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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Full-Frame D-SLRs

Nature photographers now have six models from which to choose at widely varying prices. These cameras are about more than just a larger image sensor.

Labels: CamerasD-SLRs

This Article Features Photo Zoom

full frame

When we last looked at full-frame D-SLRs, there were four models. In the ensuing months, one of those was replaced, and two new ones were added, giving us six of these high-tech super-cameras today. As long as there have been D-SLRs, OP readers have been keenly interested in full-frame models. The early models were priced out of reach for the vast majority of us, but as technology marches forward, the costs of that technology consistently come down. Instead of two models listing at more than $6,000, prices today begin comfortably at less than half that amount.

When we’re talking about full-frame D-SLRs, we’re referring to those models with image sensors the size of a full 35mm film frame. The cameras offer a number of advantages to the outdoor photographer: Their big sensors have room for more and/or larger pixels than the popular APS-C-sensor D-SLRs, which in turn, means better image quality for those epic landscapes and macro detail shots. Because the sensors are the same size as a standard 35mm image frame, any lens used on a full-frame D-SLR will frame just as it does on a 35mm film SLR—great for wide-angle fans and those transitioning to digital from 35mm film. The full-frame D-SLRs are rugged and easy to carry into the field, and offer excellent AF performance and shooting speed, making them very well suited for wildlife photography—even birds in flight. The drawbacks are that full-frame D-SLRs cost more and are bulkier than their smaller-sensor counterparts, and don’t provide the focal-length boost enjoyed by wildlife photographers who use the smaller-sensor cameras.

Today we can choose among six full-frame models, with prices starting well under $3,000. Two have 12.1-megapixel sensors. These feature large pixels (the actual photodiodes are comparatively larger than those found on most other D-SLRs) that deliver dazzling high-ISO performance. The other four models feature 21+ megapixels each, enough resolution to handle many tasks that previously required medium-format D-SLRs. (Note: There are D-SLRs based on medium-format cameras that have sensors around twice the size of the full-frame D-SLR sensors we’re addressing in this article, and those models have pixel counts and prices to match—the top 60.5-megapixel model sells for around $45,000.) All in all, the six current full-frame D-SLRs are perhaps the most versatile outdoor photography cameras extant, able to handle everything from landscapes to wildlife action with professional aplomb.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Besides superb image quality, the EOS-1Ds Mark III offers Canon’s best pro D-SLR body and AF and metering systems. Canon EOS-1-series bodies have earned a well-deserved reputation for ruggedness and dependability in harsh field conditions, and the Mark III is no exception. Add the Speedlite 580EX II and a pro L-series lens, and you have a whole system that can stand up to the most challenging conditions.

AF performance is excellent, and the camera’s Live View mode provides a large image to examine for careful landscape and macro compositions (and precise manual focusing on a much magnified image). You even can send the live image to a laptop computer and control the camera from there, via provided Canon EOS Utility software. Note that the Mark III doesn’t provide autofocusing in Live View mode, while the newer EOS 5D Mark II provides three Live View AF modes.

There are slots for CompactFlash (UDMA-compliant) and SD/SDHC memory cards, and you can record the same image to both, a RAW image to one and a JPEG to the other, or other combinations. You even can record images to compatible external hard drives.


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