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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
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It’s fall, and besides the annual leaf change and wildlife migrations, this is a time of year when manufacturers unveil their new D-SLR lineups. Some of these cameras are ready and available right now, some are coming soon, and others are only concepts, but all of them represent new leaps forward in technology that will help you make better photographs.

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
The long-anticipated successor to Canon’s popular 12.8-megapixel, full-frame EOS 5D has finally arrived. The new EOS 5D Mark II remains the lowest-priced, full-frame D-SLR (except for its now-discontinued predecessor), yet offers 21.1-megapixel resolution, new HD video capability and more. The EOS 5D Mark II can use all Canon EF lenses (but not EF-S lenses), which range from 14mm super-wide-angle and 15mm full-frame fisheye to 800mm super-telephoto, so it’s suitable for subjects from grand landscapes to shy wildlife.

Full HD Movie Capability You can record the motion and the sound of the outdoors, as well as still images. The first Canon D-SLR to incorporate HD video capability, the EOS 5D Mark II can record clips (up to 4 GB worth, or 29 minutes 59 seconds, whichever occurs first) at 30 fps, in full 1920 x 1080 HD resolution, with the same AF capabilities as still live-view shooting. And you’re doing it with a big sensor and the full range of Canon EF interchangeable lenses. If you wish, you can add CD-quality audio via a built-in mono microphone or connect an external stereo mic.

Quick Performance While it’s a great landscape and macro camera, the EOS 5D Mark II can handle wildlife action, too. It starts up in about 0.1 seconds and can shoot full-resolution image files at 3.9 per second. If you use a UDMA-compliant CompactFlash card, you can shoot Large/Fine JPEGs at that rate until the card is full, or up to 14 RAW images in a burst. With standard CF cards, you can shoot up to 13 RAW or 78 highest-quality JPEGs in a burst.

21.1-Megapixel Canon CMOS Sensor
Canon claims the new EOS 5D Mark II produces the highest level of image quality of any EOS camera. That’s due, in part, to an improved version of the flagship EOS-1Ds Mark III’s Canon-produced, 21.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor and, in part, to the new onboard DIGIC 4 image processor.

ISOs Up To 25,600 Thanks mainly to the new DIGIC 4 processor, the EOS 5D Mark II dwarfs its predecessor’s ISO range, going three stops higher. You can set ISO 100-6400 in 1/3-stop increments, plus L (ISO 50), H1 (ISO 12,800) and H2 (ISO 25,600).

EOS Integrated Cleaning System Bigger sensors tend to attract more dust, so Canon has endowed the EOS 5D Mark II with its latest-generation EOS Integrated Cleaning System. A fluorine coating on the low-pass filter discourages dust from sticking to the sensor in the first place, and ultrasonic vibrations remove any dust that does settle there each time you switch the camera on or off. The camera also can record the locations of dust specks on the sensor, save the resulting Dust Delete Data and use that data to remove the spots automatically via the provided Digital Photo Professional software in your computer.

Lineage The EOS 5D Mark II replaces the 12.8-megapixel EOS 5D model, which was introduced in 2005 as by far the lowest-priced, full-frame D-SLR. While Nikon and Sony have recently introduced low-priced D-SLRs, the Mark II costs $300 less.

High-Res LCD With Live View Improving on the original EOS 5D’s LCD monitor in both size (3 inches vs. 2.5 inches) and resolution (920,000 dots vs. 230,000), the EOS 5D Mark II also adds Live-View capability. There are three Live-View AF modes: Quick, using the camera’s normal phase-detection AF system (good for wildlife action); Live, using compact-camera-style contrast-detection AF (ideal for tripod-mounted landscapes); and Face Detection. You also can focus manually in Live-View.

