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New technology means great cameras in a small package
By Nick Burklow

Have you ever shown up to an event with your big, bulky, digital SLR camera around your neck and felt like some sort of creepy paparazzi trying to get shots for US Weekly?

Are you tired of people thinking you're a member of the press when you take that huge camera out to photograph flowers in the park? No? That never happens to you? Well, it happens to me. Oh wait, I am a member of the press. Anyway, my point is that there's a new standard in town, and its name is the Micro Four-Thirds System. It's here to rescue me and just make photography a bit easier on you.

What exactly is Micro Four-Thirds? If you really want the nitty-gritty, read the very good Wikipedia article on the subject. This new standard was developed by Olympus and Panasonic. The Micro Four-Thirds System allows for a mirrorless, interchangeable-lens digital camera. Because there is no mirror, the body of the camera can be much smaller. And the image quality is comparable to that of a digital SLR camera.

Olympus and Panasonic launched excellent first-generation cameras and have now come out with their sophomore efforts. Let's see how they compare.

Olympus E-P2Olympus was one of the first out of the gate with a Micro Four-Thirds camera. The E-P1 was met with rave reviews and is held in high regard by its owners. The slightly refined E-P2 has since been released and is viewed as the sister camera, rather than the successor to, the E-P1. 

The spec sheet for the E-P2 reads a lot like that of a D-SLR. At the heart is the 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor, and to view those images you get a live view capable 3-inch LCD boasting a somewhat meager 230k pixels. It has an ISO range from 100 to 6400. You can take three shots per second, as well as shoot video in auto or manual mode with continuous auto focus at a resolution of 720P. A hot shoe that allows for the attachment of the electronic viewfinder or a microphone is found on top, and on the side you'll find standard USB and HDMI ports. The battery will get you somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 photos per charge. RAW and jpeg formats are supported. Image stabilization is built into the body for sharp results no matter the lens. There is, however, no built-in flash, but one can be purchased as an add-on.

The E-P2 is a solid choice and can be found for $899 with a 14-42mm kit lens and electronic viewfinder.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2Because it was one of the creators of the Micro Four-Thirds standard, I would expect Panasonic to deliver the goods. They did just that with the Lumix DMC-GF1, and they seem to have done it again with the Lumix DMC-GF2. 

The GF2's build quality is superb and uses an aluminum body. It is one of the smallest, lightest Micro Four-Thirds systems on the market. With a 14mm pancake lens, it's mostly pocketable and is really no bigger than the likes of the Canon G12 or Nikon P7000 point-and-shoots.

The GF2 showcases a gorgeous 3-inch touch screen LCD with 460k pixels that will provide a nice, sharp preview of your work. The touch screen interface is quite intuitive, and even allows you to customize some of its functions.

Behind the lens, you find a standard 12.1 megapixel Live MOS sensor that uses Panasonic's supersonic wave filter system to keep it dust-free. The filter works by vibrating 50,000 times a second to clear dust from the imaging device. You get an ISO range from 100 to 6400. Battery life is down from its predecessor, thanks to a smaller overall battery. You can expect 300 shots, as opposed to 380 shots with the GF1.

The GF2 separates itself from the competition by including a built-in, pop-up flash. The movie mode is quite good as well, allowing you to record in AVCHD up to 1080i at 60 frames per second, or motion jpeg up to a resolution of 720p at 30 frames per second. The movie mode takes advantage of the dual microphones and records in stereo sound, but there is no external mic input. The GF2 will shoot up to 3.2 frames per second in burst mode, and record those images on a SD, SDHC or SDXC card.   

As with the Olympus, the GF2 has the option to add on an electronic viewfinder. And it can be purchased with either a 14-42mm lens or a 14mm pancake lens. However, the optical image stabilization is found in compatible lenses, rather than in the camera body. Panasonic omitted the remote socket found on the GF1 as well, which is a real bummer.  

The Lumix DMC-GF2 is my personal pick of the litter. The GF2 should hit stores early this year, and while there is no official North American price yet, expect to pay around $899 for body and lens.

NICK'S PICK: High-end camcorder
High-end consumer camcorders are evolving - thanks to Sony, that is. The new NEX-VG10E is capable of recording full HD footage thanks to its APS HD CMOS sensor.

When it comes to sensors, larger is better, and this one is 19.5 times bigger than a typical camcorder sensor. Not to mention the NEX-VG10E allows the user to change lenses. This is usually a feature reserved for professional models. Included is an image-stabilized E18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS lens, and the new E mount lenses from Sony's NEX camera line can be fitted. too. Alternatively, A mount lenses can be fitted with an adapter.

The 3-inch, flip-out LCD's pixel count hits an awesome 921,000, and its viewfinder comes in at 1.152,000, allowing you to see exactly what is going on in the frame. And if video isn't enough for you, the NEX-VG10E can grab 14.2 megapixel stills through the slick glass up front.

If Sony has struck a chord with you, you'd better be willing to part with $2,000 of your hard-earned cash to make this your very own. 


Story published Friday, January 7, 2011 ( Volume 5, Number 8 )

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