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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hi-Tech Studio: Daily Drivers

Big on style and capability, these cameras are the ideal off-duty tools when you don’t want to carry the big DSLR

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus offers the E-P series of mirrorless, interchangeable-lens Micro Four Thirds System cameras with design inspired by its classic PEN cameras of the 1960s. The new top-of-the-line model is the E-P3, which can shoot 12.3-megapixel still images and 1080/60i full HD video with CD-quality stereo sound. Like all Micro Four Thirds System cameras, the E-P3 can use all Micro Four Thirds System lenses, as well as many other lenses via adapters. The 3.0-inch, 614,000-dot OLED monitor features touch-screen operation and minimizes battery drain. There’s no built-in eye-level finder, but an external EVF is available.

One big rap against the non-DSLR cameras has been their relatively slow contrast-based autofocusing. The new E-P3 features amazingly fast autofocusing—and not just for a contrast-based AF system. We haven’t tested the camera yet, but Olympus says the E-P3’s AF system rivals the best of the phase-detection DSLRs in focusing speed.

Samsung NX100
Samsung NX100
Samsung offers mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras in DSLR-like form (with a built-in eye-level EVF) and in smaller compact-camera form. The NX100 is the latter, smaller than all the cameras described here except the Sony NEX-3, but featuring the same 14.6-megapixel, APS-C-format Samsung CMOS sensor as its larger (but still compact) NX10 sibling.

Features of interest to pro photographers include a 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor for bright viewing and low battery drain, a series of interchangeable Samsung NX-mount lenses, quick autofocusing and DSLR image quality. The NX100 also can do 720p video. A unique feature is Samsung’s i-Function lens, which lets you set camera functions and apply custom settings via a ring and i-Function button on the lens.

Accessories include an electronic eye-level viewfinder, an external flash unit that’s more powerful than the built-in unit, a geotagging GPS unit and the ever-expanding NX lens line.

Sigma DP2x
Sigma DP2x
Sigma was the first to put a big sensor in a little camera, building the tiny DP1 around the unique APS-C-format Foveon X3 sensor used in its DSLRs. The DP2x is the latest in the DP line, featuring the same unique full-color sensor as the SD15 DSLR (not the new SD1 DSLR sensor), but with a new Analog Front End to convert the color data to a digital signal, quicker autofocusing and a Power Save mode. The compact camera features a built-in 24.2mm ƒ/2.8 lens (equivalent to a 41mm focal length on a 35mm camera) and simple, direct operation. There’s no built-in viewfinder, but a clip-on optical one is available.

The big feature here, of course, is that unique Foveon X3 sensor (note that Sigma bought Foveon in 2008). Image sensors can’t “see” color; they just collect photons. To produce color images, conventional sensors position a grid of red, green and blue filters over the pixels, so that each pixel receives red, green or blue wavelengths. The missing color information for each pixel is created by using data from neighboring pixels and complex proprietary algorithms. This process produces artifacts, so a low-pass filter is placed over the sensor assembly to counter that; this also slightly blurs the image. The sensor in the DP2x contains 14.1 million pixels, stacked in three 4.7-megapixel layers; the resulting images measure 2652x1768 pixels.


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