Reviews

My thoughts on Sigma DSLRs

I made a video follow-up to my past articles on Sigma DSLRs (see this and this), where I talk about where Sigma is today and why I think they’re lagging behind the market by 2-3 years.

Sigma’s R&D has not developed new DSLRs fast enough to keep up with market demands and the wonderful capabilities of the Foveon sensor are not put to proper use.

The Foveon sensor is remarkable in that it captures RGB color at each pixel due to its three plates (vs. a single plate in regular sensors). It is supposed to give much more accurate color reproduction than regular sensors.

Unfortunately, because Sigma has not worked fast enough to create DSLRs that can truly compete with those made by more popular camera makers such as Canon and Nikon at all leves (including, but not limited to low light performance and HD video), its DSLR arm now finds itself in a terrible slump.

Their latest offerings, the SD15 and the SD1 have not sold well, and I hope they do something soon in order to catch up with consumer expectations.

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Thoughts

It’s time to demand reliability from DSLR manufacturers

Update: After sending the camera in for service to a Canon authorized repair facility, it turns out I took somewhere between 75,000 – 100,000 shots with my 5D when the shutter mechanism failed. Still, most of what I wrote below is appropriate commentary on the whole situation. 

When DSLRs (and now HDSLRs) cost thousands of dollars, and the manufacturer makes a promise that the shutter in said DSLR is rated for 100,000 shots or 150,000 shots, I think it should no longer be a promise, but a guarantee, and the manufacturer ought to be responsible for the repair to a DSLR whose shutter failed before its rated number of shots.

Look at cars. Some cars cost little more than a top of the line DSLR, but cars have serious warranties. These days, some cars have 10-year warranties on everything. Historically speaking, even if most cars haven’t had good warranties on everything, they’ve had good warranties on the power train — on the basic stuff that makes them go.

On a DSLR, the shutter is part of the camera’s “powertrain”. Without it, the camera can’t take photographs, and a full-frame DSLR that can’t take photographs is a very expensive paperweight.

It’s high time we demanded that DSLR manufacturers come up with warranties for the more expensive DSLRs, where they’ll guarantee that the shutter and the motherboard (pretty much every part that takes photos and writes those photos to a card) will work for a certain amount of time.

If we don’t, we’ll likely run into the situation I’m in right now, where my Canon EOS 5D’s shutter started to fail at under 50,000 shots. Initially, photos taken at 1/6000 sec or higher (1/8000 sec) would come out black or almost black. Now, months later and at around 52,500 shots, even photos taken at 1/1000 sec are severely underexposed.

Have a look at three photos taken with the 5D. The first two were taken at 1/8000 sec shutter speed a couple of months ago, and the third was taken at 1/1000 sec shutter speed a few days ago.

It’s not right that the shutter has started to fail at half its projected life span of 100,000 shots. And what’s even more improper is Canon USA Support’s reply to me. They told me the shutter’s rated life is not a warranty, not even a promise, but an expectancy (an anticipation if you will).

What that means is they can advertise long shutter lives all they want, but they’re not accountable for actual, real-world results from its customers. It’s irresponsible, and it shouldn’t be allowed. When we pay thousands of dollars for a fancy DSLR, we as customers pay that money with certain expectations in mind. Those expectations entail (among others) a need for durability and reliability.

I propose that a set of benchmarks be set for the entire photography industry, where shutter life is one of the differentiating criteria. Processor and camera motherboard life should be another. Manufacturers would then have to offer warranties on these benchmark criteria. I propose 4 or 5-year warranties on the circuits, and on shutter life, the warranty should go as far as its stated life span. If it’s 100,000 shots, then by Noah, it should be 100,000 shots, end of story.

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Reviews

Camera preview: Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR

I’m a little late to the table with my thoughts on the new 5D, but I have an excuse: I’ve been traveling abroad (see this, this and this) and only now managed to sit down and think about it. There’s also an advantage to this: I got to read through the other reviews that have come out before I wrote mine.

