Although Canon’s new pro SLR, the 18-megapixel EOS-1D X, has been the most notable advanced camera recently announced, it’s SLR-like models that have really been piquing the interest of camera enthusiasts. This corresponds to what we’re seeing in the marketplace: This relatively new category of advanced camera—introduced in 2008—is the only type that’s growing in sales. It’s also expanding in numbers: We’ve increased the number of mirrorless-system cameras in our digital camera Ratings (available to subscribers) to almost two dozen.
While pricier than most basic models, SLR-likes are by and large cheaper than a number of top-rated SLRs, ranging in price from $500 to $1,000, but they score nearly the same in our Ratings. Like SLRs, they accept interchangeable lenses and almost always come with a kit lens.
SLR-like models run the gamut in terms of size and weight. Pentax’s debut SLR-like, the Pentax Q ($800, pictured) weighs only 9 ounces, while two of our Recommended Sonys, the SLT-A55 ($750) and SLT-A33 ($600), are each 27 ounces—as heavy as an SLR.
Manufacturers are also packing some of the newest features into these portable cameras. Several, including the Olympus PEN E-P3 ($900), have well-designed and interactive touch-screen displays and the ability to capture 3D photos. Others, like most of the Sony SLR-like models, can capture both 2D and 3D panoramas using a special sweep-panorama mode. Many also include HDR (high dynamic range), which lets you maintain details in highlights and shadow areas in tough lighting situations—capturing a landscape at sunset, for example.
SLR-like models aren’t the only new additions to our camera Ratings: We’ve added some notable basic models as well. The top-rated Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 ($400) is a pricey superzoom, (24x optical zoom), and it maintains very good quality across the board, including video and wide-angle capabilities, great for group portraits and landscapes.
Those looking for a portable model that fits easily into a pocket should consider another Recommended model, the 16-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S100 subcompact ($300). It has a 5x optical zoom lens that doesn’t telescope out when you turn the camera on. It also has a good-quality, very large 3.4-inch display and takes better videos than many in its class.
Be sure to check out our basic camera Ratings and advanced camera Ratings before buying your favorite photographers a gift this holiday season.