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DSLR group test Digital SLR Review

DSLR group test Digital SLR Review - It's tiring trudging around shops and trying to find cameras navigating that pesky search option. So we've compiled the best DSLRs in the mid-range and put them here.

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Sony Alpha A700
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Review by Matt Grayson

You've grasped the concept of DSLR photography and your entry level model is starting to get annoying because it's too easy to use. Here, we've herded the best DSLRs around to see how they fare in close quarters with each other.

DSLR digital camera group review There's a mixture of young and old in this test as the new Pentax K-7 and Olympus E-30 are pitted against the older Nikon D300, Sony A700 and Canon EOS 50D. Can the newbies offer something the oldies can't? We'll be comparing features that photographers need as well as innovative technology, looking at what sets each camera apart and how useful it is. We'll also look at how the build and performance compare from model to model.

DSLR group test: Specifications
Nikon D300
Nikon D300: Specification
  • Resolution: 12.3Mp
  • Sensor size: 23.6x15.8mm
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Image size: 4288x2848
  • Aspect ratio: 3:2
  • Processor: EXPEED
  • Focus system: TTL phase detection, Multi-CAM 3500DX
  • Focus points: 51, 15 cross type sensors
  • Crop factor: 1.5x
  • Lens mount: Nikon F Mount with AF coupling and AF contacts
  • File type: RAW, TIFF, JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO200-3200 (expandable to ISO100 & ISO6400 equivalents)
  • Focus types: Single, continuous, manual
  • Metering system: TTL full aperture exposure metering by 1005px RGB sensor
  • Metering types: 3D colour matrix II (type G & D lenses), colour matrix II (other lenses), centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec
  • Frames per second: 8 (using optional booster pack)
  • Flash: Yes, guide no 12 at ISO100, hotshoe
  • Flash metering: TTL flash control by 1005px RGB sensor
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250sec
  • Image stabilisation: No, lens based
  • Integrated cleaning: Clean image sensor, image dust-off data acquisition (Capture NX software)
  • Live view: Yes hand-held shooting and tripod shooting modes
  • Viewfinder: SLR type, pentaprism, built-in dioptre
  • Monitor: 3in TFT LCD screen, 920,000dot (307,000px)
  • Media type: Compactflash (I & II, UDMA compliant), Microdrive
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 147 x 114 x 74 mm
  • Weight: 825g (body only)
Olympus E-30
Olympus E-30: Specification
  • Resolution: 12.3Mp
  • Sensor size: 4/3in
  • Sensor type: Live MOS
  • Max. image size: 4032 x 3024
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3
  • Processor: Truepic Turbo III
  • Focus system: TTL phase difference detection system, contrast detection
  • Focus points: 11 point, fully biaxial auto and manual
  • Focus types: Single, continuous, manual
  • Crop factor: 2x
  • Lens mount: FourThirds
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
  • Storage: Compactflash, Microdrive, xD picture card
  • Metering system: TTL open aperture light metering
  • Metering types: Multi, ESP, spot, centre-weighted, highlight, shadow
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV in 1, ½ & 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60sec-1/8000sec
  • Frames per second: 5fps
  • Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
  • Flash metering: TTL auto
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250sec
  • Image stabilisation: Sensor shift, 5EV compensation
  • Integrated cleaning: Supersonic wave filter
  • Live view: 100% field of view
  • Viewfinder: Optical, 98% field of view
  • Monitor: 2.7in Hypercrystal III LCD, 230,000dot (76,000px)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 141.5x107.5x75.0mm
  • Weight: 655g (body only)
Pentax K-7
Pentax K-7: Specification
  • Resolution: 14.6Mp
  • Sensor size: 23.4x15.6mm
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Image size: 4672x3104
  • Aspect ratio: 3:2
  • Processor: PRIME II
  • Focus system: TTL phase detection
  • Focus points: 11
  • Crop factor: 1.5x
  • Lens mount: Pentax KAF2 bayonet
  • File type: RAW, JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO 100-6400
  • Storage: SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Auto single, continuous, manual, point select
  • Metering system: TTL open aperture 77 segment metering
  • Metering types: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV
  • Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec & bulb
  • Frames per second: 5.2fps
  • Flash: Built-in, guide no. 13, hotshoe
  • Flash metering: P-TTL
  • Flash sync speed: 1/180sec
  • Image stabilisation: Image sensor shift mechanism (Shake Reduction) max. 4 stops
  • Integrated cleaning: Image sensor cleaning function by supersonic vibration
  • Live view: Yes
  • Viewfinder: Pentaprism type (100% fov)
  • Monitor: 3in TFT LCD, AR coated (921,000dot)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 130.5x96.5x72.5mm
  • Weight: 670g (excl. battery and card)
Canon EOS 50D
Canon EOS 50D:Specification
  • Resolution: 15.1Mp
  • Sensor size: 22.3x14.9mm
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Image size: 4752x3168
  • Aspect ratio: 3:2
  • Processor: DiG!C IV
  • Focus system: TTL-CT-SIR
  • Autofocus points: 9
  • Crop factor: 1.6x
  • Lens mount: Canon EF/EF-S
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: True ISO100-3200 (expandable up to ISO12,800 equivalent)
  • Storage: CF I/II, UDMA compatible
  • Focus types: AI Focus, AI Servo, One shot
  • Metering system: 35-zone TTL
  • Metering types:
  • Exposure compensation: +/- EV
  • Shutter speed: 30sec - 1/8000sec
  • Frames per second: 6.3fps (with UDMA enabled card)
  • Flash: Yes, In-built, Hotshoe
  • Flash metering: E-TTL II
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250
  • Image stabilisation: No (lens based)
  • Integrated cleaning: Yes
  • Live view: Yes
  • Viewfinder coverage: 95%
  • Monitor: 3.0in LCD(920,000 dots)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 145.5x107.8x73.5mm
  • Weight: 450g
Sony Alpha A700
Sony Alpha A700: Specifications

