Reviews

Panasonic DMC LZ8 – Review – 24

Panasonic LZ8 006

The latest Panasonic Lumix DMC LZ8 may only be an entry-level compact, but it comes with a big 8.1 million-pixel sensor as well as a 5x optical zoom that covers from 32mm wide-angle to 160mm telephoto. Mix this up with an intelligent auto setting that knows what you are shooting, as well as face detection, and you have a wonderful start to your image making.

Fizzy from the start

It’s not often I open a box and get overwhelmed with the contents, but this little Lumix is wonderful to hold and use. As a first camera this wee minx will do all the work in the intelligent auto setting, and when your confidence and curiosity grow it has aperture and shutter priority as well as full manual control so you can take over.

Intelligence beyond its years

Scene modes are cool. They let you look at what you are shooting and choose the right scene from a list that will suit the situation. There are 19 separate modes to choose from, but for someone who doesn’t know a portrait from a close-up then the intelligent auto will be a godsend, as it selects from Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, and does it perfectly. It almost makes the need for other scene modes redundant, but this compact will breed inquisitiveness and you’ll want to delve into the array of scenes that include Sport and the long exposure Starry Sky. The Kids and Pets modes let you set the name and date of birth of your babies and pets, then informs you of their age and name each time you take a picture.

Simplified Menus

The LZ8 has a wonderful menu system with a shortcut button that gives you quick access to file size, ISO, white balance, AF mode, burst shooting, image stabilisation and LCD brightness. The default settings are good, but at some stage of using this camera you will want to make adjustments. There is also a zoom shortcut that instantly zooms out to maximum optical zoom with one touch of the button, then maximum digital zoom with a second press, while a third touch will bring the lens back full circle to the wide-angle setting. The zoom control on the shutter release allows you to zoom to where you want in smaller steps.

Inbuilt versus Cards

Having eight million pixels at your disposal will quickly gobble the 20MB of on-board memory, so it makes sense to get a memory card to go with this camera. Even here you have a choice, either SD or SDHC, and with the capability to make decent movies the SDHC card will be the better choice.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix DMC LZ8 sports a beautiful Leica 5x optical zoom complete with Mega Optical Image Stabiliser, and an 8.1-million-pixel sensor. The intelligent features include intelligent ISO, which automatically detects motion and selects a higher ISO to lessen the chance of camera shake. This entry-level camera can be used as simply as you’d like in the intelligent auto setting, or you can take over completely with full manual exposure. What more could you ask for in a camera?

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Panasonic
  • Model: Lumix DMC LZ8
  • Price: $299
  • Effective pixels: 8.1 million
  • Lens: 5x optical 5.2-26mm ¨ (35mm equiv, 32-160mm)
  • Viewfinder: None
  • Monitor: 2.5-inch TFT LCD ¨ (230,000 pixels)
  • Shutter: 60 to 1/2000 sec
  • Aperture: f3.3 — f5.9
  • ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, ¨ 1600, High Sensitivity Mode: Auto ¨ (1600 – 6400)
  • Shooting Modes: Program AE, ¨ Aperture Priority AE, Shutter ¨ Priority AE, Manual, Portrait, ¨ Scenery, Sports, Panning, Night ¨ Portrait, Self-Portrait, Food, ¨ Party, Candle Light, Fireworks, ¨ Starry Sky, Beach, Aerial Photo, ¨ Snow, High Sensitivity, Baby 1&2, ¨ Sunset, Pet, High-Speed Burst
  • Exposure Metering: Intelligent ¨ Auto, Centre Weighted, Spot
  • Focus modes: Face, one-point, ¨ one-point high speed, three-point ¨ high speed, nine-point, Spot
  • Media: 20MB onboard memory, SD, SDHC, MultiMediaCard
  • File format: JPEG, ¨ Motion JPEG AVI
  • Flash: In-built
  • Interface: USB, A/V output
  • Batteries: 2x AA
  • Dimensions: 97.5 x 62 x 33.3mm
  • Weight: 191g

contact

www.panasonic.co.nz

Pros

  • Leica 5x optical zoom starting ¨at 32mm
  • Big 64mm screen with ¨ brightness control
  • Clever scene modes as well as ¨ manual control

Cons

  • AA batteries
  • Minimal internal memory

Design                        18
Performance                18
Features                      19
Image Quality              18
Value for money          19

TOTAL     92/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #024.

