Review

Nikon long-zoom Coolpix cameras

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B700
B700

Nikon has unveiled three new long-zoom Coolpix cameras which include a simplified way to transfer and share images using compatible smart devices with an “always on” Bluetooth connection that makes automatic upload of images possible.

The B700 is a compact superzoom camera with a 20.3-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, and 60x optical zoom (120x with Dynamic Fine Zoom). It supports 4K UHD video at 30p.

The B500 is a long-zoom camera powered by AA batteries and features a 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor with 40x optical zoom (80x with Dynamic Fine Zoom). It supports Full HD 1080p video.

The A900 is a slim long-zoom compact camera with a 20-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and 35x optical zoom (70x with Dynamic Fine Zoom). It supports 4K UHD video at 30p and includes a 3-inch tilting high resolution LCD display for shooting images from any angle.

B500
B500

Nikon says it has developed the new Nikon SnapBridge to help consumers automatically transfer images via Bluetooth low energy (BLE) directly to a compatible smartphone or tablet, establishing an “always on” connection. The SnapBridge app allows users to document the time and location images were taken, embed copyright or photographer information on any image, as well as operate the camera remotely (group shots anyone?). Built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication (NFC) are also available. SnapBridge users can take advantage of Nikon’s free image storing service, Nikon Image Space, to store up to 20 GB of images and an unlimited number of thumbnail images (up to 2MB) to the cloud. The application will also send registered users firmware updates directly to their smart device.

The B700 offers a 60x optical zoom Nikkor ED glass lens, is capable of shooting at 5 frames per second (fps), and features a 3-inch Vari-angle LCD display. Other features include myriad Creative Modes and RAW (NRW) shooting support.

A900
A900

The B500 sports a 40x optical zoom Nikkor glass lens and offers hybrid VR to combat camera shake when shooting. The B500 can record full 1080p HD video, and there’s a high resolution tilting 3-inch LCD screen.

All three cameras will be available in black this Spring. The A900 packs a 35x optical zoom Nikkor glass lens, and has a 3-inch tilting high resolution LCD display.

The Nikon Coolpix B700 will be available for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $579.95. The B500 will be available for an MSRP of $339.95. The A900 will be available for an MSRP of $499.95.

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A potent combination

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Potent combo

Several months ago I learned I was going to be shooting a wedding celebration on the Greek island of Serifos in mid-September.

Included in the equipment I used were the Nikon Speedlight SB-910 and Nikkor 20 mm f/1.8G ED lens, a potent combination.

Check out the story here.

Review: Nikon Df

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nikon Df is a paean, a song of praise, to Nikon cameras of the past, most notably film SLRs such as the Nikon FM and F3. That’s on the outside, because on the inside, the Df bears more than a passing resemblance to a D4 or D800.

Nikon says the camera is a fusion (is that what the “f” stands for?) of “classic Nikon design” and modern imaging technology.

The Df is a D4- (that’s minus), in that it uses the same sensor, but SD cards rather than CF or XQD, shoots at a max 5.5 fps vs 10 for the D4, has a top shutter speed of 1/4000 rather than 1/8000 sec., 39 vs 51 AF points, and has no video capabilities whatsoever. It’s also a “minus” in weight (710 vs 1180 g, which is a big difference) and exterior dimensions; it is the smallest and lightest full format DSLR in Nikon’s lineup. And one more big minus: price. It is $3,000 less than a D4.

The Df is a still camera and, as such, has everything geared toward making pictures. It has no external video buttons or connections, and no menu selections. That’s kind of strange, in a way, as every digital camera on the market today offers video, but this camera is retro, if not purist.

Df's top plate
Df’s top plate

With the D4 sensor (16.2 megapixels) and Expeed 3 image processing, the Df produces tried and true Nikon picture quality. What’s neat is that it is also able to use all your old Nikon SLR lenses; in addition to being compatible with all current AF, AF-S, DX and AF-D Nikkor lenses, the Df is also compatible with classic Ai and non-Ai Nikkor glass. Of course with early lenses you have to select aperture and focus manually. Full-aperture metering is also supported.