  • Resolution: 12.24Mp
  • Sensor size: 23.5x15.6mm
  • Sensor type: CMOS Exmor
  • Image size: 4288 x 2856
  • Aspect ratio: 3:2
  • Focus system: TTL phase detection system
  • Focus points: 11
  • Crop factor: 1.5x
  • Lens mount: Sony/Konica Minolta A mount
  • File type: JPEG, RAW, cRAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200 (expandable to ISO6400)
  • Focus types: Continuous, single, auto, DMF (direct manual focus), manual
  • Metering system: TTL 40-segment honeycomb pattern SPC
  • Metering types: Multi segment, spot, centre-weighted
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec & bulb
  • Frames per second: 5fps max.
  • Flash: Yes, guide no. 12 at ISO100
  • Flash metering: ADI / Pre-flash TTL flash metering
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250sec (1/200sec with steadyshot on)
  • Image stabilisation: Yes, camera based CCD shift mechanism, 2.5-4EV compensation
  • Integrated cleaning: Yes, anti-static coating & CCD shift mechanism
  • Live view: No
  • Viewfinder: Glass pentaprism, 95% field of view, 0.9x magnification & eye dioptre
  • Monitor: 3in TFT Xtra fine with hybrid technology, 921,000dot (307,000px)
  • Media type: Dual CF and Memory Stick Duo slot. Compatible CF Type I / II / MicroDrive; MS Duo / MS Pro Duo and MS-PRO HG
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
  • Power: Li-Ion infolithium battery
  • Size: 141.7x104.8x79.7mm
  • Weight: 690g


Group DSLR test: Features

On the surface it appears that the resolution race is finally slowing as more manufacturers look to be capping the pixels around the 12 – 15 million mark. Relatively modest when compared to the top end DSLRs that sit in the ranges above these models on test. The Nikon D300 has 12.3Mp and when this camera was released with it's bigger brother, the D3, it indicated a new benchmark in image quality for the APS-C sized sensor. Nikon weren't the first though, Sony released the A-700 which also had a 12Mp sensor and, indeed, the sensor supplied to the Nikon models were produced by Sony. Of course Nikon say that the basic design has been changed to their exacting standards so there will be variances in quality.

Canon EOS 50D
A large wheel on the back of the Canon EOS 50D helps with making quick adjustments.
Nikon D300
Live view is accessed using the dial on the left shoulder of the Nikon D300.
Olympus E-30
The screen of the Olympus E-30 is articulating for easier use of features such as live view.

Canon have opted for a slightly higher 15.1Mp on their CMOS sensor with Pentax using a revamped version of the K20D sensor now which means the resolution stays at 14.6Mp. It's worth noting, at this point, that the K-7 used in this test is the pre-production unit I obtained at the press launch. While it's had final firmware updates, Pentax have issued a statement that they'll be making minor amendments to the sensor and the images taken on this unit could vary from final images.

