I've not been about for a while so it is great to get back on here and have a read about what is going in the DPS world.
I am starting to wonder about my next camera steps and I was looking for a bit of advise if possible. My Panasonic Lumix TZ5 which travelled many continents with me is sadly on its very very last legs though I am trying to eek as much out of it as possible. I know that I need to make a decision on where to head now camera-wise and there have been so many advances since my last purchase that I don't really know where to start!
I am looking for something that is a bit of a step up from my current P&S with slow shutter speed and poor low-light photography being real hang-ups I've found with the TZ5. I travel a lot and need to travel light (especially when I am in remote locations on nursing placements) so a full D-SLR is not really an option for both convenience and monetary reasons. I understand that if I find the right bridge/super-zoom or even P&S I should be able to get shots I am happy with. I am not looking to sell my pictures but I do regularly turn them into posters and make gifts of them so I need the quality to do that. I photograph because I really enjoy it, I love to look back at my pictures and remember where I have been and to make gifts from them. I am realistic that the professional line is not one I am going to persue but I do want the best from my pictures that I can get within my capabilities.
The other main thing I am looking for is the ability to start controlling some DOF, which with the TZ5 has totally escaped me!
I know that is a bit of a vague list, I've looked at the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 (but am put off by the separate flash which is probably a hassle when travelling) and the Panasonic GF3 but with so many reviews and so many opinions I'm pretty stuck!
The compact mirrorless path is actually about as expensive as the dSLR one, just so's you know. But if you want DoF control in anything other than macro situations, you're going to have to step up from the tiny sensor cameras. I think looking at mirrorless compacts is a good idea, but you're right stuff is moving and moving fast in that arena. One of the better overall guides I've seen to what's out there is the dpreview guide to mirrorless compacts that they did last December.
But it is missing the little spurt of cameras that were announced since then, which included the Fuji X-Pro 1 (outside most folks' price range and not yet available), the Canon G1X, and the Olympus OM-D/EM5 (prosumer, four-figure price).
This is just me, but I think you might want to look at the Canon G1X as well. It's expensive for a P&S (even an advanced one), and you won't have superzoom capability, but its sensor is 5% bigger than a four-thirds one. So, low light and background blurring should be possible, and it's a fixed-lens, self-contained camera, so might be better for travel.
The deal with NEX and µ4/3 is that with an interchangeable lens system, you have to also consider the lenses, as well as the camera. I picked up a used Panasonic G3 with kit lens for $450. And I've spent about $900, since, getting three other $300 lenses. One of which was to get me low-light & shallow depth of field capability (Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake). And I use a camera bag, albeit a much smaller/lighter one in comparison to my dSLR bags. I have gone out shooting without a bag and an additional lens stuffed in my pocket, but I like having a selection of lenses to play with.
And in choosing between NEX and µ4/3, lens choices are a big deal. NEX is growing their lens offerings, but right now, they only have 7 lenses in the mount, only three of which are f/2.8 or faster. In a few more years, the playing field might be more even, and if you can wait for that, or the current NEX selection has what you need, there's no reason not to go there. The larger sensor can make up for a lot. But unless you plan to adapt older vintage glass, NEX is limited by the small number of lenses in the native mount. And those lenses are larger than the lenses for µ4/3, because they have to cover a larger sensor.
The µ4/3 lenses have the advantage of being supplied by two different companies (Panasonic and Olympus), and for those companies to have gotten a two year head start on Sony NEX. So the selection's just a bit bigger. And the lenses are physically smaller.
If you've never used an interchangeable lens system before, you have to realize that the lenses are the other half of your camera. And they are likely to be the half that you spend the most money on, and that are the more permanent part of the system these days. Digital electronics wear out, they have built-in obsolescence. Most folks end up having to get a new camera or want to upgrade every three to five years, just as you're doing with your Lumix TZ. But the lenses may last you decades, because they can move from camera to camera, as long as that camera uses the same mount the lenses have.
I liked the NEX-5 immensely when I handled one at a local Fry's. The NEX-7 is super-sexy in the specs, and I've been tempted. But I'm a lens geek. And I've done my lens adapting thing on Canon. I know that in the end, I just wanted something small and simple, and that I'd be best served by autofocusing lenses in the native mount of whatever camera system I chose, and while I love Zeiss glass beyond all reason, Sony just wasn't offering enough to me at this time. So I went micro four-thirds. For me, utility came above strict image quality.
I also thought that I'd go with one of the Olympus range-finder styled Pen cameras. I was surprised that I chose the Panasonic G3. But again, it came down to handling an EP-L3 and a G3 at the local Fry's, and the built-in EVF and flip-out LCD and the touch-screen menus with the price I could find on a used one, just beat in-body stabilization and uber-cool styling for me.
So, yes, Panasonic makes very nice mirrorless compact cameras. But if you think you're going to go there instead of NEX, I'd highly recommend considering four models. The DMC-G3, the DMC-GF3, and the Olympus EPL-3, and EPM-1. The G3 and EPL-3 are the mid-range cameras, and the GF3 and EPM-1 are the entry-level cameras. (The high-end models are the GX1 and the EP-3, and Oly just added one more prosumer tier above them all with the OM-D/EM5. Prices rise accordingly).
I should also point out that µ4/3 bodies depreciate at an alarming rate--much faster than dSLRs do. If you really want to save money, take a look at used cameras. As I said, I picked up my G3 kit used for $450, while the going rate for a new one is $600. And the G3 only came out last June.
Thanks so much Inkista, that is a really helpful and thorough response. It gives me lots to think about. and I'll defnitely check out the link.
I will be heading to my various shops to handle a few of the cameras you recommend and see which have a good feel.
Thanks again for the great response, I'll let you all know what I decide on though it may be a month or two before I have the money together!