Sunday, February 13, 2011

Digital DNA

Unless you’re already committed to a specific brand through years of lens and accessory purchases, buying a new DSLR today may mean comparing a dozen models.
By Mike Stensvold Published in SLRs
Digital DNA


Nikon has produced some 27 DSLRs since the D1 was introduced in 1999, and the current lineup benefits from all the company has learned along the way.

When Nikon introduced autofocus in its film SLRs, it decided to retain its F mount and thus compatibility with existing lenses, as well as new AF ones, for the benefit of longtime Nikon users. Nikon's DSLRs continued this strategy, utilizing an AF motor in the camera body to provide autofocusing with the new AF lenses. Recent (AF-S) Nikon lenses do contain focusing motors (and are required for autofocusing with entry-level Nikon DSLRs, which don't have in-body AF motors).

Nikon was the first to offer video in a DSLR with the D90, and the newest models have improved on that, with the D7000 and D3100 even providing full-time autofocusing during video shooting.

All current Nikon DSLRs feature built-in sensor-dust removers, plus Active D-Lighting, which provides better detail in bright and dark areas in high-contrast scenes.

Nikon D3S

The most recent addition to Nikon's top-tier pro DSLR lineup, the full-frame D3S is also the high-ISO champ, generally acknowledged to produce the best image quality of any DSLR at higher ISO settings (which go up to 102,400). The camera is extremely fast, able to shoot its 12.1-megapixel images at 9 per second in bursts of up to 36 14-bit RAW or 82 large JPEGs. It also can capture smaller DX-format images at an even faster 11 fps.

As an all-out pro camera, the D3S features rugged magnesium-alloy construction with effective protection from moisture, dust and electromagnetic interference, and its self-diagnostic shutter is tested to 300,000 cycles. The viewfinder shows 100% of the actual image area. There are two slots for CompactFlash (UDMA-compatible) memory cards. The 4-mode, 51-zone AF system is excellent with action subjects, and the 1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering also meets pro expectations. The battery is good for up to 4,200 shots per charge (per CIPA standards).

Nikon D700

The Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR offers the same pixel count, and AF and metering systems as the D3S—albeit with a generation-older sensor and processor—at half the price. While it lacks the D3S's incredible high-ISO capabilities, it delivers low-noise images with an ISO range of 200-6400 (expandable to 100-25,600). Until the introduction of the D3S, the D700 and the D3 were the state of the art for high-ISO performance.

The D700 can shoot its 12.1-megapixel images at a respectable 5 fps (8 fps with the optional MB-D10 Multi-Power Pack). While not quite as bulletproof as the D3S, the D700 features rugged magnesium-alloy construction with extensive dust and moisture sealing, and a 150,000-cycle shutter. The D700 has a built-in sensor-dust remover, the only full-frame Nikon to provide that feature until the D3S. While there's no video capture, the D700 does offer live-view operation. You can choose between quick phase-detection AF (with the live view momentarily disrupted during focusing) or contrast-based AF (slower, but with continuous live viewing).


Nikon offers an extensive array of lenses for its DSLRs. Most Nikon DSLRs also can use (with some limitations) earlier lenses designed for Nikon film cameras. Nikon DX lenses are designed specifically for the APS-C-sensor format; when a DX lens is used on a full-frame Nikon DSLR, the camera automatically switches to a cropped DX format (with reduced pixel count).

There are more than 60 lenses in the lineup, from a 14mm wide-angle and 16mm full-frame fisheye to a 600mm telephoto, including more than 20 with built-in Vibration Reduction (VR). AF-S lenses contain silent-wave AF motors and provide quicker (and quieter) autofocusing; the other lenses use the AF motor in the camera body. DX lenses range from a 10-22mm ultrawide zoom to a 55-300mm telezoom. Three manual-focus PC-E lenses provide tilt-shift capability. There are also 1.4x, 1.7x and 2.0x teleconverters.

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