It’s no accident that digital SLRs and compact interchangeable-lens cameras are generating the most buzz among serious shooters, emerging enthusiasts and the general public—and are the most rapidly expanding sectors of the imaging market. Consumers understand that the ability to change lenses not only increases their shooting flexibility but also brings their picture-taking experience to a new level. Even those stepping up from point-and-shoot cameras realize that putting a fisheye, ultra-wide, telephoto zoom, wide-aperture prime or macro lens on a camera expands creative opportunities and can result in more compelling pictures.
Camera manufacturers have unleashed an astonishing array of broad-spectrum interchangeable-lens cameras in the DSLR and CSC (compact system camera) categories that take the concept of entry-level to unimaginable heights of sophistication and performance. Many of these cameras are so good they’re capable of delighting serious enthusiasts and even a few pros. The fact that CSCs are smaller and lighter than comparable DSLRs presents dealers with a tempting range of high-performance options to offer savvy customers, especially women, seeking an elegantly compact interchangeable-lens alternative.
From the dealer’s perspective, the challenge is to motivate consumers by showcasing the real-world advantages of these multifaceted cameras while emphasizing their genuine ease of use. And the rewards are great, because today’s DSLRs and CSCs, like the 35mm SLRs and rangefinder cameras before them, are the cash cows of the camera business. Each one you place in the hands of a customer represents an opportunity to sell not only lenses but also a host of system and third-party accessories ranging from filters, flash units, power grips and electronic viewfinders to tripods and camera bags.
We hereby present this season’s selection of broad-spectrum, entry-level consumer DSLRs plus a robust roundup of leading CSC cameras designed to appeal to a wide range of picture takers.
Scintillating Broad-Spectrum DSLRs
Nikon Coolpix D3100
An easy-to-use entry into DSLR photography, the 14.2 megapixel D3100’s enhanced guide mode, viewed on its 3.0-inch LCD, displays sample images that change with camera settings to teach users how to achieve a desired look and guide them through techniques such as softening backgrounds or freezing action. It also features: face detection that locks focus on up to 35 faces; D-lighting that automatically rescues dark or backlit images; an auto scene selector that chooses the best scene mode based on conditions; Full HD 1080p or 720p HD video recording; and special effects. $649.95 with Nikkor 18-55mm VR image stabilization lens. nikonusa.com
Canon EOS Rebel T3
The EOS Rebel T3 delivers 12.2MP photos plus 720p HD video at the touch of a button and offers unique convenience features, including: Basic+, an easy interface for control of lighting, depth of field and color effects; a feature guide that tells exactly what each setting does; a quick control option that gives instant access to common settings; and creative auto mode with easy shooting guides. It also offers: 63-zone dual-layer metering; a 2.7-inch LCD; ISO 6400 for low-light shots; and 3-frames-per-sec burst capability. Its IS II lens provides enhanced image stabilization up to four stops. $549.99 with 18-55mm IS II lens.
Note: Canon’s EOS Rebel T2i ($799.99 with 18-55mm IS II lens) offers 18MP capture, a burst rate of 3.7 fps and Full HD 1080p video recording. The Rebel T3i ($899.99 with lens) adds a vari-angle 3.0-inch LCD. usa.canon.com
Sony Alpha SLT-A65
The Translucent Mirror A65’s amazing performance parameters are tops among consumer DSLRs, with an ultra-high-res 24.3MP APS-C sensor, continuous high-speed phase-detection autofocus, high-speed burst shooting at 10 frames per sec and Full HD 1,920×1,080 AVCHD 2.0 video capture at 60p, 60i and 24p. It also features an innovative OLED electronic viewfinder, 3D and 2D sweep panorama modes, a 3.0-inch tilt/swivel LCD and SteadyShot Inside image stabilization. Compact, lightweight and inviting, the A65 provides user-friendly features like a graphic display that shows and tells what each camera setting does, and shot result preview that displays the shot before it’s taken. $999.99 with 18-55mm lens. sony.com
This cool, lightweight mid-range compact DSLR delivers the goods with a 12.4MP CMOS sensor, 720p HD video capability and a high-res, 921,000-dot 3.0-inch LCD. It can capture bursts up to 6 fps, provides 11-point autofocus and has ISO settings to an impressive 25,600 and in-camera HDR that features a night scene HDR mode. It supports infrared data transfer and offers a selection of in-camera image processing and special effects to enhance its creative options. It’s available in red, white or black. $699.95 with 18-55mm lens. pentaximaging.com
