Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Dirt on Nikon's D80

Just when it looked like the dust was beginning to settle between Canon, Nikon, & newcomers like Samsung and Panasonic, Sony steps up to the plate after the death of Konica Minolta and brings their phoenix in to stir the pot again. Sony's A100 is raising all kinds of eyebrows around the DSLR world. Whoodathunk that Sony would be the guy to step in with a 10 megapixel DSLR?

It's kind of fitting though if you step back a minute and consider the playing field. It seemed as if Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and the rest had settled on battling the entry-level market with their 6 & 8 megapixel cameras. Canon can't step up now with the recent addition of their 30D. Nor could Nikon, it seemed, step up from their 6 megapixel consumer shooters - the D50 and D70s - because of their mid-level prosumer D200, which weighs in at 10.2 megapixels. But Sony, new to the market, decided to make some noise. Sony manufactures the 10.2 megapixel sensor found in the D200 and it has been widely speculated that the same sensor is found in Sony's new A100.

Nikon responds. A little over a week ago Nikon shocked us with an announcement due August 9th of their new 10.2 megapixel "affordable" DSLR for "enthusiasts." The consensus is in that this is a consumer level camera that is the next step in evolution of the D50/D70. The camera is the Nikon D80. Images of the new camera have leaked out onto the web over the past few days.
Speculation on specs? Leon Huang over at the Hip Tech Blog made some quality observations from the images that are noted below:
  • ​​​​​Button layout looks like a combination of D50 and D70/D70s, with
    the Playback/Menu/WB/etc buttons looking more like the former, and the dual-wheel setup more like the latter.

  • It has the physical self-timer and IR remote button like the D50, which D70/D70s doesn’t have.

  • It has the physical Matrix/Spot/Center-weighted button like the D70/D70s, which D50 doesn’t have.

  • It has a new AF button beside the top LCD panel.

  • The Bracketing button went from D70/D70s’ dedicated button to a shared button, which is shared with the ISO/ZOOM button.

  • It has a new dedicated OK button, which was previously shared with the QUAL button and was named ENTER.

  • It has the DOF Preview button that is found on D70/D70s and not D50.

  • The Trash/Delete button changed in position.

  • From the small memory card compartment similar to the D50, we can assume that the D80 uses SD cards instead of D70/D70s’ CF cards.

  • It has the 4-way controller lock switch like the D70/D70s, which is handy for preventing accidental change in focus zone.
Notice that there is also a new button right below the flash-activation button. Could this be a dedicated flash compensation button? Or the Vibration Reduction that many have been dreaming of?

Further speculations include a boost to 4.5fps, what looks like a 2.5" LCD, a 1/250 sync speed and priced between $899 or $999.

So what's Canon doing? Word is something's coming along August 24. An Israeli photography site had what appeared to be an official Canon announcement stating (in Hebrew nonetheless):

This year

August will be different


Every legend has a beginning

You can speculate along with other users here and here. Whatever the case, Sony's entry into the market has shaken up the competition a bit and it looks like lower prices and better products for consumers. Go capitalism!

Update 7/31/06: Take a look at the thread Zach started over at the Itinerant Angler regarding the new D80. It's relevant to several of the issues raised here and there are posts from both Nikon and Canon users that are involved in the discussion. Interesting discussion.

Update 8/4/06: The countdown page.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Must-Have Lens for Canon SLRs

It must be expensive, right? Does it have IS and USM? Is it an "L" lens?

The answer to all three of these question is a resounding "NO"!

The answer, of course, is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II at a pittance of $73.

So now, the "why"?

First off, as you can see, it's cheap. Not only is it cheap by it's great glass for the pennies you pay. This is probably the best "bang for the buck" lens that Canon offers and the first lens you should buy for your new DSLR.

Furthermore, this lens is a great portrait lens for APS-C sensor cameras like the Digital Rebel XT, 20D, and 30D. It is the equivalent to what an 80mm lens would be on a full-frame camera.

I won't rehash what others more knowledgable than me have said about this lens. Below are some links for your reading pleasure which reinforce the points I've made.

Bob Atkins' Review

Individual User Reviews from

The Digital Picture's Review

Individual User Reviews at

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Memory Cards and Cameras

I got a question the other day from a new DSLR user, "what about memory cards?"

Because they were using a Digital Rebel XT, my immediate response was Sandisk Ultra II or Extreme III compact flash cards, along with some stats on which sizes held how many pictures and to choose the size based on what they think they'll need.

But, for everyone else, there's a ton of brands, sizes, speeds, and types. Everybody's got their own favorites. I've got one recommendation that most people will agree with and another that probably splits the field 50/50.

