Fujifilm Finepix X100
You might be forgiven for thinking that Fujifilm took one look at the Leica X1 and thought it could go one better. Here we have a 12.3Mp APS-C shooter with a fixed 23mm f2 lens – equivalent to a 35mm wide-angle on a 35mm camera. Not much of a difference between the two there, although the Finepix X100 goes for truly retro styling with its built-in hybrid optical viewfinder, but in many respects the layout is similar too. However, its 2.8in screen has 460k-dots which is an obvious improvement but not in the same league as the latest DSLR panels that have double that count and then some.
The image quality is excellent and there are even film emulations on-board of Fujifilm classic emulsions to add to that retro touch. Kitted out with full manual controls, the Finepix X100 is very much the antedote to point and shoot, as this easy access to customisation urges the user to consider more creative options. There are auto modes if you need them, but those tempted by this breed of compact are likely to be too busy twirling the dials to notice. Incidentally, if the recent arrival of the Finepix X10 has caught your eye, bear in mind that this 4x zoom model has a much smaller 2/3in sensor.
More Info Fujifilm
Olympus PEN E-PM1
If you’re keen on the idea of a compact system camera but want to build the system slowly, then the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 won’t disappoint. It shares the same lens mount as Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds models, but cheaper than its Lumix DMC-GF3 rival. Admittedly, the 12.3Mp MFT sensor on both these models has been eclipsed by the 16Mp offerings on more expensive siblings, but the PEN Mini PM1 images are respectable and noise only really becomes noticeable at the higher end of the ISO range.
Being an entry-level model, the dedicated controls are minimal with a menu driven approach delivering the majority of tweakable functions. It can be a fiddle but no more than others in this space and its 3in 460k-dot screen has ample space to aid navigation. And it’s worth nosing around these menus too, as the small but well chosen offering of art effects are very striking and worth experimenting with. There’s a clip-on flash provided plus support for external guns and all the optional accessories too.
Price £450 (14-42mm lens kit), £570 (14-42mm and 40-150mm lens kit)
More Info Olympus
At £500 with a 18-55mm standard zoom lens, this 16Mp APS-C shooter is hard to beat. However, Sony has chosen to cut corners with its entry level model, limiting the NEX-C3 to its own F20S clip-on flash, which, unfortunately, isn’t the brightest. Unlike the PEN Mini PM1, there’s no conventional hotshoe/sync option for alternative guns which might stymie more ambitious users and it only shoots HD video at 720p. OK, so that’s the bad news out of the way, the rest is pretty rosy, especially the articulating 922k-dot 3in LCD which is crisp and bright providing a reassuring view of what you’re shooting. As with all NEX models, it takes on Sony’s new E-mount lenses but with an adapter for Alpha A-mount and Minolta lenses can be fitted too.
While the autofocus isn’t as surefooted as some other compacts here, when it comes to image quality, this new NEX baby doesn’t disappoint and you can dig into the menus for manual control or opt for some picture effects, if the fancy takes you. Overall, the Sony NEX-C3 is tempting for the price but you’ll need to decide what’s more important – can you live without external flash choices and full HD video or does the big sensor and flip hi-res screen win the day? ®
Price £499 (18-55mm lens kit), £589 (16mm pancake and 18-55mm lens kit)
More Info Sony
2011's Best... compact cameras
Compact system cameras
This article isn't about compact cameras at all, despite what the title would have you believe. Rather it's a round-up of "compact system cameras", or mirrorless cameras.
Over a grand for a compact?
Seriously, get a grip.
Panaleicas are a waste of time
Just get the Panasonic original and save a shedload of cash
Screen vs. viewfinder
For what it's worth, I can't bear framing using the screen on the back. Much easier to hold steady when pressed to your face. The other difference is that there is less to distract you from framing because all you can see is what the camera sees as opposed to all the distracting stuff outsideof the frame. In that sense I think it is easier to concentrate. If you are trying to get a moving subject then I suppose that context can be useful, but it is possible to open your other eye and use that....
Only trouble with my SLR (Canon 5d - £650 off eBay) is that it's big and obtrusive. It takes the knocks well though., as well as it's awesome full frame loveliness :)
You're not wrong, it's generally accepted that holding the camera to your face provides a much more stable posture for shooting. That's probably the main reason professional photographers cite for preferring a DSLR to these types of camera.
Sony's new NEX-7 features a rather nifty integrated electronic viewfinder, but unfortunately this camera isn't cheap. Some of the other cameras feature optional EVFs that you can attach, but the quality of these is variable, and obviously it cuts down the portability factor to attach an accessory like this to the body.
I hope that more mirrorless cameras with an integrated EVF appear in the future, but I worry this may not be the case. It all depends which market product the manufacturers are aiming for. Users upgrading from a compact camera are unlikely to care about having a viewfinder, whereas for people looking for a more compact alternative to their DSLR, the EVF is a killer feature.