Pentax

Tested 31 May 2008

At a glance

• 10.2 million effective pixels • APS-C-sized CCD sensor • Built-in Shake Reduction (SR) • 2.7in, 230,000-dot LCD • Five cross-type AF points

PENTAX'S K-m was one of the few surprises at this year's photokina show in Germany It is designed with novice photographers upgrading from compact cameras in mind. It has a very simple control system. Pentax's main aim with this camera was to create a small, lightweight model. This was made possible by downsizing the sensor-shifting Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism and circuit boards, and using high-density packaging technologies for efficient component positioning as well as repositioning the battery compartment.

To complement the K-m, Pentax has also launched the smc Pentax-DA L18-55mm f/3.5-5.6AL and the smc Pentax-DA L 50-200mm f/4-5 6ED zoom lenses. These lenses are designed to be more compact and lightweight (hence the L in their name) than previous optics.

Like other Pentax DSLRs, the K-m sensor has the manufacturer's SP (Super Protect) non-stick coating on its sensor to help prevent marks that can spoil images. In addition, the SR system can be set to shake dirt off the CCD, while the Dust Alert function identifies the location of any dust that is present on the sensor.

Although the K-m has the same SAFOX VIII AF system as the K200D and K20D, the entry-level camera has only five AF points. However, Pentax has reviewed the AF algorithm and this, as well as the decision to use cross-type sensors, is claimed to enable more accurate and faster performance in low light.

Although primarily aimed at novices, when we test the Pentax K-m it will be interesting to see whether it will make a good rival for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, or prove suitable for use by enthusiasts wanting a small, light DSLR

Although the Pentax K-m has the same SAFOX VIII AF system as the K200D and K20D, the entry-level camera has only five AF points

At a glance

• 10.2 million effective pixels • APS-C-sized CCD sensor @ Built-in Shake Reduction (SR) • 2.7in, 230,000-dot LCD • 14-bit processing

WHEN Pentax replaced the enthusiast-level KIOD with the K20D, it took the opportunity to upgrade its then entry-level model to the K200D, using components from the KIOD.

In addition to the more common exposure modes, the K200D has a sensitivity priority option in which the user selects the sensitivity, and the camera sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically.

Like the K20D, the K200D has Pentax's SAFOX VIII phase-detection AF system. While we have found this to be acceptably fast in an entry-level camera and accurate in good light, it is slow and hesitant in lower light. When shooting in the gloom of a church, for example, it is often quicker to focus manually. As there is no Live View system in the K200D, manual focus must be assessed in the traditional way by looking through the viewfinder

We found the 16-segment metering system delivers good exposures in a range of situations. However, there are a few occasions when it is necessary to dial in a little extra exposure to brighten the midtones, and in these situations it can be helpful to set the D-Range features to 200% as it darkens the brightest highlights.

The K200D's controls are easy to get to grips with and its weather sealing, in-camera raw file processing, Dust Alert and Shake Reduction systems make it an attractive camera for those who aren't concerned with Live View technology or high-speed shooting. It also delivers high-quality images with well-controlled noise at the highest sensitivity setting (ISO 1600). It makes a good low-budget option for enthusiast photographers - especially those with a collection of Pentax K-mount optics.

The K200D has a sensitivity priority option in which the user selects the sensitivity, and the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed

Tested 5 July 2008

Olympus E-520

Tested 5 July 2008

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Canon

Canon EOS450D

At a glance

• 10 million effective pixels • Four Thirds Live MOS sensor • Live View on 2.7in, 230,000-dot LCD screen • Normal, highlight and shadow spot metering

At a glance

• 12.2 million effective pixels • APS-C-sized CMOS sensor • 3.5fps for 53 JPEGs • Live View on 3in, 230,000-dot LCD • 9 AF points

ALTHOUGH it has an almost identical (and impressive) specification to the Olympus E-420, the enthusiast-level E-520 has one significant additional feature - a sensor-shifting image stabiliser. We found that this can reduce the shutter speed at which the camera can be safely handheld by as much as four stops. This is something that could be of enormous use to those wanting to make the most of the telephoto benefit of the Four Thirds format.

The most noticeable difference between the E-420 and E-520 is in the handling. The E-520 is a little bigger than the tiny E-420 and has a larger collection of direct control buttons. This means that although the enthusiast-level camera has the same Super Control Panel and menu layout, it is possible to adjust the metering, white balance, AF and sensitivity settings with fewer button presses.

