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Monday, August 10, 2009

Beyond the D-SLR

For professionals, there are times when the modern D-SLR isn’t the camera that will get the job done

This Article Features Photo Zoom


WhatThe classic rangefinder design always has been popular with film professionals as an easily portable solution for shooting out and about, though often as a backup or for fun. Digital has allowed rangefinder cameras to exceed their limited sizes and to bring small handheld cameras into a pro photographer’s toolbox.

Olympus E-P1

Based on the design of the original Olympus PEN, the 12.3-megapixel E-P1 from Olympus is stunning not only for its looks, but also for the potential that Olympus has crammed into such a tiny body. The E-P1 is Olympus’ first Micro Four Thirds camera, joining the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 and DMC-GH1 in the unique sensor format. Micro Four Thirds sensors share the same dimensions as the Four Thirds system (17.3x13mm), but by removing the optical view-finder, mirror box and built-in flash, Olympus has been able to produce smaller cameras that use a Live View screen for point of focus and review. Thanks to this compact design, the E-P1 sizes in at dimensions of only 4.75x2.75x1.43 inches and 11.8 ounces.

The E-P1 offers 1280x720 HD video, as well as including uncompressed 16-bit/44.1 kHz stereo Linear PCM audio recording in WAV files. Olympus made a move with the E-620 to start producing desired artistic effects and multiple-exposure capabilities in-camera rather than through postprocessing on the computer. The E-P1 extends those art filters and allows you to apply them to recorded video. There also are other digital features, such as a Digital Level Sensor for ensuring correct pitch and roll alignment, MF Assist and Magnification Display for zooming in to check focus and an 18x18 Metering Mode for optimum exposure.

The body itself is silver or white stainless steel and features a retro appeal combined with a modern digital design. There also are options for adding a clip-on optical viewfinder and FL-14 flash unit. The E-P1 is very much the E-620 D-SLR in a stylish, compact package, embellished with a Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor and a new TruePic V image processor for sharper images and better color reproduction.

Leica M8.2

When people think of a classic rangefinder, they think of Leica. Leica’s 2006 entry into the digital age was led by the 10.3-megapixel M8, which now has been followed up with the M8.2. Both cameras are fully compatible with the extensive history of M-series lenses, and as with all Leica cameras, emphasis is placed on design, which means a minimalist approach to buttons and operations. The main settings are formatted in simply structured menus, accessible via the 2.5-inch display.

The more expensive M8.2 has an identical body as the M8, but the shutter has been improved to reduce vibration for a quieter experience and better recocking. The finish on the M8.2 also is toughened up, thanks to a deep black vulcanite finish and a sapphire crystal coating over the LCD for incredible scratch resistance. The Snapshot mode adds to the convenience of carrying the M8.2 by adding automatic shooting, a first for the Leica M series, particularly useful for quick snapshots in short focal lengths between 21mm and 35mm. The M8.2 also features other improvements over the M8, includ-ing better bright-line viewfinder framing and a more ergonomic on/off switch.

The M8 and M8.2 both offer DNG Digital Negative capture, a universal RAW file format developed by Adobe and offered up as a free file type for manufacturers to use. For Leica, the advantage is that it could offer a quality RAW file type without needing to develop its own, and for users, the advantage is that images are likely to stay accessible over the years while the more esoteric file types from smaller manufacturers gradually lose support from new software platforms.

Sigma DP2

Sigma’s DP2 approach to bringing D-SLR quality to a compact camera size is to condense the components of its D-SLR line into a smaller body. The DP2 uses a 20.7x13.8mm 14-megapixel Foveon X3 image sensor, imported directly from the SD14 D-SLR (and DP1), which incorporates the unique Foveon design of laying blue, green and red sensors together as a stack, as opposed to the Bayer pattern that many camera sensors use de rigueur. Bayer filters require demosaicing, which results in color artifacts, and Foveon sensors also gather more light, thanks to light photons being absorbed in full by each large 7.8µm photosite, while Bayer patterns technically shed information through the red, blue and green channeled mosaic-style photosites.

The TRUE II (Three-layer Responsive Ultimate Engine) image processor is the same unit used in the SD15 D-SLR as well, and the DP2 bumps up to a 24.2mm (41mm equivalent) lens, as opposed to the 28mm equivalent on the DP1, adding a faster aperture at ƒ/2.8. The DP2 also comes with Sigma Photo Pro software, a RAW image developer that offers three development modes—the X3F mode for maintaining the information of the original RAW capture, Custom mode for individual adjustments and an Auto Adjustment mode.

The DP2 also has three metering modes, with Evaluative, Center Weighted and Spot Metering. There’s also Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority and Manual settings. Focusing can be done manually, exposure compensation can be set in 1⁄3-stop increments from +3.0 to -3.0, and there’s a pop-up, manual built-in flash or a hot-shoe for adding the EF-140 DG dedicated external flashgun or other Sigma electronic flashguns for the SD series. An optional VF-21 viewfinder can be attached to the hot-shoe for framing without using the 2.5-inch LCD screen.


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