|Volume 10, Number 6||14 March 2008|
Welcome to the 223rd edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. Shawn writes eloquently of the Sony A200's simplicity while we take a look at Canon's best A-Series digicam. Then we explain what lenses you need in a dSLR to get what you had in your digicam. Finally, we discuss a recent study of productivity gains from using larger, wider screens. Don't blink!
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By SHAWN BARNETT(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A650IS/A650ISA.HTM on the Web site.)
Sony's Alpha line got off to a slow start until late Summer of 2007 when the company introduced the Sony A700 for intermediate photographers. This year, things sped up. In January Sony introduced the A200 and less than a month later they followed up with the A300 and A350 in the same body style with a few more features than the A200. All three of the cameras introduced this year are aimed at the consumer dSLR market and are surprisingly simple to use.
LOOK & FEEL
There's really only one major physical change from the A100 that affects both the top and the back of the A200, but it makes a big difference. Here on the back, there's a new Function button that brings up a simply worded Function menu for easier access to commonly changed items. The A100 had a Function dial on the top deck that was a little more difficult to use.
The 2.7-inch LCD is a little wider to accommodate the 3:2 aspect ratio of the A200's sensor. The images still don't fit exactly in the frame, slightly letterboxed with a black bar top and bottom.
Another minor change is the left-right orientation of the Super SteadyShot switch on the back and the deletion of the Remote connector, which has been moved to the left side of the A200 under the rubber door, a much better location.
With the Function dial now replaced by software, the Mode dial has room to move to the left side of the pentamirror housing, making the top deck very clean. The Drive button has been moved left to make room for the ISO button. This used to reside on the Function dial, but ISO is important enough to warrant its own button. Note the addition of something that was missing on the Sony A100: the Focal plane indicator just right of the ISO button.
Finally, there's one additional icon on the Mode dial: the No-flash Full-Auto mode, for when you don't want the A200 to exercise its new ability to pop up the flash.
POWERING IT UP
Sliding the power switch on the upper left of the A200's rear lights up the main LCD's Status display briefly and you can hear the lens motor quickly whirring. If the lens's focus mechanism is out, the A200 will pull the lens back into the lens barrel, setting it to infinity. Wrapping my hand around the grip, I find a very comfortable hold, with a nice divot for my middle finger to center my hand; however, my fingers tend to rub up against the tapered lens mount body. It feels a little more cramped in there than on most other cameras.
When I bring the A200 up to my eye, I'm greeted by another whirring noise: The infrared sensor just under the optical viewfinder has sensed my approaching face and started focusing on the nearest subject and the lens is already slewing into focus. Focus is very often set quickly, thanks partly to this pre-focus function. Sony says that the A200 focuses faster than the A100 and our test results bear that out. Where the A100 performed full autofocus and capture in 0.31 second, the A200's time is 0.189 with the same lens. That's a pretty big improvement. And if you pre-focus, the A100, whose shutter fired in 0.116 second, is bested by the A200's 0.088 pre-focus shutter lag time.
The A200's autofocus is pretty fast, overall and the nine-point autofocus system works fairly well, but I've taken to locking it to the more accurate center AF point, as I do with most dSLR cameras. The AE Lock button is perfectly placed for setting your exposure, moving the camera to an AF point, then moving back for the capture; and because they've re-tapered the back of the A200, it's a little more difficult to accidentally press the button than it was on the A100.
Press the shutter button on the A200 and you're greeted by a more competent, sharper sounding shutter than the A100's lethargic "rake-into-a-bucket-of-water" sloshing sound. Viewfinder blackout time, a more important factor, is also reduced thanks to the snappier mirror mechanism in the A200, making model and action photography a better experience.
Though I'm used to almost all digital cameras bringing up an immediate playback of the image I just captured, the A200 is better behaved, not wanting to blind you in dark settings. It waits until you pull it away from your face before it displays the last image captured. You can turn this option off if you want to work a little faster, but it's not a bad idea if you work in dark places where a bright LCD might ruin your ability to capture a follow-up shot.
My favorite Playback mode has five images across the top and a limited display across the bottom. The image currently displayed is underlined in orange. It makes reviewing changes across a range of similar images quite a bit easier. I wish the five thumbnails could come up a little more quickly, but that's somewhat card-dependent. The other very useful Playback screen is the full-data display, with a small thumbnail of the image, but with a more full set of data including the EV, metering mode, image size and even the focal length of the lens, plus luminance, red, green and blue histograms, useful for gauging proper exposure in a hurry.