Using a camera for the first time is like going out on a first date. Something has interested you, intrigued you, but until you get to know them a little better, you don’t know if you want to entertain a long-term relationship. It takes a while to get used to all the quirks and foibles, the unique characteristics. If the Nikon family is anything to go by, the lineage is solid, from baby brother D3100 to older brother D4S. The Df bears little family resemblance to its brothers, but go back into the family album and check out the great-greats, such as the FM2 or FM3, and the F3, then you know the Df is, indeed, part of the family. (The force is strong with this one . . .)

This is most obvious when looking at the top plate, with its distinctive (and retro) shutter speed dial, ISO dial and exposure compensation dial. The pentaprism and leatherette most assuredly hearken back to the old days of Nikon SLRs.

In comparison, top plate of a Nikon FM3 film SLR
In comparison, top plate of a Nikon FM3 film SLR

The 50 mm f/1.8G lens that’s part of the kit (imagine that, a prime lens) also adds to the retro look as it is “dressed” (colours, texture and an aluminum mounting ring )like an older Nikkor lens. Back in the film days, cameras were sold with a 50/55/58 mm lens as standard equipment. The Df with that 50 has not only a classic look to it, but also a classic feel . . . in fact the combo “just feels right.”

Those top plate dials have a solid, tactile feel to them, with audible clicks when engaging. The only odd item is the mode dial, but that’s being picky.

The only “clanger” for me was the bottom plate latch on the battery and SD card. Retro, most certainly, in that it look just like the latch on the old film SLRs’ bottom plate, used to open and remove the plate to access the film cannister. The DF’s latch is about half the size of the original and, with my fingers, too small, although perhaps with more use I’d get the hang of it.

The Df I used was all black, but for those wanting an even more retro look, grab the silver one.

The Df was a delight to use. It delivered on picture quality, as expected, and isn’t that number one with any camera? I know some have knocked the styling, but it is not a camera aimed at everyone. For those who revel in the retro, this is a must-have. For those who want many of the D4’s capabilities (minus video) at about half the price, look no further.

(For a review of the camera’s specs, check here.)

Review: Nikon D610

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Can you spot the external differences? D610 label and the word GPS on the side.
Can you spot the external differences? D610 label and the word GPS on the side.

Between the Nikon D600 DSLR and its updated version, the D610, there isn’t much difference. The differences are critically important, however, yet all but invisible.

Having used a D600 for three weeks this past summer, and captured something on the order of 3,500 photos in Europe during a three week period, then using the new D610 for another 500+ images, the cameras have become old friends.

There’s an old saw that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Nope. Not with the D600/610. In fact, the more I used them, the more I liked them. Love? Yes. Marriage? Can’t afford the dowry, yet.

The D600 had a major fault. It oiled the sensor. Apparently shutter lubricant would fly up onto a corner of the sensor and appear as blobs in the upper left corner of the image. The circular spots were most noticeable in shots of uniform density, such as blue sky. Quite a few of my European shots exhibited the problem and required Photoshopping to fix.

Done properly, a pro sensor cleaning would fix the problem.

The spotting is not visible when images are displayed on the camera’s LCD as the image is too small. I didn’t even see the spots when looking at images on a netbook’s screen. But when I threw them up on my home monitor, the spots practically leaped out at me.

The D610 has a different shutter, apparently, and does not exhibit the problem, both from my experience and from what I’ve seen reported by other testers.

That new shutter gives the D610 a higher top end than the D600, 6 fps versus 5.5 fps.

In fact, if you go to the Nikon website and do a side-by-side comparison of the D600 and D610, the only difference which shows up is maximum frames per second. Everything else in the list is the same.