A Compendium of Cool, Contemporary Interchangeable-Lens Compacts
Nikon 1 J1
Nikon designed this attractive advanced camera system and its 10.1MP CX-format sensor to provide many of the benefits of a digital SLR in a more portable body with a more compact lens system. The ultra-compact 1 J1 has extremely quick sensor-based autofocus, super-fast shooting speeds and a smart photo selector that picks the right mode for conditions. Users can shoot still photos with a press of the shutter button while recording Full HD 1080p movies, capture full-res photos at a blistering 60 frames per sec, or expand their creativity with motion snapshot mode, which combines a photo with slow-mo movement set to a built-in soundtrack. Available in five colors, the 1 J1 uses Nikon’s compact 1 Nikkor glass lenses. $649.95 with 10-30mm VR zoom lens. nikonusa.com
Sony Alpha NEX-5N
With a lightweight, magnesium alloy body, the NEX-5N measures less than an inch at its slimmest point yet provides a 16.1MP Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor. It has a shutter lag time of only 0.02 sec, faster AF and ISO to 25,600, and it can record AVCHD Full HD movies with stereo sound at 60p and a cinematic 24p. This is also the first E-mount camera with a photo creativity touch interface for background defocus, exposure, 11 picture effect modes and other adjustments that can be previewed, applied and combined via the 3.0-inch tilting LCD touch panel and control dial. Other features: 10-fps full-res burst; 3D sweep panorama; auto HDR; handheld twilight and anti-motion blur modes. It’s available in black, silver and white. $699.99 with 18-55mm lens. sony.com
Really in a class of its own, the Pentax Q is a fun camera for serious shooters. It sports a retro rangefinder look but offers traditional DSLR shooting modes and RAW/JPEG options, as well as set-it-and-forget-it auto picture and 21 scene modes. About the size of a deck of playing cards, the Q is the world’s smallest, lightest interchangeable-lens camera with a 12.4MP CMOS sensor. It features a 3.0-inch LCD, HDR capture for high-detail pictures, Full HD 1080p video recording, 5-fps burst capability and a smart effects mode. To allow viewing in the brightest sunlight, there’s an accessory shoe-mount optical finder. $799.95 with smc Pentax 8.5mm f/1.9 standard prime lens. pentaximaging.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
The DMC-GF3 is Panasonic’s smallest, lightest interchangeable-lens camera with a built-in pop-up flash. It works with any Micro Four Thirds system lens, including Panasonic’s 3D Lumix G 12.5mm f/12 3D lens ($224.95), so you can take not only 12.1MP photos and 1080 Full HD video but also 3D photos. About the size of a smartphone, the GF3 has an aluminum body, a 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD, a creative control mode, and the comprehensive feature set of a bulkier DSLR, including manual controls, customizable menus and a thumbwheel that cycles through settings with visual displays on its LCD. Other features: built-in optical image stabilization and a 100-6400 ISO setting range. $499.99 with a 14-42mm kit lens. panasonic.com
This strikingly minimalist, mirrorless compact employs a big, high-res 20.3 megapixel, APS-C sensor and incorporates a 3.0-inch full-information AMOLED display said to provide a much greater dynamic contrast range and faster response than a conventional LCD. Other key features include: Full HD 1080p video capability at 30 fps; 3D capture; ISO settings to 12,800; a maximum still picture framing rate of 7 frames per sec; preview capability to display the results of different camera settings; 10 smart filters and 12 magic frames; and Samsung’s i-Function lens control with a button on the lens that unlocks the manual adjustment of key settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, white balance and ISO. $899.99 with 18-55mm OIS lens. samsung.com
Olympus Pen E-PM1
This stylish Micro Four Thirds compact provides 12.3MP capture using a high-speed Live MOS sensor and TruPic VI image processor with ISO to 12,800. The smallest Pen, it offers simplified controls, including screen-activated menu options such as six in-camera art filters, iAuto mode and scene modes. A live guide system lets users preview effects as they adjust them. Other key features: a 3.0-inch LCD; Full HD 1080i video capture; a 5-fps burst rate; multi-exposure capability; 3D photo capture; support for wireless Eye-Fi cards; and built-in image stabilization. Plus it comes in six colors. $499.99 with M Zuiko 14-42mm lens. olympusamerica.com