Hitting the Zoom button in any of these playback modes (the AEL button) zooms the view in to 6.1x, a good magnification to check focus. From there, you can press the AEL button to zoom in up to 12x. Pressing the OK button takes you back to full screen view, where you can move the zoom box around the screen and press the OK button again to zoom back in.
Of particular interest is the A200's White Balance menu, which offers a very simple approach to a complicated subject. It's actually identical to the A100's White Balance system, but the interface is slightly easier now. Just use the up and down arrows to pick a white balance method and use the left and right arrows to adjust the color bias of that particular setting. If you've chosen Tungsten, for example, but your light source is just a little off from the norm, hit the left arrow button to make the image a little bluer or to the right to make it a little more yellow or orange.
If you know a little more about color balance, you can switch to Kelvin mode and dial in the right color temperature and add green and magenta filters. You can use the A200 as a gauge by moving to Custom mode, which will ask you to take a picture of a white or neutral object and dial in the correct temperature and filter setting to match. There are no pretty graphics to accompany the adjustment, as is more common on other cameras, but it's pretty straightforward in practice.
For the intended market, it's good that Sony made the A200's flash a pop-up design. The old one had to be lifted into place. Here you press a button on the left of the camera's pentamirror housing and it pops up. What that means is that the auto exposure modes can activate the flash when they deem it necessary, rather than suggesting the user raise the flash. The flash doesn't go up as high as the one on the A100, however and that's probably because the bodies of the A200, A300 and A350 are molded to make room for the Live View mode components in the latter two cameras. The flash on the A100 is hinged much further back, where the A200's is hinged about 3/4-inch forward. The flash bulb also ends up a little more forward, but that still means you'll have trouble with some lenses and lens hoods, which will block the short little strobe's light over much of the frame.
The A200 uses a CompactFlash card for memory storage. Worst case buffer clearing time was 14 seconds in Single shot mode. The most shots the buffer would hold was eight and the buffer cleared in 11 seconds with our Kingston 266x 2-GB card. The A200 captured 2.81 shots per second.
That's all great when comparing the Sony A200 to other cameras tested on the same target in our lab, but I kept running into odd slowdowns that I couldn't explain. I could usually shoot up to 17 shots in Continuous mode with no slowdowns but other times the Sony A200 would slow down after just three shots. It seemed to be related to Advanced Dynamic Range Optimization mode, so we tested it out in the lab.
After eliminating differences in the lenses and card speed, we finally realized that when you throw more work at the Advanced DRO mode, giving it too many dark and light components in an image, it'll throttle the camera's frame rate back dramatically after three frames. Give that same lighting situation to Standard DRO or DRO Off and the slowdown doesn't occur. So it seems that the Sony A200 is evaluating how much work it'll have to do to process the images and is slowing the camera down so it can do its work. So it's better to use Advanced DRO for special circumstances and stick to Standard DRO for everyday work.
DYNAMIC RANGE OPTIMIZATION
Dynamic Range Optimization's purpose is to prevent highlights from blowing out and shadows from plugging and it comes in two varieties. The Standard DRO attempts to optimize the tone curve across the entire image and Advanced DRO applies its algorithm differently in each area of the image if necessary. You'll find more highlight and shadow detail in the Advanced DRO images but overall image contrast can actually decrease, depending on the subject.
Sony has raised the top ISO on the A200 to ISO 3200 as the maximum level. They say that their new Bionz processor helps deliver lower noise at all ISO levels. The A200 applies noise reduction in the Raw file at both ISO 1600 and 3200, according to Sony and then applies it again after the usual image processing. It's unclear whether this noise reduction is applied to Raw images at lower ISOs. This might be undesirable for those shooting Raw as their main mode of storage.
The A200's kit lens and its imaging sensor are of pretty good quality, competing favorably with its Nikon and Canon rivals of the same resolution.
Printed results from the A200 show that the company's noise suppression works pretty darn well and their sensor is excellent. ISO 100 images held up well when printed at 16x20 inches and would have been helped by a little more sharpening on the computer. Even ISO 400 images looked good at 13x19 inches and ISO 800 and 1600 were quite usable at 8x10. ISO 3200 shots were still quite usable at 5x7 an excellent performance from a 10-megapixel dSLR.
