Tag Archives: lenses

Camera preview: Canon EOS Rebel XSi DSLR

This past Thursday, Canon announced their newest DSLR, the Canon EOS Rebel XSi. This camera ups the ante for every entry-level DSLR out there and introduces a host of important new features.

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (front 3q)

In a nutshell, Canon has integrated features from its more expensive DSLRs, like the DIGIC III processing engine and better AF, it has replaced the cheap-looking grip material with soft rubber, and it has increased the resolution from 10 to 12.2 megapixels. There are a number of other significant differences between the XSi and the XTi (which I reviewed a few months ago), and I’m going to talk about them below.

Analysis

  • XSi now uses SD cards instead of CF cards. This was a bit of a shock to me, but there it is. I suppose with such a small camera body, it made more sense, but I prefer CF cards, they’re sturdier.
  • Higher resolution: 12.2 megapixels vs 10 megapixels for XTi
  • Soft rubber grip: no more of that cheap-looking plastic material used on the XTi
  • 3″ LCD at 230,000 pixels
  • Sensor equipped with microlenses over each pixel, to reduce noise and enhance sensitivity
  • 14-bit A/D processor means the XSI can record up to 16,384 colors per channel
  • DIGIC III image processor: previously only available on the 40D and 1D series cameras.
  • Live View now includes AF: on the XTi and 40D, you have to press a button in order to focus the camera in Live View
  • Better AF sensor: higher subject detection capabilities and more precise focusing with fast lenses (f/2.8 or better)
  • Faster frame rate: 3.5 fps vs 3 fps for XTi
  • Thinner, wider, taller than XTi: 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in vs. 4.98 x 3.71 x 2.56 in
  • Different battery: LP-E5 vs. NB-2LH. Press release states 50% more shots per charge than previous battery, but specs state same approximate life. Hmm…
  • Highlight Tone Priority, High ISO Noise Reduction and Auto Lighting Optimizer are three features brought down from Canon’s more expensive cameras to improve image quality.
  • Backup battery now built in, not replaceable. The backup battery is the one that keeps camera time. It used to be a CR2016 Lithium battery, now it’s listed as a built-in battery. Perhaps this is a specs typo, someone correct me if they have more accurate information.
  • Offered with two kit lenses: the EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS and the EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (back)

By offering the camera with two image-stabilized kit lenses whose 35mm effective combined range goes from 28.8-400mm, and by upping the resolution from 10 to 12.2 megapixels, Canon is clearly going after its competitors. It wants to continue to dominate the DSLR market, and with such an impressive entry-level DSLR, it will likely do so.

The resolution itself is another mind-boggling upgrade. I didn’t think 12 megapixels would be offered in the Rebel or another entry-level DSLR so soon, particularly when the 40D only has 10 megapixels and the 5D (my current camera) is the reigning king at 12.8 megapixels, but here’s the XSi, and there’s no arguing with that figure. If nothing else, this means the new 5D “Mark II”, which is expected to be announced in April, will have at least 16 megapixels resolution, possibly even 18 megapixels. It’s only natural, given that the new 1Ds Mark III stands at 22 megapixels.

Buy the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (front 3q with grip)

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Camera review: Kodak EasyShare v610 Dual Lens

I have owned the Kodak EasyShare v610 Dual Lens digital camera for the past year and a half, and I’ve meant to write about it for some time. This will be a nostalgic review, since the camera is no longer being made.

Last weekend, I put together an 8-minute video review, and also took some photographs of the camera. I’ll accompany those two offerings with my insights, gathered after a LOT of use in just about any weather and light conditions. At the end of the review, I’ll also post selected photos taken with the camera.

There’s what the camera looks like at first glance. I purchased a matching leather case for it, and I’m not sorry I did it. It protected the LCD screen from scratches, and it helped protect the camera itself when I threw it about from bag to bag. Back when I was in college, in the mid 90s, my parents gave me a first generation Canon Elph. It used APS film, and it was a small, beautiful and elegantly designed little camera for its time. I’m talking about this because I got a leather case for that camera as well, and it helped keep that camera running in good condition for several years. My advice to you if you get a small camera is to get a good case for it as well. Make it sturdy, so it can withstand abuse, and make it stylish, so you won’t be ashamed to be seen with it in public. Leather fits that bill quite nicely, doesn’t it?

