DSLR & BRIDGE CAMERAS
Let’s cut to the chase… Sony’s latest addition to its mighty excellent RX10 series is the best do-it-all camera in the world right now. Good enough, in fact, to consider trading in your DSLR for.
We’ve all been there – a distant subject that’s too far away for the average lens to capture in detail. You could try walking towards the subject or you could just whip out your new RX10 IV, zoom in and capture it in crisp, screen-filling detail. That’s the RX10 IV in a nutshell. With this camera you have every conceivable photo opportunity covered, from 24mm to, wait for it, 600mm of zoomy wonderfulness.
This writer had both Canon and Nikon consumer DSLRs and while I had been happy with them, I was always faced with a conundrum: which lens or lenses should I take? And will I be able to change lenses in the field without getting dust on the sensor? And while setting it all up, will I miss the shot? Those days are gone for me. I now use the RX10 IV for everything. Its one-inch stacked CMOS sensor is smaller than my old APS-C-sized DSLRs but it still delivers incredible shots with fantastic sharpness and detail – all the way from its 24mm wide setting to its 600mm optical limit.
If I want to reach further, I can select Sony’s Clear Zoom feature and get in closer at the expense of surprisingly little loss in quality. And if I still can’t get close enough, I can whack on the full digital zoom, not be fussed about the drop in quality, and reach an astounding 1,200mm. The addition of an incredible OLED viewfinder can be considered a major plus. It’s an expensive camera, mind. It’s pretty darn heavy, too, though no weightier than my old Nikon D5200. But it’s worth every penny.
The RX10 IV’s video quality is equally astounding. How does 4K and slow-mo at up to nearly 1,000 frames per second grab you? In fact, this has to be one of the best performing video cameras around – the shots it produces have great sharpness, depth and tone. It’s also a relatively easy camera to get a handle on, especially if you’re used to the Sony interface.
I have absolutely no criticisms of the RX10 IV. It delivers shots so ravishingly crisp and video so incredibly sharp I don’t miss my DSLRs at all. Despite the ultra high price, the Sony RX10 IV has Best Buy stamped all over it.
Sony RX10 IV
The new trend for long-range super zoom Bridge camera tech continues with this keenly-priced, 12-megapixel travel option from Panasonic. And it’s a cracker. Let’s first take a look at the lens; it’s a Leica with an SLR equivalent focal range of 26mm to 600mm. Yes, it’s 300mm short of the Nikon P900 reviewed below but let me tell you that 600mm is plenty enough range for pretty much any eventuality. But there’s more… Where the Nikon’s aperture changes as you zoom in (at its furthest it hits f6.5), this beauty remains at a bright f2.8 all the way through; and that’s phenomenal for a camera in this price range.
The weatherproof FZ330 uses a small 1/2.3 sensor so it won’t ever compete with a standard consumer DSLR’s APS-C sensor if printing is your thing. But seeing few people ever print images these days, it’ll produce shots perfectly good enough for any 27-inch computer monitor or HD TV. And the images this thing produces are outstanding, with crisp detail and a lovely rich colour tone. The FZ330 comes with the usual gamut of special effects, manual overrides and scene selections, along with high-quality, pin-sharp 4K video and even 4K photo, which is great for action shots. To use it, simply sift though a ream of 4K video and select which still image you want to use. But there’s more…
You may have heard of the Lytro Light Field camera which allows the user to change the focus in an image after having already taken it. For instance, say you’ve taken a snap of a chess set. With the Lytro you can apply sharpness to any one piece. Well this Panasonic has a similar system and it’s called Post Focus. Using the rear touch screen, simply tap on the foreground or background of an image you’ve taken and the subject springs into crisp focus. We haven’t a clue how it works but it’s bloody brilliant.
Device Squad hasn’t tried the new, more expensive Sony RX10 III yet (it also has a 600mm zoom and a much larger one-inch sensor) so for the time being the FZ330 can be considered the best value do-it-all travel camera on the market. It’ll zoom to a huge distance and focus on the wings of a bee from just a few centimetres away. And all in one tidy DSLR-sized package. Top value.
The bridge camera category was created by the photographic industry as a mid-way position between a point-and-shoot compact and a DSLR. Bridge cameras have DSLR-style bodies and fixed zoom lenses that cannot be removed. Aside from the usual gamut of features like 1080p video and various scene settings, the P900 has one major asset, a truly phenomenal 83x optical zoom lens powerful enough to pick out the lettering on an aircraft at almost 35,000 feet. Point it at the moon and you’ll see every crater as if it’s just a few miles away. Incredible. It stands to reason, then, that a camera like this is pretty much all you’ll ever need on something like a safari or a bird-watching outing.
Where DSLR owners will need to take along an extremely expensive 2,000mm lens, you can just rock up with a camera less that £500 that does almost as good a job. Despite having an excellent image stabilising system, you really will need a tripod at its full focal range or the view in its electronic viewfinder will be jumping all over the place. Also bear in mind that the lens's aperture at full length is f6.5, which isn’t very bright. But use it in the right lighting conditions and the P900 is capable of producing exceptionally crisp 16mp images. Granted, it’s a big thing, but as a travelling camera it ticks all the boxes – even the one marked macro. Yes, for a lens so long we are amazed it can also focus on a bee a few millimetres away. So, if you’re looking for a camera for your next trip that won’t have you rummaging around for extra lenses, then step right this way.
