Camera makers vie for SLR buyers' attention

Camera manufacturers including Canon, Pentax, and Fujifilm will show new digital SLRs for professional photographers at the PMA07 show in Las Vegas next month. The new models balance traditional and advanced features to retain existing customers and tempt new ones.

Canon will show the EOS-1D Mark III Digital SLR, an upgrade of its classic 1D model that shoots 10.1 megapixel images at up to 10 frames per second. Canon developed a more sensitive image sensor for the camera that can be pushed to ISO 6400, it said Thursday.

Fujifilm, meanwhile, will show the FinePix S5 Pro, which begins shipping this month. The digital SLR has a 12.34 megapixel image sensor: half the pixels respond best to low light levels, the other half to stronger light, a system that captures images with a wider dynamic range, the company said.

Pentax will once again show a prototype medium-format SLR, the 645 Digital, which the company first began talking about in March 2005. This time around, it has slots for SD and Compact Flash memory cards, and a 31.6-megapixel image sensor developed by Eastman Kodak. Last year, Pentax showed the same prototype with an 18-megapixel sensor. It has still not announced when or if the camera will go on sale.

SLRs, or single-lens reflex cameras, appeal to professionals because the image in the viewfinder and the one stored by the image sensor, be it a digital one or film, pass through the same lens: a case of what you see is what you get. Such cameras typically have interchangeable lenses, making them more flexible than compact cameras with fixed lenses.

By offering digital camera bodies that accept the same lenses as their older film cameras, manufacturers protect the often substantial investments that their customers have made in lenses and other accessories. That’s Pentax’s strategy with the 645 Digital, which will use the same interchangeable lenses as the first 645 model introduced in 1984.

The removable lenses used by Canon’s EOS family have had a long life too: 20 years. Every time one of those lenses is removed is a chance for dust to enter a camera body, but now the company thinks it has solved the problem of dust ingress with an image sensor that cleans itself. When the camera is turned on or off, the sensor vibrates, shaking dust particles loose. The camera also tags picture files with the location of any dust specks that remain on consecutive images, allowing photographers to clean up the images automatically on their computer. Canon has also increased the battery capacity to a maximum of 2,200 shots between recharges, compared to 1,200 for the previous model, and reduced the weight by 225 grams.

Fujifilm’s FinePix S5 Pro appeals to old hands by simulating some of the characteristics of film: the camera features five preset modes for optimizing image saturation and contrast for skin tones or landscapes, in much the way that changing film types used to. As if to remind photographers what that was all about, the company will also use the show to reintroduce its Fujichrome Velvia 50 color slide film, known to landscape photographers for its high color saturation.

PMA07 takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center from March 8 to March 11.

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