The smallest sensor of the group comes fitted in the Olympus E-30. It's a LiveMOS sensor on the FourThirds standard which Olympus say gives the definition of CCD with the lower power consumption of CMOS. With a smaller sensor comes a smaller amount of space to fit the pixels onto and this is where the problem lies with FourThirds. It simply hasn't got the space available to expand the resolution any higher but they have released two DSLRs with the same resolution suggesting they're sticking to 12Mp as the maximum.

Every manufacturer now have their own processor for transporting those large file sizes and they all have their own input into how JPEGs are messed around with. Canon's D!GiC processor was originally split into three chips controlling video, imaging and camera control. The second generation D!GiC was a single unit so the cameras could be built much smaller. It also had a larger buffer and faster processing time which helped the DSLRs it was fit into such as the EOS 5D and EOS 400D. The EOS 50D uses the newest D!GiC 4 processor which has the fastest processing time of any previous models, improved noise reduction, better performance with 14bit RAW images and live face detection AF in live view.

Developed for the Alpha series, the BIONZ processor is the brain of the A700. It's dedicated to increasing performance of shutter speeds while attempting to control noise. It's also been designed to help with face detection, dynamic range optimisation and colour reproduction. With the release of the D300, Nikon also announced the EXPEED processor. A processor capable of 16bit image data transfer as well as supporting D-Lighting and 6fps without the booster grip. Olympus introduced the Truepic Turbo processor relatively quietly in 2004 and the first time I ever came across it was in a small compact camera called the AZ-1.

The Olympus E-30 houses a Truepic Turbo III+ which is a honed version of the Truepic III. They are now on the fifth generation engine although they appear to have missed out the fourth generation completely and it's only been a matter of months from when the E-30 was released to the new engine being fitted to the Olympus EP-1.

Pentax incorporate the PRIME (Pentax Real IMage Engine) processor and the K-7 employs the second generation version which enhances colours more than the original as well as working with the new SAFOX VIII sensor to pump out 5.2fps which is slightly faster than the Sony and Olympus.
Recently a lot of DSLRs have been coming out with expandable ISO settings which aren't true sensitivity but a recreation of what the camera thinks the setting should be.  As it's the oldest the Nikon was the first to kick thngs off. It gives true sensitivity settings of ISO200-3200 with an expandable range of ISO100 & ISO6400. Sony have a similar approach but with a true setting of ISO100 while Canon have a true low end setting but expand the top end but two stops to a maximum of ISO12800. Olympus and Pentax are the only two that have opted not to add expandable ISO to the sensitivity range. Pentax' true setting starts at ISO100 and ends at ISO6400 whereas Olympus have opted for a more modest ISO100-3200 range, possibly due to the limitations of a smaller sensor? Saying that the sensor isn't that much smaller than APS-C so it's unlikely this is the case. More probably, Olympus think that the optimum image quality can only be achieved in this scale.

After CIPA changed the regulations regarding how pixels and dots on a screen could be measured, a few companies started to list the dot number as it looked much more than the pixel number. The reasoning is that there's three dots to every pixel so for a 920,000dot screen found on all but the Olympus, this is a 307,000px screen. Olympus list 230,000dots to their screen which equates to 76,666px. This is four times less than the other cameras and coupling that with the smaller dimensions of 2.7in compared to the 3in display on the other units and you've got an inferior screen. Its only saving grace is the articulation movement allowing you to use live view or playback images from almost any angle.

Only Nikon and Canon have lens based image stabilisation while Olympus, Sony and Pentax incorporate a CMOS sensor shifting system which work on a rail system. Sony called their system SSS (Super Steady Shot) until recently when they changed it to Steady Shot Inside. This change was made to drive home the message that the image stabilisers are built into the camera so that any lens fitted can benefit from blur free images. It uses gyroscopic sensors to detect the movement of the camera and shifts the sensor in the opposite direction to compensate. Olympus and Pentax use a similar system but like all ideas that are copied through systems, they need their own name. Canon were the first, incorporating Image Stabilisation into lenses before DSLRs took over the world. They got the rights to call it IS (Image Stabilisation) forcing other companies to select different names. Nikon opted for Vibration Reduction (VR), Pentax chose Shake Reduction (SR) while Olympus selected Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD).