Both the E-520 and E-420 have very slightly larger LCD screens (an extra 0 2in on the diagonal) than Olympus's top model, the E-3, but the monitors of the E-420 and E-520 are fixed rather than articulated.

In common with the other Olympus DSLRs, the E-520 has a built-in flash that can be set to control the Olympus FL-50R and FL-36R flashguns wirelessly. This increasingly common advanced feature is especially useful for creating more flattering portraits when you don't want direct flash.

As they have the same sensor and TruePic III image processor, it is hardly surprising that the E-520 and E-420 produce identical images. Hence Olympus has provided photographers with a choice of two different handling styles between the E-420 and E-520, without having to accept any major compromise in specification or image quality.

THE Canon EOS 450D sits just above the EOS 1000D and below the EOS 40D in the manufacturer's DSLR line-up. As well as having a higher pixel count than the model above it, the EOS 450D has a more sophisticated Live View system. Also, whereas the EOS 40D only has mirror-up phase-detection AF in Live View mode, the EOS 450D has the option to focus using a contrast detection system. This method doesn't require the mirror to move, so there is no interruption in the live feed. As with most other Live View contrast-detection AF systems, though, the EOS 450D's is slow and totally unsuited for use with moving subjects. However, those who are really keen on macro or still-life photography will love the bundled EOS Utility software that enables the camera to be controlled remotely via either a USB or wireless connection. This software is supplied with all Canon cameras and uses the Live View technology to display the scene being composed on a computer monitor.

While the EOS 450D is capable of producing very good results, we found that its JPEG files are rather soft and have considerably less detail than the raw files captured at the same time. This blurriness is especially noticeable in images that contain grass or fabrics with fine texture that is not resolved. Although the raw files are sharper and have more detail at high-sensitivity they also have higher levels of noise, especially in the shadows. The noise in raw files and the smudging in JPEG images limits the size of the prints to A4 or less when the highest sensitivity settings are used. While novices are likely to be happy with making small prints from JPEG files, enthusiasts looking for a budget camera may wish to record raw files.

The E-520 has a built-in flash that can be set to control the Olympus FL-50R and FL-36R flashguns wirelessly

46 f www.amateurphotographer.co.uk I 29 November 2008

Canon has packed an incredible number of features into the EOS 450D, which sits just above the EOS 1000D in the manufacturers' line-up subscribe 0845 676 7778

Tested 17 November Z007

Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10

Tested 17 November Z007

Fujifilm FinePix SSPro

Tested 17 March 2007

At a glance

• 10.1 million effective pixels • Four Thirds-type Live MOS sensor • Raw, JPEG, and simultaneous raw and JPEG recording« 2.5in, 207,000-dot LCD

At a glance

• 12.Ï million effective pixels • 23x15.6mm Super CCD SR Pro sensor • 2.5in, 230,000-dot LCD screen • D-Range boost up to 400% • Film Simulation modes

Although it was the first DSLR to offer Live View on a fully articulated LCD screen, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LIO is a largely forgotten camera.

The DMC-LIO has more versatile AF options when Live View is activated than in reflex mode, though this is now common. There's the 'normal' three-point phase-detection AF, where the mirror has to be lowered briefly while focus is achieved; contrast detection AF, which doesn't require the mirror movement; and Face Detection AF. None, however, achieves sharp focus especially quickly, and as light levels fall or when there are low-contrast subjects, even the phase-detection system becomes hesitant.

While the articulated screen makes it much easier to shoot from all manner of usually awkward angles, we found that it has a very narrow viewing angle so the screen must be almost straight on to see the composition clearly.

Our most serious reservation with the DMC-LIO, however, is with the quality of the images it produces. Although JPEG files captured at the lower sensitivity settings have a reasonable level of detail, those taken higher up the sensitivity scale suffer from the effects of excessive in-camera noise reduction and are soft and lack detail. Shooting raw files makes a significant positive difference. While chroma noise is still very much in evidence, even images captured at ISO 1600 have a high level of detail and are much sharper than the simultaneously recorded JPEG files. We found it was much better to reduce the level of noise in raw files using a software package such as the bundled Silkypix Studio 2.0 or Adobe Camera Raw than to rely on the in-camera system

Uniquely, the Fupm FinePix S5 Pro's sensor has a honeycomb array of photodiodes with two different sizes. Known as S (large) and R (small) 'pixels', these diodes report in pairs, so some consider the S5 Pro to be a 617-million-pixel camera. However, by varying the gain applied to each type of diode, Fujifilm is able to extend the camera's dynamic range by up to 400% or 2ev. This results in the S5 Pro having the widest dynamic range, 9ev, of any camera put through our previous testing regime.

