Thankful

This is a bit after Thanksgiving, but it’s pertinent.

It was just last summer (in 2006) that I got frustrated with my photography, and decreed that I must improve. Even though I’d been taking photos since 1994, and I had a feel for what looked good, I had no idea what I was doing with the camera. I had no idea of the concepts of photography. I had no idea how to compose a photograph, and how to think about light. In a little more than a year, I’ve gotten pretty far. Now, I look at photos that I took just last summer and I cringe…

I’ve learned so much, and I still have a lot to learn.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about photography. It’s a wonderful occupation, and it relaxes me. I can see the world differently now. I’m a bit guilty of always thinking of photo ops, but I appreciate what I see a lot more nowadays.

I’m also thankful that I was able to afford a wonderful DSLR. I’m very happy with my Canon 5D. Its capabilities allow me to be very flexible and to exploit lighting situations that are simply unattainable with other, less expensive cameras. As I learned more and more about photography last year, I realized that some of the things I wanted to do just couldn’t be done without a DSLR. At that time, I thought the 5D was incredibly expensive. After all, when you’ve been paying $100-400 for your cameras, $2,800 is a big jump in price! Am I sorry I bought it now? No. It’s a great camera.

Here are a couple of photos I took during Thanksgiving dinner with close friends of ours. The wind howled outside and chilled me to the bones as soon as I stepped onto the balcony, but how could I resist such a beautiful dusk?

Thanksgiving sky

Thanksgiving dusk

By the way, I launched a new site last night. It features my photography and only my photography. It’s called, appropriately enough, Raoul Pop Photography.

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Camera review: Canon Rebel XTi DSLR

Released on August 24, 2006, the Rebel XTi is Canon’s newest entry-level prosumer DSLR. It’s an update on the popular Rebel XT, and it’s different from it as follows:

  • Slightly thinner body, heavier (2.56in vs. 2.63in and 510g vs. 485g)
  • Newer, re-designed sensor with higher resolution (10 megapixels vs. 8.2 megapixels)
  • Sensor cleaning technology (dust shaken off the sensor with ultrasonic waves)
  • Bigger display (2.5in vs. 1.8in)

I only listed the significant differences above. You’re welcome to compare the detailed specs if you’d like, right on Canon’s website. Go to the More Information section at the end of this post and use the links listed there to get the full specs.

Canon Rebel XTi (front)

In my reviews of other DSLRs, like the Canon 30D, the Olympus E-510, or the Olympus E-500, I criticized the Rebel XTi’s small grip, and I still think I’m right. It’s much too small to be held comfortably in a man’s hand, and that’s unfortunate, because the camera is great in every other aspect.

In spite of the camera’s small grip, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the photos it produced, and I wanted to share my findings with you. I avoided reviewing it until now on purpose — as I said, I was displeased with its body design — but after using it, I’m happy to say I would recommend it.

I made a video review of the XTi, which should help you get a better idea of the its dimensions. I discussed the camera at length in the video, and also did a side-by-side comparison between it and my Canon 5D. You can watch it below, or scroll past it to read the rest of my review. You can also watch it here, or download it if you like.

I should also mention I goofed in the video. I talked about the XTi having the DIGIC III processor, but it turns out it still has the DIGIC II processor. What I said about the differences between it and the 5D and 30D with respect to exposure value settings is still correct, so don’t disregard that. You may or may not be aware that when you do not adjust the EV settings on a 5D or 30D, and you shoot outside in bright light, the processor will overexpose the shot. The quick fix is to dial down the EV by 1/3rd, and that usually does the trick. But that’s not right. Shots shouldn’t be overexposed, and I’m glad to see the XTi doesn’t suffer from that bug. It exposes shots beautifully, and you’ll see what I mean when you look at my sample photographs below.

Even though the overall design of the camera is similar to that of the larger DSLRs that Canon makes, certain differences are there, and they are caused both by the price and size of the camera. For example, being used to the 5D, I missed the small at-a-glance display on top of the camera. On the 5D, it lets me know what my settings are without having to consult the LCD screen. I also missed the large settings dial next to the LCD that’s a staple on every other Canon prosumer and pro DSLR. I love that dial/wheel, and I miss it on every non-Canon camera I use.

The exposure value adjustment button, along with the drive settings button, are located next to the display instead of the top of the camera. There is no jog controller for the focus point selection, either. But you can’t have everything. The Rebel XTi is an entry-level DSLR, so you can’t have features that are normally found on the more expensive DSLRs. Plus, its body size makes it impossible to have the same button arrangement.