I'm happy to report that Sony has shipped a dSLR that I find easy to recommend to anyone, a position previously held mainly by the Nikon D40/D40x and Canon Rebel XT/XTi. The A200's handsome, compact body fits well in most hands and it is easy to learn and use on a daily basis. The A200 has a large array of good quality lenses to choose from and the kit lens turns out excellent images without much trouble.
Improvements in autofocus speed are real and welcome, as is the ISO 3200 setting; and the pop-up flash is a must for the consumer market that the A200 is courting. As a people photographer, I really love the extremely short viewfinder blackout time, because it allows me to keep my eye on changing expressions and track unfolding events while grabbing shots. I was a little disappointed when the camera slowed down to process the Advanced DRO images, but once I learned about that problem, I just shot in Standard DRO mode and used Raw when quality was my chief concern.
More than anything, I think I'm drawn to the A200's decided lack of bells and whistles that would detract from its easy nature. For all the nifty features on other cameras, I'm more impressed by a camera that dazzles with its output more than its spec sheet.
At the end of the day, when you're sitting at your computer appreciating your photographs, you'll appreciate the A200 all the more for what it's given you. Those wanting Live View might want to look at the Sony A300 or A350, but if you just want a good quality dSLR camera that does what it's supposed to, check out the A200, an easy Dave's Pick.
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/A650IS/A650ISA.HTM on the Web site.)
The Canon PowerShot A650 IS is the new top-of-the-line A-series PowerShot. Now packed with a 12.1-megapixel sensor and a 6x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, its full featured exposure control enjoys Canon's DIGIC III image processor with enhanced Face Detection, ISO 1600 and red-eye correction. And the 2.5 inch LCD is articulated, making it easy to frame shots you can't otherwise see.
But in the A650, Canon has retained what makes the A-series so special: full manual control in a compact camera that runs on AA batteries, four of them in this case.
Full manual control in the A-series doesn't mean just control of the aperture and shutter speed. It also means variable flash power, so you can shoot with fill flash and trigger an external slave flash. And unlike many compact digicams, the A-series can be expanded with a range of conversion lenses -- all of which enjoy the built-in image stabilization of the Canon A650 IS.
We think of the A-series as Canon's idea of the classic camera. It's a great learning tool for anyone who wants to explore their aptitude for photography. And it isn't a bad cheerleader either, with pleasing image quality and some excellent optics.
The two-tone design of the Canon A650 masks its bulk. It is a good deal larger than those cute little subcompacts with 3.0-inch LCDs. It may not be jewelry, but you'll want to carry it strapped to your hand with the included wrist strap so it's ready for action at a moment's notice.
We held the Canon A650 easily with just our thumb and two fingers wrapped around the grip, our index finger on the Shutter button. You'll want to use two hands when you navigate the menu system or shoot at full telephoto, but you can one-hand the A650 to zoom and take most close-range shots.
Almost all the Canon A650's controls are on the substantial grip. The Mode dial is just behind the Shutter button, which is surrounded by a Zoom lever. On the back panel the Record/Playback switch sits above the button panel. A four-way navigator with the familiar Function Set button in the middle is surrounded by an EV button, an ISO button, a Display button and a Menu button. All of which function just as you'd expect if you've used other Canon digicams.
Canon didn't scrimp on viewfinders for the A650. Not only is the 2.5-inch LCD articulating but there's also an optical viewfinder above it.
The optical viewfinder isn't very exciting. It displays nothing but the standard 4:3 frame and lacks even targets. At full telephoto the top of the lens intrudes on the bottom of the viewfinder. And for all that, it only shows about 78 percent of the captured image. But when you need an optical viewfinder, you really need one. It's the only solution to shooting when the sun obscures the LCD.
Of course, with an articulated LCD, you can swing the LCD around a bit to avoid the sun. But the real fun of an articulated LCD is seeing the world from a different perspective. The only difference most LCDs have made in how people compose their images is they hold the camera in front of the face instead of against it. But swing that LCD out and you can frame the celebrity from way back in the crowd or see under your car or around corners. It makes the camera inconspicuous so you can get great candids of kids and other wildlife wary of the posed lens.
And you can always lay it flat back against the camera to shoot like everybody else when you want, too.
At 173K pixels, it isn't among the most detailed LCDs, but it isn't among the least, either. Type is sharp and clear, menus are easy to read and images are clearly displayed.
