Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DSLRS For The Minimalist

By The Editors Published in Cameras
DSLRS For The Minimalist


Interestingly, video performance and capabilities seem to be more related to newness than to the level of a DSLR. Nikon's entry-level D5100 has better video capabilities than the pro D3S (the top-of-the-line D3X doesn't even have video), and Canon's entry-level EOS T3i has better video capability than the $2,600 EOS 5D Mark II—in both cases because the entry-level model has newer technology.

If you're buying a DSLR primarily to make videos, you're probably making a mistake; but if you just want the added capability, newer DSLRs are better pretty much across the spectrum.


You'd expect pro DSLRs to have better LCD monitors than lower-end models, but the age of the design comes into play here, as well. For example, Canon's four-year-old, $6,999 EOS-1Ds Mark III has a 230,000-dot LCD monitor, while its top entry-level model, the much newer $799 EOS T3i, has a 1,040,000-dot monitor that even tilts and swivels. None of the $5,000-plus pro DSLRs offers a tilting LCD monitor. If you do a lot of high- or low-angle photography or video, a tilting monitor can make life easier and may steer you toward a lower-end DSLR that has one (the pro-spec, mid-level Olympus E-5 has a swiveling LCD monitor).

The pro DSLRs have better optical viewfinders than lower-end DSLRs, especially the entry-level models. Pro finders feature glass pentaprisms that are bigger and brighter than the pentamirror finders used in entry-level cameras, and the pro viewfinders show 100% of the actual image area for precise compositions. Some of the mid-range models also have glass pentaprism finders with 100% coverage.


Most top-of-the-line DSLRs are full-frame models, with sensors measuring 36x24mm—the same as a full 35mm film-image frame. This provides some advantages; lenses frame just as they do on 35mm SLRs for photographers coming to digital from long experience shooting film.

The smaller-sensor mid- and lower-end cameras offer benefits, however. They're much smaller and lighter than full-frame models, and their smaller sensors crop into the full image produced by a full-frame lens, decreasing the angle of view and turning a 300mm lens into a 450-480mm equivalent. This lets the smaller-sensor camera user get those dramatic close-ups with much lighter, less costly gear. A 300mm ƒ/4 lens costs around $1,500; the 500mm ƒ/4 required to provide equivalent framing with a full-frame DSLR costs four to five times as much and is much bulkier.

In days gone by, the smaller-sensor user was at a disadvantage when it came to wide-angle work because that same crop factor effectively turns a 28mm wide-angle lens into a 42mm normal lens. But today, all the camera manufacturers and major independent lensmakers offer true wide-angle lenses designed specifically for the smaller sensors, including some pro-oriented ones.

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