Digital SLR cameras reviewed

Introduction

It can have escaped few people’s attention that while digital SLR prices have fallen, manufacturers haven’t stopped playing the ‘numbers game’, and so sensor pixel counts – otherwise referred to as cameras’ ‘resolution’ – have steadily increased.

Expect a minimum of 10 megapixels from an entry-level model suitable for beginners, 12 megapixels from a mid-range, enthusiast-targeted unit, and 14 megapixels from a semi-professional DSLR. The cameras on test cover these bases, and arguably boast higher specification than most of us will need, or use.

With that box ticked at the outset, what else should we desire from the latest batch of digital SLRs? Most of the lower prices quoted are for a body without lens, so it’s worth anyone upgrading from a digital compact checking out whether a bundle deal is offered, usually including an 18-55mm standard zoom – better value than buying a lens separately. It’s also important to note whether said lens features built-in image stabilisation to counterbalance hand wobble, the blurring effects of which become more pronounced either when shooting in lower light without flash, or at maximum zoom. This is a particular issue with Canon and Nikon models, as most rivals – with the exception of the Olympus E-420 here – now feature stabilisation built into the body.

Newer DSLRs, such as the Sony A350 also on test, not only boast larger rear LCD screens, but also the ability to tilt and swivel said feature. Like Live View, a function on many models whereby the monitor can be used to compose pictures and check focus before the shutter is fired, the ability to ‘detach’ the screen from its normal position and angle – so shots can be taken at arm’s length or at ground level – ensures greater creative choice.
Other features to examine are low light sensitivity, with Nikon’s latest D700 and D3 offering up to a maximum ISO25600 for flash-free photography in near complete darkness; their grain-dispelling noise reduction systems are much improved.

Look out too for faster shooting speeds, with up to 11 frames per second offered by the top-of-the-range D3; plus built-in dust prevention and removal systems to avoid any distracting spots on the camera sensor. Of course, the more you pay, the higher the feature set – and vice versa – so, again, consider not only what a DSLR offers, but whether you actually need it.

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