Canon is rather conservative in its optical ranges so it's a relief to see a 6x zoom lens on a PowerShot. That's good enough that if you shoot a wide-angle shot and then take a telephoto shot from the same spot, you'd think two different cameras took the pictures. You can't see the detail in the wide-angle shot that fills the frame in the telephoto shot.
But the lens is also very nice in Macro mode, capturing as small an area as 1.01x0.75 inch. You can't use the flash that close, but you wouldn't want to anyway.
Aperture ranges from f2.8 at wide-angle and f4.8 at telephoto to f8.0, a good range for a digicam. That gives you something to play with in Manual and Aperture Priority modes.
That f4.8 isn't quite as slow as it might seem, since the lens also includes Canon's optical image stabilization. The Canon A650's lens shift design has three modes. Continuous mode shows the effect of IS all the time, so you can enjoy its benefits when you are composing your shots. Shoot Only activates it only when you press the Shutter button, which saves battery power. Panning restricts the correction to up-and-down camera movement for subjects that move horizontally.
IS will also be quite welcome using the 4x digital zoom, which extends the 35-210mm 35mm equivalent range to 640mm, which is impossible to hold steady otherwise.
The chrome ring around the lens pops off to fit an adapter for both wide and telephoto conversion lenses.
And we were glad to see a Widescreen mode (16:9) available on the Canon A650.
The Mode dial on Canon cameras is divided into three distinct areas (conceptually, at least).
The Canon A650's green Auto setting is a zone unto itself (called Auto).
Below it is the Image Zone, a set of Scene modes ranging from individual settings for Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot and Kids&Pets and to a setting for the other Scene modes. Those include Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor and ISO 3200 (at 1600x1200 pixels). Finally the Image Zone includes settings for Stitch Assist for panorama shooting and Movie mode.
The real fun, though, is above Auto in the Canon A650's Creative Zone. Here you'll find the usual suspects: Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av) and Manual (where you can set shutter speed and aperture independently of each other). But it also includes a Custom setting to save your setup under any of the modes, including things like zoom position.
While the A650 features Canon's excellent face detection technology, we didn't get a chance to test it in the field. When activated as the focus mode, it sets not only focus, but exposure and flash, avoiding ghostly faces from too bright a flash or exposure setting.
Face detection also powers Canon's Focus Check edit mode. In this mode, the camera identifies the faces in the image. You can scroll from one to another and magnify them with the Zoom lever to check for expressions and closed eyes.
Canon's AiAF automatic focusing, Center-weighted focusing and FlexiZone focusing are all available, too.
STORAGE AND BATTERY
The A in the A Series stands for AA-size batteries. The Canon A650 needs four of them. But they seem to last forever. Even alkalines (which we never recommend because they don't survive the heavy power demands of a digicam) can muster 300 shots with the LCD on. And having an optical viewfinder means you can turn off the LCD to get about 1,000 shots. Pop rechargeable NiMH batteries in the Canon A650 and you get 500 shots with the LCD on and 1,400 with it off.
For the duration of our testing, we used a set of Duracell Ultra AA alkalines that were in the box with the camera (and no doubt used during testing in Atlanta). That never happens.
The Canon A650 comes with a 32-MB SD card and it can handle SDHC, SD or MMC cards, too -- although we recommend a fast card to keep up with the 30 fps video capture. The included card can hold about five images at the highest resolution and smallest compression. That's about a 5.6-MB average file size.
One of the pleasures of writing a Canon PowerShot review is discussing its performance. They're always at the head of the class.
And the Canon A650 IS maintains that tradition in the things that matter. It ranked above average for Startup speed (1.2 seconds), combined wide-angle and telephoto autofocus lag (0.541 second), pre-focus lag (0.087 second), download speed (1439.4 Kb/s), LCD size (2.5 for an articulated LCD) and optical zoom (6x).
It ranked average for optical distortion both at wide-angle where we measured 0.8 percent barrel distortion and at telephoto with 0.2 pincushion. It was also average in Shutdown time (2.2 seconds to retract the lens).
The Canon A650's only below-average rankings were in continuous mode cycle time (only 1.2 frames per second) and weight, as it comes in at 14 ounces (397 grams), but its weight is both expected and good for the type of camera that it is.
Another of the pleasures of reviewing a Canon PowerShot is getting to use it for a few days. We took the Canon A650 for a ride up Twin Peaks to get our zoom range shots and a walk around town to shoot whatever we fancied. Normally we shoot in Auto or Programmed Auto (if available) to represent typical performance, but with the A650, we indulged in some Aperture and Shutter Priority shots, too.
