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  1. #1
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    Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I'm a new member here (hi!). I joined because I've been pondering (and discussing) a question I'd like to pose to the community.

    Before the question, it's important to frame the context of the question in this way (so please take note): I fully recognize and understand that strictly in terms of image quality, there is little (or no) doubt that DSLRs are superior to non-DSLRs.

    Okay. Now that I got that rather obvious statement out of the way, my question is this:

    The latest generation of "Almost DSLR" cameras---specifically, cameras such as Canon's new SX10 IS, which are sometimes classified as "prosumer" cameras---show continued evolution and improvement in quality and features.

    I'd like to know whether people think that, in general, the quality/feature gap between DSLRs and prosumer cameras like the SX10 is getting smaller? If so, why? If not, why not?

    Do you think that advances in lens technology result in non-removable lenses that are increasingly closer in quality to removable DSLR lenses? Or do you think that there is a permanent quality gap between the two that will simply never be bridged? (Are the manufacturers even interested in a non-DSLR camera that seriously competes with a DSLR? Or would that be shooting themselves in the foot?)

    Do you think that the multiple-lens paradigm will be with us for the next 100 years? Or do you think that it's only a matter of time before technology advances to the point where a single lens truly can do it all?

    I've been pondering this question because I'm in the market for a new camera to replace my aging (but still great) Canon S2 IS. I'm extremely impressed by the SX10 (the latest in the same line of cameras).

    Several people have argued that I'm a fool for not considering a DSLR like the Nikon D40 as the obvious choice (because it's not much more money than the SX10). They say that there is an enormous quality difference between a D40 and the SX10.

    But considering my needs, which are not professional and almost entirely web-based (e.g. 95% of my photography ends up at 72dpi and 800x600 pixels)...the SX10 is very attractive. And the SX10's 20x optical zoom (an 18-560mm equivalent) may be as close to the "ultimate do-it-all lens" as humans have ever created. (Note I didn't say it was the best *quality* lens...just that it may be the best quality lens with such an enormous range.)

    So what do you think? Is the SX10 merely a point-and-shoot, barely better than the cheapest, pocket point-and-shoot?

    Or is the SX10 inching ever closer in quality to a low-end DSLR like the D40?

    Again, I'm not looking for justification to buy the SX10. In fact, I'm also looking seriously at the D40...and the more I learn about both, the tougher the choice is...hence my question. Am I an idiot for thinking it's a tough choice? Or is it really a tough choice?

    Scott

  2. #2
    Senior Member Dylan8i's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    the main reason i upgraded from the canon s1 is, to a dslr (besides more creative control over depth of field, etc) was shutter lag. dslrs have no shutter lag compared to point and shoots. they may be able to correct this in point and shoots, but they haven't. and unless your shooting static objects, shutter lag is something everyone wants to avoid at one time or another.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dylan8i
    the main reason i upgraded from the canon s1 is, to a dslr (besides more creative control over depth of field, etc) was shutter lag. dslrs have no shutter lag compared to point and shoots. they may be able to correct this in point and shoots, but they haven't. and unless your shooting static objects, shutter lag is something everyone wants to avoid at one time or another.
    So Dylan, when you went to a DSLR, did you suddenly feel like the quality of your images took a quantum leap? Or was it more just an appreciation of no shutter lag and nice features?

    Many I've spoken with have mentioned shutter lag and startup time as big negatives for a camera like the SX10...though in years shooting with a non-DSLR and 30,000 photos, I've never once been bothered by either. But I don't shoot fast-moving targets either...it's pretty much all still lifes, architectural details, and landscapes (none of which run around, LOL).

    Scott

  4. #4
    Senior Member Dylan8i's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    i shoot pretty much all nature and landscapes.

    my macro quality went way up, with more control over depth of field etc. ability to print large images was also a plus (i needed a dslr when i lived in utah, id have fantastic, large, prints from out there)

    image quality for web stuff, id say you would see more difference from using great techniques.
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  5. #5
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Even if the image quality of a non-dslr was on par with a dslr, I would never give up my dslr. I love being able to change lenses when necessary. Sometimes I want a very wide angle shot (10-20mm lens) and sometimes I want a zoomed image (200mm).

