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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The New Breed Of DSLRs


Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony are pushing into new territory with their latest high-end camera models

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A number of new high-end DSLRs have been introduced in recent months. From the 2011 unveilings of the Canon EOS-1D X, the Sigma SD1 and the Sony SLT-A77 to the 2012 introduction of the Nikon D4, advanced amateurs and professional photographers now have several up-to-date options to choose from. Better low-light performance, fixed translucent mirror technology, dramatically improved video capabilities and whole new advanced metering and AF systems figure into these DSLRs. Despite the numerous challenges of earthquakes, tsunamis and a near nuclear meltdown in Japan, the manufacturers appear to be back up to full speed, and we photographers are the beneficiaries.

Canon EOS-1D X
Canon's long-awaited successor to the full-frame flagship EOS-1Ds Mark III was announced in fall 2011, and the EOS-1D X is expected to go on sale in March 2012; it turns out to be a replacement for the APS-H-format EOS-1D Mark IV, as well. The 18.1-megapixel, full-frame EOS-1D X is faster than the EOS-1D Mark IV action camera, much faster than the EOS-1Ds Mark III, and should deliver better image quality than either—and at higher ISOs. While some were expecting more megapixels than the EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon went with 18.1 to provide an optimal balance among image quality, shooting speed and high-ISO performance.

The specs tell the tale. The EOS-1D X can shoot full-res, 18.1-megapixel raw files at 12 fps with phase-detection AF for each frame, and it can shoot JPEGs with the mirror locked up (no AF during shooting) at 14 fps. It has a normal ISO range of 100-51,200, settable in 1⁄3-stop increments, which can be expanded down to ISO 50 and up to an amazing 204,800. That performance is significantly better than the Mark III's 5 fps and even the action-oriented Mark IV's 10 fps. The EOS-1D X also beats the 1Ds Mark III and the 1D Mark IV ISO capabilities—a normal range of 100-12,800 with a high of 102,400 for the Mark IV and a normal range 100-1600 with a high of 3200 for the Mark III. Importantly, image quality is touted to be better than that of either predecessor.

Also boosting performance are new-generation DIGIC 5+ processors, each 17x more powerful than the DIGIC 4s found in the EOS-1D Mark IV (which, in turn, are 6x more powerful than the DIGIC IIIs in the EOS-1Ds Mark III). Besides speeding camera operation, this makes it possible to use new higher-performance noise-reduction algorithms, on-the-fly chromatic-aberration correction and an improved video codec.

A totally new High Density Reticular AF system features 61 points, 41 of them cross-types with lenses of ƒ/4 or faster and 20 cross-types with lenses of ƒ/5.6 or faster (versus no cross-types at ƒ/5.6 with previous cameras). There are even five central dual cross-type points for lenses of ƒ/2.8 or faster. The 61 points cover 52% of the frame area (vs. 41% for previous EOS-1 cameras), and you can select any one of them manually. A new AI Servo II tracking algorithm promises the best performance yet in an EOS camera. Unfortunately, lost in all this is the ability to autofocus at ƒ/8 as previous EOS-1 cameras could do. If you rely on teleconverters, this will be an AF limitation.

The metering system also is all new, with a 100,000-pixel, RGB-metering sensor and its own dedicated DIGIC 4 processor. The system provides 252 metering zones for general shooting and 35 zones for low light. Intelligent Subject Analysis uses face detection and color recognition for added accuracy. The X also includes partial and spot metering, as well as center-weighted average metering.

When it comes to video, the EOS-1D X can shoot 1920x1080 full HD at 30, 25 and 24 fps; 1280x720 HD at 60 and 50 fps; and 640x480 SD at 30 and 25 fps. For the first time in a DSLR, you can choose All-I or IPB compression, and Rec. Run or Free Run timecoding. You can now record up to 29 minutes, 59 seconds per clip, with automatic splitting of longer files.

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