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    Lighter digital SLR camera less of a pain in the neck

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver 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 images.

    And for most non-professional users, having more pixels doesn’t mean much.

    Having 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.

    Digital 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.

    Where 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 digital SLR.

    Like 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).
    So-called 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 camera.

    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.

    Like other 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.
    Note 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.

    Unlike 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.

    While 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.) •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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