One of the more rewarding tasks was shooting Macro shots. The shot of the Santa eraser was Shutter Priority at 1/15 second (which we felt we could easily hold with image stabilization). It was taken under warm fluorescent light with Auto White Balance and indeed appears quite warm. The f4.5 aperture doesn't give us much depth of field (enough to read "Nice" on the pencil), which may also account for the blurred eyes.
But the shot of the berries really shows off the detail that a 12.1-Mp sensor can capture. Look at the full-resolution image to see the water drops and spider webs (particularly along the top).
That was an Aperture Priority shot (as the Exif display shows) taken wide open at f2.8 and ISO 84. Shutter speed was just 1/125 second and the DIGIC III processor hung on to the highlights. Very nicely rendered.
We were a little surprised to see the orange traffic signs pop out (they're a bit oversaturated, much like our fire alarm shot) but more disappointed in the noise at ISO 200. Our shot of San Bruno Mountain under clouds really tested the Canon A650's ability to render color in neutral light. That shot was ISO 80 but still exhibited a good deal of noise in the neutrals. If you look at the full resolution shot, you can see the trunks of the dark trees, though, which was impressive.
Our fire hydrant shot demonstrates a known problem with the Canon A650, which Canon has addressed with a free repair program. Our news story from Oct. 8, 2007 explains, "According to Canon, the issue is restricted solely to cameras with a zero as the fifth digit of the serial number and occurs in sunny conditions with the tilt/swivel LCD display arm opened. When sunlight shines on the back of the camera in the area normally covered by the LCD display, image quality can be adversely affected."
As you can see in the hydrant shot, there are red and blue streaks in the purple shadows adjacent to the hydrant. You can't miss them even on the thumbnails. But the Canon A650's DIGIC III chip held the highlights well on that difficult shot.
There is a bit more chromatic aberration in the Canon A650 than we're comfortable with. It's evident in a number of wide-angle shots. In the shot of the stone wall, you can see it clearly in the top left corner.
As our test shots show, sharpness is very good from corner to corner. And the excellent resolution we noticed in the field resolves to 1,700 lines of detail in the test shots, too. Red and blue hues are oversaturated but for the most part the images rendered the scene accurately without the extreme oversaturation of most consumer digicams.
The tradeoff for the resolution of that 12.1-Mp sensor, though, is noise -- even at ISO 200. The test shots are particularly disturbing, showing detail falling apart in Marti's hair in the ISO 200 sample and rather poor detail at ISO 400. The ISO 3200 shot, which bins the pixels to a smaller image size of 1600x1200 holds its color at the expense of detail.
The Canon A650's 6x zoom lens is optically stabilized, its 2.5-inch LCD is articulated and its Creative Zone modes include all the manual control you expect from a real camera and a Custom setting remembers special setups. You can dial down the flash to fill in sunlight and focus on faces both when you're shooting and when you're checking your shots. Performance was above average where it counts, with good autofocus lag times.
There was, however, a disturbing amount of noise in the images even at ISO 200 from the 12.1-Mp sensor. The staff in Atlanta found that wasn't an issue for an 11x14 inch print. And you can always stick to lower ISOs, shoot with a tripod or else consider the Canon G9, which is capable of saving Raw files, for easier file adjustment after capture. Its excellent optical quality, 6x stabilized zoom lens and articulating screen make the Canon PowerShot A650 a clear Dave's Pick.
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- Reviewed: Sony Alpha A200 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA200/AA200A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon Coolpix S510 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/CPS510/CPS510A.HTM)
- New Test Results: Nikon D300 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D300/D300A.HTM)
We keep wondering when the day will dawn that people will start asking us what a 35mm equivalent is. But as long as we keep referring to digicam lens focal lengths in terms of 35mm focal lengths, that dawn may be obscured by fog.
If your first camera is a digicam, what does a 35mm equivalent focal length mean to you?
Not much, clearly. Recently our mail has been peppered with questions about focal lengths. Our correspondents are moving up from a digicam to a dSLR with no background in 35mm photography. They've got some interesting questions.
The answers are too long for the Letters column, so we thought we'd squeeze them into this column. Advanced amateurs and pros may have this down cold, but the Lens Game remains confusing for the new dSLR owner.