Fujifilm doesn't make its own DSLR bodies, and the S5 Pro is based on the Nikon D200 This means that, apart from the sensor and the Real Photo Technology Pro image processor, the S5 Pro has many features in common with the now discontinued Nikon model.

Although the 3D Color Matrix II metering (with 1005-pixel sensor) does a good job in most circumstances, the S5 Pro is calibrated to underexpose midtones slightly, so extra exposure needs to be dialled in - or post-capture brightening applied - to get images looking right. Our tests indicate that there is no difference in the brightness of the shadows between images taken with the 100% and the 400% D-Range settings. There is, however, a visible difference in the brighter areas, which have more detail.

The S5 Pro is well suited to use by landscape and wedding photographers who need a wide dynamic range. However, we found the Film Simulation modes that are intended to replicate the look of some of Fuji's films can produce rather extreme colours. Users should beware the bright LCD screen, which can fool trusting photographers into serious underexposure in low-light situations.

We found it was much better to reduce the level of noise in raw files from the DMC-LIO using a software package subscribe 0845 676 7778

Users should beware the bright LCD screen of the S5 Pro, which can fool photographers into serious underexposure in low-light situations

29 November 2008 I www.amateurphotographer.co.uk | 47

Tested 12 May 2007

At a glance

• 4.68 million effective pixels • Foveon X3 direct image CMOS sensor # 2.5in, 150,000-dot LCD © Raw or JPEG recording ® 3fps for up to six high-quality JPEGs

AS it has a Foveon X3 sensor that records full red, green and blue colour at each pixel site, the Sigma claims the SD14 can be considered a 14-million-pixel camera (2652x1768 pixels x 3 = around 14 million pixels). However, our tests suggest this is a little optimistic and that the detail resolution is more akin to that of a seven or eight-million-pixel model.

While the SD14 has a cult following, Sigma has, to date, not managed to make a significant impact upon the DSLR market. One reason for the SD14's lack of mass appeal might be its comparative simplicity that puts the photographer in charge. There are, for example, no automatic scene modes or image styles to help get exposure and image colour right. The AF system is also slow and a bit too easily confused by low light or a subject with below-average contrast.

Although it is normal for the best results to be produced from raw files that are processed on a computer, it is almost essential to shoot raw with the Sigma SD14, as we found the JPEG image quality very variable.

Sigma founder Kazuto Yamaki tells us that the company has learned a lot from the SDH and this will help make the SD15, which will use the same sensor, a better camera. At the moment, the company is still working on the new TRUE II processing engine, and once it is finished the SD15 will be ready for market. As the True II engine uses more hardwear rather than software processing, the SD15 will be a faster, more capable machine than the SD14. Whether or not it will be able to record raw and JPEG files simultaneously is still unknown. In the meantime, the SD14 offers solid build quality for raw file enthusiasts who want a back-to-basics specification

Although it is normal for the best results to be produced from raw files that are processed on a computer, it is especially tine of the Sigma SD14

48 | www.amateurphotographer.co.uk | 29 November 2008

Hie DMC-G1 is the first Micro Four Thirds camera, and Panasonic hopes it will attract photographers who find a normal DSLR too bulky

• 12.1 million effective pixels • Four Thirds-type Live MOS sensor • Electronic viewf inder • Articulated 3in, 460,000-dot LCD screen ® Compact design

THE Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 isn't actually a DSLR, but it is designed to fill the gap between a compact camera and a DSLR, so in effect it will compete in both markets.

The DMC-G1 is the first Micro Four Thirds camera, and Panasonic hopes it will attract photographers who find a normal DSLR too bulky, yet want something a bit more than a compact camera. Interestingly, however, the manufacturer has given the DMC-G1 a healthy collection of direct-access buttons. This will appeal to enthusiast photographers who want to make setting adjustments quickly without scrolling through a menu.

