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Go Semi-Pro with the Best Digital Hybrid Cameras

By Christine Champagne

Luckily for snap-happy travelers, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are growing in popularity. A whole new breed of camera, these hybrids are compact and lightweight like point-and-shoots but offer a choice of lenses and a high level of performance generally associated with bigger, bulkier digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs). We’ve selected the most impressive of these sleek and smart cameras—they’re perfect for capturing your most important vacation memories.

Technology Tips

Don’t just fixate on megapixels, or the maximum image resolution, as many factors go into image quality—including lighting and the quality of the camera’s lens and sensor. And while digital zoom—measured by the power of magnification (ex: 24X)—is still useful for quick enlargements, the true power of these cameras is in their optical zoom, which uses lens magnification rather than digital manipulation to enlarge subjects without sacrificing image quality. Optical zoom is presented as the focal length range (ex: 18-55mm): smaller numbers (18mm) refer to a wide-angle view best for landscapes and larger numbers (200mm) are for telephoto uses to zoom in on far-away subjects.

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4 Top Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Olympus PEN E-P3


The new E-P3 ($899) has a 12.3 megapixel sensor and comes with a 14-42mm zoom lens great for every day shots. The built-in flash, which was not included in the previous two models in this line, is incredibly handy, and the super speedy shutter saves you from blurry photos. The E-P3 also shoots HD video and has some nifty in-camera art filters, offering looks ranging from soft focus to grainy film.

Best For: A trip to Tokyo where you’ll have no problem capturing lively cityscapes. If you are going to be shooting after-dark street scenes or the nightlife scene, it is worth investing in a wide-angle lens like the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.0, which performs well in low light.

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Pentax Q


The 12.4 megapixel Pentax Q ($799) is tiny! In fact, it is billed as the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera in the world. An attractive and fun little wonder that feels like a toy, it comes with an extreme wide-angle 8.5mm lens great for shooting architecture, and you can also buy other lenses, including one that creates a cool fish-eye effect.

Best For: A Paris shopping trip focused on stylish splurges. You can carry it all day without getting weighed down. Plus, with the fun effect lenses, you can add your own personality to those must-snap shots of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

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Sony NEX-5N


You’ll be able to make large prints out of the photos you snap with this 16.1 megapixel Sony NEX-5N ($699), which comes with an 18-55mm lens. Additionally, you can capture lush vistas in stunning 3D that can be viewed on a 3D-capable Sony Bravia television.

Best For: The adventurer heading off on an African safari. Imagine being able to show your family and friends 3D images of lions, tigers, and elephants? Oh my! If you want to get better animal close-ups, the powerful Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS E-mount telephoto zoom lens is compatible without the added weight of traditional lenses—especially important for the luggage weight limits on bush planes.

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Nikon 1 J1


A 10.1 megapixel camera with a 10-30mm VR 1 NIKKOR lens, the Nikon 1 J1 ($599) is easy to use, and you can simultaneously shoot still images while recording full HD video. In addition to being functional, the camera is plain cute and is available in a range of colors, including white, red and pink.

Best For: The weekend jaunt to New York City. This is a no-fuss camera you can use to snap everything from photos of friends at brunch to city shots as you stand atop the Empire State Building. Plus the dual-capturing of photo and video is an easy way to record Big Apple memories in multiple formats.

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Photo Credits: courtesy 1) Olympus, 2) Pentax, 3) Sony, 4) Nikon

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