Say, for example, you have a digicam with a 10x zoom with 4x digital zoom and a Super Macro mode that lets you get to within 1.2 inches of your subject. You just bought a Canon Rebel XTi. What do you need to be able to shoot what you're used to shooting with your digicam?
That's the Lens Game.
The first trick is to decode your 10x zoom. What's that 10x mean, exactly? It means that the telephoto focal length is 10 times the wide angle focal length. So if the 35mm equivalent of your zoom happens to be 38-380mm, you just divide 380 by 38 to get that 10. A 35-105mm equivalent would be a 3x zoom.
Your digicam lens isn't really 38-380mm, though. It's probably more like 6.3-63mm. That's the real focal length. The 35mm equivalent isn't actually a focal length at all. It's a 35mm equivalent crop. It tells you how much of the scene you can capture, given the size of your camera's sensor. That 6.3mm on your sensor crops about the same as a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera.
Your digicam's sensor is a lot smaller than your dSLR's sensor. A lot. But even though your dSLR sensor is larger than your digicam's sensor, it probably isn't (but may be) as large as a frame of 35mm film.
Since it's smaller than a frame of 35mm film, it can't see as much of the scene as a 35mm camera might with the same lens. It can't help but crop the image because it's smaller.
So a 28-135mm 35mm zoom lens doesn't look like 28mm at wide angle or 105mm at telephoto on an XTi. The XTi has what we call a 1.6 focal length multiplier. That's the number you multiply the focal length by to see what the crop looks like. In this case, the 28-135mm 35mm lens crops like a 45-216mm lens. The smaller sensor has the effect of increasing the crop as if the focal length were multiplied by a factor of 1.6.
The upshot of this is that a 35mm wide angle lens is about normal on a dSLR with a sensor smaller than a 35mm film frame. Even a fairly wide angle 28mm 35mm lens turns out to deliver a pretty normal 45mm crop. That's why most kits lenses (18-55mm or so) are not a bad investment. They get you a wide angle.
Now that we know something about focal lengths, what do we need to duplicate the 38-380mm digicam 35mm equivalent? With that 1520mm 4x digital zoom and Super Macro mode? Not to mention (well, let's mention it) lens-shift image stabilization.
Dividing our range by the 1.6 Canon focal length multiplier (it's 1.5 for Nikonians, incidentally), we get 24-240mm. That 4x digital zoom would be 960mm. And looking for a macro mode won't make this any easier.
When you move to a dSLR, that bigger sensor (with better resolution and lower noise, typically) requires more glass (not just more money). But the lenses are less versatile than what you can find on a digicam.
To duplicate your old range, you might start with Canon's new $160 17-55mm image stabilized kit lens and add Canon's $500 70-300mm image stabilized long zoom. For macro work, Canon's $350 60mm Macro lens will do the job. Sound pricey? It could be worse if you buy Canon's L glass or lenses that work on 35mm-sized sensors, too. These choices are all EF-S lenses, designed for the smaller XTi sensor.
In the article "Your Second Lens" (http://www.slrgear.com/articles/secondlens.html), the gang at SLRgear.com recommends two long zooms that would work for that XTi: Canon's $1,400 100-400mm L with image stabilization and Tamron's $850 200-500mm. On an XTi, that 500mm works out to be an 800mm crop.
Another helpful resource is our Focal Length Multiplier calculator, published in the Dec. 10, 2004 issue (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-arch.html). Just enter your 35mm focal lengths to get the 35mm equivalent.
The worst part about playing the Lens Game is picking your equipment. Once you've got the glass, the fog lifts and the real fun begins.
This week a study commissioned by monitor maker NEC made some heads turn (http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1205422252.html). The study, conducted at the University of Utah, compared productivity editing text and spreadsheets on widescreen displays against single and dual standard aspect (4:3) displays. A 2003 study (http://www.necus.com/necus/media/press_releases/template.cfm?DID=1947) had already compared multiple monitors against single monitors.
There are some interesting lessons for photographers. So let's take a closer look at the study.
Ninety-six people were assigned to either a single 20-inch monitor (1600x1200), a dual 20-inch monitor configuration or either a 24-inch widescreen display (1920x1200) or a 26-inch widescreen display (1900x1200). Each person was randomly assigned both text and spreadsheet editing tasks, which were timed and measured for performance.
The study concluded:
Among the more intriguing findings were:
- More screen space increases productivity up to a certain point (at which large screens are less productive).
