Monday, June 13, 2011

Ricoh PX Brief

Preview based on a pre-production PX running firmware 1.2

Ricoh's history of making waterproof cameras dates back to before it was a mainstream product segment. When only a couple of models were available, Ricoh regularly offered industrial-grade waterproofing and shock-proofing, with its products being certified to various military and national standards.

Now, of course, few manufacturers would feel its lineup were complete if it didn't include a moderately drop-proof, lightly submersible camera, so it's interesting to see Ricoh's response to this. The PX's specifications put it squarely in this everyday, do-everything compact category - with its waterproofing down to 3m (10ft) and impact resistance for drops up to 1.5m. Its 5x zoom lens, offering 28-140mm equivalent focal lengths, is also pretty standard for the class, as is its 2.7" 230,000 dot display.

What's not so familiar, in this class, is its understated appearance. While this particular example might be lime green, it doesn't shout about its resilient credentials. Instead it's an innocuous-looking, aluminium clad compact camera. The only real giveaway is that its lens doesn't extend when it's switched on. Instead it has a periscope-style lens with an image-stabilized sensor sitting at one end of it. The result is a camera that doesn't suddenly look out-of-place when you return from your adventurous holiday.

Specification highlights:

  • Image stabilized 16MP 1/2.3" CCD
  • 28-140mm equivalent internal zoom lens
  • Waterproof to 3m, Shockproof to 1.5m
  • 720p HD video
  • ISO 100-3200
  • Subject-tracking AF

Canon Rebel T3 / EOS 1100D

Review based on a production Canon EOS 1100D with Firmware V1.0.4

The bottom-end of the interchangeable lens camera has become fiercely competitive with manufacturers culling features and cutting-corners to offer a tempting upgrade path from compact cameras, at the most attractive price. As a result we've seen control dials, orientation sensors and even focus motors disappear to reduce the manufacturing costs of these entry-level, gateway cameras. From the consumer's perspective, of course, we've also seen technologies once only in the reach of the professionals filter down to almost compact camera prices.

For several years, Canon and then Nikon were able to carve up the sub-$1000 DSLR market between themselves, without any particular concern about other players in the market. But this hegemony was never likely to last, especially once the electronics giants such as Panasonic, Sony and Samsung had time to prepare their own competitors. Eventually even Canon had to respond to the arrival of these companies' increasingly impressive low-end offerings, most notably with the splitting of its Rebel series into a multiple model range.

In June 2008, rather than just letting the outgoing model's price drop when the next camera was introduced, Canon launched a completely new model that sat below its then very recent Rebel XSi/450D. The Rebel XS (EOS 1000D in Europe) was unashamedly a cut-down version of the XSi but its mixture of a well trusted sensor and compelling price tag have seen it continue to sell strongly, particularly at the price-conscious end of the market.

Two-and-a-half years is nearly two lifetimes in contemporary camera terms, so it was beginning to look like the XS might turn out to be a one-off, until the launch of its replacement in February 2011. The Rebel T3 (EOS 1100D) builds on a successful formula and takes it further, offering a strong (if not exactly cutting-edge) set of features in a body that suggests it should be very capable of competing on price.

The 1100D takes a series of familiar-sounding components and folds them together in a distinctly conventional but still capable-sounding package. So there's a 12MP CMOS chip that is likely to date back to the 450D/XSi, coupled with Canon's now-standard 9-point AF system and the 63-area iFCL (Focus, color and luminance sensitive) metering system first seen in the EOS 7D. These combine with the equally well-known Digic 4 processor to offer a camera that's unlikely to offer much in the way of surprises (which should also mean the avoidance of any nasty ones).

Canon EOS 1100D specification highlights:

  • 12MP CMOS sensor
  • 9-point AF system (up from 7 on the 1000D)
  • 63-area iFCL color-sensitive metering (from EOS 7D)
  • 720p movie recording at 30 or 25fps (H.264 compression)
  • 2.7" LCD, 230,000 dots
  • ISO 100-6400 (no expansion)
  • Basic+ creative point-and-shoot mode
  • Eye-Fi wireless SD card compatible menu options

Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM

elephoto prime lens • Canon EF

Manufacturer description: The EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM is a high-magnification, super-telephoto lens featuring integrated Image Stabilizer technology. It features a lightweight magnesium alloy and titanium construction, which reduces weight without compromising on strength and build quality.

