Both consumers and Retailers alike have noticed there is something really different about the new wave of digital cameras to recently hit the market. Many of the curvaceously compact, colorful, high style picture takers just introduced have some of the most ingenious high-tech innovations we’ve seen in quite a while. The objective: To provide higher performance, greater shooting flexibility and amazing new features in more convenient, compact packages, plus offer an enticing array of colorful choices to suit any style.
The new category of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras is a case in point. This exciting class of cameras is generating a lot of buzz for the models’ elegance, high performance and ability to function as traditional interchangeable-lens digital SLR cameras—but in a more convenient, portable form factor. Other “new look” models we’ve selected here provide innovative features, like dual LCD screens, built-in projectors, ruggedized construction, high-definition (HD) video recording, and even the ability to shoot 3D pictures with a special 3D lens!
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
When is a DSLR not a DSLR? When it’s a Panasonic GH2 that’s bristling with high-end digital SLR features but has an electronic eye-level viewfinder instead of a conventional optical finder. As a result, this 16 megapixel marvel is more compact than a DSLR. It can also shoot 1080p Full HD video, features touch-screen control for both stills and video with autofocus for both, has built-in Mega OIS image stabilization for blur-free shots, and RAW shooting capability. Other features are a pivoting, rotating 3.0-inch LCD and 5-frames-per-second (fps) burst shooting. Add a Panasonic G 12.5mm f/12 3D Micro Four Thirds lens and it can shoot real 3D images! It does lots more too, but that should whet your customers’ appetites. $899.95 body only; $1,499.95 with 14–140mm lens. panasonic.com
Sony Alpha NEX-5 & NEX-3
The elegant, mirrorless, finder-less, interchangeable-lens NEX-5 compact with a magnesium front panel features 14.2 megapixels, and it captures RAW and JPEG image files as well as 1080p Full HD video. It shoots bursts at 7 fps and has a 3.0-inch LCD that tilts downward 45º and upward 80º for composing pictures in tight quarters or at different angles. One of the smallest models in its class, it also provides unique features like Sony’s Sweep Panorama, and handheld twilight mode. The NEX-5 accepts Sony A-mount DSLR lenses with an adapter as well as its own line of outstanding optics. $699.99 with 18–55mm lens.
The more affordable NEX-3 has almost the same feature set, but its body is minus the magnesium cladding and it shoots 720p video. $599.99 with 18–55mm lens. sony.com
Olympus Pen E-PL2
The latest addition to the Pen line of ingenious Micro Four Thirds mirrorless interchangeable-lens compacts, it has 12.3 megapixels, in-body image stabilization, 22 automatic scene-select modes, HD video recording and a new autofocus system with eye detection that makes a person’s eye the focus point and keeps the entire face in focus. The PL2’s Micro Four Thirds lens mount accepts a variety of lenses, including lenses from larger Four Thirds-format DSLRs (with an adapter). And it comes bundled with the new ED 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 zoom lens that works for both still photos and movies and has a bayonet mount for attaching cool accessories, like new fisheye, wide-angle and macro converter lenses. And there’s a really innovative dual-LED, flexible-arm close-up macro spotlight. Not only does it feature in-camera editing and art filters for added creativity, including dramatic tone for an HDR effect, its Live Guide II can now be used to explain functions when recording video. $599.99 with 14–42mm lens. olympusamerica.com
Pentax Optio W90
Designed with the look of mountaineering equipment in an orange and black, a solid black or a black body with green trim, the Pentax Optio W90 is attractively slim for a camera that’s submersible to 20 feet. It offers waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof (4 feet), dustproof construction, along with 12.1MP capture, a 5x (28–140mm equivalent) optical zoom, a digital microscope macro mode with LED lighting for capturing small subjects up close, 720p HD video recording and Eye-Fi wireless memory card compatibility. Other features include: a 2.7-inch LCD; face detection that works with dogs and cats!; blink detection; smile capture; and support for infrared remote control. The W90 comes with a strap and carabiner hook, and a floating strap and skin are optional. $272.95. pentaximaging.com
Nikon Coolpix S1100pj
That “pj” suffix stands for, would you believe, a built-in digital projector that lets users view images at distances up to 7 feet and at sizes up to 47 inches across on a screen, blank wall or other flat surface. This slim 14.1 megapixel model also has a 5x (28–140mm equivalent) Nikkor lens, built-in 5-way VR (vibration reduction) image stabilization, a 3.0-inch touch-control LCD with Touch Shutter to take the picture, and 720p HD video capability. $349.95. nikonusa.com
Samsung DualView ST700
This is the perfect camera for social networkers who love to shoot self-portraits and get in the photo with friends and family to upload the images to their favorite photo-sharing sites. This cool-looking 16 megapixel compact has two LCDs—a large 3.0-inch touch display on the back and a front-facing 1.8-inch LCD that lets users hold the camera at arm’s length to get themselves in the frame. The front LCD also displays, among other functions, a visual countdown so everyone knows when to smile. Other features include: A 26mm wide-angle zoom lens; 720p HD video capability; and Samsung’s Smart Access user interface that allows quick access to key functions with a tilt or hand gesture. New color choices include silver, black and red. $329.95. samsung.com