The auto white balance system has been improved. Using an updated AWB algorithm, Nikon says the camera delivers more vivid skies and more natural reproduction of artificial light, along with more natural skin tones. I can’t fault that statement.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” (And I seem to recall having seen her original poem on display in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, about 40 years ago. Not this trip, however, as security has really tightened because of the incidence of crazies trying to make a name for themselves by desecrating works of art . . . and the same heightened security clouded a visit to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Pity.) So how do I love the D610?

First, it’s FX format, or full-frame, the same size as a 35 mm film frame. Second, it has a 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. Third, it uses the Expeed 3 image processing engine. Fourth, it offers a wide and bright optical viewfinder, and 100 per cent frame coverage.

Add in some good glass (the 24-85 mm VR kit lens is just such an example), and you get a great shooting experience of large viewfinder image and large files, displaying superb quality.

Perhaps the only “fault” to be found with the D610 (and the D600) is the size and weight, especially if you compare the camera to either an APS-C format camera or one of the smaller MFT models.

Having carried both MFT and full-format cameras (with lenses) for extended periods of time, the camera bag can get heavy when you’re carrying full-format equipment. Having said that, the D610 itself is lighter than the (also full-frame) D800.

And speaking of that camera, the D610 is sealed and gasketed, with dust and moisture resistance of the same calibre as the Nikon D800. The top and rear covers of the camera are magnesium alloy for durability, and that new shutter unit has been tested to 150,000 cycles.

The D610 is something like $100 more than the D600, clocking in with an MSRP of about two grand, add an extra $500 for the 24-85 lens.

Definitely worth it.

Travelling with the D600

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The author with the Nikon D600 at Symond's Yat
The author with the Nikon D600 at Symond’s Yat

I’ve just spent three weeks travelling in England, Wales and several European countries, accumulating more than 3,500 images, the majority of them captured on a Nikon D600.

When the trip began to gel, several months ago, I knew I would want to take a full-frame camera and, having used the D600 before, knew it would be perfect, especially with the AF-S Nikkor 24–85 mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens.

I also planned to take a second camera, an Olympus E-P5, specifically because of its bright, big, auxiliary viewfinder, specifically for telephoto shots. Unfortunately, that camera wasn’t available, and instead I took my Panasonic Lumix GF2 Micro Four Thirds camera with auxiliary LVF1 viewfinder. For the GF2 I took three lenses. The first was an ultra-wide zoom Olympus 9-18 mm f/4-5.6 lens (18-36 mm equivalent) which I rarely used. The second was a 40-150 mm f/4-5.6 (90-300 equivalent) which I suspected would be the one which was on the camera the most, and it was. The third lens was a Four Thirds 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 (140-600 mm equivalent) with MFT adapter. This last lens, a physically large lens I rarely carried with me in my camera bag because of the lens’ weight, was for two specific shots, the first at Stonehenge, the second on the Champs Elysées in Paris.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

But the D600 was my mainstay. It rarely left my hand.

Because I was travelling with others, and I couldn’t dictate when we would be at a specific location and for how long, it was a case of taking whatever picture opportunities arose rather than predetermining what type of picture I would be going for, and scheduling around that. The two specific shots I wanted to get were like that. I wanted to shoot Stonehenge as early in the morning as possible, and from a specific vantage point, requiring the use of the 600 mm end of the big zoom. And I wanted to shoot the Arc de Triomphe at night, from the Place de la Concorde, the full length of the Champs Elysées, again requiring the 600 mm.

While I got the shots, they were not taken at the time of day I had wanted and, in the case of Stonehenge, was shot from a totally different vantage point due to construction. Ah well.

River Avon
River Avon

You will note the word “viewfinder” popping up here. That’s because I prefer to use them rather than the big screen on a camera’s back. Sounds kind of counterintuitive, small image versus large, but it isn’t. While the back screen is big, to look at it while composing a shot means holding the camera out in front of you, and that is not conducive to steady, blurless shots, especially with a tele lens. The big back screen also becomes less easily viewed in the bright sun.

