the convenience of one for a variety of situations. Of course, all DSLRs accept shoe-mount flashes, but a pop-up can be ideal at times, and just about all APS-C DSLRs have them. A pop-up doesn't replace the power and control of an accessory flash, but it sure can save the day. Higher-end DSLRs—full-frame and APS-C—generally also have a PC connector for hooking up wired studio flash systems; lower-end cameras generally don't have that feature.
Lenses And Focus Adjustment
Pro DSLRs are produced to more exacting standards than entry-level models, so mismatches between camera body and lens due to manufacturing tolerances are less likely. They do occur, so higher-end DSLRs offer AF fine-tuning, which allows you to compensate for slight mis-matches between body and specific lenses. Few lower-end DSLRs offer this capability.
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