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10 Megapixel DSLR group test Gordon Laing, October 2006

Lenses and viewfinder
/ Screen and menus / Sensor and processing / Anti shake and anti dust
 
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10 Megapixel DSLR group test: sensor and files

The Canon 400D / XTi is equipped with a 10.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, while the Nikon and Sony employ a 10.2 Megapixel CCD; we believe the D80 and A100 share the same sensor, but it’s not been confirmed.

While the Nikon and Sony appear to have a 0.1 Megapixel advantage, the Canon actually delivers fractionally more pixels in its images: the 400D / XTi’s maximum image size is 3888x2592 pixels compared to 3872x2592 pixels on the Nikon and Sony. These extra 16 pixels horizontally don’t make any difference though, so it’s fair to describe all three as sharing the same maximum image size. Each has sufficient detail to make 13x8.6in enlargements at 300dpi (or around 3.5in bigger than a 6 Megapixel image) and can also stretch to good-looking A3 inkjet prints. Check our results pages to see how their respective sensor technologies and image processors performed in practice.

Canon 400D / XTi image quality
Nikon D80 Image Quality
Sony A100 Image Quality


Each camera offers the choice of lower resolutions and higher JPEG compression settings, along with a RAW option which records the data from the sensor before any processing has been applied. Both Canon and Sony supply software which can adjust and process their RAW files, but like other Nikon DSLRs, the D80’s only supplied with RAW software which can perform basic conversions. You’ll need to pay extra for third-party software or Nikon’s own Capture NX in order to adjust the D80’s RAW files.

If you’re into shooting with RAW, this can be a bit of a bugbear, although to be fair most people who are into RAW will also probably have Photoshop CS(2) which includes Adobe’s excellent Camera RAW converter. At the time of writing, Adobe Camera RAW supported the A100 with a free update for the Canon 400D / XTi and Nikon D80 coming very soon.


Sensitivity

All three models offer sensitivity from 100 to 1600 ISO, but the Nikon D80 offers an additional H1.0 mode which delivers 3200 ISO. Like any 3200 ISO mode, it’s pretty noisy (see results), but many will appreciate at least having the option. The D80 additionally offers ISO in third-stop increments and the choice of normal, low, high or no noise reduction on sensitivities at or above 800 ISO.

Canon 400D / XTi sensitivity
Nikon D80 sensitivity
Sony A100 sensitivity


Image processing

The Canon 400D / XTi, Nikon D80 and Sony A100 apply their in-camera colour, sharpness and tonal adjustments using a series of presets called Picture Styles, Image Optimisation and Digital Effects. Each offers a wide variety of adjustments and custom options.

Canon 400D / XTi Picture Styles
Nikon D80 Optimise Image
Sony A100 DEC


The Sony A100 additionally offers a Dynamic Range Optimiser (or D-Range Optimiser) which can automatically adjust the levels to prevent loss of tonal detail in strongly backlit or high contrast scenes. In practice we found it was more effective at retrieving tonal detail in dark shadow areas than it was with bright highlights – see the Sony A100 review for more details.

Nikon also offers several in-camera retouching options, although these are applied during playback and result in the generation of a second JPEG, leaving the original untouched. The D-Lighting option can be used to boost levels to enhance dull exposures – see our Nikon D80 review for more details, and check out our video tour to see the Retouch options in action.

It’s quite fun to have these options in the Sony and Nikon bodies, but will only really be of use to people who print direct from the camera or memory card. You’ll get much better control and results adjusting images with dedicated software on a PC or Mac.

Handling

All three cameras quote different startup times, but in practice there’s nothing really between them and they’re essentially instant. All three also quote 3fps continuous shooting, although there’s some difference in practice when it comes to the number of frames captured.

We tested the Canon and Sony with a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB Compact Flash card and the Nikon with a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB SD card; each camera was set to its best quality JPEG mode. The Canon and Nikon fired-off 27 and 12 frames respectively at 3fps before pausing momentarily. We measured the Sony A100 at 2.8fps, but it was happy to continue shooting until the memory ran out.

Switching to RAW mode saw the 400D / XTi capture 11 images in 4.2 seconds before slowing. The D80 managed six in two seconds, while the A100 captured nine in three seconds before stalling.

Whether shooting JPEG or RAW files, all three cameras managed to shoot at or very close to their quoted speed of 3fps. In terms of JPEGs, the Sony A100 was most powerful, limited only be memory, followed by the Canon then the Nikon. In terms of RAW, the Canon managed to captured the most before slowing, followed by the Sony, then again the Nikon. It’s a little odd to find the D80 coming up short in terms of its continuous shooting buffer as it lead in most other features.


Canon 400D / XTi vs Nikon D80 vs Sony A100 features

Lenses and viewfinder / Screen and menus / Sensor and processing / Anti shake and anti dust



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Canon EOS 400D / Rebel XTi

Canon EOS 400D / Rebel XTi

Nikon D80

Nikon D80

Sony Alpha A100

Sony Alpha A100
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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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