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
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011
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Whatever it’s called, the class started when Panasonic and Olympus created a new format called Micro Four Thirds. These cameras got rid of the internal mirror assembly that lets SLR shooters look right through the shooting lens before they press the shutter. Instead, like a point-and-shoot, the Micro Four Thirds cameras ask you to line up your shots using the rear LCD, sometimes (but rarely) with an additional electronic viewfinder for eye-level shooting. They have also shrunk the image sensor size compared with a traditional SLR, and use physically smaller lenses. The result: interchangeable-lens cameras that are more portable than SLRs, to the point where some can fit into a jacket pocket.
Smaller isn’t necessarily better, though, particularly when it comes to sensor size. Cram lots of megapixels into a smaller sensor and you get lower light sensitivity and more electrical interference, the end result being a notable increase in the grainy-looking flaw called image noise. That’s where Sony broke the mold. They took the mirrorless concept and upped the ante by fitting the same-size sensor you’ll find in a digital SLR into a body that’s even smaller than the shrunken-sensor Micro Four Thirds cameras.
The NEX-5 offers sophisticated manual controls, though getting at them is a bit of a chore. The burst-shooting speed hits over seven frames a second, an impressive performance. Not everything here is lightning-fast though. The original crop of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras delivered painfully slow autofocus. And while Sony offers a substantial improvement here, I’d still be reticent to recommend it for photographing sports or chasing fast-charging children.
The three-inch high-resolution LCD is a thing of beauty, and it can pivot up and down for shooting with the camera overhead or down below your waist. There’s no built-in flash, but Sony ships a small add-in version that clamps onto the top, so that’s a forgivable omission. What I still miss is an eye-level viewfinder, which is available as an accessory on some Micro Four Thirds cameras but entirely missing in action here.
Of course, I’m used to shooting with an SLR. Those upgrading from a point-and-shoot probably won’t miss a feature they never had, and the step up in image quality, flexibility and photo features is dramatic.
$699.99 with 18-55mm zoom lens, sonystyle.com
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
One of the hottest camera categories today is compact ultrazooms, delivering major telephoto power in very portable packages. One of my favorites is the Canon SX230 HS, a 12-megapixel model with a full 14x zoom lens that’s the equivalent of a 28–392mm lens on a 35mm camera. The 28mm means you have good wide-angle coverage for landscape shooting, while the 392mm telephoto side lets you fill the frame with a face from across the room. Stick a telephoto lens this powerful on a digital SLR and you’re in serious hernia jeopardy. Thanks to the smaller sensor size and clever lens design, the SX230 weighs just 7.87 ounces.
The camera works just fine if you point and shoot, but there are respectable manual controls as well, for those who want to tweak the shutter speed and aperture, white balance and so on. Video recordings at full 1080p come with stereo sound, and there’s a handy red button for instant access to movie shooting, even if the camera’s set for still photography.
In a significant upgrade from Canon’s previous SX210, the SX230 has a built-in GPS, recording location information as you shoot. You can later sort your images based on where they were taken, and see them overlaid on a map on your computer screen and on photo sharing sites (including Flickr and Picasa) that support “geotagging.”
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