What's New - October 2003


October 31
Review posted for Pentax Optio S4!
The original Pentax Optio S raised eyebrows last year, as a camera small enough to fit inside an Altoids tin. Not only that, but it was surprisingly full-featured for such a compact model. This year, Pentax has upped the ante by boosting resolution to 4 megapixels, and making a few subtle interface improvements. The result is another great little camera, clearly one of the most portable on the market, yet with a surprising array of features and options. If you're looking for a super compact digicam, you should really give the Optio S4 a good look! Check it out!




October 30
UPDATED: Sigma SD10 Review Test Results (same sharpness as the SD9)
After posting my results on the new Sigma SD10, I received a call from Foveon (makers of the SD10's sensor), puzzled by my findings that its images seemed less sharp than those from the earlier SD9, since this didn't match their own findings. While I had a general impression of greater softness, I didn't have absolutely identical images to compare. There was no doubt though, that my res target images from the SD10 were considerably softer than the same shot from the SD9, even though it was taken with the same lens. (And at f/4 vs f/8 as was the SD10's shot, so it should realistically have been softer still.) To shed some light on the matter, I had Foveon ship me a SD9, so I could test the two cameras side by side with the *identical* lens (not just the same model, but the same physical lens) under absolutely identical conditions, to see how the two sensors fared. I'll do a more complete test when I get back to the office (I'm writing this from New York, prior to the Photo Plus show tomorrow) and post full results with sample photos, but for now, the short story is that the SD10 and SD9 performed almost identically when all variables were controlled. Assuming that there are in fact no differences between the SD9 I originally tested and the current one, it seems to me that there could be two causes of the sharpness differences I observed: 1) There are differences between different samples of the same lens. (Not at all unheard of in the camera world.) 2) There were differences in the image processing settings I used with Photo Pro to generate the JPEGs. I'll experiment some more with both cameras when I get back to Atlanta, but wanted to get the review updated and this note posted, to correct any misconceptions that might be out there about lower sharpness with the SD10. (It's not just my own shots that produced this perception, people have commented on a number of images from the SD10, from around the internet that looked "soft" to SD9 fans. Not wanting to trust to just artificial targets, I'll grab a couple of pictures of natural subjects with both cameras to compare as well. Stay tuned...

Sigma SD10 gallery page added!
News Editor and sometime Gallery Photographer extraordinare Mike Tomkins here:
When I heard that Sigma was announcing the SD10 digital SLR, and that Dave had one on the way for testing, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Dave's home just outside Atlanta and try the camera out. Sigma's SD9 was amongst the most talked-about cameras of the last year, thanks to its use of Foveon's X3 image sensor technology - and the SD10 promised to improve on some of the areas in which the original camera didn't excel (namely high ISO and long-exposure photography). Unfortunately, weather prevented me from getting the chance to try out the SD10 for some night photography thus far (I'm hoping to correct this soon) - but I did have the chance to try the camera out on a variety of subjects around Atlanta. We've now updated our review of the SD10 with some of my better gallery photos (apologies if the subjects I chose aren't the most interesting, but I was pressed for time and am not very familiar with the Atlanta area...) All in all, I felt the SD10 performed rather nicely, with the exception of a somewhat erratic auto white balance and an occasionally quirky autofocus - the software in particular is very nicely refined! Check out my gallery photos, and watch for me to add a review of the Sigma Photo Pro software and (hopefully) some night photos soon...




October 27
Full Review posted for Sigma SD10 d-SLR!
If anyone is wondering what happened to Dave and Mike Tomkins the last few days, this should explain it: Despite having had an eval unit of Sigma's new SD10 d-SLR only since Thursday, we've managed to put together a complete review, including a full suite of test images. (Stay tuned, we hope to have a full set of "gallery" shots that Mike shot with it posted by late afternoon tomorrow, EST.) An updated version of Foveon's "X3" sensor technology addresses many of the limitations of last year's SD9, with greatly reduced image noise, an increased ISO range, and decent low-light shooting capabilities. Sigma and Foveon described the unit we shot with as having image quality fully equal to that of final production units, the only remaining firmware changes apparently having to do with autoexposure performance and power management. All in all, the SD10 represents a very impressive advance beyond the mark set by last year's SD9. I'm working on a detailed image noise analysis, and hope to post that soon too, along with the extensive range of "photogenic" samples that Mike shot over the last two days. Check it out! (And stay tuned!)



October 24
Full production-level update to Minolta DiMAGE Z1 posted!
I was pretty impressed with the specs and performance of Minolta's new little DiMAGE Z1 long-zoom camera back when I first previewed a prototype unit, particularly in light of the unit's low selling price. Now that I've fully tested a production-level model, I like the camera more than ever. A very nice little 3-megapixel, 10x-zooom model, the Z1 uses an unusual "flipping LCD" design to cut costs by using the same LCD panel for both eyelevel and rear-panel displays. This does result in a low price, but in other respects, the Z1 more than holds its own with the higher-priced competition. It offers a full range of exposure controls, has a very good quality lens (I've found that Minolta's digicams generally have excellent lenses on them), and perhaps best of all, has much better than average shutter lag performance. Oh - and battery life is really exceptional. The combination makes this an excellent digicam for sports or wildlife shooting, where you need both a long telephoto lens and good shuttter response, but the Z1 is by no means limited to such use: I think it'd make a great choice for an all-around camera as well. I haven't heard a lot about this model from other reviewers or in the marketplace, but I think it has the potential to be a really big seller. (I'm not personally crazy about its external design aesthetics, but would happily overlook that in exchange for great performance at an aggressive price.) Check it out!



