Compact interchangeable lens cameras are a relatively new concept, since they take advantage of advances in camera technology and electronics to produce a device that is nearly as flexible and capable as most DSLRs, yet much more compact and lighter. In many cases, these cameras also overcome many of the complexities associated with full-size DSLRS, so they are the perfect step up for serious shooters who are looking to flex their creative muscles.
Unlike a DSLR, compact interchangeable lens cameras do not use a mirror to bounce an image from the lens to the viewfinder (in film cameras, this mirror flips up and out of the way to capture an image on film). Rather, these cameras rely on an electronic viewfinder.
Micro Four Thirds cameras, created by a joint venture between Panasonic and Olympus, feature four thirds-type sensors and are included in this category.
Most compact interchangeable lens cameras are shipped with wide angle prime or basic zoom lenses that provide a focal range from around 16mm to 55mm, suitable for close-ups and standard snapshots. But, the real benefit is that you can easily replace the standard lens and snap on a 200mm telephoto lens distance and sports photography. Companies like Sony also provide adapters for some of the compact interchangeable that allow using lenses designed for its larger DSLRs.
Be aware, though, that a fast and long focal length lens can cost more than the camera itself – not unusual when you consider the better the lens, the sharper the captured image and capabilities of the camera (speed and resolution are not based on megapixels alone). Larger lenses can also add to the weight of these cameras, which are usually manufactured with a lightweight and durable metal composite, such as magnesium alloy.
Points to consider in selecting a compact interchangeable lens camera include the size of the image sensor (they vary in size, though all are much larger than sensors found in point-and-shoots and ultrazooms), the size and quality of the electronic viewfinder and/or presence of an optical viewfinder, and the speed and accuracy of the autofocus mechanism (which can be slower than the technology available with DSLRs). Also check out the functional ‘feel’ of the camera, since designs can vary and it’s best to have a device that fits and can be used comfortably.