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Friday, October 1, 2004

8-Megapixel Cameras For The Outdoor Photographer

It's nice to have the option of both RAW and JPEG files, and some cameras will even capture one of each every time you click the shutter. That's especially helpful, as you have a ready-to-go JPEG that requires little adjustment for immediate use, and a RAW file that you can later tweak to your heart's content for the ultimate fine-tuned photo.

Accessory Lenses
These cameras are part of larger photographic systems that afford much of the capability of their bigger D-SLR relatives. These systems include accessory lenses that go over the front of the cameras' built-in optics, with most offering both a teleconverter and a wide-angle adapter. Nikon even makes a fisheye lens for its Coolpix 8700. Like the cameras' own optics, these accessory lenses produce tack-sharp images.

Typically, the telephoto accessory extends your focal length by 1.5x, so your 200mm (35mm equivalent) lens becomes a 300mm or your 280mm becomes a 420mm. The wide-angles expand your field of view as they shorten your focal length, usually multiplying it by 0.8x. With a wide-angle accessory attached, the 28mm (35mm equivalent) focal length found on most of these cameras is shortened to about 22mm. While a compact system's average range of about 22mm to 300mm still can't match a manufacturer's full line of 35mm lenses, the range that they do have is extraordinarily easy to transport.

Auxiliary Flash
The 8-megapixel cameras' photographic systems share the powerful hot-shoe-mounted flash units developed for SLRs and D-SLRs. These strobes provide a longer flash range than the cameras' onboard units, with noticeably greater punch for fill-flash in bright sunlight. Many systems allow sophisticated off-camera lighting to improve the look of natural features you encounter in the landscape.

Some of the systems also supply professional-quality macro flash gear, like ring lights or dual flash tubes that can be positioned separately as main light and fill. Both types of close-up flash communicate with the camera's TTL metering circuitry for perfect exposures. The camera can blend the light from the sun and flash, letting you adjust the relative exposures from both, so that either light source can function as main, fill or rim lighting.

8-MP Compacts Vs. 6 MP D-SLRs And 35mm

Image Quality. Naturally, you'll be curious how the 8-megapixel cameras stack up against your trusty 35mm SLR or D-SLR. Compared to slow, fine-grained 35mm slide film, the 8-megapixel cameras are more than a match in ISO, flexibility and image quality. Users of color negative materials will find that the 8-megapixel cameras' dynamic range is still narrower than their film, but the ability to review and correct exposures on the fly helps mitigate this.

While the 8-megapixel compacts offer sensitivities up to at least ISO 400, image quality isn't ideal when shooting at higher equivalencies—these cameras perform best between ISO 50 and 100. The speed difference between the 8-megapixel compacts and color negative materials is balanced by fast optics on the compacts, however, especially toward the telephoto end of their zoom range.


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