Compact System Cameras, Mirrorless DSLR, Next Generation Cameras – Pick a Name these cameras are making their mark

Although I love my Canon S90 point and shoot, I decided to purchase a mirrorless DSLR. This small size camera with its larger sensor will give me better quality images than my point and shoot. I did my research and narrowed my choice down to the 14 megapixel Sony NEX-5 or the 12 megapixel Panasonic Lumix GF-1. Both are very good cameras and both come with pros and cons.

Sony NEX-5

The Sony NEX-5 does better at higher ISO’s, does sweep panoramas, has a tilt out LCD screen and has as internal stabilization that works for all lenses. I plan on using a pancake lens with my system to keep the package small. Sony has a 16mm lens that’s equivalent to a 24mm on a full frame camera. It’s a good lens but it may be too wide for my everyday use. For me, the down side of the Sony is that it doesn’t have a hot shoe or a built in flash. I like having a hot shoe because I can slide an optical viewfinder on the camera. The optical finder helps me to compose in bright sunlight when the LCD screen is difficult to read. The finder also is a plus when shooting at slower shutter speeds. It allows me to press the camera against my face for added stability. Although the Sony has no built in flash, there is a small add on unit, but it is a bit awkward and changes the camera’s profile.

Panasonic Lumix GF-1

The Panasonic GF-1 does have a small built in flash and a hot shoe. However the sensor is a little smaller than the Sony and the image quality at higher ISOs isn’t as good. The GF-1 is larger than the Sony but it fits my hands better. I like the physical exposure mode dial and the drive selection lever on the GF-1 in contrast to the Sony’s exposure and drive functions, which are buried in a menu on the LCD screen and are not as user friendly. As far as pancake lenses go, the GF-1 comes with a 20mm lens that is the equivalent of a 40mm on a full frame camera. This lens is too long for me and I would prefer something wider. That problem has been addressed by Panasonic with the addition of a14mm lens, equivalent to a 28mm on a full frame. This focal length works well for my purposes.

Yesterday, still undecided on which camera to buy I stopped at Fotocare my camera store in New York. I had the opportunity to play around with the new Panasonic Lumix GF-2, which will be available next month. What I had read about this camera didn’t impress me: the physical exposure mode dial and the drive selection lever had been eliminated and installed into the touch screen menu in order to make the camera smaller and more competitive with the Sony. I thought these changes would be a deal breaker and would force me to look around for the soon to be discontinued GF-1 if I decided to go the Panasonic Lumix route. I was pleasantly surprised, however when I found that these functions were extremely easy to access and would not be an issue. The newer Lumix GF-2 also has the ability to shoot almost 3 frames per second, a rate fast enough to capture changes in people’s expressions. It also has a new processor which I hope will make better images at the higher ISOs. For video users, the camera shoots 1080 hi definition video a feature the Sony also has.

There are some other good, small pocket sized mirrorless DSLR cameras on the market; the Olympus Pen EP-2, or the Samsung NX10 are two of the more popular ones. And all these cameras have a lot more features than I mentioned. My choice is based on how and what I shoot. You can find more detailed reviews and information on the web, a good starting point is the bythom website. As of this posting, however the GF-2 looks like the camera that will work for me. I hope to have one in my hands in the next few weeks to use in a real world test. I will post the results on the blog.

The way the digital camera market is changing, Sony may come out with a new camera by the time I return from my current trip to Abu Dhabi. Nikon plans to enter the marketplace in the near future and I’m sure Canon won’t be far behind. One thing is certain -though you can’t keep a head of technology, you still can keep taking pictures with the equipment you have.

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13 thoughts on “Compact System Cameras, Mirrorless DSLR, Next Generation Cameras – Pick a Name these cameras are making their mark

    • Yes, the M mount leica lenses that everyone has laying around from their film cameras will work on the Panasonic 4 thirds cameras. Obviously you won’t have auto focus or auto exposure, but you’ll have some fine glass.

  1. Ira,

    just be aware that the GF2 doesn’t feature the flash exposure compensation the GF1 had and there’s also no longer second curtain sync. That WAS a dealbreaker for me. Otherwise the GF2 really is a great little camera (both it and the GF1 top the Sony in my opinion, as the latter doesn’t have an EVF, flash or a standard hotshoe and I’m not too keen on proprietary connectors; no wireless flash with pocket wizards)…

    Regards,
    Alex H.

    • I believe you can also mount some leica R lenses on the 4/3 cameras. How about putting the 100mm Leica macro on- you then get a killer 200mm macro which you can focus through the live view. Hmm, may be a little overkill though.

  2. Alex – i knew they pulled some of the flash features which is too bad. The decision on which camera to buy is based on the individual photographer’s needs and style of shooting. In the end it’s always a compromise, even with the professional DSLR cameras; a new models come out and something you really liked is gone. There is no perfect camera, you just have to find that works for you, or if you win the lottery, design your own and have it custom built!

    • Just wanted to make sure you’re aware of it when choosing between the two… Such things get easily overlooked, particularly when the model that came before it did have the features (I do use flash sometimes).

      I for one am happy with the GF1 + 20mm. Does what it’s supposed to do, just like the M9 and the D300. None of them is perfect, no camera ever will be. But that’s true for me as well. And the camera is secondary anyway…

  3. Thanks for sharing all this information. I’ve worked with the Olympus EP-2, and recently swapped it out for the Sony Nex-5. Used both bodies with the Summilux 35mm + M-mount adapter. While I lament the loss of a viewfinder attachment, I am blown away by the results from the Nex-5’s larger sensor. Sony’s 16mm pancake lens pales in comparison to the Summilux (of course!) but it makes for a very compact back-up or pocket unit.

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