First, the sure fire bet. SanDisk. You can't go wrong with the Ultra II or Extreme III versions of the Compact Flash and SD memory cards.

My second suggestion, which everyone will not agree with, is a Hitachi 4GB or larger microdrive. But before I get into why these cards are worth buying, let me delve into the basics of memory cards.

It seems like every camera maker uses a different card and that makes for a plethora of card types: CF ("compact flash"), SD ("secure digital"), xD-Picture Cards, Memory Stick, SM ("Smart Media"), MMC ("MultiMedia Card"), and Microdrives.

Compact Flash
From the top, the CF card comes in two types, appropriately named Type-I and Type-II. The Type-I cards are 3.3mm thick and can be used in Type-I or Type-II slots. Type-II cards are 5mm thick and can obviously be used only in Type-II slots. Most DSLR buyers will be looking at CF cards. All Canon Digital SLRs accept CF cards. All current models accept both Type-I and II cards. Below is a short list of popular DSLRs that accept CF cards:

  • D70 - 6.1MP entry-level DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)
  • D70s - 6.1MP entry-level DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)
  • Nikon D200 - 10.2MP prosumer DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)
  • D2Hs - 4.1MP pro-level DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)
  • D2X - 12.4MP pro-level DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)
  • D2Xs - 12.4MP pro-level DSLR (1.5x cropped sensor - Nikon DX Format)

  • Alpha A100 - 10.2MP entry-level DSLR with built-in image stabilization (1.5x cropped sensor)

  • E-330 - 7.5MP entry-level DSLR with a live view LCD (FourThirds system)
  • E-500 (also uses xD) - 8MP entry-level DSLR with (FourThirds system)
Clearly, with that said, if you're looking for a DSLR, you're probably going to be using a CF card or Microdrive (I'll get into this in a little bit) with it.

SD ("Secure Digital")
But what if you're not looking at a DSLR, then your memory options open up - almost too much. I'd say the winner in the most popular memory card format for P&S (or "point and shoot") cameras is the SD card. We're also starting to see SD cards trickle into the DSLR world. If you own or have been eye-balling a Nikon D50 then you know what I'm talking about. The D50 is a great entry level DSLR that uses SD cards. P&S cameras had always seemed like "neat little gadgets" to me until recently, when manufacturers started cranking out some real contenders that are sort of hybrids between SLRs and P&S cameras. They typically have a wide to super-telephoto zoom (roughly equivalent to 35mm-400mm+ on a 35mm camera) and frequently are equipped with some sort of image stabilization technology. There's a handful of P&S cameras that really stand out:

Ok, these hybrid digicams are great for some, but if you want a smaller camera there's plenty of other options on the SD card platter. Your Canon, Panasonic, Nikon and Kodak cameras are typically going to use an SD card in their compact P&S cameras as well. Here's a handful that have received rave reviews:

  • Nikon P3 - Wi-Fi capable (for wireless photo transfer), 8MP camera with a 3.5x zoom with Nikon's Vibration Reduction
  • Nikon P4 - 8MP camera with a 3.5x optical zoom with Nikon's Vibration Reduction (no Wi-Fi)
  • Canon A540 - 6MP with a 4x optical zoom
  • Canon A700 - 6MP with a 6x optical zoom and a nice 2.5" LCD
  • Canon A620 - 7.1MP with a 4x optical zoom
  • Canon PowerShot SD700 IS - 6MP with a 4x optical zoom and Canon's Image Stabilization
  • Panasonic Lumix TZ1S - 5MP with a whopping 10x optical zoom and image stabilization
  • Panasonic FX01 - 6MP with a 3.6x optical zoom and image stabilization
  • Panasonic Lumix LZ3S - 5MP with a 6x optical zoom and image stabilization
  • Panasonic Lumix LZ5 - 6MP with a 6x optical zoom and image stabilization (if I were buying a camera for me today in the compact category, this would be my purchase)
xD stands for extreme Digital. It was developed and used in cameras by Olympus and Fujifilm. There are two basic types: Type M and H. The newer Type H cards claim to offer speed increases over Type M cards, as well as include special "picture effects", although most of these are only available in use with Olympus digital cameras. xD cards are fast in comparison with older formats such as SmartMedia (SM), MultiMediaCard (MMC) and MemoryStick (MS). They have a small form-factor in comparison with other formats and have a low power consumption.

