One of the chief shooter-friendly additions to digital SLRs is a Live View mode, which lets you compose an image within the camera's LCD just as you would with a compact digital camera. Live View has been making its way into digital SLRs steadily over the past year. Both the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi and the Sony highlighted in this article offer Live View; they're the first sub-$1,000 digital SLRs that have the feature. A digital SLR may not fit in your pocket the way a compact point-and-shoot digital camera does, but if you take the plunge, you'll find a world of new images available for you to capture. The two major brands of 35mm camera in the pro and prosumer camera market are Canon and Nikon. Pentax, Sony, Olympus and a couple of others have their niches, but Nikon and Canon between them share the majority of the marketplace.
Canon EOS Rebel XSi Digital SLR Camera
The 12.2-megapixel EOS Digital Rebel XSi boasts great image quality and a strong set of features giving evenly exposed shots, with excellent sharpness. Various preset and manual controls are chief among the strengths of the XSi, which costs about $799 with kit lens. Though navigating through the camera's deep menu options can be daunting, its useful My Menu tool can help you organise the settings you use frequently into a single shortcut screen. Another boon to folks who are accustomed to compact cameras is the A-Dep feature, which optimises images of small groups of people by adjusting the depth of field so that all of the image's subjects are in focus.
Live View function enables you to view your subjects directly on the huge 3.0-inch LCD monitor. It's easy to magnify any part of the scene 5x or 10x for precise manual focus. And now, there are two ways to use Autofocus along with Live View function in the EOS Rebel XSi. You can even choose a grid overlay, perfect for keeping straight lines in your subject straight in your pictures. In the studio, Live View function can be used remotely via a computer through the EOS Rebel XSi's USB connection.
The EOS Rebel XSi has a high-precision 9-point wide area AF sensor for fast, accurate focus even in dim lighting. It has a number of focus modes, including One-Shot AF, AI Focus AF, AI Servo AF and Manual. In Live View Function, the EOS Rebel XSi has two AF modes: Quick mode, which uses the camera's standard 9-point AF system, and Live mode, which is a contrast-based AF system that reads the sharpness of subjects right from the imaging sensor, and can be overridden by pressing the AF mode selection button. A familiar feature in PowerShot cameras, Live mode AF uses similar technologies to achieve focus, while Quick mode is more appropriate for capturing action or for shooting in low light.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 Digital SLR Camera
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A300X is one of the first sub-$1,000 digital SLRs we've evaluated to have Live View mode. Live View lets you compose an image within the camera's LCD just as you would with a compact point-and-shoot camera. Live View has been making its way into digital SLRs steadily over the past year. Live View mode in the Sony Alpha works particularly smoothly compared with competing implementations of the feature. The Sony Alpha A300k uses two imaging sensors, one to preview the image on the LCD in real time and another to capture the image. Sony's uncommon approach to Live View results in a speedy, highly responsive mechanism.
You'll have super-quick AF response, continuous shooting speed up to 3 fps with viewfinder and up to 2 fps in live view mode, plus high sensitivity (ISO 3200) for great low-light shots. What's more, you get simple controls, Creative Style settings and in-camera Super SteadyShot image stabilisation that work with every Sony, Carl Zeiss and legacy Minolta a-mount lens. Stamina power for up to 740 shots, Auto Pop-up Flash and many more features make this DSLR model hard to pass up.
This camera, which costs about $599 with 2 zoom lenses, has a tilting LCD screen that lets you take pictures at unusual angles without having to perform any gymnastic feats. In general, the A300X is an uncomplicated and fun-to-use digital SLR.
Olympus Evolt E-510 Digital SLR Camera
Unlike some digital SLRs in its class, the Olympus Evolt E-510 has a great many features built in. For example, in addition to offering exposure bracketing -- the ability to take multiple versions of a picture at different settings, thereby increasing your chances of capturing a properly exposed image under difficult lighting conditions - this model can bracket shots for flash and white balance. You also get two levels of image stabilisation to minimise camera shake, a depth-of-field preview button, multiple metering modes (including a spot meter), and a dust-removal feature that vibrates the sensor when you turn the camera on. At lower ISO ranges, the Evolt E-510's images show very little noise; as you reach and exceed ISO 800, colour noise begins to appear, though it's no worse than on other cameras in the price range of this $750 model.
It's all about forethought, professional specifications and the seamless integration of cutting-edge technology - the Olympus E-510 delivers nothing short of impeccable performance. It boasts Live View capability on its 2.5''/6.4cm HyperCrystal LCD and makes a statement with this camera's built-in image stabiliser. As it is incorporated directly into the body, there's no need for the costly inclusion of a stabiliser in each lens. You experience dramatically improved shooting results with a new image processing engine that offers excellent noise performance – thus bringing picture quality to a whole new level. And as with all of its E-System cameras, Olympus eliminates the threat of dust: The patented Supersonic Wave Filter was the first of its kind in 2003 and continues to promote dust-free photography in the E-510. The addition of a new Live MOS sensor in this Four Thirds- based camera delivers 10 megapixels of high-quality detailed photography.
Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR
If you want to step up from an entry-level digital SLR, you have to get something that has the oomph. The Canon EOS 40D which delivers outstanding image quality at a price $1,100 with a 28mm to 135mm lens, is within reach of photo enthusiasts and professionals alike. Images were well balanced, with good colour saturation and accuracy, under both flash and natural light.
One of the EOS 40D's advantages is that it has enough high-powered features to appeal to enthusiasts as well as to professionals seeking a second camera. The high end $4,500 Canon 1D Mark III, which the company introduced in the spring and EOS 40D share a 3-inch, live-view, 230,000-pixel LCD; Canon's Digic III image processor; highlight tone priority for preserving the details in bright areas of an image; and similar menus and controls.
Fast and highly accurate, DIGIC III processes images at 14 bits for finer colour gradations and minimises power consumption for prolonged battery life with instant 0.15 second start up time. The high precision AF system employs 9 cross type points for precise focusing on both horizontal and vertical planes. The central AF point offers sensitivity up to f/2.8. Points are spread out across the AF frame to better accommodate off-centre subjects. Canon's built-in dust prevention system reduces, repels and removes dust keeping the sensor clean and a self-cleaning sensor unit itself shakes dust with each power on.
This is a powerful, scalable, 10.1-megapixel camera. If you're moving up from a Rebel-series digital SLR, you'll appreciate this model's versatility, which will help the camera grow along with you. And if you're a more advanced shooter or a pro looking for something smaller and less costly than Canon's top-tier cameras (the 1D and 5D series), the EOS 40D is perfect for you.
Olympus E3 Digital SLR Camera
The Olympus E3 is a big, heavy, 10.1-megapixel digital SLR with extensive advanced controls. The E3's flexibility starts with its bright, 2.5-inch colour LCD, which swings away from the camera body and swivels. The E3 also has highly customisable controls. Dual selector dials -- one on the back, one on the front -- are now commonplace on digital SLRs. But you can reassign the E3's dials in a number of useful ways. You can, for example, set one of the dials to adjust the f-stop and the other to change the shutter speed.
The E-3 features one of the fastest auto-focusing speeds thanks to an advanced AF system and new Zuiko digital SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive) lenses. Matched with shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th sec and 5fps sequential shooting (with a 19 image RAW buffer in burst mode), the E-3 gives you a crucial edge to capture that decisive shot.
You have to be really serious about photography and have plenty of arm strength too- because the bulky E3 body alone costs about $1,700 and weighs just under 2 pounds. Adding the lenses adds to both the cost of the base camera and the heft: The 12mm-to-60mm (24mm-to-120mm, 35mm equivalent) zoom with the E3 costs around $900, and the body and lens together tip the scales at an arm-fatiguing 3.25 pounds.
Meanwhile, the camera's Live View capabilities provide the freedom to shoot with more versatility -whether wanting to keep eye-contact with the subject or shooting above the head or close to the ground, compositions can be framed with ease on the 2.5''/6.4cm multi-angle HyperCrystal LCD, which also faithfully displays the effect of camera adjustments in real time. Overall, the E3 feels comfortable to hold, and its magnesium body looks and feels durable -- and ready for extensive time in the field. Operating the controls is quick and efficient. And unlike with many cameras, the colour LCD is great.
Nikon D90 digital SLR
Stunning 12.3-megapixel image quality, broad control and the world's first digital SLR movie function combine to deliver unsurpassed creative freedom in the Nikon D-SLR. The D90's stunning image quality takes its inspiration from Nikon's flagship DX-format digital SLR, the D300. The D90's image sensor and 12.3 effective megapixels combine with Nikon's exclusive EXPEED image processing to deliver outstanding images featuring fine details, smooth tones, rich colours and low noise across a wide ISO sensitivity range.
The D90 delivers genuinely cinematic results, enhanced by the creatively shallow depth of field made possible by the DX-format sensor. This is further refined by the optical quality and broad selection of NIKKOR lenses - the same lenses relied upon by professional photographers the world over. Thanks to the D90's large image sensor, D-Movie images exhibit less noise than those of a typical camcorder, most notably in low-light situations.
The biggest selling point of the D90 is the industry-first HD video recording system. The new D-Movie mode captures video in 720p resolution, with 24 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio. Although there have been HD recording abilities on compacts and camcorders for a while, the fact that this is an SLR means that you can capture video using almost any kind of absurd wide-angle or paparazzi zoom lens you like. Other features include a 3" TFT screen, HDMI output, an enhanced Li-ion battery option and a ton of in-camera photo-editing options. There's even on-board music to accompany your slideshows.
All of these powerful features and more are housed in a compact, comfortable-to-hold body, with intuitive controls. In other words, the D90 is a camera that will satisfy the requirements of passionate photographers who demand superior image quality and crave exciting new photographic possibilities.
Besides, the new beta software for Adobe Systems' Photoshop accommodates Nikon's latest SLRs, the mid-range D90 and higher-end, full-frame D700's raw files with the company's widely used image-editing software.
Acknowledging this as the preliminary step in your search for the right SLR camera, be prepared to get floored by these awesome black beauties and to make a difficult choice from the SLR producers; Olympus, Sony, Nikon and Canon.