So, what sources did I consult?

  • The Canon website was the first place I looked. There’s the official press release for the new 5D, and then the 5D Mark II pages. (I looked at the press release back on September 20th, when it came out.) Canon has also published 1080p HD video clips shot with the new 5D on their website, and they’re definitely worth checking out. They make a point to specify that the clips were shot with a pre-production 5D Mark II, so they may not accurately represent the quality of the production camera.
  • Digital Photography Review put together a very detailed review of the new 5D, as usual. Their review was very helpful to me.
  • The Online Photographer talked about the quality of the 5D’s HD video, and he brought up a good point. I’ll mention it here because I felt the same way when I saw Vincent LaForet’s video: it just wasn’t very good in terms of realization. It didn’t tie together, it felt empty… In a way, this was to be expected when there were only two days to write it, produce it, film it and edit it. But the quality of the video from the 5D Mark II was definitely worth seeing.
  • Robert Reichmann from the The Luminous Landscape posted pre-production video shot with the new 5D and gave his first impressions of the camera. He was in a hurry as well, as he was leaving for a trip to Africa and had only 48 hours with the camera. He says that the video is very high quality (so high that MBPs playing the full resolution video will skip frames), and there is no jellocam effect, where you see balooning artifacts due to slow recording of the data by the CMOS.
  • PopPhoto chimed in with a quick preview that did a little feature comparison between the old and new 5Ds.
  • On Taking Pictures had an interesting first reaction. He pointed out that the AF system should have been improved. It’s still the same 9-point AF found on the original 5D, and it has its limitations, as I can attest.
  • Thomas Hawk wrote up his impressions. He’s excited and plans to get one as soon as they’re available.
  • I found out about a new review aggregation site while I was writing this post. It’s called TestFreaks, and it’s one of the places where I looked for other reviews of the 5D. So far, they’ve posted links to four reviews for this camera, out of which an Italian review was worthwhile, particularly their side-by-side comparison of the old and new 5Ds. The rest of the linked reviews simply spewed the press release, which involves no effort or thought whatsoever. But I think the site is useful as a place to check for reviews when you want to learn more about a product.

What about me? Well, I wrote about the original and new 5D back in August 2007, when I took a shot a predicting the features of its new iteration. And I also wrote another article a little over a month ago, on August 28, where I talked about the coming convergence of DSLRs and video, and predicted that after the launch of Nikon D90’s 720p HD video capabilities, 1080p HD video wouldn’t be far off. Amazingly, Canon had already been at work on that very same feature, and launched it with the new 5D shortly afterward.

Let me first indulge myself and see how right (or wrong) I was in my own predictions about the 5D Mark II:

  • EOS integrated cleaning system (YES)
  • Live View (YES)
  • 16 Megapixels (NO, even better)
  • Up to 3200 ISO (NO, even better)
  • Increased battery life (YES)
  • Weatherproofing (YES)
  • AF upgrade (NO, unfortunately)
  • Increased zones for exposure metering (YES)
  • Shutter durability up to 300,000 cycles (NO, but still increased to 150,000 cycles)
  • 3″ LCD (YES)
  • Retail price $3,300 (NO, it’s $600 lower)

What I did as I read through the official specs found on Canon’s website and through the other reviews was to take notes of the interesting differences between the original 5D and the new 5D.

