Click a thumbnail to see the comparison images.
Welcome to the first Imaging Resource Digital SLR Shootout!
The Imaging Resource has always been about meaningful *comparisons* between competing cameras, which I normally provide for through my standardized test shots. I set up those shots with the primary intent of stressing the cameras to their utmost, as opposed to creating beautiful photos. - Hence the horribly harsh afternoon sun on Marti in the "outdoor portrait" shot, etc. (To those who wonder, yes I do understand about fill flash and reflectors, I deliberately set up that shot to have very harsh lighting, to see how cameras handle extreme contrast.)
While I think my standard test shots do a good job of providing a basis of comparison across a broad range of cameras, showing up any faults in the process, the problem with them is that they just aren't very interesting to look at. I've taken to mixing in some "galleries" of more appealing shots, taken by our resident Pro, Gibbs Frazeur. These are great for showing off the photographic qualities of the cameras in more "pictorial" applications, but they lose the standardization between cameras that I think is so important to form intelligent decisions.
Now that the Sigma SD9 has come out, I decided to attempt a more ambitious comparison between the four top "prosumer" digital SLRs, the Canon D60, Fuji S2 Pro, Nikon D100, and Sigma SD9. The idea was to try to shoot the same subjects with all four cameras, paying careful attention to framing and exposure, hopefully producing truly comparable shots with all the cameras.
The pictures on these pages are the early results of this effort. (Gibbs is shooting more, even as I write this, so we'll have some updated daylight shots, as well as night shots and a couple of studio shots in a few more days, weather permitting.)
Caveats & minor goofs...
First, neither Gibbs nor I thought to check the *sharpening* settings on the cameras before we shot with them. All of the cameras had their sharpening options set to their defaults (what we wanted), except the D100, which had its sharpening turned off. Argh! I agonized over this a bit, but eventually decided to go ahead and show the images anyway, applying unsharp masking in Photoshop after the fact to roughly equal the sharpening the camera would normally have applied. (I used 150%, with an 0.9 pixel radius, for those interested.) The result is that the D100 shots that are posted here right now aren't *exactly* comparable to what would come out of the camera when set to its defaults. If anything, the comparison may favor the D100 slightly, as Photoshop's unsharp masking generally does a bit better than in-camera processing. I think there's some value in the images, but caution that these in fact are *not* identical to what you'd get from the camera.
Gibbs is shooting some more shots with all the cameras, now with the D100's sharpening set to "auto", and I'll be posting those images in a few days. (If the weather ever clears.)
The second issue that we encountered was that, after doing this initial batch of shots, we realized that we weren't conservative enough in our exposure bracketing. The D100 seems to consistently produce images about 2/3 of a stop darker than the other cameras. We bracketed each shot +/- one "click" on each camera's exposure comp scale. (1/3 EV for the D100 and D60, 1/2 EV for the S2 and SD9.) This turned out to still leave some of the D100 shots rather dark. In the interests of providing photos that most closely approximated each other, I went ahead and chose images from the other cameras that most closely matched the overall tonality of those from the D100, even though in most cases I felt that the images were underexposed overall. (And in the interests of mucking with the images as little as possible, I also chose not to apply any tonal tweaks in Photoshop either.)
In this next round of shots that Gibbs is taking, we're bracketing more widely, and weighting the bracketing in the direction of increased exposure for the D100 in particular. - Hopefully the next set of images will be a little brighter overall.
A final issue is that a couple of the shots have images from one or another of the cameras showing slightly different lighting than the others. The weather here has involved a lot of overcast lately, with occasional unpredictable clearing. Gibbs thus got caught by the sun on a couple of the shots. Rather than throwing out the images entirely, I've chosen to post all four images, but just note the one where the light shifted significantly, so readers can at least use them to compare the other cameras.
This has proven to be a time-consuming, expensive process all around, something to keep in mind as your eyes pass over the "donate" buttons I've sprinkled liberally at the bottoms of the image pages. - Even with the "good buddy" discount, Gibbs' time is valuable, and it's taken a lot of it to find interesting subjects around here (we're located in an area totally overrun by subdivisions and strip malls), and to take the pains to frame the shots carefully and to tripod everything. We'll post the remaining shots Gibbs shoots over the next few days, and then see what the response it. If it's positive, we may consider doing something like this for other categories of cameras, and again for SLRs in the future.
To facilitate dialog over the tests, we've set up a discussion forum specifically for this article. Feel free to post any questions or comments there, and I'll try to respond in as timely a fashion as the pile of digicams behind me permits.
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Digital SLR shootout, Fall, 2002, or add comments of your own!
Top 3 photos this month win:
1 Canon PIXMA PRO-100
2 Canon PIXMA MG6320
3 Canon PIXMA MG5420