Sound Advice: Compact cameras big on quality

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2011 - 2:33 PM

Answers to your multimedia questions.

Q A Bloomberg article recently stated that digital SLRs are losing market share to compact system cameras. Do you think the SLR will go the way of Kodachrome (extinct) eventually?

A I am confident the SLR is here to stay, though compact interchangeable-lens cameras are the fastest growing segment of the market.

These cameras offer the image quality and much of the flexibility of a digital SLR, but in a noticeably smaller, lighter package that is fun to use. I've stated my preference for the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four-Thirds system over the Sony NEX system. Both systems have since been expanded, but the developments in Micro Four-Thirds are far more extensive and impressive.

Three new Olympus cameras offer extremely fast focusing and 1080i AVCHD video. Notable is the Olympus E-PM1, which (without lens) is about the size of a pocket-sized point and shoot. It will sell for $499 with kit zoom lens. Panasonic's Lumix G3 sells for $699 with lens and has an integrated electronic viewfinder. Think of it as a mini SLR.

The selection of lenses is large and growing rapidly. Since Panasonic lenses work on Olympus camera bodies and vice versa, you can mix and match. Olympus recently introduced a 12mm/f2 wide angle and a 45/f1.8 short telephoto. Combine these with a Panasonic 20mm/f1.7 or 25mm/f1.4 lens and you have the latter-day equivalent of a classic three-lens Leica outfit.

Panasonic's new premium series of "X" lenses promise top-tier optical quality and have power zooming for smooth video recording. I found the new Panasonic X 14-42 mm especially enticing. This tiny zoom lens is a "pancake" design that barely sticks out from the camera body. Mount it on the Olympus E-PM1 and you have a pocket camera with the performance and image quality of a top-grade digital SLR.

If you'd like to try a Micro Four-Thirds camera on the cheap, search for a refurbished Olympus E-PL1 on eBay, bhphotovideo.com or Amazon. Refurbished E-PL1 outfits with 14-42mm zoom lens sell for $299. That's a lot of camera for the money.

If you want really small, Pentax recently entered the marketplace with the Pentax Q and its five matching lenses. The Pentax Q uses a compact camera sensor and is so tiny it can fit on a keychain. A bigger sensor is one of the main attractions of interchangeable-lens cameras and many have questioned Pentax's decision to use such a small sensor. While I have not tested a Q, I have seen images and comments posted by new owners. The results are impressive, and owners seem to love their new cameras. The Pentax Q is a premium-quality product and at $800 it's a bit pricey, but as less expensive Q models are introduced I can see it becoming quite successful.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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