Best of the Best 2005: Personal Electronics
As recently as a year ago, most photographers still were using digital cameras only for quick-and-dirty shooting. But thanks to a new wave of excellent digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, film has nearly disappeared from many professional studios. Professionals and amateurs agree that the best of the new breed is the Canon EOS 20D; Robb Report’s principal product photographer and its home entertainment editor are among the camera’s satisfied owners.
The 20D succeeds not because of a revolutionary feature or technological breakthrough, but simply because it includes every function serious photographers need, and implements these functions perfectly. The camera’s 8.2-megapixel sensor delivers enough resolution for sharp 11-by-17-inch prints. Canon’s new DIGIC II image processor improves the quality of the images and also speeds up operation: The 20D is ready to shoot only 0.2 seconds after you flick the power switch, and it takes five pictures per second if you hold down the shutter button.
Even a beginner can snap great photos with the 20D; its full-auto mode calculates the exposure, shutter speed, white balance, and flash duration. The autofocus feature evaluates the scene and focuses on the closest subject (or any subject you choose) almost faster than you can blink. Experienced photographers can adjust any of these parameters manually.
Canon offers the 20D camera body separately or in a basic kit that includes the camera body and an unexceptional 18-55 mm zoom lens. We suggest instead combining the 20D body with Canon’s 17-85 mm zoom. Although it greatly outweighs the kit lens, it feels smoother and offers greater telephoto range, and its automatic image stabilization produces sharper pictures when you are shooting without a tripod.
This practical, polished, and fun camera suddenly makes film shooters seem as quaint as writers who still use typewriters. —Brent Butterworth
Canon USA, 516.328.5000, www.usa.canon.com
Sound System on a String
Apple’s iPod deservedly dominates the market for digital music players, but it is not the perfect portable for every occasion. On days when we want to travel light, we prefer the Panasonic e-wear SV-MP720V. The SV-MP720V squeezes an incredible amount of technology into a product roughly the size of a pack of chewing gum. Besides playing music in the common MP3 format or Microsoft’s sonically superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, it also tunes in FM radio, records FM broadcasts, and records voice memos. Its graceful control layout renders it as simple to operate as any iPod, and unlike the iPod Shuffle, the SV-MP720V has a display that allows you to select music by title, artist, or genre. The 512-megabyte version stores more than 500 minutes of music. —Brent Butterworth
Panasonic, 800.211.7262, www.panasonic.com
Ipod Comes Home
Many enthusiasts now use their iPods as the primary source of music in their homes. Unfortunately, connecting an iPod to a stereo system is an ungainly process involving clumsy docking ports or unsightly cables. The Sonance iPort presents a far more elegant solution. It takes the form of a discreet wall niche, making it appear as though an architect designed your iPod right into your home. Drop in your iPod, touch a button or two, and suddenly your iPod music emanates from wherever you like. The iPort connects to any stereo system, home theater system, or multiroom audio system, and it even lets you change songs or albums from a remote location. —Brent Butterworth
Sonance, 800.582.7777, www.sonance.com
Unleash Your Inner Lucas
The digital movie age began with the 2002 release of George Lucas’ Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The movie was one of the first to be shot entirely with high-definition digital cameras. Now you can shoot your own high-definition home movies with the Sony HDR-FX1 high-definition camcorder. The camcorder is the first consumer product with a 1080i resolution, and it can record in either 30 or 24 frames per second, giving you the option of a film or video appearance for your son or daughter’s soccer match. A 12x zoom lens lets you utilize the available detail even when you are at a distance from the subject, and a 3.5-inch, 16-by-9-ratio LCD viewfinder presents a large, clear view of the action that you are trying to capture. —Mike Wood
Sony Electronics, 858.942.4700, www.sonystyle.com
Using an iPod digital music player with the earphones Apple supplies is like placing Michael Schumacher at the wheel of a Dodge Neon: It is a shameful waste of capabilities. To really hear what the iPod can do, you need a great set of earphones, and we have heard none better than the Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro. This unusual design places three miniature speaker drivers in an earpiece custom-molded to fit your ear. The earpiece seals your auditory canal to block outside sound, and the unique triple-driver technology produces what may be the most natural and detailed sound we have ever heard. Some find these ear-filling ’phones uncomfortably invasive, but we forgot they were there after a few minutes. Ultimate Ears includes a hard-shell travel case. —Brent Butterworth
Ultimate Ears, 800.589.6531, www.ultimateears.com