These built-in systems also double up as the sensor cleaning systems whereas Canon and Nikon have to build in a separate sensor cleaning system. Olympus has a pretty violent shake to it which you can feel in contrast to Canon which doesn't disturb the camera in any way. Pentax have also found another use for the sensor rail system that the image stabilisation uses. It has a composition adjustment feature for fine detail photographers that may have composed incorrectly by a few millimetres. Instead of adjusting the tripod, the sensor can be moved up and down, left and right to include a small portion of the frame that may otherwise be missing.

Olympus have two types of image stabilisation for movements on the x & y axis or just the y axis. The latter is more suitable for panning images as it only compensates the image on the longitudinal direction.

Live view was introduced to Pentax members with the introduction of the K20D. It was a slow and clumpy system and has been refined a lot for the K-7. It has three types of focusing and the mirror now stays down while focusing is performed. Whereas the K-7 is the second Pentax with live view and is operated by pressing the dedicated LV button on the back of the camera, the D300 from Nikon was the first DSLR from the company with the feature. It's selected by switching the shoot mode dial on the left shoulder to the LV position. In hand-held mode the camera will raise the mirror to focus but in tripod will use a contrast detection method which is slower. Canon also have a dedicated live view button on the top left of the back of the camera. It's indicated by an image of the camera with the screen highlighted. It has to be enabled in the menu system first but it's amazing quite how useful this tool can sometimes be.

Olympus first used live view on a DSLR with the E-330 in 2006 although it was used on the E-10 in 2000 but it didn't have interchangeable lenses so you could argue it wasn't a DSLR. They didn't get very quick off the mark and other companies soon took them over in terms of performance. They did push boundaries with it though as they developed a way of keeping an image on the screen while it focused by using a secondary mirror on the back of the main mirror reflected some light onto a secondary sensor on the bottom of the mirror chamber. Other companies are catching up and the K-7 now has this feature. Interestingly, despite being released roughly at the same time as the Nikon D300 and a full year later than the Olympus E-330 the Sony Alpha A700 doesn't have live view at all. However, this is Sony's second ever camera so they were still finding their feet in some ways.

Winner: Pentax K-7

ePHOTOzine says: It's small, light, has live view, a built in HDR feature and generally makes picture taking fun. There's no denying it's a close call in terms of specification performance which is why it comes down to extra features. Olympus need a special mention for the Art scenes. Nikon and Sony have also done well to hold their own despite being up to two years older.

Group DSLR test: Build and handling
At this level of camera it's unlikely that you'll get a badly built unit. Olympus are the only manufacturer not to use magnesium alloy in the construction and have instead plumped for plastic reinforced with glass fibre. Canon and Nikon are magnesium alloy through and through while the others have slight variations. Pentax have opted for a stainless steel frame with a magnesium steel alloy mix which probably keeps the price down but that steel could add to the weight. It's not the heaviest at 670g, that accolade goes to Nikon coming in at a roly poly 825g.

The D300 is substantially bigger than the K-7 which is bound to have something to do with the difference. In fact at 130.5x96.5x72.5mm, the Pentax K-7 is the smallest of the group with the Olympus E-30 only mildly smaller than the Sony Alpha A700 and Canon EOS 50D. This is despite the FourThirds system supposedly offering more compact camera designs. All the cameras are protected against weather with rubber seals keeping dust and moisture out of the sensitive areas.

An indication to the market that the cameras are aimed at is the presence of a command dial and it's interesting to see that they all possess one except the D300. Could this be that it's aimed at a higher section than the serious enthusiast? It's possible but with the ranges of rival manufacturers changing and expanding, as well as their own, the D300 has now been slotted into this area. It could mean that the camera is better value for money as depreciation sets in and technology continues its inevitable march onwards. It could also mean that the camera is more advanced than the others and you're getting better value for money. This is a camera that's over a year older than some of the others so its not surprising really.

Considering these points, its a great camera to use  with a good UI and extensive menu. In terms of advancement, Olympus have made some sparkling changes to their menu systems lately and now have one of the easiest menus to use. Canon still opt for the dual menu down the side of the screen and the main menu for more advanced features. With the release of the EOS 50D and EOS 5D MkII, a snazzier menu was added with nicer colours and a better flow. The new 921,000dot screen helps vastly with the menu and looking at older models, a difference can really be seen.

Similarly to Olympus, Sony have a nice, easy to use interface and I think the only thing that lets it down is the back of the camera. It has so many buttons and switches that you can be put off under the assumption that it'll be really hard to use. Weirdly, lots of buttons have been crammed into a tiny space on the back of the camera while a massive expanse of empty space remains on the top plate.

