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Try mirrorless interchangeable lens camera

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Q. I want to buy a travel camera with interchangeable lenses, which I guess means an SLR. What do you recommend?

J.B., Milwaukee

A. For travel, I’d recommend a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. You can fit an extremely capable outfit and an iPad in a small, light shoulder bag, which is how I travel now. Mirrorless camera bodies and lenses are much lighter and more compact than their SLR equivalents, while producing equal or better picture quality. Mirrorless also works better for recording video.

Besides their superiority for travel, I find them to be a superior choice for most other consumer use. In Japan, mirrorless cameras already make up about half of interchangeable lens camera sales and are likely to outstrip SLRs in the not-too-distant future. Here in the U.S., SLRs are dominant. I think a lot of this has to do with consumer education and retailers stocking up on SLRs and telling their staff to push them.

Almost all major brands offer mirrorless cameras. About a year ago, I indicated my preference for the Micro Four-Thirds system developed by Olympus and Panasonic. The past year has solidified my preference as the cameras have gotten better and the lens lineup has expanded with more great choices from both manufacturers. Though the Micro Four-Thirds sensor is slightly smaller than most SLR sensors, the latest Micro Four-Thirds sensors have achieved image quality parity with their SLR competitors, making an SLR an even harder argument now.

I prefer the Olympus cameras for their built-in image stabilization and their ability to produce sharp, bright, colorful pictures that look perfect straight from the camera. As of my deadline for submitting this column, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was in the lead on dpreview.com for reader choice of best camera of 2012. After using it extensively, I can report it is hands-down the most enjoyable photographic tool I’ve ever used. The OM-D E-M5 kit sells for $1,099, which is a bargain for what it offers but still a bit much for many consumers. You can get the same image quality and most of the capability with the new $599 E-PL5 and $499 E-PM2. These new models share the sensor and imaging technology of the OM-D EM-5 in a smaller, more affordable package.

Another reason I am in love with Micro Four-Thirds: the lenses. Olympus and Panasonic have come up with a dream lineup of impressive optics. Besides the high quality, affordable zooms lenses, there are many fixed focal length lenses available. Fixed lenses are preferred by serious photographers for their sharpness and low-light ability. I tested the Olympus 75mm/1.8 lens on the OM-D and it’s the best portrait lens I’ve ever used.

Contact Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com and use the “submit question” link on that site.

2013 McClatchy-Tribune News Service