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Hybrid cameras flourish

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It's the hottest selling camera now. Hybrid cameras, also called mirrorless or compact-system cameras, are compact like a point-and-shoot camera but offer a larger image sensor for better-quality shots. Plus, as with more expensive DSLRs, you can change lenses to fit the scene you're shooting.

It's no wonder hybrids are a favorite of hobbyists and professionals alike. Before you head to the store, here are five things you need to know about buying the perfect hybrid camera.

Know your image sensors

The image sensor is what captures the light from the object you're shooting. The two main sensor sizes for hybrids are Micro Four Thirds and APS-C.

The smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor is great for portability but can sacrifice picture quality. The larger APS-C sensor will add bulk but can provide better image quality and low-light shooting.

Along with size, you have to consider megapixels, or the number of pixels the sensor can capture. Hybrids typically have 14MP to 24MP. For standard-size photo printing, any amount will work. If you're printing large posters or doing detailed photo editing, more megapixels is better.

Lenses, lenses, lenses

One of the big selling points of hybrids is interchangeable lenses. You can get lenses for close, wide-angle, distance and other types of shots. Make sure you know what lenses are compatible with your camera before you buy.

Micro Four Thirds cameras generally have the widest range of options.

Manual controls

Both professional and hobbyist photographers know the power of manual camera settings. You can tweak your camera for exposure, depth of field, shutter speed and much more to get the perfect shot.

If you need fast setting changes, you want a camera that makes it easy. The Samsung NX20, for example, lets you scroll through settings using the lens' manual focus ring. The shutter button on the Panasonic Lumix GF6 has a lever that controls aperture and zoom.

The viewfinder

Hybrids use electronic viewfinders to show you what you're shooting. Most hybrids use LCD screens, but OLED screens, which are thinner and brighter outdoors, are available.

Sony's NEX 7, for example, has two viewfinders. One is a 3-inch, tiltable LCD screen. The other is a small eye-level OLED viewfinder, which gives you the feeling of shooting through a DSLR.

• Price

With a wide range of price points and features, finding your perfect hybrid camera takes some work.

If you're just getting into photography, a lower-priced model like the Sony NEX-3N ($449 with 16-50mm lens) is a solid option. It has a 16.1MP sensor, built-in flash and comes with a collapsible power zoom kit lens.

The Nikon AW1 ($799 with 11-27.5mm lens) is a good mid-range option. It has a 14.2MP sensor, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS.

Then there are high-end models like Olympus' E-M1 ($1,399.99, body only). It has a splash-proof and dust-resistant body, a fast shutter speed for action shots, Wi-Fi and a tilting, touch-screen, LCD viewfinder.

Buying a camera is a personal choice. I strongly recommend visiting a store and playing around with a number of models.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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