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Digital SLR Guide Newsletter - October 2010
October 31, 2010

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DSLR News - October 2010

I'm keeping the newsletter short and sweet this month.

I continue to update the pages of the Digital SLR Guide to make them as current as possible - if you still see a page that discusses cameras from 2008 then clearly I haven't gotten to that one yet.

Most of the main pages of the site have been brought up to date, especially the pages devoted to the cameras from each one of the manufacturers: Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, and Sony.

Many of the pages that I still need to refresh are those that fall under the Best Digital SLR category and I am working on those as time permits.

The good news I suppose is that after a flurry of new camera announcements right around the Photokina trade show in September, there hasn't been a lot of activity on the DSLR front. This has provided me with the time that I need to "catch up" and make sure that the information on the site is as current as it can get.

It's also given me the opportunity to summarize all of the new digital SLR cameras of 2010 in this issue of the newsletter.

Before we dig into the details, let's talk about some trends:

  • Video is Here to Stay - every new digital SLR of 2010 (with two exceptions) has a High Definition (HD) video mode. This has led to a new name for such cameras: HDSLRs.
  • Flexible LCD Screens - once locked into place on the back of the camera, we're seeing more LCD screens that flip out from the camera body and rotate. Not just a gimmick, this is a great feature for photographers who want to take pictures from unique angles.
  • Insane ISO - the highest ISO value you could reach on older DSLRs was 6400. Today, ISO 12800 is becoming common while one camera has ISO up to 51200. While super-high ISOs reduce image quality, they also let you to take pictures that were previously not possible.

One feature that I'm surprised has not yet made its way onto any DSLR camera is a touch-screen LCD.

Since these are quite common on cell phones, it would seem a natural progression to add this technology to a DSLR LCD so that you could just touch your way through the menus rather than having to push a lot of buttons.

Adding more functionality to the LCD screen would also reduce the number of buttons on the cameras, which is a good thing. Some of the new DSLRs of 2010 are simply covered with buttons, knobs and dials.

Enough of the high-level analysis - let's take a closer look at what some of these new cameras have to offer.

In This Issue
  • Short and Simple
  • New DSLRs of 2010
  • Quick Tip

Latest SLR Guides
Canon Rebel T1i Nikon D5000 Nikon D90 Nikon D60 Canon Rebel XSi Pentax K20D Canon 40D Olympus E-510 Nikon D80 Canon Rebel xTi Nikon D40

Digital SLR Terms
Megapixels Stabilization ISO / Image Noise Sensor Dust Crop Factor RAW vs. JPG Continuous Photos Autofocus Points Aspect Ratio

Lens Terms
Focal Length Prime vs. Zoom Maximum Aperture First vs. Third Party SLR Lens Features Canon Lens Glossary Nikon Lens Glossary

Stay Updated!

The Digital SLR Guide is now on Facebook. If you're on Facebook, drop on by to get frequent updates about new digital SLR cameras and photo techniques.

New Digital SLRs of 2010

In order to prepare you for the upcoming holiday season, here's a list of the digital SLR cameras released (so far) in 2010, the features that they include and my own personal take on why I would get one.

If a camera has a particular feature that makes it stand out from the pack, I will call attention to that as well.

Here's the list of cameras that we'll be looking at:

  • Canon: Rebel T2i 550d, 60D
  • Nikon: D3100, D7000
  • Olympus: E-5
  • Pentax: K-r, K-5
  • Sony: A290, A390, SLT-A33, SLT-A55

Canon Rebel T2i 550D

Kit Price$850 USDcanon 550d
Main Features18 megapixels, 3.7 photos per second, ISO 100-12800, 3in. fixed LCD, 1080p Full HD movie mode
What's NewUpdated sensor, improved metering, exposure control for movies, stereo microphone jack
Why I'd Get OneI would get one of these if I wanted a compact camera that's easy to use but that also has a robust video mode. The 550D would also be a good choice if I was just making the move from a compact point-and-shoot to a digital SLR.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Canon 60D

Kit Price$1,400 USDcanon 550d
Main Features18 megapixels, 5.3 photos per second, ISO 100-12800, 3in. flexible LCD, 1080p Full HD movie mode
What's NewThe big new feature on the 60D is a 3 inch high-resolution LCD that flips out from the camera body and rotates.
Why I'd Get OneI'd get a 60D if I took a lot of action photos and also wanted to take HD video. I'd also pick the 60D if I wanted to take a lot of pictures without having to use the viewfinder. While not the best starter camera, I could get a 60D and slowly learn how to use all of its more advanced features. MORE INFO >>
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Nikon D3100

Kit Price$650 USDnikon d3100
Main Features14.2 megapixels, 3 photos per second, ISO 100-12800, 3in. fixed LCD, 1080p Full HD movie mode
What's NewThe new additions to the D3100 from the previous model include a live view mode and the HD video capture
Why I'd Get OneIf I didn't want to spend a lot of money and wanted a camera that is good for family snapshot photography, the D3100 would be high on my list. If I were just learning photography, I'd also be interested in the D3100 because of its Guide Mode for beginners. MORE INFO >>
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Nikon D7000