Canon Rebel XTi (back)

Despite my gripes, I liked the size of the body, and I liked the feel of the buttons. They had a soft, glossy surface that made it a joy to press them. The small body of the camera makes it possible to hold it very comfortably in the palm of your hand, and that’s a huge plus, because you can stabilize shots a lot better that way.

I really liked the quality of the photos from the XTi. I shot in RAW format, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well exposed the photos were, and how accurate the color reproduction was. I’ll show you some photos very shortly where I made no adjustments in post-processing other than adding meta-data, and I think you, too, will find it hard to believe that those were RAW shots straight from the camera.

I can tell you this: the RAW files made by the XTi have better exposure and color, right out of the camera, than the RAW files made by my 5D. It’s a shocker, yes, but it’s true. I suppose that’s to be expected. The 5D uses technology developed in 2005, while the XTi uses technology developed in 2006. But still, I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, and being a 5D owner who’s shot tens of thousands of photos with the 5D, this was a hard pill to swallow. Having said this, would I give up my 5D for a Rebel XTi? I’m tempted, but no. :-)

On to the photos. These are two that I took in early afternoon light, which was bright and unforgiving. I shot in RAW and developed the photos in Lightroom. I had to do very little exposure adjustment. Can you believe how well the XTi exposed the photos and reproduced the colors? Can you believe the dynamic range of the sensor? I didn’t expect this from the XTi.

November afternoon

Light and shadow

Here’s another photo that shows off the dynamic range of the camera. I shot this with the wonderful 18-55mm kit lens. If you’re confused by my characterization of that lens, watch the XTi’s video review, and I think you’ll understand.

Go to the mat

Here’s a macro shot I took with the same 18-55mm kit lens. I was pleasantly surprised with the low noise at 800 ISO.

Cone job

I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love the colors that I get out of this camera! Have a look at these two photos to see what I mean.

Knobular

Spoon!

I thought I’d put in a dog photo for good measure. This happy pooch posed for me in downtown Alexandria this past summer. I used Keith McCammon‘s XTi for the shot.

Smile for the camera

What else can I say? If I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments. The Canon Rebel XTi is a great prosumer DSLR. You won’t have to try very hard to get wonderful photos with it, and its affordable price will help make your decision a little easier.

Gilded

Pastels

Buy the XTi

Troglodyte

Bohio’s


World at your feet

Etched in stone

Hand that feeds

The Olympus E-3 Launch Party

Back on August 15, I wrote about the “new E-1″, the Pro DSLR from Olympus that would replace the existing E-1. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the launch party for that new DSLR, officially called the E-3, on October 16. The party was held at the Museum of Natural History in NYC, and it started at 5:30 PM EST.

This post is rather long, so I thought I’d summarize it for your benefit:

  • First part: my thoughts on the event and the E-3, with photos of the camera
  • Second part: video from the event
  • Third part: my photos from the event

Olympus E-3 DSLR (front view with battery grip)

I was impressed with the quality of the event. Olympus rented an entire wing at the Museum of Natural History, and set up stations where we could talk with specially-chosen pro photographers about the E-3 and try out beta units of the camera. (The firmware isn’t yet finalized, so actual review units weren’t available.) There were food and drink bars (the cheese was fantastic) and all sorts of other goodies were spread all around (like a timeline display of all of the representative Olympus digital cameras, starting with their first model, and ending with the E-3). The event went nicely according to plan, and there was even a drawing where a lucky winner got an E-3 Pro Package (camera, speedlite, lenses, etc.) plus an all-expenses paid trip to India with one of the Olympus pros. I didn’t win it, unfortunately.

The atmosphere wasn’t one of hard sell. I could chat at ease with photographers and relax while looking at slideshows of photos taken by the pros or snacking on food. Ligia and I enjoyed ourselves. The weather was gorgeous. It had been sunny all day, and as evening descended on the city, the sky stayed clear, and a cooler breeze made it feel like a proper autumn night.

The E-3 surprised me in several ways:

  • It didn’t differ much from the concept photos I’d seen earlier, which was interesting. It means Olympus had been working on it for a long time, pretty much had the form factor down, and were simply perfecting it.
  • It was bigger and heavier than I expected. Having worked with the E-500, E-510 and E-410, I expected the body to be lighter and smaller. It wasn’t. The weight of the E-3 is exactly the same as the weight of my Canon 5D: 810 grams. It’s also as big as my 5D – actually, a little taller.
  • It felt very solid. When I gripped it, there was no mistaking it: I held a Pro DSLR in my hand.
  • The ISO sensitivity went all the way to 3200. What’s more, the camera’s Auto ISO function also varied the ISO from 100 to 3200. That’s a rarity. There’s usually an upper limit (something like 800) to Auto ISO on other cameras.
  • The camera uses an 11-point AF system. I complained about the 3-point AF on the E-510, and it looks like that’s not a problem on the E-3. It could focus very fast in lower light conditions, even at f/4.
  • The CMOS resolution is 10.1 megapixels. I honestly expected it to be 12 megapixels, just because everyone is pushing the envelope on resolution these days. I have a feeling this may be a limitation of the sensor’s surface area. The more megapixels one crams onto a sensor, the more chance there is for noise in lower light. It’ll be very interesting to watch and see how Olympus deals with the need for increased resolution in their Four-Thirds system.
  • The LCD screen swivels out, just like on the E-330.

Here are some more photos of the E-3, from various angles. The E-3 was launched with a brand new lens, the 12-60mm f/2.8-4. The effective focal range of this lens is 24-120mm, because of the 2x crop factor of the Four-Thirds system sensors.

I didn’t get a chance to play too much with the controls on the camera. One thing to say here is that Olympus built in a lot of buttons to allow for one-touch access to the camera’s most-used functions. I did find it a bit awkward to change the mode and ISO settings. To change the mode, I had to press the Mode button on the camera’s top left side, then rotate the back dial. To change the ISO, I had to press the ISO button on the top right of the camera, then rotate the front dial (located underneath the ISO button). Both movements felt odd, and I wondered how this would work out in the field.

To be fair, I don’t know if that was the right or only way to change those settings, and I can’t really judge the placement and ergonomics behind the controls after only a few minutes of trying out the E-3. I did like the idea of having two dials, one for the thumb and one for the index finger. I look forward to trying out a review unit for my usual 30 days, and then deciding if the controls work well or not.

I took a few photos at high ISO (1600 and 3200) and was pleasantly surprised by the low noise visible on the camera’s LCD screen, even at f/4. Since I used my own CF card to take the photos, I really looked forward to examining those photos closer when I got home. Unfortunately, one of the Olympus representatives present at the event saw me do it and erased my card. His reasoning was that the camera’s firmware is not yet final, and he didn’t want me to get the wrong impression about the E-3′s capabilities. Sounds logical, and he apologized profusely, but I still couldn’t help feeling it was a pretty stinky thing to do to me, right after I’d talked with an Olympus engineer from Japan who had no problem whatsoever with the photos I’d taken, and who actually encouraged me to go home and have a look at them on my computer. I have to say I was pretty disappointed about that, but I didn’t let it ruin my evening.

Olympus launched three new lenses with the camera. Two were new (12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD and 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD), and one was re-engineered (50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD). They also launched a re-engineered FL-50 speedlite. I realized once more the big advantage of the Four-Thirds system when I looked at their lens line-up, which was on display at the event. They have a 150mm f/2.0 lens, and a 300mm f/2.8 lens. You may not think that’s much until you realize their crop factor is 2x. That means that they’ve really got a 300mm f/2.0 lens and a 600mm f/2.8 lens. Let that sink in for a bit. That’s pretty spectacular. No one has lenses with that focal reach and at that large aperture on the market. To think that you can get f/2.8 at 600mm effective focal length is mind-boggling to me. Wow.

Overall, the E-3 is truly the new flagship camera from Olympus. It represents the culmination of their efforts in many areas: the Four-Thirds system, AF, durability, ruggedness, optics and image processing. Now that it has arrived, I’m sure many people, including myself, can’t wait to try it out and see what it can do.

I put together a short video (about 4 minutes) of the party. It ends with the lens line-up and a cross-section of the E-3 with the 12-60mm lens mounted on. It’s pretty cool, and it gives you a unique look at the camera from the inside out. You can watch it below or here.

I’ve also got more photos from the event below. They were not taken with the E-3 (for the reason given a few paragraphs above). They were taken with my Canon 5D.

There were some really, really cool ice sculptures on display at the event. There was even a bar made out of ice, with the Olympus logo embedded in it.

Rhomboid

Mellow yellow

Ice sculpture

The guts of the E-3 were on display.

The components of the E-3 DSLR

Gene Hirschel of Internet News was there. I met him at the previous Olympus PR event, which announced the E-510 DSLR.

Gene Hirschel

John Isaac is one of the Olympus Pro photographers, and he’s currently specializing in wildlife. He worked at the UN for 30 years as an official photographer.

John Isaac

The man below is the sculptor of the many amazing crystal figures on display at the event. I have a photo of one of them below, and they’re also featured in the short video I made. I’m terrible with names and I didn’t catch his.

