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DSLR Guide News - Top Trends of 2009
September 27, 2009

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DSLR News - September 2009

As we head into the last quarter of 2009, I am astonished at the number of new cameras available.

Sony in particular appears to have an assembly line going, as they seem to be cranking out new models every couple of months.

I'd like to start this month's newsletter off with a quick look at what new developments have taken place this year, and what each manufacturer is focusing on.

Let's start with Sony, since I just mentioned them.

So far in 2009, Sony has introduced 6 new digital SLR cameras, spanning the entire range from entry-level (A330 and A500) to full-frame professional (A850).

What's notably absent from all of these cameras is a video capture feature. Sony claims that this is because they want to focus their SLR cameras on photography.

I think that Sony may be just taking time to develop a DSLR video capture technology that really works.

Video modes included on many of the new digital SLRs of 2009 have limitations: they can only capture short video segments, you can't autofocus while taking video and you can't adjust exposure settings.

Speaking of video, let's talk about the pioneer in the DSLR video market - Nikon.

After the introduction in 2008 of the Nikon D90 (the first DSLR with video capture), almost all of Nikon's new cameras include this feature (the exception is the entry-level D3000).

2009 saw the release of the first Nikon DSLR with a flip and twist LCD screen (the D5000) - these LCDs are nothing new for Sony and Olympus who have been including them on cameras for some time now.

Speaking of Olympus, they have put most of their energy into a new format: micro 4/3rds. Micro 4/3rds cameras (also called Interchangeable Lens Digital Cameras or ILDCs) eliminate the viewfinder found on all digital SLRs but retain the ability to change lenses.

Micro 4/3rds cameras are extremely small and portable, but have the same image quality as digital SLRs.

Finally, we come to Canon - the ever-present leader in the digital SLR camera market. What's interesting about Canon is that they don't really innovate.

Instead, other manufacturers push the technical boundaries and add new features - live view, dust control, video - and not long after these same features begin appearing on all Canon DSLRs.

To their credit, when Canon finally does implement a new feature, it's often done with image quality in mind - and the exceptional image quality produced by Canon DSLRs is what has made them a leader in this market for so many years.

Canon has released only two models in 2009 - the T1i 500D and the 7D - but both cameras are impressive in their features sets and their flexibility.

In This Issue
  • SLR Trends of 2009
  • Q & A
  • New DSLRs
  • How to Photograph the Moon
  • The Quality of Light

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

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Digital SLR Q & A

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about lenses - specifically, which ones should be used for certain types of photography.

I'll take a moment here to summarize some of the main features to look for in a lens, and then will point you to the specific questions that people have asked.

Feature #1 - Focal Length

The focal length of the lens determines how far you can be from your subject and still get a close-up. Wide angle lenses capture the entire scene in front of you while telephotos are good for zooming in on details.

If you're a landscape or interior photographer, you want a super wide-angle lens (starting at 10 or 12mm) to capture everything that you see. Conversely, if you want to take pictures of sports from the bleachers then you're going to need a telephoto lens so that you can get decent close-ups of the players.

Feature #2 - Maximum Aperture

Ask yourself this: do you want to take lots of photos in very dim available light? If the answer is yes, then you need a lens with a wide maximum aperture.

The maximum aperture of a lens tells you how wide it opens and how much light it lets in. Lenses with wider maximum apertures let in more light.

The more light that passes through the lens, the faster the shutter speeds you can use.

Let's say that you're taking photos indoors of a moving subject: with a lens aperture of f/5.6 the fastest shutter speed you can use (without under exposing your photo) is 1/30th of a second. While 1/30th is just fine for a subject that is dead still, your moving subject is going to be a blur in picture after picture.

If you want nice sharp images of subjects indoors, get a lens with a max aperture of f/2.8 or wider. In the same scenario described above, a lens set to f/2.8 will let you use a shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/250. That should help you get many more clear shots of your subject.

Questions About Lenses

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons

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New Cameras

I've mentioned them elsewhere, but here's a quick introduction to some of the new digital SLR cameras recently announced.

Sony DSLR-A500 and A550

The new Sony A500 has a lot going for it: 12 megapixels, built-in image stabilization, extended dynamic range, and a 3 inch LCD screen that flips out from the camera body for easy high and low angle compositions.

With a 9-point autofocus system and the ability to capture 5 photos per second, the A500 is also quite speedy relative to many other digital SLRs.

The A550 is the A500's higher megapixels sibling with 14 megapixels instead of 12. In addition, the A550 ups the continuous captures speed from 5 photos per second to 7 and it has an LCD that is clearer and can display a wider range of colors. That's about all the differences between these two - otherwise they are identical.

A relatively unique feature on both of these cameras is the ability to capture High Dynamic Range (HDR) images in camera - something that was previously only possible with photo editing software.

