Canon has taken the idea of a medium range 6x optical zoom, added an image stabiliser and given it a flourish with huge 12.1 million pixel sensor and articulated 2.5-inch screen with enough manual control to please any keen photographer
The A650’s build quality is faultless. Control switches and buttons are all positive in action with icons that are easy to decipher. The back of the camera is dominated by the swivelling 2.5-inch screen that folds out for viewing and away to protect the screen when not required.
If you shoot architecture or landscapes where vertical and horizontal lines need to be straight then the grid lines are a handy assistant. You can also get the camera to show you a 3:2 ratio ghosting so you know when you’ll crop heads off in a 6×4-inch print.
The A650IS runs on AA batteries. It comes with two Alkalines but you’ll want to invest in rechargeables if you plan to use this camera a lot. Power consumption isn’t huge thanks to the use of SD cards, and you can use the new SDHC models for more capacity.
Focus on this
Face detect works brilliantly, picking up your subjects effortlessly and tracking them across the screen. Focus isn’t restricted to fancy tricks: you have the choice of putting the focus point wherever you choose with flexi-zone or using the AiAF to let the camera choose where your subject is ” a task it ¨¨performs with alarming accuracy. If you like to get in close then you’ll fall in love with the macro, which will bring you to within 10mm.
The built-in flash will only keep up with the zoom range if you bump up the ISO. The range can be adjusted manually up to 1600 or you can get the camera to do it automatically in the ˜Hi’ setting. To cover the whole telephoto distance of the zoom will require you to delve into scene mode and choose the ISO3200 setting. This setting will happily give you flash coverage but at a price: the noise is horrendous.
It’s a camera that your mum could use out of the box or you could give it to a seasoned photographer who’d play with the manual controls. Canon has neglected to give the flash enough grunt to successfully keep up with the fantastic 6x optical zoom and people will want to use this great range.Relying on ISO range to give good images isn’t the answer. The swivelling screen is worth its weight , though, as you no longer have to lie on the ground to get macro shots or blindly hold your camera above the head of some big goon in front of you at the rugby.
Nikon has gone supernova with the new D300, producing a camera that incorporates all the things we enjoy from competitors’ cameras but making this model better than anything else on the market today
Nikon’s latest dSLR uses a CMOS sensor ” like Canon ” instead of the CCDs used in the past. This alone is a turning point for Nikon. But the company has gone further than the competition with the D300 including a 3-inch screen with VGA quality (920,000 pixels) that is light years ahead of anyone else.
The 51-point focus system is superior thanks to the EXPEED processing motor and advanced 3D Matrix Metering II system with scene recognition. This results in an advanced focusing system that will recognise a moving subject by colour and notice faces in a scene.
Nikon users who have relied on the matrix metering of the past will happily switch to the 3D function as it works so well. There is still the option to select for yourself if you want to choose the focus point.
Live and let Live
Nikon has taken the Live View function that step further, giving you the choice of ˜Handheld’ or ˜Tripod’ options. In ˜Handheld’ it suffers the same frustrations as every other camera with Live View in that it has to lower the mirror to focus, but use the ˜Tripod’ setting and suddenly Live View almost seems a viable option.
Here you can move the focus point to wherever you want it on the screen, and when you get the camera to focus it uses contrast like a compact to focus. However, to get the camera to focus you must press the AF-ON button. It’s not as frustrating as having the mirror lower but it is still slower than using the viewfinder and pressing the shutter release.
Know your place
Nikon introduced GPS support on the D2x and this has filtered down to the D300. Plug in your Garmin GPS and each time you take a picture the longitude and latitude information is added to the EXIF data the camera gathers.
It also has a built-in intervalometer so you can set the camera to take a picture every two minutes or two hours. Combine this with the WT-4 wireless transmitter and you can join a network and send images to any computer on that network or control the camera remotely. You’ll need an MB-D10 battery pack too, but this gives you the joy of a second battery (EN-EL3e).
The built-in flash is useful and with a little ISO fiddling you can happily extend its range (the D300 can go as high as ISO3200 and extend to 6400) but an SB-600 or ultimately a SB800 will offer better images at lower ISO. Balancing daylight and flash is automatic with Nikon’s 3D Matrix Metering II system.