    Point and shoot cameras offer lenses that try to be good at everything, but not amazing at any one thing.
    Jim R

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  6. #6
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I could never do my macros and shoot sports at night with a p&s among other things.
    It's not blurry. It's bokeh.

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  7. #7
    Panarus biarmicus Moderator (Sports) SmartWombat's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I don't notice a difference at forum resolution, 800x800.
    Even going back to my Sony Mavica floppy disk camera.
    Or the Casio QV2800UX which was only 2MP.

    But for printing, I have very few non DSLR images that are worthwhile.
    Even the Canon G9 with 15MP.
    It's got 15million pixels, but they're not stonking GOOD pixels.
    I have hopes for the micro 4/3 G1 and whatever Olympus produce.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Point and shoots are DSLRs by definition. I know that's splitting hairs, but if we are comparing things it is important to agree on terms.

    I shot for a long time with a non-interchangeable lens DSLR (p&s within), and it took really nice pictures. I'd say the lens was exceptional, even by interchangeable lens DSLR (DSLR within) standards.

    When I switched to a DSLR, I noticed a big difference in per-pixel quality. The difference wasn't so much the lens as it was the pixel size. (bigger sensor generally equals bigger pixels) The sony R1 really hammers this home with it's APS sized sensor but fixed lens.

    I'm pretty excited about m4/3 also since it uses the 4/3 sensor rather than the diminutive p&s sensor - even if the lenses are only average (with Ziuko and leica branding them, they won't just be average) it will sport better image quality than most p&s. The olympus version looks like it will be a p&s, and therefor will probably come in pink and fit in a $300 purse.

    Is the gap narrowing? I'd say it's a hair's breadth apart.
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  9. #9
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Not really. Not until they start putting larger dSLR imaging sensors in the P&S's and they can make one Lens-That-Can-Do-All-For-All-Times lens.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member freygr's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by JETA
    I could never do my macros and shoot sports at night with a p&s among other things.
    I hate to say that my old Olympus C-3030 could do Micros easier and faster than my D70. At 6mm Focal length for an equivalent of 32mm in 35mm film, there is an order of magnitude difference in the DOF with the lens wide open!
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  11. #11
    Senior Member Dylan8i's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by freygr
    I hate to say that my old Olympus C-3030 could do Micros easier and faster than my D70. At 6mm Focal length for an equivalent of 32mm in 35mm film, there is an order of magnitude difference in the DOF with the lens wide open!
    that is true about the DOF, but when you want to blurr the background its basically impossible with a small lens.
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  12. #12
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    The definition of an slr, be it film or digital, is that it has a movable mirror which allows the photographer to see in the viewfinder what will be on the film or sensor.
    P&s does not have this feature no matter how good the lenses or sensors are.
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  13. #13
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frog
    The definition of an slr,
    Strictly, perhaps, but an EVF or LCD is essentially the same thing. The important part of SLR technology is word "single." We aren't focusing by-proxy (rangefinder) or through a parallel lens. There is nothing specific about mirror/focusing screen SLR technology that means it has better image quality than point and shoot's sensor/EVF technology.

    And I think digital point and shoots take easy macros too, and it is very easy to get good bokeh - but the DoF is very large on non-macro shots, and it is tough to get narrow DoF in normal shooting conditions. That all relates back to sensor size; more magnification = less depth of field. Bigger sensor, less DoF is possible. There really isn't any reason why larger sensors can't be put in P&S bodies - micro 4/3 uses a standard dSLR sensor in a point and shoot (sensor/EVF) body and has interchangeable lenses like a mirror/optical viewfinder camera.
    Last edited by Sushigaijin; 11-23-2008 at 01:10 AM.
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  14. #14
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    The small sensor in a compact camera will produce horrible noise at high ISOs. I have a G9 and a few DSLRs and the DSLRs blow the G9 away when it comes to natural light photography in low lighting conditions. The G9's photos are hardly useable above ISO 400 whether printed or displayed on the web. As long as you have good light the G9 will produce decent photos, but take away the light and you are done.