Kit Price$1,500 USDnikon d7000
Main Features16.2 megapixels, 6 photos per second, ISO 100-25600, 3in. fixed LCD, 1080p Full HD movie mode
What's NewThis camera improves on the D90 with autofocus and exposure control during movie capture and higher quality videos (1080p instead of 720p)
Why I'd Get OneAs an advanced amateur, this would be my camera of choice. The fast performance, low-light capabilities and control over video make the D7000 well-suited for still and motion photographers alike. Yes, it's got full AUTO mode, but it's quite a waste of money to use it that way. MORE INFO >>
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Olympus E-5

Kit Price$1,700 USD (Body ONLY)olympus e-5
Main Features12.3 megapixels, 7 photos per second, ISO 100-6400, 3in. flexible LCD, 720p movie mode
What's New720p HD movie mode
Why I'd Get OneWith complete weather sealing, I'd get an E-5 if I planned to take a lot of pictures in mist, rain, dust and snow. The flexible 3 inch LCD can be flipped and rotated for high and low-angle shots, or anytime you don't feel like using the viewfinder to compose a shot.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Pentax K-r

Kit Price$830 USDpentax k-r
Main Features12.4 megapixels, 6 photos per second, ISO 100-25600, 3in. fixed LCD, 720p HD movie mode
What's NewGreater ISO range, faster continuous speed, larger LCD
Why I'd Get OneI'd get this camera if I had a collection of Pentax SLR lenses and didn't want to spend a fortune on a camera. The K-r is fully compatible with all Pentax lenses and you get in-body image stabilization with every one.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Pentax K-5

Kit Price$1,750 USDpentax k-5
Main Features16.3 megapixels, 7 photos per second, ISO 50-51200, 3in. fixed LCD, 1080p Full HD movie mode
What's NewA vast ISO range from 50 to 51200 and quick consecutive capture speed
Why I'd Get OneFor shooting in near-dark without a tripod and in full sunlight, I'd pick the K-5. It has the greatest ISO range of any new DSLR of 2010. Using ISO 51200 with built-in image stabilization should allow for clear shots that are simply not possible with older DSLR cameras.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Sony DSLR-A290

Kit Price$450 USDsony a290
Main Features14.2 megapixels, 2.5 photos per second, ISO 100-3200, 3in. fixed LCD
What's NewNo new special features
Why I'd Get OneIf I didn't want to spend a ton of money and was seeking a very basic DSLR to use as a starter camera, then the A290 would be a good bet. There's no movie mode and the LCD is fixed in place, but if you don't want to get a camera that's too fancy then this is just fine.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Sony DSLR-A390

Kit Price$500 USDsony a390
Main Features14.2 megapixels, 2.5 photos per second, ISO 100-3200, 3in. flexible LCD
What's NewNo new special features
Why I'd Get OneI'd get the A390 if I wanted a basic camera like the A290 but with the added benefit of a flexible LCD screen for high and low-angle shots.
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Sony SLT-A33

Kit Price$750 USDsony slt-a33
Main Features14.2 megapixels, 7 photos per second, ISO 100-12800, 3in. flexible LCD, 1080i HD movie mode
What's NewSemi-transparent mirror
Why I'd Get OneThe SLT-A33 would be on my list if I wanted to take most of my pictures using the LCD instead of the viewfinder. With its new translucent mirror system, the autofocus is MUCH faster in live view mode and while capturing movies. MORE INFO >>
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Sony SLT-A55

Kit Price$850 USDsony slt-a55
Main Features16.2 megapixels, 10 photos per second, ISO 100-12800, 3in. flexible LCD, 1080i HD movie mode
What's NewSemi-transparent mirror
Why I'd Get OneI would spend the extra $100 USD on the A55 if I knew for sure that I wanted to make large prints of my images or if I had a real need for a camera that can capture 10 consecutive photos per second (i.e. heavy-duty action photography).
Compare prices at Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo Video

Quick Tip - Holiday Portraits With Flash

As the holidays approach, many people will be taking a LOT of pictures indoors with flash. Here are a few pointers about how to make these pictures look better.

Get an External Flash
To instantly improve the quality of the pictures you take with flash, stop using the built-in flash that comes with your camera. It's small, it's not very powerful, and if often causes red-eye in portrait subjects.

For less than $200 USD you can get an external flash to attach to the top of your camera.

Not only will this type of flash eliminate red-eye for good, it will also illuminate a larger space which is good if you're taking a lot of group pictures.

Use Manual Mode
It sounds kind of screwy to set your camera to manual mode, but your flash - whether built-in or external - is going to automatically compensate to put out the correct amount of light.