Nikon Coolpix P900
The excellent Canon 100D is the world’s smallest and lightest D-SLR. In fact we can't stress enough how small and practical this camera is. And yet, despite its handy size, it's extremely comfortable in the hand and very easy to navigate. The perfect travel DSLR, no less. The 100D comes equipped with a large APS-C 18 megapixel sensor, a three-inch touchscreen monitor, a full range of manual controls and a wealth of special effect, including Tilt Shift-style toytown and high contrast black-and-white. The touch screen is especially useful as you can also use it to produce stylish pull-focus video effects when in 'live' mode (simply touch the subject on the screen and it gently snaps into focus). Very cool. Needless to say this compact DSLR produces images and 1080p HD video of startling clarity, depth and sharpness. The camera is available with or without the 18-55mm kit lens but we recommend adding Canon’s impeccable 40mm ‘pancake’ lens (pictured) to your travel armoury. You won’t be disappointed. Top buy.
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If you’re a newbie to the world of DSLRs, consider this brilliant introductory model from Nikon which features a very useful Guide Mode that uses sample images and simple instructions to help you select the right settings for the scene. Naturally, it also comes with all the usual manual controls expected of any DSLR, including the option to shoot in RAW. The Nikon D3300 falls under the manufacturer's DX range and uses an APS-C size sensor that delivers an impressive 24.2 megapixels resolution. It’s also one of the smaller DSLRs on the market, making it an ideal choice for those who want something that’s easy to carry around. And let’s face it, the vast majority of DSLRs are simply too bulky to lug around all the time.
The Nikon D3300 comes equipped with a three-inch monitor, a very clear viewfinder and a full compliment of on-board features like scene recognition (which analyses the scene and selects the best settings accordingly), an 11-point autofocus system and an HD video mode that shoot’s quality footage at up to 30 frames per second. The Nikkor 18mm-55mm kit lens it comes with is a good bit of gear but if you can afford it, go for Nikkor’s underrated 16mm-85mm glass as that extra two millimetres really adds oomph to wide angle images. For our money, this is one of the most versatile budget-priced consumer DSLRs on the market.
The Canon D700 is at the top of the company’s beginners’ range and it’s a cracker. Its 18 megapixel APS-C sensor produces exemplary images and film-like video (Canons generally perform better at shooting video than other brands, Sony notwithstanding). This easy-to-use DSLR is designed in such a way that your fingertips automatically land on all the major controls. It also comes with a swing-out three-inch monitor that’s touch sensitive – handy for adjusting settings without having to fiddle about with the menu system. Other features include Scene Intelligent Auto (for those not interested in the camera’s wealth of manual controls), five frames per second burst shooting, RAW, and a bunch of pre-programmed scene settings. If it’s top quality images you’re after, we advise you give this weighty snapper a whirl.
Price is no barrier when you’re in pursuit of razor-sharp still images that can be blown up to the size of a house. Nikon’s handsomely angular Df comes armed with a full-frame FX sensor capable of delivering outstanding results. Don’t be fooled by the sensor’s modest 16 megapixel resolution, either. When those pixels are spread over a sensor this size, there can only be one outcome, and Nikon’s got it right in the pocket. Everything about this DSLR smacks of refined engineering, from the tough weather-sealed and surprisingly lightweight magnesium alloy-clad body to the classic metal dials, silvery retro top and faux leather coat. The Df doesn’t shoot video but that’s not what it’s about. This is a pro-spec camera designed for one thing and one thing only: breathtaking image quality. Available with or without 50mm lens.
A DSLR should, to coin a Henry Ford quote, be available in any colour as long as it’s black. Well Pentax is bucking the trend by equipping its budget-priced K30 with no less than nine different body colours. The 16 megapixel Pentax K30 produces images way above its station. It’s excellent in low light and it shoots commendable video too (its built in mic is exceptionally good). The K30 is also weather sealed which is an especially handy thing for boaters, poolside use and the British weather. It also accepts AA batteries for those untimely moments when the main battery runs out of juice.
The Pentax K30 is one of only a handful of DSLRs to come armed with a plethora of creative digital effects, including HDR, bleach bypass, toy camera and retro. However, its interface isn’t the easiest to get around so you may need to do what few of us ever do: RTFM (read the ####ing manual). The K30 is available as a body only, with the standard 18mm-55mm kit lens or as a double zoom kit comprised of an 18mm-55mm and 55mm-300mm lens. The Pentax K30 is a great value DSLR but the jury’s out on the garish range of body colours.
The new 24mp Nikon D5200 is quite a bit bigger than the D3300 reviewed above. It also uses a slightly larger DX sensor. The other big difference is that it comes with a high-res vari-angle three-inch monitor that’s very handy for composing shots from various angles. Obviously most of the time you’ll be using the viewfinder but when shooting in ‘Live’ mode, a swing out monitor like this can prove very handy, especially when composing portraits and movies.
Other features include a new graphical interface similar to the D3300's Guide Mode, a 36-point autofocus system, an exceedingly high ISO of 6400, built in HDR (high density range), wireless remote control, five frames per second burst shooting and 16 handy scene modes. You can buy this camera with the 18mm-55mm kits lens or as a body only. But if we’re to recommend just one additional lens to your armoury, we’d suggest Nikkor’s superbly fast f1.8 35mm G lens. This little beauty is unbelievably sharp and especially good for low-light shooting and street photography. It also creates beautiful blurred backgrounds, or bokeh, as they call it in geek circles.
Compact System Cameras
Olympus Stylus SP100EE Traveller
This 16mp bridge camera from the house of Olympus is equipped with a whopping 50x optical zoom that amounts to an incredible 1,200mm in old-fashioned 35mm film camera speak. That’s long enough to capture the eye of a tiger from over 20 metres. Its widest angle, meanwhile, will easily accommodate the width of the Sistine Chapel or a group of friends in a tight spot. The Stylus’s Dot Sight Framing Assist is an especially handy feature. Simply follow the red cross-hair that pops up under the flash and track your subject as it moves. It’s a great system for sport spectating and catching animals in mid flight.