People pay great attention to image quality when making DSLR camera purchasing decisions. High ISO noise is one aspect of the image quality matrix. It is uncommon to see high ISO noise performance comparisons by shooting a scene with different cameras and compare the resulting images side-by-side at actual pixel resolution. Sounds simply enough, right? In reality, there are many complications.

Each camera has its own default settings. One may choose to perform more in-camera noise reduction (NR) than others by default. Some cameras have user controllable NR settings but others may only allow user control to certain degree. With NR, there is always a trade-off between noise level and image details.

Not only NR settings, sharpening, contrast, dynamic light optimizer or D-lighting settings can also affect noise levels.

The cameras may meter the scene quite differently and have exposure biases. Even if you choose the same ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, the images from one camera may appear darker or lighter compared to others. Exposure affects noise levels.

Cameras have different sensor sizes, sensor aspect ratios, and different pixel counts. Should the tester try to match the field of view or the magnification at 100% view (each image pixel is displayed as one pixel on a display)? Viewing an image at 100% magnification on a display is rarely useful for practical purposes. Typically the images are output to devices such as a display or a printer with a specific size. IMO, the comparison should be done with test shots matching the field of view in either horizontal or vertical direction. To make the comparison easy and fair, image from camera with higher resolution should be re-sized to match the magnification with lower resolution camera when viewed at actual pixels.

Bearing these complications in mind, here are some comparisons of Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) and Nikon D5000 high ISO noise performances by PhotographyBay.

Just recently, I also talked about the Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) vs. Nikon D5000 high ISO noise comparison done by Camera Labs. What is your conclusion after reading the above high ISO performance comparisons?

Posted in Digital SLR Cameras on June 10th, 2009. No Comments.

The Sigma DP2 (check prices: Amazon, B&H, Adorama) features a 14 mega-pixel (4.6MP effective) FOVEON X3 Direct Image CMOS Sensor and a fixed focal length 24.2mm (41mm 35mm equivalent) lens. Apparently Sigma is targeting a group of niche market users who want a small portable camera that takes great photos of ordinary life, who want to go back to the basics of photography with the single-focal length lens and doesn’t mind the “inconvenience” of “zoom with your legs”.

With the large 20.7×13.8mm (0.8 inch×0.5 inch) sensor that is much larger than those in most high-end digital compacts and a fast prime lens, the Sigma Dp2 belongs to a unique category of digital cameras that is between DSLR and compact point & shoot. For Sigma’s targeted customers, the DP2 sounds very interesting and brings high expectations. However quite a few reviews I have found online found the DP2 offers less than expected.

In the review, Ken Tanaka of The Online Photographer found the Sigma DP2 has poor build quality, image issues related to color casts and vignettes, slow and noisy focus, low end LCD screen, clunky and outdated user interface, lock-ups, and poor battery life. In closing thoughts, he wrote, “After using the DP2 daily for over a week I found it to be a sluggish, noisy, unreliable, and generally charmless device which I ultimately decided to return for a refund.”

In the review posted on Gizmodo, Wilson Rothman noted poor high ISO performance, slow focus, lack of RAW+JPG mode, dismal video recording capability, poor battery life, and being relatively expensive.

If you read Sigma’s DP2 product site, Sigma emphasizes on the DP’s philosophy, concept, and identity that are quite different compared to most other digital cameras available today. However these should not be excuses for the problems we see in the Sigma DP2. Even for people who want the DP2 for what it is, it may be a tough decision, considering the price tag.

Further readings

Posted in Photography Gadgets on June 5th, 2009. 9 Comments.

Responding to popular user requests, Canon is planning to release a firmware update for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II full frame DSLR camera on June 2, 2009 that allows manual exposure control during video shooting.

The 21.1 megapixel full frame DSLR camera can shoot stunning videos but users frequently complaint about the lack of many controls that are available on camcorders that cost 1/10 of its price.  The glaring deficiencies include the absence of continuous autofocus and manual exposure control. During video shooting, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II operates in a full automatic mode with the camera selecting the ISO, aperture, and shutter speeds. With the announced new firmware, Canon EOS 5D Mark II users will be able to fully control all aspects of exposure: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

It is a great improvement. However in order to make video shooting on a DSLR more appealing for average video shooters autofocus is still needed.  David Pogue of New York Times thinks that “… without autofocus, an S.L.R. camera that shoots video is just a parlor stunt.” Canon does not offer any indication that autofocus will be available. In case you haven’t heard, the new Panasonic DMC-GH1 is the first DSLR camera that supports continuous autofocus during video shooting.

The following is the press release found on Canon UK website.

Following the launch of the EOS 5D Mark II in September 2008, Canon’s Research and Development team has listened closely to customer feedback to develop additions to the camera’s movie recording functionality.

Allowing EOS 5D Mark II owners to achieve even more stunning video results with the camera, the firmware update will include the following manual controls when shooting video:

  • Full aperture selection
  • ISO speed: Auto, 100 – 6400 and H1
  • Shutter speed: 1/30th – 1/4000th second

The EOS 5D Mark II integrates full HD movie capability into a high-end 21.1 Megapixel camera; opening a multitude of new possibilities for photo-journalists and news photographers. Since its launch the camera has proved its appeal to professionals working in diverse fields, from studio and wedding to nature and travel.  Now, following customer feedback, Canon has improved functionality for professional video users, further unleashing the potential of the EOS 5D Mark II for cinematographers and photographers alike.

Posted in Digital SLR Cameras on May 28th, 2009. 1 Comment.