Holding the camera to your face helps brace it and reduces the incidence of camera shake.

Gloucester cathedral
Gloucester cathedral

I also wear a floppy-brimmed hat to help reduce any problems with sun but, hey, an umbrella also works if you have a third hand.

The Nikon’s big, bright viewfinder image is a joy to behold and use, offering a couple of levels of information, depending on how much of that image you want cluttered. I generally opt for the “bare bones” info level, in a black bar at the bottom of the frame.

(I made a mistake earlier this year after eye surgery and got a new pair of glasses without bifocals, opting for a separate pair of reading glasses. Next pair of glasses will be bifocals, as having to fumble around changing glasses while trying to make camera adjustments or, more critically, review images just shot . . . well, I’ve learned my lesson.)

Zweibrucken, Germany
Zweibrucken, Germany

Back to the D600. This is the slightly smaller version of the D800 – smaller physically yet still full format. That extra bit of weight can make a surprisingly big difference when carrying the camera for extended periods of time. (Rumours are starting to circulate that Nikon will be announcing the D610 shortly, but those same rumours suggest Nikon isn’t going to ruin what’s already a good thing, leaving the spec sheet pretty much the same as the D600. Please, Nikon.)

There’s one other thing which endears the D600 to me beyond the full format sensor, and that is the Expeed image processing engine which I consider from my experience to be the best there is. It consistently delivers great exposures. Did I ever have to do some on-the-spot exposure tweaking? Yes, every once in a while, in very difficult lighting, yet I instantly understood what the Expeed system was trying to do and was, for example, able to dial in a stop or so less light to deliver a more moody shot rather than a perfectly exposed one.

Cluj, Romania, from the roof of the Beyfin Hotel
Cluj, Romania, from the roof of the Beyfin Hotel

The 24-85 mm lens is a VR model, and those letters stand for vibration reduction. This is a sweet lens, a versatile lens, covering just about every focal length I need. With the VR feature, it allows me to hand hold shots at slower shutter speeds without getting image blur. It won’t work magic, but gets doggone close to it. Switching over to the other camera for tele shots put a lighter and smaller camera in my hands, but it also felt unsubstantial.

If I had my druthers, the D600 is the camera I’d take every time I travel – whether to the far reaches of the world, or just to the backyard.

Arriving in Mulhouse, France in the middle of a demonstration
Arriving in Mulhouse, France in the middle of a demonstration

For a look at the D600’s specs, you can check out my entry here, and for my first hands-on of the camera, that’s reported on here.

I’ve included a handful of the shots taken with the Nikon during the trip. Photoshop was used on three of the images (Stonehenge, Avon, Cluj) to remove spots, and the contrast was raised slightly on the Stonehenge image, otherwise the photos are as they came straight out of the camera.

Review: Fuji X-E1 & 55-200 mm lens

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X-E1 and 55-200 mm lens
X-E1 and 55-200 mm lens

It has been quite a few years since I last used a Fuji camera. Back then the S5300 was king of the hill (if you didn’t count Fuji’s Nikon-based S-series pro DSLRs), with non-interchangeable long zoom lens and DSLR look and feel. Loved that camera.

Today I’m just finishing off a couple of weeks with the X-E1, a far different camera and one that’s a couple of steps up from the norm. This is an interchangeable lens model, along the lines of the Olympus Pen cameras, with a solidity of construction, plus look and feel, of something like an older Leica. The X-E1 is, in Fuji’s words, a “premium” model.

It feels like it.

This model’s been available for coming up on a year but it’s still worthy of consideration if you’re in the market. It produces great quality images, and the viewfinder is a delight.

If you’re interested in its specs, check out what I wrote when it was announced.

fuji XF27mmThe reason I had this “older” model camera was so I could used Fujifilm’s new XF 55-200 mm lens. As an added bonus, Fuji also loaned me the XF 27 mm lens.

