digital SLR camera less of a pain in the neck
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
June 10-16, 2008; issue 972
High Tech Office column
Most of us have bought into
the digital camera revolution by now and with summer (and vacations)
looming, may be thinking of getting a new one. If so, remember: not all
digital cameras are created equal. And while ads tend to boil things
down to a single dimension – megapixel size – this is perhaps the least
meaningful measurement of picture quality.
As with old-style
film cameras, the lenses will make a big difference in the quality of
the photos taken with a digital camera. And just as 35-mm cameras offer
better quality images than cameras using smaller consumer-grade
110-sized film, digital cameras with larger sensors will take better
And for most non-professional users, having more pixels doesn’t mean
five, seven, 10 or more megapixels doesn’t make any difference when
printing photos at sizes up to 8x10 inches or so unless you’re printing
a highly-cropped image.
And more pixels makes your camera slower to store each image and
reduces the number of images you can get on your memory card.
SLRs (D-SLRs) have better lenses and larger sensors than other digital
cameras. As a result, they’re going to take better photos. But they’re
also more expensive, bigger and heavier.
Prices have started to come down, however.
a couple of years ago, consumers could expect to pay around $1,000 for
non-professional D-SLRs, manufacturers now have models starting at
around $700 or less.
A few years ago, I took a loaner D-SLR on holiday for a couple of weeks.
My photos were great, but I had a sore neck for weeks after I came home.
As a result, I was pleased to have the loan of Olympus’ new E-420
last year’s E-410, this year’s model is noticeably lighter than other
D-SLRs from Olympus and other manufacturers. At 1.4 pounds (including
lens), it’s a third lighter than most other models. Olympus claims it’s
the world’s smallest D-SLR.
The standard package includes a 14-42-mm zoom lens (equivalent to a
28-84-mm lens on a traditional film camera).
Four Thirds lenses from Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Sigma and others can
be used. Olympus’ optional $200 25-mm “pancake” lens (equivalent to 50
mm on a 35-mm film camera) barely sticks out from the front of the
It’s got the features we’ve come to expect in a modern
digital camera: quick performance, good automatic mode, speedy
autofocus and a set of presets for different conditions, along with the
option to manually set anything you want.
It offers dust removal
and image stabilization. Serious photo enthusiasts will approve of its
option to save images in space-gobbling RAW format.
recent Olympus models, it offers “live view,” letting you set up shots
in the large 2.7-inch LCD screen – something owners of low-end point
and shoot digital cameras take for granted, but most D-SLRs can’t do.
that you’ll still be better off using the little viewfinder to set up
fast-moving sports or action shots. But, as with other D-SLRs, you
can’t shoot video clips.
On the cutting edge: face detection
technology to automatically pick out faces and ensure they’re properly
lit and in focus, though enabling it will slow down shooting.
some competitors’ models, there are relatively few buttons to
intimidate users. On the other hand, this means that more settings are
buried several levels deep in the menus.
Left out: the big hand-grip found in larger camera models.
Image quality is good, especially given its attractive $600 pricing.
the E-420 is smaller than its competitors, you still won’t be able to
fit it into a pocket. But it will be less of a pain in the neck toting
it for long periods of time than other D-SLRs.
(Oh, it takes 10-megapixel images. I thought you’d never ask.) •