Bob Johnson of Earthbound Light just posted an article about a source for cheap CR123A batteries.  For many, CR123A may not be a familiar battery type since most digital cameras now take either proprietary Li-Ion rechargeable or common AA batteries. Once upon a time though, many film cameras and accessories used CR123A batteries, such as Nikon N80, N75, N90, F75, F80, FM10, F100, Canon EOS Elan 7/7E/7N, Nikon SB-50DX flash, etc. Even now, they are still used in photography accessories such as Nikon SB-R200 Remote Speedlight, Sekonic L-358 Flash Master Light Meter.

These CR123A batteries are expensive compared to common AA batteries. It is perhaps not strange because of their higher voltage, energy density, and output current. The SureFire CR123A battery mentioned in Bob’s article is quite inexpensive ones you can find but there are even cheaper alternatives. Read More…

Posted in Accessories on May 25th, 2009. No Comments.

pentax_k7

Pentax’s latest K-series digital SLR camera, the K-7, has been officially announced. The mid-level DSLR features a rugged weather-sealed body, 14.6 megapixel CMOS sensor, 100% viewfinder, a 3″ 921K dot LCD screen, 5.2 frames per second (FPS) continuous shooting speed, 11 point AF sensor (9 cross types), 30 fps video shooting at [0.9M]  (1280×720, 16:9), [1.6M] (1536×1024, 3:2), [0.3M] (640×416, 3:2) resolutions using MPEG format, built-in dust removal and shake reduction, and HDMI port. Other interesting features include the ability to compose a high dynamic range (HDR) image using three photos, a built-in digital level, and in-camera editing using digital filters. The Pentax K-7 is indeed a solid offering, but the $1,299.95 body-only price seems a little high in the very competitive DSLR market. Read More…

Posted in Digital SLR Cameras, News on May 21st, 2009. 2 Comments.

Previously, we compared the spec sheets of two hot new entry level DSLR cameras: Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) and Nikon D5000.  If that is enough for you to make a decision between the two, it would be too simple. The spec sheet should be considered a starting point for potential buyers to evaluate their needs against the specs. What follows next should be the verification of real world performances against your expectations.

For some people, the image quality, especially the high ISO noise performance is very important. So how well do they match up against each other? Camera Labs did the tests as part of their full review of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D). They also included the Olympus E-620 in the comparison.

The Nikon D5000 has a top ISO of 6400 while the Canon has top ISO of 12800. You would have thought the Canon have a better high ISO performance, wouldn’t you? Well, it turns out Canon’s marketing department may be a little too much into gimmicks. The Nikon D5000 appears to have won the noise competition  handily  above ISO800. The ISO6400 image from Nikon D5000 appears to have less noise and more details than the Canon’s. Perhaps Nikon should have made the ISO 128000 possible on the D5000. It wouldn’t be worse than the Canon’s.

Read: Canon EOS 500D / T1i vs Nikon D5000 vs Olympus E-620 High ISO Noise

Posted in Digital SLR Cameras on May 19th, 2009. No Comments.

Canon announced the EOS Rebel T1i (500D/Kiss Digital X3) earlier (March 25) than Nikon D5000 (April 14), but somehow Nikon beat Canon in getting their camera out to consumers just a few days earlier. With both cameras targeting consumers, the ensuing battle between the digital imaging giants Canon and Nikon is going to be interesting to watch.

For consumers, making decision may be difficult since there is no such thing as perfect camera. Manufacturers carefully balance features and marketing needs to maximize profitability.  They also study competitors to make sure their product is competitive in the market. Knowing your exact needs will help you make a good decision. Knowing the exact differences between the cameras will help you to evaluate your needs against the cameras’ features.

To get it started, you can look at the very detailed DPReview previews for both camera: Canon EOS 500D (Digital Rebel T1i / Kiss X3 Digital) and Nikon D5000. There is also a side-by-side comparison of the specifications. The gadget blog Engadget has a post about the two cameras as well. The following is a quick summary of each camera’s advantages.

Canon 500D wins

  • More pixels – 15.1 vs. 12.3 megapixels on Nikon D5000
  • Better videos – 1080P vs. 720P on Nikon D5000
  • Better RAW file – 14 bit vs. 12 bit
  • Larger and denser LCD screen: 3.0″ vs. 2.7″, 920K vs. 230K dots
  • Wider ISO range: 100-12800 vs. 100-6400
  • Depth of focus preview button: yes vs. no
  • Viewfinder magnification: 0.87x vs. 0.78x

Nikon D5000 wins

  • Tilt/Swirl LCD screen
  • Faster continuous shooting speed: 4 frames per second (fps) vs. 3.4fps.
  • Advanced scene modes
  • Built-in filter effects and in-camera editing
  • Better AF sensor: 11 vs. 9 point, with AF assist illuminator vs. none (uses built-in flash), slightly better AF sensitivity, 3D tracking
  • Wider exposure compensation range; +/- 5EV vs. +/-2EV
  • Better flash range: 17m vs. 13m
  • Cost: ~$50 cheaper
Posted in Digital SLR Cameras on April 30th, 2009. No Comments.

Amazon is now selling the Nikon D5000 and Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens kit fulfilled by OneCall. The same thing is also available directly from OneCall. B&H has it in-stock as well.

If you’d like to get your hands on one to get a feel of it but cannot, Engadget has a dozen of photos from all possible angles for your to check it out.

If you are getting serious about photography, you may want to consider the D200. The $600 Bestbuy deal we mentioned a while ago appears to have come back again. The D200 has none of the ~20 scene modes that D5000 has. So you are forced to learn the real elements of the photography: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc.

Posted in Digital SLR Cameras, Photography Deals on April 27th, 2009. 2 Comments.
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