Ever since Olympus popped the cork on its first Digital Pen, the market has been bubbling over with an impressively large selection of high quality, mirror-free digital cameras. Fueled by consumer demands for small cameras with big-camera features and functionality, we can now pick and choose among mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras in a choice of four unique sensor formats. In an interesting twist on tradition, some of the largest sensors can be found in some of the smallest camera bodies.
The less expensive mirrorless cameras employ LCDs as their sole means of composing and reviewing stills and video, though some offer the option of adding an accessory electronic viewfinder (EVF), to ease those moments when composing photographs at arm’s length under bright sunny skies makes you grumpy. Most of the pricier mirrorless cameras offer the choice of using the camera’s LCD or built-in EVF, which is the main reason they’re pricier in the first place. An additional advantage of mirrorless cameras is that they contain fewer moving parts, which translates into far lower levels of camera vibration, resulting in sharper stills and video and quieter operation.
Nikon 1 series cameras are not only the newest mirrorless cameras to come to market, but they introduced a new imaging format to the mix. Nikon’s new CX format CMOS sensor is, size-wise (13.2 x 8.8mm), somewhere between APS-C and Four Thirds format sensors and the much smaller imaging sensors found in traditional point-and-shoot digital cameras. (The crop factor for CX image files is 2.7x, compared to a full frame 24 x 36mm DSLR sensor.)
The Nikon 1 J1 features a 10.1MP CX-format CMOS sensor, which is powered by Nikon’s latest EXPEED 3 dual image processor. It features sturdy, all-metal construction, a 73-point hybrid AF system, an expanded ISO range of 100 to 6400, and can capture JPEG or RAW stills at up to 10 full-res frames per second. It also captures full HD 1080p video with stereo sound, as well as offering the ability to capture full-res stills at any time using a handy one-touch button. There’s also a Slow Motion Movie mode that can capture action at a choice of 400 or 1,200 frames per second. For composing and reviewing your efforts, the camera has a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot LCD.
The Nikon 1 J1 is available with a 10-30mm VR zoom lens (27-81mm equivalent), a two-lens kit containing a 10-30mm and a longer 30-110mm zoom lens (81-297mm equivalent), or a two-lens kit containing a 10-30mm zoom and a fixed 10mm f/2.8 wide-angle “pancake” lens (27mm equivalent). Each of these kits is available in a choice of white, red, pink, silver and black.
If you prefer the option of composing and reviewing stills and video through a viewfinder, the Nikon 1 V1 contains all of the performance attributes and features found on the Nikon 1 J1, but with the addition of a built-in 1,440,000-dot EVF for easier viewing and a higher-res 3.0-inch LCD, compared to the one on the less-pricey Nikon J1 (460,000 dots vs. the V1's 921,000 dots). The V1 also supports a variety of accessories via the accessory shoe, including optional GPS and TTL flash; has a longer-lasting battery; and features an electronically controlled focal-plane shutter for faster flash sync speeds.
Olympus was the first to come out with a mirrorless camera system and currently offers a full line of Micro Four Thirds format Digital Pens, the least expensive of which is the Olympus E-PM1. The Olympus E-PM1 features a 12.3MP Live MOS imaging sensor, which is driven by a TruePic VI image processor; a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot, rear-mounted LCD; it is coupled with an M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (28 to 84mm equivalent). An SD memory card slot expands the E-PM1’s capacity, and will accept an Eye-Fi card for wireless transfer of your images to email or computer.
Other features found on the E-PM1 include a choice of JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW still capture at up to 5.5 frames per second; 1080/60i video capture with stereo sound; ISO sensitivity levels from 200 up to an expanded 12800; in-camera image stabilization; a built-in Live Guide that “talks” you through any issues you might have using the camera; and 3D photo capture. The Olympus E-PM1 is available in a choice of black, pink, silver, brown, purple and white and is compatible with all Olympus Micro Four Thirds format optics and most Olympus Pen camera accessories.
Along with Olympus, Panasonic has been one of the prime movers and shakers in the world of Four Thirds imaging, and as such it has a total of four entry-level Lumix mirrorless cameras in this year’s mirrorless camera roundup.
Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GF3 has a Micro Four Thirds 12.1MP Live MOS imaging sensor and a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot touch screen LCD that serves as its sole means of composing and reviewing stills (JPEG & RAW) and video capture (1080/60i HD). The GF3’s touch-screen LCD also serves as the camera’s primary control panel—it’s designed for easy use by beginners and advanced enthusiasts alike. There’s also a control wheel that allows you to select shooting modes with the flip of your thumb.
For the simplest, carefree shooting, the Lumix GF3 offers an Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto Plus (iA & iA+) feature that allows you to simply point and shoot. The AF system on the GF3 is quick and near silent. There’s a 4x magnifier that appears on the LCD when manual focus is employed. In addition to normal 2D pictures, the Lumix GF3 can also capture 3D imagery. For low-light shooting, the ISO can be expanded upwards, to 6400.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is available as body only, with a 14mm f/2.8 pancake lens (28mm equivalent), or with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (28-84mm equivalent). It’s also available in a choice of black, white, black, brown, red and pink.
