Digital SLRs group test


It used to be that if you wanted better photos than your pocket snapshot could provide, you traded up to a digital SLR (DSLR); a larger sensor and the ability to change the lens in use providing a better quality picture. Or, if you were put off by the perceived learning curve and didn’t want the bother of investing in a set of lenses, you went for a big-zoom bridge model.

Not any more: DSLRs have been under attack of late from interchangeable lens hybrid models, such as the Panasonic GF, Sony NEX and Olympus Pen series. These offer the best of both worlds, combining compact size and DSLR power – achieved by removing the mirror mechanism to bring the lens and sensor closer together. Though we haven’t yet felt the quality of these hybrids has truly matched that achievable with an un-tinkered with DSLR proper, there’s no doubt they’re very capable and exciting alternatives. So where does that leave the traditional photo enthusiasts’ and professionals’ camera?

Unsurprisingly, we now find the DSLR also trying to break with (35mm film) tradition. The latest models not only incorporate video recording, a feature of humble compacts since practically day one – and one which manufacturers suggest their customers are now demanding – they also offer one-touch record buttons borrowed from camcorders. Many also include tilt-and-swivel rear LCD screens for greater compositional variety, a feature inspired by bridge cameras.

Add in High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) output for connecting to flat-panel TVs and monitors, the ability to attach supplementary off-camera microphones for more professional sound, and the DSLR of today is not just a photographic tool, but a multimedia one. Sony’s A33, reviewed here, even features a 3D panorama mode, though you’ll need a 3D TV to play back the results in all their multidimensional glory.

Of course, with all these features now included, it doesn’t make a decision any easier when choosing which DSLR to buy. And remember, it’s not just the individual camera you should be considering, but also the level of support offered by its manufacturer in terms of accessories – flashguns, additional lenses and batteries – all of which in time you might find your photography benefiting from. So let’s examine the six contenders.

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