- Where multiple windows are required, standard 17-inch monitors and smaller are much less productive than the larger monitors.
- Large widescreen monitors can be as effective and even more productive than dual screen monitors, but both are more effective than smaller, single screen monitors.
So what's this mean for photographers?
- A 20-inch standard format monitor alone returned an 18 percent increase in productivity over a smaller monitor and even scored better than dual smaller monitors.
- Users preferred widescreen and dual monitor setups over single standard format monitors because they're easier to use, more effective, fast and have more viewable space. Widescreen monitors were preferred over dual screen setups because dual monitors "could be closer" and they preferred the lack of "a bezel break."
- Widescreens scored better on text editing. For spreadsheet editing, however, dual 20-inch monitors slightly outperformed the 24-inch widescreen.
- The user's experience was found to be a factor as well, with less experienced users performing better on widescreens. The study concluded that widescreen and dual monitor setups can reduce the productivity gap between experienced and new users.
The important productivity finding is the multiple window issue. If you're a Photoshop user and have palettes lining your screen like Tibetan prayer flags, you're probably expanding and collapsing them frequently. Moving them to a second monitor so you can leave them all open as you work on your image on your primary monitor will save you a lot of time.
But if you're a Lightroom user, you know a lot of work was put into the program to make it efficient to use on one monitor. Mere keystrokes can change the configuration of the panels and it's easy to set up the panels efficiently for editing. The extra real estate of a wide monitor comes in very handy here.
Aperture has some rather sophisticated options for dual screen setups, allowing you to choose whether to span the display, mirror it, blank one to black, show the Desktop on one and use an alternate setup to compare images.
Indeed, restricting one monitor to the Desktop for normal computer use isn't a bad productivity idea at all. You can leave a browser running or some other tool you frequently need, instead of shuffling through application windows or, worse, relaunching the applications.
Aspect ratio would seem to favor widescreen no matter how many monitors you have. On a single monitor setup it gives you some elbow room for palettes and panels no matter what aspect ratio your image is. Laptops in particular profit from a widescreen aspect ratio. On a dual setup, a widescreen is even more flexible. Monitors always seem to be tall enough but never quite as wide as you'd like.
Photographers, of course, have other criteria that matter besides size and aspect ratio. Color gamut and color controls are important. Evenness of illumination matters. Resolution and contrast ratio, too. And the surface of the monitor (glossy or non-glare) can, as we've previously discussed, make a difference.
Imaging Resource is ramping up to do monitor reviews, so we'll no doubt have more to say on this subject. But the lesson from the NEC/Utah study is pretty clear. Bigger is better, wider is better and more than one is better. In that order.
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
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RE: Kodak AiOs
Nice job on the diary of the Kodak 5300 AiO. Very informative and your pictures of setting it up, etc., are very useful. I'm currently wrestling with whether or not to purchase one. I like the prospect of long lasting prints, cheaper ink, etc., but still see a lot of mixed reviews. Was just wondering if you have any new data on it, have the firmware issues been corrected, and did you do any larger than 4x6 prints? One review I read said the 4x6 prints were good but anything larger was not so. Any feedback would be appreciated, thanks and keep up the good work.
-- Dave(Thanks for the kind words, Dave. Both the 5300 and the 5500 have been returned to Kodak. Even after firmware updates, they never functioned as advertised, although basic computer to printer operations worked. Kodak has announced a much less expensive AiO printer, the ESP-3 AiO. We reported on it in our CES coverage (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/ICES08/ces-reports/ces-pep.htm#kod) and are expecting a review unit this month. It's a simpler printer than the Series 5000 printers. No LCD, functions controlled by software hosted on the computer. Same inks, same printheads (and worth waiting for).... The comment about sheet size is puzzling. We wonder if it was made in reference to enlarging scans (as in copying a print). There is no technical reason a print larger than 4x6 would not be as good as a 4x6 other than resolution and that's certainly not the printer's fault. For our printer reviews, we always print as large as the printer lets us. There's no issue with these printers at larger sizes. -- Editor)
RE: Canon M80?
Can you tell me why Canon does not market the Media Storage M80 device in the U.S.? I cannot find any comparable units that will display images of the embedded JPEG in Canon Raw files.
