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    Digital SLR cameras offer the best of both worlds

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver September 13-19, 2005; issue 829

    High Tech Office column

    Digital cameras give users the ability to share images through e-mail or online along with saving them on CD or even (gasp!) making prints using an inkjet printer or a traditional photofinisher.

    While their popularity is driving the camera market, I often hear from digital camera users bemoaning the loss of control compared with 35-mm single lens reflex (SLR) film cameras.

    Popular digital cameras have combined point-and-click convenience with some advanced features, often hidden deep in a convoluted menu structure. But early on in the decade-old digital camera development, Nikon sold a digital camera back that could be used with some of its pro-level SLRs. Costing some $20,000, it had little mass-market appeal, though it was adopted by some newspaper photo departments.

    Today, though, digital SLRs have moved down in price. Models in the $1,000 to $2,000 range are becoming increasingly popular among camera users who want the power, control and interchangeable lenses and filters of traditional SLRs along with the flexibility of digital photography; dSLRs are available with brand names familiar to 35mm fans, including Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Pentax.

    For my holidays this summer, Nikon let me test drive their new D70s model. The camera body is priced at $1,150. It came equipped with Nikon's $500 18-70mm zoom lens.

    After using small automatic cameras, this felt big and heavy, but it had a pleasantly solid feel. While including all the typical SLR manual and semi-automatic options, it also had a good variety of automatic modes. And unlike most smaller digitals, there were handy buttons on the body to quickly adjust white balance, picture quality and ISO. Users needing to access the menus will find them better organized and more readable than on most digital cameras. And there's a Help button, in case of option-overload. Users cannot store customized collections of settings, however.

    Especially nice: near-instant power on. It quickly came into focus, either manually or automatically. As well, internal memory allows quick shooting without the typical digital camera delay while each shot is written to the memory card. Users can shoot three shots a second with this internal cache holding up to 144 shots. Note that no dSLRs shoot the short video clips available on many digital camera models.

    Nikon's rechargeable battery is rated at a very good 2,500 shots per charge. Unlike some models, the D70s cannot use standard AA batteries. The built-in flash worked well, popping up when needed, and covering a larger area than the often under-powered flash built into many digital cameras. A built-in hot shoe can be used to attach external flash units.

    Shoppers for dSLRs may notice that Canon's popular Digital Rebel XT offers eight megapixel resolution while the D70s (and Nikon's lower-priced D50) tops off at 6.1 megapixels. In most cases, I find megapixel ratings overplayed. Users rarely (if ever) have need of all the resolution available on these high-end consumer cameras. I was impressed with the D70s' performance and picture quality.

    With a dSLR around my neck, I found myself noticing how many other tourists had moved to these models.

    On one walking tour, I was surprised that out of some 20 participants, I counted four dSLRs. This technology is catching on faster than I expected.

    With prices down from the stratosphere, digital SLRs now make it possible to get the best of both digital and traditional 35mm film technologies.

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