Pentax K-x DSLR
This pleasantly compact, ergonomic DSLR features 12.4 megapixels and a shake-reduction system claimed to give photographers a 4-stop advantage when shooting at slow shutter speeds. It shoots 720p HD video at 24 frames per second and it can capture action-stopping bursts at 4.7 fps. Its fast face-detection system targets 16 faces, and it provides auto picture and scene modes as well as built-in digital filters and HDR (high dynamic range) image capture that blends three images into one with outstanding shadow, highlight, and midrange detail. Perhaps the most remarkable of all—the K-x comes in a choice of 12 colors! $649.95 with 18-55mm lens. pentaximaging.com
Casio TRYX Digital Camera
Recognizing that differentiation is more important than ever, as consumers search for cameras that offer more than “me-too” features, Casio debuted its think-outside-the-box TRYX camera. Designed to be “strikingly different than any other camera or camcorder on the market,” the TRYX adapts to fit the user’s preferred shooting style or to capture an image from just about any angle. It can be held in a traditional point-and-shoot style to capture still images or 1080p HD video, or its body can be flipped out and swiveled to capture other angles. Users can even flip out and rotate the body so the TRYX can hang from a hook or doorknob. The camera’s frame also can be positioned so the camera body acts as a stand, allowing the TRYX to stand on its own, and it can be rotated 180º so users can shoot a self-portrait and see themselves in the 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD.
Other features include: a 12MP BSI (back side illuminated) CMOS sensor; a 21mm ultra-wide-angle lens; slow-motion video; and panorama shot. Casio’s HDR-Art enables users to create artistic photographs at the press of the shutter button, by combining continuous shots with differing exposures and performing image analysis to locally change the contrast and color saturation—with three processing levels of effects to choose from to suit users’ tastes. The Casio TRYX ships in March 2011. $249.99. casiousa.com
Here’s a novel twist on mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras—interchangeable-lens-plus-sensor units that slide into the basic body module. The advantage here is that photographers can upgrade to a larger sensor unit in the future if they want a prime lens and better image quality or select a smaller sensor unit that provides a much greater zoom lens range in a smaller package. The unique GXR features a magnesium-clad body and a 3.0-inch LCD. It’s offered in three kit packages. $849.99 for the 10 megapixel sensor/lens unit with a 24–72mm lens. ricoh.com
The Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera
As we know, at the dawn of the digital era there were two basic camera types: compact point-and-shoot models and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. Only DSLRs could use interchangeable lenses, and their bodies were all based on the traditional 35mm single-lens reflex camera design.
What makes an SLR an SLR is its reflex mirror, which is placed at a 45º angle behind the lens to reflect the image formed by the lens up to a pentaprism or penta-mirror. This component turns the image right-way-round and right side up so it can be viewed correctly through the camera’s eyepiece. Advantage: What you see is exactly what you get, no matter what lens you mount on the camera. Disadvantage: Since the reflex mirror has to flip up and out of the way before the shutter fires to take the shot, a large mirror box and a complex mechanism must be built into the camera, making it somewhat bulky.
Back in the film days, there were only two alternatives to constructing a compact interchangeable-lens camera: Build a 35mm SLR as described above, or build a rangefinder camera with a separate rangefinder and viewfinder. But with a digital camera, you don’t really need a viewfinder, because you can compose the picture on the LCD. That is precisely what is done in the Samsung NX100 ($599.99) as well as the other mirrorless interchangeable-lens models detailed in “The New Look of Digital Cameras,” earlier in this issue.
Like a DSLR, the 14.6 megapixel Samsung NX100 has a large image sensor and takes interchangeable lenses, but its “viewfinder” is the big 3.0-inch Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) screen on the back that shows exactly what the lens “sees.” Like the Olympus Pen and the Sony NEX models, the Samsung NX100 is very compact—like a rangefinder camera minus the rangefinder.
Even within the “SLR-style” mirrorless camera category there are differences. There’s a rapidly emerging breed I call “eye-level EVF cameras.” These include mirrorless cameras with DSLR-like form and function, but with electronic rather than optical viewfinders. Good examples are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and the Samsung NX10.
Then there are new “translucent mirror” cameras from Sony—the Alpha SLT-A55 and A33. By eliminating the DSLR’s flipping mirror, these cameras and their lenses can be made more compact and therefore lighter (due to a shorter back focus than conventional DSLRs), achieve a similar level of performance with simpler lens designs, and, in the case of the Sony models, offer continuous AF tracking to the instant of exposure plus an impressive burst rate of 10 fps, formerly the province of pro models.
In short, by eliminating the SLR’s mirror and its housing, this new breed of mirrorless digital cameras can be made smaller and lighter, and they still offer the creativity of using a wide collection of interchangeable lenses. Ultimately these cameras represent a classic case of thinking outside the box—in this case, the SLR mirror box!