Question: I currently have a point-and-shoot camera that is several years old. I was looking at buying a newer point-and-shoot to get better pictures, but was told by a salesman that I would not be getting that much better performance unless I move up to a bigger camera like an SLR.
Can you offer a recommendation for an affordable (less than $500) camera that will provide a big step up in both functionality and image quality? I'd like interchangeable lenses if it can be done at the price point.
Answer: Anyone looking for a deal on a camera, read on because, wow, do I have a deal for you!
Over the past few years, I have had a lot of good things to say about the Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras. I love the picture quality and small form factor that makes them perfect for travel and for times when you want interchangeable lenses and much better picture quality than a point-and-shoot, but without the weight and bulk of a digital SLR.
Cameta Camera is a very successful, very highly regarded camera retailer. The company can be found online at www.cameta.com and it often has factory refurbished gear at prices that defy belief. The current standout is the Olympus E-PL2 for only $229 with 14-42 mm kit lens. Yes, for a little more than $200 you can get an interchangeable lens camera with great looks, outstanding picture quality, image stabilization, a built-in flash and access to some of the best lenses on the market. Many of the lenses are not only excellent but compact and affordable as well. You get a three-month warranty from Olympus and another nine months from Cameta, giving you a full year's worth of warranty.
The E-PL2 has an older sensor and a less sophisticated autofocus system than the most recent models. This means its focusing speed and low-light image quality aren't in the same league as the most recently introduced Micro Four-Thirds models, namely the award-winning Olympus OM-D EM-5 and its smaller siblings the E-PM2 or E-PL5. Of course, at $229, it isn't priced in the same league, either.
The E-PL2 makes a great starter camera, a fine backup to an existing Micro Four-Thirds system or a compact supplement to a digital SLR outfit. I've tested the E-PL2 and can give it my personal seal of approval. When you see the pictures, you won't believe it only cost you $229.
If you want to get a second lens for it, I strongly recommend the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150 mm zoom. It is extremely sharp, and -- combined with the kit zoom -- you will have the flexibility for most any photographic task. Cameta sells the 40-150 mm for $179.
If you want a more recent Micro Four-Thirds camera, Cameta also has many of the newer models, including the OM-D EM-5 and the tiny E-PM1. The E-PM1 has the same sensor as the E-PL2, but has much faster autofocus and better video capabilities. Downsides are there is no built-in flash and the image stabilizer isn't quite as effective as the other cameras. At $249 with kit lens, it is a super deal as well, but I like the E-PL2 better for the built-in flash, better still pictures and easy-to-use control dials. Either way you won't go wrong.