Source: USA TODAY
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — A common request from photo enthusiasts all over the world — a small camera that can do all the things a big and bulky SLR can do, without the bulk and weight.
They want: manual controls for better exposures, the ability to change lenses for wide angle and ultra-telephoto zooms and sharp images in low light that no smartphone camera could ever dream of.
Welcome to the land of compact system cameras, otherwise known as “mirrorless,” which achieve their small size by eliminating the mirror and have image sensors that generally are many times larger than those on point and shoots.
Today, we take a look at new compact cameras from Sony, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm and Panasonic.
All easily outperform the smartphone cam, which has become the image capture device of choice for most Americans. The compact system cameras are super light, easy to travel with, and produce superior results — some more than others.
However, they’re not cheap. We’re looking at cameras today that start at around $700 and go all the way up to $2000.
Let’s take a look:
— Panasonic Lumix GM1 ($749 with 12-32mm kit lens; 16 megapixel, built-in Wi-Fi). The good: Tiny camera produces great results. The camera is so small it’s on par with a point and shoot — but with a bigger image sensor. My tests showed great performance in low light. But due to the size, all the camera controls are hidden in the menu screen. In low light I had to fumble to find them.
— Nikon AW1 ($799 with 11-27mm kit lens; 14 megapixel, rugged). Nikon touts this as the first “rugged” camera with interchangeable lenses, which is a plus. You can jump on it, dunk it in the water, and it will keep ticking (don’t laugh — we tried it.) And afterward, you can switch from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens. The Nikon compact system cameras, like the Panasonic, feel like glorified point and shoots. Manual controls are there, but hidden in the electronic menu, which slows down the photography process. Final results are decent.
— Fujifilm X-E1 ($899 with 18-55mm kit lens; 16 megapixel). The Fuji X series resembles classic Leica rangefinders of the 1960s. They are a joy to hold in your hands for anyone who grew up in the pre-digital photography age. It took me awhile to figure out how to set the F stop for the exposure, until — duh — you had to put your hand on the lens to move the ring, just like in days of old. The X-E1 performs marvelously in low light (take a look at the shot of the beach lifeguard station taken before sunrise) and has terrific color rendition with a very filmic look. This makes sense when you remember that in the film era, Fuji competed with archrival Kodak (who?) with film stocks that had more punch to them.
— Olympus OM-D E-M1 ($1,300 for body only. Add $120 for 40-150mm lens. 16 megapixel, built-in Wi-Fi.) The new flagship for the longtime camera manufacturer resembles the classic OM 35mm cameras of the 1960s, with the same size and feel and sub-compact coolness. The new OM has some of the fast auto-focusing we’ve seen and multiple (37) different focusing points, which is all great, but like the GM1, many of the needed features (changing the ISO light sensitivity and white balance) are hidden on the menu screen). That said, the images look terrific.
— Sony A7 ($1,700 for body only or $2,000 with 28-70mm lens; 24 megapixel.) Two cameras made my jaw drop this year — the Canon 70D (with its radically improved autofocus for video) and the A7. I’m in love with this camera. Forget that the A7 is a joy to hold, incredibly intuitive and light as a feather — it also produces the best images I’ve ever seen on a small camera.
The A7 is “the world’s first” mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor. In a nutshell, that means the sensor is the largest of all the cameras mentioned here, meaning sharper and crisper images and better control in low light.
(There’s also a step-up version of the camera, the A7r, which has an even larger, 36-megapixel sensor.)
Only negative: When snapping photos, the shutter is rather loud. But based on the photos, I can live with it.
So, bottom line?
It depends on your budget. Buy any of the models mentioned here, and you’ll get images many times superior to smartphone shots. And if you leave the DSLR at home, your new travel companion is going to be so much lighter — and a joy to have around.
Readers: What’s your favorite compact camera? Which new model made you drool this year? Let’s chat about it on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.