Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Digital SLR

October 2003

By Mike Gould

Speaking of digital photography (as we were last month - I'm never one to give up a bit of continuity if I can squeeze one out of context), here is a report on the coolest new development in the wonderful world of digital cameras: the Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR). These have been available for the last few years, but only for the well-heeled professional. Now us down-at-the-heels semi-professionals and Just Plain Folks can join in the fun.

Simply Lovely Reflections
To review some basic photo terminology, an SLR is a camera that enables you to look through the lens to frame your shots. This is old hat in the world of 35mm photography, where this has been the standard for years in all but the most basic point and shoot cameras. Most digital cameras (digicams), on the other hand, have had to use an auxiliary eyepiece lens to see what the camera "sees".

This aux lens, called the viewfinder, is usually mounted next to the main lens so that the eye of the beholder is as near as possible to the eye of the camera, the main lens. This can lead to problems when you are close to an object, as the angle of view for the viewfinder changes slightly the closer you get to your subject. This results in badly-framed close-ups and problems when you have a telescopic extender on your lens obscuring your field of view.

Most digital cameras get around this by allowing you to see what the main lens sees on an LCD screen on the back of the digicam or swung out from the side. This is the setup with my Canon Powershot G1camera (of which I've written in "The Pictures of Summer" in B2B, available at http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.42.shtml). This does enable you to see exactly what the camera sees, but it comes at a price. You have to leave the screen turned on the whole time you are using the camera, and you end up holding the camera at arms' length, which is not as stable as having it plastered to your face, leading to fuzzy shots due to camera shake. The screen-on-at-all-times business is why digicams eat batteries like crazy - keeping that screen lit is the major use of energy in these systems.

Suitably Long Reach
One of the main reasons photographers like 35mm film SLRs is that you can readily change lenses. You go from a wide-angle lens to capture the entire birthday party to a close-up lens used to capture the cake candle blowout. Or you have a zoom lens that does it all. There are of course zooms on most digicams, but there are better ones available for SLRs. And better telephotos and better wide-angles, and better flashes. A whole industry devoted to accessorizing SLRs is now seeing a widening of its market and licking its collective chops.

Like most camera-toters, I started out with a 35mm SLR, a Canon Rebel. I replaced that with a Canon Elan IIE a few years later and started collecting Canon EOS lenses to go with the rest of the flashes, cleaners, and other doo-dads (a technical term) filling several camera bags in my basement.

Then digicams came along and I progressed from a Kodak 1Megapixel jobbie to the Canon G1, S300 digital Elph, G2, and finally to my latest tool, the mighty and majestic Canon 10D Digital SLR, the actual subject of this here exposition.

I should point out that there are by now lots of DSLRs available from Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus, etc. These are all quality products, lightening the wallets and bringing joy to camera persons everywhere. I prefer Canon stuff, and as I had a bunch of Canon lenses waiting in the wings, I bought the first Canon DSLR I could (barely) afford. If you have a bunch of Nikon lenses in your bag, then by all means go out and buy a Nikon DSLR. It will make you very happy.

Deceptively Simple Learning Resources
For me, the transition back to SLR from the hold-it-out-in-front-of-you G2 was a piece of cake. The 10D has controls and general focusing behaviors just like my Elan camera, and digital conniptions just like the G2. It uses the same memory chips used in my G2, the same high-powered flash, and it fits in the same camera bag that housed the Elan.

This puppy makes pictures that are 6Megapixels (Mpx) in size. When speaking of pixels, more is better, so the pics from my DSLR are considerably more detailed than those from my G2, which limped along at a mere 4Mpx. This is why you, Ms./Mr. Businessperson want one: the pictures you take of your products and services suddenly take on an aura, a richness, a high-resolution sheen that will leave your competitors, waving their wimpy point-and-shoots, choking in the dust.

And now that I am not using the LCD screen very often, batteries last forever. I have shot 350 pictures, at the highest possible resolution, on one battery (the same one the G2 uses, incidentally). I shot these same 350 pics on one memory device, a 1Gigabyte MicroDrive. That's a one-inch wide removable hard drive which has a dime-sized disk onto which you can cram a Gig of pics. Less than $200. The mind buckles.

Since I was moving up to the camera of my dreams, I decided to go for the lens of my dreams: the Canon 75-200mm f2.8 L IS. You know the guys running around the edges of football games with big white lenses on the end of sticks? This is the smallest in that series. The "IS" stands for iso-stabilizer - which means there is a gyro in the lens that compensates for hand shake - your hand shakes to the left, the lens shifts to the right. Magic. The f2.8 means that this works in very low light, such as in the bars and clubs of Ann Arbor where I shoot musicians for the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival.

So how semi-heeled do you have to be to buy one? I got my 10D at Big George's for around $1.5K. And there is a digital Rebel coming out soon for less than a grand. The lens? Don't ask. The "L" designation means "hide the Mastercard statement from your significant other".

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Fac·totem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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