All About Compact System Cameras (Part 2) - Sony NEX-F3, Samsung NX-200, Olympus OM-D E-M5

11/13/2012 9:48:27 AM

Ratings: 4/5

Price: $699 (SEL 1855 lens); $999 (SEL 1855 & SEL 55210 lenses)

Description: Sony NEX-F3

Sony has targeted the user without experience

Sony has mastered the art of ‘compact’ in a compact system camera. The NEX-F3 body is positively tiny when compared to some of the other cameras on test.

The compact design doesn’t come at the expense of image quality, though. Sony has packed a whopping great 16.1 megapixel APS-C sensor inside the F3, which means pretty impressive colour reproduction and image clarity. Dynamic range does struggle a bit in auto modes, though with bright sections of the shots tending to almost always blow out.

The 3in LCD is amazingly clear and vibrant and conveniently flips up 180 degrees for self-portraits, which isn’t something many CSC or DSLR cameras will let you do comfortably.

The trouble with the Sony is the menu system. If you look at the back of the NEX camera, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its simplicity – there are very few buttons and an almost complete lack of dials. But that means that almost everything is buried within the menu system, including choosing which shooting mode you wish to use.

This is far from a deal breaker and instead indicates that the best audience for the F3 is novice users. While the Olympus and Panasonic cater to a more experienced photographer, Sony has targeted the user without experience. Even the way the camera adjusts things like aperture is by demonstrating the effect through images rather than confusing f-stop numbers.

That approach is reinforced by the fact that every change in setting has an explanation bubble pop up, as well as by fun features like sweep panorama and Toy Mode. Sony’s filters are impressive with something a bit more artistic than they might normally try.

Buying advice. This is not really a camera for a keen photographer who already knows their way around complex settings. But for compact users looking to step up, the NEX-F3 is hard to beat.

Samsung NX-200

Ratings: 3.5/5

Price: 4799 (18-55mm lens)

Description: Samsung NX-200

Samsung NX-200

Samsung’s engineers really are a clever bunch of people. Realizing that photographers almost always hold the lens of a CSC or DSLR camera to balance the weight, they introduced a simple control mechanism on the lens to make quick adjustments to settings.

The i-Function lenses are really a standout feature for the NX-200. While the compact body lacks many of the features and dials of a full DSLR, by adding the ability to adjust practically anything, including shutter speed and aperture, on the lens Samsung has managed to counter the need to hide the camera’s functions deep within menus.

It’s also one of the camera’s biggest weaknesses, as the selection of lenses on offer with i-Function compatibility is severely limited.

The 3in AMOLED viewer is stunning, able to show your shot even in the brightest sunlight. It’s fixed in place, though, so there’s no easy viewing from difficult angles.

Unlike many of the other cameras tested, the NX-200 doesn’t have its own dedicated video button; instead this is selected on the mode dial. The Full HD video recording through the 20.3-megapixel sensor is fantastic at 30 frames per second.

The camera lacks an in-built flash, instead requiring use of the hotshot on the top of the camera. While that’s not an issue in itself, you can’t use a flash and a viewfinder at the same time.

Despite being able to crank up to 12800, it’s really too noisy to be functional. Which is disappointing given the camera’s image stabilization is done in the lens and not every lens offers stabilization.

Buying advice. Impressive from a technical standpoint and image quality is fantastic. But the limited selection of i-Function lenses hold it back.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Ratings: 4.5/5

Price: $1199 (body only)

`Description: Olympus OM-D E-M5

The OM-D makes framing your shot almost too easy

Olympus helped create the CSC category when it partnered with Panasonic to come up with the Micro Four-Thirds standard back in 2008. Its latest offering is by far its best, combining state-of-the-art technology and some classic retro design.

With a stunning foldout 3in touchscreen LCD that lets you choose the precise point of focus for your photos, as well as a crystal-clear electronic viewfinder, the OM-D makes framing your shot almost too easy.

Although the wide collection of buttons and dials may be a little daunting for the novice photographer, the ability to view each setting change on the camera’s screen will help overcome any unfamiliarity with the manual setting mode.

The inclusion of multiple dials for controlling different settings when shooting manual will be welcome for any photographer who understands how to get the most out of their camera.

Olympus has given the OM-D a five-axis image stabilization, which is easily the best of any camera tested. The extra stabilization allows photographers to use longer shutter speeds without the need of a tripod, which helps make handheld night shooting a much less blurry proposition.

Special art filters offer an artistic quality to photos although, as most professional photographers know, it’s better to shoot in RAW and add effects later. Fortunately, bundled software lets you do just this, although it doesn’t work if you shoot exclusively in JPEG.

The biggest frustration with the OM-D isn’t so much the large number of buttons on the camera, but the fact that some of them are tiny and awkward to press. Most notable of these is the playback button, which is a tiny, slightly spongy button on the back, which feels a bit awkward to press.

Macworld’ Australia’s buying advice. A superb camera that’s supported by a wide range of lenses and accessories, the OM-D is the perfect CSC for DSLR users looking for a lightweight companion camera.

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