-- Karl Metz(We don't know the answer to that one, Karl. We suspect there are licensing agreements involved. Epson's P-4500 supports Canon CRW/CR2 Raw files. We believe it displays the embedded JPEG. Even better, the Jobo Giga Vu (http://www.jobo.com/web/GIGA-Vu-extreme.137.0.html) actually decodes the Raw files. -- Editor)
RE: Wrist Strap?
I loved reading your review of the Nikon D300. I was wondering where I could buy the wrist wrap you guys used?
-- Frankie(That was of interest to our fellow Dogpatchers, too, Frankie. We got it at Nikon Mall (http://www.nikonmall.com/product.asp?sku=3065120). No regrets. There's even an eyelet on the bottom plate so you can attach your shoulder strap to that and the free one on the left side. So you can have the best of both worlds. -- Editor)
Is there an index or other way to look up information that may be in a prior issue? Such as a review of the G9 Canon.
-- Mike Chasin(Yep. There are several approaches, in fact. The Archive (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-arch.html) lists each issue and the top three topics in each. We'd use this if we were looking for the G9 review, which links to the unexpurgated version at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/G9/G9A.HTM too. Just use your Brower's Find command and enter "G9" to get to the right issue. But to find everything we've written on a topic, use the Index (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-indx.html). The index lists the (often obscure) title of each piece we've published but it also includes a sophisticated search tool. That's the second text box at the top of the page. Just type "G9" in there and it will scour all 223 issues for references to the G9. -- Editor)
Ken Rockwell started it. He wrote Your Camera Doesn't Matter (http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/notcamera.htm) and that set Michael Reichmann off. He responded with Your Camera Does Matter: A Rebuttal (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/cameras-matter.shtml). Does it matter? See for yourself <g>.
Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has simultaneously released Lightroom 1.4, Camera Raw 4.4 and DNG Converter 4.4 with support for nine more cameras, a few fixes and updated Lightroom printer drivers for Leopard.
Apple (http://www.apple.com) has released a 43.9-MB update to its recently released Aperture 2. The 2.01. update "addresses issues related to the performance and overall stability of Aperture 2," the company said.
Light Crafts (http://www.lightcrafts.com) has announced the immediate availability and revised pricing of LightZone 3.5, its photo-enhancing software [LMW]. This latest version comes with access to an extensive video learning center, additional camera compatibility and revised pricing of up to $50 off.
John Fox has updated MemoryMiner [MW] (http://www.memoryminer.com), his $45 cross-platform digital story-telling application. Version 1.85 can mine Exif headers and iPhoto databases for keywords and adds new contextual menu commands. Enhancements have been made to the Google Maps address lookup feature, support for Reunion files and Auto Life Period icon creation, among others. Bug fixes include improved library archive moves between platforms.
Think Tank Photo (http://www.thinktankphoto.com) has released three new or completely upgraded rolling bags that provide more protection and security for transporting heavy and expensive photography gear. All three rollers feature advanced security features, such as front and back cable locks, a TSA lock and the Security Plate "Lost and Found" service.
The company also introduced its new "Skin" series. These modular bags, designed to fit on Think Tank Photo belts or regular belts, are very thin and flexible and lay flat when empty, conforming to a photographer's gear when full. Their ability to be compressed when empty frees up valuable space in photographers' cases, especially when in transit.
O'Reilly has published Derrick Story's The Digital Photography Companion. Sized to stash in a camera bag, this timely new resource gives you plenty of examples of how to capture great shots of people, places, landscapes and more. And its available via the Imaging Resource Amazon affiliate program at a 34 percent discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596517661/?tag=theimagingres-20).
Pandigital (http://www.pandigital.net) has introduced its $399.99 Kitchen HDTV/Digital Cookbook/Digital Photo Frame, a first-of-its kind product designed for the kitchen.
Microtek (http://www.microtek.com) announced that LaserSoft Imaging has released a 6.5.5r4 update to its SilverFast software for the Microtek ArtixScan M1/F1. At the same time, the company announced it expects to have a Leopard compatible version of its ScanWizard Pro for the M1/F1 in early April.
Rocky Nook has published Harald Mante's The Photograph: Composition & Color Design, which explains the elements that are essential to achieving the highest level of visual design in photographs. The title is available via the Imaging Resource Amazon affiliate program at a 34 percent discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933952261/?tag=theimagingres-20).
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That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:
Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM Digicam index: http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM Q&A Forum: http://www.imaging-resource.com/FORUM.HTM Tips: http://www.imaging-resource.com/TIPS.HTM
Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher