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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Now The Time For Full-Frame D-SLRs?

With more options, state-of-the-art technology and lower prices, D-SLRs are worth a careful look for serious outdoor shooters

Labels: CamerasD-SLRs

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A Brief History Of Full Frame
The first full-frame D-SLR was a prototype shown by Pentax at the 2001 PMA show. That 6-megapixel MZ-D model never reached production. The first full-frame D-SLR to go on sale was the Contax N Digital, back in the spring of 2002. It featured the same Philips 6-megapixel CCD sensor as the Pentax, but never gained wide popularity and was discontinued after about a year.

The first full-frame D-SLR to really catch on was Canon’s EOS-1Ds, which came out later in 2002 and featured a Canon 11.1-megapixel CMOS sensor. That model was followed by the 16.7-megapixel EOS-1Ds Mark II late in 2004 and the current 21.1-megapixel EOS-1Ds Mark III in 2007, all featuring Canon CMOS sensors. Canon also introduced a much lower-priced, full-frame model, the 12.8-megapixel EOS 5D, in 2005.

Kodak introduced the 13.5-megapixel DCS Pro 14n in 2003, followed in 2004 by the DCS Pro SLR/n (Nikon mount) and DCS Pro SLR/c (Canon mount, made by Sigma) in 2004. These, too, soon disappeared.

Thus Canon produced the only really successful full-frame D-SLRs until Nikon introduced its first full-frame model, the D3, late in 2007. Nikon followed that top-of-the-line model with the $2,000-lower-priced D700 in 2008.

Looking To The Future
Early in 2008, Sony announced the development of a 24.81-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor with on-chip A/D conversion, so it’s reasonable to expect new top-of-the-line D-SLRs from Sony and Nikon (long a user of Sony sensors) featuring this unit. And Canon’s fine EOS 5D, by far the lowest-priced, full-frame D-SLR, is getting a bit long in the tooth, having been introduced some three years ago, so we look forward to a 5D replacement, too.

The angle of view produced by a given lens depends on the size of the image frame. The smaller the image sensor, the smaller the angle of view, since the smaller sensor “sees” less of the image produced by the lens.

A lens for a 35mm camera produces an image circle of 43.2mm because that’s the diagonal measurement of a full 35mm image frame (A). The 36x24mm full-frame 35mm image thus “sees” pretty much the whole image produced by the lens (B).

A smaller APS-C sensor sees only the central portion of the image produced by the lens (C). This “telephoto” effect is great for long-lens users because it effectively makes their lenses longer by a factor of 1.5: A 100mm lens used on an APS-C D-SLR produces the same cropping as a 150mm lens on a 35mm camera. This isn’t so good for wide-angle fans, however: A 28mm wide-angle lens used on an APS-C D-SLR frames like a 42mm lens on a 35mm camera—not very wide-angle.


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