Fujifilm’s most ambitious camera ever has retro appeal in abundance, but it’s one frustrating step from perfection. Whereas the gorgeous but non-lens-swapping Fujifilm X100 had the silvery look of a 1950s Leica, the lens-enabled X-Pro1 is a little more ’70s in its workmanlike black. But it’s still got the same clever hybrid viewfinder, allowing you to switch between optical and electronic views: in optical mode, frame lines overlay a broad window, showing how your lens will crop and making composition easier. Anyone who’s used a traditional rangefinder will feel quite at home.
The hybrid finder’s clever, but the real smarts lie in the DSLR-sized sensor. It’s utterly astounding and noise-free throughout its wide ISO range – boostable to 25,600 – and quality is almost impossible to fault. Video is fine but there’s no dedicated record button: unsurprising, maybe, for such a stills-oriented snapper.
Other old-school touches include a threaded cable-release socket (remember them?), fax-vulcanite covering, and a range of lenses that’s limited to primes – no zooms here – with Leica-ish square lens hoods.
But sadly, ‘old-school’ extends to the ponderous autofocus, which makes fast photo-taking a chore. At this price, we’d expect better.
|The rear screen is sublime, but the hybrid finder steals the show. The digital EVF is the sharpest used, whereas the optical version is great for getting a wider view of the scene.
||Controls are comprehensive. For starters there’s an exposure compensation dial on the back right of the top plate – not to mention direct access to just about every other setting – except for video recording.
||By today’s standards the X-Pro1 is big and heavy, but it’s luxurious too. The lenses feel bulletproof – but so far there are just three available: 18mm, 35mm and 60mm macro (27, 53, and 90mm equivalent).
Amazing in almost every way, but a slow autofocus holds it back from greatness
||< Switched on
As on the X100, this lever – styled like the self-timer control on a classic film camera – is used to switch between the optical and digital modes of the viewfinder.
Old-school options >
Another retro touch – aperture is manually set using a ring on the lens, while shutter speed settings are on a top-mounted dial. They can still be set to Auto, though.
Fujifilm X-Pro1 Specs
Sensor 16.3MP APS-C
Screen 3in/7.6cm, 1230k dots
EVF Hybrid. Digital: 0.47in, 1440k dots
Burst shooting 6fps
Kit lens 35mm f/1.4 (53mm equivalent)
It was a shock when Nikon unveiled smaller-than-average sensors for its 1 Series snappers, but there was method to the madness. The 10.1MP sensor on the V1 may be half the size of a Micro Four Thirds sensor, but it can process shots from that smaller CMOS at phenomenal speeds, enabling burst shooting at up to 60fps.
That’s made effective by the clever Smart Phone Selector mode, which takes a hyper-fast burst of 20 shots every time you press the shutter, and then uses algorithms to choose which it thinks are the best five pics and stores them to your memory card. And with smile and blink detection it’s surprisingly good at leaving you with a useable set of photos – even in big groups.
Sadly, image quality isn’t that great, and light sensitivity is limited – not to mention pretty awful above ISO 800. Video is dull, and – unlike stills – maxes out at 30fps.
Nikon has also made some strange decisions. While its cheaper J1 sibling has a built-in flash, the V1 leaves it out as an optional extra. And the simplified controls are more akin to a compact camera, with many settings buried within menus – anyone spending this much is likely to demand more creative control.
|The electronic viewfinder is sharp and clear, and a sensor automatically switches on the EVF when you put your eye to it. The 3in/7.6cm main LCD screen is also excellent.
||If you’ve used a Nikon compact, you’ll know your way around the V1, and it handles well for a small camera. The power switch is irritatingly close to the shutter button, though.
||Smaller sensors mean smaller lenses, and the compact nature of Nikon’s optics is impressive. The 30-110mm in particular is tiny, considering its zoom range is equivalent to 81-297mm.
Truly advanced, but the streamlined design hinders – and the quality doesn’t match the price
||< Retracting optics
Like that kit lens on Olympus’ PEN series, Nikon’s kit lens is collapsible. When not in use, it retracts to become tiny and locks closed with this button. It’s a great touch.
Minimal modes >
The two odd symbols on the mode dial are for Motion Snapshot (which takes a slow-motion video and sets it to music) and Smart Photo Selector. No fine-control priority modes here.
Nikon 1V1 Specs
Sensor 10.1MP CX
Screen 3in/7.6cm, 921k dots
EVF 0.47in/1.1cm, 1440k dots
Burst shooting 60fps
Kit lens 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 (27-81mm equivalent)
Olympus set new standards with its revived PEN range, and it’s done precisely the same with the OM moniker. Choosing to bestow the legendary film SLR name upon its first system cam with an EVF was a brave move for Olympus – but an entirely justified one.
The E-M5 has the looks of an old-school SLR, but you’ll be surprised at how small it is – it should be the size of a house, considering how much photo-trickery is crammed into its weatherproof body.
The new 16MP sensor is superb right through the ISO range (going up to a mighty 25,600), and shows how well Micro Four Thirds can compete with the larger DSLR-size APS-C chips. It’s also ably assisted by a world first – five-axis image stabilization. Forget the science; just know that it offers the best steadying action yet seen. The other bit star of the OM-D show is the autofocus, which is just ludicrously fast, and even works quickly and accurately when tracking moving subjects.
