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Picture That!

Eight boundary-busting digital cameras hit the market with features that include ultra-zooms, low-light sensitivity, better flexibility, new connectivity choices, superior durability and even 3-D images
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 1)

Most compact cameras have a maximum aperture between f/2.8 and f/3.5. The LX5’s is f/2.0, a significant step up. Combine that with an image sensor that maxes out at ISO 12,800, and you can fire away flash-free in most settings. Equally important, you can use faster, more-blur-resistant shutter speeds when there’s plenty of available light.

When you’re trying to catch that slashing baseball bat in mid-swing, the LX5 gives you the option to cut the time the shutter is open by half compared with most cameras, doubling the odds you’ll get the shot.

The LX5 is reasonably small and light at 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 inches and 9.8 ounces, but still boasts a solidly built metal—not plastic—body. As with nearly all compact cameras today, there’s no optical viewfinder for eye-level shooting, an old-school feature I miss when squinting at an LCD screen to line up a shot in bright sunshine, or struggling to keep a camera steady when held at arm’s length.

Unlike with the competition, though, the LX5 offers a solution in the form of a $200 electronic viewfinder that fits into the top hot shoe slot. Not an inexpensive option, granted, but it provides a nice sharp image and a comfortable shooting experience.

The 3.8x zoom lens provides adequate range, and gets high marks for offering a wider-than-usual angle for landscape shooting. Some may be put off by the relatively modest 10.1-megapixel resolution, but don’t be fooled: that’s more than enough to create great big prints, and resisting the urge to pump up the megapixel stat is a key factor in the camera’s premium low-light performance.

I like the control scheme. Experienced photographers can quickly and easily tweak the settings in great detail, but you can also set the LX5 to automatic mode, hand it over to your less photo-savvy friends and family and get very good results. The buttons are a bit on the small side, but even my big paws found the camera easy to handle after just a little practice.

One undeniable stumbling block here is the price: you could buy a respectable entry-level SLR, with its interchangeable lens option and a built-in optical viewfinder, for the same price you’ll pay for this compact camera. On the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed to stuff an SLR into your jeans pocket, where the LX5 makes a comfortable companion.

$499.95, panasonic.com

Sony NEX-5

Nobody’s really come up with the right name for a new class of cameras that delivers the interchangeable-lens flexibility of an SLR with the compact body of a point-and-shoot. My favorite attempt to date is EVIL (for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras—for practical purposes it’s a lousy acronym, but how cool is it to say your camera is EVIL?


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