The Lumix DMC-GF3’s predecessor is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, which is still available in a choice of red or black and with a choice of a 14mm f/2.8 pancake lens (28mm equivalent) or with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (28-84mm equivalent).
The Lumix GF2 features a 12.1MP Micro Four Thirds format Live MOS touch screen imaging sensor; a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot LCD; JPEG and RAW stills capture; 1080/60i video capture; a top ISO of 6400; an easy iA Function control menu; and 3D imaging capability. The Panasonic Lumix GF2 is compatible with all Panasonic Micro Four Thirds optics and accepts 3D interchangeable lenses.
More DSLR-like is Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-G3, which in addition to a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot, free angle, touch-screen LCD, features an integrated electronic viewfinder for more traditional image viewing. (The LCD and EVF both display 100% of the total image area.) The Lumix DMC-G3 features a Micro Four Thirds format 16MP Live MOS imaging sensor, which captures JPEG or RAW stills and up to 120 minutes of 1080/60i full-HD video with stereo sound. If sports are part of your repertoire, the Lumix G3 can capture up to 20 frames per second.
Last up in the Panasonic entry-level mirrorless camera parade is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2, which is available as a body only, in black. The Lumix DMC-G2 features a 12.1MP Micro Four Thirds format Live MOS imaging sensor and a 3.0-inch 460,000-dot, free-angle touch screen LCD that features touch focus and exposure control. In addition to JPEG and RAW still capture, the Lumix G2 can also capture up to 100 minutes of 1080i HD video per clip. The top ISO sensitivity on the G2 is ISO 6400. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 is compatible with all Panasonic Micro Four Thirds optics, and Four Thirds optics can be used with an optional adapter.
The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is Sony’s entry-level NEX series mirrorless camera offering. Available in black, silver and pink, with a choice of an 18-55mm kit zoom or a 16mm f/2.8 pancake-style wide-angle (24mm equivalent), the Sony NEX-C3 contains a 16.2MP Exmor backlit APS HD format imaging sensor (APS-C size), which is physically the largest imaging sensor of all of the cameras described above. And interestingly enough, the NEX-C3 is about the same size or smaller than the other cameras in this roundup.
The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 captures JPEG or RAW as well as RAW + JPEG stills at continuous burst rates of up to 5.5 frames per second. It can also capture 720p HD video with stereo sound, and it has a 3.0-inch 921,600-dot LCD, which can be tilted for optimal viewing. Along with a top ISO of 12800, the NEX-C3 features a night-penetrating handheld Twilight mode. The Sony NEX-C3 is compatible with the full line-up of Sony E-mount optics, and with the Sony A-mount Lens adapter also accepts Sony A-mount optics. A number of third-party adapters are also available to facilitate using any number of other optics with Sony NEX cameras.
We hope this roundup has helped you narrow your choices. If you have any questions about entry-level mirrorless cameras, please post them in the Comments section below.
|Nikon 1 J1 Mirrorless Digital Camera||10.1 MP - CMOS Sensor||3" - 460,000 dots||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVC / H.264, MOV, AAC||Nikon 1 Mount||100 - 6400||White, Red, Black, Silver, Pink|
|Nikon 1 V1 Mirrorless Digital Camera||10.1 MP - CMOS Sensor||3" - 921,000 dots / EVF 100%||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVC / H.264, MOV, AAC||Nikon 1 Mount||100 - 6400||Black|
|Olympus E-PM1 Digital Camera||12.3 MP - CMOS Sensor||3" - 460,000 dots||JPEG, RAW, MJPEG, AVi||Micro Four Thirds||200 - 12800||Black, Pink, Silver, Brown, Purple, White|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Digital Camera||12.1 MP - MOS Sensor||3" - 460,000 dots||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVCHD||Micro Four Thirds||160 - 6400||White, Black, Brown, Red|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Digital Camera||12.1 MP - MOS Sensor||3" Touch-Screen - 460,000 dots||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVCHD||Micro Four Thirds||100 - 6400||Black, Red|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Digital Camera||16 MP - Cmos Sensor||3" Touch-Screen - 460,000 dots / EVF - 100%||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVCHD||Micro Four Thirds||160 - 6400||Black, White|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Digital Camera||12.1 MP - MOS Sensor||3" Touch-Screen - 460,000 dots / EVF - 100%||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVCHD||Micro Four Thirds||100 - 6400||Black|
|Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Digital Camera||16.2 MP - CMOS Sensor||3" Tilting LCD - 921,600 dots||JPEG, RAW, MPEG-4, AVC / H.264, AAC||Sony E Mount||200 - 12800||Black, Silver, Pink|