The dSLR Camera of the Future

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With a reflex you tend to make the picture in the camera.

—Elliott Erwitt

The dSLR camera replaced the SLR camera at the beginning of the 21st century. The former has a sensor and other components that record and save an image on a memory card; the latter uses film. Both have a mirror system and a pentaprism, and they accept a variety of lenses. Other than the sensor taking the place of film, not many changes in the structure of these types of cameras have been made. As you'll see in this chapter, many of the changes have been functions added to the camera, including the ability to shoot video.

Just recently, dSLR cameras included live-view options on their LCD screens. Point-and-shoot models have always had live preview (also called live view), where the image is continuously shown on the LCD screen. It works electronically when the image through the lens is projected onto the sensor.

Most point-and-shoot models are built simply, without a viewfinder, so that the sensor receives light from the lens to show what is being framed, which is then displayed on the LCD screen. dSLR cameras aren't so simple. They have a viewfinder, which uses a mirror in front of the sensor. When you look through the viewfinder, the light is reflected onto a pentaprism near the top of the camera, enabling you to frame a shot. When you press the shutter release all the way down, the mirror moves out of the way, letting the light hit the sensor to take a picture. Under these conditions, live view can't work because there is a mirror in the way, preventing what is seen through the lens from being projected onto the sensor.

Working around the dSLR mirror so that you can frame your image by looking at the LCD screen can be achieved in two ways. One way is to have another sensor placed near the viewfinder to receive the light before the mirror lifts up to take a picture. This sensor then displays what you are framing on the LCD screen. Another way is to move the mirror out of the way so that light can come onto the sensor while the shutter is still closed. If the camera is set up in the latter way, it's a chore to autofocus it (you can always use manual focus), which is a problem camera companies are attempting to solve. (Note that Sony has developed a camera with a translucent mirror system without the pentaprism, so that there is only an electronic viewfinder. This setup enables the camera to autofocus quickly in live view.)

Most dSLRs have large sensors. The optimal sensor size is a full-frame sensor, which is about the same size as 35mm film negative. Lower-priced models of dSLRs have sensors smaller than full frame. These sensors are referred to as APS-C (Advanced Photo System type C), which is about 22.2x14.8mm on some Canon models, such as the 50D and the Rebel XSi. The Nikon DX model cameras have a slightly larger sensor (23.6x15.8mm). Some believe that these types of sensors on dSLRs might be a thing of the past, though, because full-frame lenses are a less than perfect fit for them.

In 1999, buying the Nikon D1, a 2.74-MP, 23.7x 16.7mm CCD sensor, would set you back $5,500. In 2008, the first full-frame Nikon, the D3, with a 12.1-MP, 36x23.9mm CMOS sensor set you back $5,000. Clearly, consumers are getting more bang for their buck when buying dSLR technology. Consider the improvements in the Canon 5D (renamed the Canon 5D Mark II): In a relatively short period of time (four years), they have added live view and high-definition video and increased the resolution from 12.8 to 21.1 MP. The camera can be used with more than 50 different kinds of interchangeable lenses. Some would even call this overkill. With so much to offer already, how can dSLRs get any more sophisticated?

Many professional photographers today use dSLRs. Not only do they have to purchase a camera body from time to time, but they also need lenses, external flash units, and image-manipulation software. Some professionals are Canon users (such as myself), and others use Nikon (such as Vik Orenstein, interviewed in the following sidebar). The kind of camera photographers use or will use in the future depends on shooting location (studio or field), what kind of photography they do, and what kind of technology the camera has. The future of the dSLR looks bright in the near term, but in the long run it's questionable.


Figure 4.1

One ofVik Orenstein's images of children. Image courtesy ofVik Orenstein.

Vik Orenstein began her photography career by shooting actors and models and dabbling in architectural photography. In 1988, when she started making children's portraits, she knew she had found her true passion and never looked back. "I love to shoot kids being kids and then create portraits that layer the whimsy, playfulness, and humor of the kids with traditional portrait mediums," she says on her website, "It's my hope that the combination of timeless artistic treatments and the very small, sweet moments I strive to capture create a portrait that is at once both universal and deeply personal."

In the following email interview conducted in 2011, Orenstein lays out her version of what she looks for in equipment today and what she'd like to see in the future.

MB: What was the first camera you ever used?

VO: My first SLR was a Nikon FE2. It was a good old workhorse.

MB: What kind of equipment did you start out with in the late '80s?

VO: I was shooting the Nikon 8008 when I first opened KidCapers Studio. It had auto-focus (a real game changer for me), so I loved it. From there, I upgraded to an N90 and then the N90s.

MB: What kind of equipment do you use now—camera, lights, computer, software?

VO: Currently, I use a Nikon D3, Nikkor lenses, AlienBees strobes, a Mac PowerBook and iMac 7, Adobe Photoshop CS5, the Noise Ninja plug-in, and Topaz ReMask and Topaz Adjust plug-ins.

MB: How often do you buy a new camera and/or other equipment?

VO: I buy a new camera whenever Nikon comes out with a new D-series body that I "have to have." I buy new lenses periodically, and two years ago was the first time I bought new strobes —until then, I used my old Normans and Travelites for 20-plus years. I switched to AlienBees only when my Travelites started to go on the fritz. The Normans were still working perfectly, but the AlienBees are lightweight and easy to take on location. I generally upgrade Photoshop every time a new version comes out.

MB: What features or settings do you really appreciate in your camera?

VO: Auto-focus, aperture priority and exposure compensation settings (EV), high ISO setting capabilities, and a super large sensor

MB: Consider the camera you use now. What kinds of features would you like to see in the future—for example, smaller lens, better image stabilization, and so on?

VO: I'd like to see a camera that is about 6x9x 1 inches, with the entire back an LCD monitor with an optional pop-up viewfinder at the top and most settings available through the menu. The lens would be a constant f/1.4 with zoom from 18mm to 600mm and only 1 inch long when fully extended. The whole thing would only weigh about a pound, but it would feel solid and sturdy in the hands. The sensor would be as large as the monitor and would allow shooting in exquisitely low light. When not in use, the whole camera could be folded in thirds.

MB: Check out the Canon Wonder Camera,1 a video camera due out in 20 to 30 years that takes perfect high-res video, from which you can extrapolate high-res still images. Could you use a camera like this in your work? What do you think would be some of the challenges in using such a camera?

VO: Sadly (in my opinion), this is the future, and I believe it will be here sooner than 20 to 30 years—more like 5 to 10 years. I really have no interest whatsoever in shooting video, although I am not blind to the merits that a camera like this would bring into play. Imagine shooting a child in action and never missing a shot! But I think there is a real beauty in still photography that will be lost once these new high-res video/still cameras become the norm. I honestly don't know whether I will use this type of camera or not once it becomes available.

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