As we roll toward the end of 2012, let’s take a look at what’s available from the major camera manufacturers in terms of advanced compact cameras. There are many options of course, in some cases multiple options from one company, but what these cameras share, what separates them from standard point and shoots and from mirrorless cameras is not size alone, but a set of similar features that should intrigue all levels of photographer, from the novice who wants a good beginner camera to a professional photographer who wants a smaller, quality camera to have handy or use when not shooting assignments. And of course, this includes everyone in between.
Each of the cameras highlighted in this article features a sensor type of 1/1.7” or larger, RAW capture capability, full manual and auto control and the quality optics, powerful processors and ergonomic design one would expect from a point and shoot marketed to pro shooters. These are, in fact, the features that define these cameras as “advanced;” they’re the ones that give them the kind of image control and quality that set them apart from your run-of-the-mill digital camera. For example, RAW allows an image to be captured in a nearly uncompressed form, giving you more options if you plan to touch up, color correct and print a large version of that image. A larger sensor gathers more light, which in turn provides more resolution, less noise and better detail, but also offers more control of focus and depth of field. Well-crafted lenses bring with them sharpness and definition and even a character that standard camera lenses cannot touch. And, of course, having manual control of your camera, if you’re willing to use it, allows you to set aside the standard adjustments that the camera is designed to offer and create exactly the image you envision.
However, among our featured cameras, all of which are fine machines, little differences abound. Variations on sensor size make for differences and some cameras have apertures speeds of f/2.8 or faster while others offer long zoom lenses. Full HD 1080 Video and Wi-Fi connectivity are also included on some but not others. As you read through this piece, think what you want most from your camera and our roundup will help point you toward which might be right for you. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Panasonic offers two wonderful advanced compact cameras, one a follow-up to the other, but both very relevant. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, available in both black or white versions, has 10.1MP CCD sensor which was designed large at the time (1/1.63”) to allow for optimal image quality and low noise. An f/2.0 aperture Leica DC Vario- Summicron lens with 3.8x optical zoom (24-90mm equivalent), the MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer system and extended ISO sensitivity to 12800 allows for fast speeds and quality low-light photography. Manual exposure control in both photo and video and Intelligent Auto offer something for every level of photographer. Film simulation mode, multi-exposure function, a customizable fast function button and one-touch movie button with HDMI output are some of the features that make this very affordable and quite compact camera a winner.
The Panasonic DMC-LX7 Digital Camera in black or white is similar to the LX5, but with improved features. For example, a new, slightly smaller 1/1.7” 12.7MP sensor has been developed for the LX7 with an improved signal to noise ratio for higher clarity and rich color gradation. Also, the lens has been changed to a faster f/1.4 Leica DC Vario-Summilux lens and the Venus Engine image processor has been improved for faster performance and low noise. An internal Neutral Density filter offers greater control, especially when shooting at that wide f/1.4 aperture. Available with an easy dial turn, the ND filter activates to cut light 3 stops and allows you to shoot at wide apertures in bright light without overexposure. A 3.0” LCD with 920K dot resolution (double that of the LX5) and hot-shoe mount are available, Full HD video too.
Starting with the Canon PowerShot series, we include three cameras. The PowerShot S110 Digital Camera, which comes in black or white models, houses a 12.1MP 1/1.7” CMOS Sensor in a very sleek, compact body with minimal buttons and a 3.0” LCD, which takes up almost all of the back of the camera. A DIGIC 5 Image Processor means fast performance and the 5x optical zoom lens, from 24-120mm (35mm equivalent) with a maximum f/2.0 aperture, is a solid performer. ISO sensitivity up to 12800 provides this camera with extensive low-light capability. Full HD 1080p video, RAW format, Intelligent Image Stabilization and a manual control ring on the lens round out a set of features that is impressive for such a small camera.
|Canon Powershot S110||Canon Powershot G15|
The Canon PowerShot G15 is the latest runner in the popular Canon G series and also houses a 12.1MP 1/1.7” CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 processor. Its lens is faster than the S110, at a maximum of f/1.8-2.8, and can shoot with great clarity. It’s also a bit chunkier than the S110, with a 3.0” LCD. The G15 offers high-speed autofocus and up to 10 frames per second of continuous shooting. DSLR front dials, total manual control, hot-shoe mount, Full HD video and great image quality are reasons why the G series and the G15, specifically, are such nice cameras.
