Hybrid cameras group test

Introduction

The hybrids are coming! They look like a digital compact or SLR camera, but in fact they are neither. These devices have been designed to offer the best of both worlds: the portability and user friendliness that we’re used to getting from point-and-shoots, yet the near-professional image quality expected from a digital SLR (DSLR).

Hybrids can do this because they incorporate a larger sensor size than a compact – the same as, or comparable to, that of a DSLR. They also mostly offer the ability to change lenses to best suit the subject. These are key factors in the leap in quality when swapping the pocket snapper for a DSLR.

The hybrid’s smaller size is a result of jettisoning the traditional internal SLR mirror mechanism, enabling lens and sensor to be brought closer together. In other words, this new breed of camera has been designed as a digital device from the get-go, rather than being beholden to existing 35mm film camera conventions like its predecessors. Exciting stuff.

Panasonic and Olympus were first to enter this market in late 2008 with their jointly developed Micro Four Thirds system. Inevitably, other manufacturers are now encroaching on the ‘compact camera, DSLR-quality’ territory. Late last year Ricoh brought out its ambitious GXR compact system, with interchangeable high-quality lens and sensor contained within one sealed unit. This year Samsung joined the fray with its DSLR-styled NX10. High-end brand Leica, which has a partnership with Panasonic for lenses, has an alternative in the pricey, very covetable big-sensor, fixed-lens X1 model. Sony, too, has announced an intention to produce its own compact hybrid, which will take the same Alpha branding as its DSLRs.

By investing in any make you’re pledging your allegiance to a particular system, each with its own array of lenses and accessories. It’s here that Panasonic and Olympus maintain their early advantage by utilising the same system, in theory meaning that a lens compatible with one device will also work with another, though some do require an adaptor. But have competitors now come up with their own solutions to make you pick their brand over others? Here’s a snapshot of the hybrid camera market as it stands.

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