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Archive for 2008

2008.11.04

It has already been more than one two years since the introduction of digital cameras with HDMI output. HDMI output is the digital way to output video compliant with HDTV standards. Previously digital cameras used A/V analog cables to output SD (Standard Definition) video, either using NTSC (America) or Pal (Europe). Actually, many digital cameras still only output SD.

The particular thing about HDTV is that there are a large number of variations which vary in terms of resolution, frame-rate and interlace vs progressive. The highest quality standard is 1080p which represents a resolution of 1920×1080, roughly 2 megapixels. Most modern LCD televisions support this resolution, although this was not true 2 years ago. Instead, they used to support 1080i which is an interlaced version. It turns out that 1080i has the same pixel resolution as 1080p except that it is delivered in two fields, each containing every other scan line.

For still images, both 1080p and 1080i are therefore theoretically equivalent, except for one small historical detail called overscan. Briefly, the effect of overscan is that the entire image received by the television is not entirely displayed. While this worked out for analog television, LCD televisions also implement this for compatibility reasons. The twisted part of this story is that this has a detrimental effect on image quality which is particularly visible when viewing still images.

[eminimall]

The way overscan works on LCD televisions is that the TV takes a 1080p or 1080i signal and scales the central portion of that signal so that it fills the display itself. In other words, the display gets 1920×1080 pixels, drops some of them to get a smaller image and then it scales it back to 1920×1080! This is done by a digital filter which softens details and can introduce artifacts. To compensate for the softness many display then apply a sharpening filter.

To avoid this problem, certain televisions like Sharp Aquos 1080p LCDs support something called a dot-by-dot mode. In dot-by-dot mode, no overscan is performed and therefore all1920x1080 pixels are displayed using the television’s 1920×1080 pixels. This perfect match produces a much crisper image. Unfortunately, there is a catch: Only 1080p and 720p are supported. Now, if you research the specifications of every HDMI outputting digital camera to date, you will find out that none supports 1080p yet. What a shame! So, while a modern LCD television can show us a very high quality image, we won’t be seeing this quality from a digital camera just yet.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2008.10.28

The full-review of Nikon’s flagship ultra-zoom digital camera was recently published at Neocamera. The Nikon Coolpix P80 features an 18X wide-angle optical zoom lens with image stabilization and a 10 megapixels image sensor along with a full set of manual controls and advanced features such as continuous autofocus. It has actually been roughly 4 years since Nikon produced another ultra-zoom and this time they took the approach of building the smallest camera with 18X optical zoom. Never underestimate the impact of form-factor, it changes the way people take pictures, the way subjects respond to being photographed and photographic opportunities in general.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2008.10.24

The Toronto Police Department is now running a Pixel for Pistols program so that Toronto residents can exchange working hand-guns for a Nikon digital camera and a photography lesson. If successful, the city of Toronto should see less gun violence, perhaps in exchange for more incidence of blackmail ( just kidding 😉 ). The program is run together with Henry’s Photo Store and Nikon. For more details see Henry’s information page.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2008.10.10

The Nikon D3 is currently the flagship Nikon DSLR. It represents the entrance of Nikon in the full-frame market where Canon was the sole runner for the last several years. Soon, Sony will join with its first full-frame DSLR. This is definitely a high-end and uncrowded market. Canon has 2 1/3 models there, with their flagship EOS 1Ds Mark III, the not-quite-full-frame EOS 1D Mark III and the completely full-frame EOS 5D Mark II. Nikon has the D3 and its smaller sibling, the D700. Sony launched its Alpha A900. The Nikon D3 is currently available from Amazon.

A full-frame DSLR is one where the sensor is the size of standard 35mm film. This is 1.5X larger and wider than most DSLR which equals 2.25X more surface area. The effects of having a larger sensor are twofold. One is that legacy 35mm lenses capture the same angle-of-view on a full-frame DSLR as they did on a 35mm film SLR. The other is that sensor makers have more area to work with. With extra area, manufacturers can make larger more sensitive photosites (single-color pixels) or pack more of them. Nikon has chosen the former approach. The result is that the D3 and D700 have the same 12 megapixels resolution as the cropped-sensor D300 but these full-frame digital cameras can capture images at ultra high-ISO up to 25600. This is a full 3 stops higher than nearly all DSLRs. Canon and Sony have taken the latter approach, producing 21 and 25 megapixels cameras respectively. The Nikon approach favors low-light action-freezing photography while the other approach favors larger prints.

Due to their approach to full-frame, Nikon produces the cleanest high-ISO images of any current DSLR cameras. Take a look at the unmodified 100%-scale crops below to see how the D3 performs at each ISO setting:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 25600

Amazingly, image noise only becomes intrusive at ISO 6400. Still, ISO 6400 on the D3 is usable for mid-size prints and ISO 12800 is usuable for small prints. This is truly class-leading performance shared between the Nikon D3 and D700. If there is one factor for which the D3 excels above all else, it is its high-ISO performance. Read the hands-on review at Neocamera or buy the Nikon D3 from Amazon.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2008.09.18

Yesterday’s announcements from Canon included one for the new G-series flagship, the Powershot G10. This 15 megapixels digital camera (well 14.7 mp, but who’s counting), features a 5X wide-angle optical zoom equivalent to 28-140mm, a 3″ LCD with 460k pixels, plus most features from its predecessor, the Powershot G9. Notably absent from the G10 is an outstanding movie-mode. Although I personally prefer the new wide-angle lens, some will argue that it is a step back from the 6X, 35-210mm, optical zoom of the G9. Neither is truly better, it only depends on your subjects.

The G-series Powershot cameras represent advanced compact models with added external controls and above-average build quality with a few less common features added for good measure. Particularly, the presence of a hot-shoe and RAW capture are directed at advanced photographers. At the same time, the most recent G-series models were always released with the top marketing numbers in their class. The G10 continues this tradition with the most megapixels and widest zoom among Canon fixed-lens cameras. Arguably the higher megapixels count is a double-edged sword and, until a thorough review gets published, we will not know if Canon has managed to counteract the effects of small pixels using advancements in sensor design and noise reduction.

Since the G-series targets a relatively small market, it finds itself with little competition, allowing Canon to set a high-price for technology which is not really advanced. For example, the G9 and the lower-cost A650 share the same senor and lens. The A650 even had superior battery life, the advantage of using standard AA batteries and better ergonomics. The G9 was basically left with a larger more sturdy LCD, higher resolution movie mode, a few more external controls and a hot-shoe. Some users even prefer the A650’s LCD because it is movable. This time, Canon shared the same sensor with the ultra-compact Powershot SD990 IS which does not compete in terms of features with the G10. The 5X wide-angle optical zoom lens is still unique among Canon cameras.

Competition from other manufacturers is quite interesting. The G10 faces the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, the Nikon Coolpix P6000, the Sigma DP1and some models from Ricoh, like the Caplio GX200. The Panasonic and Ricoh cameras are characterized by wider lenses, both starting at 24mm. The LX3’s lens is also a full stop brighter at its widest and more at its maximum zoom. The Sigma DP1 is unique in its use of a relatively large and low-resolution Foveon sensor which delivers full-color at each pixel. As a consequence, the DP1 features a fixed 28mm F4 lens. This provides superior image quality among compact digital camera at the expense of framing flexibility. The Nikon P6000 actually has the most similar feature set with a 28-112mm lens, 13.5 megapixels sensor, hot-shoe and RAW mode. Its unique trick however is a built-in GPS for automatic geo-tagging of images.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

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