Speaking of which, the current flagship of the G series is the Canon PowerShot G1 X Digital Camera. Image quality is excellent and other than changing lenses, you can pretty much do anything with this camera from full manual control to easy auto. A 1.5” CMOS sensor, larger than that on the G15, with 14.3MP effective resolution, and the DIGIC 5 Image processor, work together to create high-quality photos and Full HD 1080 video. Video is accessed with a dedicated one-touch button and its electronic viewfinder is ideal for certain types of framing. The lens is a 4x optical zoom, from 28-112mm, and has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Its hybrid image stabilization system counteracts the effects of operator movement and the camera is very effective in low light. The slightly larger body on the G1 X is an underappreciated feature because it feels great to hold and its dials and menus can be navigated in a hurry, even one-handed. A hot-shoe mount and pop-up flash are available and its 3.0” LCD tilts and swivels in every direction for creative and discreet composition.
The EX2F Digital Camera from Samsung has a 1/1.7” BSI CMOS Sensor with 12.4MP resolution and a fast f/1.4 Schneider-KREUZNACH lens with 3.3x optical zoom that runs from 24-80mm in 35mm format. Its BSI (Back Side Illuminated) sensor is particularly sensitive, especially in low light, and Dual Image Stabilization further improves image quality in low light. Able to simultaneously record Full HD 1080 video and shoot stills, the EX2F is also Wi-Fi capable and with the touch of one button, you can link your camera to your wireless device and immediately send out the photos and videos you have shot. Wi-Fi connectivity means you can save images to the cloud and control your camera from your smart phone too. The 3.0” AMOLED display renders real blacks and vibrant colors; it's great in bright sunlight. Like the Canon G1X, the display tilts and swivels and a pop-up flash and hot-shoe mount are both available—but the EX2F is a good deal more compact than the Canon.
Comparable in form and price to the Canon Gs and Samsung EX2F is Nikon’s COOLPIX P7700 Digital Camera. It also has a 1/1.7” CMOS sensor with 12.2MP resolution, but comes with a long zoom lens that allows a greater range of shooting opportunities. From 28-200mm (in 35mm format) with a fast f/2.0 maximum aperture in wide lengths, and f/4 in telephoto, this NIKKOR lens provides sharp details and the flexibility to shoot wide angle, portraits and detailed telephoto images. Vibration Reduction reduces blur on long-lens shots, and subject tracking autofocus keeps moving subjects in focus. A 3.0” Vari-angle LCD with 921K pixel resolution provides clear and flexible composition and playback. Full HD video with built-in stereo microphone and wind filter are a step-up in terms of quality video options, and 19 scene modes makes capturing difficult shots easier for the beginner. The P7700 includes a hot-shoe mount for use with the Nikon line of speedlights.
The Sigma DP1 Merrill Compact Digital Camera and its follow-up, the Sigma DP2 Merrill Compact Digital Camera, are like no other cameras on this list. Physically, they’re similar in size to the Leica X2 or Canon G1 X, but their minimal design and solid black form give them a style related to a smaller, more elegant camera. What sets them apart, primarily, is their sensor, which is a 46MP Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor. The same APS-C sized sensor as used in their SD1 Merrill DSLR, the Foveon measures 23.5 x 15.7mm, and the Sigma point is: bigger sensor equals better image quality. These cameras do produce quality images. Besides its size, the Foveon sensor is different in that it has a 3-layer design that captures three colors and more light at each pixel and produces better color resolution and sharpness.
The DP1 Merrill was released originally in 2008, with much anticipation of its sensor. It has a fixed 19mm (28mm equivalent) lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. It offers full manual control and RAW and JPEG capture and ISO up to 3200. A 3x digital zoom will help in some instances, and a hot shoe mount and 3.0” 920K dot LCD monitor are available. But this camera is for those who appreciate the ability of its sensor and wide fixed lens to make beautiful images, for those who see creative possibility in its restrictions. The DP2 brings with it the QS button with more menu options, the 3.0” LCD, manual focus on the lens ring, a more conventional 30mm (45mm equivalent) lens and the same large sensor to create high quality, detailed photos with rich, accurate colors.
Longer, but more compact and powerful is the Leica X2 Compact Camera, available in all black or with a silver top and bottom plate. With unsurpassed Leica design reminiscent of the Leica M, and an all-metal chassis, the X2 has a DSLR-sized APS-C CMOS sensor with 16.1MP resolution and an Elmarit f/2.8 fixed focal length lens of 24mm (35mm equivalent). Switching from complete auto to manual control is seamless and the solid dials on the top plate make adjustments easy. Seeing adjustments in Live View is clear on the 2.7” LCD with its 100% field of view. Ideal in low light, the ISO range extends to 12500 producing crisp, low-noise images. An Adobe Lightroom download is included with this light but solid Leica gem. There will be no doubt you are holding a quality camera when you pick up the X2.
