By Chuck Tannert for Style + Tech For Men
Photo buffs and beginners alike are after the technology taking the photographic world by storm: compact system cameras, or mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras. What’s so great about these cameras, you ask? To start, they combine the performance, control and versatility of a high-quality digital single-lens reflex camera with the ease-of-use and pint-size convenience of a point-and-shoot. Plus, they usually do so for two-thirds of the cost of a similarly equipped digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.
Here’s a look at five of the most compelling options now available.
Olympus PEN E-PL3
$700 | Olympus.com
The latest entry into the much-heralded Olympus PEN lineup of compact shooters, this retro-looking camera delivers pro-quality stills and video. It might be smaller than its big brother, the E-P3, but it’s brimming with innovative technologies and beginner-friendly characteristics. In addition, the E-PL3 is much faster with a shutter response time of less than 60 milliseconds, a speedy 35-point autofocus system and a burst mode of 5.5 frames per second (without image stabilization). Other notable features include a tilting LCD screen, art filters to help unleash your creativity, and 1080p HD video recording.
Nikon 1 J1
$650 | Nikon.com
The Nikon 1 system comprises two cameras: the J1 and the V1. The two models share the same 10.1-megapixel CX-format image sensor, 3-inch LCD display, EXPEED 3 processing, 1080p video capture and a super-fast maximum burst rate of 60 frames per second. The pricier V1 ($900) also has a beefier body, an electronic viewfinder, and Nikon Creative Lighting System compatibility. It’s intended for serious enthusiasts, while the J1 is for point-and-shoot owners looking for a simple upgrade. One downside is the image sensor: It’s roughly half the size of that of a DSLR, which has many image experts calling foul. The larger the image sensor, the better the image.
$700 | Sony.com
Sony’s NEX cameras boast a DSLR-sized sensor in an exceptionally slim camera body. The 5N can take impressive 16.1-megapixel stills and shoot full 1080p videos. The large Exmor APS-C CMOS sensor takes in a lot of light for rich shots in a variety of situations, along with wide panoramic shots in 2-D or 3-D. Other appealing features include a 3-inch tilting LCD touch screen, support for a few E-mount lenses and cool extras, such as intelligent scene recognition, face detection and optical image stabilization.
$800 | Pentax.com
With a body about the size of a deck of playing cards, the Pentax Q is the most compact interchangeable lens camera you can buy. This is a good and bad thing. The Pentax Q is attractive and solidly built. It also has an ISO range of up to 6400, a bright 3-inch LCD screen, in-body shake reduction and a built-in flash. In addition, it takes 12.4-megapixel stills and captures 1080p HD movies. However, due to its size, the image sensor is super-small — about one-quarter the size of the competition. Consequently, the quality of the images it shoots — while decent — isn’t quite as good as that of the other shooters on this list.
$750 | Panasonic.com
The GF3X is widely considered to be one of the best CSCs on the market. It is actually a kit: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 body coupled with a compact Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm power zoom lens. The body and lens combo delivers incredible image quality despite the small form factor. It can also auto-focus a scene in only one-tenth of a second (that’s incredibly fast). Its optical image stabilizer delivers sharp images, even in low-light situations. If you own a 3-D TV and want to capture images with added depth, the GF3X also supports the Lumix G 3-D interchangeable lens.
Chuck Tannert has been covering technology — everything from cameras, to MP3 players, to surround-sound speakers — for more than 20 years. But he’s been playing video games for a lot longer: since the Atari 2600 was new and “Pac-Man” just hit the shelves. Chuck is the managing editor of Style and Tech for Men.