The Big Shots

Lean on the shutter: The SLR camera—that classic expedition essential—has joined the megapixel revolution

Oct 1, 2004
Outside Magazine
Top Pro Tell-All

"If you find yourself in a truly epic landscape that you know you will want to turn into a big print—say, the foot of Cerro Torre just as the clouds break—set your digital SLR camera to shoot in "raw" format, not JPEG. Given a raw file, printers can easily adjust levels, color balance, and exposure of specific areas of the frame."
In May, photographer JIMMY CHIN shot stills on top of the world for an upcoming Mount Everest feature film.

Pentax *IST D, Canon EOS Digital Rebel, Olympus E-1, Nikon D70

Clockwise from top: Pentax *IST D, Canon EOS Digital Rebel, Olympus E-1, Nikon D70

The smallest digital SLR we could find—at two pounds, including lens—PENTAX's 6.1-megapixel *IST D is among the featherweights of the genre. But it doesn't skimp on features: A pop-up flash reduces harsh shadows on sunny outdoor shots, the shutter button is recessed for protection from clumsy campers, and, should your travels take you off the grid, this rechargeable unit also accepts AAs. Big-fingered shutterbugs may find the compact toggle switch that works the LCD menus a bit too small; a keeper shot was accidentally deleted by thumbing yes instead of—bugger all!—no. $1,480, with 16–45mm lens; 800-877-0155,

CANON aimed its EOS DIGITAL REBEL at film buffs who know and love the company's classic Rebel series—to them, the switches and dials will feel like old friends. Got an existing arsenal of Canon's old-school SLR lenses? The Digital Rebel will accept 'em all. Plus, a dozen pre-programmed shooting modes (including "sports," which sets a high shutter speed and adjusts the aperture to match) will appeal to those who hate futzing with f-stops. Eight-by-ten glossies from the 6.3-megapixel Digital Rebel compete with those from film, and focus is stealthy-quiet and quick. $999, with 15–85mm lens; 800-652-2666,

Looking to move up from point-and-shoots? The OLYMPUS E-1 is your graduation present. The body is sexy and solid, with a slip-free grip and controls that are easy to learn and hard to screw up; we left the manual in its shrink wrap and were off and running in two minutes. Its 5.5-megapixel images are in the same league as the other cameras shown here, but what tips the scale is the E-1's adventure readiness. An included snap-on shield kept even the siltiest dust off the LCD screen, and the lithium-ion battery, also included, still read "full" after two long days of shooting. $1,945, with 14–54mm lens; 888-553-4448,

At $999 (body only), the NIKON D70 is a little pricier than the Canon yet still packs a lot of bang for the buck. For starters, this one-pound-five-ounce, 6.1-megapixel SLR is nearly as light as the Pentax also shown here yet somehow feels more solid. An almost prescient autofocus instantly zeroes in on your quarry, then continuously adjusts to stay locked on to that charging moose until you nail the shot. Buyer's tip: Drop another $300 for the starter kit, which bundles Nikon's outstanding all-purpose 18–70mm lens, good for capturing purple mountains' majesty as well as chasing your honey around the house. Smart ergonomics make this camera feel good in the hand. (Sole exception: the thumb-foiling toggle switch driving the menus.) $1,300, with 18–70mm lens; 800-645-6689,

More to Love...
A tripod shouldn't tie you down. At a wispy two pounds ten ounces, the carbon-fiber GITZO MOUNTAINEER SPORT ($442; 201-818-9500, will immobilize any digital SLR, but it packs down to 18.5 inches for carry-on convenience. » MOUNTAINSMITH designed its sleek gray-and-black PARAGON CAMERA DAYPACK (not pictured, $117; 800-551-5889, for candid action; just pluck your SLR from the padded, zippered top compartment and start firing. Clouds looming? Deploy the Paragon's integrated rain cover.

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