The combination of the X-E1 and 55-200 is a delight, as is the combo of that camera and the 27 mm lens.

With the zoom attached, the duo delivers a wonderful solidity, but I don’t mean heavy.

You can check out the lens’ description here.

A great lens attached to a crappy sensor is not going to be able to deliver what it could, so I’m delighted to say the 55-200 is a super match for the APS-C sensor in the camera. I shot everything from portraits to sailboats on the horizon and was not disappointed. What spun my propellor was the quality of the images shot at higher ISOs; I don’t know what Fuji is doing, but it works.

As an f/3.5-4.8 lens it’s not the fastest, but then neither is it a huge lens with big optics to suck in more light. In combination with the X-E1, the viewfinder was always bright when the zoom was attached, partially a product of the camera’s electronics, but owing a lot to the brightness of the optics.

The same with the 27 mm lens, a diminutive thing delivering a crispness to images which can be dialed back by the camera’s electronics if so desired.

The lens’ specs can be found here.

If you’ve been considering an interchangeable lens camera, the X-E1 has to be on your list. You’d not be lacking for good quality optics to use on it.

Review: Nikon D600

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D600The D600 is no pretender to the throne; it is a Nikon in Nikon clothing. There is no getting away from its pedigree, its lineage.

It is a full-frame digital camera in the same vein the D700 was and the D800 is.

It’s just slightly smaller dimensionally and in weight than the D800, and has a metal chassis while the D800 has an all metal body.

The D600’s resolution at 24.3-megapixels is considerably less than that of the D800 at 36.2-megapixels. But 24.3 is quite a bit more than the 12- to 18-megapixels in smaller format DSLRs.

So, is the D600 the perfect camera?

No, because we all don’t shoot the same way/things, and so we don’t want the same thing in a camera.

However, you have to admit, it’s full frame, the Holy Grail of photography, equivalent dimensionally to a frame of 35 mm film. The D600 is multi-faceted, capable of extraordinary feats. It has a lens base to be envious of.

On the other hand, it may be too heavy for some photographers; there are any number of lighter DSLRs on the market today.

I lugged a D700 around New York City and, while getting excellent pictures, by the end of the day was wishing I had a lighter camera. I have no such complaints after carrying the D600 around NYC.

The D700 weighed in at 995g without battery. The D800 weighs 900g, the D600 is 760g.

D600Those shooters for whom weight is of paramount importance may want to head over to the mirrorless camera aisle.

So let’s say the D600 is near perfect for those into DSLRs, but definitely not perfect for those whose interests lie more in the realm of snapshots.

The D600 I used was matched with the superb AF-S Nikkor 24-85 mm f/3.4-4.5 G ED lens.

I’m not going to rehash all the camera’s specs. Those you can find in a previous post, here.

What using the D600 has done is sour me on using any other DSLR for a while; it simply won’t live up to what I have been getting from the D600.

Case in point, I got a call for a magazine cover. That’s a vertical. I cropped a just-shot horizontal and it still delivered all the guts I needed, thanks to the full format and high resolution.

Night shots from the D600 show no problems with noise. Interior shots at ISO 1600 beat other DSLRs at ISO 400. And I was blown away by the quality I got at ISO 3200.

As noted, I took the D600 to NYC for a day’s shooting, inside and out, under a variety of lighting conditions. I continue to be impressed with Nikon’s Nikon’s Scene Recognition System and Expeed image processing system, now version 3 in the D600.

(If you want to check out some of the NYC images I took with the D600, they’re up on Flickr, here.)

The only time I put the camera aside was for a longer lens on another camera, but when I look at the results, I should have stuck to the D600 and cropped the image.

The only time I had a problem with the camera may simply have been the result of wearing bulky winter gloves. Instead of changing ISO, I made the rear screen switch modes to multiple images. I fought with that a couple of times before figuring out what was happening.

I didn’t have a need to shoot any video in NYC, but the camera does deliver beautiful quality HD footage.

