With the holiday season coming up quickly now, we’re entering another round of gift guides that are specially curated for you, our readers. In this issue of our 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, we show you three entry-level mirrorless camera kits that don’t break the bank, and that might be just the right gift for the photography nut in your family.
The Micro Four Thirds Kit
In the world of Micro Four Thirds, there are a number of entry-level cameras available. Whether you prefer the design, menus, and/or image quality of Olympus, or those of Panasonic, there’s an offering from either company that will satisfy you. For the entry-level Micro Four Thirds kit, this is what we recommend this year.
Camera: Olympus PEN E-PM2
The Olympus PEN E-PM2 is Olympus’s smallest and most affordable Micro Four Thirds camera. But make no mistake: in terms of image quality, it is right up there with the OM-D E-M5, sporting the same great 16 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. The PEN E-PM2 has a very slim profile and doesn’t sport a huge load of buttons, so you’ll be using the touchscreen for most settings. Thanks to its grip, it is very nice to hold, and the accessory port even lets you attach one of Olympus’s high-resolution electronic viewfinders. In kit with the 14-42mm lens, the PEN E-PM2 makes for a great entry into the world of Micro Four Thirds.
Alternative: Panasonic Lumix GM1
The Panasonic Lumix GM1 has just been introduced at the Photo Plus Expo in New York a couple weeks ago, and it created a lot of buzz. That’s because it managed to shrink the Micro Four Thirds form factor even more, making it the smallest interchangeable lens camera currently on the market. Just like the Olympus PEN E-PM2, it sports a 16 megapixel sensor, a moderate amount of buttons, as well as a touchscreen. Its 12-32mm kit lens is almost as small as Panasonic’s smallest Micro Four Thirds pancake lens, making this camera truly deserving of the ‘Micro’ designation.
Additional Lens: M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8
One of the most affordable, and at the same time optically best Micro Four Thirds lenses is the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8. And what would be a mirrorless kit without at least one prime lens? With a focal length of 45mm, this lens is a true classic portrait lens. Thanks to its f1.8 initial aperture, it’ll do great in low light as well. For the Micro Four Thirds beginner, this is the one lens we absolutely recommend to get in addition to the kit lens.
The Sony NEX Kit
If the Micro Four Thirds format isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are other mirrorless options to choose from. One of them is Sony’s NEX system, which sports a larger APS-C sensor of the size that you find in most consumer DSLR cameras, promising even better image quality. Here’s our choice for an entry-level NEX kit.
Camera: Sony NEX-3N
The NEX-3N is Sony’s latest entry-level NEX offering, and sports great performance in a small and affordable package. With a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor and a maxiumum ISO of 16,000, the NEX-3N is ready for any photographic scenario that you can think of. Just like the Olympus PEN E-PM2 and the Panasonic GM1, it relies highly on the use of the tiltable rear touch screen. It comes in kit with a very versatile 16-50mm lens that has an almost pancake form factor and provides a great focal length range from wide angle to short telephoto.
Additional Lens: SEL 50mm f1.8
With the Sony NEX kit, just like the Micro Four Thirds kit, we recommend a fast prime lens to accompany the kit lens, as this will provide an even more enjoyable experience. In the case of the NEX-3N, we recommend the 50mm f1.8 lens, which is a short telephoto or portrait lens with a fast initial aperture and great overall image quality. Combined with the NEX-3N’s great high ISO capability, this lens will let you take great pictures even when the light is dim.
Alternative: SEL 30mm f3.5
For about the same price as the 50mm f1.8, you can get another great prime lens for the NEX system: the 35mm f3.5. This one has a shorter focal length, almost equivalent to what was considered a ‘normal’ lens back in the days of film. Though it isn’t as fast with its f3.5 initial aperture, it provides great image quality and it has one feature that the 50mm f1.8 doesn’t: it’s a macro lens, which means you can use it to get really, really close to stuff. So if macro is more your (or your photography nut family member’s) thing than low light photography, we recommend you go for this one.
The Fujifilm X Kit
The third mirrorless camera kit in this gift guide is from Fujifilm, who has been a bit late to the mirrorless party. However, the cameras and lenses that they have come up with so far are all not only great looking, but also great performers. So here’s what we recommend you get your photography nut family member if they care about style and quality.
Camera: Fujifilm X-A1
Just like the Micro Four Thirds and NEX cameras mentioned above, the X-A1 is Fujifilm’s entry-level offering for the X-system of interchangeable lens cameras. Just like the Sony NEX-3N, the Fujifilm X-A1 sports a 16 megapixel APS-C-sized sensor, which provides great image quality even at higher ISO settings. Its rear screen is tiltable just like on the Sony NEX-3N, which means you’ll be able to take pictures from high and low perspectives easily. The X-A1’s kit lens is similar to that of the NEX-3N as well, with a 16-50mm focal length and initial apertures ranging from f3.5-5.6. It is a bit larger than the Sony lens, though.
Additional Lens: XF 27mm f2.8
And with the Fujifilm X-A1 as well, we’d like to recommend a prime lens to complement the kit. Only this time, it’s neither a low light wonder, nor is it a portrait lens. Quite on the contrary. The 27mm f2.8 offers a moderately wide angle of view, which makes it great for all kinds of purposes, ranging from landscapes to street photography. Being a pancake lens, it’s the ideal fit for the small X-A1 camera and a great walkaround lens. And with the X-A1’s great high ISO capabilities, the f2.8 aperture will do just fine, even though it’s a bit slower than that of the lenses we recommended for the Micro Four Thirds and NEX kits.
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