The Nikon D300 is a tool any keen Nikon user will happily embrace but it also has wide appeal. Anyone passionate about photography will love the 3-inch VGA screen complete with protective cover and impressive battery life. The Live View function with handheld or tripod options as well as the ability to focus by contrast is amazing, although slower than just picking up the camera and shooting. It does come at a price but the D300 is a workhorse that will happily provide years of service.
Effective Pixels: 12.3 million
Lens: AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8G ED
Viewfinder: SLR-type with fixed eye-level pentaprism, built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0 m-
When it comes to dSLR innovation, Olympus has led the field, introducing sensor cleaning and live view functions well ahead of the opposition. Now the company has released the E-3, a professional camera that is so easy to use it’s a crime
Sometimes when you receive a camera you ¨wish all the accessories had come with it too. ¨But when the Olympus E-3 arrived at my place it was like being an eight-year-old stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. HE Perry, the New Zealand importer, sent it with the HLD-4 power battery holder and vertical grip plus the cool wireless flash FL-50R. They might look ¨like toys, but these two devices should be mandatory equipment.
This 10 million pixel 4/3 model is a handful in the true sense of a pro camera. It’s weighty and big and has buttons and dials, but it is the turning screen and image stabiliser that will woo you. ¨The motor drive will rattle off images at a slick 5fps up to 16 RAW files or the capacity of the ¨card in normal JPEG setting using a SanDisk Extreme III card.
If you aren’t happy with just one card slot then you have another reason to use the E-3: it has an xD card slot too.
Live View is easily accessible. No turning dials or searching menus, just a press of the screen button below the multi-angle LCD and you’re there. Olympus would like you to believe that its Live View is faster than the others but it is still a slow option compared with using the 100 per cent viewfinder.
Lens quality is stunning and the 12-60mm lens (24-120mm in 35mm terms) I was supplied with was beautiful to use. Olympus uses a Supersonic wave drive that helps the lens focus quickly but I experienced hunting in low light, even when using the big FL-50R flash with infrared focus illuminator that helps the camera focus in low light.
The E-3 is a fantastic camera to use; for once a manufacturer has made a camera where the LCD screen can be swivelled back out of the way so you can use the camera in its purest form, looking through the viewfinder.
Thankfully this articulated screen can be positioned anywhere, so no more lying on the ground or poking your head round a corner when under fire in hotspots like Kosovo or Kenya.
Olympus has surpassed itself with technology that modern photographers crave. An innovative dust reduction system, image stabiliser that moves the sensor so all lenses are in effect stabilised, and wireless flash that transforms flash images even when you use the built-in flash in conjunction with a gun like the FL-50R.
The size is big and lumpy and you will want to buy the battery booster so you have a comfortable vertical grip. But big is beautiful, and the E-3 is a big camera in anyone’s eyes.
Sony may have lost the war of personal music players, ¨but the company is more than happy to jump into the battle for ¨digital SLR supremacy with both barrels pumping. Sony’s ¨latest offering is the entry-level 10 megapixel Alpha 200
First impressions of this model are extremely positive. The body is small but has a large grip that makes it comfortable to hold, and the controls are clearly marked and visually accessible. The large 2.7-inch LCD has 230,000 pixels and the added size makes viewing images a delight.
In true Sony style the information on the screen not only gives you exposure information and how many pictures you have left, it also gives you a battery indicator that shows the percentage of power left, not just a series of bars. The big Lithium-ion battery produces bags of power and will happily fill a card or two before it needs recharging.
Image stabilisation can be turned on and off with a switch below the navigation control on the back of the camera. A standard function on Sony dSLRs, the Super Steady Shot stabiliser adjusts the CCD to compensate for movement you make. This means any lens you fit to the body ” no matter if you have the latest Sony lenses or one of the many Minolta AF lenses from the past ” the image is stabilised.
Sony has included an anti-dust system on this model to deter pesky particles from clinging to your sensor. You’ll feel a vibration when you turn the camera off and it performs its little cleaning chore.
Hits and misses
Sony adopted Minolta’s flash mount ” a mistake ” that requires you to buy a genuine Sony flash. It’s not a big issue as you’ll get the best results from this combination, but it is a minor handicap as you have very little choice.
