This Week In Geek


The Canon 1000D and 50D come to the table.

The 1000D is a Frankenstein between the 400D and 450D, featuring the better grip and ergonomics of the 450D, that slow Contrast-Detect AF in Live View, but without the spot metering that the 450D has.

Well, at least it’s cheaper and seems relatively new. It looks like Canon’s way of catching up to the Sony A200 and Olympus E-420, the 2 cheapest dSLRs yet.

The Canon EOS 50D is finally a worthy upgrade, without the half-baked implementations of new technologies that came in the 40D – the 40D had a low-resolution 3″ LCD; the 50D now has the same 640×480 3″ LCD that the Sony A700, Nikon D90, D300, D700 and D3 have. It also adds a HDMI port which we’d seen on the Sony A700, Nikon D90, D300, D700 and D3.

The 40D had Phase Detect AF in Live View, which meant a mirror blackout; the 50D has the slow Contrast-Detect AF in Live View that was introduced with the 450D. Oh, and Face Detect too!

The 40D was limited to ISO3200 when the Nikon D300 and Sony A700 were offering ISO6400 even in APS-C. The 50D stops at ISO12800… at 15 megapixels. Whether this is still good quality is yet to be seen.

The 50D adds AF Microadjust, which was already on the Nikon D300, D700 and D3…

The 40D did 6.5 FPS while the 50D only does 6.3 FPS. Let’s hope it’s not like the 40D, where the 6.5 FPS only happens at shutter speeds faster than 1/1000s!

Finally, the joystick on the 40D was previously useless; now the 50D has a Quick Control mode which lets you change settings on screen using the joystick… quite like the Sony A700’s Quick Navi system, or what Olympus has had for quite a while now! (I hope I can finally use the joystick to scroll through pictures instead of spastically rolling the thumb dial repeatedly…)

Well done catching up, Canon!

So why doesn’t Canon make video mode in their dSLRs? Probably because they already make HD camcorders!


Now the real groundbreaker is the Nikon D90, the long-awaited replacement to the D80… including the only thing worth mentioning, HD video recording mode.

Of course, this isn’t the full HD experience – it’s only 720p not 1080p; it’s only 24 frames per second, you can’t step up to 60 frames per second where all professional video is recorded.

Oh, and it’s manual focus only.

In theory, the CMOS sensor should be able to give 2848p!

You can shoot casual stuff with this but when the subject is moving away from the plane of focus, be prepared for a fair bit of skilled MF-C – “manual focus continuous“. I’ll tell you that this is not easy! You’ll need a tripod for sure, because turning the focus ring will certainly affect your stability. (And how the heck does VR know whether to activate because you’re still, or stop because you’re panning, since you might be doing both in a video?)

Even if it could auto-focus, it would do so very slowly, like Contrast-Detect AF does it. Camcorders and point-and-shoots use Contrast-Detect AF also, but those are much faster because the sensor size is 4x smaller. An APS-C sensor needs 4x more precision which is why it’s much slower to focus. The Olympus E-420 and E-520 are notably faster because they have a 2x crop sensor, 1.4x smaller than an APS-C sensor.

However, the plus point, which would entice amateur movie makers, is that it would have the shallow depth of field of APS-C! Your average camcorder has a crop factor of 6x (hence, 4x smaller than the 1.5x crop). So you can put a 30mm F1.4 lens on, crank up the ISO to 1600, and record a movie in dim conditions… as long as I can get shutter speeds of 1/48th of a second or faster.

Me, well, I’d rather use a HD camcorder that has a 10x zoom constant F1.6 lens. So it’s F1.6 all the way; you can use it wide (50mm in 35mm equivalent) in low light, and tele in the low light. Videographers who shoot wider would get a wide-angle or fisheye converter, with no light loss! F1.6 fisheye anyone?

Oh, and there are no Nikkor VR lenses that go brighter than F2 (the Nikkor 200mm F2.0 VR). The F1.8 and F1.4 lenses are not stabilized.

So supposing, for versatility, a Nikkor 16-85mm F3.5-5.6 VR is used; that will give VR and some zoom capability. With F3.5, you might not get to expose your frames at at least 1/48th of a second, and your video would get this unpleasant slowmo strobing effect. (30 FPS would be less forgiving, needing 1/60th of a second to avoid looking slowmo.)

Edited: Oops, I knew there was no Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8 VR but for some reason I typed so at 4:38 AM heh.

The video recording in 720p is limited to 5 minutes, but no real director makes a single shot last 5 minutes.

