Compact cameras with interchangeable lenses strike a middle ground: Unlike point-and-shoots, you can swap lenses, but without all the bulk of a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera. Olympus and Panasonic use a standard called Micro Four Thirds, while Samsung and Sony have proprietary systems.
The best ones deliver photos nearly as good as a DSLR's in professional tests -- and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Est. $1,300 body only) is the very best, experts say. The OM-D E-M1's target market is the serious enthusiast or professional photographer who doesn't want to be burdened with the heavy kit of a DSLR. However, some professionals report using this camera as a supplementary one.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a follow-up to the highly reviewed OM-D E-M5, but supplements rather than replaces it. The E-M1 is both small and lightweight yet its buttons are larger and better laid out than those on the E-M5. The E-M1 takes customization to the max, with an innovative toggled 2x2 control dial layout as well as nine other customizable buttons. However, in order to set these up, users need to go through the "baffling" and "kludgy" interface that some reviewers say plagues Olympus cameras.
But the OM-D E-M1 does inherit the excellent image quality of other Olympus cameras too. Reviews say that it has one of the best M43 sensors yet, which helps in creating great detail in low-light conditions. RAW mode images are also excellent. However, if video is your focus, you may want to consider other cameras, as there's no 60 frames per second option here and the video quality is not great.
There's a host of advanced features for the serious photographer as well as some fun ones for those who like to let loose. There's a great selection of lenses too. However, for such an advanced camera, the OM-D E-M1 disappointingly has only one SD-card slot and no built-in flash.
Another well-reviewed, and less expensive, option is still the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Est. $825 with kit lens). It's svelte, quick and weather-sealed, too, earning the Olympus high marks from both experts and owners. The OM-D E-M5 shares the OM-D E-M1's extensive lens selection and produces images nearly on par with DSLR cameras. It's smaller than the E-M1, has a smaller viewfinder, is not quite as fast and has less touch-screen resolution.
Yet another alternative is the Fujifilm X-Pro1 (Est. $1,000), which delights testers with its throwback rangefinder design and glorious photo quality ("astounding," "dazzling" or "gorgeous," depending on the expert) thanks to its unique 16.3-megapixel sensor design. Unfortunately, it suffers from slower autofocus, shoddier video and a weaker body than the Olympus models, which most experts ultimately prefer.