If you’re a die-hard Sony user and you have Memory Stick Duo cards that you want to use then there is an adapter that will allow you to slip them into the CF card slot.
The processing motor is Sony’s Bionz unit, which offers increased speed of processing and rich colour and detail. A function that is also available is the D-Range Optimizer that gives increased dynamic range with Standard or Advanced options. The camera will shoot either JPEG or RAW files and comes with rudimentary software for processing the later.
The Sony A200 is a 10 megapixel entry-level dSLR camera that is offered at a price mark not that far above $1000. It takes great pictures and responds quickly for a starter camera. Thankfully, Sony has included a sensor cleaning system and the impressive Super Steady Shot image stabiliser. Those who still own Minolta lenses will appreciate the opportunity to be able to jump on the dSLR bandwagon.
As a light modifier, the orbis ring flash punches above its weight, says professional photographer Gary Baildon
Originally designed for macro photography to push light into the small space between a macro lens and its subject, the ring flash was ˜borrowed’ by fashion and beauty shooters for the quality of its soft wrap-around light.
But these units don’t come cheap ” until now, that is.
Designed in New Zealand, the orbis ring flash is an impressive piece of kit. It offers similar functionality to a standard light ring, but this unit uses your existing flash gun for the light it emits. Hence, the price is a lot less that you might expect.
As soon as you open the box you know you have a quality product on your hands. The build is superb, the feel solid, and the bright yellow carry bag will ensure it’s not easily misplaced. A detachable neck strap and instruction booklet complete the box’s contents.
Does it work?
The orbis is intended to be handheld (or tripod mounted) independently of the camera.
The head on your flash unit is first tilted into the vertical position, then attached to your camera with a remote TTL cable or wireless trigger. The flash unit itself is then inserted into the orbis ring flash unit. While holding the flash unit and the orbis in one hand, you manhandle the camera with the other. I have to admit that prior to using the orbis I was sceptical about this, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as I’ve just made it sound. In practice it becomes natural very quickly and leaves you to concentrate on the shot.
While the obvious thing to do with a ringflash is to put the lens through the middle, it’s by no means the rule. The orbis can be held off to the side, above or anywhere you desire. Think small portable softbox.
There is one minor issue shooting handheld with the orbis and that is that you can’t manually focus or zoom the lens. In practice I’d normally use auto-focus on this kind of shoot anyway, and it’s a simple matter to set a zoom lens to a pre-determined focal length before shooting. In any case, the release of a collection of adapter rings that will attach the unit to your lenses via the filter thread will be out any day now.
The almost shadowless wrap-around light brings out the beauty in a way that only a ring flash can. Ideally suited to shooting close and fast, the ring flash look is instantly recognisable by circular highlights that run around the subject’s pupils.
Dig out those old fashion mags and look closely at the eyes, you’ll soon see what I mean. That said, the orbis is no slouch when it comes to getting up close with interesting small things. It is a ring flash, after all.
Previously the domain of pros, there really was no affordable ring flash option. That just changed. The cost of entry to this exclusive club is now within the reach of anybody who loves photography.
A few pointers can help if you have had difficulties with lighting.
A big zoom range, fast auto-focus and good build quality all impress Harley Ogier
Ricoh’s R10 is a mid-range digital compact camera with an impressive zoom lens, respectable image quality and a solid feature set.
The one standout feature of the R10 is its impressive 7.1x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 28-200mm lens on a 35mm film camera.
The telephoto capability is excellent and the R10 auto-focuses well on distant subjects: the result is surprisingly good, rivalling some of the dSLR models I’ve tested on the same vista.
On the opposite end of the scale the R10 has great macro capabilities. Freehand, you can take photographs that look more suited to an episode of CSI than a photo album. The R10’s image stabilisation works well here, eliminating the need for a tripod in most circumstances.
The flash does tend to swamp the image, over-exposing when shooting up close ” a strong external light source would be useful. This is a common problem across many competing models.
An electronic level is a nice addition to the R10, displaying a precise tilt indicator when shooting horizontally or vertically. The level can also provide audio feedback so that you can keep your eyes on the image. It’s a great help when you’re lacking any convenient elements to line up your shot, or if you’re just feeling lazy.
