[REVIEW—NIKON D5500 DSLR]

Nikon D5500

Price: $970 with 18-55mm lens [street price]
Smallish and competent

THE LOW-DOWN: This 24mp digital single lens reflex seems designed to go head to head with compact system cameras. It has a fully articulated, high resolution, touch sensitive LCD, allowing for touch-navigation of menus, touch-focus-fire function and pinch, expand and swipe by finger in review. The WiFi connection now works with a smartphone app to give remote control of some functions when the camera is in live view. The D5500 is small and light, but still larger than some compact system cameras. The usual Nikon auto-focus system with its 3D tracking ability makes focussing a breeze.

LIKE: The image processing is notable for its wide dynamic range. A couple of hundred test photos taken in harsh afternoon light show fine shadow/highlight detail preservation. (See samples here) All the essentials – exposure, focus, colour and tone are handled well, giving consistently good results.

DISLIKE: So-called “live view” continues to be a pain in the posterior. It is clunky to access, sludgy in operation and disables the eye-level viewfinder. It still feels like interim technology needing further development.

VERDICT: The challenge that Nikon and Canon face with their entry level DSLRs is that for the same price or less there are superb compact system cameras. The Sony a6000 uses a similar sensor to the Nikon in a smaller body with a more modern control set and it is $100 cheaper. There is no feeling that the Sony has been cut down to a price, whereas with DSLRs there is always the feeling that something has been left out of the cheaper models. The D5500 is a competent camera and it takes lovely photos and, as we always say, it is an entry into a superb system of lenses and accessories.

Sample029

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[CHEAP IS GOOD, FREE IS BETTER]

f11 coverAt our place we subscribe to seven photographic magazines – one on paper and six on pad/tablet. We prefer the padlet medium because it saves trees and the photos look better.

Our two favourite e-zines for padlet reading are f11 (f11magazine.com) and BETA, the occasional magazine from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (ballaratfoto.org). They are free, but cheap on its own is no recommendation. Both of these e-zines are gorgeously produced showcases of the work of outstanding photographers.

f11 comes from New Zealand, published and edited by Tim Steele. Now up to its forty-second issue it arrives by email, then is downloaded as a pdf and opened in the e-book reader on the padlet. There has never been a dud.

BETA is an inspiring and intimidating sample of the sorts of photographs that may be seen at the Ballarat Biennale.

We pay for the British Photography Week through the on-line newsagent, Zinio. This is cheap at $36.99 for 52 issues, but it is a small publication, more like a pamphlet than a magazine. Nevertheless is has good equipment reviews, how-to guides and user photo galleries. It is basic, chatty and non-intimidating.

We also use Zinio to subscribe to two American magazines – American Photo ($15.71 for 6 issues) and Popular Photography ($19.64 for 12 issues). These are journals for the serious photographer who is looking for camera, accessory and software reviews and already knows her way around the Canikon. There are portfolios of work but the emphasis tends to be technical with more words than pictures.

On the home front we look forward to Australian Camera ($49 for 6 issues from tinyurl.com/ly25tpr). Editor and technical reviewer Paul Burrows is a fine writer and photographer and his approach to camera reviewing is to seek out, use and report on the most deeply hidden features and controls on everything he tests. This is subjective assessment at great depth from the point of view of an experienced user.

The quarterly Photo Review Australia ($39.00 for 4 issues) is our only assault on the Tasmanian forests, being delivered on paper. There are user galleries and professional portfolios reproduced here, along with how-to guides and technical reviews from Margaret Brown. Margaret’s lens and sensor gradings are based on objective optical testing.

They are all good publications and f11 and BETA represent the new e-publishing paradigm – value for the subscriber entirely at the cost of the advertisers.

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[REVIEW-EPSON SC-P600 PHOTO PRINTER]


Price: $1500 rrp
Technology in the service of art

THE LOW-DOWN: This A3+ printer uses a nine colour pigment ink set, including two blacks for gloss and matte prints. The printer switches between the blacks automatically depending on the paper specified. As well as cut sheets in various weights and textures roll paper can be used. WiFi connects the printer to any enabled source device, including smartphones, tablets and computers. Most of the settings can be controlled from a small, touch-sensitive LCD and once the paper size and type has been selected on the screen the printer can be left to its own devices. Print speed is reasonably fast with a full A3+ print taking about 2.5 minutes. Noise levels are low and the footprint is modest for a unit with these specifications.

LIKE:  Print output is consistently stunning. Printing from Photoshop we chose to let the printer itself handle the settings and it never got it wrong. Black and white prints are sensational and we do not doubt the Epson claim to produce the densest and richest blacks in the business. 

DISLIKE: While the switch between black cartridges is automatic there is still a long noisy wait while the newly selected cartridge primes itself. The Australian price is way out of line with the US price.

VERDICT: The amazing thing about the best printers from Epson and Canon is that they produce such brilliant prints so quickly and easily from printers that cost far less than a decent colour enlarger. We are aware that many people think $1500 is an expensive printer when you can buy a printer/scanner/copier for $49 but you get what you pay for. Any serious photographer moving from darkroom to printing with the Epson SC-P600 is producing better prints for a lot less money. We love it.

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[THE DESIGNATED PHOTOGRAPHER]

“And bring a camera,” she commanded. “We need a photo of the group, including you.”

That’s nice. Normally the assumption is that the button pusher will not be in the photo. Like the designated driver the chap who is known as the designated photographer is usually invisible in the vernacular photographic record, unless someone else operates the camera or the DP does the 10 second timer-delay dash to the back of the group.

So, off we went with camera, tripod and, most importantly, smartphone. With the phone the photographer gets to be in the picture, controlling the camera from the Android or iPhone (but not from a Microsoft-Nokia phone for which there are no official camera control apps). Most recent cameras have WiFi built in to connect to a smartphone for remote control.

The camera companies each have their own control app in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. The apps are not all equal in versatility because some cameras, such as DSLRs, are more difficult to control remotely. For these the remote functions tend to be limited to shutter release and image transfer.

The compact system cameras – “mirrorless” cameras – work best with the phone apps. The Olympus app replicates just about all the camera function controls on the phone, including shooting mode – aperture or shutter priority, program mode or manual and also aperture and shutter speed. With an Olympus powered zoom, such as the 14—42mm kit lens, the focal length is selected from the phone and video recording can be started and stopped.

The lens is focused, exposure set and the shutter fired simply by touching on the critical spot on the phone screen. The designated photographer controls the entire camera operation while standing in the group and saying “Cheese”.

Once the photo is taken the image file is automatically transferred to the phone for sharing with the world.

On this occasion we used the Sony a7, a full frame mirrorless camera, the app for which is not as comprehensive in its functions as the Olympus app, but it still provides all the necessary critical controls.

WiFi pairing of camera and phone only needs to be done once, but every time the remote function on the phone is used it is necessary to select the camera as the “network” source in WiFi settings. Then you will never be the missing face in the group photo ever again.

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