Sunday, January 3, 2010

10 Best New Camera Features

New technologies are refining what’s possible
By The Editors Published in SLRs
10 Best New Camera Features

8. Superfast Shooting

Top digital SLRs have long been endowed with some truly quick shooting rates: The current speed champs are Canon's EOS-1D Mark III, which can shoot its 10.1-megapixel images at up to 10 frames per second, and Nikon's D3, which can shoot 12.1-megapixel FX-format (full-frame) images at 9 fps or 5.1-megapixel DX-format (APS-C) images at 11 fps.

Compact digital cameras can compete here and even surpass the fastest SLRs. Casio offers a whole lineup of high-speed models, topped by the Exilim EX-F1, which can shoot 6-megapixel still images at 60 fps (7 fps with flash) and movies at up to 1200 fps (at reduced resolution). Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 can shoot 9.1-megapixel images at 10 fps (for up to 10 images in a burst). Pentax's X70 can shoot 5-megapixel images at 11 fps for up to 21 shots in a burst or bursts of 7 full-resolution, 12-megapixel images at 4 fps. If you want to do stop-action sequences of sports activities, you no longer have to buy a pro DSLR.

9. Improved Live-View in DSLRs

When Olympus introduced Live View to the DSLR with the E-330 model in 2006, it gave the DSLR user benefits that compact digital camera users had been enjoying for years. But the implementation was a bit, well, "clunky." With a compact digital camera, you were in Live View mode the moment you switched the camera on; you didn't have to go through menus and flip switches to use it.

Today, live view in DSLRs is much easier to use and more effective. It's handy for odd-angle shooting—especially in the few DSLRs that have tilting/swiveling LCD monitors—and for composing and manually focusing landscapes and studio still-life images.

DSLR cameras use phase-detection AF, which is quick and accurate, but requires the SLR mirror to be in the down ("viewing") position to function. When the camera is in Live View mode, the mirror must be in the up ("shooting") position, so the image can reach the sensor. Thus, if you use phase-detection AF in Live View mode, the mirror must briefly drop into the viewing position so the AF system can do its thing, and this momentarily disrupts the live view. So DSLR manufacturers also include contrast-based AF right off the image sensor. This doesn't disrupt the live view, but it's slower than phase-detection AF.

Sony (in its DSLR-A550, A500, A380 and A330 models) employs a second sensor, in the viewfinder, to produce the live image. Thus, it can use phase-detection AF without disrupting the live view. The drawback is that the optical viewfinder is smaller than with other DSLRs.

10. In-Camera Effects

Olympus introduced six Art Filters in its E-30 model and has incorporated at least some of them in each model thereafter. These filters let you apply such effects as bold poster colors, delicate colors, pinhole camera, soft focus, high-contrast grainy monochrome and more. With the new E-P1, you even can apply the effects to movies. Olympus also offers the ability to superimpose one image over another right on the live-view LCD monitor for composite images.

While Olympus promotes these features more widely than other manufacturers, theirs aren't the only cameras to offer built-in special effects. For example, Nikon's D90, D5000 and D3000 DSLRs offer fisheye and color-outline effects, as well as color overlay; Nikon's D3000 adds a cross-screen (star) filter and color-intensifier effect. Pentax's new K-7 and K-x DSLRs offer a number of effects, including toy camera, retro, high-contrast, extract color (leaves a selected color in the image and turns the rest black-and-white), soft-focus, starburst and fisheye. Nearly all DSLRs offer monochrome capability, with colored filter effects for tonal control.

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