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Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera

Updated on August 19, 2014

Is a Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera Right for You?

If you are looking for a camera that offers higher quality images and the ability to accept a variety of lenses in a package that is smaller and less complex than a DSLR, then a compact interchangeable lens camera might be just what you need.

While these device can fit in a large pocket, they are heftier than most point and shoot models. But, they do offer features that many people want. On this page you can learn a bit more about them and see some of the models that consumers and reviewers like the best.

Photo by LoneWalkerNYC

The Advantages and Disadvantages

Compact interchangeable lens camera models are ideal for avid amateur photographers, for families who want higher quality images, and even for professionals who want something more portable to take along occasionally.

These cameras are a step up from a compact point and shoot model with a much larger sensor and the ability to accept compatible lenses with their interchangeable lens mount. However, they are significantly smaller and more portable than a DSLR model (digital single lens reflex camera). They achieve this smaller size by eliminating the mirror and light box. Thus, they are sometimes referred to as mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

The advantages for an amateur are the increased sensor size and image quality, as well as the flexibility of using additional lenses. For professionals or those who use a DSLR model, these devices offer smaller size for those times when carrying the larger camera is problematic.

There are of course a few disadvantages. As compared to point and shoot cameras, the cost of these devices is relatively high. Most of these models are priced at the highest end of that range. In addition, if users want to take full advantage of the lens options, there will also be a need to purchase the lenses as well. For someone who is more accustomed to carrying a point and shoot model, it's important to realize these cameras will be larger. They may fit in your coat pocket, but not your shirt pocket. Certainly, if a large lens is attached they become even more bulky.

Unfortunately, not all lenses can be used without an adapter. Each model has specific lenses that are compatible. Generally speaking, the lenses that can be used without an adapter are the newer, smaller, lighter lenses, which also help minimize the size.

For photographers who want an optical viewfinder, they will find that these cameras generally don't have one, they use electronic viewfinders. This can make framing the photo a bit more difficult due to parallax error, but for most point and shoot users, this is a familiar issue.

Despite these potential short-comings, these cameras can still be an excellent choice for many consumers.

Terms to Know

When shopping for a compact interchangeable lens camera you will run across a variety of terms. First, you may see these devices with a number of labels. MILC is mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and EVIL is electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lenses or they may simply be referred to as a mirrorless system.

Micro Four Thirds is another term you may come across. These cameras are just one variation which was developed by Panasonic and Olympus. Four thirds is the system used by their DSLR cameras, and micro four thirds are for these smaller, mirrorless cameras.

A Few Buying Tips

If you decide the size and cost of these compact interchangeable lens camera models are right for you, then there are a number of things to think about before choosing the right one. While this is not a comprehensive buying guide it should provide some useful tips.

1. Speed and Image Quality

If you want better shots, then a fast camera can be important. Quick focusing is especially critical if you don't want blurring or to miss important shots. You can also look at how many frames per second the camera can capture in a continuous shooting mode. Tracking auto focus can also help assure focus can be maintained on a subject as they move about.

Point and shoot users in general should see significant improvement in resolution, detail, color accuracy, and so forth with these larger sensors, but comparing is best done hands on. Higher ISO settings are one of a few factors that can help get better performance in low light and action shots. You can compare among the various models although the specifications you see on paper aren't the only thing that matters. Reviews from unbiased sources like Consumer Reports can help and certainly finding test samples online can be useful too.

2. Lenses

If you are buying one of these devices, you are probably interested in using a variety of lenses. Perhaps a telephoto lens, zoom, a macro lens, wide-angle, and so on. The lenses for these devices sometimes roll out after the camera is introduced, however, you will want to know what is available to use to assure you can capture the kind of photos you want. This is also an important consideration related to overall cost. For beginners, it is good to review a few lens basics, which you can find here and on other sites online.

