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Fall Preview II: Midrange DSLRs-Bargains at All Prices
Digital Deal


Sony
Panasonic
Olympus
Canon
Nikon

But today's midrange DSLR doesn't have the same features, capabilities, and versatility of the old Rolleiflex. The DSLR's range is vastly greater-by 1948 standards, unimaginably greater, unbelievably greater.

For our first example, let's take a look at the newest kid on the DSLR block: Panasonic.

The first Panasonic DSLR model (introduced mid-summer) was priced closer to $2,000 and was a bit of a luxurycam-very svelte and refined, a tactile pleasure to handle (see our review, "Panasonic's Bentley," January 2007 issue), much in the mode of the Leica D3-under which name it was also sold, with Leica finish.

Panasonic says that the original 7.1 megapixel Lumix L1 will remain on the market.

If their second DSLR, the newly announced Lumix L10, resembles any other camera, it's less a Leica than something like an Olympus-say, the Evolt E-510. They're not the same camera (the Panasonic is a bit beefier), but they share a look and feel. And that's where things get interesting. The Lumix L1 had a different look and feel, was a deluxe version, but it shared some of the same innards as the Olympus Evolt E-330.

We were and are enormously fond of the Evolt E-330, which for under $1,000 supplied the first Live View monitor in a DSLR, and until now the only such monitor whose position could be varied through a hinged construction, enabling the picture to be composed from a distance above or below the camera.

That was one of the great tricks of the Rolleiflex. You could hold the camera at a distance and still frame up your pictures.

The Live View monitor on the new Lumix L10 can be positioned even more flexibly, permitting the shot to be composed from alongside the camera as well as above, or even from in front of it. The LCD screen can be faced forward, so you can take pictures over your shoulder for spy effects or self-portraits. While Live View is clearly a growing trend across the DSLR market-it's now available in all three pricing tiers-all but the Evolt E-330 have till now used fixed-position screens.

Incorporated into the L10, the swiveling Live View screen should permit placing the camera at almost any angle, including odd or clumsy ones, and framing a shot quite precisely. We've found this enormously useful in video camcorders and digital ZLRs over the years, and it should be a big hit in DSLRs. 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.

Try to explain it all to the photographer of 1948.

Inside the Outside

Olympus has just announced the E-3, its new pro model in the mid-tier range, where the first Olympus DSLR, the E-1, made its mark in the 5-megapixel days. Because of the common points between the Evolt E-330 and the Lumix L1, speculation developed around how much the Lumix L10 and the Olympus E-3 might overlap. The answer now stands revealed as: not much.

The one striking point they share is the pivoting Live View monitor, bestowing the same viewing flexibility on the new Olympus model as on the Panasonic. Both have an ultrasonic dust-reduction system, another recent feature rapidly moving toward universality.

The Olympus E-3 has in-body image stabilization; the Panasonic L10 does not. The kit lens with the Panasonic, a Leica-branded Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6, employs Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. system-it does a great job, but it comes off with the lens.

One point of difference between the two cameras emphasized by Olympus' John Knaur is the TruePic III image processing engine of the E-3. This first appeared in a DSLR in the form of the Olympus Evolt E-510, which we reviewed in our August 2007 issue ("Olympus Lowers the Lights"). Another of the spreading trends in cameras is improved noise control at high ISO equivalencies, and the performance of TruePic III in the E-510 gives us great expectations for the E-3.

Like the original E-1, the E-3 is ruggedized and sealed against the elements. This is another trend we expect to spread, being a serious new competitive feature at a time of an avalanche of serious new competitive features. A camera that is more or less armored can go through more or less mayhem and keep on ticking. It's no small consideration for anyone taking pictures wherever there might be rain or dust. Olympus states an endurance figure for the E-3's shutter: 150,000 cycles.

More in the Dark

The trend toward noise control in low-light photography is expressed in the new Sony Alpha A700 through a new workflow, so to speak, for the imaging chip. "The camera's new 12.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor," states Sony, "conducts analog-to-digital (A/D) signal conversion and dual noise reduction right on the sensor itself. Noise reduction is applied to analog signals before A/D conversion, and the resulting digital signals are then subject to a second round of noise reduction."

We reported unusually good low-light performance, first in the Olympus E-1, then in the Pentax K100D, then the Evolt E-510. We've found spectacular high-ISO performance in the Canon 1D Mark III released earlier this year, and now it's a boast of the Olympus E-3 and the Sony A700. Did somebody say "trend"?


   







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