Cool Factor Take your pick—HD movies, a 21.1-megapixel, full-frame sensor for $2,699, ISOs to 25,600…

Image Sensor: 21.1-megapixel (effective) CMOS
Resolution: 5616 x 3744 pixels
Sensor Size: 36x24mm (full-frame)
AF System: 9-point, plus 6 assist points
Shutter Speeds: 1/8000 to 30 sec., X-sync up to 1⁄200 sec.
ISO Settings: 100-6400 (1/3 increments), plus 50, 12,800 and 25,600
Continuous Firing Mode: 3.9 fps
Recording Format: JPEG, RAW, sRAW (small RAW), sRAW 2
Metering: 35-zone evaluative, 8.0% partial, 3.5% spot, CW
Storage Media: CompactFlash (UDMA-compliant)
Dimensions: 6.0×4.5×2.9 inches
Weight: 28.5 ounces
Power Source: Rechargeable LP-E6 lithium-ion battery
Estimated Street Price: $2,699
Contact: Canon, (800) OK-CANON,
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Canon EOS 50D
Appearing just a year after the EOS 40D, the new EOS 50D joins rather than replaces that camera in the middle of Canon’s D-SLR lineup. It’s light, quick and capable, with a 15.1-megapixel image sensor, ISOs to 25,600 and a high-resolution Live-View monitor. The EOS 50D can use all Canon EF and EF-S lenses, which currently number more than 50, from a 10-22mm EF-S zoom to a 800mm super-telephoto.

Quick Shooting Despite the 50% increase in resolution, the EOS 50D’s maximum shooting rate is just a hair slower than the 40D, 6.3 fps vs. 6.5. You can shoot bursts of up to 90 Large/Fine JPEGs using a UDMA CF card (up to 60 JPEGs with a standard CF card) or up to 16 RAW images at that rate.

Lineage The EOS 50D joins the 10.1-megapixel EOS 40D (introduced in 2007) in the middle of Canon’s EOS D-SLR lineup, both having been preceded by the 8.2-megapixel EOS 30D (2006) and EOS 20D (2004), and the 6.3-megapixel EOS 10D (2003).

New 15.1-Megapixel CMOS Sensor The EOS 50D’s new 15.1-megapixel Canon CMOS image sensor provides 50% more pixels than the EOS 40D’s, yet it’s only 1.1% larger. Improved technology, including gapless microlenses over each pixel and advanced noise reduction, allows for ISO settings to 12,800.

New DIGIC 4 Image Processor The EOS 50D is the first D-SLR to employ Canon’s new DIGIC 4 image processor, which provides speedy operation, along with finer image detail and more natural colors than the DIGIC III. Like the 40D, the EOS 50D provides 14-bit A/D conversion, which can recognize 16,384 colors or brightness steps, four times as many as 12-bit conversion.

9-Point AF System The EOS 50D uses the same AF system as the 40D, with all nine AF points working as cross-types with lenses of ƒ/5.6 or faster and a unique diagonally oriented central sensor providing enhanced precision with lenses of ƒ/2.8 or faster. It also adds a feature brought over from the pro EOS-1D Mark III, AF Microadjustment, which allows you to fine-tune focus for individual lenses.

EOS Integrated Cleaning System The EOS 50D provides the same anti-dust features as the new EOS 5D Mark II: Self-Cleaning Sensor unit, fluorine coating on the low-pass filter to minimize dust adhesion in the first place and Dust Delete Data.

High-Res Live-View LCD Monitor The 3-inch Clear View LCD is the same size as the 40D’s, but provides much higher resolution: 920,000 dots vs. 230,000. It also provides three AF Live-View modes, along with manual focusing. Of special interest to outdoor shooters are Quick Mode AF, in which the camera’s standard quick phase-detection AF is used (great for wildlife action and low-light shooting), and Live Mode AF, in which compact-camera-style contrast-detection AF is used (ideal for tripod-mounted landscape work). There are now two Live-View grid displays, one with fewer lines and one with more lines, to help align landscapes. You now can activate Live View merely by pressing the Print Share button on the camera back.

Cool Factor 15 megapixels at 6.3 fps means you can capture fleeting wildlife moments and blow them up huge.