We have yet to subject the DMC-G1 to a full test, but our experience of various pre-production models indicates that it is an interesting camera. The electronic viewfinder (EVF), for example, offers a 100%

field of view and 1 4x magnification (0.7x equivalent) and is the best EVF we have seen to date. Colours look a little oversaturated in it and the contrast is boosted a touch, but importantly, the details in the scene are much clearer than they are in previous EVFs we have used. While the pixel count of the DMC-G1's Live View-enabled LCD screen doesn't match those of the Nikon D300 and Sony Alpha 700, at 460,000 dots it is higher than the LCD screens of most entry-level digital SLRs And, as it is articulated, the screen provides a clear view of images being composed from a wide range of angles.

Naturally, the smaller sensor size presents more of a challenge to image quality. But if it can match the promise of its specification, the DMC-G1 could be a popular camera with enthusiasts looking for a highly portable camera with a plenty of control.

Panasonic Lumix

At a glance

Tested 13 October 2007

At a glance

Pentax K20D and Samsung GX-20

Tested 12 April 2008 (Pentax) and 24 May 2008 (Samsung)

Canon EOS 40D

Tested 13 October 2007

Both the K20D and GX-20 produce quite dark images with plenty of detail n the highlights, but the Pentax tends to underexpose the most subscribe 0845 676 7778

At a glance

• 10.1 million effective pixels • APS-C-sized CMOS sensor • 6.5fps for up to 75 high-quality JPEGs • Live View on 3in, 230,000-dot LCD • 14-bit processing

WHILE the Canon EOS 40D's nine-point AF module with all cross-hair-type points is an improvement over that of its predecessor, our tests revealed that its ability to track moving subjects isn't quite up to the high standard of the more expensive Canon EOS 5D, or the Nikon D300. However, even in low light it copes well with off-centre statonary subjects. Like most other digital SLRs, the EOS 40D's contrast detection AF in Live View mode is slow, so it is not suited for use with moving subjects.

Canon's 35-zone evaluative metering system is one of the best metering systems available. It is well suited for use by those who want to make prints directly, as it isn't easily tricked into under or overexposing the main subject. Similarly, the automatic white balance system does a pretty good job in most situations. It manages to preserve the atmosphere of many lighting conditions and doesn't usually over-correct However, we found that it doesn't always strike the right balance in mixed sunshine and shade. In these instances, the photographer needs to decide which area is most important and select the appropriate setting.

In its default 'standard' picture style setting, the in-camera edge sharpening is a little on the high side, and the best images are produced by turning it to its lowest setting and applying Unsharp Mask post-capture. This results in sharp images with a high level of detail. Although chroma noise is visible in the highest sensitivity (ISO 3200) images, it is not excessive.

In summary, the Canon EOS 40D is a capable, if unexceptional enthusiast-level camera, that can be used in a wide variety of situations.

Like most other DSLRs, the EOS 40D's contrast detection AF in Live View mode is slow, so it is not suited for use with moving subjects

29 November 2008 | www.amateurphotographer.co.uk | 49

• 14.6 million effective pixels # APS-C-sized CMOS sensor • Built-in Shake Reduction (SR) • Live View on 2.7in, 230,000-dot LCD • AF micro-adjustment

PENTAX and Samsung have a working partnership that means the Pentax K20D and Samsung GX-20 have an almost identical specification. One difference between them, however, is that while the Pentax model can record raw files in either the PEF or DNG format, the Samsung camera only has the DNG raw option. Pentax claims it is possible to draw more information from the PEF files, but in practice we found no discernable difference between them and DNG files.

Noise, or the effects of overzealous noise reduction, could be a concern for a camera with such a high pixel count on an APS-C-sized sensor, but we found that both cameras control noise levels well. At the highest sensitivity settings (ISO 6400) images have quite a bit of chroma noise, but the raw files are also sharp.

While both cameras use the same

16-segment metering system, they appear to be slightly differently calibrated. Both the K20D and GX-20 produce quite dark images with plenty of detail in the highlights, but the Pentax camera tends to underexpose the most.

The K20D and GX-20 have Live View technology, but it is not integrated as well into the cameras as in some other models. For example, it is not possible to change the exposure settings while Live View is activated on either camera. Also, the magnified on-screen image has very low resolution and is therefore of little use for assessing manual focus. This is a shame, because the level of detail that can be recorded by the cameras makes them well suited to still—life, macro and landscape photography where Live View is most useful. Their tendency to protect highlights will also be appreciated by landscape shooters.

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