Last year a new series of cameras has emerged that combines the size of point shoot cameras with the ability to change lenses like a traditional SLR (single lens reflex) camera.
Little has changed in camera design since the SLR camera was invented back in 1949. Last year Olympus and Panasonic teamed up to produce several cameras based on the same lens mount, called the Micro Four Thirds system.
I think maybe they could have come up with a better name for the system, but I guess it was the engineers turn to do the naming. Name aside, the system is interesting.
By removing the mirror in a traditional SLR camera, you can dramatically reduce the size of the camera but keep all the benefits of interchangeable lenses. It also has a much larger sensor then most point and shoot digital cameras, which gives you much better image quality and usability in lower light. You can also look directly through the lens via live view on the LCD screen, or through a viewfinder attachment that you can buy separately.
I thought I would see what all the buzz was about and I decided to test out a Panasonic Lumix GF1 kit with a 20mm f1.7 'pancake' lens (pancake because of its ultra thin design, and 1.7 means it has a large aperture to let in lots of light). Thanks to the folks at Henrys in Bayers Lake for letting me give it a test drive for a few days.
First off, I loved using this little camera. I hate carrying a backpack full of gear around all day, taking it on and off to root for a different lens or filter (although I do love the results from using them). I used to carry a little Rangefinder camera around back in the days of film, and this camera instantly reminded me of that. It is small enough to fit in coat pocket and doesn't scream “look at me” like most bigger SLR cameras, so it is a little easier to get candid photos, which I enjoy.
Secondly it is a fun little camera to use. The 20mm pancake lens that was attached provided a shallow depth of field that really made the pictures come alive. It was definitely a huge advantage over smaller point and shoot cameras where usually everything in your photo is in focus. In fact, this lens is fast becoming a cult favourite and currently has its own group on flickr.com with almost 6,000 images!
Personally I love using fixed (non-zoom) lenses like this one, because it forces you to actually move around instead of just standing in one spot and zooming in and out. Of course you can get zoom lenses if you prefer and between Olympus and Panasonic both producing lenses for this camera, there is quite a good selection already.
So should you run home and gather all your Canon and Nikon SLR cameras and put them on Kijiji? Not right away.
The camera I tried out costs more than most entry level digital SLR systems, although the smaller size is worth in my opinion. I like to travel light, and this fits the bill perfectly. It would also make a great second camera for the professional.
Most would be happy with a much cheaper advanced point and shoot camera, but if you really are getting into photography and want to the added features and quality, this might be a good system to choose.