Tuesday, May 29, 2012
What Defines A Pro DSLR?
A look at the characteristics and specs that differentiate enthusiast models from the top-tier pro systemsDRIVE SPEED
Here, the top DSLR models have a large advantage over the lower-end ones. At the extremes, Canon's top-of-the-line EOS-1D X can shoot full-resolution, 18.1-megapixel RAW images at 12 fps (or full-res JPEGs at 14 fps with focus locked at first frame), while the entry-level EOS Rebel T3 can shoot RAW images at 2 fps and JPEGs at 3 fps. The differences, in part, are due to the pro camera's more powerful processor, better shutter and larger buffer (which holds image data as it's being written to the memory card). Intermediate models fall in between. The EOS 5D Mark III can shoot its 22-megapixel images at 6 fps, the EOS 7D can shoot its 18.1-megapixel images at 8 fps, the 60D can shoot its 18.1-megapixel images at 5.3 fps, and the Rebel T3i can shoot its 18.1-megapixel images at 3.7 fps.
In Nikon's line, the top pro D4 can shoot full-res, 16.2-megapixel images at 10 fps (11 fps with focus locked at first frame) and 2-megapixel images at 24 fps in Silent mode, while the entry-level D3100 can shoot its 14.2-megapixel images at 3 fps. In between, the 36.3-megapixel D800 can shoot full-res images at 4 fps (5 fps in cropped DX mode), the D300S can shoot 12.3-megapixel images at 7 fps, the D7000 can shoot 16.2-megapixel images at 6 fps, the D5100 can shoot 16.2-megapixel images at 4 fps, and the D3100 can shoot 14.2-megapixel images at 3 fps. Again, the higher-end cameras have more powerful processors, better shutters and bigger buffers.
It's worth noting here that Sony has done something rather remarkable with its Translucent Mirror Technology. Instead of using a moving mirror like those in most DSLRs, these cameras employ a fixed mirror that transmits most of the light to the imaging sensor, but also reflects part of the light to the phase-detect AF sensor. With this unique approach, these cameras can achieve not only continuous phase-detect autofocus—even while shooting video—but also incredible drive speeds. The top Translucent Mirror model, the Sony a77, can capture 24.3-megapixel images at up to 12 fps, competitive with the fastest pro models, but for under $2,000. Even the modestly priced Sony a57 at $799 can capture 16.1-megapixel images at up to 10 fps. Innovations like these can make an enthusiast camera stack up against the professional models quite favorably. Learn more about Sony's Translucent Mirror Technology on our website at dpmag.com/cameras/slrs/translucent-tech.html.
LCDS AND VIEWFINDERS
Today, a 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 921,000-dot resolution is pretty much de rigueur, with some entry-level models (and even a few higher-end DSLRs) having lesser units. Some newer DSLRs have 3.2-inch monitors with more than one million dots. Few DSLRs offer tilting/swiveling monitors; among higher-end models, only the Olympus E-5 offers one.
The big difference between pro DSLRs and lower-end ones in terms of viewing is in the eye-level SLR viewfinder. The pro cameras offer large, bright pentaprism viewfinders that show 100% of the actual image area, while midrange APS-C models have smaller finders, and lower-end cameras use smaller, dimmer pentamirror finders. There's a definite advantage to the higher-end cameras here.
DO YOU NEED A PRO SLR?
The answer for most photographers is probably no. Even serious professionals who make their livings exclusively through photography may find that their needs are well met by upper-tier enthusiast models—especially those who work in a studio and aren't shooting action, like portrait or product photographers. Photojournalists and sports photographers who deal with the rigors of the seasons and fast action will appreciate the durability and speed of the flagship cameras, but the capabilities of today's entry-level models blow away the performance of the most powerful pro cameras of just a few years ago. The good news is that the features and technology found in today's top cameras likely will find their way into enthusiast models within a generation or two.
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