Original 5D 5D Mark II
12.8 megapixels (4368×2912 pixels) 21.1 megapixels (5616 x 3744 pixels)
DIGIC 2 processor DIGIC 4 processor
12 Bit A/D conversion 14 Bit A/D conversion
Pixel size 8.2 μm Pixel size 6.4 μm and reduced microlens gap
Native ISO capabilities 100-1600;
expanded capabilities 50-3200
Native ISO capabilities of 100-6400;
expanded capabilities 50-25600
Frame rate 3.0 fps Frame rate 3.9 fps
Shutter life 100,000 cycles Shutter life 150,000 cycles
Full HD (1080p) movies encoded with H.264 codec and PCM sound;
1080p movie mode (1920×1080) records clips up to 12 minutes;
480p movie mode (640×480) records clips up to 24 minutes;
Single file size (for movie clips) is limited to 4GB
No internal microphone/speaker;
No microphone input socket
Has microphone input socket to record higher quality audio for video files;
internal microphone on front of camera, and built-in speaker on back of camera
Viewfinder coverage 96% Viewfinder coverage 98%
Can use infrared remotes
Battery BP-511A;
up to 700 shots per charge;
1390 mAh
Battery life LP-E6;
up to 850 shots per charge;
1800 mAh
No additional batter info other than remaining charge improved battery status displayed on screen; camera can memorize batteries by their S/N and show you exactly how much power you have in each one.
RAW shooting enabled in Auto mode
Exposure bracketing +/-2 EV Exposure bracketing up to up to +/-4 EV
Creative Auto mode makes depth of field and exposure adjustments easier (for those that don’t bother to learn the basics…)
Auto Lighting Optimizer evens out harsh highlights and strong shadows
Peripheral Illumination Correction minimizes vignetting effects
Can embed copyright info but not intuitive at all Easier embedding of copyright info and photographer name in each photo taken with camera
Accessory shoe painted black, which leads to paint scratches as speedlites are mounted to camera Accessory shoe now left bare (metal-colored), which is better
2.5″ LCD, not very good at all in sunlight, low resolution 3″ LCD, great in sunlight, high resolution
Uses CF Type I and Type II cards Uses CF Type I, Type II, UDMA and CF+ cards
Auto ISO (100-3200);
can be turned on everywhere but in M mode, which is the way it should be
AF microadjustment
Live View with three AF modes: passive (mirror flips down briefly to focus), contrast detection (mirror stays up) and face detection (self-explanatory)
No water resistance, although I have taken my 5D out in the rain and it did fine as long as I didn’t get it completely wet Water resistance (10mm rain in 3 minutes)
Some dust resistance
2.5″ LCD, not very good at all in sunlight, low resolution 3″ LCD, great in sunlight, high resolution
No Quiet Shooting mode;
mirror slap is pretty loud
Quieter shooting mode available;
mirror will either lock up, or it will move slowly to the halfway position and close normally from there, creating less noise

How could the new 5D be even better?

  • AF should have been upgraded to something faster and more accurate
  • RAW files still CR2 format; it would have been nice to standardize on the DNG format
  • Color space options are still only sRGB or AdobeRGB; what about ProPhotoRGB?
  • HDMI Out miniport puts out great video but NO audio, which is unfortunate
  • Hand grip now slightly thicker, but space between grip and lens barrel slightly smaller, which means you may end up jamming your fingernails into the lens as you hold the camera, should you have thicker fingers. This was a point of contention with the 30D, was addressed in the 40D, and now I see it potentially coming back (though to a lesser degree) in the 5D Mark II.
  • No controls for video other than focus and exposure compensation once you start recording. It really does seem like the video mode was grafted onto the camera, as Luminous Landscape puts it in their review. Plus, the microphone input socket isn’t a pro-level socket, but a plastic one that can easily break if you’re not careful.
  • Recording video will drain the battery a LOT faster than shooting photos. And it will take up space. You’ll go through a single 4GB CF card in about 11-12 minutes if you’re shooting video. I guess this is to be expected given that the camera records full HD video on a huge 35mm sensor.

On the plus side, it’s interesting to note that I paid $100 more for my original 5D back in April of 2007 than what the new 5D Mark II will cost at retail when it hits the market. I bought my 5D for $2800 from Costco, and the new 5D will cost $2,700, but it will have all these incredible new features. Something to think about. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, since I did get about 1 1/2 years about of my 5D before it was rendered outdated by its successor.