Light and colour
The R10’s performance is reasonable under artificial light, though like most digital compacts it does its best work in the sun. I found all colours to be beautifully rich and accurately represented in scenes with relatively constant lighting. In high-contrast conditions the results are less spectacular, with a lot of over-saturation in bright areas and lack of detail in dark areas.
A range of common shooting modes is provided, which seem to work well. You can also define two of your own custom modes, which is great if you get things ˜just perfect’ for a certain situation.
Auto-focus on the R10 is effective and reasonably fast. Both the multi-segment and spot focus modes work well, with spot allowing you to specify a target on-screen. Face detection doesn’t work as well as on comparable models, failing to correctly identify faces in my usual test picture. Tracking ˜real’ faces is similarly limited.
Rare for a compact, the R10 provides a manual focus mode, where the zoom control is used in place of a focus ring. The 3-inch, 460,000-dot screen gives a fair indication of whether you’ve focused correctly: most of the shots I focused manually were as crisp as those taken on auto.
Overall, the R10 is a high-quality digital compact with good telephoto and great macro capabilities that offers features not found on other models in its class. If you’re willing to pay up for a wide-range zoom lens and a small body, the R10 is an admirable choice.
SPECS – Ricoh R10
Effective Pixels: 10 million
Lens: 4.95-35.4mm (35mm equivalent 28-200mm)
Monitor: 3-inch TFT LCD, 460,000 dots
Shutter: 1/2,000 to 8 seconds
Shooting Modes: Auto, Easy, Scene (Portrait/Face/Sports/Landscape/Nightscape/Night Portrait/High Sensitivity/Zoom Macro/Skew Correction/Text), My Settings, Movie
Harley Ogier takes the Four Thirds G1 for a test spin and is impressed by its quality pictures
The Lumix G1 from Panasonic is a world first, offering interchangeable lenses in a camera with a purely electronic viewfinder: no mirror, no prism, just Live View taken to the extreme.
The camera uses the relatively new Micro Four Thirds standard for digital compact cameras that was revealed by Panasonic and Olympus last year.
The standard provides equivalent quality to a crop-sensor dSLR, only without the mirror and pentaprism ” the arrangement of reflectors that allows a single lens reflex camera to direct light from the lens to either the sensor or viewfinder as required. Removing these elements allows for much smaller designs but prohibits the optical viewfinder central to dSLR cameras.
The Lumix G1 is the first camera to use this standard and boasts a beautiful 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder so sharp that it’s hard to see a disadvantage over the optical viewfinder of a more traditional dSLR setup. The contrast and colours aren’t quite perfect, but they do show what the image sensor sees.
Image quality is in line with similar dSLR cameras, and far above anything I’ve seen from the digital compact class. Colours appear rich and lifelike in both indoor and outdoor shots. The G1 also displays excellent dynamic range, revealing detail in both dark and light areas of highly contrasted images.
I tested the camera with the optional Lumix 45-200mm OIS telephoto zoom lens (90-400mm in 35mm film terms). Picture quality was brilliant throughout the range and I was able to take some quite decent night shots way out at 200mm. This and the standard Lumix 14-45mm OIS zoom (28-90mm in 35mm terms) are the only lenses currently available but three more will be offered for sale this year.
The G1 is as quick to autofocus as anything else on the market ” in fact, I think it’s much faster than your average high-end dSLR can manage in Live View. The lenses can also be manually focused. By default this turns on ˜Focus Assist’, which zooms-in the viewfinder so you can check the focus.
The viewfinder returns automatically to full frame once you’ve stopped turning the focus ring. This isn’t nearly as disorientating as it might sound and allows far tighter control over focus than a traditional dSLR.
The only disadvantage I found is the G1’s low frame rate of two to three frames per second (memory card willing). On the other hand, the frame rate is constant: no long pauses after several shots.
Panasonic has created something revolutionary with the Lumix G1. Given the stunning quality of its pilot camera, I expect the Micro Four Thirds standard will easily make headway into the market.
SPECS – PANASONIC LUMIX G1
Model: Lumix G1
RRP: $1499 (G1 body with Lumix G-VARIO 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS zoom lens. Also available as a two-lens kit including the Lumix G-VARIO 45-200mm F4-5.6 OIS zoom lens at $1999)
Phil Hanson finds using a new camera from Samsung a touching experience
Samsung would like its NV100HD known as the “world’s highest 14.7 megapixel 28mm wide angle digital camera”. But I’ll remember it for the touchscreen, or Smart Touch 2.0 User Interface in Samsung-speak.