3. Controls

A compact interchangeable lens camera should offer more controls than the average point and shoot. However, since many people buying them may be coming from this background, having some simple autiomatic shooting modes can be important. On-screen help is also useful. Many users prefer a control ring to adjust focus, zoom, and so forth. Certainly well placed controls are also important as is an easy to grip design.

Touch screens are available for those who prefer this but in most instances, manual controls on the body can be used instead if desired.

For experienced users, manual controls for aperture, shutter speed, white balance, multi-segement metering, focus, and so forth are critical.

4. Attachments and Connections

Being able to attach an external microphone, a flash, and so forth may be desirable for some users. HDMI connections allow you to connect to your HDTV.

5. Other Features

Some of these devices offer 3D capture, sweep panorma, HD video, creative filters, and so forth.

Buy a Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 16 MP Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera Kit with 18-55mm Zoom Lens (Black)
Sony Alpha NEX-C3 16 MP Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera Kit with 18-55mm Zoom Lens (Black)

The NEX-C3 is another of the best in this digital camera class. It offers a 16.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor,18-55mm zoom lens, and a tilting 3" high resolution LCD screen. This device comes with a detachable flash and dual media card slot.

This camera allows users to record 720/30p HD video or 480/30p SD video in MP4 format. For simplicity, it has an intelligent auto mode with scene recognition, face detection, smile detection, and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization as well as a manual mode and more. Users get 8 scene modes, 6 creative style settings, 11 pictures effects, and on screen help to get just the right look. This device can capture up to 5.5fps in continuous shooting mode and will layer 6 shots in handheld twightlight and anti-motion blur modes. It's fast and offers outstanding clarity even in low light with ISO 12800 sensitivity.

Other features include a 3D sweep panorma mode (recording in JPEG and MPO file formats) at 23 megapixel resolution, Auto HDR (high dynamic range) to get excellent shots even in challenging high contrast situations, 25 point autofocus, multi-segment (49) metering for perfect exposure, and Peaking function and a manual control ring for precise focus. This camera can capture images in JPEG or RAW format, provides easy Background Defocus control, and is compatible with Sony's E-Mount lenses.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G3 16 MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera with 3-Inch Free-Angle Touch-Screen LCD and 14-42mm Lumix G VARIO f/3.5-5.6 Lens
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G3 16 MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera with 3-Inch Free-Angle Touch-Screen LCD and 14-42mm Lumix G VARIO f/3.5-5.6 Lens

The G3 is another outstanding interchangeable lens camera from Panasonic. It's a micro four thirds model with a 16 megapixel Live CMOS sensor, 3" free angle touchscreen LCD, and 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. There is an optional 3D lens available as well. This camera features fast .01 second auto focus, touch focus, full area and pinpoint focusing. It can capture 4fps in full resolution and allows users to capture full 1080i HD video in AVCHD format.

This camera also features an electronic viewfinder, built in stereo microphones, a pop up flash, and intelligent auto that is perfect for helping beginners get the perfect shot.

Nikon 1 J1 HD Digital Camera System with 10-30mm Lens (Black) (OLD MODEL)
Nikon 1 J1 HD Digital Camera System with 10-30mm Lens (Black) (OLD MODEL)

This is Nikon's first mirrorless compact interchangeable lens camera. It accepts NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, 30110mm f/3.8-5.6, 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD Zoom lenses as well as Nikon's F-mount NIKKOR lenses. It captures 10.1 megapixel still images.

This camera offers a super high speed AF CMOS sensor with a 73 point AF array, It can capture 10fps in autofocus mode and record full 1080/60i video as well. Users can record in slow motion and even have the option of capturing photos in RAW format. The 3" LCD and simple controls make using this device simple.

The Nikon V1 adds a 1.4 megapixel electronic viewfinder, a higher resolution display, and a hot shoe for adding an external flash and so forth. You can see it here.


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    • mariaamoroso profile image


      8 years ago from Sweden

      Easy to understand and detailed. I love your lenses.


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