Olympus FE 340 – Review – 24

Olympus FE 340 003

When Olympus announced it would up the standard zoom on its entry-level models from 3x to 5x I got excited¦ then it built the FE-340 with the bigger zoom, as well as face detect and a huge 2.7-inch screen. Now I’m delirious.

Bigger everything

Olympus’s jump in zoom range gives you the bonus of a whopping 180mm telephoto as well as the moderate wide angle of 36mm. The big telephoto sucks in subjects from further away and makes shooting sport or taking candid shots of the kids much easier. The screen has also been inflated in size, that 2.7-incher bulging with a credible 230,000 pixels for a very impressive image. The refresh rate is phenomenal, making flipping through reviewed images like watching a slide show.

Increased ISO

I am generally unimpressed with huge hikes in ISO sensitivity, but with the FE-340 the 3200 setting actually makes images that are almost useable. Usually the noise associated with high ISO is disastrous, but Olympus has finally figured out a logarithm that offers smoother rendering of the image without too much unsightly mosaicing. It still should only be used as a last resort, since images taken with this setting will only print without noticeable imperfections to 6×4.

Bigger, better movies

Olympus has struggled with video on most of its models, largely due to the inadequacies of the xD card, which can’t handle large doses of data at frantic rates. The company is trying to remedy this with yet another card with faster transfer rates, but we’ll have to wait and see how successful it is. This camera has a 640×480 30fps VGA movie setting that delivers smooth motion pictures, but for the limited time of 10 seconds. Slip the setting back to the 320×240 QVGA setting and you’ll fill a card with YouTube-quality video.

Picture this

The beauty of this little camera is the ease of use, a simple control dial and a great range of scene modes. These little pictorial scenes also come with an explanation of what they will do. If all else fails you can even use the guide that gives a series of picture ideas and hints, then directs you to the right setting. It will also shoot as close as 50mm in the Super Macro mode or 100mm in the standard macro setting, so every shooting situation from distant images to close-ups is covered.

Conclusion

The FE-340 has a superb screen and a very useful 5x optical zoom range. Marry this with the eight-million-pixel sensor and you have a starter camera to be proud of. The disappointment would have to be the xD card and its inability to record a decent amount of high-resolution video. The useful scene modes and easy-to-use control dial make operating this model a breeze. For most of us the quality of the images this little Olympus produces will be excuse enough to buy it.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Olympus
  • Model: FE-340
  • Price: $349
  • Effective Pixels: Eight Million
  • Lens: 5x optical 6.3-31.5mm (36-180mm in 35mm terms)
  • Viewfinder: None
  • Monitor: 2.7-inch Hypercrystal LCD (230,000 pixels)
  • Shutter: Four to 1/2000 sec
  • Aperture: f3.5 — f5.9
  • ISO: Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
  • Shooting Modes: Auto, Program, Anti Shake, Portrait, Landscape, Smile Shot, Action, Documents, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Fireworks, Sunset, Self Portrait, Candle, Indoor, Sport, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Guide, Movie.
  • Exposure Metering: Auto
  • Focus Modes: Face detect, ¨iESP, Spot
  • Media: 15MB onboard memory, xD card
  • File Format: JPEG, Motion JPEG video
  • Flash: Auto, Redeye, Fill-in, Off
  • Interface: USB, A/V out
  • Batteries: Lithium-ion rechargeable
  • Dimensions: 96.9 x 57.5 x 22.6mm
  • Weight: 116g

Contact

www.olympus.co.nz

Pros

  • Big 2.7-inch LCD screen
  • 5x optical zoom
  • Better but not brilliant 3200 ISO setting

Cons

  • Limitations of xD card
  • Average face detect setting
  • Digital stabiliser only

Design                    18
Performance            16
Features                  17
Image Quality          18
Value for money      18

TOTAL     87/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #024.

Canon Pixma Pro 9500 – Review – 23

Canon A3 Printer 001

Over at the input side of photography, engineers push ever onward to offer higher megapixel counts; while on the output side, printer boffins seem to be equally eager to increase the number of ink cartridges.

Three ink cartridges used to be enough. Then we went to four. Soon we had six, then eight colours became common on consumer-level printers. Now Canon’s PIXMA Pro 9500 offers no fewer than 10 14ml pigment-ink cartridges. The idea is to help produce better prints, just as the megapixel arms race helps enhance the quality of image capture.