An HDR image is three or more separate photos (each with its own exposure setting) that have been blended together to preserve detail in both shadows and highlights. The A500 and A550 propose to do this as you take the shot so you don't have to spend as much time in front of the computer editing your photos.

The A500 will retail for $850 USD and the A550 will be available for $1,050 USD. They should be available in October.

Sony DSLR-A850

The Sony DSLR-A850 is for anyone who enjoys 10 megapixel cameras for breakfast (or maybe as a light snack).

The core of the A850 is a full-frame sensor with a whopping 24 megapixels.

Besides this standout feature, the A850 has no other very remarkable characteristics: it's got built-in image stabilization, dust control and a 3 inch LCD. One difference between the A850 and the lesser A550 and A500 is that the LCD on the A850 does not flip out from the camera body.

The A850 retails for $2,000 without a lens and it is available now.

Canon 7D

The Canon 7D really is a "do it all" kind of a camera. It's got more speed and power than most other digital SLRs, and it pairs this with a Full High Definition video capture mode for aspiring filmmakers.

While the overall camera specs alone are quite impressive (8 photos per second, live view, 18 megapixels, wireless flash control), what has me most intrigued is the new autofocus system that Canon has placed in the 7D.

For years, Canon has included 9-point autofocus systems on their cameras - with the 7D, this number leaps up to 19 points.

The 19 points are designed to track subjects moving horizontally across the viewfinder (changing focus points as the subject moves) and they provide photographers with an exceptionally high level of autofocus precision and control.

If you enjoy taking pictures of flowers and landscapes, this type of autofocus is a bit much - but if photographing action is your passion, the autofocus in the new 7D is designed with you in mind.

The 7D will retail with lens for $1,900 USD and body only for $1,600 USD. It will be available in October.

Quick Tip - Photographing the Moon

I've had a couple questions about this lately and decided to just put a quick tip in this newsletter for anyone who's interested in taking pictures of the full moon.

The trick to moon photography is that you have to use a shutter speed that's much faster than you might expect.

The issue here is that you're taking photos at night and typically when you take photos in the dark you have to use very long shutter speeds (5 seconds or more) to create a reasonable exposure.

But - here's the catch - the moon itself is actually quite bright relative to the surrounding sky.

As such, you should use shutter speeds in the 1/125 to 1/250 range (depending on your aperture setting) to get a moon that is properly exposed with plenty of detail. Of course, the surrounding sky will be completely black, but that's not a problem when your primary subject is the moon.

The Quality of Light

In last month's newsletter I talked about the Rule of Thirds - a compositional technique that you can use to improve the way your digital photos look.

Another far more subtle way of capturing great images is to pay attention to the quality of light.

I like to think of the quality of light as the character or personality of light.

For example, at high noon on a sunny cloudless day, the quality of light is pretty boring. If this light were a person, you would not want to spend a lot of time in deep conversation.

Why is high noon sunny light so boring? Well, it doesn't have a lot of character - it's bright, it comes from directly overhead and it makes all kinds of subjects look harsh and flat. Put another way, this light isn't going to flatter any subject that you try to capture.

By contrast, early morning or evening light on a slightly cloudy day is spectacular. The low sunlight bounces off the bottom of the clouds and illuminates everything on the ground with a warm pastel glow. This type of light is like having a chat with your favorite celebrity - you never want it to end.

When the quality of light is just right, you should be outside with your camera snapping as many pictures as you can - many are bound to have some "wow" factor when you review them later on your computer.

That's fine advice - but how can you tell when the quality of light is "great" vs. "just OK"?

  1. You have to start paying attention to light in all its forms
  2. You have to take LOTS of pictures

Some of you reading this newsletter will have an immediate understanding of this quality of light concept and can probably remember many times when you actively noticed the color, direction and mood of the light outside - others will not.

For those of you who are not tuned in to the quality of light, here's the good news - you CAN train your eyes to see the difference between "good" and "bad" light. It just takes a lot of time and practice.

The best thing to do is to take pictures in all sorts of available light.

Snap shots first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day and late into the evening. Take pictures in all sorts of weather conditions - from bright and sunny to dark and stormy.

As you review your pictures, pay close attention to the ones that have impact and really leap off the monitor at you. It's quite likely that these photos were taken when the quality of light was flattering for your subject.

Photo Links

Photo Contests

Other Photography Sites

  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • - 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
  • - 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

I'll be spending the next couple of months updating content on the site - folks looking for new camera reviews are going to have to be patient.

My goal is to have much of the content that is starting to get a bit dated (especially with the release of all the new cameras this year) revised by the time the holiday shopping season kicks off.

For those who are considering a new DSLR as gifts (for others or for yourself) the updated information will help you compare and contrast the features available on the more recent crop of cameras.

Put another way, dust control is SO last year.

I'll try to post a list of updated articles in this newsletter, and will also try to keep a running log of updates - as time permits - on the Digital SLR Guide's Facebook page.

Until next month, happy picture taking!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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