Olympus E-M5Look at some the latest high-end digicams and you might do a double take. The cameras look like throwbacks from the '60s and '70s—a time when digital photography didn't exist. These new models are decidedly high-tech, however, even though they look like old film-based SLRs and rangefinders.
One of the most radical—or should we say traditional—is the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera. Olympus makes no bones about, saying its styling cues are direct descendants of the 40-year-old OM series film SLRs. I must admit I was quite taken aback when I saw it.
The E-M5 looks for all the world like an "ancient" film camera but beneath that very retro surface is a 2012 Compact System Camera. Even though it doesn't have a traditional mirror-box assembly like film or digital SLRs, Olympus kept the bump-in-the-middle look. Instead of an optical viewfinder it has an electronic one but you wouldn't know this until you put it up to your eye.
The 16.1-megapixel camera also has a 3-inch tilting OLED screen on the back to frame your subjects. Olympus claims it has the world's fastest autofocus but we won't believe that until we use a production model. The image stabilization system has been improved so it compensates in five directions, rather than the usual two. It's quite speedy at 9 frames per second and, of course, it takes Full HD videos. The E-M5 is due in April for $999 body only, $1,099 with a 14-42mm lens or $1,299 with 12-50mm glass.
Fujifilm's 2011 X series (X100, X10) look like classic film cameras with their rotary dials and viewfinder portholes but they're not. They have all the digital tricks as does the newest member of the group--the X-Pro1—which was one of biggest photographic announcements at January's International CES. This CSC has a 16MP APS-C sensor, the same size as larger DSLRs so all things being equal, your images should be top notch and relatively noise free. It has a new X mount and three lenses will be available (18mm, 35mm, 60mm macro) with more to come. It has an electronic viewfinder and 3-inch LCD.
These are all well and good but I just love the top dial that lets you turn to adjust shutter speed. Talk about a walk down memory lane! The price is a bit of future shock since the body is $1,700 and the lenses are around $600 each.
There are other retro-looking cameras available but one of my favorites has been around for a decade—the Canon G Series. Like the Nikon Coolpix P7100, these bulky black-bodied digicams are festooned with dials even though their digital bonafides cannot be denied. The one to keep an eye on is the new Canon PowerShot G1 X ($799) which has a 14.3-megapixel chip that's even larger than Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras. Unlike a CSC, the G1 X doesn't let you change lenses. Here it's a 4x 28-112mm f/2.8 lens so the range is decent, not great. An excellent feature is the 3-inch vari-angle LCD screen that lets you hold the camera in many positions to open your photographic horizons. It takes Full HD videos too but at 1080/24 fps not the more prevalent 30. It's not speedy either (4.5 fps for a short burst). But I've used many earlier editions of the G Series and they've been great for the methodical shutterbug. This one should be no different.