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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Would Ansel Adams Use A DSLR?

If Ansel Adams were shooting digital, would a DSLR be his tool of choice? We look at the requirements of a serious landscape shooter and see if today’s best cameras are up to the challenge.

Labels: Gear

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Sony DSLR-A580. Sony’s top APS-C DSLR, the A580 has a 16.2-megapixel Sony Exmor sensor and delivers excellent image quality. Live view is provided via a second image sensor, so the camera’s quick phase-detection AF can be used for live view as well as viewfinder operation. The 3.0-inch, 921,600-dot LCD monitor tilts up and down for easier odd-angle live-view shooting. While Adams probably wouldn’t use it, the A580 offers Sony’s unique Sweep Panorama feature, in which you just sweep the camera across a scene and it automatically delivers a stitched panorama image; such images are popular with landscape shooters these days. Five-level D-Range Optimizer and three-image in-camera HDR help handle contrasty scenes. The A580 can also shoot full HD video at 50i or 60i. Estimated Street Price: $799.

Also Consider: The Sony SLT-A55, one of two DSLRs to feature a fixed translucent pellicle mirror (the other is the 14-megapixel SLT-A33), has the same sensor as the A580 in a more compact body. One big benefit of this design is that the camera can use its quick phase-detection AF system for live-view and even movie shooting—other DSLRs have to switch to slower contrast-based AF for live-view and movie shooting (except some Sony models, currently, the A330, A390 and A580; but those don’t provide continuous AF during live-view and video operation). Estimated Street Price: $849.

Another Serious Contender

For this article, we placed an emphasis on higher-resolution DSLRs because we imagined that a big megapixel count would be important to Ansel Adams if he were alive and shooting with a DSLR today. With that in mind, we set 16 megapixels and above as the criteria to be included in this article. At 16 megapixels, one can make an 11x16-inch print at 300 dpi without interpolation. However, drawing the line at 16 megapixels did cause us to leave out some DSLRs that are popular with high-end landscape photographers because they produce excellent image quality and their images can be easily interpolated to make large prints.

The FX-format (full-frame) Nikon D700 is a camera that deserves to be mentioned in this article although its resolution of 12.1 megapixels was below our 16-megapixel cutoff. For landscape shooting, the camera’s CMOS sensor ranks high in DxOMark.com’s RAW sensor ratings, which is no surprise since the D700 has essentially the same sensor as the Nikon D3, which set the standard for many photographers when it originally came out. The large pixel pitch (8.4 microns) helps the D700 to produce clean image files, which are easily upsized with excellent results.

Key D700 features for landscape shooters beyond its CMOS sensor are the 1,005 3D Color Matrix Metering II system for accurate exposure, the ISO range from 200-6400 (expandable to Lo-1, Hi-1 and Hi-2) and the bright high-res LCD monitor. Estimated Street Price: $2,349.

A note about interpolation: Software like Genuine Fractals performs best when it has a lot of image data to work with and when the images themselves are clean and relatively free of noise. The more noise there is in a photograph, the more that noise will be interpolated into the larger image file. Also, you can get excellent results when you go from a 20-megabyte image file up to a 30-megabyte image file, but going from a 2-megabyte file to a 3-megabyte file usually doesn’t work nearly as well.


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