Video review

The video I recorded is enclosed below. You can also view it here, or download it if you like. If you’ve seen some of my other video reviews, you’ll have to excuse the lower overall quality of this one. I shot it this past Sunday, informally, during a very hectic weekend. I had a limited amount of time at my disposal, I was rushed, and it shows. But I managed to get my points across, and I’m happy about that, so it is worth watching.

Kodak EasyShare v610 from Raoul Pop on Vimeo and on YouTube

Dual lenses

One of the striking features of the camera is its dual lens setup. Back when it came out, a 10x zoom on a camera this compact was virtually unheard of. It’s still fairly uncommon. The only way this could be accomplished, while still keeping things looking great and with no external zoom extending outwards from the camera body, was with two lenses, one for closer distances, and one for what could be called tele. The first lens — the bottom one — is for 1-5x, and the second lens — the top, larger one — is for 5-10x, as you can see below.

Kodak v610 dual lens setup

The two lenses together have an astounding range of 38-380 equivalent focal millimeters. The first lens goes from 38-114mm, and the second goes from 130-380mm. I have good things to say about the quality of the optics. The images were sharp when in focus, and there was little fringing and chromatic aberration. There were two drawbacks to the lenses.

  • One, they were fairly slow. What I mean by that is that they didn’t open up quite enough, and that tended to make the camera pretty hard to use in low light situations without a tripod. The smaller lens (1-5x) is rated from f/3.9 to f/4.4, and the large lens (5-10x) is rated to f/4.8.
  • Two, there was a pause when zooming out past the 5x mark. The camera’s zoom would stop when it reached the end of the focusing range of the first lens, and I would have to press the tele button again to pick up the next lens and focus further than that. Over long periods of use, that tended to be pretty annoying.

But I didn’t let these things bother me too much. After all, I got 10x zoom in a very compact package.

Kodak v610 mode and on/off buttons

Controls and ease of use

What I liked most about the camera was its ease of use for basic photo taking. That proved to be both good and bad. Anything more advanced (such as long exposures, a change in ISO, or White Balance) required some menu surfing, and any custom settings were erased when the camera was turned off. Even something as simple as delayed exposures (2 or 10 seconds, for example) needed to be set for every single photo where they were needed. One couldn’t just turn on that setting and keep it on. It would reset after every exposure.

Even though I didn’t like this, I can understand the rationale for it very well. After all, this camera is a compact point and shoot meant for people who just want to pull it out and take photos, not for more serious tasks. And let me tell you, if someone that doesn’t know much about cameras picks up a Kodak v610, messes with the settings, and doesn’t know how to get it back to normal, they’ll be VERY much relieved when they find out all they have to do is turn it off, then back on.

The controls on the camera are wonderfully designed. The buttons are either metal or very hard plastic, and I am not about to scratch them to find out what they’re made of. At any rate, they’re the right shape and texture, and it’s fun to press them.

They’re intuitive, they fit well within the camera’s interface, and there aren’t too many of them, which is the right decision for a compact camera such as this.

Kodak v610 zoom and selection controls

I loved the easy way to switch between normal, macro and tele mode. See the big, square button above? Turn the camera on, and you’re in normal mode, where the camera can focus from 2 feet to infinity. Take photos as would normally do. Press the bottom part of the button once, and you’re in macro mode, where the camera can focus from 2 inches to 2.3 feet. Press it again, and you’re in tele mode, where you can take photos of things very far away and not have to worry about focus. The camera focuses to infinity automatically and picks a higher aperture, which means you’ll get a larger depth of field.

The build quality of the camera was evident everywhere. The tripod mount is a great example of this. It was pre-planned and integrated into the silver metal border that lines the camera’s sides. Not only that, but the mount itself is metal, not plastic. Given the camera’s light weight and compact size, one wouldn’t think it’d need a metal tripod mount, but there it is, and I love it!