Crystal sculptor

One of the crystal sculptures

Guess who took this photo of us? It was Anne Day, and she used my 5D. I consider it a privilege, especially after I saw some of the other people whose photographs she’s taken. Have a look at her site and see what I mean.

Ligia and Raoul

Here’s Anne Day in person:

Anne Day

I took this as I rested on a table, watching slideshows of travel photography. The blue light of the LCD projected reflected in my glass of tonic water.

A glass of tonic water by candlelight

I caught Ligia thinking about something when I took this.

Ligia

If you thought Ligia’s photo was out of focus, you’re going to get a real surprise out of the next one. The thing is, I LOVE out of focus photographs. There’s a certain sweet spot that varies with lighting, distance and focal length, but if you get it just right, the colors really pop, and the shapes become very interesting. These are people at the launch party. I’m probably going to share more of my out of focus photographs in the near future. I’ve been accumulating a lot of them within the past several months.

People at the launch party

To demonstrate the E-3′s dust proofing, they buried two cameras in sand. They’re supposed to still work without any problems after this happens to them. I didn’t try them out, but it’s very likely that they worked just fine afterwards.

Olympus E-3 buried in sand

Olympus E-3 buried in sand

Gary Kralle (one of the other Olympus Pros), John Isaac and a friend were talking when I took this photo. Gary came up to me afterwards and we chatted a bit about cameras.

Gary Kralle, John Isaac and friend

I love abstract shots that emphasize bokeh. Here are a few that I took at that night.

Grow

Cactus

Four lights

When we left, there were swag bags ready for us. Here’s what was inside: a travel document holder, a pen, a paperweight, a coaster, and lots of details on the E-3. All were emblazoned with the Olympus logo. Pretty nice!

Swag from launch party

Michael Bourne, thank you very much for the invite! I look forward to reviewing the E-3 properly when it becomes available.

More information:

Camera review: Olympus EVOLT E-510 DSLR

Back in August 1st, Olympus PR invited me to attend the Legg Mason Tennis Classic here in DC and shoot with their new DSLR, the EVOLT E-510. I enjoyed myself thoroughly at that event, and my thanks go out to Michael Bourne from Mullen, the agency that handles the PR for Olympus.

When I arrived there, I was given a review kit for the E-510, containing the camera, the FL-36 speedlite, and the two-lens kit (14-42mm and 40-150mm). For my review, I did what I usually do: I used the review unit as my primary camera for a month, taking note of the experience. What you’ll get now are my impressions of the camera, after taking thousands of photographs with it in various light and weather conditions, indoors and outdoors. You can choose to watch it below or here, and to download it as well. My full written review is enclosed below as well.

The E-510 is a prosumer camera made to be portable, affordable and easy to use. The E-510, a 10-megapixel DSLR, is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the E-500, which I reviewed this past January. Even though it’s smaller, the grip was designed so well that I could hold the camera comfortably, without missing the heft of the E-500 or that of my personal camera, the Canon 5D. (I like my cameras a little chunky, they’re easier to stabilize that way.) The E-510 was even lighter than I thought with a lens mounted on it. The two-lens kit includes two premium lenses designed for travel and portability. They’re incredibly light given their focal range. I expected the 14-42mm lens to be light, but I was blown away by how small and light the 40-150mm lens was. Olympus really did an amazing job with the lenses and the camera when it came to portability. The whole kit (camera, lenses, speedlite and charger) was so light I could carry it anywhere very easily. I could run with it and barely felt its weight — as a matter of fact, I did just that on a couple of hikes through the forest.

The thing to remember when looking at focal lengths with any Olympus DSLR is that they’ve got a 2x crop factor. It’s because they use the 4:3 standard, which specifies a sensor size of approximately half the dimensions of a full frame sensor (17.3 mm vs. 36 mm and 13 mm vs. 24 mm). This means the surface area of the sensor is 1/4th that of a full frame sensor. It also means you need to multiply the focal length listed on each lens by two in order to get the effective focal length. If the math is a bit confusing, just keep remember the crop factor and you’ll do fine.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the two kit lenses. The wide angle zoom, 14-42mm, yielded an effective focal range of 28-84mm. The tele zoom, with a 40-150mm range, yielded an effective focal range of 80-300mm. Now do you understand why I was amazed by how light and small the lenses were? Try finding an 80-300mm zoom lens from another DSLR manufacturer, and I guarantee you that it won’t be this small and light. Olympus can accomplish this because of their sensor’s form factor. It’s a small sensor, 1/4th the surface area of a full frame sensor. That means they need less glass in the lenses, because there’s less sensor to cover with the glass. Because there’s less glass, the lenses are easier to make. You get the same optical quality, but the lenses are cheaper, lighter and smaller.

