DPP Home Gear Cameras Pro DSLR Roundup

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pro DSLR Roundup

DPP takes a look at the currently available top-level cameras and calls out the key features to help you find the model that’s best for you and the way you shoot

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Nikon D3S

The original D3 shocked the DSLR world with its amazing high-ISO capability. Its successor betters that, with ISO settings up to 102,400 and the best high-ISO performance of any DSLR. It’s also fast, able to shoot its 12.1-megapixel, full-frame images at 9 fps in bursts of up to 36 RAW or 82 Fine JPEGs and 5.1-megapixel images at up to 11 fps in cropped DX mode.

Along with its speed and high-ISO capability, the D3S has excellent AF performance. Like the D3X, it allows you to select single-shot or continuous AF via a simple switch with the camera at your eye; you also can select single-area AF, all 51 areas, or a smaller group of AF points via a switch, handy when speed is essential.

The D3S features HD video, the first pro Nikon DSLR to offer it. The D3S can do 1280x720p HD video at a film-like 24 fps, with stereo sound.

Nikon’s full-frame DSLRs can use all AF Nikkor lenses, even the DX ones designed for the smaller DX format; when a DX lens is attached, the camera automatically switches to cropped DX mode. This allows photographers who are moving up from Nikon’s DX-format DSLRs to use their DX lenses, albeit at reduced pixel count.

Why You Should Buy This Model:
The D3S produces the best high-ISO image quality of any current DSLR (according to DxO Labs), making it ideal for low-light and action shooters and can do HD video in dim light.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The first pro-oriented DSLR to incorporate HD video capability, the EOS 5D Mark II immediately became a hit with pro and aspiring pro cinema shooters, as it delivered 1920x1080/30p full HD video at a fraction of the cost of a pro HD camcorder. It also delivers the same 21.1-megapixel, full-frame still image quality as the EOS-1Ds Mark III for several thousand dollars less.

Besides providing the user with the ability to record motion and sound as well as still images, the Mark II provides video shooters with a large image sensor—much larger than the sensors in typical pro HD camcorders. The big sensor provides better high ISO/low-light performance, plus a cinema-like limited depth of field, handy for isolating the subject from the background. (Camcorders’ small sensors provide more depth of field, producing a “video” rather than a “cinema” look.) And you can shoot video as well as still images with the full wide range of EOS lenses. While early video versatility was somewhat limited (no manual control of aperture or ISO, for example), recent firmware upgrades have enhanced the video features.

While not quite as rugged or quick as the EOS-1Ds Mark III, the 5D Mark II is well built and usably quick. It can shoot 21-megapixel images at 3.9 fps and has a sturdy stainless-steel chassis with magnesium-alloy main covers and a shutter tested to 150,000 cycles. The 5D Mark II also isn’t nearly as bulky and has a 920,000-dot LCD monitor.

Why You Should Buy This Model:
The EOS 5D Mark II is ideal for photographers who want high-res, full-frame still images and full HD video capability on a budget.

Nikon D3X

The Nikon D3X offers a 24.5-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor and EXPEED processing to deliver probably the best overall image quality in the category. It can shoot those big images at 5 fps (and cropped 10.5-megapixel images at 7 fps in DX mode) and offers the same AF system as the D3/D3S, so it can do action as well as studio work.

Aside from HD video, the D3X provides most of the D3S’s features, with twice the pixel count. The sensor is similar to the one in Sony’s A900, but with a number of Nikon tweaks, including 14-bit A/D conversion, that gave it the highest rating ever in DxO Labs’ DxO Mark RAW sensor performance ratings (it since has dropped to second, one point behind a $40,000, 60-megapixel medium-format camera).

The other major difference between the D3X and D3 is the ISO range. Because it has much smaller pixels, the D3X has a lower ISO range—100-1600 normal, expandable to 50 on the low end and up to 6400 on the high end—compared to the D3S’s normal range of 200-12,800, expandable to 100 and up to 102,400. If much of your shooting requires very high ISO settings, the D3S may be a better choice; if you rarely go above 1600, the D3X produces excellent image quality. Of course, if you need to make huge prints, the D3X’s 24.5 megapixels are an advantage.

Surprisingly, the D3X manages to eke more shots per charge out of the same battery despite its larger file sizes and required greater processing power—an amazing 4400, per the CIPA measurement standard, versus 4200 for the D3.

Why You Should Buy This Model:
Nikon’s top-of-the-line pro still camera combines first-rate AF performance with (by at least one objective standard) exceptional image quality in a versatile, rugged body.


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