Image Sensor: 15.1-megapixel (effective) CMOS
Resolution: 4752 x 3168 pixels
Sensor Size: 22.3×14.9mm (APS-C), 1.6x
AF System: 9-point (all cross-types)
Shutter Speeds: 1/8000 to 30 sec., X-sync up to 1⁄250 sec.
ISO Settings: 100-3200 (1/3 increments), plus 6400 and 12,800, Auto
Continuous Firing Mode: 6.3 fps, 3 fps
Recording Format: JPEG, RAW, sRAW (small RAW), sRAW 2
Metering: 35-zone evaluative, 9% partial, 3.8% spot, CW
Storage Media: CompactFlash (CF I & II)
Dimensions: 5.7×4.2×2.9 inches
Weight: 25.7 ounces
Power Source: Rechargeable BP-511A lithium-ion battery
Estimated Street Price: $1,399
Contact: Canon, (800) OK-CANON,
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Nikon D90
Featuring much of the technology introduced in the high-end D3 and D300 models, but at a lower price, the new D90 adds the ability to shoot HD-quality video. The APS-C format D90 can use a wide range of AF-Nikkor lenses, which range from a 10.5mm fisheye and 12-24mm superwide zoom to a 600mm super-telephoto, and thus can compositionally handle just about any outdoor shooting need.

Active D-Lighting Harshly lit outdoor scenes need not faze the D90 user because Nikon’s Active D-Lighting very effectively expands dynamic range by exposing for the highlights and processing to retain shadow detail in-camera. You can select a strength level or let the camera do it. Active D-Lighting works with both JPEG and RAW images.

EXPEED Image-Processing System The D90 incorporates Nikon’s EXPEED image-processing system, which was introduced in the D3 and D300 a year ago. EXPEED provides finer details, smoother tones, more brilliant colors and lower noise over a wide range of ISOs, while also speeding operation and reducing power consumption. The D90 starts up in a quick 0.15 seconds, has a shutter lag of just 65ms and a viewfinder blackout of just 120ms, and can shoot 12.3-megapixel images at 4.5 per second. ISO settings range from 200-3200, and can be expanded to 100 and 6400, all with very low noise for the speed.

Lineage The D90 replaces the 10.2-megapixel D80 in Nikon’s D-SLR lineup.

D-Movie Mode You can capture wildlife in motion or the sun rising or setting over waves breaking on a shore with the D90’s D-Movie mode, a first for a D-SLR. The D90 can shoot HD-quality movie clips of up to five minutes at 1280 x 720 pixels in Motion JPEG (AVI) format at 24 fps, with or without monaural sound (up to 20 minutes at lower resolution).

Self-Cleaning Sensor Unit The D90 uses the same Self-Cleaning Sensor system as the D300, employing ultrasonic vibrations at four different frequencies to remove dust from the low-pass filter.

New 12.3-Megapixel CMOS Sensor While both provide 12.3 million effective pixels and measure the same 23.6×15.8mm (DX/APS-C format), the D90’s new CMOS sensor isn’t the same one used in the D300. The D90 sensor contains fewer gross pixels (12.9 million vs. 13.1 million).

One-Button Live View The 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor provides Live-View capability, and it’s simple to use. Press the Lv button on the camera back, and the image appears live on the monitor. The D90 doesn’t have the Hand-Held Live mode (with phase-detection AF) of the D3 and D300, but it provides three contrast-detect AF modes: wide-area, normal-area and Face Detect. Of course, you also can focus manually during Live-View operation.

Cool Factor You can shoot HD movies with this $999 D-SLR!

Image Sensor: 12.3-megapixel (effective) CMOS
Resolution: 4288 x 2848 pixels
Sensor Size: 23.6×15.8mm (APS-C), 1.5x
AF System: 11-point
Shutter Speeds: 1/8000 to 30 sec., X-sync up to 1/200 sec.
ISO Settings: 200-3200 (1/3 increments), expandable to 100-6400
Continuous Firing Mode: 4.5 fps
Recording Format: JPEG, NEF (RAW)
Metering: 420-pixel evaluative, 75% CW, 2% spot
Storage Media: SD, SDHC
Dimensions: 5.2×4.1×3.0 inches
Weight: 21.9 ounces
Power Source: Rechargeable EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery
Estimated Street Price: $999
Contact: Nikon, (800) NIKON-US,
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Pentax K2000
Aimed at those looking to move up from a compact digital camera to a D-SLR, the compact Pentax K2000 comes in a convenient kit, complete with an 18-55mm zoom and the AF200FG Auto Flash unit. The new K2000 (no “D” at the end, although it’s a D-SLR) features Pentax’s sensor-shift Shake Reduction that works with all lenses, a comprehensive sensor-dust removal system and a dedicated programmable Help button for the D-SLR newcomer.