Canon EOS 60D

Canon's X0D series has throughout its life appealed to a wide range of photographers, from enthusiasts and semi-pros through to some pros who appreciated having a lightweight option. Each model offered a high enough specification (usually in terms of build quality and AF sophistication) to ensure it was both aspirational and attainable for users who had out-grown their Rebel/XX0D series. However, the feature set always left a sizeable gap below the company's full-blown 'pro' models.

The arrival of the EOS 7D, with its highly configurable 19-point AF system and 8 frames per second continuous shooting capability changed much of this - here was a 'mini 1D' that drew the attention of many people who previously would have been X0D customers. However, the price tag (a 30% premium over the 50D at launch) pushed it beyond the reach of most people who weren't making at least a bit of money from their photography.

The 50D (and by extension the X0D range) was starting to look somewhat redundant: expensive (and in some ways outdated) compared to the rebel T2i (EOS 550D), underpowered compared to the EOS 7D. It seemed obvious that Canon needed something to balance out the EOS range to fill the big gap between the Rebel and the 7D. And so we have this, the EOS 60D.

With the 60D Canon has unashamedly moved the X0D range out of the 'semi pro' bracket and instead focused on the enthusiast photographer looking to upgrade from their Rebel. As a result, it's not the obvious continuation of the 30D - 40D - 50D pattern that its naming might suggest. Instead it sits pretty well precisely in the same market position as was once-upon-a-time occupied by the 'Elan' series of 35mm film SLRs (which in Europe were not-so-coincidentally given double-digit model numbers).

So gone is the magnesium alloy construction that featured in previous models, replaced by a lighter weight plastic shell. Naturally the 60D gains some key 'step up' features from the Rebel line (top panel LCD, rear control dial, higher burst rate), including a few that have trickled down from the EOS 7D. There's also a video- (and tripod-) friendly 3:2 ratio articulated LCD. In imaging terms it brings the EOS mid-range in line with those above and below by upping the sensor resolution to around 18MP and adding full HD movie capture.

The EOS 60D also gains a couple of brand-new features of its own. There's now a wide range of color variations (or 'Ambiences') which can be applied to the image when using the scene modes, and whose effect can be previewed on screen in Live View. The 60D also finally gains the ability to convert raw files to jpeg in-camera, including the option to correct for lens aberrations including distortion and chromatic aberration. As an added bonus, you can retrospectively apply new 'Creative Filters' to files you've shot, including 'Grainy Black and White' and 'Toy Camera' looks.

And so, from a spec and feature point of view, the EOS 60D sits almost exactly half-way between the EOS 550D and the EOS 7D, with a few new tricks of its own. Which, we think, is exactly where it should be (regardless of the inevitable howls of protest at the apparent 'dumbing down' of the venerable X0D line).

Key features

  • 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-3200 (expandable to 12,800)
  • 5.3 fps continuous shooting
  • 1080p HD video recording with manual controls
  • SD / SDHC / SDXC storage
  • In-camera raw development
  • Subject modes with 'Ambience Selection' (Standard, Vivid, Soft, Warm, Intense, Cool, Brighter, Darker and Monochrome)
  • In-camera Creative Filters (special effects)
  • Fully articulated 3.0" screen (3:2)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Digital Camera Buying Guide


Digital camera features vary greatly from model to model. Some might be essential to you, while others might be of use only for highly specialized applications. Before you buy, consider the following features, which are included on most digital cameras.

Exposure modes

Most digital cameras, including SLRs, are highly automated, with features such as automatic exposure control, which manages the shutter speed and aperture according to the available light. In that mode, the camera generally handles setting ISO and autofocus as well. But there are other program modes that allow you to control specific settings, including shutter priority, aperture priority, as well as special scene modes. Some cameras include full manual controls, which let you set shutter speed and aperture.

Zoom lenses

This type of lens, which is actually made up of several different lenses or lens elements, allows you to vary the focal length. That provides you with flexibility in framing shots and closes the distance between you and your subject, which is ideal if you want to quickly switch to a close shot. The typical 3x zoom on mainstream cameras goes from a moderately wide-angle view (35mm) to moderate telephoto (105mm). You can find cameras with extended zoom ranges between 5x and 20x, giving you added versatility. If you want a greater view angle for more panoramic landscapes or group portraits, look for cameras with a wide-angle end of the zoom range as low as 28 or 24mm.