One point of contention with the camera is the USB connector, which is a custom one. I would have loved to see Kodak put a standard USB mini connector on the camera, but they didn’t. That’s probably because they wanted it to integrate with their camera stands and plug right into their photo printers, but come on, there are volumes to be said about standardization… It’s really important when it comes to good design.

Capabilities

The camera includes a movie mode which records Quicktime movies using MPEG-4 compression at 30fps. I found the quality of the movies (640×480 pixels) to be plenty for my on-the-go needs, and often used it as my primary video camera. I have a confession to make: it was also my only video camera. :-) Remember my video review of the Canon Rebel XTi? It was done with the Kodak v610 mounted to a tripod. Came out great, didn’t it?

With a 2GB SD card in the camera, it could record over 1,100 photos or 1 hour of video, which is more than plenty for such a compact camera. The only problem was, the camera’s battery would only last for about 125 photos. I’m not sure how many minutes of video the camera could do on a fully charged battery, so I can’t speak for that. But I did find myself frustrated by the low battery life when taking photos, and ended up purchasing a second battery. With judicious use of the zoom and LCD screen, I found I could extend the battery life to 135-150 photos, but that was still not quite enough for me, and it was pretty frustrating to be out in the city, taking photos, only to have the camera die on me.

Again, I think this is a design issue, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a flaw. This is a small, stylish camera meant for the person who would pull it out every once in a while and take a few photos, not for someone who wants to take lots of photos. That person should opt for a bigger camera with more battery life.

One other point I wanted to mention was the sensor’s light sensitivity. It was capable of 64-800 ISO on paper. In real life, I found 400 ISO to be barely acceptable, and 800 ISO unusable. 64, 100 and 200 worked out great. If I left it on Auto ISO, it varied it between 64-200 automatically to get the optimal exposure. The camera changed the ISO settings in increments of 10 between 70-200 ISO, and I’d always get a chuckle out of seeing all sorts of ISO speeds show up in my photos’ meta-data.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the camera. I say “was” because I recently gave it to my parents. They had a more complicated digital camera, and they often couldn’t understand the settings and were frustrated because they couldn’t get the photos they wanted. The Kodak v610 will work out much better for them since it’s more compact, it’s fully automatic, and it resets its settings with every “reboot”.

The camera also has a blurry photo indicator that can be turned on. If a photo is good, a little green hand will appear. If the photo is marginally acceptable, the little hand will turn orange. And if the photo’s not good at all, the little hand will turn red. That’s easy enough for anyone to understand. I told them to re-take any photos where the little hand will turn red, and if they can’t get anything orange or green to seek more light or give up. I think they’ll finally be able to get more decent photos now.

Let me show you a few photos I took with the camera to illustrate what it could do. I can’t emphasize enough how useful that 10x zoom proved to be, and you’ll see what I mean as you look at the photos.

Sample photos

This first photo is quite appropriate for this time of the year, as it represents a group of merry carolers on a sled.

This is another macro shot, this time of colorful beads in a public market.

The wide focal range allowed me to get photos of entire valleys from mountain tops. This is a photo of a portion of the Shenandoah Valley, as seen from Skyline Drive. Here you can see the typical bluish tinge caused by UV haze. This gets exacerbated by the CCD sensors of smaller cameras. I’ve seen it on many small cameras. For example, the iPhone’s built-in camera suffers from this defect to what I consider an unacceptable degree.

The camera’s CCD sensor was fairly adept at capturing color.

These very red and vibrant fall foliage was captured last year at our local Audubon Naturalist Society in Bethesda, MD.

During one weekend morning, I decided to set up the camera on a tripod and play around with water drops on petals. I got some really nice photos out of that session. This is one of them.

Waterdrops on petals

There’s a WWI memorial in downtown DC, and the crowning piece is this golden statue.

Liberty points the way

I love great sunrises, and I captured many of them with the Kodak v610. This is one of those photos.

