Enthusiast DSLRs: A Tech-Driven Category in Constant Evolution

Enthusiast DSLRs: A Tech-Driven Category in Constant Evolution


What exactly is an enthusiast digital SLR? According to most industry observers, this scintillating camera category is wedged in between so-called entry-level models and those in the prosumer class. The problem with this logical analysis is that real-live photo enthusiasts often opt for full-featured, high-value, broad-spectrum models like the Canon T4i, Nikon D3200 and Sony Alpha A57 on the one hand and genuine prosumer models like the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D8000 and Sony Alpha A77 on the other.

Yes, there are certainly many worthy cameras in between, but the very nature of this category is expanding and evolving, largely driven by technology. As photo enthusiasts become more sophisticated and knowledgeable, they tend to gravitate toward higher end cameras and lenses. At the same time, the march of technology moves relentlessly forward, demolishing categories in its wake, while delivering real-world benefits to consumers and retailers alike.

Full-Frame Moves into the Mainstream

Although the enthusiast DSLR category isn’t nearly as easy to define as it was only a couple of years ago, there are a few distinct trends worth noting in this fiercely competitive segment of the marketplace. First is the expansion of the full-frame DSLR category into the $2,000 price class, with Canon and Nikon introducing two attractive full-frame models and Sony unleashing its impressive SLT-A99, its first full-frame Alpha with Translucent Mirror technology, at a skosh under $2,800. Significantly, each of these cameras has a CMOS sensor that delivers greater than 20MP resolution.

This highlights another important trend: the steady increase in megapixels, an industry-wide phenomenon that’s evident in all camera categories from cell phones to digital medium format. Maybe it’s not quite the megapixel madness of yore, but it sure is megapixel creep.

Mirrorless Models in Fast Forward Mode

Finally, there are a few new, higher end mirrorless cameras with SLR form and functionality that are successfully targeting DSLR enthusiast users with an enticing array of high-tech features and high performance, along with more megapixels. These include: the APS-C-format Samsung NX20, which provides 20.3MP capture, Wi-Fi connectivity, an AMOLED swivel display and an eye-level EVF for under $1,100; and the Micro 4/3-format Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, which has a 16.05MP sensor, built-in Wi-Fi and AMOLED displays for both the monitor and live view finder, at under $1,300.

Herewith is a rundown on some of the more fascinating, new enthusiast DSLR and DSLR-like models unveiled in conjunction with the 2012 photokina show held in Cologne, Germany, last month.

Canon EOS 6D.
This full-frame model is destined for stardom among serious enthusiast consumers because it delivers “the 5D Mark III experience” for nearly $1,500 less. Its 20.2MP full-frame (35.8mm x 23.9mm) CMOS sensor, 3.0-inch Clear View LCD, 11-point AF system with a center cross sensor, 97% view pentaprism and 4.5-fps maximum burst rate don’t quite match the elite specs of the formidable 5D Mark III; however, it does offer built-in Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity, 63-zone dual-layer metering, Full HD video capture at 1080p with manual control, built-in HDR, a Digic 5+ image processor, 14-bit A/D conversion, in-camera RAW processing and JPEG conversion, and ISO settings to 102,400. Its performance will surely delight legions of enthusiast and pro Canon shooters and videographers who want to get into full frame at a more affordable price. $2,099, body only. usa.canon.com

Nikon D600.
Nikon’s brilliant concept for a successful enthusiast-aimed full-frame DSLR is simple: it’s a relatively compact, slightly scaled-down version of the top-selling D800 for nearly $1,000 less. In place of the D800’s class-leading 36MP sensor, the D600 has a 24.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor, and its other specs are equally impressive, including an Expeed 3 image processor that enables 5.5-fps continuous shooting at full resolution, a 3.2-inch LCD monitor, Full HD 1080p video capture at 24/25/30 fps with manual exposure control, full-time AF with face-priority and subject tracking, and ISOs to 6400 (extendable to 25,600). At 26.8 ounces, it also boasts built-in HDR, 39 wide-area AF points, a stereo mic, headphone inputs and built in i-TTL flash capability. Wi-Fi connectivity can be added with an optional adapter. $2,099.95, body only. nikonusa.com

Sony SLT-A99.
As soon as Sony announced the Alpha 65 and 77 based on Translucent Mirror technology (TMT), enthusiasts began speculating on a 35mm full-frame TMT model that would blow everybody’s doors off. Well the Sony Alpha 99 (officially called the SLT-A99) has finally arrived, and it meets or exceeds expectations, with a full-frame 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor, a tilting 921k-dot 3.0-inch LCD, XGA-res OLED electronic viewfinder, 6-fps full-frame burst rate, ISO 100-32,000 and advanced Bionz image processor. It also features a dual AF system that combines phase-detect and contrast-detect autofocus, 1,200-zone evaluative metering, built-in GPS, auto HDR, Full HD 1,920×1,080 movie recording at 60p, 60i and 24p, internal SteadyShot sensor-shift image stabilization, creative styles, a quiet multi control dial optimized for video shooting, and comprehensive weather sealing. $2,799, body only. sony.com

Samsung NX20. The latest, most advanced model in Samsung’s APS-C-format NX line of mirrorless DSLR-like cameras, the new NX20 is clearly aimed at making inroads among serious enthusiasts seeking high imaging performance plus cutting-edge tech at an enticing price. It features a 20.3MP CMOS sensor, a 1/8,000 shutter speed, 3.0-inch AMOLED swivel monitor plus eye-level EVF, ISO 12,800, Full HD 1080p stereo video capture, 2D/3D panorama capability, and instant sharing via built-in Wi-Fi that lets users instantly e-mail photos. Its maximum burst rate is an impressive 8 fps, and it includes smart auto mode and i-Function 2.0, which allows key settings to be adjusted via a single button and the value ring located on the lens. It’s bundled with a flash and 18–55mm lens. $1,099.99. samsung.com

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3. This new top-of-the-line mirrorless Micro 4/3-format Lumix features a sleekly styled, weather-sealed magnesium alloy body and a 16.05MP Live MOS sensor. Its Venus engine image processor has four CPUs for improved speed and accuracy, and it can capture Full HD 1080/60p and 24p video with face detection AF, full-area touch AF and AF tracking. The splash/dustproof GH3 provides a 3.0-inch, 610k-dot touch-screen swivel OLED monitor with a level gauge, a live-view OLED EVF, built-in auto HDR for still pictures, creative video modes, ISO to 12,800 (ISO 25,600 in extended mode) and built-in Wi-Fi links to smartphones and tablets. Both front and rear shutter curtains are driven electronically for vibration-free performance, and it can shoot at a claimed 20 fps! $1,299.99, body only. panasonic.com

Pentax K-5 IIs. This latest top-tier iteration of the classic Pentax K-5 has eliminated the anti-aliasing filter to provide superior resolution and detail capture (at the expense of recording moiré patterns with certain subjects) and is aimed at enthusiasts and pros who shoot in RAW and typically tweak the final image in postproduction. Features include an APS-C-format 16.3MP CMOS sensor with integrated A/D circuitry, a 100% viewfinder, a 3.0-inch 921K-dot LCD, an 11-point SAFOX X AF system with a wider EV range for focusing on low-light subjects, a built-in sensor-based shake reduction system, ISO settings to 51,200, a maximum burst rate of 7 fps, a top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, special effects filters and Full HD 1080p video capture (plus an external mic jack and HDMI output for stills, video and sound). As before, the camera body is fully weather sealed and coldproof. $1,299.95, body only.

A companion model Pentax K-5 II ($1,199.95) is essentially the same camera with the conventional anti-aliasing filter included. pentaximaging.com