Please note: All cameras listed include at least one lens.
Sony Alpha NEX-5 14MP Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
Current Low Price: $472 with free shipping via Amazon
Best We've Seen: $399.99 with free shipping from Beach Camera via eBay last week (since expired)
One of Sony's first two MILCs (released alongside the less expensive NEX-3), this 14.2MP camera is both compact and sturdy. In addition to the standard manual and automatic exposure controls, the Sony NEX-5 offers a host of special features including Smile Shutter, which automatically triggers the shutter when your subject smiles (and can be set for slight, normal or big smiles). Sony's Sweep Panorama feature is also intuitive — hold down the shutter button and pan across a landscape while the camera automatically stitches the images together into a panoramic scene. Videographers will appreciate the Sony NEX-5's full 1080p HD video captures, and the camera's ability to shoot in both JPEG and RAW. Featuring a 3" LCD that can be tilted (though not as far as the Panasonic's G2) makes for easier photo capturing, but you'll have to shell out some extra dollars for a viewfinder. And while this camera comes with a tiny, detachable flash, there's only one accessory port, so you'll have to choose between setting up the flash or the viewfinder.
Pros: Compact, advanced and special features, full 1080p HD video, bundled flash
Cons: Viewfinder costs extra (about $200), menus are complicated
Samsung NX10 15MP Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
Current Low Price: $579.95 with free shipping via Amazon
Best We've Seen: $399 with free shipping from Adorama in April
Samsung announced its entry into the compact interchangeable lens camera market with the 14.6MP NX10. Styled like a digital SLR, the NX10 offers a full complement of automatic, manual, and semi-manual exposure controls, along with other features that are similar to those found on entry-level DSLRs and other compact system/ILC cameras. Unlike some of its competition, the NX10 is equipped with a built-in electronic viewfinder and an on-board flash. More importantly, perhaps, the NX10 (like the Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5) uses a larger sized sensor—like those used in DSLRs thereby offering better image quality and lower image noise. The NX10 also shoots in 720p HD video.
The NX10 is one of the larger cameras in this category and with the bulk of a long lens like the 50-200mm, you lose some of the benefits of a smaller camera body. The camera's 3" AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) LCD is quite nice and works very well under bright and low light conditions. Beware that under low light, the green AF illuminator is extremely bright (and may spook party guests when you're shooting) but is necessary for a good autofocus.
Pros: Most similar to a DSLR in look and feel, large APS-C sized sensor, good AF speed
Cons: larger than most cameras in its category, long lens, bright AF illuminator
Olympus PEN E-P2 12MP Digital Micro Four Thirds Camera
Current Low Price: $469 with free shipping from Cameta Camera via eBay
Best We've Seen: $469 with free shipping from Cameta Camera via eBay
A recent, but aggressive entry into the CLIC market, the Olympus 12.3MP E-P2 is Olympus' first foray into the category. Styled after one of the company's retro film "PEN" cameras, the E-P2's design is classic. While there's no built-in viewfinder or flash, the accessory port accepts an optional electronic viewfinder, flash, or stereo microphone. In addition to the standard manual, semi-manual, and automatic modes, the Olympus E-P2 offers 720p HD video (with manual exposure controls) and an assortment of built-in filters. The E-P2 doesn't have as fast an autofocus as newer models, but does boast continuous AF tracking system, which suffices.
Pros: Classic design, creative art filters, external stereo microphone jack, manual exposure controls in video
Cons: no built-in flash or EVF, autofocus slower than newer models
Olympus PEN E-PL1 12MP Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
Current Low Price: $299.99 with in-store pickup only from MicroCenter
Best We've Seen: $299.99 with in-store pickup only from MicroCenter
Olympus' third, and most affordable, interchangeable lens camera, the 12.3MP E-PL1 is a slightly smaller, boxier, and more consumer-oriented version of its older sibling, the aforementioned E-P2. The Olympus E-PL1 retains almost all of the E-P2's attributes including automatic, manual, and semi-manual exposure settings, a versatile feature set, creative art filters, multiple exposure capabilities, and 720p HD video. In some ways, the E-PL1 improves upon Olympus' first two Micro Four Thirds models by including an on-board flash and wireless flash control. This model also has a dedicated movie button for easy, one-touch video recording, eliminating the need to change the mode dial when switching between video and still capture.
The E-PL1 doesn't have the same solid metal build as the E-P2 nor the convenience of as many external controls, and its LCD is smaller at 2.7-inches. However, this model is smaller, easier to use with its Live Guide help menu and shooting tip suggestions.
Pros: User-friendly interface, ample features, excellent on-board help and shooting tips
Cons: Less sturdy than the Olympus E-P2, small 2.7" LCD screen
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G2 12MP Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera
Current Lowest Price: $629 with free shipping via Amazon
Best We've Seen: $419.99 with free shipping from newegg in April
The 12.-megapixel Panasonic DMC-G2K is one of the larger MILCs with its DSLR-like design, and that's good news for photographers with larger hands, since it may be easier to handle than some of the smaller models. In addition to a full range of manual and automatic settings, the Panasonic G2K offers a touchscreen LCD and standard button and dial controls. Better yet, the 3" screen can be angled for easier overhead or low-to-the-ground shooting, and can fold back into the body of the camera, providing extra protection from scratches when the camera is not in use. The Panasonic G2K also comes with a built-in electronic viewfinder, for more precise pictures when shooting in low light or capturing 720p HD video clips. This MILC delivers good still image and video quality, so if you're interested in digital filmmaking, this is a great option.
Pros: DSLR features, built-in EVF, articulated LCD touchscreen, built-in flash
Cons: Size; it's almost as large as some entry-level DSLRs
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