The 9500’s manifest comprises cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, green, matte black, photo black and grey, the last three suggesting that this might also be a competent monochrome printer. It’s capable of a maximum resolution of 4800x2400dpi using a three-picolitre droplet size.

Canon engineered the $1365 Pro 9500 robustly and its build quality is high. It sits lower than some competitors, but requires a reasonably large bench area when set up for work ” about 70cm wide and 80cm deep. This is because the paper goes in at the back and comes out the front and larger sizes need pull-out supports. In addition to sheets of up to A3+ and 2mm thick, it prints on suitable CDs and DVDs in a special tray.
Setup was straight, clean and simple, although I found myself cursing Canon for not including a USB cable in the box. Also missing is a comprehensive printed manual; it’s all on screen.

The Pro 9500 will print directly from a digital camera via PictBridge and a USB cable that plugs into the printer’s front panel.

When evaluating a printer, I like to start with A4 glossy paper and move on from there. The first prints on Canon paper using Canon ink and the appropriate Canon profiles ” with colour management by Photoshop CS3 ” oozed ¨˜wow’ factor.

It was the richness of the colours rather than just being contrasty that made these prints stand out. This was evident in a Hong Kong street scene, a small part of which showed a sheet of plastic wrap in a rubbish bin. The gradation from light grey to white in the plastic was outstanding.

Moving to monochrome, the Pro 9500 gave the stellar performance hinted at by the contents of its ink cradle. It was particularly good on glossy paper; I needed to make small tweaks to get a little more punch from matte and flat specialty media.

Canon generously supplied a range of its Fine Art papers to try. These were Premium Matte, Photo Rag and Museum Etching. I wasn’t able to warm to the Rag ” others probably will. However, I have nothing but praise for Premium Matte and Museum Etching. The latter is a thick, luxurious paper that’s a pleasure to handle and print on. It will enhance almost any type of image.

The Pro 9500 is a particularly quiet printer, though not the fastest on the block. It’s feature-rich, easy to use as produces gorgeous prints in colour or black and white.

Another thing is you can always reduce your ink usage with special software like PretonSaver, click here to find out more.

Specs

  • Canon
  • Price: $1365
  • Size: (Stored) 660 x 353 x 193mm
  • Weight: 15.4kg
  • Printing technology: Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) 7680 nozzle print head
  • Ink: Canon pigment matte black, photo black, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, green, grey
  • Paper: Single sheet to 2mm thick, CD
  • Resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi
  • Print size: 9 x 13 to 329 x 483mm (A3+)
  • Print speed: approx 2 minutes 7 seconds A4 to four minutes A3
  • Mac and PC compatible

Contact

www.canon.co.nz

Pros

  • Top build quality
  • Excellent monochrome printing
  • Quiet

Cons

  • Slightly flat monochrome on ¨Fine Art papers
  • No USB cable supplied

Design                     17

Performance            18

Features                  18

Image Quality          18

Value for money      18

Total 89/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

HP – Hewlett Packard B9180 – Review – 23

HP Printer 001

Here’s a printer that showed huge potential, went astray, then proceeded to redeem itself.

Out of the box, the $1499 Hewlett-Packard B9180 seemed promising. A good-looking unit, its footprint is smaller than some rivals. The eight Vivera inks load easily in a compartment on the left side and the cartridges hold a reasonable 27ml, so you won’t be changing them quite as often when doing lots of big prints.

The inks are photo black, matte black, light grey, cyan, magenta, yellow, light magenta and light cyan.

The box includes an easily followed installation and start-up guide and a helpful 70-page printed manual. Installing the inks and four replaceable printing heads was easy. But then it started going bad.

The setup software wouldn’t recognise my copy of Photoshop CS3, so a potentially useful Photosmart Pro print plug-in couldn’t be installed. However, an updated version of the software was downloaded and all was fine.

After going through its closed-loop self calibration procedure and asked to print, the B9180 repeatedly warned that no paper was loaded, causing it to stall, even though its mechanism was picking up the sheets.

After triple checking everything and turning the unit and computer on and off several times, I turned the printer off and let it sit for half an hour. This must have reset something because it finally acknowledged the presence of paper.

