Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The New Generation Of D-SLRs
Cameras keep getting better, and the latest models to come out this fall are among the very best yet for nature photographers
Sony used Photokina 2008 to introduce its first pro camera, the DSLR-A900. The camera’s new Sony Exmor 24.6-megapixel CMOS sensor turns out images measuring 6048 x 4032 pixels, 16% more than the next-highest-res current 35mm-format D-SLR model. This means those grand landscape vistas can be blown up huge, as can those macro flower-detail shots and wildlife studies.
Twin Bionz Image Processors Two Sony Bionz image-processing engines provide quick shooting (5 fps) of the huge image files and apply advanced noise-reduction for improved image quality, especially at higher ISOs.
New AF System A new AF system uses nine wide-area sensors and 10 assist points for better tracking of moving subjects. The central dual cross sensor provides greater precision with lenses of ƒ/2.8 and faster.
Full-Frame, 24.6-Megapixel Sensor The A900’s full-frame, 24.6-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS sensor delivers more resolution than any 35mm form-factor D-SLR: 6048 x 4032-pixel images. On-chip 12-bit A/D conversion helps reduce noise and speed data transfer.
SteadyShot INSIDE Image Stabilization The A900’s SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization counters handheld camera shake and works with every lens—quite a trick with a big, full-frame sensor.
Wide Lens Range Sony offers more than 25 lenses for its D-SLRs, and the A900 can use them all, including the DT APS-C lenses (the camera crops the recorded image to APS-C format when one is attached). Lenses as wide as a 16mm full-frame fisheye and a rectilinear 20mm provide landscape flexibility. For wildlife work with the full-frame camera, Sony’s current longest lenses are a 300mm ƒ/2.8, a new 70-400mm ƒ/4-5.6 zoom and a 500mm ƒ/8 mirror. Sigma offers 500mm ƒ/4.5 and 800mm ƒ/5.6 super-telephotos in Sony mounts, plus Tamron’s 200-500mm supertele zoom is available in a Sony mount. All Sony D-SLRs can use Minolta Maxxum lenses.
Lineage The A900 is Sony’s sixth D-SLR and its first pro model. It builds on features introduced in the DSLR-A700.
High-Res 3-Inch LCD Monitor The 3-inch Xtra Fine LCD monitor features 921,000 dots, four times the resolution of previous Sony D-SLRs. There’s no Live-View mode, but an Intelligent Preview function lets you check the effects of exposure value, shutter speed, aperture, white balance and the Dynamic Range Optimizer before you take the shot.
Cool Factor The most megapixels in a 35mm-format D-SLR.
While D-SLRs offer tremendous advantages over compact digital cameras—including better image quality due in part to much larger image sensors, interchangeable-lens capability and much better AF performance—compacts have their advantages, too: pocketable size, Live-View LCD monitors, tilting/swiveling LCD monitors and movie capability.
Two new D-SLRs have just arrived with full HD-video capability, the Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. And not just movies, but HD-quality movies—1280 x 720 pixels for the D90 and 1920 x 1080 pixels for the EOS 5D Mark II. Shown on an HDTV set, the videos are of broadcast quality, with CD-quality sound.
The D90 offers HD video capability in a budget-priced $999 D-SLR. It can shoot in three Motion JPEG (AVI) formats: 1280 x 720, 640 x 424 and 320 x 216. Sound is mono, and focus is locked when shooting begins. The higher-end EOS 5D Mark II can shoot 1920 x 1080 or 640 x 480 QuickTime (MOV) format with mono sound via a built-in microphone or stereo sound with an accessory stereo mic. With the EOS 5D Mark II, the same AF options are available as in Live-View still-image shooting: phase-detection (same as used for non-Live-View still shooting) and contrast-detection (slower than phase-detection, but the mirror doesn’t have to enter the light path and temporarily black out the live image).
While these D-SLRs with HD video capability don’t have the form factor and “video” controls of dedicated HD camcorders, they offer some advantages over camcorders (and compact digital still cameras): Due to their much larger image sensors, the D-SLRs can theoretically produce much better image quality, especially in dim light and at higher ISO settings; the larger sensor size also reduces depth of field for better selective-focus shots; you can use a wide range of excellent interchangeable D-SLR lenses to shoot your videos; and you can at any time record a superb-quality still image of 12.3 megapixels (D90) or 21.1 megapixels (EOS 5D Mark II) merely by pressing the shutter button (doing this causes a brief gap in the video recording, which could be edited around).
What does HD-video capability mean to the outdoor photographer? It gives us the ability to capture the motions (and sounds) of the outdoors, not just silent slices of the outdoor scene. These D-SLRs with HD-video capability certainly will be a boon to any photographer seeking new creative options. We expect to see more of them in the future, in models from entry-level through pro.
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