    I would probably consider an SX10(If I was going to go that route, I'd probably find a grey market SX1 for the HD movie mode)as a companion to a DSLR but never as my do all camera. A few years ago, I was working in Redmond, OR and got a weekend off there. I decided a trip to Crater Lake would be cool, all I had was my S2. I got some decent photos, but they hardly stand up to the quality I would have gotten with my SLR. Boy was I wishing for my SLR.
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  15. #15
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I went from a Kodak P880 8mp that listed for $800.00 when I bought it to the Nikon D80 DSLR. The difference was like night and day. Shutter lag was one of the big items along with the improved quality of pictures. Having MUCH MORE control was also a big improvement. You know the DSLR cameras are not setting still waiting for the P&S cameras to catch up, they are improving at a fast pace also. To me the better camera is the DSLR hands down. A lot of what makes one a better choice is determined by what the use you have for it will be, Jeff
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Interesting comments from everyone, thanks!

    Grandpaw, I'd like to delve a bit deeper into a comment you made which I've heard echoed by others, and this is the notion that a DSLR offers more control than a midrange non-DSLR like the SX10.

    Exactly what do you mean by "more control?" I've heard many people say this, but not a single person has been able to quantify it...which suggests to me it's a bit of fantasy.

    Do you mean fully manual control of shutter and aperture? The SX10 offers that. Do you mean custom white balance settings? The SX10 offers that. Do you mean shutter-priority mode or aprerture-priority mode? The SX10 offers that. Do you mean manual focus? The SX10 offers that (although it obviously isn't the same as a DSLR). Do you mean aperture bracketing? White balance bracketing? The SX10 offers both of those. Do you mean bulb exposures? The SX10 does that.

    So...(and I say this not in a mean-spirited way, but because I'm really curious!)...what specifically is all this "control" you get with a DSLR that the SX10 doesn't offer? (Seems like it might only really come down to DoF control, which is admittedly superior in a DSLR.)

    It's my opinion that a large number of photographers still perceive "P&S" as analogous to "cheapo teeny pocket camera with a dime-sized lens." While those cameras are still there, the range of what is meant by "P&S" is FAR wider now than it once was.

    I believe that many good photographers frankly don't have a clue what the very latest generation of midrange prosumer P&S cameras are capable of.

    None of this is to suggest that non-DSLR cameras are better than DSLRs...but rather (as someone stated above) the difference between the two is becoming less noticeable.

    Right now, I think about the only area where DSLRs are still far ahead is (as EOSThree mentioned) in low light at high ISOs. But on a sunny day, shooting landscapes? The difference is less.

    Scott

  17. #17
    Senior Member Anbesol's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Whats up guys!? Sony gets no loving! I am surprised this far into the thread nobody mentioned the Sony DSC-R1, the one camera that had the DSLR benefit of APS sized imaging sensors, and the counterpart - Zeiss top quality lens. Best yet, it even had an advantage in many ways with its incredibly short backfocus, in some areas such as distortion and aberration it outperformed SLRs with even mid to top range lens even. The R1, manufactured in 2006, is the closest a point and shoot has ever gotten to SLR. and it still holds that crown.

    There are a handful of people that think that Canon and Nikon are the only Camera companies in hte industry, namely the only ones that produce anything good. But really, there are plenty of other manufacturers. Neither Canon nor Nikon has produced a prosumer that can even come close to the performance levels of the Sony DSC-R1...

    Anybody that is wanting the image quality and slr performance in a non-SLR, you can't do better than the R1....

  18. #18
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I hate the term "point & shoot". It's not really accurate in describing higher end fixed lens cameras.

    I'm not sure how much the gap is really narrowing, as high end compact cameras have been able to produce outstanding images for years. Honestly, if you're shooting 800x600 for the web, just about any decent camera made in the 21st century will do that.

    As far as advantages the SLR still has, noise. It's not just at high ISOs. An SLR like the D40 has less noise at ISO 400 than a compact like the SX10 has at ISO 80. The noise reduction needed by small sensors to get noise down to that level can smear fine detail.
    Very few compact cameras can output RAW files that let you bypass in-camera processing for the best image quality. That is one are where SLRs definitely provide more control.