Then the next gremlin struck. The printer kept reporting that the light cyan ink cartridge was faulty. This was temporarily remedied by removing and shaking it vigorously, then re-installing. It might then work for another print, maybe not, but it was chewing through paper and becoming annoying. Eventually, light cyan decided to settle down and it was time to see what the printer could do.

As if apologising for the glitches, the HP turned out print after print of outstanding quality; rich, pleasing colours with eye-stopping blacks and impeccable detail.

But there’s more. HP has a reputation for making printers that do good black and white prints, a stumbling block for some consumer-level products. True to reputation, the B9180 gave me some of the best monochromes I’ve made on a printer. Who’d mess around in a wet darkroom when you can get excellent results in the office?

No matter what type of paper fed to the printer, the results were impressive. If monochrome tickles your digital fancy, the B9180 is worth having just for that purpose alone.

I really liked the HP Photosmart Studio program that makes organising and printing photos about as easy as it can be. But most of the prints were made from Photoshop using the profile for the particular Hewlett-Packard paper, and letting Photoshop do the colour management.

Despite the early glitches, I’d be really happy to have a B9180.

Don’t forget, you can always improve your printer’s ink management skills by using ink-saving software like PretonSaver over here.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Hewlett-Packard
  • Price: $1499
  • Size: (Stored) 673 x 429 x 241mm
  • Weight: 17.1kg
  • Printing technology: Electrostatic Drop Detection (NEDD) printhead management system, 8448 print nozzles
  • Ink: Vivera pigment-based cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, light grey, photo black, matte black
  • Paper: Single sheets, 80 to 800g/m, 1.5mm thick
  • Resolution: Up to 4800 x 1200dpi
  • Print size: 9 x 13 to 329 x 483mm (A3+)
  • Printing speed: Approx 90 seconds, A3.
  • Mac and PC compatible

contact

www.hp.co.nz

Pros

  • Excellent colours and captivating black and white
  • Reasonably large ink canisters
  • USB printer cable supplied

Cons

  • Not able to print from CDs
  • Can’t print direct from camera

Design                    15
Performance           17
Features                 15
Image Quality         18
Value for money     16

Total     81/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

Epson Stylus photo R1900 – Review – 23

Epson Printer 001

Epson’s Stylus Photo R1900 brings to the party a set of new pigment-based UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 inks that includes an orange cartridge to help deal better with skin tones. There’s also a gloss optimiser cartridge that sprays a clear overcoat on top of glossy paper to enhance the appearance that users of that medium favour.

This newest member of the Stylus Photo range is no shrinking violet. With input and output trays extended, the $1299 printer measures 60 x 41 x 78cm, so it needs a good workspace, especially as Epson suggests you put it at least 100mm from the wall when using longer papers.

Within that generous footprint lies a versatile machine. It can print on a wide range of paper types and sizes, either sheet-fed or on a roll; it can print directly onto suitable CDs and DVDs; it’ll print web pages; print from a scanner or directly from a digital camera that has PictBridge or USB Direct-Print.

Setting up was so simple I kept thinking I’d missed a step. But no, 20 minutes after pulling the big boy from its box, I was ready to push the button. It wasn’t supposed to be quite that quick. I had scoured the box for an instruction manual but there wasn’t anything beyond a fold-out setup guide.

Epson puts all its user information on a CD, and very clear it is to. But I miss a printed manual, which can be quicker and easier to use ” and I was going to read it in bed that night to become a total expert before committing the first sheet of that big A3 paper. Printing the 59-page guide is always an option.

Whole books (and a good part of the Epson guide) have been written on colour management; it can be a huge and involved subject, but I wanted none of it. I get frustrated by the minutiae of colour profiles and related matters; I want a printer that gives the best possible result with the least fuss ” in other words, instant gratification.

So I was delighted when the first print rolled out of the printer about 80 seconds after pushing the button. I had printed a TIFF from Photoshop exactly as it sat on the computer, except for assigning Epson’s glossy paper profile, letting Photoshop do the colour management.

The colours and contrast in the print were spot on, but overall the print was a little light. I tweaked the levels, tried again and got a print worth framing. It pays to take your time to save wasting paper and ink.

Some colours sometimes seem hard for inkjets to render well (blues and purples for example), but the R1900 with its new inks and a wide colour gamut took them in its stride.