Sony Alpha A700
A little busy on the back but does the job quite well.
Pentax K7
Pentax accept SD cards because of the compacting technology that Pentax have used.

When the Nikon D300 was first released, the layout was excellent and easy to use but now that other challengers have risen, it seems a little awkward. The menu is still great, it's just that the pad on the back moves like it's falling over and compared to the EOS 50D's wheel and Sony joystick, it's no longer the breezy navigation option it once was.

Using each camera independently gives them a feeling of being just right sitting in the hands nicely with all the important controls right where you need them. It's not until you get them all together that you begin to see the flaws in the sizes and layouts.

The Pentax K-7 is the smallest of the bunch and after holding a bigger camera such as the EOS 50D or the D300 it can feel a bit too small. But Pentax are proud of their compacting technology and because this is a purposeful exercise, they shouldn't really be given criticism for it should they?

Of course, the smaller size of the Pentax means that it can take a smaller card and all the cameras except the K-7 take CompactFlash. A lot of people welcome this as the way forward and with current advancements in SD technology, such as the new SDXC card with a maximum theoretical storage of 2Tb, it opens up options for adding multi media options to cameras in the future. (This technology is still being tested and the Pentax K-7 wouldn't be able to accept a card of this magnitude.)

Winner:
Nikon D300

ePHOTOzine says: All the cameras have a similar build quality with some kind of protection from the elements, but when it comes to holding a camera, nothing feels quite like a Nikon. It has a certain feel to it that no other manufacturer of this type of camera can replicate.

Group DSLR test: Performance
For the shots of the wheel that came to Sheffield, all the cameras were set to f/11 and ISO100, so that none had an advantage over the others.

Canon has provided a decent metering result with detail in the cabs despite a really bright day. I would've preferred a more saturated sky and dropping the exposure by a third of a stop in exposure compensation can help this along if you have no polarising filter. I prefer the exposure from the Sony Alpha A700 as I feel it's more balanced in terms of the amount of blue in the sky and the level of exposure in the wheel. The Nikon D300 is substantially darker than the others and while the sun was flitting in and out of clouds, it wasn't enough to warrant such a difference in exposure.

Canon EOS 50D
Good metrering from the Canon despite the bright day.
Nikon D300
Nikon has metered darker which is a shame.
Sony Alpha A700
I like the result from the Sony the most.
Olympus E30
Olympus are similar to Pentax in exposure and colour.
Pentax K7
I like the sky colour from Pentax and Olympus.

Olympus has given a similar exposure to Pentax which is a little darker than Canon's result and lighter than Nikon. I like the blue better from these two, but the Sony has done best overall.

There was a heat haze on the day I took the landscape shot from High Bradfield overlooking Low Bradfield and the Peak District. It shows on all the cameras as a lighter mistiness on the hills in the centre of the frame and due to this being a test, I couldn't use any filters. However, there's lots of detail in the distance with the farms on the hills being clearly defined. It's at this point that the neutral finishing of the Sony starts to be its undoing.

Nikon D300
Nikon gives more detail in close up areas.
Pentax K7
Pentax also does well at recording detail.
Sony Alpha A700
Sony gives the brighter image again but the image lacks depth because of this.
Olympus E30
Olympus has a good image but lacks the detail of the Nikon.
Canon EOS 50D
All cameras recorded haze on the hills, but Canon suffered more than most.

The exposure system that was bringing lots of detail in the city centre images is now boosting the mist more than on other cameras. The far distant hills are practically missing from the shot taken by the Alpha A700. I think the Olympus has given the most information from the scene with the exception of the Nikon giving more detail to the brickwork of the farm house towards the bottom of the frame. Pentax don't do too badly at recording the detail of brickwork on the same house but the other three are lagging in terms of sharpness.

For the shoot of Emma-Nicole, I used natural light in a small glade next to a derelict house. I didn't use any extra equipment such as flash or reflectors, so it's a raw portrait. The only adjustments made in Photoshop is the healing brush to remove spots on the head, to save the model's blushes.

Pentax K7
The cooler tone from the Pentax can be seen as a slight cast on the dress.
Canon EOS 50D
Under exposure from the Canon EOS 50D gives the model a darker skin tone.
Nikon D300
The Nikon D300 has given the best exposure but is off with the white balance.