The NV100HD was the first camera I’ve encountered with touchscreen controls and, after a shaky start, absolutely loved it. Shaky only because it takes someone like me with clumsy fingers a few minutes of training to hit a particular icon accurately and with the right pressure. After all of 10 minutes it was a ball.
It was great accessing menus by touch, and you can even review the pictures you’ve taken in this manner, too. A few functions, such as zooming, still need to be done by conventional controls. Make no mistake, a touchscreen on a camera is not a gimmick; it helps make it more intuitive and faster to use.
Speaking of intuitive, how’s this: deleting a picture is as easy as just drawing an X across it with a finger.
The Schneider Kreuznach 6-21.6mm f2.8-5.9 lens has a useful zoom range (from 28mm to 102mm in full-frame terms), backed-up by Samsung’s dual image stabilisation that integrates both optical and digital stabilisation. I didn’t notice any particular advantage over similar cameras that use only optical stabilisation but no matter, in conjunction with auto ISO, sharp photos can be taken in quite dim light without needing a support.
Top ISO setting is 3200, but there’s a lot of noise at that speed; 800 is about as fast as I’d normally want it set.
Adjusted to the highest quality JPEG setting, the NV100HD takes good pictures across its zoom range that require little post-processing to make excellent large prints.
The 14.7 megapixel sensor means it’s possible to record high-definition videos that can be sent to a TV panel via an HDMI cable. Or watch video on the camera’s 460,000-pixel three-inch hVGA LCD screen. However, I was underwhelmed by the camera’s movie-making ability.
Mode for the Job
The Samsung seems to have a mode or scene for every occasion. For example, face detection locates a face within the frame and automatically adjusts focus and exposure for better composition and image quality; in blink detection a series of photos is taken to help ensure at least one has the subject’s eyes open; and Smile takes a shot automatically when a smile is detected.
The NV100HD fits easily in a shirt pocket, takes good photos, can be used as a pure point-and-shoot, under manual control or almost anywhere in between. Its touch controls are excellent. The camera is well made and easy to use.
SPECS – SAMSUNG NV100HD
Effective Pixels: 14.7 million
Lens: Schneider Kreuznach 6-21.6mm (28mm-102mm in 35mm terms)
Monitor: 3-inch hVGA TFT LCD
Shutter: 8 sec-1/2000 sec
ISO: Auto, 80, 100, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Exposure Metering: Centre-weighted, spot, multi
Focus Modes: Multi AF, centre AF, touch AF, face detection AF
Phil Hanson says that, despite feeling a little plasticy, the E-520 has plenty of grunt under the hood
Olympus became the first major manufacturer to drop film cameras in favour of digital, and as if to underline its intentions, was jointly responsible for the successful Four Thirds format.
But it is evolution rather than revolution that’s celebrated with the arrival of the 10 megapixel E-520, successor to the capable E-510 dSLR.
The camera has new or upgraded features to make it more usable and widen its appeal. These include contrast detection AF, a larger LCD screen, face detection, shadow adjustment, improved Live View and wireless flash.
Dynamic range has increased and is now close to the level of Olympus’s top ” and considerably more expensive ” E-3. As before, the E-520 has separate slots for Compact Flash and XD cards and these can be used simultaneously.
Getting to grips
The E-520 sits well in the hands, and while it feels a little plasticy, that’s typical of dSLRs at this price point. Buttons and dials, of which there are plenty, are smooth, precise and their location well placed. Once learnt, these allow quick on-the-run adjustments without having to peer at a screen.
Having said that, a main point of the E-520 is its Live View screen. There are benefits to this feature, although the ˜view’ tends to be dull and grainy. Working without Live View, the LCD panel provides what seems like more information than the Yellow Pages ” something like 26 items. However, the more important stuff is repeated in the viewfinder, and the display can be turned off.
Once started, the E-520 responds swiftly. Autofocus is quick and accurate but can falter a bit in low light situations where contrast is poor. Fortunately, the user can focus manually without having to push a button or change a setting. It’s a convenient feature others could follow.