    I have no problem shooting at ISO 400 with a DSLR all the time. Would you try that with an SX10? No way.

    Speed is another area where SLRs are still vastly superior. Even a low end SLR like the D40 is much faster than a compact camera. The autofocus and continuous shooting are both much faster.
    Last edited by Jenn_B; 11-24-2008 at 11:33 PM.

  19. #19
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Anbesol
    I am surprised this far into the thread nobody mentioned the Sony DSC-R1,
    Uh, I mentioned the R1 in my first post.

    It all comes back to sensor size - once point and shoots get larger sensors, the quality gap will be closed. Of course, an interchangeable lens system will always have a flexibility advantage over a fixed-lens system.
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jenn_B
    I hate the term "point & shoot". It's not really accurate in describing higher end fixed lens cameras.
    THANK YOU Jenn! I agree 100%. In my opinion, "point and shoot" refers to a tiny camera that will fit in your shirt pocket.

    Cameras like the Sony R1 and Canon SX10 are best (and should be) described as "prosumer non-DSLR" cameras.

    I think more and more, the choice of DSLR or fixed-lens camera comes down to your desired end media. If you plan to print (at least larger than 4x6") then absolutely, you need a DSLR.

    But I think it's safe to say that the majority of photography today ends up *not* in print but on the web, which is the "great equalizer" (or perhaps the "great quality crusher," LOL).

    I've taken almost 20,000 shots over the past couple years, and never once printed anything. Frankly, unless I'm a gallery photographer, I'm opposed to print for environmental reasons...I don't want to give anyone an excuse to have to make more paper.

    I think some folks are obsessed with quality for no reason---particularly if their work is going online.

    Scott

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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    BTW...I'm still waiting for anyone to explain exactly what is meant by the notion that a DSLR gives you "more control" than cameras like the Canon SX10 or the Sony DSC-R1? (See my post above...)

    This isn't trolling...far from it. My goal all along has been to have an intelligent conversation about the real-world differences between high-end, fixed-lens prosumer cameras and low-end DSLRs. So far the conversation has been good! Thanks!

    Scott

  22. #22
    Nature/Wildlife Forum Co-Moderator Loupey's Avatar
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    I tend to use the term Point-and-Shoot (P&S) to mean anything that isn't an SLR or dSLR. It is an old habit and one I should break.

    The dSLR's and non-dSLR's have been morphing into a different class of cameras (like the Sony referenced earlier). But what class that is I have no idea nor any reason to think about it.

    Seems we are talking about semantics here. To me, an SLR has to have an optical viewfinder, a reflexing mirror, and interchangeable lens capability. Any camera that does not have all three of those features are not SLRs in my book.

    As for more control with dSLRs, I agree with what others have mentioned. I have used several digital non-SLRs that were advertised to have full manual controls. Sure they have them, but using them when you need to use them is a completely different matter. I want 4 controls immediately at my disposal without taking my eye out of the viewfinder: 1) shutter speed control, 2) aperture control, 3) ISO control, and 4) focus control.

    The Canon G9 was supposed to be my street camera. But the lack of "more control" in terms of ease/speed at which I can control the camera have made this camera no more than a P&S (whoops I said it again ).
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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Thanks for the good comments Loupey.

    Quote Originally Posted by Loupey
    Seems we are talking about semantics here.
    I think it goes beyond semantics to image quality: in good light and at relatively low ISOs...and especially when the final images will be reduced to 72dpi, 800x600 for the web...many admit the image quality differences between a high-end prosumer and low-end DSLR are ridiculously small.

    So in other words, it's not always accurate to assume a DSLR always provides better IQ than some high-end prosumer cameras.

    To me, an SLR has to have an optical viewfinder, a reflexing mirror, and interchangeable lens capability. Any camera that does not have all three of those features are not SLRs in my book.
    I'm interested by how people place such a high premium on a TTL viewfinder, especially because I'd be willing to bet a large number of DSLR users always use autofocus. So if you're using autofocus, what is the inherent advantage of a TTL viewfinder? (Besides just looking nice.) High-end prosumer cameras use autofocus too. (Though I admit most don't have controllable focus points.)