I think the exposure from the Canon EOS 50D is a little under exposed as I'd like to see more light in the face. I love the amount of detail in the hair, eyes and skin and the f/8 setting has thrown the background out of focus nicely. All the cameras were set to the same aperture and, depending on where we were stood, I also valued the white balance to daylight, shade or sunny. Olympus has given a warm tone to the image which I like but with the models skin tone, it needs further balancing to avoid looking like jaundice. Pentax has given a cooler, blue tone which can be seen on the white dress and the lack of warmth from the sun on the leaves in the background.

Sony Alpha A700
Sony has over exposed slightly, burning the leaves in the background.
Olympus E30
Olympus borders on the same exposure as the Canon but has a warmth to it that's appealing.

In contrast to the Canon, the Sony has over exposed the image slightly, burning the highlights of the leaves out. I think the Nikon has given the right exposure, but white balance has failed, cooling the shot out a bit too much.

Emma-Nicole is available for work and you can see her portfolio here: Emma-Nicole

Nikon gives the best results in the studio colour chart test with all colours punching out of the picture. Sony follows closely and is only lesser because of the red being slightly deeper than the test chart really is. Canon and Olympus give relatively similar results while the Pentax is paler all over.

Pentax K7
The colour test chart from the Pentax is pale.
Canon EOS 50D
I like the result from the Canon but isn't as rich as the Nikon.
Nikon D300
The best overall results come from the Nikon D300.
Sony Alpha A700
Sony is only let down because of the deeper reds that aren't true.
Olympus E30
A similar result to the Canon, Olympus shows their strength.

Primary blue is nicely saturated on all tests but not so much so on the Olympus as the others. Warmer colours, such as red and orange enjoy a boost from Nikon and Sony the most but are closer to the actual colour from Nikon. Sony seems to go a bit too dark on the warm tones while Pentax are too pale.

Earthier colours are rich across the field and if it was down to just brown and green, it would be difficult to make a choice. I like the mono tones on all results but I think Sony and Nikon clinch it with defined colour in the pastel tiles that run down the left side of the brown, orange and blue squares. These tiles do have colour so it's good to see it being recorded. Of course, all the cameras have recorded the colour, but more so on the Nikon D300 and Sony Alpha A700.

Winner:
Sony Alpha A700

ePHOTOzine
say: It's squaring up to be quite a competition with no camera getting ahead of the others. All cameras gave a good performance in at least one of the areas such as Olympus doing the best in portraits and Nikon producing a good colour test. But the Sony did well in the shot of the wheel. It was let down in the landscape image and only came second in the colour test because the reds were too deep.

Group DSLR test: Noise test
All the cameras have a sensitivity of at least ISO3200 which is where the Olympus ends. Pentax, Sony and Nikon go on further to ISO6400 while Canon has a maximum of ISO12800 sensitivity.

Many of these higher settings are equivalents which means they use a complex software algorythm to determine how the sensor should react at that ISO. Canon have a true sensitivity range of ISO100-3200 with expansion of ISO6400 & ISO12800. Nikon has a similar concept with expansion on the ISO6400 and ISO100 settings. Pentax and Sony follow Nikon's pattern with the exception that their ISO100 setting is true while Olympus don't use any expansion.
Canon EOS 50D: Noise results

Canon EOS 50D
The ISO100 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO200 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO400 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO800 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO1600 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO3200 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO6400 test.
Canon EOS 50D
The ISO12800 test.

Because these cameras could be used by professionals, noise tests are very important and it's good to see that all cameras perform well at low settings. I think the best result comes from the Sony Alpha A700 with a lovely, smooth grey card and pots of detail in the petals. Canon also shows a smooth image, but looks more as if it's from noise reduction. Still, the end should justify the means so if it gives you pictures you're happy with then surely it's doing a good job?

Interestingly, from ISO200 onwards, I'd say the Nikon is starting to suffer the most although we have to bear in mind that the technology is two years old and this camera is the oldest of the bunch - With that in mind, it's actually doing a very good job.

Sony Alpha A700: Noise results

Sony Alpha A700
The ISO100 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO200 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO400 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO800 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO1600 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO3200 test.
Sony Alpha A700
The ISO6400 test.

This is until ISO800 when the Pentax and Olympus images start to get worse. At this stage, the Nikon D300 is holding itself together but the K-7 and E-30 are showing signs of trouble. Noise is evident on all the images but with the Pentax K-7, it's starting to sharpen and become more noticeable. In the meantime, the Olympus E-30 is trying to reduce the noise by smoothing out the problem thereby reducing the detail in the petals.
Olympus E-30: Noise results

Olympus E30
The ISO100 test.
Olympus E30
The ISO200 test.
Olympus E30
The ISO400 test.
Olympus E30
The ISO800 test.
Olympus E30
The ISO1600 test.
Olympus E30
The ISO3200 test.