Epson provided three types of its paper to try: Premium Semigloss, Premium Glossy, and Acid-Free Cotton Rag Velvet Fine Art in A3+. Each has its place but working with the thick (260g/m2) and luxurious Velvet was a tactile as well as visual treat. The prints were lovely, even though the R1900 is said to be optimised for glossy paper.

The simplest way to print is straight from a suitable camera via a USB port on the front. Epson makes the process simple and intuitive and I mostly couldn’t fault the quality of the prints that it sucked from the JPEGs in my dSLR.

And if you ever feel like you want to improve this printer’s ink usage, try a program like PretonSaver – click here to find out more.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Epson
  • Price: $1299
  • Size: (Stored) 616 x 322 x 214mm
  • Weight: 12.2kg
  • Printing technology: Micro Piezo eight-colour pigment inkjet, 180 nozzles x 8
  • Ink: Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss two-pigment, photo black, matte black, yellow, magenta, cyan, red, orange, gloss optimiser
  • Paper: Single sheet or roll to 0.11mm thick
  • Resolution: 5760 x 1440 optimised dpi
  • Print size: 9 x 13 to 329 x 483mm (A3+)
  • Print speed: 44sec to 1min 32sec depending on size
  • Mac and PC compatible

contact

www.epson.co.nz

Pros

  • Versatile
  • USB printer cable supplied

Cons

  • Big footprint
  • Black and white prints a little soft

Design                   16
Performance           17
Features                 18
Image Quality         18
Value for money     17

Total 86/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

Canon Powershot A65OIS – Review – 23

Canon A650 IS 001

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

Well built

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.

Conclusion

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.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Canon
  • Model: Powershot A650IS
  • Effective Pixels: 12.1 million
  • Lens: 6x optical zoom, 7.4mm — 44.4mm (35-210mm 35mm equivalent)
  • Viewfinder: Real image zoom
  • LCD Monitor: 2.5-inch LCD variable angle, 173,000 pixels
  • Shutter: 15 to 1/2000 sec
  • Aperture: f2.8 – f4.8
  • ISO: Auto, Hi-ISO Auto, 80 to 3200 (in scene mode)
  • Exposure Metering: Evaluative, centre-weighted average, spot
  • Focus Modes: TTL autofocus, AF lock, manual, face detect, AiAF 9-point, centre and flexi
  • Media: SD, SDHC MMC, MMC Plus, HC MMC plus.
  • File Format: JPEG, AVI, Motion JPEG WAV
  • Flash: Auto, on, off, 2nd curtain
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Batteries: 2x AA (alkaline batteries supplied)
  • Dimensions: 112.1 x 67.8 x 56.2mm
  • Weight: 300g

contact

www.canon.co.nz

Pros

  • Swivelling screen
  • 6x optical zoom with stabiliser
  • Handy grid lines and 3:2 ¨ration guide

Cons

Flash doesn’t go the distance

ISO3200 gives noisy results
Design                   17
Performance          16
Features                 17
Image Quality         16
Value for money     15

TOTAL     81/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

Nikon D300 – Review – 23

Nikon D300 001

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

Advanced metering

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).

Flash ’em

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.

Conclusion

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.

specs

  • Manufacturer: Nikon
  • Model: D300
  • 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-
  • LCD Monitor: 3-inch, 920,000 pixels (VGA), 170-degree viewing angle, 100 per cent frame coverage
  • Shutter: 1/8,000 to 30 sec in steps of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV, bulb
  • Aperture: Constant f2.8
  • ISO: 200 to 3,200
  • Exposure Metering: Matrix, center-weighted, spot
  • Media: CompactFlash (Type I/II, compliant with UDMA); Microdrives
  • File Format: NEF 12-bit or 14-bit, RAW, JPEG, TIFF
  • Flash: TTL, built-in speedlight
  • Interface: USB 2
  • Batteries: Rechargeable Li-ion
  • Dimensions: 147 x 114 x 74mm
  • Weight: 825g

contact

www.nikon.co.nz

Pros

  • Impressive 3-inch LCD screen (920,000 pixels, VGA quality)
  • Added features include GPS compatibility and wireless control
  • Live view with options

Cons

  • Physically large

Design                      17
Performance             16
Features                   17
Image Quality           16
Value for money       15

TOTAL     90/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

Olympus E3 – Review – 23

Olympus E3 001

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

Mandatory equipment

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

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.