The chorus of the post-WW1 song goes “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm/After they’ve seen Paree?” That’s how I’m feeling about the Nikon. How am I gonna return to my old DSLR after using the D600?

Two thumbs up.

Review: Epson V330 photo scanner

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The question is, what do you do with all those photos you’ve accumulated? Answer: Scan them. What do you do with all those negs you’ve accumulated over the years? Same answer. How about transparencies? Yup, same answer.

These scanned images can then be viewed on your computer and/or saved to something like a DVD. You can make multiple copies and send them to your friends and family.

The Epson V330 . . . Perfection V330 Photo, to use its full name . . . handles prints up to 8.5 × 11.7 inches (216 × 297 mm) plus 35 mm slides and 35 mm negs (colour and B&W).

No, it doesn’t handle medium-format negs or transparencies, or anything larger.

With neg strip in place in film holder

The scanner features 4800 x 9600 dpi optical resolution and a 180-degree lid for scanning oversized objects. It’s not restricted to scanning photos.

It’s that transparency unit, as Epson calls it, used to hold slides, negatives and film, which sets it apart from a regular scanner. That and a special light in the scanner’s lid, a light which only comes into play when you’re scanning the small format items.

The V330 comes with ArcSoft’s Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe, a program used to scan multiple images such as panoramas, oversized artwork, documents, and scrapbook pages, etc., which it stitches together automatically.

Epson’s Easy Photo Fix allows users to restore colour from old/faded prints, remove dust from scanned film or slides (see below), and reduce grain.

There are four customizable buttons for one-touch scanning, copying, scan-to-email, and creating PDFs.

So what does all this get you? I pumped B&W negs, colour negs and slides through the V330, finishing off with some prints, and was delighted with the results. The images produced from scanning colour negs were a real eye-opener, delivering an unexpected vibrancy.

It’s a flatbed scanner, so you have this large playing field on which to scan prints. A special rig for holding negs and slides sits nicely on top of the bed, with two pegs holding the rig in place so it lines up with the lid’s lightsource.

The neg holder aids in placing the neg strip in proper alignment, with the upper half coming down to snap into place, holding the neg firmly. This is a bit fiddly, but necessary. Anyone who has been in the darkroom and placed negs in the enlarger neg carrier will be right at home. The V330’s neg holder will handle neg lengths anywhere from one to six frames. A seventh frame will get pinched in the closing clasp.

Slides are a different matter entirely, although you’re using the same rig. A maximum of four slides can be placed in the rig, with cardboard mounts easier to handle than plastic. It’s all a matter of friction; the cardboard mount stays in place better, while the plastic mount will drop down onto the bed, out of the rig, with what seems to be the slightest provocation.

Does the scanner do what it’s supposed to? Definitely. It was with great delight I saw images which haven’t seen the light of day in 40 years come to life on the computer screen – which says something about the dark storage longevity of negs and slides.

If your film wasn’t well washed when processed, you may find chemical deposits (or even hard water residue) has left its mark, literally, on your images. You’ll need a good image editing/manipulation program, such as Photoshop, to fix them.

Keep in mind: garbage in, garbage out.

What you will need is a good blower (or decent lungs and pucker) to ensure the negs and slides are as free from dust as possible. I found the built-in dust removal to be less than stellar. It got rid of some dust spots, but not all, even when set to the highest level.

The Epson V330, overall, was a delight to use. I was frustrated I couldn’t scan a batch of medium-format film I had shot in the ‘70s but I suspect for most the inability to handle 120 film is inconsequential.

There’s an auto setting, where the scanner identifies what’s being scanned and takes care of everything, but my guess is this device will appeal more to the person who has a long history of DIY, and who will click on the “professional” tab and set parameters to his or her personal liking.

Father’s Day is coming. I can’t think of a better gift for the long-time shooter with an extensive archive.

What you see in “professional” mode, with several scanning options available.

