Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Looks like I'll get the 400D/Rebel XTi after all has their review of the Nikon D80 up. I was looking forward to this review not because I plan to buy that camera, but because I figured they'd compare it with the Canon Rebel XTi, which I was considering. I wasn't disappointed.

The information I was most interested in finding is the actual sensitivity of the XTi at various ISO settings. In the past, Canon's DSLRs have been 1/3-stop more sensitive than indicated. There was some concern on the dpreview forums that the XTi was actually 1/3-stop less sensitive than indicated, which would have been a deal-breaker for me since low-light photography and astrophotography are high priorities.

Anyhow, the professionals have spoken. The 400D/XTi is not less sensitive than the 350D/XT. The table at the top of the noise comparison page shows the XTi still maintains the +1/3 EV sensitivity margin from previous Canon DSLRs. The darker images people have noticed compared to the 350D/XT must be a difference in tone curve, not sensor sensitivity. Since the older camera was known for blowing out highlights, many view the change as a good thing.

The noise comparison on that page looks quite favorable for Canon; even though Nikon achieves numerically lower noise values at ISO 800-1600, they achieve it by blurring away detail. The XTi certainly has the edge. The ISO 100 studio comparison also shows a slight advantage for the XTi in terms of image crispness as well.

In fairness to Nikon, the D80 looks like a very solid camera overall; it certainly has advantages over the XTi (the major one being the D80's larger, brighter viewfinder), and any image quality deficiencies compared to the XTi are extremely minor and would only be noticeable to pixel peepers such as myself. :) The main drawback to the D80, for me anyway, is that it costs $200 more than the XTi (which already strains my budget for accessories).

EDIT: Turns out Phil was initially wrong--the XTi is 1/3 stop less sensitive than the XT after all. In other words, ISO 1600 is ISO 1600, not ISO 2000. Not a huge difference, but a bit of a let-down, and a lesson on why not to be an early adpoter. (Says the guy who bought a 2007 Toyota Sienna on January 1, 2007.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Canon's new compacts: A comedy of errors

Upon reading of Canon's newest batch of compact digital cameras, I was immediately impressed how they took a dumb idea and made it even dumber. Behold the "digital teleconverter"--a fixed 1.4x or 2x digital zoom. I can't fathom why this made sense to the Canon marketroids, because I imagine the intersection of (the set of people that use digital zoom) and (the set of people that know what a teleconverter is) is empty.

While the "digital teleconverter" misfeature will be roundly ignored by photo enthusiasts, the Powershot G7--premeiring the new DIGIC III processor--has already become the target of rage and scorn on the dpreview forums. This camera has everything one would expect in a G-series camera--minus the flip-out LCD, fast f/2 lens, top status LCD, infrared remote, and RAW support. But at least it has a hot shoe.

A new feature the DIGIC III models support is "face detection", a feature first seen on Fuji's F6500. Seems gimmicky to me, but who knows, maybe it cuts down on missed focus when you're shooting faces. (Who knows what it does when you're not.) Still, if Canon were to copy one feature from Fuji, I'd prefer it to be the low-light performance of Fuji's Super CCD sensor. I agree with dpreview that that sensor deserves a better camera, and one with Canon's feature set (that is, on their less dumbed down models) would fit the bill nicely.

Speaking of low-light performance, the DIGIC III chip also features "enhanced noise reduction" that supposedly allows "acceptable" ISO 1600 performance from a 1/2.5" CCD. I personally think they'd be better off engineering a compact low-noise sensor using their famous CMOS technology--even if it means a reduction in pixel count--but of course that wouldn't fly with the unwashed masses who think 10 megapixels in a camera the size of a deck of cards is a good idea. One thing Canon has had going for them in the past was relatively unobtrusive noise reduction--they'd let the picture get grainy and preserve detail rather than blurring it away in a watercolor-like mess (like, say, Kodak and Panasonic). I'm not impressed by their talk DIGIC III's "more agressive noise reduction"--agressive NR is generally considered a Bad Thing by those in the know. We'll have to wait and see if this new processor is able to tame the firestorm of noise inherent in these atom-sized photosites without blurring detail too much.

Oh, and computer control. Since I downloaded the Canon SDK, I receive status e-mails from them occasionally. Yesterday I got a message about SDK support for the newly announced cameras. The Rebel XTi will be supported, of course. As will the G7 and the A640. That's it.

The A630 and A710 IS will not be supported. I'm a little surprised about the A710 IS, but the A630 doesn't surprise me too much, since the A610 lacked computer control capability as well even though the A620 was supported.

Oh, now I see the pattern. Axyz models will only be supported where y is an even number. Naturally. Now it all makes sense.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Update on the DSLR choice has their review of the Pentax K100D online. A few disappointments:

  • No backlight on the status LCD - could make it difficult to use in low-light situations
  • Noise levels, while nearly comparable to Canon with shorter exposures, seem to degrade noticeably in longer exposures - not good for astrophotography
  • Slow autofocus in low light
  • Shallow buffer

So that would push me toward the Canon 400D, except that I've read on the forums that the new Rebel is 2/3 stop less sensitive than the 350D. In other words, while the noise levels at "ISO 1600" are comparable between the two cameras, the 350D is actually shooting at ISO 2000, but the 400D is only doing ISO 1250. So Canon's claim to increase resolution without increasing noise levels is a steaming pile of marketing. (I guess I shouldn't be surprised; they did the same thing with with the Powershot S3 IS.)

I'm interested to see a more scientific test of the sensitivity difference. For available light and astrophotography, both high priorities for me, this could be a deal-breaker for the 400D. Disappointing, too, because the improved AF system, deeper buffer, and wider LCD view angle would all be nice to have.

Stupid megapixel race. The 400D would have been a better camera had it kept the 8MP sensor from the 350D, but they needed those additional 2 megapixels to match up on paper with Nikon's D80 and Sony's A100. Even if squeezing them into the sensor actually does more harm than good.

That leaves me looking at the 350D now. Hopefully its price will come down now that its new and "improved" successor is on the market...