10 Trends for 2007: 6. Digital Cameras: Affordable SLRs

At the same time, point-and-shoot cameras are getting smarter, making it easier for hobbyists to get better images without much effort.

SLR price drop

A few years ago, a basic SLR with a lens could cost around 1,300 EUR, which was above the budget of many users. Currently the price has dropped considerably. Nikon (www.europe-nikon.com) recently introduced the D40, a compact SLR model priced at € 679 (including lens).

The drop in prices has opened up the market for digital SLR cameras. According to NPD, SLR camera sales rose about 48 percent from January to August 2006, compared to the same period last year. Sales of compact digital cameras were also up 21 percent in the same time period.

To make SLRs even more attractive to users, camera manufacturers have added features generally found only in point-and-shoot cameras, such as help screens and program modes for portraits, sports and night photography. For example, the Nikon D50 offers a “children” mode for children photography, while Olympus, Panasonic and Leica offer a preview of the scene in real time on their SLRs.

The end of the Megapixel race

Meanwhile, between shots, the megapixel race is still in full force. But the advantage of having all those megapixels at our service is more questionable. “Unless you spend a great deal of time cropping your photos and printing them to poster size, there isn’t much reason why you want a 10 megapixel camera,” says Ben Long, author of the book Complete Digital Photography (2004; Clarles River Media) and a regular contributor to Macworld USA. Images captured by these cameras require a lot of hard disk space, are more difficult to print, and require more processor power to edit. Worse, the 10 megapixel sensors used in many of today’s compact cameras produce images with a higher level of noise compared to that produced by cameras with fewer megapixels.

Those are the reasons why the race could be coming to an end. “Users are beginning to realize that the number of pixels is not the main criteria (for buying a camera).” Instead of continuing to increase the number of pixels, manufacturers are making their cameras smarter and smarter.

For example, Canon and Nikon incorporate in-camera software tasked with detecting faces in a scene to optimize focus and exposure accordingly. Nikon and Hewlett-Packard offer camera modes that can automatically detect and eliminate red-eye; And virtually all camera manufacturers now offer compact cameras with an Image Stabilizer to reduce the incidence of blurred photos. These technologies allow you to correct, and even avoid, the most frequent problems without having to go to an image editor.

Buying advice

In short, if you start to feel limited by your point-and-shoot camera, you can buy a low-end SLR camera for a price not much higher than what you would have to pay for an advanced point-and-shoot camera. These cameras offer the simplicity of automatic modes while giving you access to advanced options like Raw support and higher quality lenses. Some of the newer models even have a surprisingly compact design. If you’re not concerned with image editing and just want something that will fit in your pocket or purse, then look for a point-and-shoot camera that automatically corrects images and has an LCD screen large enough for you to view images. well enough and even allowing you to perform editing tasks. At the moment, you will find in-camera image editing options only on the latest and most expensive models. You may have to wait for manufacturers to revamp their current product line for those features to be incorporated into cheaper models. Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on an expensive 10-megapixel camera unless you do large-format prints very frequently.

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