February 24, 2021

State of the Art: Tiny Camera Performs Like a Pro

They’re something like S.L.R.’s (single-lens reflex) cameras, because they have huge sensors and interchangeable lenses. But they’re much smaller, like compact cameras.

Shall we call them I.L.C.’s (interchangeable-lens compacts)? MILC’s (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras)? C.S.C.’s (compact system camera)? E.V.F. cameras (electronic viewfinder, because there’s no glass eyepiece to peer through)? EVIL cameras (electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens)?

Anyway, two new ones, from Sony and Olympus, set new records for speed and photo quality.

The big news about Olympus’s new flagship I.L.C., the PEN EP-3 ($900 with 3X zoom lens) is its speed, especially in focusing. In fact, Olympus’s testing shows that it focuses faster than real S.L.R.’s like the Canon Rebel and the Nikon D3100.

Now, if you’re a photography insider, you probably just splurted your soda. Because you know a major difference between these micro-S.L.R. cameras and real ones: micro-S.L.R.’s use the same slow focusing system as pocket cameras (the ones that miss so many split-second opportunities). So saying that the EP-3 focuses faster than professional cameras would be like saying that Ford’s newest pickup truck gets better mileage than the Toyota Prius.

You can turn this camera on, focus and snap in under a second. The blackout time between photos has been cut in half. And when capturing its gorgeous hi-def 1080p video, the camera refocuses smoothly, quickly and silently as you zoom and pan, exactly like a camcorder. That’s extremely rare in still cameras.

What else do you get for that steep $900? Now there’s a built-in flash, which many of these micro-minis lack. There’s an autofocus lamp, which beams out enough light for the camera to use for focusing in dim situations. And there’s a brilliant OLED touch screen. It lets you do things like double-tapping to zoom in during photo playback, tap to show where you want to focus, and even tap to fire the shutter.

The body is made of solid metal. At 1.4 x 4.8 x 2.7 inches, we’re talking coat pocket, not pants pocket. The finger grip on the front is removable, though, when every ounce counts. If you find the touch screen too fussy, and you might, at least the physical controls are excellent — they include a mode dial on top, a scroll cylinder on back, a five-way controller just beneath it and a dedicated video start/stop button. You can customize just about everything.

The EP-3 is a Micro Four Thirds camera. That’s a format jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus expressly for the purpose of downsizing those big, bulky S.LR.’s, using a bunch of technological tricks.

The beauty of these camera models is that there’s a nice range of lenses in every category. The downside, though, is that they use a smaller sensor size than real S.L.R’.s. Micro Four Thirds cameras do beautifully in bright light, but in low light, they pretty much just go sulk in the corner.

I took the PEN-3 to a high-end fashion show. It was a dark room, but the runway was brightly lighted — and the PEN-3 broke my heart. One photo after another was motion-blurry (the camera was still, but the shutter had to stay open too long to soak in enough light). Or, when I bolstered the ISO (light sensitivity), they were grainy. You can see the sad, sad samples that accompany this article at nytimes.com/personaltech.

Sony’s NEX-C3 is a different story ($650 with 3X zoom lens). It’s an updated, improved, even smaller version of Sony’s existing NEX cameras, which the company says are the smallest, lightest, big-sensor I.L.C.’s in the world. This time, this strange-looking nanocam measures only 1.3 x 4.3 x 2.4 inches —without the lens, it’s no bigger than a $200 pocket camera. The lenses are actually taller than the body, making the whole thing look odd. But trust me: you won’t care.

This camera takes unbelievably good photos and 720p high-def videos, every time: crisp, vivid, glorious. That, no doubt, is because the lenses are excellent and because the sensor inside is huge. It’s APS-C sized, the same as what you’ll find in most S.L.R.’s. It’s much bigger than the Micro Four Thirds sensors, so it does fantastically in low light. (That’s lucky, because Sony’s flash is a separate piece that you have to snap on top when you need it. At least it comes with the camera.)

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a4e6af080a8a58e22ada3bab28392372

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