The Leica D-LUX 6 Digital Camera has an ultra-fast f/1.4 lens with 3.8x zoom that runs from 24-90mm in 35mm format. A newly developed 1/1.7” sensor with a 10.1MP resolution offers fast autofocus and high-quality images, including Full HD 1080p video. 12 frame-per-second continuous shooting, a manual aperture ring for quick adjustment and a 920K pixel 3.0” LCD screen are a few of this camera’s features. An optional high resolution electronic viewfinder with 90° tilt, a hot-shoe-mounted flash and hand grip are accessories that can add to this camera’s functionality. Formidable for it size, the D-LUX 6 is only slightly larger than the Canon S110.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Digital Camera has the comparatively large 1” Exmor CMOS Low-Light Sensor with 20.2MP resolution, a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T f/1.8 lens with 3.6 optical zoom and is as impressively compact as any camera in this review. Combining this fast, bright lens with such a large sensor and the refined BIONZ image processor means you have fantastic image quality with DSLR-like focusing speeds and a fast burst rate. The 35mm equivalent focal range on this camera runs from 28-100mm, but increases slightly depending in which of the four aspect ratios you shoot. Complete manual exposure control is possible in both photo and Full HD 1080 video and it’s possible to shoot in both RAW and JPEG at the same time. A 3.0” flat LCD provides composition and playback and the very compact aluminum body has refined curves, solid feel and hides a pop-up flash.
The brand new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 Full Frame Compact Digital Camera is quite notable, as it is houses a 24.3MP full-frame (35.8 x 23.9mm) sensor and BIONZ image processor in a compact body. In terms of sensor size, none of the other cameras mentioned here can compete; the sensor in the RX1 is the same size as in Sony’s A99 and other DSLR cameras. And while its lens does not retract, so it’s not totally compact, it is incredibly small, considering the size of its sensor—basically the same size as other cameras on this list when their lenses are extended. The lens on the RX1 is a fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* so it is fast and sharp. Autofocus is achieved in 0.13 seconds, its startup and lag time are also very fast and it’s capable of shooting 5 frames per second in full 24MP. Manual focus, aperture and macro mode are controlled by rings on the lens and ISO sensitivity reaches 25600, which along with Optical SteadyShot stabilization, offer low-light sharpness. A 3.0” LCD with 1,229K-dot resolution and WhiteMagic technology (white pixels as well as red, green and blue) is very sharp and Full HD 1080p at 24, 25, 50 or 60 frames per second is also available. If the RX1 sounds like it’s in a different category than the other camera mentioned here, its price reflects that, but it also testifies to the leap forward Sony has taken.
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1|
The Olympus STYLUS XZ-2 iHS Digital Camera also has the sensitive 1/1.7” BSI CMOS sensor like the Samsung EX2F, but is sized closer to the D-LUX 6. And with its TruePic VI Image Processor and Dual Image Stabilization, it’s also great in low light, more so considering that its zoom lens’s maximum aperture is f/1.8. The focal length range equivalency is 27-108mm, which gives it flexibility to shoot wide angle to standard telephoto with macro capability. Full HD 1080 video, in-camera panorama mode and 11 art filters add creative possibilities. Olympus iHS Technology, combining the TruePIc VI processor and BSI sensor, give the XZ-2 rich colors, high-quality images and fast performance. Also of note is its 3.0” touch screen swiveling LCD.
Slightly smaller than the above Panasonics, the Ricoh GR DIGITAL IV Digital Camera is a magnesium-bodied, sleek camera that, like the Sigma DP cameras, sets aside zoom lenses and HD Video and concentrates on agile performance and high-quality imaging. A 10MP 1/1.7” CCD sensor with a fast hybrid autofocus system and fast f/1.9 fixed lens offers handling that will impress any DSLR user. Its lens is a 6mm (28mm equivalent) wide-angle fixed focal length with low distortion, high contrast and quality macro capability. This Ricoh is a precise, durable, fast, multi-burst-capable camera that produces pleasing images in RAW and JPEG. A 3.0” flat LCD, Eye-Fi compatibility, bulb mode shooting and an electronic level are some of its other features.
