[REVIEW–CANON EOS 80D DSLR]

Price: $2200 with 18-135 kit lens
Video made easy

THE LOW-DOWN: This is an upgrade to the 70D with particular attention paid to improving video capture. The new 24mp APS sensor has a dual pixel auto focus system, together with more AF points, for faster, accurate focus. This, combined with the new motor type in the kit lens gives fast and silent tracking focus. Canon has not incorporated 4K video, instead staying with 1080 60p. The 75mm touch screen swivels horizontally and vertically. There is WiFi and NFC connectivity built in. Construction and ergonomics are excellent. As always the brilliant Digital Photo Professional application can be downloaded from the Canon web site and may be all the RAW conversion software you ever need. There is a full printed user manual.

LIKE: This is a Canon, so still photos are fine, both JPEG and RAW and high ISO performance is outstanding. It is the video that is a revelation. Simply touch the critical feature of the subject on the touch screen and the camera will track that spot flawlessly, as long as it has adequate contrast. And the auto focus is indeed totally silent. There are sockets for microphone and headphones, making this a serious camera for amateur video makers.

DISLIKE: Simple vertical tilting screens work better than fully articulated.

VERDICT: The super fast focus makes this camera a joy to use. It is so responsive it feels almost thought-controlled. The new lens works so well with the body that it is an almost indispensable part of the combination. If video is not a priority then the EOS 70D is still in the shops at a saving of about $400.

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[WIDER STILL AND WIDER]

Sooner or later we all try our hand at panorama photographs where we stand in one spot and move the camera around taking overlapping exposures. It’s easy.

In Photoshop the automatic stitching and blending of the images that make up the panorama, found under File/Automate/Photomerge, has been miraculous. Blended edges have been seamless and the tonal matching of adjacent images is perfect. Only one defect in the panorama output has taken the shine off the experience.

Once the alignment and blending is finished the individual images are rotated slightly in order to fit together and this results in jagged edges necessitating cropping. And in the process of cropping some of the intended picture, top and bottom, is lost.

Here’s the good news. If you subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud set of photographer’s applications – Photoshop, Bridge and Lightroom – you have access to a new process called Panorama Boundary Warp. By imperceptibly warping and distorting the edges of the panorama it is possible to preserve something closer to what we had in mind when we took the photos. It works in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW 9.5

The process is simple. Load the image set into Lightroom/Library then, in Develop, select the entire set. Click on Photo in the toolbar and then Photomerge/Panorama. A list of Projection options appears for Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective. It is safe safe to let Lightroom decide.

Under that option list there is a checkbox for Auto-crop – uncheck that. The preview image shows the panorama as we are accustomed to seeing it with jagged edges. There is a slider for Boundary Warp under the Auto crop button. Move the slider to the right and watch the effect on the preview image. Moved all the way to the right the effect is to straighten the image set and to fill in to a clean edge.

The rendering of the finished panorama can take some time, depending on the processing power of the computer. The finished panorama is corrected for verticals which, in spite of the twisting of the raw panorama, are now truly vertical. Hence the name Warp!

In Adobe Camera RAW load the file set, alongside Film Strip choose Select All. Then hit the three bars again and choose Merge to Panorama. The newly made panorama appears in the ACR dialogue as a completed image. At the time of writing Panorama Boundary Warp is only available to Creative Cloud subscribers who pay $9.95 a month for the photographer’s set of applications.

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[REVIEW–SONY a6300 mirrorless camera]

Price: $1590 body only [street price]
Another fine Sony CSC

THE LOW-DOWN: This compact system camera has a 24 megapixel APS sensor with a hybrid phase/contrast detect auto focus system, meaning it is fast to focus. The 2.4m dot electronic viewfinder is paired with the 7.5cm 1m dot tilting 16:9 (television anyone?) monitor. The camera can record 4K video and there is a microphone socket to add to video capabilities. The body is resistant to dust and damp. External controls are limited with only one rear knob plus the usual programmable buttons. And the memory card goes in the battery compartment which can’t be opened when the camera is on a tripod – poor design for a serious camera at this price.

LIKE: For testing the camera was used for fast snapping of informal portraits and action shots at an indoor and outdoor event. It was teamed with the full frame 28-70mm FE lens and the results were excellent. Focus is fast and exposure and colour were spot on. The high resolution viewfinder is outstanding and the camera responds quickly to all inputs. It is a pleasure to use.

DISLIKE: Compared with other cameras in this price range the a6300 is short on instantly accessible controls.

VERDICT:
The a6300 is a fine camera that competes with the Olympus OMD E-M1 ($1300) and the Fujifilm X-T1 ($1138) both of which are configured as more serious cameras. The Sony wins for its 4K video and widescreen monitor and exceptional auto focus function. Both the Fujifilm and Olympus are part of extensive systems of lenses and accessories whereas the lens options for the Sony are limited. They are all good so enjoy the decision making.

 

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[WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CAMERA]

From time to time our advice is sought on camera buying and answering the inquiries is not easy.

The advice usually comes down to offering a few alternatives that may or may not suit the inquirer. Perhaps a few generalisations about the desirable characteristics of a good camera, regardless of price, could be more useful.

First, a warning. Big numbers do not indicate a better camera. More pixels and longer zooms are not, of themselves, indicators of quality. Here is why.

Bigger pixels (light collecting thingies) make for less digital “noise” and better dynamic range. Fewer pixels on a given sensor area will result in fewer gritty speckles in the picture and will allow shooting at higher sensitivity (ISO speed). This makes it possible to shoot in dimmer light without resorting to flash.

The issue of pixel size and density is important in compact cameras with small area sensors. Dynamic range refers to the ability of a camera to record detail in dense shadow and brilliant highlights simultaneously. Fat pixels can do this, skinny ones can’t.

Compact cameras are increasingly being fitted with 1” sensors, much greater in area than the traditional compact sensor, so a good rule when shopping for a new compact is to ask for a 1” sensor.

Compacts with larger sensors tend to have shorter zoom ranges, which is good. So-called superzooms have impressive focal length numbers but they are inferior optically and mechanically to a good short zoom. And the shorter lenses are faster (this refers to the maximum aperture and the ability to function in dim light.)

Do not tell the salesperson that you are an idiot and need a fully automated point and shoot. Make sure that the camera has a PASM dial. These letters stand for Program (automated exposure), Aperture (you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed), Shutter (work it out yourself) and M for Manual. Put the mode dial to P, set the auto exposure to Centre-weighted and the auto focus point to centre spot and you can leave it that way for the rest of your life.

Two other essential characteristics of a decent camera are a viewfinder for when the bright sun obscures the LCD screen and an LCD that flips vertically. A screen that flips is a boon for getting down to the level of small children, animals and flowers.

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