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DSLR Guide News - Reviews: Canon T4i and Nikon D5100
July 29, 2012

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DSLR News - July 2012

In This Issue
I've recently had the pleasure of using both the new Canon Rebel T4i 650D (Release Date: June 2012) and the older Nikon D5100 (Release Date: April 2011).
While these two cameras overlap on a lot of features, each one has its own distinct feel and style.
Of course, once you have the right camera in hand, you'll need a great lens to go with it.
Unfortunately, most lens names include so many abbreviations you practically have to learn a foreign language to understand them.
In this issue I'll provide you with a special "decoder" table that explains what all these abbreviations mean so you can decide if you really need a lens that has them all.

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Recent Review - Canon T4i 650D
Canon Rebel T4i 650D

The big news about the Canon T4i 650D is its touch-screen LCD which lets you manipulate camera settings by tapping the LCD.
You can use the touch-screen in a variety of ways: to take pictures, set focus points, change camera settings or playback images.
I found it most useful for setting precise off-center focus points and for changing setting. I originally thought I would use it to change settings all the time, but discovered that I used the buttons and dials a bit more when actively shooting.
The main issue for me with changing settings using the touch-screen is that I had to lower the camera from my eye - this interrupted the "flow" when taking pictures. If I needed to make a slight adjustment to ISO, I would just spin a dial instead of tapping on the LCD.
A more useful application of the touch-screen is the ability to set focus points, especially if your primary subject isn't dead-center in the frame.
Imagine that you have three people standing in a line and you want to set the focus point on the face of the person in the middle. With another DSLR, this would involve selecting a specific focus point and then adjusting your camera position carefully to get the focus right.
With the Canon T4i 650D, you just touch the face of the person you want the camera to focus on. Face-detection autofocus takes over and stays locked on the person's face, even if he or she doesn't stand perfectly still.
You can read more about the touch screen and many other features of this versatile DSLR in my Canon T4i 650D Review.

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons
  • Dramatically improve the photos you take
  • Take manual control of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  • Get exposure right, even in challenging light
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Download lessons as PDF files
  • Ask me questions
Learn More >>

Recent Review - Nikon D5100
Nikon D5100

The marquee feature of the Nikon D5100 is its flexible LCD that flips out to the side of the camera and rotates.
Useful for high and low-angle photography, this type of LCD also makes shooting video substantially easier since you can hold the camera at any angle and still clearly see the image on the LCD.
The previous model - the Nikon D5000 - was the first Nikon DSLR to include a flexible LCD screen.
The main difference is that that LCD flipped DOWN from the bottom of the camera. This wasn't an issue if you held the camera in your hands, but it meant that the LCD could not flip down when the camera was on a tripod.
In addition to its flexible LCD screen, I was very impressed with how the D5100 handled image noise at high ISO settings.
You can easily take pictures at ISO 3200 and 6400 and unless you have plans to print them at enormous sizes, you'll be hard-pressed to notice any reduction in image quality.
The full HD 1080p video quality is superb, but autofocus in movie mode can be imprecise - for best results, I often used manual focus.
You can read more about this mid-level camera in my Nikon D5100 Review.
If you're curious about how the D5100 compares to the predecessor to the Canon T4i, take a look at my comparison of the Canon T3i 600D vs. the Nikon D5100.

Intermediate Digital SLR Lessons
  • Discover the best types of light
  • Learn to see and manipulate natural light
  • Find out what all the settings on your flash mean
  • Improve the quality of light from your flash
  • Blend natural light with flash
  • Use off-camera flash for professional-looking portraits
Learn More >>

Decoding Lenses
Canon 55-250mm Lens

Finding the best lens for your digital SLR can be an exceptionally challenging task.
There are many more lenses out there than cameras and it's difficult to decode all the abbreviations that manufacturers associate with their lenses.
In an attempt to shed some clarity on this issue, here's a list of some of the most common lens abbreviations and their meanings.
AbbreviationMeaningNotes
ISImage StabilizationCanon's stabilization helps prevent image blur when taking pictures in dim light
USMUltra-Sonic MotorCanon's USM motor makes autofocus very fast and virtually silent
VRVibration ReductionNikon's version of image stabilization
AF-SAutofocus Motor in LensAF-S lenses are required for autofocus to work on cameras like the Nikon D3200 and D5100
EDExtra-Low DispersionSimply put: higher quality ED glass inside the lens should result in better images
Gn/aThese Nikon lenses don't have aperture rings and only work on modern SLRs that control aperture from the camera body
DCDirect CurrentA term used by Pentax to indicate a faster, quieter autofocus system in the lens
WRWater ResistantAnother Pentax lens term, these lenses are sealed against moisture and dust
OSOptical StabilizationSigma's name for image stabilization
HSMHyper-Sonic MotorSigma's autofocus motor that provides faster and more silent autofocus
VCVibration CompensationTamron's name for image stabilization
PZDPiezo DriveProvides faster and quieter autofocus in Tamron lenses
In addition to an abbreviation decoder, you will also need to understand focal length and maximum aperture notation.
Focal length is measured in millimeters, and determines the angle of view a lens can capture. Lenses with short focal lengths capture wide views (landscapes) while lenses with long focal lengths are better suited for close-ups (sports, wildlife).
Maximum aperture indicates how wide a lens can open and how much light it lets in. Many lenses have variable maximum apertures, which means the max aperture gets narrower the more you zoom the lens.
For example, let's take a look at the standard kit lens: an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6.
The numbers in millimeters indicate that this is a zoom lens that covers ALL focal lengths between 18 and 55mm. This is a good lens for landscapes and portraits.
In addition to the focal length, you'll see TWO maximum apertures listed, f/3.5 and f/5.6. This means that when the lens is set to its 18mm focal length the max aperture is f/3.5, but when the lens is zoomed to 55mm that max aperture narrows to f/5.6.
Let's put all this information together to decode the following lens: a Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR AF-S.
55-300mmThis is the focal length range of the lens
f/4.5-5.6This is the max aperture range. At 55mm the max aperture is f/4.5, but at 300mm max aperture narrows to f/5.6
GNo aperture ring on the lens
EDIncludes higher-quality Extra-Low Dispersion glass
VRIncludes image stabilization
AF-SThe built-in focus motor means this will work on Nikon cameras that don't have their own focus motors
If all this lens numerology seems a tad overwhelming to you, there's an easier way to find great lenses - just take advantage of the research that I've done.
It's been some time since I've updated my list of "best digital SLR lenses" but I am working on it now, finding good lenses for all the different manufacturers.
I recently updated my page for the Best Portrait Lenses and I'll do the same for landscape, closeup, and wildlife lenses in the next month.
Keep an eye on the Digital SLR Guide's Facebook page and Twitter feed to be notified when these pages are updated.

Additional Reading

In Conclusion
I've been so busy lately that I haven't had the time to get out and take as many pictures as I'd like.
Hopefully the same does not apply to you and that the pleasant Summer weather - at least for anyone in the Northern hemisphere - is a good reason to get out and about with your camera in hand.
For my part, I'm hoping to get a few new cameras to review soon since that motivates me to get outside and take pictures.
Until the next issue - happy picture-taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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