Review: Nikon P510

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There are many who don’t want a DSLR, who don’t want an ILC (mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera), who simply don’t want to change lenses. They would be perfectly happy with a camera sporting a fixed but versatile zoom.

The Nikon Coolpix P510 fits that bill quite nicely.

In fact, the P510 is remarkably similar in capabilities and handling to an ILC, with a price less than one. Plus, it offers both viewfinder and LCD composing, something you have to look far and wide for in an ILC.

So, yes, the P510 has a lot going for it.

Chief among them is a 42X zoom lens. It starts at the equivalent of a 24 mm wide-angle lens and heads on up into the stratosphere of a 1000 mm super telephoto. From my shooting, that lens is remarkable in the clarity and sharpness of the images it produces.

Let’s put it another way: If you were going on the trip of a lifetime, wanted to travel lightly, yet wanted to be able to handle any photographic eventuality, you’d be hard pressed to find a better camera to take than the P510. It would let you capture the magnificent expanses of Africa’s Serengeti plain, and get photographically close to a lion in the grass without it knowing you were in the vicinity. It would let you photograph all of the crowd at a papal blessing in St. Peter’s Square, or capture racing F1 cars under the lights in Singapore.

At longer tele positions, the camera’s stabilization system is a must. And it works.

The lens is not perfect; on a camera costing less than $500 I wouldn’t expect it to be perfect. But it is remarkably good, faltering only when pushed to the extreme – exhibiting some aberration when shooting into the sun.

The lens is only part of the equation, the other being the exposure and image processing system, a variant on Nikon’s fabulous Expeed system. It worked beautifully for me. Impressive.

I’m not going to repeat all the details of the camera (you can find them here). I want to look at a couple of specific items of note.

The first is its size. It is larger than most ILCs. Certainly Nikon’s own J1/V1 is dwarfed by it. A major part of that size is the lens. A zoom of that range cannot be small, even with a small (but 16.1 megapixel) sensor.

The other component of the camera’s size is its grip. What you gain in making it a highly hand-holdable camera, you lose in added size. I consider it to be a better than fair tradeoff.

The second item of note is one already mentioned. The camera has a viewfinder. Sure, you can use the 3-inch LCD when shooting at the lower end of the zoom range, but when you start zooming out, you need to brace the camera, even if you’ve got the stabilization system at work. Being able to hold the camera against your face instead of held out at arm’s length when shooting telephoto shots can make a major difference in getting a sharp picture.

So, is the Nikon Coolpix P510 worth its suggested price of $450? Oh yes, absolutely.

Review: Panasonic DMC-GF2

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I secretly wondered about my brother when he hauled out a Sony NEX instead of his Nikon D700 during his visit last fall. And at Christmas. He tells me he’s getting the next NEX as soon as it’s available. Seems he likes the lightness and ease of use, especially when just kicking around the house taking snapshots of his grandkids, or when travelling.

He also likes the image quality.

That seemed like sacrilege . . . until . . . umm . . . I tried the Panasonic GF2.

I seem to be picking it up instead of my DSLR just about all the time.

It’s a far lighter camera than my DSLR. It is far smaller. It is easy to use. It has a touch screen.

What absolutely delights me is the kit 14-42 mm lens (28-84 mm equivalent). Not only is it a good piece of glass, it also comes with a lens hood. Hurray. And doesn’t that make the camera look even better. (Yes, it’s functional, so it’s win-win.)

But the pièce de resistance is the optional LVF1 electronic viewfinder.

With the LVF1, the GF2 looks simply great. Sexy, even.

And it takes care of any LCD viewability problems in sunshine.

Of course the outward appearance of the camera is irrelevant if the pictures are no good.

Having noted comments from others suggesting the GF2’s output was less than stellar quality, specifically at higher ISO levels, naturally I had to test that out.

Side-by-side shots were taken using a DSLR with the same sensor (Olympus E-30, admittedly an “older” model), an Olympus PL2 (also using the same sensor), and the GF2, at identical ISOs.