As long as I’m talking about the sensor, I should mention that it’s a Live MOS, which gives it the ability to do Live View (it lets you compose photos on the LCD instead of the viewfinder). There is a slight delay between the time that you press the shutter button and the photo is taken when using Live View. The advantage is that you can zoom into the photo up to 10x, on screen, and make sure your focus is tack sharp. This is particularly useful for macro photography.

If you’re graduating to the E-510 from a point and shoot, you may say “Big deal, I’ve composed photos on the LCD screen all along. What’s the difference?” Well, the difference is huge. Until Olympus introduced Live View, no other prosumer DSLRs on the market offered it. The mechanisms were much too complicated. Because CCD sensors were in use on most DSLRs until recently, separate CMOS sensors would have needed to be installed in the camera, and light diverted to them with additional mirrors. As a matter of fact, Olympus’ first Live View DSLR, the E-330, functions through that mechanism. Things there are complicated, and the potential for breakdown is increased. But with the introduction of the E-410 and E-510, Olympus switched to CMOS sensors altogether. This allowed them to use the same sensor for both photographs and Live View, dramatically simplifying the mechanism involved. Other camera manufacturers soon followed suit, and now we have both Canon and Nikon DSLRs with the same capabilities. Nikon also switched from CCD to CMOS sensors in their recent DSLRs, the D300 and D3.

To get back to Point and Shoot cameras, they use CCD sensors. That means they have little rinky-dink CMOS sensors hidden away next to the CCD sensor, and they use those to let you compose on screen and record movies. But those tiny sensors have pathetic imaging capabilities, and understandably so. By and large, Point and Shoot cameras are small and inexpensive. Manufacturers can’t afford to cram expensive components in there. Not so in the E-510 and other DSLRs that have Live View or its equivalent. They use the same large, expensive sensor for everything. While they won’t let you record movies, they will allow you to see very accurately what your camera sees, directly through the lens, and will automatically compensate for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance settings so you can see how a photo will look before you press the shutter button.

The camera also features Olympus’ SSWF (Super Sonic Wave Filter) technology, which shakes dust off the sensor. Olympus was the first company to introduce this feature, and other DSLR manufacturers only recently introduced similar technology on their cameras. The SSWF light is located next to the shutter button on top of the camera, and it flashes blue when it’s active. I can tell you that it does work. I did not have to sit there with the Heal tool, removing dust spots from the photos taken with my E-510, whereas I have to do that on a regular basis when I take photos with other DSLRs.

Another important feature built right into the camera is the sensor-shift image stabilization. It stabilizes the image by shifting the sensor on both the X and Y axis (horizontally and vertically). You can hear it working on longer exposures. It works pretty well. But don’t forget to switch it off when you mount the camera on a tripod, otherwise you’ll get blurry photos. This is a pretty common bug with image stabilization technologies, and it doesn’t matter when they’re built into the camera or the lenses. When the camera is kept very stable, they go nuts trying to stabilize what doesn’t need to be stabilized. The end result is a blurry photo. So switch off the IS.

The advantage of in-camera stabilization versus in-lens stabilization is that it’s cheaper over the long term. You can use any sort of compatible lens (older or newer) with that camera, and you’ll be able to take advantage of the image stabilization with every single lens. That’s not the case with in-lens stabilization, which, as its name implies, is located in the lens. That means each of those lenses will cost more, and their cost adds up as you buy more of them. To be fair, it seems that in-lens stabilization works over a greater range of f-stops in real-life use than in-camera stabilization. But you can’t argue with the price difference, and the results are pretty good, too.

The photo you see here was taken at a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second, as I was bent over a brook, looking at a crayfish. If you take photographs yourself, then you know that you can’t keep your body very stable when you’re bent over, unless you’ve stabilized yourself somehow, which was not the case here. Yet that photo came out clear and sharp, even at 100%. The water even managed to look a little oily, which only happens with longer exposures.

Other useful features of the camera are the many scene modes, and the ability to write to CF, Microdive and xD cards. To find two-card slots on other DSLR brands, you have to look to the professional models (over $4,000). Yet Olympus includes that option on the very affordable, prosumer-oriented E-510. That’s a really nice touch.

