Spotlight: Digital SLRs
Digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras are designed for serious photographers who want more control over how their photos look. They have several advantages over the more conventional point-and-shoot digital cameras: They let you swap out their lenses, and in most instances the lenses and accessories are interchangeable with your existing 35mm film SLR camera if you stick with the same manufacturer. For example, Canon's digital SLRs can use most of the several hundred available Canon EF mount lenses. Some older lenses and the Olympus E-1, which uses lenses specially designed for this camera, are exceptions.
The standout product in this month's spotlight is the Canon EOS Digital Rebel, which at $899 (for the body only) is the cheapest of the models we reviewed. This 6.3-megapixel camera takes beautifully sharp pictures, with accurate, vivid colors, and it is very easy to use. Though not quite as robust or as feature-packed as some of its more professional cousins, it's a great choice for the serious photographer without a pro's budget. Our other favorite is the Olympus E-1; although this model is more expensive, it is also very easy to use and has a number of helpful features, such as an excellent noise reduction mode. The Canon EOS 1-Ds is another outstanding camera: It produced the sharpest, best-looking images in our tests. Though its price of $8000 is way beyond what most people can afford, you'll probably see cameras similar to this one, but costing much less, appear within the next couple of years.
Although you may be able to use a standard film SLR lens on a digital SLR, there is a price to pay. The image sensors in digital SLRs are almost always smaller than a 35mm film negative, a difference that increases the effective focal length of the lens. This is great for zoom lenses because it increases the magnification; but when you are using a wide-angle lens, it decreases the angle of view.
The exceptions are the Canon EOS 1-Ds and the Olympus E-1. The 1-Ds has a sensor that is the same size as a 35mm negative, while the Olympus uses special lenses that provide the same angle of view as an equivalent film SLR lens.
In Living Color
Color is the heart of any photograph, and all of the cameras that we tested produced images with impressively vivid colors. Overall, the three Canon models took top marks for color accuracy. The Nikon D100 overemphasized the yellow, but we found this flaw easy to correct by using either the supplied Nikon View software or Adobe Photoshop; and once they were corrected, the images looked as good as those produced by the other cameras.
All of the models reviewed here support an uncompressed RAW mode, which saves all of the information captured by the image sensor. But this mode also produces big files--often in excess of 10MB for a single image. It consequently makes viewing pictures in the camera's LCD screen a slow process, but the Canons use an interesting trick: In RAW mode, they also save a JPEG version of the photo that the camera can quickly display.
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