If we had to level any criticism at the E-M5, it would be that we’d prefer a built-in flash – a clip-on unit is included, but it’s all too easy to leave it at home. Maybe the grip could be a little larger. But that’s nitpicking – this is a great camera.
|If you’ve got a large hands you might want to invest in the optional vertical power grip, but it’s still surprisingly comfortable thanks to the thumb rest on the back.
||The control layout is superb and feels instantly familiar. There’s a pair of perfectly placed jog-wheels, a top-mounted mode dial, and customisable function buttons.
||The range of Micro Four Thirds lenses is a massive boon for the E-M5. And it’s not just the sheer volume, but the variety as well, with everything from super-telephoto to manual-focus glass available.
Startingly fast and truly compact, this stunning camera is worth building a system around.
||< Power zoom
The kit lens has an optional motorised zoom – a slight left or right twist zooms it in or out, like on compact camera. It’s also got a macro function for sharp close-up shots.
Slots of sense >
In true SLR style, the SD slot’s on the side rather than on the bottom, so it doesn’t get in the way of fitting a vertical grip. You can also change cards while tripod’s attached.
Olympus OM-DE-M5 Specs
Sensor 16.1MP MFT
Screen 3in/7.6cm, 610k dots
EVF 0.47in/1.1cm, 1440k dots
Flash Clip-on included
Burst shooting 9fps
Kit lens 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6 (24-100mm equivalent)
If you’re already the owner of a Pentax lens or two, this could be the CSC for you. Unlike the toylike Pentax Q, the K-01 features the same lens mount that’s greaced Pentax cameras for decades – meaning that there are literally thousands of K-mount optics out there waiting to be bolted on to its 21st-century body. No adaptors necessary: you’ll already have a lens line-up that just needs dusting off.
Get those lenses lined up and you’ll find that the APS-C sensor is really quite impressive. Stay below ISO 3200 and it’ll reward you with lovely detail and colors – go any higher, and noise problems crop up. Full HD video is much the same.
All well and good. Where Pentax have gone off-script is by getting famed designer Marc Newson to sculpt their new creation from the ground up. Some things are nice – the full grip, the industrial knobs, the pop-up flash, the uncluttered layout – but then there’s the fact that it’s brick like and heavy, despite not having an EVF to bulk it out. All the sockets, including the SD slot, are hidden behind irritating peel-back rubber flaps. And then there’s the fact that it looks like a Tonka toy. It may be the cheapest camera here, but at close to $ there should be a little more going on.
|It may be a fatty, but the K-01 is comfortable to hold and even its controls feel solid. It’s as if it’s been designed to survive being chucked around by a two-year-old.
||Not only is there no viewfinder, but Pentax doesn’t even offer a clip-on EVF as an optional extra. It’s just as well, then, that the LCD screen is pretty good and bright.
||One of the kit lens options is this astoundingly thin 40mm pancake. Lens choice isn’t a problem for the K-01, though, with hundreds of K-mount optics on the market.
Interesting design, but impractical and limited. Worth a look if you own Pentax lenses already
||< Stop yer flapping
To keep those line minimalist, the sockets are hidden under rubber panels. Trouble is, once you’ve flapped out it’s almost impossible to smooth them back in place.
Are you reddy? >
The red button on the right is, as you might expect, the record control for video. The green one is customisable function button. All looks a bit My First Camera, eh?
Pentax K-01 Specs
Sensor 16.3MP APS-C
Screen 3in/7.6cm, 921k dots
Burst shooting 6fps
Kit lens 40mm f/2.8 pancake (61mm equivalent)
Sony seems to have discovered a photo-enthusiast’s wishlist and decided to make their dreams come true. The NEX-7 has a compact body with a hand-filling grip, loads of customisable controls, and EVF, built-in flash, and Sony’s renowned Sweep Panorama mode – topped off with a 24MP APS-C sensor. On paper at least, it’s very impressive.
In the hand it mostly doesn’t disappoint, either. Of all the CSCs on test it’s the comfiest to hold, and the EVF and screen are almost the equal of the Fujifilm X-Pro1.
That huge sensor churns out magnificent images, bested only by the Fujifilm – though the NEX-7’s video is smoother and a little more detailed, and 50fps shooting makes slow-motion video a snip. The built-in flash is a useful addition, and while the autofocus speed won’t worry the Olympus EM-5, it’s no slouch.
There is only fly in the ointment, though – or should that be a speck on the lens? Controls are extensive but they sometimes seem illogical, as do the on-screen indicators – it’s all too easy to nudge exposure compensation when you’re trying to change aperture, for example. The virtual mode dial isn’t as intuitive as it should be, either – the NEX-7 is a great camera, but it takes some getting used to.
|The array of controls is a twiddler’s wet dream, but the interface has plenty of quirks. It’ll take a while to become second nature, but you’ll be amply rewarded.
||The chubby grip gives the NEX-7 an SLR-like feel in the hand. If you like swinging your camera around one-handed, then this is the model for you.
||Sony’s E-mount lens line-up is OK, but there’s an adaptor available to fit the stellar range of A-mount optics. It’s a shame it adds more to an already pricey package.
A great all-rounder with a superb sensor. Only minor nuggles keep it from being a winner
||< Top of the pop-ups
The pop-up flash is a proof you can pack it all into a camera without turning in into an unwieldy bloater. It’s a good performer, but worth upgrading if you like low-light snaps.
Wired for sound >
Lift the flap on the side to reveal and HDMI output, USB port and a 3.5mm jack that will take a microphone, if your want to record better sound to go with your 1080p video.
Sony NEX-7 Specs
Sensor 24.3MP APS-C
Screen 3in/7.6cm, 922k dots
Burst shooting 10fps
Kit lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (27-83mm equivalent)