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Cameras With Small Bodies And Big Brains

Coming this summer, cameras from Sony and Panasonic offer something like the D-SLR experience for well below D-SLR prices.
June 23, 2011

Let’s say you’re a serious amateur photographer, or maybe an amateur serious photographer. At any rate, you’re somewhere in the middle. You’re not about to land any National Geographic assignments anytime soon, and so you don’t feel the need to carry around a heavy (and pricey) D-SLR. But at the same time, you know enough about photography, and are passionate enough about it, to covet the ability to use multiple lenses. One of two new cameras might be just the thing for you.

In the past two weeks, both Sony and Panasonic have announced new cameras for in-betweeners like yourself: cameras with large image sensors and interchangeable lens capability, all packed into a small, even pocket-friendly, body.

Sony’s offering is the NEX-C3. Its body weighs a negligible eight ounces, but it still packs a solid battery life–400 shots per charge. It has an APS-C sensor with 16.2 megapixels, and it can shoot 720p HD video. The camera will be out in August, priced at $650 with a kit lens (or $600 if a 16 mm lens is good enough for you). Sony also announced a new lens that could be used with the NEX-C3, the SEL30M35, a 30mm f/3.5 macro lens for extreme close-ups. That lens should run about $250.

Just this week, Panasonic stepped forward with a competitor to Sony. The Lumix DMC-GF3 is even smaller than the NEX, with a 7.8-ounce body. (When PC Mag’s David Pierce tried one out, he said “it felt just like a pocket camera” in his hand). Even with such a slim body, it still packs a 12.1-megapixel sensor, and as a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GF3 will be compatible with that series of Panasonic lenses. The GF3 is out in July at $700 with a 14 mm pancake lens, and again in August at $600 with a 14-42 mm kit lens. (Kit lenses, typically of lower quality, are viewed as starter lenses.)

What are the main perks of each camera? Sony’s camera has a bigger sensor, while Panasonic’s falls just shy of a D-SLR-style sensor. (Panasonic, though, claims the camera’s upgraded processor will make the difference negligible.) The Sony camera does have fewer lenses to choose from, whereas Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds series is extensive. But with the two priced just about equally and offering more or less the same value, many serious amateurs out there may simply choose which svelte-but-powerful camera to buy out of sheer brand loyalty.

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