3.5 fps Shooting The K2000 can shoot faster than any other Pentax D-SLR, 3.2 fps, for up to 4 RAW or JPEG images. At 1.1 fps, it can shoot unlimited JPEGs, but still just 4 RAW images.

Shake Reduction System The built-in sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, which works with all lenses, keeps your images sharp without a tripod. While we haven’t had a chance to test the K2000 yet, the Shake Reduction system has proven very effective with previous Pentax D-SLRs we’ve used.

Anti-Dust Measures Outdoor shooters can change lenses in the field without worrying about sensor dust. The low-pass filter over the K2000’s image sensor is coated with Pentax’s SP fluorine coating to deter dust, while the Shake Reduction system uses ultra-high-speed vibrations to shake off any dust that does settle on the sensor assembly.

10.2-Megapixel CCD The K2000 employs the proven 10.2-megapixel APS-C format CCD sensor previously seen in the K10D and K200D and other D-SLRs.

Lineage The K2000 is Pentax’s 11th D-SLR and replaces 2007’s 6.1-megapixel K100D Super as the company’s entry-level model. The Pentax D-SLR lineup now includes the 10.1-megapixel K2000, the mid-level K200D and the top-of-the-line 14.6-megapixel K20D.

Wide Lens Compatibility Like all Pentax D-SLRs, the K2000 can use just about every Pentax SLR lens ever made, including old screw-mount models and lenses for the 645/67 camera system (via adapters). Like the K20D and K200D, the K2000 is fully compatible with the new SDM lenses, which feature good dust- and weather-resistance, quick and quiet AF, and a Quick-Shift mechanism that allows you to adjust focus manually while in AF mode—very handy for macro work or to get a quick start on flying birds.

Compact, Ergonomic Body The K2000 is easy to carry anywhere. Despite the rigid stainless-steel chassis, the body weighs just 18.5 ounces and it incorporates a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor that can be viewed at angles of up to 160 degrees. There’s no Live-View mode, but the big monitor makes it easy to set menu items and check just-shot images.

Cool Factor A turn-key D-SLR system for $699.

Image Sensor: 10.2-megapixel (effective) CCD
Resolution: 3872 x 2592 pixels
Sensor Size: 23.5×15.7mm (APS-C), 1.5x
AF System: 5-point
Shutter Speeds: 1/4000 to 30 sec., X-sync up to 1/180 sec.
ISO Settings: 100-3200 (1/3 EV increments)
Continuous Firing Mode: 3.2 fps
Recording Format: JPEG, RAW
Metering: 16-segment, CW, spot
Storage Media: SD, SDHC
Dimensions: 4.8×3.6×2.7 inches
Weight: 18.5 ounces
Power Source: 4 AA batteries
Estimated Street Price: $699 (including 18-55mm zoom and AF200FG flash)
Contact: Pentax, (800) 877-0155,
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Sony DSLR-A900
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.

Image Sensor: 24.6-megapixel (effective) CMOS
Resolution: 6048 x 4032 pixels
Sensor Size: 35.9x24mm (FF), 1x
AF System: 9-point with 10 assist points
Shutter Speeds: 1⁄8000 to 30 sec.
ISO Settings: 200-3200 (1/3 increments), expandable to 100-6400
Continuous Firing Mode: 5 fps
Recording Format: JPEG, RAW, cRAW
Metering: 40-segment honeycomb, CW, spot
Storage Media: CF, MS
Dimensions: 6.2×4.6×3.2 inches
Weight: 30 ounces
Power Source: Rechargeable NP-FM500H lithium-ion battery
Estimated Street Price: $2,999
Contact: Sony, (877) 865-SONY,
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D-SLRs And HD video
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).

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The D90 shoots video at 24 fps, the EOS 5D Mark II at 30 fps. The D90 can shoot video clips of up to 5 minutes at 1280 x 720 and 20 minutes at the lower settings; the EOS 5D Mark II can shoot about 12 minutes at 1920 x 1080 and up to 29 minutes 59 seconds (or until a 4 GB memory card is full) at 640 x 480 resolution.

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.