Weight, balance, ergonomics and adjustability all come together in the field, making the E-520 a pleasure to use.
Testing was mainly with Olympus’s versatile 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (28-84mm full frame equivalent). It needs stopping down to offer its best sharpness and contrast but produces pleasant, smooth images that will satisfy most users. Vignetting is modest at the wide end.
There’s a lot of picture-taking technology inside the E-520’s body and Olympus has made sure most of it is really accessible. Picture quality is very good, so don’t be misled by the E-520’s pixel count. It took a while to bond with the E-520, but after a day or two I could hardly put it down.
SPECS – Olympus E-520
Effective Pixels: 10 million
Viewfinder: Eye level, 95 per cent actual view
Monitor: 2.7-inch TFT colour with Live View
Shutter: 60 sec-1/4000 sec
ISO: auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
Exposure Metering: ESP, spot
Focus Modes: Digital ESP, centre-weighted, 2% spot, 11-point multiple
Media: CF, xD card
File Format: JPEG, RAW
Flash: TTL auto, manual, auto, wireless with compatible units
Phil Hanson unboxes a multi-function printer, scanner and copier with big ideas, and finds a value-for-money, one-size-fits-all solution for people with limited desk space
I’m a little wary of all-in-one products that everything but make your morning coffee. If one part of it breaks, the whole thing has to go away for service, depriving you of all its functions. And I’m sceptical about whether a multi-function machine can do any task as well as a single-purpose device.
Others, however, love the convenience of multi-function and that they take up far less bench space than the separate devices of a printer, scanner and photocopier.
Anyway, I wasn’t expecting a lot from the Epson Stylus TX200 that prints, scans and photocopies, all at a bargain price of $129.
Readers of D-Photo will mostly know Epson for its range of high-quality inkjet printers, including the impressive new R2880. But the company is extremely active in the office and home office market, too, which is where the TX200 is clearly aimed.
At just 43cm wide and 27cm deep, the TX200 has a tiny footprint and it stands 17cm tall. The unit is finished in various hues of gloss and matte black plastic and the big, clear controls are arranged on a panel to the left, with slots for media cards directly below.
It’ll take SD, xD, CF and MemoryStick, and also has PictBridge. Build quality is on the light side and I suspect it will be better suited to home office-type use.
Plug and play
It’s easy to get the TX200 up and running, thanks to a clear and simple installation interface. If you follow this you’ll be using it within minutes. Connection to a computer is via USB. This ease of getting going is noteworthy because even now, in this digital age, some printers and similar products come with confusing instructions and are frustrating to set up.
The installation CD includes a good user manual, backing up a rather basic booklet, and a file manager. Another disc contained a copy of Abbyy FineReader OCR software to get the words on scanned documents into your favourite word processing program.
The first things to remember are that the TX200 is not meant as a high-end photographic printer and that it also maxes out on A4 paper. It makes do with just four ink cartridges, cyan, magenta, yellow and black, whereas a top inkjet printer may have eight or more colours in its armoury.
So you’re probably not going to choose this printer for making exhibition-quality prints. But within its limitations it does a good job and the A4 prints I made on Epson’s Premium Glossy paper were more than satisfactory for even semi-critical uses. It’s also a fast printer.
Early prints showed horizontal lines running across the picture, an indication that the heads needed to be aligned. Evidently that’s fairly common for the TX200 and the manual guides you though the steps to remedy this.
Copying is dead easy, and can be done in colour or black and white. The results are good. Scanning is via the Epson Scan program that’s part of the package. It’s easily used and gives good results in most cases ” competitive with inexpensive flatdecks, but not a match for higher-end scanners.
I loved the convenience of the TX200 and could see it fitting nicely into my home office for when I needed quick copies, scans or prints. For critical work, I’d sooner have higher end dedicated equipment. But as an electronic ˜gofer’ this multi-faceted product gets a thumbs up, especially at its price.
Also, if you want to further improve your printer’s ink management ability, check out some ink-saving software like PretonSaver over here.
SPECS – EPSON STYLUS TX200
Printing Method: Piezoelectric inkjet
Minimum Ink Droplet Volume: 3 picolitres
Resolution: 5760dpi with variable-sized droplet technology