All three were practically identical at ISO 800.

At ISO 1600, the two smaller cameras (GF2 and EP2) pulled slightly ahead of the E-30.

At ISO 3200, the EP2 was superior, followed by the GF2.

The E-30 won’t go higher, so it bowed out, with the EP2 the better performer at ISO 6400.

The GF2 was fine at 800, was fine at 1600 (although the shadows were getting noisy), and at 3200 it was still producing good images, although the shadows were definitely suffering. Forget 6400. Period.

What does that mean?

It means the GF2, from my experience, delivers superb images under normal lighting conditions, but has some problems handling lower ambient light levels. My DSLR has greater trouble.

So I’m suggesting complaints about the GF2’s poorer picture quality are to be taken with a grain of salt.

If you’re looking for better performance, you’ll have to pay more for it.

The GF2 is an interchangeable lens, mirrorless camera. It is not a pro camera, and it makes no pretentions about being one. It is a good little shooter for the person who wants to move up from a strictly point-and-shoot camera into something which will let them stretch their wings.

For almost the entire time I used the camera, it sported the optional LVF1 electronic viewfinder. This is an option for a reason: it is not necessary. I prefer a viewfinder to an LCD screen, but maybe I’m just old school.

Current point-and-shoot cameras seem to have abandoned the viewfinder, and now most people hold a camera out from their bodies to shoot. This makes image stabilization a necessity, as you’re not using your (fore)head as a steadying point.

The GF2 has Panasonic’s MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization).

The camera’s Four Thirds sensor is 12.1-megapixels. This is combined with the Venus Engine FHD processor and its Intelligent Resolution technology. This means three areas – outlines, detailed texture areas and soft gradation – are automatically detected. The outline parts are enhanced for clearer edges and moderate accentuation is applied to the texture areas.

The noise reduction system is applied to the soft gradation part, make it smoother.

Intelligent Resolution signal processing works for both still and video images.

Oh yes, video. Here’s something quite interesting.

The GF2 will shoot either AVCHD or Motion JPEG video. While Motion JPEG is limited to 2GB clips, AVCHD clips are limited only by the size of the memory card and the amount of juice in the battery. Theoretically, the GF2 will crank out a 13-hour video clip! Just don’t expect me to watch it.

Video can be captured in high quality HD (1920 x 1080 at 60i).

For those enamored of touchscreens, you’ll love the GF2. You can set the focus or release the shutter by touching the LCD.

The contrast AF system used by the GF2 is accurate, easy to use and fast. You can choose from multiple-area AF (up to 23 focus areas), 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face Detection, and AF Tracking.

During my test, I didn’t find it necessary to use the Touch Q-menu. This lets you customize the camera’s shortcuts with the most commonly used settings. Most of what I needed was readily available, but give me more time with the camera . . . who knows.

There are already dedicated buttons for video recording and Intelligent Auto (iA) mode.

With the Intelligent Scene Selector in the iA mode, the camera automatically switches to the appropriate mode according to the subject touched. For example, a touch on a human face switches to portrait mode, a touch on the background or scenery switches to the scenery mode.

My Colour mode (which I suspect most users would use once or twice then ignore) offers a total of eight preset effects. These are Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Cinema, Monochrome, Dynamic Art, and Silhouette. In addition, Custom mode lets you manually set the colour, brightness, saturation, and contrast levels.

Want more to play around with?  There are 17 Scene modes. These can be used for video, too.

There are only two colours available to us here in North America, black and red, although I have seen a white version, apparently available in the Far East. You also get the camera with the choice of either a very nice 14-42 mm zoom or a 14 mm lens, at slightly different prices ($499.99 and $549.99, respectively).

This camera has been available for a while, and I understand is about to go on the discontinued list. I’m glad I got my hands on it when I did.

If you currently own one, good for you. If you’re thinking about getting one, do it now before they disappear. Matter of fact, I think I’ll do just that.