So, will I be getting one? Not at the moment, no. My original 5D is still very usable, and I don’t have the deeper pockets of some other folks. I’m still without a good zoom lens. Coincidentally, the same great zoom lens that I like (EF 24-105mm f/4L IS) can be bought as a kit lens with the new 5D, so I definitely encourage you to get it if you don’t have it in your inventory. It will prove its versatility over time, and you will be glad you have it.

At some point in the future, I will be glad to buy the new 5D. Perhaps by that time they’ll have made the video mode more streamlined, and integrated it a little better within the menus and external buttons of the camera, not to mention that I’ll have had a chance to save up for it.

If you’d like to get it though, don’t let me stop you:

Photos used courtesy of Canon.

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Thoughts

DSLRs and video to converge

On September 24, 2007, I published my review of the Olympus E-510 DSLR, one of the first prosumer cameras on the market to feature Live View (TTL video preview, directly off the same CMOS sensor used for photographs). Unless people were to jump to conclusions, I wanted to make it clear that it won’t let you record videos — but I knew that market forces were aligning to bring some sort of video capability to DSLRs.

I myself was opposed to that idea. I thought it would bastardize a DSLR to make it record video. After all, a DSLR takes great photos, and it should only do that. I also thought that video camera manufacturers would squeeze photo-taking capabilities into video cameras, which would result in crappy photos being taken by gadgets that should have stayed video cameras. Well, I was wrong. I forgot all about how the market delivers what the consumer wants, and has a way of sometimes exceeding expectations.

Behold the Nikon D90. It is the first DSLR that takes video, and it’s not some low-res video that you can get from a point-and-shoot digicam; it’s 720p HD video. What’s more, it lets you control depth of field by manually adjusting the focus while shooting. Best of all, you’re already using a sensor that takes great photographs, and the expensive glass you already paid for. You don’t need to spend yet more money on a dedicated video camera. You get the best of both worlds: the interchangeable lenses of a DSLR, and the quality of a decent video camera.

I am truly blown away by the D90’s specs. If I hadn’t already invested in the Canon 5D and Canon lenses, I would be sorely tempted to get the D90. I crave (badly) the ability to take quality photos and video with a single device, but unfortunately, up to this point, that was not possible unless I carried both a DSLR and a video camera.

As good as the D90 is though, it will soon be eclipsed. Why? Market forces. How long do you think it will be before we’ll have a DSLR that can record 1080p HD video? Or how about an even smaller and thinner DSLR than currently possible? How about a DSLR that looks and weighs about the same as a point-and-shoot, but gives you photo quality that’s equivalent to (or exceeds) today’s DSLRs? It’s all coming.

Let’s look at what’s currently available. First, we have the new Canon 50D. You may think it’s been eclipsed by the D90 or the D300, but you’d be wrong. You see, Canon took things further than I thought possible with it, by giving us 15 megapixels in a cropped (1.6x) sensor that also shoots (natively) up to 3200 ISO. I didn’t think that was possible on a cropped sensor. I thought 12 megapixels was the max at that sensor size. I was wrong.

You know where else I’ll be proven wrong? Back when I attended the Olympus E-3 launch party, I talked about the camera’s (somewhat) limited 10 megapixel resolution, and I thought they had reached the limitations of the Four Thirds 2x cropped sensor. I thought the sensor’s surface area was too small to get more resolution out of it. But now that Canon has proven you can get 16 megapixels out of a 1.6x cropped sensor, I don’t see why you can’t get 12 megapixels or more out of a 2x cropped sensor.

Here’s where I get to the last part, smaller and lighter DSLRs than currently thought possible. Currently, the smallest DSLR on the market is the Olympus E-420, pictured below. Do you know what the Four Thirds consortium has come up with? It’s the Micro Four Thirds standard, which allows for thinner, shorter lenses, and thinner, shorter camera bodies. A Micro Four Thirds camera will look and weigh just about the same as a point-and-shoot camera with a decent zoom lens.

