SIGMA SD1 MERRILQuick Summary: Sigma's flagship DSLR, the SD1 Merrill features the unique Foveon X3 APS-C (23.5x15.7mm) image sensor, which records all three primary colors at every pixel location. Conventional Bayer-filtered sensors used in other DSLRs record just one primary color at each pixel location, acquiring the missing colors for each pixel by interpolating data from neighboring pixels via a "demosaicing" process that produces unwanted artifacts, which are minimized by use of an anti-aliasing filter over the sensor that reduces sharpness at the pixel level. The Foveon sensor doesn't need the anti-aliasing filter, so it produces better resolution than conventional sensors for equivalent horizontal-by-vertical pixel count.
Special Strengths:The SD1 Merrill's main strength is the image quality its Foveon X3 sensor can deliver. It's also a straightforward camera, easy to use, with few bells and whistles. Mirror prelock is easily accessed via a dial (there's no live view or video). Sigma offers a wide range of lenses for the camera, from circular fisheye to 800mm supertelephoto (including the 200-500mm ƒ/2.8 zoom, the world's fastest 500mm). The SD1 Merrill is particularly well suited to studio and travel photography. Estimated Street Price: $2,299.
Also Consider: Sigma DP1, DP2 DP3 Merrill. If you can live without interchangeable lenses and eye-level viewing, you can get the same Foveon X3 sensor in a pocket-sized, fixed-lens camera for less than half the price. The DP1, DP2 and DP3 Merrill models come with built-in wide-angle, normal and short telephoto lenses, respectively, and are fine walking-around cameras. Estimated Street Price: $999 (each).
SONY SLT A99Quick Summary: Sony's flagship interchangeable-lens camera, the SLT-A99 features a full-frame (35.8x23.9mm), 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, rugged construction and unique TMT (Translucent Mirror Technology) that provides full-time phase-detection AF and eye-level viewing for live view and video.
Special Strengths: Conventional DSLRs have to use contrast-based AF off the image sensor in Live View and Video modes because their quick phase-detection systems don't work with the mirror in the "up" position (as it must be for live view to operate with these cameras). This causes two problems: Contrast AF (as implemented in DSLRs) is much slower than PDAF and not suitable for moving subjects; and in Live View mode, the eye-level SLR finder blacks out, so you have to use the LCD monitor to compose. The TMT system solves these problems by transmitting most of the light to the sensor while simultaneously directing a portion to the AF sensor. So you get quick PDAF and (via electronic viewfinder) eye-level viewing for still and video shooting. Estimated Street Price: $2,799 (body only).
Also Consider: Sony SLT-A77. Essentially the A99's APS-C "kid brother," the A77 offers pretty much the same feature set, but with a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor. It can shoot up to 13 full-resolution images at 12 fps with AF for each frame, and can even do sharp videos of birds in flight once you get the hang of tracking them with the electronic viewfinder. Estimated Street Price: $899 (body only).
Will Reflex Cameras Continue?
Reflex camera systems, that is, cameras with some sort of mirror to direct imaging light from a lens to a viewfinder, have been the mainstay of photography since their initial development. The obvious advantage of these systems is that what you see is what you get. (In the case of twin-lens reflex, there's a separate composing lens and picture-taking lens.) Reflex systems have the added advantage of being very fast. You can watch the action take place in the viewfinder and press the shutter button at exactly the right time to catch the definitive moment.
These systems still endure for most pros because of their combination of WYSIWYG and speed, but for how long?
In their new OM-D E-M1 pro-grade mirrorless camera, Olympus has signaled that they're unlikely to develop more reflex models. Can other manufacturers be far behind? If the main advantages are, in fact, immediacy and WYSIWYG viewfinders, EVF technology has all but completely caught up to the mirror systems. Seeing the image reflected on ground glass versus looking at an electronic viewfinder with a screen is still preferable for many photographers, but how long will that be the case? And without their complicated mechanical mirror rigs, pro 35mm-sized and medium-format digital cameras can get smaller and more robust since they will be closer to solid-state devices. The future is coming.
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