Special Report: photokina
New 35mm And Digital SLR Cameras Page 2

New Digital SLR Cameras In Detail
Moving on to a closer review of the digital SLRs, I'll start with the cream of the crop, the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II. Boasting a full-frame 36x24mm sensor with a full 16.7 million recording pixels, this camera offers several advantages over its predecessor, the 11-megapixel EOS-1Ds. In addition to higher resolution, the new CMOS sensor features larger micro lenses over each photo site for an improved signal-to-noise ratio. Thanks to the new DIGIC II processor image quality should be even higher. Twice as fast as the processor used in the EOS-1Ds, DIGIC II--plus a much larger buffer--allows for quicker start up and a faster 4 fps framing rate for 32 full resolution JPEGs or 11 raw images in a sequence.

Other significant upgrades include higher ISO options (to ISO 3200 vs. 1250), superior white balance and autofocus tracking system, more color space options, and more sophisticated E-TTL II flash metering system. The latter more effectively ignores excessively bright or dark subject areas so it should produce more accurate and predictable flash exposures, resolving one of the complaints of EOS-1Ds owners like me. At a street price of $7999, the hefty (42.9 oz) Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II will probably appeal primarily to professional wedding, portrait, fashion, catalog, and stock photographers.

The first Nikon digital SLR to employ a DX-size CMOS sensor (made by Sony to Nikon specifications), the D2X replaces the D1X as the company's top camera. Although the effective pixel count is 12.4 million, the camera includes a unique feature that allows for 6.2-megapixel recording (employing only the center of the sensor) to boost the continuous framing rate as mentioned earlier. The D2X includes a wealth of other new technology and features. A new ASIC processor and algorithms produce higher image quality and smoother display of tones from highlight to shadow areas while a new LSI engine allows for greater speed and virtually eliminates shutter lag. The Advanced 3D Color Matrix Metering II system (with new algorithms) is said to be particularly effective with high contrast scenes, producing exposures with better highlight and shadow detail.

Encased in an incredibly durable, water-resistant magnesium-alloy (2.4 lb) body, and featuring a huge 2.5" LCD monitor, the D2X also offers additional upgrades. My favorites include a more advanced 11-point autofocus system, more color space options, improved white balance system, new body and internal design, GPS support, plus i-TTL Advanced Flash metering; when used with the SB-800 or SB-600 Speedlight, wireless off-camera i-TTL lighting control is available. Naturally, this Nikon camera incorporates a vast range of other capabilities that will satisfy the most demanding professional. (Estimated street price, $5999.)

The Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro (www.fujifilm.com) is labeled as a pro camera but it's priced at the consumer-grade level at an expected street price of $2499. A replacement for the highly rated (6-megapixel) S2 Pro, this SLR is similar in some respects, including some Nikon N80 features and controls, but it's a far more desirable camera than its predecessor. The most significant new feature is the (APS-C size) Super CCD SR II sensor with two distinct types of photodiodes in each of its six million pixel areas, a feature that allows it to record a 12-megapixel (4256x2848 pixel) image file.

The six million large, high-sensitivity S photodiodes are designed to record shadow detail while the six million smaller, less sensitive, R photodiodes are designed to capture highlight detail. In conjunction with a new image processor, the combination is said to produce images with a wider dynamic range than conventional sensors, useful especially in very contrasty lighting. A high signal to noise ratio should produce a secondary benefit, lower noise at high ISO settings.

In spite of the large data files produced by the FinePix S3 Pro, the camera can fire at 1.4 fps for up to six JPEG frames or three raw frames. Switching to 6-megapixel mode, using only the R photodiodes, increases the framing rate to 3 fps for up to 12 JPEGs or seven raw image files at the risk of some lost highlight detail. While this is not the fastest camera on the market, it's certainly very well equipped with most of the features that serious photographers expect. Noteworthy upgrades over the earlier FinePix S2 Pro include a PC cord terminal; quicker start up; larger 2" LCD monitor; secondary vertical shutter release button; and support for the more sophisticated D-TTL (but not i-TTL) flash metering. The new Film Simulation option is also noteworthy. It allows for mimicking the look of portrait film or high saturation/high contrast film such as Provia; a Dynamic Range Customizing function can also be used to select the desired tonal range that will be captured. Some of these features will endear the FinePix S3 Pro to many portrait and wedding photographers, helping to expand its market beyond photo enthusiasts.

Canon's first consumer-grade 8-megapixel digital SLR, the new EOS 20D, is priced to attract serious photo enthusiasts and some professionals (street price, $1499). A tad smaller and lighter (at 1.5 lbs) than the EOS 10D, it features slightly modified controls, a few extra capabilities, and a flash unit that raises higher for use with larger lenses and to minimize redeye. This Canon camera offers significant advantages over its 6-megapixel predecessor, starting with a more reliable autofocus system using a brand-new nine-point autofocus unit with superior low-light capability; with lenses of f/2.8 or wider aperture, the central focus point is cross-type. Other noteworthy benefits include instant start up (0.2 seconds vs. 2.5 seconds), virtually instant response without shutter lag, and much faster continuous shooting rate of 5 fps (vs. 3.3 fps) for 20 JPEG or six raw images. The latter is achieved with a substantially larger buffer and the new DIGIC II processor that also produces more consistent image quality.

The EOS 20D also includes the new/improved E-TTL II flash metering system inherited from the EOS-1D Mark II and supports the EF-S series of lenses, just like the Digital Rebel. In preliminary testing, the camera proved to be incredibly fast and generated images of superlative quality, suitable for large prints of exhibition quality.