Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera Overall Under $900
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
October 21, 2009 Updated: October 28, 2009
Overview

The ’60s retro-look Olympus PEN EP-1 blends the convenience of a point-n-shoot with interchangeable lenses, and the image quality and advanced features of a DSLR in a fit-in-your-jacket-pocket size.

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My Best In Class Pick
Olympus PEN E-P1 (with 14-42mm Lens)

Olympus, in a innovative design paying homage to its original compact, 35mm half-frame camera of the ’60s, the PEN F, has produced the micro Four-Thirds format(1) PEN EP-1. With a 12.3 megapixel Live View CMOS sensor, fast TruePic V image processor, interchangeable lenses, and a host of features–some quite unique, the EP-1 produces exceptional images in a point-n-shoot sized package. The image quality is due to its image sensor that is about eight times the size of the sensors in typical point-n-shoots. An added advantage of the larger sensor is low noise which further improves image quality. Color, sharpness and dynamic range are excellent, and similar to what one would expect from consumer DSLRs.

As of this writing, there are only two micro Four-Thirds lenses from Olympus for the EP-1: the Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (28-84mm equiv.) and Zuiko Digital 17mm f2.8 Pancake (34mm equiv.). Both are compact, well made, excellent optics. However, the camera will also accept most any Olympus lens, Four-Thirds or not, including the legacy OM manual focus ones from years ago, and to a certain extent some lenses of other manufacturers all via adapters.

The EP-1 includes all the features expected in a high-end digital camera like fourteen Scene modes, seven Exposure modes, four AF Focusing modes, eleven White Balance settings, including Kelvin, as well as Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness. ISOs range from 100 to 6400, and Shutter Speeds from 60 to 1/4000 seconds, and Bulb. Plus, a host of others. However, the Art Filter feature is the most unique allowing six “in-camera” image processing effects: Pop art, Soft focus (ideal for Portraits), Pale & light color, Light tone, Grainy film, and Pin hole. Composing is via the large 3” Live View LCD. There is no built-in optical finder.

So, if you’re looking for a camera with the features and image quality of a DSLR and the compactness of a point-n-shoot, the Olympus PEN EP-1 is the one and my Best-in-Class pick.


(1) What is micro Four-Thirds?

The primary distinction between micro Four-Thirds and Four-Thirds is the lack of a mirror box and reflex viewing assembly. With that space no longer needed, a thinner, shorter, more compact camera is possible. In fact, micro Four-Thirds cameras are half the depth of standard Four-Thirds models. The sensor size is unchanged.

Pros
  • +
    Image quality
  • +
    Interchangeable lenses
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    Full Manual Option
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    "Sensor-shift" image stabilization
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    Sensor dust cleaning (vibration)
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    RAW
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    720p HD Video
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    3" LCD
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    Optional Optical Viewfinder
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    Size
Cons
  • -
    Price
  • -
    Autofocus slow
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    No built-in flash
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    No built-in optical finder
Olympus PEN E-P1 (with 14-42mm Lens) is the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera Overall Under $900
Where to buy
Olympus PEN E-P1 (with 14-42mm Lens)
  • Best Price: $499
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Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Olympus PEN E-P1 (with 14-42mm Lens)
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 (with 14-45mm Lens)
Customer Rating
Price $499.95 $1199.95
?
Effective Sensor Resolution
12.3 mp 12.11 mp
Power to First Shot Time 2.1 sec. 1.2 sec.
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 3.2 fps 3.0 fps
Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 1/4000
Min ISO Setting 100 100
Max ISO Setting 6400 3200
?
LCD Screen Size
3 in. 3 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 230,000 pixels 460,000 pixels
Image Stabilization Type Sensor-shift Optical (lens)
Anti-Dust Technology Sensor vibration Sensor vibration
HD Video Available Yes -- 720p Yes -- 720p
Size (W x H x D) 4.7 x 2.7 x 1.4 in. 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in.
Weight (with batteries) 11.8 oz. (body only) 10 oz. (body only)
Battery Life 300 shots 350 shots
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 (with 14-45mm Lens)

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-DF1 is an effective 12.11 megapixel, micro Four-Thirds camera with interchangeable lenses and a traditional, minimalistic body style. The DF1 was bumped to the Number Two BIC position not because of quality differences (there aren’t any) or image quality (both cameras produce virtually identical pictures), but because it doesn’t have in-body image stabilization. (It does have in-lens OS with those lenses so equipped.) And, its lenses are larger.

The DF1 does have a higher resolution 3 inch LCD (460,000 to 230,000 pixels), a built-in flash, faster autofocusing and subject tracking, and auto exposure is more accurate than the EP-1. Currently, there are two excellent micro Four-Thirds autofocus lenses for it: the Lumix 20mm F1.7 G ASPH (40mm equiv.) and the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH (28-90mm equiv.), which has in-lens image stabilization. The camera will take other Four-Thirds lenses and lenses of some other manufacturers via adapters.

All told, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-DF1 is an excellent little camera that will do justice to your photographic vision.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 (with 14-45mm Lens) is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras Overall Under $900
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 (with 14-45mm Lens)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.2x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

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