A couple of months ago Nikon announced the latest in their range of Digital SLR cameras, the D3 and D300. These are targeted at the top of the range with a price tag of £3400 for the D3 (yes that is three thousand) and a slightly more affordable £1300 for the D300.
Today and tomorrow Nikon are putting on the Nikon Solutions roadshow where they are proudly displaying not just the D3 and D300 but also the full range of Nikkor lenses and lots of other accessories as well. Apart from the shiny, expensive hardware they are also running a series of seminars helping photographers get more from their imaging workflows. The most interesting feature here was the total lack of wet film... Everything was digital.
Normally we would not bother to report on something like this, but there is a GPS link here (pun intended...). Both cameras have a special 10 pin connector which amongst other functions allows you to connect a GPS to the camera. This then provides a NMEA datastream from which the camera can extract the positional information and stamp the image meta data with the location that the picture was taken.
Article by Mike Barrett
If all that sounds a bit daunting don't worry I will explain it a briefly below.
When you take a picture with a camera a number of attributes are stored with the picture. You can view this as 2 files of data one of which is the image itself and the other is a series of attributes which describe a number of things about the image. You will be used to seeing some of these such as the file name and the file date, some of you may also be aware of the File Created date. There is a defined specification for these attributes known as EXIF.
These additional attributes describe all sorts of technical information such as the camera make and model, the exposure settings etc. Amongst these data is a definition for GPS Latitude and Longitude. Of course there are very few cameras that can automatically insert this information into the metadata, but they are becoming more prevalent. In particular the new Nokia phones with embedded GPS place the position into the files, and of course the Nikon D3 and D300 have the capability with added hardware to do so as well.
This year I have reviewed a number of GPS systems that offer a mechanism to match GPS tracks to digital photos. Whilst these do work they add an additional step into the workflow and the possibility of errors creep in with each additional step. The beauty of having the camera stamp the image when the shutter is pressed.
OK so now we know what it is, but what use is putting this data in the file? Well I know a lot of photographers who always like to know the exposure settings of each picture, this system just takes it one step further and lets you know exactly where you took the picture. But the position is meaningless unless you can do something with it... Fortunately the likes of Google, Locr, Flikr and many others allow you to create Geo-referenced image libraries. This allows you to display your pictures in Google Earth or on Google Maps. This really takes the photo album to the next level!!!
Diversion over how does this work with the Nikon D3 and D300 cameras? Well apart from hundreds of levers, switches, and buttons they also have a propriety 10 pin connector positioned right next to the lens. This connector allows you to plug in a number of external add on devices to the camera.
One of these is specified to be a "GPS Cable MC-35". This allows any GPS unit outputting NMEA 0183 compliant data to be connected. The drawback here is that the interface cable is $99 or £50 and presents a standard serial interface, most modern GPS systems are using USB nowadays...
All is not lost though as I was talking to Jimmy Huang of Evermore Technology recently and they are testing an Evermore GPS receiver with a Nikon interface cable. No prices were discussed, but I wouldn't mind betting that it will be very competitive.
Another option available is the GeoPic II from customidea.com this is a device designed specially for the Nikon D3, D300 and other pro cameras. This cunning little GPS receiver is located in the flash shoe with just a short cable to the connector on the D300.
The GeoPic II is designed specially for tagging with digital cameras as can be seen from the design locating in the flash and the neat cabling. But it is not just the hardware that is set up specifically for digital imaging the functionality is too. The GeoPic II has three operational modes: Low Power, the GPS is only active when you are about to take a picture; Continuous, the GPS is on all the time; and Freeze, the GPS is off but the last position is reported. This last mode allows you to take pictures indoors or in areas where there is no GPS signal and still tag your images.
This solution comes at a cost though. The GeoPic II uses power from the camera and thus will shorten the operation of the camera. The GeoPic II is available for £200.
Apart from the GPS side of things the D3 and D300 are stunning cameras, with lots of new and improved features. My favorite was the Live View on the high density 3 inch LCD display. It also has video output to a HD TV using a HDMI connector. Helping you make use of the 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor. I also tried out the 18-200 VR lens and the 105 VR Macro lens on my D70 and these functioned really well, both in terms of focusing speed, operation at slow shutter speeds and sharpness.
My Christmas list is in preparation... Nikon D300 with 18-200 lens and 105 macro to back it up. What's that I heard my wife say? Something about Hell and freezing... :( Maybe I can persuade Nikon to let me test one.
