DSLR Battlemodo Follow-Up

Illustration for article titled DSLR Battlemodo Follow-Up

By now you've probably seen our Battlemodo between the four hottest entry-level DSLRs on the market—the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi, the Sony Alpha a350, the Nikon D60 and the Olympus E-420. With 91 good-sized comments (and counting), there were obviously some issues raised that merited further investigation. Here are some new details, discussed by camera model.


Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi - I originally wrote: "Live View is limited, or you might even say crippled. You can't preview autofocus—I'm not even sure the autofocus works very well in this mode." When you activate Live View, you have to enter the custom settings and enable one of two kinds of autofocus, which you then manually trigger with the press of a button. The Live View isn't so much crippled as it is overly complicated, compared to the sexier iterations in the Sony and Olympus.


Sony Alpha a350 - I noted a sluggishness with photo reviewing: once you take a shot, there's an annoying pause. The question was raised whether or not this was due to Sony's D-Range Optimizer, which "delivers suitable tonality and exposures with rich shadow and highlight detail, even under high contrast situations." While the D-RO and D-RO+ modes can add even more time to the turnaround on the a350, taking pics without D-RO still means a turnaround time about twice as long as Canon's.

Nikon D60 - I complained about something I called the "auto-focus lamp" but which Nikon refers to as AF -assist. You can in fact turn it off, but it's not exactly easy. First, you have to go to the Setup menu to enable the "full" Custom Settings Menu, or the option doesn't appear. And then you have to go into the Custom Settings Menu, locate the AF-assist option and turn it off—provided you know that the bright annoying light is even called by that somewhat indirect name. My feeling is that this option should be off as a default, like on some competing DSLRs.

Olympus E-420 - I have said repeatedly that this camera has trouble with autofocus: when shooting with the kit lens, it resets almost every time you point it at an object, even if it's the same object you were focused on a second before. Olympus suggested I update the lens firmware to see if it improved anything. While there was a patch that I successfully installed, the lens' AF behavior is unchanged.

As you can see, when all new information is factored in, my initial ranking still stays the same. It seems you get what you pay for, though it bears repeating that the real dark horse is Sony's a300, a $700 (with lens) 10-megapixel version of the a350.


One final note: Whenever I bring up DSLRs, the debate about automatic shooting modes rages with some vehemence. I love the discussion, but I want to stress two things: Cameras intended for newbies need really good auto modes, and even the $900 kits I write about are targeted at the noob crowd. Don't believe me? Chuck Westfall, head of media and customer relations for Canon USA, told me this the other day: "The Rebel demographic is skewed towards beginners," adding, "We've found that any kind of automation we can give them is a good thing."

Thanks for the lively debate, and by all means keep it rockin'. As always, I am blown away by the depth of knowledge coming from Giz commenters on this popular but often confusing subject. [Entry-Level DSLR Battlemodo]


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@iTheophilus: You know, if you said something interesting, it wouldn't be a concern.

Back to cameras- I was curious about the olympus problem- does the camera hunt to the far or near side of the target every time, or does it go a random direction? I was thinking that maybe it's a problem with the kit lens not correctly reporting how far the focus mechanism is racked to the camera, so the camera tries to correct it in the "wrong" direction till it hits the stop, then bounces back till the AF hits.

IE, the lens says it's focused at 3 feet when the object is 3.5 feet away, and when you try to refocus, the camera goes "crap, the object is farther than 3 feet" and goes to infinity and back looking for a hit?