Passionate sunrise

The inside courtyard of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC is shown below. The camera always managed to expose photos decently when confronted with situations like this: a wall in shade and the bright sky above. A LOT of cameras have problem with this kind of a setup, including my 5D, which tends to overexpose the sky.

Watergate

Taken during a fierce snowstorm (we get one of those every year around here). It’s too bad the snow melts away so quickly afterwards.

During the snowfall

The next day, snow began to melt, as expected. I rushed to get a few photos before it would all be gone. This photo was post-processed to emphasize the frozen atmosphere — wishful thinking on my part, since the temperature was above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frozen

We were walking along the C&O Canal this past spring, and spotted a fox walking around in the forest. It stopped to check us out as well. This is where the camera’s 10x zoom was very useful. We were able to get up close even though we were separated by a body of water.

Fox in spring

The camera’s compact size made it a breeze to use when an opportune moment was spotted, like with this lone tulip outlined against a green wall.

Tulip

The zoom once again proved useful for getting closer to this lovely country house. In reality it was quite far from the road.

Lovely country house

Although there’s some lens flare in this photo, which could have been avoided with a lens hood (but the camera isn’t equipped with one) I love it. This is a portion of the C&O Canal where the water has pooled and is now stationary. Since the canal is no longer maintained, this portion has turned into a swamp. While I wouldn’t wade around in it, it makes for an interesting wildlife habitat, and the afternoon light is superb.

C&O Canal, now stationary

Guess where this photo was taken? It was at the top of the Tyson’s Corner Mall parking lot, looking toward DC. Summer was in full swing, and that’s the reason for the rich, deep green foliage of the trees.

Virginia forest from above

This was taken more recently, right in my community. Those beautiful golden hues can be seen every fall, but I won’t tell you where. I’ll keep it a secret for now. :-)

Golden fall foliage

I leave you with another beautiful sunrise.

Golden sunrise

Summary

If you’re interested in a capable little point and shoot with a very powerful zoom for its size, try finding the Kodak v610. I checked and it’s out of stock even at Kodak’s own online store. It seems only Amazon still has a few units left. Though it’s no longer being made, if you can pick up a used one at a reasonable price and provided you understand its limitations, I think you’ll enjoy using it.

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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.

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Lens comparison: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Zoom vs EF 24-105mm f/4L IS Zoom

Have you ever wondered how the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L and EF 24-105mm f/4L zoom lenses would do if compared side by side? Which one would come out as the winner in real-world use? Here’s my answer to that question.

First, some recommended reading:

Those two reviews of mine should give you a good idea of what each lens can do. Now let’s talk about how they do when they’re together. :-) Here’s a photo of the two lenses. As you can see right away, the 24-105mm is smaller in both height and girth — it’s shorter and a little narrower than the 24-70mm.

When we look at the rear lens elements, we can see some differences there as well. The 24-105mm lens is on the left. If you look carefully, you can see a baffle in place. The 24-70mm lens has no baffle.

It’s possible that the baffle is there in order to reduce possible flare effects, since the focal range is longer. It could also be there to baffle us — after all, it is a baffle. :-) It’s also possible that the optics aren’t as high quality as those in the 24-70mm lens — they’re both priced the same, but the 24-105mm has image stabilization and an extra 35mm of range. On the other hand, I’ve seen a very similar baffle on the EF 14mm f/2.8L prime lens, and no one can say that the 14mm lens is made with cheap glass. So the more likely explanation is that it’s there to reduce lens flare due to the increased focal range.

(By the way, the baffle can be seen even more clearly in this product advisory from Canon warning about unacceptable levels of lens flare in early builds (2005) of the 24-105mm lens.)

Here’s another look at the lenses side by side, this time with the lens controls visible. As you can see, the only thing that’s different on the 24-105mm lens is that it’s got the IS switch. The controls seemed a little thicker on the 24-70mm lens. As for their durability, I assume they’re both long-lasting since these are L series lenses.

Chances are you can already know that the 24-105mm lens is lighter than the 24-70mm lens. It’s no small difference, by the way. The 24-105mm lens is 670g, while the 24-70mm lens is 950g — that’s 280g of difference! While both lenses extend outward as you zoom, the 24-70mm lens is more top-heavy than the 24-105mm lens, and that makes a big difference in wrist fatigue — the 24-105mm lens is less punishing and can be held comfortably for longer periods of time.

