Choosing Your SLR Camera
There’s just something about Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras. They are much better than the point-and-shoot compact varieties, particularly when it concerns indoor shooting or where there isn’t much light. It’s no wonder they happen to be the fastest growing segment of the digital camera market today. So, to begin with, what are SLR cameras? Well, they are high-end models with interchangeable lenses, as opposed to the point-and-shoot compact cameras you may be familiar with.
SLRs score over their compact counterparts, because the shots are terrific and the colors are vivid. With compacts, taking a picture indoors after it’s already dark outside could become difficult. You’ll probably have to throw out a significant number of your indoor non-flash photos, which are often victims of horrible graininess or blur. Yes, for blurriness, the stabilizer helps, but it can’t perform miracles. One reason for that is all compact cameras contain a tiny sensor (0.4 inch diagonal). That’s not much light gathering area, especially when compared with the much larger sensors in SLRs (1.1 inches, for example). Another reason is that these compacts crank up their own light sensitivity automatically, known as ISO, in a further effort to reduce blur. Unfortunately, extremes in ISO mean extremes in “noise” (grainy speckles).
So, here’s what makes every brand stand out from the other. Take your pick, depending on what you want for your SLR. Happy shopping!
Snap a photo while you’re recording, capture superb stereo sound and start recording while you’re in the still-photo mode. Those are just a few things you can do with the PowerShot S3 IS ($338, 6.0 megapixels). In fact, it may be the closest thing you’ll find to a hybrid camcorder and camera, all in one. You can zoom or change focus while shooting videos as well, which is a feature that is extremely rare in digital cameras. The movies look fantastic, although a 2 GB card only holds about 18 minutes of footage.
The S3’s screen is tiny by today’s standards at two inches, but on the other hand, it swivels and rotates like a camcorder’s screen. With that, you can shoot over your head, down low and so on. To make photographic matters even better, this camera can take 2.3 shots per second in burst mode and it takes macro shots as close as zero inches away. Yes, you can photograph things that are actually touching the lens. Cool, huh?!
The main highlight of the ambitious SP-550UZ ($500, 7.1 megapixels) is its super close-up mode. With this, you can shoot subjects only half an inch away. The zoom is astounding (28 to 504 mm, in film terms) and you can practically peer up the nostrils of someone standing at the other end of a football field. What’s more, there’s a 2.5 inch screen that brightens up in dim light to help you see what you’re shooting and there’s a remarkable on-camera tutorial that teaches you by operating the relevant controls in real time as you hold the camera. In addition to the first ever 18X zoom lens, this one is loaded with unusual goodies. Its burst mode can capture incredible numbers of shots per second at lower resolutions (seven shots at 3 megapixels each, for example). Oddly enough though, if you want full 7 megapixel shots, you only get a sluggish one frame per second.
The menu design isn’t so great on this one either. If you have more money to spare for better features, you could buy a proper digital SLR (the Nikon D40, for example), complete with lens and phenomenal results.
The Lumix DMC-FZ8 ($307, 7.2 megapixels) doesn’t offer any special tricks like the Canon or the Olympus, but it offers some standout features, including an actual sliding on/off switch, a rock bottom price tag and the ability to save pictures in a RAW format, which is a rarity among non-SLRs. (RAW format photos use far more space on your memory card than traditional JPEG files, but professionals love RAW files, because specialized software can virtually reshoot them with different settings, after the fact. The Olympus offers RAW shooting as well). The Lumix is a consistent performer without any annoying design quirks. Plus, no “7 megapixels” logo appears on the camera body. For that, Panasonic gets points for breaking ranks with its rivals, who still want you to think that more megapixels means better photo quality.
I am at a loss of words for the Nikon D80. With this camera, I am now able to shoot professional looking photos without even trying. The camera is extremely easy to use, even for someone who has never used an SLR before. It has so many preset modes, you can practically shoot in any light condition using one of the photo modes.
The Nikon D80 has some great special effects software built in as well. You can crop, brighten and sharpen photos right on the LCD screen, without even having to transfer them to your computer! All in all, it is a terrific SLR camera and is a benchmark for other 10 megapixel cameras. The Nikon D80 is a very hard product to beat and has brought professional looking photography to the hands of amateurs. This is highly recommended to anyone looking for an entry to mid-level SLR camera.
The DSC-H5 ($365, 7.2 megapixels) shoots images up to an ISO of 1,000. The camera’s Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization helps produce sharp pictures at long zooms and in low light. If that’s not powerful enough for you, you can buy a VCL-DH1758 telephoto converter to pump up the magnification beyond 20X! Sony also offers the VCL-DH0758 wide angle converter and the VCL-M3358 close-up macro lens. Another thing you notice on the DSC-H5 is its huge three inch screen, which makes the 2.5 inchers on the others (and the two incher on the Canon) look undernourished. Another bonus is the included set of rechargeable batteries with a charger, which is a thoughtful touch.
This camera works best for portraits and architectural shots because of its terrific long zoom. However, because of its small viewfinder and the shutter lag due to a slow processor, the camera isn’t great for capturing moving subjects.
If you’re after a mid-size superzoom, you can do much better. You could get the Panasonic for its low price and solid design, the Canon for its remarkable split camera/camcorder personality or the Olympus for its mind boggling zoom. You won’t be slipping any of them into your pants pocket, but when you bring home that prize winning shot of the wedding kiss or the soccer goal, all will be forgiven!
~ Zahid H. Javali