Fujifilm offers a number of compact cameras that can truly be considered advanced. Their most compact in that category is the Fujifilm FinePix F800EXR Digital Camera. Hiding under its curved top plate is a powerful 20x zoom lens that has an equivalent focal length range of 25-500mm. Its maximum aperture is between f/3.5 and f/5.3 and a digital zoom extends its reach to 40x zoom. Super Macro mode is available for close-up photography and high-speed autofocus and Intelligent Image Stabilization aids in getting the quick shots you want. The sensor on the F800EXR is a 16MP EXR-CMOS sensor and its performance flows through the EXR Core Image Processor. A 3.0” LCD and Full HD 1080p with stereo is available and this little Fujifilm camera also has Wi-FI connectivity for immediate transfer and sharing of images.
The Fujifilm X-S1 Digital Camera, while also offering a long zoom lens, is rather large for a compact camera but fits nicely between the many options Fujifilm offers. The X-S1 looks a bit like a small DSLR, but has a fixed 26x zoom lens with equivalent lengths of 24-624mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide-angle end, and f/5.6 at telephoto. This very impressive lens with 4 aspherical elements and Electron Beam Coating justifies the camera’s larger body. Also justifying the size is the 12MP 2/3” EXR CMOS sensor, a 3.0” tilt-and-swivel LCD and a 1,440K dot electronic view finder with 100% coverage. All metal dials and a solid grip rubber coating speak to quality design; Full HD 1080p video, Optical Image Stabilization and 12800 ISO lead a large pack of features that put the X-S1 in a rarefied circle of advanced compacts with powerful lenses.
The Fujifilm X10 Digital Camera and the Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera separate themselves from the rest of this group because they offer a retro rangefinder-looking body and in the case of the X100, a very sharp fixed focal length lens, but their internal specs match up well with the best compact cameras available. The X100 houses a 12.3MP APS-C sized CMOS sensor for high-quality images and shoots through a 35mm equivalent f/2.0 lens. Video capability is 720p, but the bright lens and large sensor offer crisp details and great colors. Like the other Fujifilm cameras, Film Simulation Mode allows you to set the camera to reproduce the colors and tones of the company's famous films, such as Provia and Velvia. The X100 also has a hybrid viewfinder that can switch from optical to electronic with just a simple switch, and a 2.8” LCD monitor. High ISO sensitivity and image stabilization, along with the fast lens, help to create clear low-light photographs.
Click to see the hybrid viewfinder feature
Fujifilm made only 10,000 of their X100 BLACK Limited Edition Digital Cameras, which is equal to the X100, but with a handsome, all-black body that comes with a separate flash unit, leather case, lens hood, metal adapter ring, filter and a numbered registration card.
The Fujifilm X10 also has an all-black retro body, but is slightly smaller than the X100. The control buttons and dials are similar too, as is the 2.8” LCD screen, but the X10 has a fast 28-112mm (equivalent) manual zoom lens that gives it a range of possibilities that the X100 does not have. The same 12MP ASPS-C-sized sensor is housed in the X10, and durability and manual exposure controls are equal. The X10 offers Full HD 1080 video to work with the f/2.0 maximum aperture lens, and a 4x Intelligent Digital Zoom is available to add focal length if needed.
The Fujifilm XF1 Digital Camera is about as stylish as a camera can be. Retro yet elegant, it comes in three distinctive colors: black, red or tan. The XF1 is about an inch wide with an aluminum body and a colored wrap that gives it a look like a black-tie accessory from an earlier era. The lens retracts fully into the body of the camera and the camera actually powers on and off with a slight turn of the lens. While it has fast, fully automatic focusing, the lens can also turn to focus manually. The sensor is a 12MP 2/3” EXR CMOS sensor which features Fujifilm’s EXR color array and a large pixel size that produces high-quality images with enhanced sensitivity and minimal noise. The lens is a 4x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal range of 25-100mm and a fast maximum aperture of f/1.8. Optical image stabilization and an ISO range up to 12800 allow for sharp low-light photography. Movie recording is Full 1080i with stereo sound. A 3.0” LCD provides clear composition, focusing and playback. In addition, RAW capture, manual shooting modes and 10 frames per second of continuous shooting offer real image control. A pop-up flash, electronic horizon level and a customizable E-Fn button for quick access to the settings you use most round out the features on this sleek beauty.
Wanted a good & quality , expensive point & shoot pocket camera to keep for years . As same price at $800 bewteen Leica D-lux 6 and Canon G1X . I would pick the D lux 6 for optics and famous quality brand name from Germany .
Such a shame that the Canon G1X is saddled with an optical viewfinder that shows less than 80% of what the camera's sensor sees and performance speed (auto-focus and shot-to-shot time for example) that is bested by all but the cheapest P&S cameras available. Give this camera an EVF and performance speed to match other comparably priced cameras and its admittedly excellent IQ, and it would be an all around winner.