In the mean time if you can get to Olympia in London tomorrow (November 28th) you can see the new Nikon cameras for yourself.
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Fancy, cute cameras are just that--all fluff with possibly wool for brains. So when Sony announced the uber-adorable Cyber-shot T2, we had morbidly mixed sentiments. "It's another pretty brick." "All form, no function." But with the actual article in our hands, our impression changed. By how much? And in which direction?
Peachy design; 4GB built-in memory; optical image stabilizer.
Requires special cable for USB; on-screen controls not terribly clear; Smile Shutter accuracy not spot on.
The bottom line: The Cyber-shot T2 may look like a decent performer, but its sibling camera, the T200, will prove to be a stiff rival.
The Cyber-shot T2 is a flabby chump. It measures 86.8 x 56.8 x 20.2mm and weighs 156g. But despite the girth, its bright colors and curvy form make it look and feel endearing in a boxy sort of way. A slot on the bottom, next to the battery, accepts both Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick PRO Duo (yup, no SD).
The T2 borrows obvious design cues from the T200. It has almost the same slide-down lens cover that's large enough to protect the lens element, flash and AF illuminator all at the same time. We say "almost" because the T2's version pops out slightly before gliding down. In the T200, it slides down vertically. But however we look at it, Sony is still hands down better at making digicam sliders than other manufacturers.
Like the T200, the T2 has a touchscreen, though it's a little smaller (2.7- vs 3.5-inch). There are two rows of controls in-screen--one on the left column and one on the bottom (which like most touchscreens isn't as responsive as physical buttons).
But we were a trifle miffed with the onscreen controls and it's not because it is any less responsive or intuitive than the T200's. It's more a matter of presentation.
While the T200 cleverly uses the black letterbox areas created by its 16:9 aspect ratio to position its controls, the T2's 4:3 screen doesn't allow for this option. So onscreen controls are shown as an overlay, which makes them a distraction during composition. And it can be problematic when the control icons blend in with an overtly bright scene.
Like the Cyber-shot T200, the camera menu is pretty much touch-and-go. Depending on your settings, pressing the screen will activate spot focus or a splash of digital ink. There's also ample space displaying frequent camera settings for resolution, exposure, focus metering (multi, center weighted or spot), light sensitivity, exposure, marco mode and flash.
Even though buttons are sparse, Sony still got it wrong for the Playback and Scrapbook keys. There are positioned too flush with the surface and are particularly difficult to activate. So while it scores for aesthetics, it fails for usability.
The built-in 4GB capacity is both a curse and a blessing. While it's liberating to forgo storage cards, it's also infuriating when the only way you can transfer out the pictures is though a special Sony cable. Of which there is only one in the box.
Losing it in the middle of a three-week vacation would spell the end of your photo-taking adventure. You would need one to transfer out old pictures to make way for new ones. Good luck if you are vacationing in Timor-Leste.
The T2 is not all doom and gloom though the Cyber-shot T2 packs along Sony's new Smile Shutter feature. When it's in the mode, there's no need to hit the shutter button as the camera will snap a picture the moment it detects a smile.
In order for the T2 to adapt to different types of grins (coy, inane, brazen, lip-splitting, teeth-showing), there are three degrees of smile detection. Sony claims you will never miss a smile again. So it's cause for celebration.
That is up till you start using it.
You see, people want to look good in pictures. So they like to be prepared. For most, there's a certain smile for a certain occasion. Your role is to make sure that they do look good. Using an automated system means the camera may capture the wrong degree of a smile while your subject is still trying to work up a truly rictal grin.
We love the innovation that went behind it, but we don't particularly feel mushy about it. In real-life tests, it is exasperating that what the Smile Shutter considers as medium sensitivity is subjectively different from what your subject thinks. And the misunderstanding compounds when you have more than one subject in the frame. Imagine the camera firing off before both of them have presented their best smiles.
On the other hand, the face-detection autofocus works a treat at multiple face spotting. In a quirk that beats out non-touchscreen cameras, you can set the primary face by simply touching the face on the screen.
The T2 provides a number of ways to present your pictures. It can be in albums, share tags or scrapbook. The last is a slideshow that is reminiscent of paper-based ones. You can also "paint" over your pictures with a built-in paint program, though without pressure level detection it's really more gimmicky than anything else.
All these fancy tricks only go to prove that the T2 is primarily a fun camera. That the T2 doesn't include aperture- and shutter-priority modes is a given at the price. But no custom white balance setting?