Canon is still doing well and at ISO1600, the EOS 50D is showing the best results. Colour has started to invade the Sony Alpha A700 image while Olympus gets more smudged and less detailed. The Nikon is also starting to kick the noise reduction up at this stage but the Pentax hasn't appeared to change all that much.

ISO3200 is the final setting that all five cameras can compete at and the Nikon D300 is coming off the worst. The images are fudgy and lack detail but it's not followed far behind by the Canon EOS 50D which suddenly loses all cohesity. In a stunning about turn, Sony, Pentax and Olympus present the best noise pictures at ISO3200, clinging on to detail in the petals and beating noise away with a withered stick.
Pentax K-7: Noise results

Pentax K7
The ISO100 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO200 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO400 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO800 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO1600 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO3200 test.
Pentax K7
The ISO6400 test.

Here the Olympus bows out and only four remain to try and help you take a picture in the dark. Charging onwards, the four remaining cameras signs of struggling although Sony seems to put up the best battle. It's difficult to slate the Nikon as it's the oldest but the Sony Alpha A700 was released only a month or so later but shows better noise control.

Canon and Pentax also have a decent result for such high settings and only Canon goes on to provide ISO12800 which is scattered with white flecks and invaded with colour.
Nikon D300: Noise results

Nikon D300
The ISO100 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO200 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO400 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO800 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO3200 test.
Nikon D300
The ISO6400 test.

Winner: Sony Alpha A700

ePHOTOzine says: It was an interesting race as one moment the Canon was looking to triumph but then suddenly got tired and the Olympus, Pentax and Sony overtook. The winner is the Sony due to the performance mixed with the age of the camera. If this were released this year, the advancements in technology would've blown the others away.

Sony Alpha A700

Group DSLR test: Verdict
It's been an epic battle of the camera brands and there have been a lot of surprises in the performance of all of them. It's always different when the cameras are being tested all together, they all have pro's and cons which don't necessarily get seen until a close comparison is done.

It's a surprising winner of the group test, I expected the Nikon or Canon to take the crown.

The Sony Alpha A700 wins because of the specification being so similar to the other models, it gives good noise performance, has great colour rendition and a good dynamic range that seems to work even when dynamic range compensation is switched off. All that and it's the second oldest of the group.

Well done Sony.

Group DSLR test: Plus points

Canon EOS 50D:
Good build
Good noise test at low setting
High resolution
Pentax K-7:
Smallest
Built in HDR
Old lenses fit
Sony Alpha A700:
Good colours
Good noise test
Good dynamic range

Nikon D300:
Good build
Good colours
Good detail
Olympus E-30:
Twist screen
Good High ISO
Nice portraits


Group DSLR test: Minus points

Canon EOS 50D:
Under exposed portraits
Quality drops significantly at high ISO
Colour not as good as rivals
Pentax K-7:
Pale colours
Cool tone brought cast on whites
Controls are hit and miss
Sony Alpha A700:
Colour invasion on noise test
Over exposed portraits
Pale images lack depth
Nikon D300:
High ISO is poor
Troublesome white balance
Under exposed the wheel
Olympus E-30:
Lacks detail on landscapes
Small sensor for small camera, but it's not the smallest.
ISO stops earlier than others
Canon EOS 50D:
FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

Pentax K-7:
FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

Nikon D300:
FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

Olympus E-30:
FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL


Sony Alpha A700:
FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

The Canon EOS 50D costs around £809.99 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Canon EOS 50D

The Nikon D300 costs around £1129 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon D300

The Sony Alpha A700 costs around £569 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Sony Alpha A700

The Olympus E-30 costs around £814.99 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Olympus E-30

The Pentax K-7 costs around £1139.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Pentax K-7



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Comments


Snapper_T e2
10 848 United Kingdom
19 Aug 2009 4:43AM
Interesting review Matt. I'm glad I'm an A700 user Smile

Trev

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heidfirst 5 1 Scotland
19 Aug 2009 8:10AM
no doubt some people would say that bits of your review go against "accepted" wisdom but really they are all good.
Still, A700 - oldest, cheapest by a fair bit (you can currently get body only for 500) & best ...
Roll on it's successor Smile
Kako 8 140
19 Aug 2009 12:50PM
Given that the Sony is so much cheaper than all the others (about half the price of some) then I would agree it is by far the best value camera tested here and seems to be able to hold its own technically as well. However just a few points regarding the test.

