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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big-Time DSLRs Under $1,000


Packed with power, advanced features and high performance, the latest sub-$1,000 ­­HD SLRs are outstanding options for serious nature photographers

Labels: D-SLRsGear

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Had sensor and processor technologies remained frozen over the years, the EOS-1Ds Mark II's larger pixels would outperform the smaller pixels on today's higher-resolution APS-C DSLRs with dramatically lower noise at high ISOs. But thanks to several breakthroughs in APS-C sensor design, several sub-$1,000 DSLRs actually exceed the older EOS-1Ds Mark II in overall image quality ratings and nearly match its high-ISO noise performance based on RAW data comparisons found at www.dxomark.com. The Canon EOS T3i has higher resolution, and thanks to its advanced image-processing and noise-reduction technologies, can be dialed up to ISO 12,800 compared to a maximum ISO 3200 on the EOS-1Ds Mark II, while both the Nikon D5100 and Sony A580 can shoot at up to ISO 25,600. Last, but certainly not least, all three of those APS-C sensors capture full HD 1080p video at 30 fps, while the older EOS-1Ds Mark II didn't even offer a Live View function.


Nikon D5100
SENSOR PIXELS: 16.2 MP
LCD SIZE: 3.0"
LCD RESOLUTION: 921K
LCD TILT: Yes
TOP VIDEO MODE: 1080/30p
AUTO-HDR: Yes
INTELLIGENT SCENE MODES: Yes
IN-CAMERA EDITING: Yes
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Yes
STREET PRICE: $849

For most photographers, the main benefits derived from improved image-processing engines found in these models are lower noise at high ISOs and the ability to process data from high-resolution photo bursts up to 7 fps on the Sony A580, for example, and HD video and sound. But they also enable exciting new features, including Auto-HDR, Multi-Frame NR, Advanced Scene Recognition, in-camera photo and video editing, Sweep Panorama shooting and a wide variety of creative effects. Let's take a closer look at these features.

AUTO-HDR: For years, DSLRs have included controls to expand or optimize dynamic range in high-contrast scenes. Canon calls it Automatic Lighting Optimizer, Nikon calls it Active D-Lighting, and Sony calls it DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization). While all three of these controls optimize the shadows and highlights from a single exposure, newer Auto-HDR and in-camera HDR features combine data taken from two (Nikon) or three (Sony) bracketed exposures. The result is an improved JPEG image that can provide better shadow and highlight details than you could possibly achieve from manually processing a single RAW image file, and may rival the results you get from manually combining several exposures using HDR software. The Sony A580 even has the ability to auto-align each of its three exposures to compensate for slight hand movement during the sequence, so you don't need a tripod.


Nikon D3100
SENSOR PIXELS: 14.2 MP
LCD SIZE: 3.0"
LCD RESOLUTION: 230K
LCD TILT: No
TOP VIDEO MODE: 1080/24p
AUTO-HDR: No
INTELLIGENT SCENE MODES: Yes
IN-CAMERA EDITING: Yes
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Yes
STREET PRICE: $650

MULTI-FRAME NR: For improved low-light performance, the Sony A580 can quickly capture six images of a scene and combine the images to reduce noise, especially in shadow areas. This is best performed when the camera is tripod-mounted, and it allows the camera to be set to ISO 25,600 with amazing results.

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