However, xD cards are much slower than SD cards. Additionally, xD card is a proprietary format only used by Fujifilm and Olympus, much like the Memory Stick card is with Sony. This means that no public documentation or implementation is available. Compare this to the somewhat open SD, or the completely open CompactFlash standard. Typically, because of their proprietary nature, xD cards will be more expensive than the mainstream competitors of SD and CF.
Memory Stick
Like the xD card, Sony's Memory Stick is a proprietary format, making it typically more expensive. "Memory Stick" is also used in general to describe the whole family of Memory Sticks. This family includes the Memory Stick Pro, a revision that allows greater maximum storage capacity and faster file transfer speeds; Memory Stick Duo, a small-form-factor version of the Memory Stick (including the Pro Duo); and the even smaller Memory Stick Micro (M2). I've got a Sony digital P&S camera and I've always found this to be confusing. Even after owning my camera for over 5 years I'm still not sure which of the Memory Sticks will work in my camera. This reason alone is enough to dissuade me from buying another Memory Stick supported camera. (Sorry Sony)

For those brave enough to delve into Sony's Memory Stick world, Sony puts some great features on their P&S cameras. By the way, Sandisk also makes a Ultra II and Extreme III version of the Memory Stick. Below, I've listed a few that impress me (just not enough to buy back into the Memory Stick world):
These drives fit into any CompactFlash II slot; however, they may take more power than flash memory - watch your batteries. Honestly, I've never had a problem out of my Hitachi 4GB microdrive. I've never ran my battery down using it for hundreds of pictures in a single day. High capacity models are usually much cheaper than flash-based counterparts. I've heard some people complain about microdrives's susceptability to breaking. I've also heard lots of others say they've used them for years and never had a problem. I think, like any electronic device, things break sometimes. I've found mine to be a quality device and will likely buy more.

To Sum It Up . . .
If it were me shopping, I'd look for a DSLR camera that accepts CF cards and Microdrives. If I were looking for a point and shoot camera or a hybrid model, I'd go with one that accepts SD cards. What about brands and models of CF and SD cards? If you want blazing speed and reliability get one of the following in the size of your choice:

Sandisk Ultra II Compact Flash
Sandisk Extreme III Compact Flash
Hitachi Microdrive
Sandisk Ultra II SD Card
Sandisk Extreme III SD Card

The Sandisk Ultra and Extreme cards are super fast. Meaning that you can hold the shutter button down on your camera and they just continue to take pictures. Lexar makes good cards too, just make sure you know what you're buying; they've always been labeled a little wierd for me to figure out all the differences. The microdrive I suggested above is slower than the Ultra and Extreme cards, but not so slow that I can't shoot sports. The buffer in the camera just fills up a little faster and I can't get as many shots in a row. The microdrive is still a bargain for the price you pay.

If you've got a good reason for getting an Olympus, Fuji, or Sony and using their proprietary formats, then go for it. However, I'm staying away from them myself. It's just not worth the trouble to me.

One last thing to keep in mind:
  • A 1 GB card will hold a little over 100 shots using RAW or about 330 using JPEG.
  • A 4GB card will hold about 330 RAW shots or over 1000 JPEGs.
  • I always shoot in RAW format, so I need more memory. To each his own though.
Until next time . . . Cheers!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Deal of the Week

Check out the Refurbished Canon Rebel XT w/ 18-55mm lens over at Amazon for $609.95. It's a steal at that price.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What About Flash?

Since this is my first post I'd like to say "welcome" to everyone.

Someone emailed me about buying a flash today. I thought I'd pass the exchange along to everyone.

The question:

A lady I work with just bought a Canon Rebel XT. What is a good compact flash to use? You have one you like. What is it?

My Response:

I use a Canon 420EX. There’s a new model out that replaces it called the 430EX. They use what’s called TTL and TTL-II. You can learn more about why that’s so great on a Canon rig at the Canon Flash Work website (I’ve put a link on my blog on the left sidebar). I also put links to Amazon for all the Canon flashes on the left sidebar. I would either buy a flash from Amazon or B&H – as opposed to a camera store or rip-off online sites.

There’s also the 550EX and the 580EX, which are more of the pro-level flashes and are also in the $350-400 price range.

The 420EX and 430EX are in the $250 and under range.

There’s a smaller basic flash called the 220EX, which I consider lame even though it’s in the $130 range. You can’t “bounce” the flash because the head doesn’t pivot like all the others from the 420EX and up. This is a feature she wants if she’ll be using it indoor at all! The ability to “bounce” the flash not only spreads the light more evenly on the subject, but also eliminates redeye. I’d say go with the 420EX or 430EX if she just wants a recommendation. If she really knows what she’s doing and understands what the features on the 550 and 580 models are and why she needs them, then she might consider that. Just looking over some prices, it looks like the Canon 420EX may be the best bang for her buck at under $200.

I’d also recommend reading the Canon Flash Work site. It’s a great tutorial. Additionally, consider a good book if she thinks she needs some help.

That's it. Send me some more questions folks. Look for new posts. If you've got more input or a better answer than me, by all means post it to the comments.