Sharp

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.

Conclusion

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.

specs

  • Manufacturer: Olympus
  • Model: E-3
  • Price: $2999 (body only)
  • Effective Pixels: 11.8 million
  • Lens: Zuiko Digital 14-54mm
  • Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism-type optical viewfinder approx 100%
  • LCD Monitor: Multi-angle HyperCrystal, 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixels)
  • Shutter: 1/8000-60 sec (in 1/3, 1/2, ¨1 EV steps)
  • Aperture: 1:2.8 – 3.5
  • ISO: ISO100 to 3200 in 1/3 and ¨1 EV ISO steps
  • Exposure Metering: 49 zones multi-pattern sensing system, ESP, highlight, shadow, spot
  • Focus Modes: 11 points/fully biaxial, automatic and manual selection
  • Media: Dual slot for CompactFlash card (I and II), Microdrive and xD picture card
  • File Format: RAW, JPEG
  • Flash: TTL auto (pre-flash mode), auto, manual, FP TTL Auto, FP manual
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Batteries: BLM-1 Lithium-Ion
  • Dimensions: 142.5 x 116.5 x 74.5mm
  • Weight: 810g (body only)

contact

www.olympus.co.nz

Pros

  • Swivelling screen
  • Wireless flash control
  • Limitless shooting at 5fps in JPEG
  • Dual card slots

Cons

  • Slow focus in low light
  • Screen is only 2.5 inches

Design                   17

Performance          17

Features                18

Image Quality        18

Value for money     17

TOTAL     87/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023

Sony A200 – Review – 23

Sony A200 001

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

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.

Super steady

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.

Conclusion

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.

Specs

  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Model: A200
  • Price: $1099
  • Effective Pixels: 10.1 million
  • Lens: 18-70mm f4.5-5.6
  • Viewfinder: Eye-level fixed pentamirror
  • LCD Monitor: 2.7-inch TFT, 230,000 pixels
  • Shutter: 30 to 1/4000 sec, bulb
  • Aperture: f4.5 – f5.6
  • ISO: Auto, ISO100 to  ISO3200
  • Exposure Metering: Multi-segment (40 segment honeycomb pattern), centre-weighted, spot
  • Focus Modes: Single-shot AF, direct manual focus, continuous AF, automatic AF, manual focus
  • Media: Compact Flash Type I/II
  • File Format: JPEG, RAW
  • Flash: Built-in pop-up flash (auto release)
  • Interface: USB 2.0 ¨(mass storage or PTP)
  • Batteries: NP-FM500H Lithium-ion rechargeable
  • Dimensions: 131 x 98.5 x 71mm
  • Weight: 532g

contact

ν¨www.sony.co.nz

Pros

  • Image stabiliser that works with any lens.
  • Anti-dust system
  • 2.7-inch screen
  • Battery indicator with bars ¨and percentage

Cons

  • Light construction that doesn’t ¨feel reliable
  • Minolta’s flash mount

Design                   17

Performance          15

Features                17

Image Quality        17

Value for money    18

Total                  84/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #023.

Orbis Flash Ring – Review – 28

Orbis Ring Flash 01

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.

Orbis Ring Flash 04Caveat emptor

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.

Beauty light

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.

Conclusion

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.

Portraits in particular are often hard to get just right. Click here for some information on lighting.

The results achieved by the orbis are certainly of commercial quality and well exceeded this shooter’s expectations.

SPECS – ENLIGHT PHOTO ENL-ORB1-A

  • Manufacturer: Enlight Photo
  • Model: ENL-ORB1-A
  • Price: $299
  • Effective Range: 4m
  • Flash Strobe Sizes: Compatible with all commonly available flash/strobe units — see website for details
  • Lens Compatibility: Internal lens aperture diameter 85mm — see website for details
  • Ships With: Instruction manual, protective bag, shoulder strap
  • Dimensions: 280 x 220 x 55mm (H/W/D – depth at lens 55mm)
  • Weight: 500g

Contact

www.orbisflash.com
NZ Distributor: Pro Gear

PROS

  • Competitively priced
  • Easy to use
  • Excellent results

CONS

  • Handholding takes a little practice
Design 16
Performance 18
Features 16
Image Quality 15
Value for money 17
Total 82/100

This review is from D-Photo issue #028.