The weight difference is remarkable to me because the 24-105mm lens has 18 elements, while the 24-70mm lens has 16 elements. Canon managed to keep the weight down even though they placed extra glass in there and added image stabilization.

There are some limitations to being lighter and smaller though. The 24-105mm lens’ closest focusing distance is 1.48ft or 0.45m, while the 24-70mm lens’ closest focusing distance is 1.25ft or 0.38m. It also looks like the general consensus is that images obtained with the 24-105mm lens are somewhat softer than those obtained with the 24-70mm lens.

Other than the difference in focal lengths, another obvious difference between them is the maximum aperture. The 24-70mm lens opens up to f/2.8, while the 24-105mm lens only opens up to f/4. That’s a full f-stop difference, or a 2x reduction in the amount of light that can enter the lens. This is where the baffle comes in again. Since the baffle itself limits the amount of light that can hit the sensor in order to reduce glare, it stands to reason that the aperture can’t open up any wider. Even if it did, we’d end up seeing the baffle contours in our photos.

What the 24-105mm lens has going for it is the built-in image stabilization, which, in my experience, more than compensates for the reduced maximum aperture. See the photo below. I took it completely handheld (I didn’t prop myself up against anything) at a shutter speed of 1/15th seconds.

I tried to get similar photos with the 24-70mm lens, and I couldn’t, not without leaning against something to stabilize the lens. The slowest shutter speed I could use was 1/30th seconds with that lens. As I concluded in my previous review of the 24-105mm lens, the image stabilization counts for a lot and makes the lens truly versatile and useful.

While I’m talking about versatility, let’s not forget that extra 35mm of focal range. At close distances (6-15 feet), you don’t notice how much it matters, but when you start focusing on things farther away (30-100 feet or more), you realize how valuable those extra millimeters really are!

Let’s not forget bokeh. Both lenses have gorgeous bokeh, but the 24-70mm produces a creamier bokeh. That’s because it opens up all the way to f/2.8, while the other only opens up to f/4. If you do a lot of close-range photography, in tighter spaces, and you really need that bokeh (portraits, etc.), the 24-70mm would probably be a better candidate. This next photo was taken with the 24-70mm lens.

If you’ve got a little wiggle room and can position your subjects further away from things (walls, trees, background), don’t discount the 24-105mm lens. Its bokeh is right up there with the best of them. Have a look below.

In the end, it really comes down to your own, precise needs. I’ve heard of some people who only carry two lenses in their bag: the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm (both of which I reviewed here). They’re both professional-grade, L series lenses. They’re heavy, but they deliver the goods, and they’re versatile.

For my needs, I’d go with the 24-105mm lens. It’s lighter, has extra range, and has built-in image stabilization. I really enjoyed using it, and I seemed to get better photos with it than with the 24-70mm zoom. While it may not be as sharp, I didn’t notice anything that would turn me away from using it. I thought it was a superb lens and couldn’t believe the quality of the optics when I looked at the photos I got with it.

At least one commenter here asked how these two lenses compare, and I hope that I’ve answered that question in as much detail as I could give. If you have any other questions, pose them in the comments on this post, and I’ll try to answer them.

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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.

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Lens review: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Zoom Lens

The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens is the professional standard zoom from Canon, and so far the golden standard for sharpness, contrast and bokeh in a zoom lens. Photographers drool over it and swear by it. Its focal range on a full frame sensor makes it very appealing for event photography. It goes from a wide 24mm to an almost portrait-length 70mm to allow for close-ups. It’s also plenty fast for a zoom — f/2.8 — just about the fastest a zoom lens can get these days. (I’d like to see an f/2.0 standard zoom, but I don’t know when that’ll happen, and the cost will probably be fairly high.)

I’m going to talk exclusively about the 24-70mm lens in this review, but if you’re interested, I also wrote a comparison of this lens and the 24-105mm f/4L zoom. You may want to read that as well, in order to get a better idea of how this lens performs.