A sibling to two other Digital Elph models we reviewed--thePowerShot SD950 ISand thePowerShot SD850 IS--the SD870 shares many of this trio's fine features, including a nicely organized exposure system that groups key controls into one simple-to-use, easy-to-read screen.
All three digital cameras also share a new four-way thumb button that when touched, displays an animated replica for the button on the LCD screen. Though it's handy when you are trying to select settings in a dark room, it can also be annoying--when holding the camera, your thumb naturally wants to rest on the four-way button. The virtual button keeps popping up on the LCD when you don't want it to. Fortunately, you can turn this feature off in the setup menus.
With a shell made of both metal and plastic, and with its plastic buttons, the SD870 IS does not look quite as rugged as its two siblings. And some parts are not as robust: The battery door hinge, for example, is plastic and looks a bit frail, and instead of the typical metallic mode dial, it has a simple plastic sliding switch for Movie, Scene, and standard still shots. Nevertheless, it feels sturdy enough to survive most camera operators' punishment.
Given the similarity of this trio, it's no surprise that the SD870 IS produces photos on par with the SD950 IS and the SD850 IS. Our lab-based test shots were a bit underexposed, but sharp and nicely colored. Flash shots of our test model had a slightly grayish skin tone, but some of that may be due to being underexposed. Outdoor scenic shots were impressive--generally good exposure accuracy, no oversaturated colors, and sharp details. The huge LCD can be somewhat dim in bright light, but turning the LCD brightness all the way up helps.
Other high points for this camera (and the other two Digital Elph models reviewed) are superior documentation and an easy-to-use photo management application (in both Mac and Windows versions) that lets you organize, edit, and back up your photos. If you like to tweak the colors in your shots, the SD870 IS offers a near excess of options, including Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black and White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, and Vivid Red--plus novel Color Accent and Color Swap features that let you highlight a particular color. You could, for example, retain the color in a yellow ball, and turn the rest of the photo into black and white. All of this seems a bit high-end for a camera that feels more like a snapshot model.
It's pricey, but the extra-wide-angle lens, the big LCD, and the well-thought-out exposure control system make this an attractive compact camera.
For other, similar digital camera models, see our chart ofTop 10 Compact Cameras.
Now, wait a minute, you say. Here I am, looking around your site for camera ideas, and you're showing me a lens?
That's right, and as zoom lenses for SLR cameras go, a 70-300mm is pretty standard. We're showing it to you for another reason — the technology inside of it, which may mean the end of the shaky picture.
The full name of this particular lens is AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, a mouthful for sure, but for the moment the part that matters is VR, which stands for vibration reduction. Canon and Olympus call it IS, as in image stabilization. Sony calls it Super SteadyShot, and, well, you get the idea.
Manufacturers have built systems into their cameras or lenses to counteract the inevitable little movements your hands make, the ones that ruin pictures when you're shooting in low light, or hand-held shots with a telephoto lens.
Different companies have taken different approaches on this issue, but in the case of this Nikon lens, some of the internal optics slide slightly to the left if your hands slip to the right, up if you move it down, and so forth. When you put this lens on a camera and turn the VR switch to "on" on the left side of the barrel, you'll hear a soft whirring sound as you aim the camera — it's the innards of the lens compensating for your shaky hands.
What difference does image stabilization make? You'd be pleasantly surprised. Many photographers say they can shoot hand-held when the light is a fraction as bright as before. A picture that was iffy when your exposure was one-sixtieth of a second is now rock steady at one-eighth of a second.
You'll find image stabilization in a growing number of point-and-shoot cameras, as well as in the larger SLRs aimed at enthusiasts or professionals. If someone you know loves photography and already owns a good camera, a lens could make a thoughtful gift.
Review: Canon EOS 40D
Sony and Olympus build image stabilization into the bodies of some of their SLRs, which, they say, saves you money. Canon and Nikon put the image-stabilizing equipment in individual lenses, which costs more but, they argue, works better.
Lenses can be pricey. This one costs about $500, and prices for professional lenses can go well into four digits. Nikon also sells a 55-200mm VR zoom for a street price of about $225 — a good lens for portraits, wildlife and amateur sports.
Of course, technology can't solve everything. You may wind up with a lot of nice pictures in the evening of your half-lit living room, crystal-clear except for a blur in the foreground. That would be your restless toddler, with whom no technology can possibly keep up.