Wait, it gets even better. The current aspect ratio of Four Thirds cameras is 4:3. The aspect ratio of Micro Four Thirds cameras will be 16:9. That’s the same aspect ratio used in movies. Where do you think that’s going? It means your photos and your videos will have the same aspect ratio, and the line between photography and videography will get even more blurred, and it’s quite possible that in the near future, we’ll have 1920x1080p HD video recorded by a tiny little DSLR with a tiny little lens on it.

That’s just what seems logical to me, and I’m a fairly conservative estimator. You wait and see what the market will do. We’ll have some very interesting DSLRs to play with in the next few years.

[Images used courtesy of Canon, Nikon and Olympus. ]

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Reviews

Use an HDTV as my computer monitor?

A couple of months ago, I had a crazy idea, which I thought might just work: get a 1080p HDTV, a really nice one, and use it as my computer monitor. The advantage: cheaper and bigger than 30″ LCD monitors. I also found a model that I thought couldn’t be beat — one that displayed 10-bit color. If you’re unfamiliar with monitor color depth, you might want to have a look at the following:

Basically, you should have a monitor capable of displaying 8-bit color or better. Why? Because DSLRs capture 12-bit, 14-bit and 16-bit color, and you’re going to miss out on a lot if you can’t see all those colors when you’re editing the photos.

Laptops display only 6-bit color and use dithering to make up for the difference between 6-bit and 8-bit. Normal displays, including Apple Cinema Displays, have 8-bit color. The more expensive computer displays out there have 10-bit, 12-bit and even 14-bit color. LaCie and Eizo seem to be the only companies that build these sorts of high-end monitors.

The prices start around $1,000 for a 21″ or 24″ monitor at 10-bit color, and go up from there, to $2,000 or even $3,000. So you can imagine my delight at finding an HDTV at 40″ that could display 10-bit color and cost only $1,300. Granted, the resolution was only 1920×1080, and at that size, a computer monitor would have been at 2560×1920 or more, but you can’t have everything, right?

The particular HDTV I found is made by Sony and is from their Bravia series. It’s no longer being made — Sony keeps changing models every couple of months. Apparently HDTVs evolve so fast these days there’s a need to do that. I’d give you the model number, but it doesn’t matter any more. The specs were great though:

  • Full 1080p
  • 24p True Cinema
  • 10-bit color processing and 10-bit color display
  • Full digital video processor
  • Advanced contrast enhancer
  • An assortment of ports (HDMI, PC, S-Video, component and composite)

That’s how it looked on my desk. Did it do everything promised in the specs? Yes. Was the quality of the display as I expected? Yes. Editing photos on it was a stunning experience. I was able to see colors like I couldn’t see them before. Believe me, you don’t know what you’re missing until you see your DLSR photos on a high quality display.

So why am I speaking in the past tense about it?! For a single reason: it was much too bright for my eyes. Therein lies the main difference between TVs and monitors. TVs are built to be much brighter, since they’re meant to be viewed from a distance. Monitors are built with a much subtler level of brightness and contrast, since they’re meant to be viewed up close. This didn’t become apparent to me until I had the TV on my desk, about 2 feet from my eyes. I didn’t have a problem with the size of the screen (although it was bigger than expected), but the brightness killed me. Within a half hour, my eyes started to burn and I got a headache. I tried to tune down the brightness and contrast, but I couldn’t get it where it needed to be; I don’t think the TV could go down that low.

After much arguing with myself, and trying all sorts of things, including stepping back from it as much as possible, I had to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t the fit I needed. Stepping back to an appropriate distance would have defeated the purpose of using it as a monitor, because at that point, it would have become a TV displaying my laptop’s DVI feed. Although it had the display quality I needed — and not a single bad pixel, it was a perfect display — I couldn’t use it.

If you’re in the market for an HDTV, definitely check out the Sonia Bravia line. They’ve got stunning color. They’re amazing TVs. Just don’t try to use them as computer monitors. It won’t work. To their credit, they’re not intended to be monitors. They’re TVs — really good TVs.

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Lists

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-13

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Reviews

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)

Get more information

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Thoughts

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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Reviews

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

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Events

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:

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