Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Choose your ideal camera for photographing birds and other wildlife
The best-performing Four Thirds System camera, the pro-oriented E-3 features a rugged body with a 150,000-cycle shutter and a tilting/swiveling Live-View LCD monitor, yet weighs just 28.5 ounces. Olympus’ effective in-body Supersonic Wave Drive sensor-shift image-stabilization system works with all lenses, while the equally effective Supersonic Wave Filter dust-reduction system keeps the image sensor dust-free.
The E-3 starts up and responds quickly and can shoot at 5 fps. Autofocus is speedy, especially with the new SWD lenses. The Four Thirds System image sensor produces a 2x focal-length factor, so any lens used on the E-3 crops as would a lens of twice its focal length on a 35mm camera. For example, on the E-3, the Zuiko Digital 300mm ƒ/2.8 provides the same crop as does the popular pro 600mm ƒ/4 bird lens on a 35mm (or full-frame digital) SLR, yet costs and weighs much less, and is a stop faster.
Unlike most pro D-SLRs, the E-3 has a built-in flash unit (ISO 100/GN 42, in feet), handy for nearby subjects in dim light and softening harsh shadows (it also can trigger off-camera flash units and group wirelessly). The camera accepts a number of accessory flash units, including a versatile macro-flash attachment, great for insect photography.
Olympus’ TruePic III processing engine and Advanced Noise Filter III, Advanced Detail Reproduction III and Advanced Proper Gamma III technology provide good image quality for the speed throughout the ISO range, 100-3200.
Like all Four Thirds System cameras, the E-3 can use all Four Thirds System lenses. Among the best for wildlife are (remember the sensor’s 2x focal-length factor) the Olympus Zuiko Digital 150mm ƒ/2 and 300mm ƒ/2.8 primes and the 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 SWD and 90-250mm ƒ/2.8 tele-zooms, as well as the Sigma 300-800mm ƒ/5.6 super-tele-zoom (equivalent to a 600-1600mm zoom on a 35mm camera or full-frame D-SLR). Olympus also offers 1.4x and 2x teleconverters and a 25mm extension tube.
Predecessor: E-1 (there was no E-2 model)
Cool Factor: Tilting/swiveling Live-View LCD monitor for tricky compositions and 2x crop factor
Sensor: 10.1-megapixel Live MOS, 2x
Max. Shooting Rate: 5 fps
Anti-Dust: High-frequency vibrations
ISO Range: 100-3200
Longest Current Lens: 300mm/800mm
Estimated Street Price: $1,575
Weather-resistant and dustproof, the K20D (along with its Samsung GX-20 “twin”) offers the most megapixels in an APS-C-format D-SLR, meaning you get 14.6-megapixel resolution and a 1.5x focal-length factor, both of which help bring shy wildlife closer: The 1.5x lens factor means a 300mm on the K20D frames like a 450mm on a 35mm SLR, and 14.6 megapixels means you can crop into an image and still have plenty of pixels left.
Image quality is very good, and you can save images in your choice of Pentax’s PEF or Adobe’s “universal” DNG RAW format, as well as JPEG. A handy RAW button lets you quickly switch formats without scrolling through menus. You even can adjust and convert RAW images in-camera and save as JPEG or 8-bit TIFF files.
The K20D’s sensor-shift Shake Reduction is effective (I captured sharp handheld shots at shutter speeds of 1⁄20 to 1⁄60 sec. with 200mm and 300mm lenses) and works with all lenses. The sensor-dust remover works—I didn’t find dust on any of the more than 2,700 images shot with our test camera.
The K20D starts up and reacts quickly, and AF performance was very good with the SDM lenses. Erratically flying swallows are tough subjects, but I was able to get sharp shots of northern rough-winged swallows pursuing insects (with the 300mm ƒ/4), as well as capture approaching rock pigeons and a variety of hovering hummers (with the 200mm ƒ/2.8).
The K20D can use virtually all Pentax lenses, even old screw-mounts and medium-format lenses (via optional adapters). The best wildlife lenses among the current models include the aforementioned DA* 200mm ƒ/2.8 and 300mm ƒ/4 SDM primes. Sigma offers the 300mm ƒ/2.8, 500mm ƒ/4.5 and 800mm ƒ/5.6 super-telephotos in Pentax mounts for those who want really long reach.
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