The reason to use manual mode is so you can have some control over both the aperture of the lens and the ISO value.

When you're taking pictures in natural light, both of these settings affect the amount of light the sensor picks up. The wider the aperture of the lens, the more light hits the sensor, and the higher the ISO, the faster the sensor absorbs light.

If you open the aperture wide AND increase the ISO, your camera will pick up more natural light (however little there may be) and your flash won't be the ONLY light source for the entire image — which often creates those deer-in-the-headlights flash photos.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Set your camera to Manual (M) mode
  2. Activate the flash (or turn on your external flash)
  3. Set the aperture of your lens as wide as it will go
  4. Select an ISO of 400 or 800
  5. Snap away

If it's really dark then this technique won't have a lot of impact. But if you're taking pictures in a relatively well-lit room (even if it's indoors at night) then using the manual mode should get you better shots than relying on full AUTO to do the job.

Diffuse or Reflect the Flash
Light from a bare flash bulb is NOT flattering for anyone - not even the most glamorous celebrities on the planet. This means that it's especially unappealing for average folks (unless you happen to be related to some gorgeous celebrities).

To make your average-looking subjects look more appealing when lighting with flash, you need to find a way to SOFTEN the light that the flash produces.

When you do this, you reduce the contrast in the scene and you make your subjects look considerably better.

There are two ways that you can SOFTEN flash: 1) diffusion and 2) reflection.

To diffuse flash, you just need to pass the light from the flash through some type of semi-transparent white material: bed sheets, pillow cases and white t-shirts all work well. You can also hold a piece of typing paper in front of the flash if no other diffusion material is close at hand.

The diffuser spreads out the light from the flash and makes it less concentrated, which is more flattering for just about any portrait subject.

If you really don't want to hold a pillow case in front of your flash while you snap family holiday shots, then your next option is to REFLECT the light from the flash off a nearby surface.

Reflecting light from a flash is made considerably easier when you use an external flash unit. These flashes can be pointed in just about any direction, which means you can point them at nearby walls or even straight up toward the ceiling.

When you bounce the light from your flash off a large surface - like a wall - the light wraps around your subjects from all directions rather than striking them head-on. Like with diffusion, it just makes people look BETTER.

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons

  • Dramatically improve the photos you take
  • Take manual control of aperture, shutters 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

Mapping Out a DSLR Purchase

Faced with all of the different camera options available these days, how in the WORLD do you make up your mind about which camera is the RIGHT camera?

Five years ago, all you really had to do was decide on one important feature - like image stabilization - and there were only a handful of cameras for you to consider.

Today, every camera is packed with features: stabilization, HD video, dust control, flexible LCDs and more.

I recently read about a great way to make sense out of a complex set of options and have been using the technique a lot lately to help me solve problems.

Here's how it works: get yourself a giant piece of paper and crayons/markers (you'll need the different colors).

Write down the name of each camera that you're considering in a neutral color (black works) and allow for plenty of room around each camera name.

Now, start adding features to each camera using different colors and/or shapes. For example, you may pick the color blue to show that a camera has image stabilization. A blue SQUARE means that the image stabilization is in the camera body (which makes it work with all attached lenses) while a blue CIRCLE means the stabilization is in the lens.

While this exercise will take some time, in the end you should have a complete visual map of all the cameras you're considering and their features. This at-a-glance perspective should help you quickly see which camera meets all of your needs.

This technique may also help you realize that a feature that you originally felt was important - like Full HD 1080p video - is perhaps less so if the other camera features meet your needs perfectly.

Intermediate Digital SLR Lessons: Playing With Light

Learn all about light in this new series of lessons from the Digital SLR Guide. These lessons explain:
  • What types of light are best for photography
  • How to see and manipulate natural light
  • What all the settings on your flash mean
  • How to improve the quality of light from flash
  • When to blend natural light with flash
  • How to use off-camera flash
Learn More

Photo Links

Photo Contests

Other Photography Sites

  • Mirrorless DSLR Guide - learn about mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and Sony
  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • Photo.net - plenty of learning resources and examples of exceptional photography
  • Borrowlenses - rent lenses to use on your digital SLR before you spend tons of money on one
  • Photojojo - tons of photography do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • Viewpoints.com - read product reviews from other consumers like yourself

Great Photo Blogs

  • Digital Photography School - hundreds of photo tips and techniques
  • Strobist - everything you ever wanted to know about lighting with external flash
  • Joe McNally - get the "behind-the-scenes" thought process from a professional photographer

Recommended Digital SLR Retailers

(These are the three online stores that I use to purchase all of my digital SLR photography gear)

In Conclusion

That's it for this month!

I thought that this was going to be a relatively short newsletter and here at the end I see that it isn't — unless you're quite happy with the digital SLR that you already own.

I should be done for awhile with the new camera announcements, so I'll get back to some photo tips in next month's newsletter.

Until then, happy picture-taking!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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