So what about the rest of the D90? 12 megapixel CMOS supporting ISO6400, sensor cleaning, 4.5 FPS, interactive information display, 640×480 3″ LCD, Face Detect in Contrast-Detect AF in Live View, in a D80-style body. Ironically, in some ways, I prefer the D90’s button layout over the D700’s and D3’s.

I wonder if you can still fire the shutter while recording video! How about a mike jack? Or are they expecting a serious videographer to have a boom mike and later have the audio synced to the video? The least Nikon could do is add another mike to make it stereo.

Who knows, when this becomes popular, you won’t see the crowd raising phones at a concert; instead you’d see a sea of dSLRs.

This feature will certainly be copied and enhanced by other brands (my bet is on Olympus and their Micro Four Thirds system to do it right, first) so I’m not exactly so excited that I’d want to go out and get a D90 now. Even if I liked taking video… as shooting at F1.4 even, I might not get the 1/48s exposure I want, in dim areas. A fisheye at F8 and sunny days would be fine though.

I’ve a feeling that Sony will add the Smart Teleconverter in the A300/A350 to video mode. So you can digitally zoom videos too!


They’ve made a new concept, called Micro Four Thirds, with a shorter flange distance, for more compact, bright and wide lenses.

Ever wondered how Panasonic could make a 10x zoom F2.8 lens on their FZ-20? If the lens can be assembled much closer to the body, you can do so much more. A smaller sensor also lets F2.0 zooms on the Four Thirds mount exist.

Micro Four Thirds also almost certainly promised video recording. I’ve a feeling that Olympus will once again come out with the technology first – they did, after all, make the first Live View dSLR with auto-focus, the Olympus E-330.

I sure hope that they can scale their 25mm F2.8 pancake into a 25mm F1.4 on Micro Four Thirds while retaining the pancake form. That, and a 14mm F1.4, would be perfect to put in my front pocket.


Well, we’ll see what Sony has to launch at Photokina.

6 thoughts on “This Week In Geek

  1. ShaolinTiger Post author

    A Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8 VR would be good, but it doesn’t exist yet. Only a non-f/2.8 16-85mm VR and a non-VR 17-55mm f/2.8.

    I’d guess Olympus for the first good video implementation on a SLR too due to their smaller sensor.

  2. xj Post author

    just noticed that nikon is pretty much running out of numbers… after the d90 is the d100, which is already old.. naming a d90 replacement would be difficult the way i see it heh.. or is this particular naming system intentional and not a case of myopia? i’d love to speculate about this.

    With four 12MP cameras, replacements should be swift, no?

    Photokina should be pretty interesting this year 😉 Haven’t been seeing much of the a900 around.

  3. Nicholas.C Post author

    At ISO6400 on the D300 is already quite ugly for the fact that the sensor is APS-C. So I can only imagine that ISO12800 on the 50D would only be good for scaling images down to VGA size… and then there’s the question of color at that high ISO. B&W anyone?

    Video in the D90 is a very poor implementation of a very good idea IMO. I have done some time lapse video with my old D70 a while back and let me tell you the image quality will beat and camcorder any day. Only thing lacking was the frame rate.

    The real limit to all this is that shooting HD-DV, especially 1080p30 is that it is crazy processor intensive, where the camera has to shoot 30 frames a second, interleave the sound and compress all of it into a massive data stream. Something that is quite beyond the electronics inside a still dSLR, if not the batteries.

    What i really want from Nikon is the ability to lock the mirror up and for the camera to do what it does best:

    Capture frames in JPEG or other still image form using electronic shutter at 30fps. Bonus points if they manage to get the data transfer system to directly dump said images to an external device, (which is already possible with Nikon Camera Control, just not fast enough).

    and it need not do it at the full 12.1mp the sensor is capable of either, after all 1080p is only 2mp. So 1/2 or even 1/4 size would suffice.

  4. Albert Ng Post author

    Nicholas.C: Oh yeah that might be why they capped it down to 720p and 24 FPS!

    ShaolinTiger: LOL I knew that but for some reason I typed it at 4:38 AM! We’ll see if Nikon makes any bright wide VR zoom lenses.

    Maybe the 18-105mm VR is optimized for start/stop panning VR… could you find out, given a 30 second exposure, if VR starts again when you stop panning?

    xj: Haha, it could very very well be intentional, what with the dead ends at the D60 and D90! Then again, they could have a D95 (given all the F55, F65, F75, etc. steps!)


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