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Monday, January 7, 2008

D-SLR Wars: Episode III

Resolution always will be a buzzword for digital cameras, but the current crop of professional-quality D-SLRs is about much more than advances in megapixel counts

nikonNikon D200 Since it was first released in 2006, the 10.2-megapixel D200 has been one of the favored workhorses in the industry. It has the robust build of its brother, the D2X, but its compact design and light weight is more like the D100. In terms of features, control and performance, it's closer to the D2X than any other Nikon. It can shoot 12-bit, full-resolution RAW images at 5 fps and has an accurate 11-area AF system and a 2.5-inch LCD display for image playback.

“As a travel photographer, I have unique needs,” says Rosanne Penella. “I don't have the luxury of always working in a studio, and I have to literally cart everything I need with me on the road, so size and weight are a huge issue. The D200 is surprisingly small and light, with phenomenal image quality, so I can confidentially carry two bodies with two different lenses. This has been a huge advantage for me because of my flexible shooting style.

“Also, being a woman, I appreciate the light weight of the D200 because I might walk for 12 hours a day, and a few pounds really makes a significant difference in my pack. It's also possible to operate the D200 without ever looking at the controls, so I never need to take my eye away from the subject.”


10.2-megapixel CCD
23.6x15.8mm, DX format
1.5x lens magnification factor
12-bit A/D conversion
5 fps, full resolution
11-area AF system
2.5-inch TFT
1⁄8000 to 30 sec. shutter speed
ISOs from 100 to 1600

  • Dimensions: 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 inches

  • Weight: 29.2 ounces

  • Estimated Street Price: $1,499

  • olympusOlympus E-3 The long-awaited successor to Olympus' original pro D-SLR has finally arrived. The 10.1-megapixel E-3 features a high-speed Live MOS sensor, a TruePic III image processor, 5 fps sequential shooting at full resolution and a new 11-point full-twin cross AF system that's being billed as the world's fastest AF system.

    “In simple words, this is the fastest focusing system I've experienced to date,” says photojournalist John Isaac. “I've found the 5 fps RAW burst mode and focusing ability in very low light extremely effective. The E-3 focuses extremely fast with the new ED 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 SWD and ED 12-60mm ƒ/2.8-4 SWD lenses, which have two Supersonic Wave motors. The ultrasonic-type motors in these two Zuiko lenses seem to communicate with the new autofocus sensor in the E-3 body very well, so I can do a photojournalistic assignment with these two lenses alone.”

    Maki Kawakita, a fashion and fine-art photographer, says one of her favorite features about the E-3 is the 2.5-inch Live View LCD that she can flip around to see exactly what she's getting. “I'm taking a self-portrait series called Makirama,” says Kawakita, “and the E-3 is perfect because I can see and adjust the frame and compose myself. And for something like a magazine advertisement, it also works beautifully. I've shot very recently a portrait job for a magazine. The E-3 not only allows me to take sharp and crisp images, but also to get the angle I want with Live View and their wide-angle lens.”


    10.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor
    17.3x13mm, 4/3
    2x lens magnification factor
    12-bit A/D conversion
    TruePic III image processor
    5 fps shooting
    11-point full-twin cross AF
    2.5-inch, rotating LCD with Live View
    1⁄8000 to 60 sec. shutter speed
    SWF dust-reduction system

  • Dimensions: 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 inches

  • Weight: 28.2 ounces

  • Estimated Street Price: $1,699

  • sigma Sigma SD14 The big story here is the unique Foveon X3 image sensor, which records red, green and blue at every pixel site, unlike conventional sensors. The sensor does this by taking advantage of silicon's trait of absorbing different colors at different depths—sort of how color film works. The horizontal-by-vertical pixel count of the sensor is 2640 x 1760, or 4.7 megapixels, but there are three layers, hence the X3 name and Sigma's assertion of 14 megapixels (4.7 x 3). 

    Fine-art photographer Gary Mercer likes the SD14 because of the film-like image quality and the simple, intuitive controls and layout. “I picked this camera up and immediately started shooting with it,” he says. “It allows me to concentrate more on the photography and less on digging through complicated camera menus. I started shooting with the SD9, then the SD10, and now shoot exclusively with the SD14 for my professional work, and it has performed superbly for me since it was introduced last spring. Recently, Sigma added ISO 50 shooting capability, and this firmware upgrade has made the camera an even better creative tool for me in the studio.”


    14.1-megapixel Foveon X3 (4.7 x 3)
    1.7x lens magnification factor
    12-bit A/D conversion
    2.5-inch LCD
    3 fps, full resolution
    5-point AF system
    1⁄4000 to 30 sec. shutter speed
    Sensor dust protector can be removed
    for infrared photography
    RAW, Super Hi JPEG, JPEG

  • Dimensions: 5.7 x 4.2 x 3.2 inches

  • Weight: 24.7 ounces

  • Estimated Street Price: $1,300


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