Digital SLRS - 11 models tested and reviewed

Digital SLRS - 11 models tested and reviewed

They may look big and complicated, but a digital slr is just as easy to use and takes far better pictures than a pocket digicam

The digital SLR camera’s time has come. Until recently, the marketing battleground was in digital compact models, but now the big guns have swung and we can reap the benefits of a huge amount of competition. There are plenty of reasons for your next digital camera to be a DSLR rather than a pocket-sized compact.

Ever find yourself shouting, “Stay there! Don’t move!” to your friends as you wait for your digital compact to wake itself up, extend its lens and finally – agonisingly – take the shot, only for the moment to have passed? Not with a DSLR. Just switch it on and take the shot – there’s almost no delay and no shutter lag, and autofocus is blindingly quick compared to compact models.

You don’t need to be scared of the apparently complex controls, either. Every DSLR on test this month has a fully automatic mode that’s no more complex than pointing the camera and pressing the shutter. And finally, there’s the price – this month’s winner is great value for money.

The ratings explained

The star ratings you’ll find at the bottom of each review are relative only to the products on test in any particular Labs. A one out of six rating doesn’t mean the product is the worst of its type to be made, just that it’s the least impressive that month. Likewise, a six out of six score isn’t necessarily an indication of perfection.

How we test

Testing digital cameras isn’t quite like testing other types of hardware. The major aspects of choosing a printer, for instance – speed, running costs and print quality – are all easily quantifiable.

Assessing a DSLR is unavoidably more subjective, so while we give the testing process a healthy dose of objective scoring, there’s inevitably more scope for personal preference. Some, for instance, may like a camera body that’s as small and portable as possible; others might find that same quality annoyingly fiddly. We try to take that into account as far as possible when we’re testing.

The basic categories of assessment we use for every Labs don’t change with DSLR testing, though. We still award each camera a mark out of six in four categories: Quality (in this case Image Quality), Features & Design, Value for Money and an Overall rating.

Image Quality

When we test digital compact cameras, we put an emphasis on the quality of the lens. With digital SLRs that can be contentious, since the lens can always be changed for a different model, and most SLRs can be bought body-only for a lot less cash. So we award each camera two overall quality scores: one Kit quality rating and one Body-only quality rating.

The Kit quality is the overall image quality with the kit lens fitted to the camera, so taking effects such as geometric distortion and chromatic aberration – which are largely caused by the lens – into account.

We test the stock lenses at both ends of their zoom range and at low-end ISO
We test the stock lenses at both ends of their zoom range and at low-end ISO

For the Body-only quality rating, we place more emphasis on image-quality aspects that reveal the abilities of the camera body itself, in particular the sensor’s high-ISO performance, exposure-metering accuracy and dynamic range. Note that the Fujifilm S5 Pro isn’t supplied in a kit with a lens, so it receives no score in the Kit quality test. Since noise performance is one of the main differentiators of DSLRs these days, we’ve teased that aspect out to give a High ISO quality rating, too.

Our DSLR tests also deviate from compact testing insofar as we adjust some settings manually to get a level playing field, rather than setting the cameras in fully automatic mode.

For outdoor testing, for example, we put each camera in aperture-priority mode and take a shot at f/5.6 at ISO 100, at both the kits lens’s maximum wide-angle and maximum zoom settings. Then, we take the same pair of shots at ISO 1600 to assess noise performance and look for signs of things such as clipped highlights, which indicate potential problems with sensor dynamic range.

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Image quality scores
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This Group Test appeared in the December, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  digital  |  slrs  |  11  |  tested  |  reviewed

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Comments: 2
18 February 2009
I just don't get your reviews. They seem to value the wrong things. This one is a classic example.

Your table shows the two Canon cameras at the top of the list for picture quality and the two Sonys at the bottom.

And yet you recommend the Sony a200.

Picture quality is the most important thing when buying a camera. If the quality isn't up to scratch, then why buy?

I researched this thoroughly last month when I bought a DSLR and (on my budget) kept coming back to the Canon EOS 1000D and the Sony a200. However, every test I saw of the Sony, the picture quality was noticably worse. More picture noise at low light levels, and much more chromatic abberation. And likewise, I too found the Canons had better picture quality than anything else.

The a200 did not have acceptable picture quality compared to other cameras - as validated by your table.

So how can it be your recommended camera when on picture quality, the most important aspect of its usage, it rates poorest?

Along with the recent review of smartphones where you recommended the most expensive with a more difficult interface and only marginally better specs than alternatives, I find your reviews lack credibility, and dare I say it, objectivity.

Comment made about the PC Authority article:
Digital SLRS - 11 models tested and reviewed?
They may look big and complicated, but a digital slr is just as easy to use and takes far better pictures than a pocket digicam

What do you think? Join the discussion.
21 February 2009
First up, so there is no confusion for those new to photography, chromatic aberrations are the result of a poorly designed lens, not the camera (film or sensor). But, as the reviews include lenses as a kit, something to consider.

I disagree with the premise that photography is all about "quality". A fluid term at best when discussing photography. If quality was the only measurement for judging a photograph we would all be shooting film on a Hasselblad or god forbid, dragging around view cameras and Holgas wouldn't exist.

Photography is a broad church, one persons requirements may not meet the needs of another. Hence, the wide variety of cameras, functions, lenses etc etc. The cameras and lenses I use would be a waste of money for many people, the output quality far exceeding anything they need. Their money would be better spent on other things.

For the majority of people purchasing at this price level quality is secondary to value and any of these cameras would produce images beyond their skill levels. Great images are not the result of a camera but of a great photographer. The better the camera, the easier it is, but how many people purchasing a camera at this price point are looking to create technical masterpieces, very few. The quality of the output from all these cameras would easily match their expectations.

Most will be looking for something that is a step up from a P&S, all these cameras are better than the majority of non DSLR (digital) cameras, and the Sony is very good value for this crowd.

Noise and sharpness are relative to intent, if you want to view an image at 200% on a monitor to see a lack of noise at ISO 1600 buy a D700. If your intent is to capture Auntie May cutting the cake, the kids playing with the dog or a nice sunset and are posting the images onto Flickr or to print out some 8x10's for the family album then all these cameras will do a stand up job.

Quality is relative. Intent is foremost. Content is king.

"Picture quality" is not the most important aspect of a camera, it is one of many factors in making a camera purchase decision. I think they got it about right, the Sony for that balance of quality and value and the 450D for quality.

In much the same way that you made a judgement on various factors with your recent camera purchase, balancing features, value and quality for the price you can afford. I'm sure you would have liked to have purchased a Canon EOS 5D Mark II or a Nikon D700 and spent several thousand dollars on some nice glass, but would it have been a good use of your hard earned money and would the quality of your images be any better ?

Don't get too wrapped up in using noise and sharpness as a measure of how good a photograph is, that way leads to disapointment and stagnation. Most people when they view a photograph don't care about noise and sharpness, they care about the moment captured.

Have a read of On Photography by Susan Sontag, you can learn more about photography in that little book than a room full of technical manuals and it is a lot cheaper than a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Jeremy Russell

Edited by phototext: 21/2/2009 10:10:56 AM
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