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The New Camera Class of 2014: DSLR Alternatives

In just a few short years the world of photography has been turned upside down, and the advent of the iPhone and other innovations like mirrorless cameras has created a dizzying array of options.

The world of digital cameras has become a chaotic melting pot of bells, whistles, and clever advertising all aimed at proving one shooter better than its competitors. While we appreciate carbon fiber shutter releases and rear screens with built-in stock tickers, it’s nice to know which cameras are actually worth their price tag when it comes to features and image quality. Now a new class of cameras, none of them DSLRs, is muddying the waters more than ever before. Each is capable and unique in its own right; if one of them doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s something wrong with your fancy.

Leica T

For the Elitist: It’s sometimes said that a camera feels “as if it were carved from a block of metal”. With the Leica T, that’s true: this camera is literally milled from a solid block of aluminum. While all of the major players have thrown their hats into the mirrorless ring, Leica has taken its sweet time, sizing up the competition and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. The T has a brand new 16.5 CMOS sensor, a full touch screen on the rear (there are no buttons), a new line of lenses specifically for the T-mount, and, since it’s made by Leica (in Germany we might add), it’s stunningly beautiful. The problem with Leica has always been that you needed to take out a second mortgage to afford one of their neck straps alone, but $1,850, while not cheap, shouldn’t be so far out of your reach that you can’t at least test one.

Buy Now: $1,850

Fuji X-T1

For the Artist: In the past four years, Fujifilm has released the X-Pro 1, the X100s, and the X-E2, all of them outstanding cameras. But the X-T1 tops them all. It marks Fujifilm’s entrance into the weatherproof ring with a camera that is dust, splash, and freeze proof all while maintaining fully analog controls (you know, those old dials that your dad used on his camera). The electronic viewfinder packs 2.36 million dots on an OLED internal screen, giving you a clear, crisp image with virtually no lag whatsoever, and its “multi-mode” includes a dual screen, which allows the photographer to see the entire image right beside a zoomed-in crop to allow for precise manual focusing. Couple a new 16 megapixel CMOS II sensor with Fuji’s legendary color rendition, and you’ve got a recipe for stunning photographs.

Buy Now: $1,299

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II

For the Street Shooter: The “prosumer point and shoot” camera has always been a bit of an enigma, but Canon is one of the two companies (the other being Sony) that has nailed it: this is the camera for the serious photographer who wants to carry his shooter in his pocket. The release of the PowerShot G1 X was prefaced by tons of hype and followed by heaps of disappointment. With the Mark II, Canon decided to actually listen to the customer, making the G1 X the camera it was always meant to be. Canon left the rather large sensor (1.5 inches), but dropped the resolution from 14.3MP down to 12.8MP. This may seem like a poor decision, but any photographer worth his salt knows better: a large sensor with fewer pixels means the individual pixels must be larger to fill the sensor space. Larger pixels means more flexible dynamic range, which means better, more beautiful pictures. Throw in a 24-120 f/2.0-3.9 lens and a tilting, touch LCD, and you’ve got a nice little pocket rocket. Oh, and just for fun, you can control your G1 X Mark II with your smartphone.

Buy Now: $799

Sony Alpha 7s

For the Twilight Videographer: Sony’s Alpha 7 series has proven that professional results are producible from a bite-sized rig, but the Sony Alpha 7s is what we in the business like to call a game changer. The “s” in the Alpha 7s stands for sensitive. Why sensitive? Because this camera is the low-light behemoth that we never thought possible. This small body packs a new, full-frame 12.2 megapixel sensor capable of ISO 409,600. Indoor low-light shooting? Check. Concert shooting? Check. Astrophotography? Check. According to Sony, the dynamic range of this sensor will out-perform any other full-frame sensor currently on the market. And did we mention that the Alpha 7s shoots 4k video? You may want to start saving now; this is a camera that goes on back order before it has even hit the shelves (in July of 2014, by the way).

Buy Now: $2,500 (body)

Olympus OM-D E-M10

For the All-Purpose Photographer: When Olympus announced the OM-D E-M5, they proved mirrorless cameras ought to be taken seriously. When they announced the OM-D E-M1, they proved mirrorless cameras could produce pro results in a pro body. When they announced the OM-D E-M10, we weren’t really sure what to think. With no weather sealing and a somewhat small EVF, the E-M10 sits at the bottom of the OM-D ladder. But understand that the bottom rung is still somehow above most of the competition. Basically what you get with the E-M10 is the auto-focus speed and image quality of the E-M1 in a body that costs $699. And everything the E-M10 does, it does well: the build is solid; the autofocus is blazing; it has in-body image stabilization; and let’s not forget there are over 50 lenses available from Olympus and Panasonic for this mount. If you’re on a budget, and you want a camera that will handle nearly anything you throw at it, then the E-M10 is more than worth a look.

Buy Now: $699

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