1) You should have done another 'town hall' shot of the Pentax given that conditions were not the same as with the other four.

2) portrait test was like comparing apples and oranges. Different pose each time and totally different amounts of background. The Olympus shot had nearly all model and no background compared to the rest. At least be consistent!

3) Colour saturation/rendition is always a very subjective thing. Some people prefer 'warmer' some prefer 'cooler'.

Allowing for my criticisms it is always good to see a full group test of 5 or 6 competing models rather than just A pitted against B.
20 Aug 2009 7:12AM
Well the A700 makes for an even better buy @ 499.99 at Camera World and it's good to see that Sony has been recognised as such over Canikon.

As an A700 owner, it just helps to cement the fact what we knew for a long time . . . that's it's a darned good bit of kit.
davey_griffo 5 213 165 England
23 Aug 2009 9:12AM
This was no surprise to me either. I own an A350, & it's a superb bit of kit. Most of the club look enviously at it's tilting screen as they're laying on their bellies, & I'm not!!

I don't plan to upgrade any time soon, but when the A700's successor comes out, & the price war kicks in, I may well think again.

I just hope they don't do what they did with the 200/300/350 & louse-up a perfectly good camera by turning it into consumer electronics.
jrfoto 7 6 2 United Kingdom
24 Aug 2009 7:23PM
Interesting test, and it's good to see Sony, Olympus and Pentax in there still. Despite being a Canon user I would prefer not to see them and Nikon dominating the marketplace. Competition is good for development and pricing.
Interesting that the Olympus is not the smallest, despite being 4/3. Maybe the benefit will still be seen in big telephoto lenses?
25 Aug 2009 10:48AM
Nice one, Matt! The Sony certainly looks an interesting camera. These reviews are useful and fascinating in their own right but, for me beg the question about commitment to systems. I decided a little while back (and for no compelling reason) to go down the Canon route because of price/availablity of lenses. As such, that ivestment means that I'm limited to that system now irrespective of the strengths and weaknesses of emerging bodies.
Im with the other poster who wants to see many strong and competing brands and believe that everyone will benefit as a result, irrespective of our brand loyalty.
Paul Morgan e2
13 15.2k 6 England
27 Aug 2009 8:55PM
Interesting you included the 12-60 lens in with the price of the E30, every other camera reviewed quoted the price of the body only.

The E30, sells for about 800 on its own.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
27 Aug 2009 9:59PM
Yes, it seems that when I researched the prices, their must have been a problem with Warehouse Express and they took down the body only because it wasn't on the site. In fact the only option at the time was the 12-60mm lens kit and I remember it because it's not the standard lens.
I just double checked as it was questioned and the body only option is there now so I've updated the review to reflect it.

Cheers
9 Sep 2009 10:39PM
I like the reviews here but the thing I find strange is that during the K7 review Matt said " I'm so impressed with the K-7 that I think this is one of the most exciting cameras released this year. I think this could rival the Olympus E-620 for the title, which I'm tipping as one of the best DSLRs ever made."

How does the K7 go from this comment to barely placing in this group review?

Just curious...
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
9 Sep 2009 11:12PM
Different conclusions can be arrived at when cameras are compared closely to one another. Yes the Pentax K-7 is one of the most interesting cameras released this year. Only the E-30 was also released this year in this line up. The Canon was last year and the Nikon & Sony the year before.
The E-30 is basically a higher end version of the E-620. The E-620 is only really better (IMHO) than the E-30 due to it's accessibility to a wider audience.

I hope that sheds some light..? Smile
10 Sep 2009 1:17AM
Thank you Matt for responding so quickly. I must say that I didn't expect that.

John
stve 4
26 Mar 2010 12:17PM
I wonder why Autofocus performance was not tested ?
Tcoat 7
13 Apr 2010 5:16AM
I wonder if the Sony A700 portrait shot was at ISO 200? This is the camera's default ISO setting. Using ISO 100 plays havoc with the A700's in camera metering and severely reduces the available dynamic range.
It is actaully briefly mentioned on P64 of the manual. The camera's Auto ISO setting also prevents anything lower than ISO 200. Interestingly, the lowest ISO setting on my Sony DSC-R1 is ISO 160, which sports a similar sensor to the one in the A700. I think Sony probably should have removed the ISO 100 setting in the A700 via a firmware update.

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