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Fall Preview: Everything Going Up
Digital Deal


Sony
Panasonic
Canon
Canon
Nikon
Nikon

The DX-Nikkors can be used on the D3, but since their image circle is set for a smaller chip, "the D3 automatically switches to the DX-format mode that uses a cropped portion of the sensor to generate 5.1 megapixel resolution images." Why the 5.1MP specification, and not 6MP per Nikon DSLRs from the D1x onward, awaits further exploration. But present owners of other Nikon DSLRs who also own a number of DX lenses, may have to regard moving up to a D3 an investment in new lenses, as well as bodies. This somewhat counters the tradition of locking a customer base into a body system by hooking them on a lens system.

Canon has had full-frame cameras since early in its DSLR career, so their rhetoric has been simpler. Their 35mm film-camera lenses are so good, they've said in various ways, that they already meet the critical requirments for the best digital photography.

We would have to agree, and have done so all along. Or anyway, we've said that we've taken a lot of pictures with digital SLRs using film-camera lenses, and were wowed by the results. Our camera of choice, the lamented SLR/n, has given us the best pictures we've seen from any camera to-date, using a full-frame imager and film-camera lenses-Sigma lenses at that. We accept all the scientific reasons why digital lenses are better, but our experience teaches they're not all-inclusive.

The other advantage of film-camera lenses is that there are plenty of people who already have them. A lot of those lenses cost more than some DSLRs (Canon just introduced a 14mm f/2.8 priced more than double a Rebel XTi), and people transitioning from 35mm may have decided to keep them. If it was a good idea before, it's a better idea now.

Although it's a hot feature among competing brands, no Canon or Nikon DSLR has an in-body image-stabilization system. Both companies have long provided image-stabilized lenses, and for the moment at least, they're sticking by their guns. They claim a superior level of performance, though measured by the improvement they provide in f/stops (4), the claims for in-camera systems are catching up. Advocates of individually-stabilized lenses also find a virtue in the effect of the stabilization being visible in the camera's optical viewfinder, which is not the case with in-camera systems.

Next We'll See the Tier Drop

Priced at $7,999 and $4,999.95 respectively, the new Canon and Nikon full-frame models define the top price tier as we've known it since the turn of the century, when the under-$10,000 DSLR began becoming the standard (before that, a 1MP pro DSLR like Nikon's own E2 sold for around $12k, and represented a considerable price drop in 1996).

The importance of current events in the top price tier is the forces they gather for the lower tiers. Will someone introduce a full-frame DSLR in the $1,500 range? In the sub-$1k range? In an industry that once preached 6MP as the highest pixel-count we could ever achieve (and which cost $18,000 when it came out sixteen years ago), there's no saying what could be next. If you can buy any of several 10MP cameras for under a thousand bucks today, how long before 12MP at that price? Or 21MP?

Interestingly, our fall preview for the moment doesn't include the lowest price tier. But below the top tier, there are plenty of new cameras this season in the mid-range. Canon and Nikon both introduced second new cameras, at $1,299 (Canon 40D body) and $1,799 (Nikon D300). Sony has brought-out the Alpha 700, a $1,400 (body only) 12MP image-stabilized advance over their original Alpha 100, targeting the buyer with interesting claims of its own regarding imager design. We spent a few days with a prototype back in August, and were greatly impressed despite its early status.

One of the most provocative of the fall lineup is the Panasonic Lumix L10, with a MSRP of $1,299. One might reasonably expect the L10 to be an evolution of the first Panasonic DSLR, the L1, but it's nothing of the sort-not externally, anyway. The first model was priced closer to $2k, and was a bit of a luxurycam-very svelte and refined, a tactile pleasure to handle, much in the mold of the Leica D3, under which title it was also sold. Panasonic says that the 7.1MP L1 will remain on the market.

L10's Live View monitor is a swiveling type, one of those lollipop designs on the end of a shaft, permitting it to rotate 270 degrees. Interestingly, the first time we saw such a monitor on a digital still camera, it was on a Canon-the PowerShot Pro 70.

Incorporated into the L10, the swiveling Live View screen should permit placing the camera at almost any angle, even odd or clumsy ones. We've found this enormously useful in video camcorders and digital ZLRs over the years (to say nothing of the first Live View DSLR, the Olympus Evolt E-330), and properly described to the market, it should be a big hit. We believe the L10 is also the first DSLR to provide camera focusing and exposure using a face-detection system.

We've been waiting all year for that to happen.

The wildcard, as this is written, is Olympus itself. The company has put the press on alert, they'll have an announcement in mid-October. Something big, they say. We might have guessed it was the E-2, or whatever the armored successor to the classic Olympus E-1 would be, But there have been innuendos in other directions. Since Olympus and Panasonic have shared platforms in recent times, would there be any inner resemblances with the L10? Who knows?

There's nothing like breaking news to keep a fella on the edge of his seat. We'll have a detailed fall preview of the middle-price tier next issue, when all the specs are before us.

Don Sutherland has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. Don is a photo historian as well as a futurist, and is the author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly." Email Don at ssuthe7880@aol.com. Go to www.don-sutherland.com for a ton of digital photos.


   







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