The E-510 uses the new TruePic III image processor, which gives better colors and more accurate skin tones. I found that to be true as I used the camera. Where I found this image processor similar to the TruePic II (used in the E-500) was in the auto white-balance, which tended to err on the side of colder color temperatures. Thankfully, I shot in RAW, so I was able to adjust the WB in post-processing, but those shooting in JPG mode may want to be aware of this and adjust the White Balance accordingly before using the camera. Personally, I prefer cameras that err on the side of warmer color temperatures (but not too warm, because that can get pretty ugly). My Canon 5D does a great job with the auto white balance. But I expect that from it. It cost three times as much as the E-510.

The autofocus still uses only three focus points, and yes, that makes a difference. I found it to be slower than autofocus on cameras that use more focus points. It tended to hunt sometimes, even in broad daylight. But overall, it worked pretty well, and the focusing delay wasn’t significant.

Battery life is advertised at 650 shots per charge. In practice, I found that I got about 800 shots per charge. Maybe that’s just me. I always seem to get more shots per charge than the specs.

I use Adobe Lightroom to post-process all my photos, regardless of what camera I use. I noticed that RAW files created by Olympus cameras (both the E-500 and E-510 are subject to this), take longer to load fully in Lightroom than RAW files created by Canon cameras. I’m not sure why this is, and whether it occurs with other workflow-oriented applications, like Aperture, but I thought it worth mentioning. Just in case you’re wondering, I did upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom as of this date, which is version 1.2.

Sensitivity to low light was a point of contention in my review of the E-500, where I noted the CCD sensor was prone to lots of chroma noise at higher ISO. Presumably, the Live MOS sensor of the E-510 has better low light performance and generates less noise. In terms of ISO speeds, it goes from 100-1600, like the E-500. I did find less chroma noise when I used it. Luminance noise was about the same, perhaps a little more, but that has to do with CMOS sensors in general.

Basically, I can’t give you a definitive opinion on the camera’s low light performance. The two kit lenses that shipped with my review unit were too slow to properly judge how this camera does in low light situations. The 14-42mm lens was f/3.5-5.6 and the 40-150mm lens was f/4.5-5.6. To judge a camera’s performance in low light, you’d need faster lenses, ones that can open up to at least f/2.0. Ideally, the lenses should open up to f/1.8, f/1.4 or f/1.2. I asked Olympus to send me such a faster lens, but they weren’t able to do that within the review period. As I told them, I’d be glad to test the camera with a fast lens if they can arrange it at some point in the future, and report on my findings.

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also show you some more photos taken with the camera. They’re enclosed in the photo gallery above. You can also view all of my published photos from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which were all taken with the E-510.

The E-510 is a great all-around DSLR. It’s light, affordable, packed with features and options, and it will help you get great photos. I would definitely recommend it to someone who’s looking to purchase a DSLR and lens kit for well under $1,000.

More information:

Camera preview: Nikon D3 and D300 DSLRs

On August 23, 2007, Nikon introduced two new DSLRs to the market: the full frame D3, and the D300, an upgrade to the D200. I’m late with this bit of news — I meant to publish the post sooner, but I was out of the country and I had less access to the internet that I’d hoped. Still, since I went to the trouble of getting nice studio pics for the two cameras, I thought I’d write about it anyway, late or not.

First, a few photos. There’s the D3 below, and the D300 is right after it.

These two cameras have gotten plenty of coverage already. What else is there to be said? Well, remember the big CCD vs. CMOS arguments that went on and on for years? Hmm, let’s see, who was it that argued for CCD? Why, it was Nikon, of course. What have they just done? They’ve switched to CMOS entirely for their new DSLRs.

There was another argument thrown around, also by Nikon and its supporters. Um, yes, I remember now, it had something to do with full-frame vs. cropped sensors. I’m paraphrasing here, but Nikon people were saying something along the lines of “full-frame isn’t needed for digital, it’s useless — we can accomplish everything we want with a cropped sensor.” So, what just happened? Nikon put out a full-frame DSLR.

Short of holding my brother’s D70s in my hand, changing the lens, cleaning its sensor and taking a few photos, I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with Nikon cameras. I considered buying the D200 this past spring, but opted for the Canon 5D instead. I can tell you what my brother says about his D70s — and believe me, it’s not flattering… It turns out there was a ridiculously high rate of factory defects with that camera, particularly when it came to autofocus. His camera can’t autofocus to save its life. He’s had to use manual focus ever since he bought the camera. He’s finally going to pay to repair it, after more than one and a half years of use. He’d have sent it to Nikon for repair while the warranty was still good, but there are no official Nikon reps in Romania, which is where he lives and works.