Image stabilization

More and more cameras, including many with powerful lenses, now come with an image stabilizer, a device that compensates for handheld camera shake. Often, the IS device lets you shoot with a slower shutter speed than you otherwise could without producing blur due to hand shake (although it won't compensate for a subject's motion). Optical (in the lens) and mechanical (in the camera body) image stabilizers are the best types to use, although some cameras include simulated stabilization.

Face detection & "Smart Camera" features

This digital camera feature attempts to find a face in the image to set focus, exposure, and color balance so that faces appear in focus and well exposed. When we've tried it, we found that it usually worked well. In some cameras, you need to turn on the feature. In others, it's enabled at the factory, but can be turned off. Other types or variants of face detection are beginning to appear in newer cameras too, such as a smile shutter mode, which shoots a photo of the subject when a subject smiles. Other types include blink warning, which alerts you to shots in which a subject might have blinked, and intelligent ISO.


In addition to being able to automatically set exposure, digital cameras automatically adjust the focus of the lens with autofocus features. But more advanced cameras include additional focusing functions. Be sure to look carefully at the types of additional features available on your camera, including manual focus. On SLRs, look for the number of AF points they have and what types of AF modes are available.

Shooting modes

Most cameras have three options for shooting still images: single image, burst mode, and self-timer. The burst mode allows you fire off a series of shots quickly, for several, dozens and sometimes scores of shots. Some SLRs can shoot more than hundred shots in a burst, and do so very quickly (measured in frames per second, or fps). Some newer advanced point-and-shoots are also able to capture many shots per second. As the name implies, the self-timer mode provides a delay between the moment the shutter button is pressed and the photo is captured. Some cameras let you set how long this delay is and the number of shots you can take.

Playback modes

All digital cameras can review images on the LCD, along with exposure and other information embedded in the image file. So, you can quickly see what the image actually looks like, and delete it if you don't like it. Many cameras have automatic orientation features that turn the photo vertically or horizontally to correspond to how you shot the photo. When reviewing, you can use the zoom control to magnify portions of the image file.


This setting expresses how sensitive the sensor is to light. Many cameras allow you to set various ISO settings (anywhere from ISO 100 to ISO 1600, although some ranges can be even greater, particularly on SLRs). The advantage in being able to set a higher ISO is that you can then have more flexibility in adjusting either the aperture or shutter speed. For example, if you need to shoot an image at 1/250 of a second in order to "freeze" the action, but you have only enough light for a shutter speed of a 1/125 of a second, one option is to change the aperture to let more light in. But if you're already at the widest aperture, you can instead increase the ISO from 100 ISO to 400 ISO, and you should be able to set the higher shutter speed.

LCD viewers

Optical viewfinders, which were once ubiquitous on cameras, are being replaced by larger, sharper color LCD viewers. Some are now as large as 3.5 inches. These displays are accurate in framing the actual image you get--better than most optical viewfinders--but they might be hard to see in bright sunlight. This live-view functionality, available in point-and-shoot for years, has also been appearing on more and more SLRs, which have traditionally used the LCDs for only playing back or reviewing images. A camera with an optical and an LCD viewfinder is more versatile, especially when you shoot in bright light or need to conserve battery power.


Available on almost every digital camera, a flash (or strobe) allows you to illuminate subjects via a short burst of light. Nearly all have auto-flash modes, a setting that will automatically fire a flash whenever the camera senses there isn't enough illumination for a correct exposure. Most include other flash modes, including red-eye reduction mode, which minimizes a common flash camera problem (although you can also fix this in an image-editing program when the image is stored on your computer).

Image file formats

The most commonly used file format is the JPEG, a compressed image format that allows you to use the file for a number of different applications, such as printing photos but also for using on web pages and emailing as attachments. A select number of high-end Compact cameras and all SLRs can also capture images in a file format commonly known as RAW. This format is most often uncompressed and the image isn't processed inside the camera, as with JPEG files. RAW files can yield the best quality images and give you the most flexibility when manipulating the photos with software.

Memory cards

Instead of film, nearly all digital cameras record their shots and store them on flash-memory cards, although occasional models also have had on-board flash-memory capacities greater than 1 GB. Compact Flash (CF) and SecureDigital (SD) are the most widely used. Other memory cards used include Memory Stick Duo and xD. Although these storage cards were once quite expensive, they have recently dropped significantly in price.


To save images, you transfer them to a computer, typically by connecting the camera to the computer's USB or FireWire port, or inserting the memory card into a special reader. (Many computers now have built-in card readers.) Cameras can also be connected to printers, or you can insert the memory cards directly into select printers.