As you know if you’re a regular reader, I write about how products feel and the results they give me. My reviews aren’t spec-heavy. I give you my honest opinion about a product, and tell you what results I got with it.

With that in mind, the 24-70mm zoom is a good lens. It’s plenty sharp, has plenty of contrast, and the bokeh is great. I liked it. But it’s heavy — really heavy. When you hold it in your hand, it doesn’t feel that heavy, but when it goes on your camera, your wrist really takes a beating, and it feels as if the camera’s body is going to give. This lens is incredibly front-heavy. That means there’s no chance of holding the camera with one hand for long when you use it. On my 5D, it’s really hard to use the lens without a vertical grip, which gives me more finger room. Without the grip, you have to support the lens itself when you take the shots, and then you have to be careful that you don’t grip the focus ring and impede the auto focus from rotating when you press the shutter button. I use a keyboard and mouse all day long, so I realize I may not be the strongest guy around, but I lift weights once or twice a week. Still, I tell you, this lens really took its toll on my wrist joint and finger muscles. It was a real workout. I didn’t expect this kind of weight from a standard zoom. I did expect it from the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM zoom. If you’re so results-oriented that you’re willing to overlook the weight, great, get it, you’ll love the results.

I mentioned the useful focal range above. Let me illustrate it with a few examples below. At the wide end, you can capture beautiful landscapes… or nice wide angle shots of buildings. At medium range (30-60mm), you can get photos like these. The lens also has a very useful close-focusing range (0.38m), which allows you to get close-ups like you see below.

Let’s talk about low light. This lens has no image stabilization (like the 24-105mm zoom) and that means the maximum aperture of f/2.8 starts to show signs of strain in low light. It means we have to bump up the ISO and make sure the shutter speed stays at or above the focal length, stabilize the camera, and/or use a flash. Like I said in the opening paragraph, this isn’t a fault of the lens — f/2.8 is the fastest aperture for a zoom lens on the market, so that’s just how things are.

I enclosed a few photos taken in low light above. The first was taken inside a piano store, and although there was plenty of fluorescent lighting, I found that it wasn’t quite enough to shoot freely, like I would have done with a faster prime lens. I can’t argue with the sharpness and bokeh though. It’s beautiful.

There’s a second interior photo, where I had to use a speedlite. I used the 580EX II, also from Canon, and bounced it off the white ceiling. The lens does fine with a good speedlite, so that’s no problem.

The last two low light photos were taken in downtown Bethesda at night. For the first, I stabilized the camera with both hands on a balustrade in order to take it. The second photo of a VW Bug was taken handheld from a lower angle.

A lot of photographers use this lens for portraits, so I thought I’d show you a portrait I took with it as well. It’s on my wife’s website, Fun Piano Lessons. The tele end of the focal range is just right for portraits, and the sharpness, contrast and bokeh are great, especially with a wider aperture like the f/4 used in that photo.

All in all, this is a lens that does not disappoint. I expected professional results when I used it, and got them, without a doubt. The only two things that I minded were the weight — in particular its front-heavy distribution — and the lack of image stabilization. But if you were to get this lens and the EF 70-200 mm zoom, you’ll have covered most of the useful focal range you’ll need with just two very versatile lenses. Some food for thought there.

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Lens preview: EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM Prime

Canon chose to announce the availability of a new wide-angle lens along with the EOS-1Ds Mark III. It’s the new EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM prime, which upgrades the existing EF 14mm f/2.8L USM.

The lens will feature the same correction for rectilinear distortion, but with improved dust and water resistance, a round aperture for nice bokeh, and a better-designed cap, that’s held to the lens by a stopper. Having briefly used the existing 14mm prime, I can tell you the lens cap kept falling off, and it was a real hassle to get the lens out of a gear bag if the cap end was facing toward you. It would come off immediately, and then you’d inevitably touch the lens surface with your fingers, which required a cleaning.

The price for this lens will be approximately $400 more than the street price of the existing 14mm prime, at around $2,199.

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