We sat there comparing on-screen menus between his D70s and my Canon 5D. He couldn’t believe how easy it was to navigate the menus on my 5D, and to get the settings that he wanted, the first time, right away. He kept mumbling under his breath about how pathetic the D70s was, and how he could never find stuff when he was pressed for time. Heck, I tried to help him find the sensor cleaning mode and gave up after several minutes. We just couldn’t find it. We ended up putting the camera in mirror lock-up mode, pressing the shutter and cleaning the sensor that way. That’s pretty pathetic from a UI (User Interface) point of view.

On the other hand, I’ve heard some people praise Nikon’s controls. I don’t get it. Perhaps if you’ve been a Nikon guy for years, the stuff is just easier to find, but they sure don’t make it easy for someone who picks up the camera and wants to use it. Canon does make it easy, and that’s one of the reasons I like them.

There’s another thing I can say for Nikon in general. Their PR people gave me the run-around when I tried to get a D200 for review. On the other hand, Olympus and Canon were responsive and willing to send me review units. I’ve also heard of really bad customer support experiences from Nikon users.

Take these experiences for what they’re worth. They may have been isolated incidents — or not. I’m certainly willing to forget my bad experience with Nikon PR if they are interested in sending me a D300 or D3 for review. I’ll do what I usually do, which is to use it as my primary camera for one month, then write an honest, detailed review of the experience.

From a design point of view, these two new cameras look really nice. I can’t tell you how they feel in my hand, since I haven’t had the chance to hold them (yet).

I do want to point out that Nikon has more high-res photos for its cameras than Canon. That’s nice. It gives people a chance to get a closer look at them, and it’s an added convenience. You can see the rest of the photos below.

Here’s that troublesome CMOS that Nikon people used to badmouth in the past. It’s the sensor that does what a CCD cannot, which is to enable Nikon to go all the way to 6400 ISO natively on the D3 and 3200 ISO on the D300 (and even all the way up to 12,800 and 25,600 ISO in expanded mode on the D3).

Yes, ISO-wise, Nikon one-upped Canon, but they haven’t managed to get the same amount of resolution from the full-frame sensor that Canon can get. My 5D has roughly the same resolution as the D3 (12.8 vs. 12.1), while the Canon 1Ds Mark III has 21.1 megapixels — but only goes up to 1600 ISO natively. So there’s a certain give and take here that has to do with the physical limitations (at least to date) of the medium.

If you squeeze more pixels out of the same surface area, the pixel pitch decreases and you end up more prone to noise. If you keep the pixel pitch large, you can get more low-light sensitivity, but you don’t have the resolution. Nikon chose to go for low-light sensitivity with their two newest cameras, which I think is an interesting choice. Perhaps they did it to silence the Nikon critics who kept harping on their noise-prone CCD sensors. Whatever the reason, I’d love to see just how one of these two cameras does in low light with a nice fast lens like a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.2.

Till then, I’ll leave you with more information:

Camera review: Canon EOS 5D DSLR

With the release of the new EOS 40D and EOS-1Ds Mark III, it’s easy to forget the camera that changed the entire market: the EOS 5D. It was the first affordable full-frame sensor DSLR ever. I bought it in April of this year, and I still don’t regret the purchase. As a matter of fact, I love my 5D!

:!: Updated 2/1/09: I’ve also written about the new 5D Mark II.

Canon EOS 5D (front)

Yes, the newer models that came out have more resolution and low light sensitivity, in addition to the EOS Integrated Cleaning System, which shakes dust off the sensor. It’s annoying to have to clean my 5D’s sensor with swabs once in a while, and to get out my bulb air blower and make sure there’s nothing inside the sensor chamber, but I don’t mind it that much — except when I have to use the Heal brush to get that dust off my photos. Even then, Adobe Lightroom makes it a breeze with its wonderful Heal/Clone tool.

I went back through Canon’s PR section and dug up the 5D’s original press release. You know how we have a healthy amount of mistrust when we read press releases? Well, read through that one and tell me if anything written there turned out to be untrue.

All these new models make me wonder what Canon will do with the 5D. I don’t think the 5D will go away. It fulfills a very important role in the marketplace and it’s beloved by many photographers. But what will happen come November? Will Canon announce a second-generation 5D? I’d kind of like them to hold off on upgrading the 5D till next spring, and I recognize that I’m entirely biased when I say that.