October 17
Olympus C750 full review updated!
In the "it's about time" category, I've just posted an update to my earlier full review of the Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom digicam. This is an impressive 4 megapixel, 10x zoom camera, with all the most-desired "enthusiast" features. I've now updated the review based on a full production model of the camera, along with all my standardized test images. The results were quite good, the one complaint I found to make was higher than average image noise at elevated ISO settings. All in all, an impressive camera, a definite contender in the long-zoom derby. Check it out!



October 16
Review posted for Kodak EasyShare DX4530!
Kodak's EasyShare digital cameras excel in user-friendliness, and offer good image quality in addition to their convenient setup and compact size. The DX4530 updates the line with a larger, 5.0-megapixel CCD that captures high-quality images with good detail. Although exposure control is fully automatic (with at least exposure compensation to tweak if desired), the DX4530 performs surprisingly well in a variety of situations, and offers a few preset scene modes for shooting in low lighting or capturing action shots. A range of manually-selectable longer exposure times extends the camera's capabilities as well, without getting too complicated. This isn't the ultimate camera for the Ansel Adam's types, but If you're looking for a lot of pixels, good color, and great ease of use, all at an attractive price, the DX4530 deserves a close look. Check it out!



Guest Feature: Capture One Rebel Edition software by Phase One
Uwe Steinmueller is the operator of Outback Photo, and an accomplished nature and wildlife photographer. He's made something of a study of Raw-file workflows, and offered to share his assessment of the new Capture One Rebel Edition software by Phase One with IR's readers. If you own a Canon Digital Rebel and are serious about image quality, you owe it to yourself to check out this article. - And then purchase the software, as it's an incredible bargain at $49.95. Be sure to check out Uwe's site too, there's loads of great content and images to browse!



October 15
Review posted for Kodak EasyShare DX6490
Kodak's EasyShare digital cameras have consistently proved to be among the easiest to use of any I've tested, and the DX6490 is no exception. The big news here though, is that the DX6490 also manages to be a very respectable "enthusiast" camera as well, with a high-quality lens, full exposure control, and a sync connector for use with external flash units. It shares the excellent color and highly capable white balance I've seen in other Kodak cameras in the past, but really raises the bar in several other areas, including low light performance, with an EVF and autofocus system that are surprisingly usable at very low light levels. At the risk of making too big a deal over it, the lens in particular is of higher quality than we've seen in the past on EasyShare camera models. The one complaint I have against the DX6490 is that my evaluation sample tended to overexpose its shots a fair bit, under a variety of conditions. You can adjust for this with the exposure compensation control, but the user really shouldn't have to worry about this. Not a fatal problem, I'd still call the DX6490 "excellent," it's just that it could have been "great" if its exposure system were a bit more accurate. Still though, I have no reservations about naming the DX6490 a "Dave's Pick," as it's clearly one of the better long-zoom digicams on the market. (At least until the next great thing comes along! ;-) Check it out!



October 1
Full review posted for Fuji FinePix S5000!
Long-zoom digicams have suddenly become a hot market segment, with virtually every major manufacturer offering a product in that area. Fuji's standard-bearer here is the S5000, something of a cross between last year's wildly successful S602 and the lower-end F3800. The new S5000 has a 10x zoom, a 3 megapixel SuperCCD, and a feature set that says "advanced point & shoot." It lacks some "enthusiast" features (see the forthcoming S7000 for that), but provides enough flexibility to bring back good shots under a range of conditions, while remaining simple enough to operate for novice users. The cameras high points are its long zoom lens, pleasing color, amazing battery life, and clever "Final 5" continuous shooting mode that makes it a good choice for sports and action shooting. On the downside, the S5000's pictures showed more image noise than some competing models, no doubt due in part to its aggressive minimum ISO rating of 200. (I really wish Fuji would let their SuperCCD cameras reach down to ISO 100, as I expect that'd clean up the images a fair bit.) In truth though, average users are unlikely to notice the noise if they're mainly outputting prints at 8x10 or smaller. Overall, a solid entry in the long-zoom derby, but one that faces strong competition on several fronts. (The "Final 5" continuous-shooting mode is a standout feature though.) Check it out!

Initial "Gallery" images posted for Pentax *ist-D!
The D-SLR race is surely heating up, and the latest player is Pentax, who've just begun shipping their "*ist-D" 6 megapixel SLR first announced earlier this year. I've only had the *ist for a few days, but have posted a few "gallery" shots from it, captured by resident pro Gibbs Frazeur, as well as some high-ISO samples from Canadian author/"friend of the family" Peter Burian. (Thanks, Peter!) Given the current backlog of cameras to review here, it's going to be a few weeks before I can get a full review of the *ist up, but I wanted to share some photos from it now, so readers can get an idea of what its pictures look like. It's an appealing camera to shoot with, and it's probably the smallest of the D-SLRs on the market, really surprisingly small and light in the hand. Stay tuned for the full review in a few weeks, but for now, check out the *ist-D Gallery! (Note that I'm going to try to get some additional shots up sooner rather than later for it though, to look at image noise vs ISO and try to draw a bead on its resolution and sharpness - Stay tuned...)

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