    As for more control with dSLRs, I agree with what others have mentioned. I have used several digital non-SLRs that were advertised to have full manual controls. Sure they have them, but using them when you need to use them is a completely different matter. I want 4 controls immediately at my disposal without taking my eye out of the viewfinder: 1) shutter speed control, 2) aperture control, 3) ISO control, and 4) focus control.
    I think historically this has been true...but the designers of non-DSLRs have made some pretty big leaps in those cameras' interface designs. you should try the Canon SX10. I was impressed at how easy it is to access each of the controls you mentioned...without ever taking my eye away from the viewfinder. Canon accomplished this by adding a smoothly-turning rotary dial around the 4-way button that falls comfortably right underneath your thumb. (Just 4-way "up" and use the dial to adjust shutter...and 4-way "down" and use the dial to adjust aperture...piece of cake!)

    Another advantage offered by an electronic viewfinder is that improvements in interface design can make adjusting these controls easier. On the SX10, for example, when you adjust either shutter or aperture, a beautifully-designed horizontally-sliding scale suddenly appears across the lower-third of the viewfinder---it's actually superior to squinting at the tiny LCD digits across the bottom of most DSLR viewfinders.

    Scott

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    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Loupey
    The dSLR's and non-dSLR's have been morphing into a different class of cameras (like the Sony referenced earlier). But what class that is I have no idea nor any reason to think about it.

    <>

    I want 4 controls immediately at my disposal without taking my eye out of the viewfinder: 1) shutter speed control, 2) aperture control, 3) ISO control, and 4) focus control.
    This is a good point. Obviously we are looking at a new class of cameras, and new developments like EVIL (electronic viewfinder/interchangeable lenses) are complicating things more. EVIL seems a good enough acronym for m4/3, but fixed lens/electronic viewfinder stumbles with EVFL. I can't pronounce it. I suppose you could make it FLEV, but that sounds gross.

    I left the second part of the quote because my old Sony H5 pretty much fit the description - except for the manual focus. I routinely changed items 1,2 and 3 without moving my eye from the viewfinder. Focus was a totally different beast though. A mechanical focus ring would have made that a very flexible camera. In fact, the controls were virtually the same as my DSLR, which is one reason I chose my brand.
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  25. #25
    Senior Member Dylan8i's Avatar
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    Yellowstone NP, USA
    Posts
    1,878

    Re: Is the quality gap between DSLRs and non-DSLRs narrowing?

    as i said above when i say more control i ment on things such as DOF. with p&s (i still use the term :-P) you basically have very large and super large. which sometimes is nice, but even with my macros i like to have a nice blurr, it adds depth to the photo and isolates the subject better.

    you also have more control over (due to interchangable lenses) not just the length of the lens (mm) but the inherited changes that come with it (minimum focus distance, which also adds compression to the photo- telephoto reduces distances between subject and background etc) which you can't get with a p&s.

    also as was brought up control over where the camera auto focuses, and being able to manually focus ( my old p&s HAD manual focus, but i couldn't tell a single difference as i moved about the range)

    and while many p&s cameras do offer shutter, apature, iso controls, its almost like they are to blunt (but granted i haven't used any of the newer ones, just a canon s1 is) to effectively obtain the correct exposure via very small changes (or you can't tell in camera any differences are made). kind of like using a sledge hammer to put a tack in.



    oh and i don't think i could live with out movable focus points ( i still use af 90+% of the time), but being able to choose where it focuses, and on what exactly makes all the difference.
    check out my photography website
    http://dylanschneider.zenfolio.com/



    Please feel free to edit or change any of my pictures to show me how to improve them.



    Nikon D200
    Nikon D7000 w/grip
    Nikkor AF-S 18-135
    Nikkor AF-S 60mm macro 2.8
    Nikon 70-200 2.8 vr
    Nikon tc-17eII
    Kenoko extension tube set
    SB-600

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