Whenever they decide to upgrade it, here’s what I think will happen:

  • It will get the EOS Integrated Cleaning system
  • It will get Live View
  • The pixel count will go up, possibly to 16 megapixels, but not much beyond that. If they go up higher, the renowned low light sensitivity of the 5D will suffer. Remember, pixel pitch (the space that each pixel occupies on the sensor) has a lot to do with low light sensitivity. The more pixels you squeeze on that sensor, that harder it is to keep noise in check. The DIGIC III processor should help with this, and putting microlenses over each pixel should also help, but I don’t think the new 5D will get more than 16 megapixels. Keeping all this in mind, I’d really like the new 5D to be able to go up to 3200 ISO natively, and to 6400 ISO with expansion turned on.
  • The battery life will go up slightly
  • The body will get weatherproofing
  • The AF will get upgraded with the new system present on the Mark III cameras
  • Exposure metering will get more zones, possibly as many as the new 1Ds Mark III, or at least as many as the new 40D
  • Shutter durability will be increased to 300,000 cycles from 100,000 cycles
  • The LCD screen will be upgraded to 3 inches
  • The retail price will be around $3,300, just like with the previous model, and the street price will stick pretty close to that for the first few months after the launch

Meanwhile, the existing 5D cameras aren’t outdated by any measurement, and I look forward to using mine for a long time to come. It was a significant investment for me, and I’ll try to get at least 3 years from it before I upgrade.

Buy the Canon EOS 5D

Camera preview: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR

On the same day that it released information about the upcoming EOS 40D DSLR, Canon dropped a bombshell. The much-expected 1Ds Mark III is ready, and will begin shipping in November. We all knew it was coming, but what we didn’t expect was the medium format-like resolution: a whopping 21.1 megapixels!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (front)

Here are the specs where the 1Ds Mark III differs from the 1Ds Mark II:

  • Resolution: 21.1 megapixels vs. 16.7 megapixels
  • Processing engine: DIGIC III vs. DIGIC II
  • AF: re-designed 45-point vs. previous-generation 45-point AF (there were some issues with this new AF system in the 1D Mark III, and I hope they’ve been addressed by now)
  • Color depth: 14-bit vs. 12-bit
  • Live View
  • Integrated sensor cleaning
  • WB: 12 vs. 10 settings
  • Viewfinder magnification: 0.76x vs. 0.70x
  • Exposure control: 63-zone vs. 21-zone metering
  • Drive speed: 5 fps vs. 4 fps
  • LCD monitor: 3 inches vs. 2 inches
  • Shutter durability: 300,000 cycles vs. 100,000 cycles
  • Battery: lithium-ion (LP-E4) vs. Ni-MH (NP-E3)
  • Battery life: better, but no data provided vs. 800-1200 shots/battery/charge with the 1Ds Mark II
  • Weight, body only: 1,205 grams vs. 1215 grams

As Canon themselves point out, they wanted to venture into the realm of high-fashion and commercial studio photography with the new 1Ds. Traditionally, medium-format cameras dominated those markets. Besides the wonderful resolution, the 1Ds would bring two other things: portability and affordability. Medium-format cameras are more expensive, and they’re usually heavier. Let’s not forget the 1Ds also goes up to 1,600 ISO, which is unheard of in medium format cameras with digital backs. The ISO range there is usually 100-400, with the occasional 800 seen in some models. The additional ISO range should provide those photographers with more creative uses of light and more flexibility in various conditions.

The camera uses the new DIGIC III image processor introduced with the 1D Mark III earlier this year. But it uses two of them, working in parallel. There’s a lot of data crunching to be done when the resolution is 21.1 megapixels and the frame rate is 5 fps! The CMOS sensor reads out to both processors through eight channels, ensuring fast signal transfers.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (back)

The 1Ds also features a new 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion process, which means that it can recognize 16,384 colors per channel — four times the number of colors recognized by 12-bit cameras like the 1Ds Mark II or the 5D.

In addition to using CF type-I and II cards, the camera is also compatible with the UDMA specification, which doubles the data transfer speed of a normal CF card when used with UDMA-compliant cards.

The sensitivity of the new AF system’s sensor has been doubled to EV-1, for greater accuracy in low light. The AF point of focus can also be micro-adjusted based on the type of lens used, and the focus-tracking sensitivity can also be finely adjusted.

Another really nice feature is Live View, which works in much the same way as on the 40D — see my review of it for those details. The Live View function also works with the EOS Utility software, which means you can see just what the camera sees through your computer’s monitor, and control it remotely for studio sessions.

The EOS Integrated Cleaning System shakes off dust from the low-pass plate installed in front of the sensor with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is turned on or off. A special adhesive collar installed around the sensor collects the dust and holds it there.

Finally, comprehensive weatherproofing is present at 76 locations on the camera, providing protection and allowing the use of the camera in demanding conditions.

The camera will start shipping in November and retail for $7,999. I expect the street price to stick pretty close to that for at least a few months after the launch.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (side)

More information: