The trouble with compacts

_RX100_DSC3064 copy
Homage to Van Gogh. I didn’t leave the house that day with the intention of shooting anything, but if I hadn’t been packing some pocket heat, I wouldn’t have gotten this image, either.

I ended the last article on this note:

By far the most effective camera-for-when-you-don’t-want-to-carry-a-camera is a compact of some description; ideally one that’s small enough you don’t notice it, but is fast and responsive enough to react when you see something, and preferably be operable one-handed. I don’t want to feel like I’m carrying a camera. Of the dozens of these things I’ve owned, precisely none of them have fit the bill completely.

What we want – translated into something more concrete, looks like this:

  • It’s got to fit into a pocket or a bag without demanding its own or being obtrusive. Obviously we can relax the demands for something that’s trouser-pocketable given space constraints.
  • A good lens: something with a usable zoom range, and fast maximum aperture – the LX7’s lens is the benchmark here.
  • A sensor that’s large enough to give us decent ISO 1600, usable 3200.
  • Image stabilisation, or an optical finder. Preferably, both.
  • Responsiveness in operation – focusing, writing, menus, review/ zooming.
  • Easy access to the critical controls: exposure compensation, metering mode, and focusing mode/ area. (Aperture control is useless on compacts anyway since depth of field is enormous.)
  • Buffered raw shooting; it doesn’t have to be blazing fast, but say 3-4fps for 5 frames is usually sufficient.
  • Customization of the things that need setting once – auto ISO behaviour, noise reduction, blinking highlights, file naming, info displays and shortcut buttons etc.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Decent near focus limits.
  • A spot meter.
  • No compromises to review modes, by which I mean you zoom the actual file and can compare two files easily – either side by side or switching between them; easily accessible protect modes etc.
  • Call me shallow, but I’d like it to have a clean design and the right tactile qualities, too.

On that basis, you’d imagine that I’d have the Sony RX100 since it fulfills almost all of those criteria. I did for a while, then a few things about it niggled me to the point that I wasn’t using it anymore, so I sold it. My pathalogical need to carry a camera with me all the time means I’m in the market for a replacement; I have to remind myself that this kind of spec is actually not easy to find at any size. I still don’t know which one of these I’m most willing to compromise on; I suppose it’s size since I’ll land up carrying one of the DSLRs and a 24-120/4 VR if I need versatility. But it’s still not compact, and the mere fact that I’m carrying it turns photography from something that I’ll do if the opportunity arises into the reason for my being there, which can compromise the actual objectives of my excursion.

Let’s take a look at the choices that make up my shortlist – assume I’m aiming for pocket carry, which excludes any of the larger compacts or large-sensor fixed cameras; you really have to use these with a neck strap or live in a very cold country (so you have a jacket with enormous pockets) – the tropics limit you to a belt pouch at most.

Sony RX100
Pros: Best sensor and image quality of the bunch; fast and responsive autofocus; f1.8 maximum aperture; buffered 14-bit RAW shooting; impressive video output; relatively compact
Cons: f1.8 maximum aperture is only at the wide end of the lens (it quickly reaches f4.9) and furthermore it needs to be stopped down to have good corner performance; optical stabilizer is nearly useless; near focus limit is laughable; front control dial is useless for changing discrete exposure values because it lacks tactile feedback; no shoe for optical finder; slippery and not so easy to hold securely

Panasonic LX7/ Leica D-Lux 6
Pros: Standout lens – 24-90/1.4-2.3 that delivers excellent performance at all apertures; true multi-aspect ratio sensor; EVF port; buffered RAW shooting; excellent near-focus limits and optical performance; very effective image stabilization
Cons: The sensor could be better, and in some aspect ratios is limited to just 7MP; high ISO performance is so-so; lens very slow to zoom; aperture dial on lens is pointless and just adds to the bulk of the camera; a bit too thick to be pocketable; review images look terrible on LCD; focusing is slow enough to be frustrating at times

Ricoh GR-Digital IV
Pros: Highly responsive and customizable UI; ability to zone focus override; phase detect sensor and expected speed; excellent fast lens (28/1.9) usable at all apertures; good near focus limits; thin enough to fit into just about any pocket; hotshoe for optical finder; great tactile quality
Cons: Sometimes you need more than 28mm; sensor could be better

Ricoh GR-Digital V
Pros: 16MP APS-C sensor with no AA filter; highly responsive and customizable UI; ability to zone focus override; pretty fast focusing (claimed); decent lens; more pocketable than Coolpix A, not as pocketable as GR-D IV; hotshoe for optical finder; great tactile quality
Cons: Sometimes you need more than 28mm; price, though a good $400 cheaper than the A.

Nikon Coolpix A
Pros: That sensor: 16MP APS-C; outstandingly good image quality; excellent lens – not that fast (f2.8) but compensated by the sensor; just about pocketable; buffered RAW; good UI; great build-feel
Cons: No VR; high price; sometimes you need more than 28mm; not the fastest at focusing; price.

Fuji Finepix XF1
Pros: Outstanding JPEG output quality; decent lens but slow at the long end (25-100/1.8-4.9); clever collapsing design gives us both compact stored size and a mechanical zoom ring; largeish 2/3″ type sensor; reasonably fast focusing; passable image stabiliser.
Cons: RAW files are utterly terrible – nowhere near as good as the JPEGs; slow aperture at the long end; somewhat odd UI logic in places; the lens can be a bit fiddly; build quality feels cheap in places

Fuji Finepix X20
Pros: Decent JPEGs; good fast lens with IS; a very, very enjoyable camera to shoot with; high tactile quality; decent optical finder with shooting information display.
Cons: Subpar image quality at anything other than base ISO; avoid DR200/400 modes due to noise; it isn’t really pocketable – nearly the same size as an OM-D with 14-42 pancake zoom.

Clearly, everything is a compromise. You’d think it isn’t that difficult to make something which fits the bill simply because it’d sell well enough that the R&D investment would be worthwhile; however, it really seems that none of the people designing compacts these days are actually photographers. Instead of getting simplified menus and adequate manual controls, we must have mode dials which are mostly full of positions that are never used, gimmicky features like ‘pet beauty smile retouch mode’ and exposure compensation that requires a secret button sequence to access.

Why are all the companies stuck in the mindset that small must be for idiots and people who get converted from the spec sheet alone (marketing: ‘more of everything – megapixels, scene modes, fps – is better!’) and that anybody ‘serious’ must have a large, overly complicated and bulky compact? Even then, we’re still crippled by the marketeers: two command dials is no longer enough, three is now the benchmark. Some of these ‘compacts’ are larger than system cameras – the Nikon P7700 and Canon G15, for instance, are almost the same size as an OM-D body. I’d rather put a pancake zoom (the Panasonic 14-42 X is pretty good, actually – just a little slow in aperture) pay the slight size penalty and take the much larger sensor and every other benefit that camera offers.

Sony and Panasonic are the only two companies to come close, but both drop the ball in ways that could easily be fixed. Frustratingly, it feels like I’m looking for Goldilocks here: just like the fairytale, she doesn’t exist in reality. A moderate speed, 3-4x zoom on a 1″ or APS-C sensor would be perfect – it seems we can have one or the other, not both (and yes, I am aware that lenses for larger sensors need to be physically larger, too). Or maybe they just want to sell us one more iteration before we get what we want. Perhaps I should just give up and settle for the Coolpix A or GRD V; still, there are times when you just want to use a narrower perspective. If I’ve missed a possible contender, please leave a comment; hopefully it could be the one…MT

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Comments

  1. Elliot Colton says:

    Hi Ming,
    Love your site and your insightful real world reviews. Not to mention that your creative photography is very inspiring.
    I have rediscovered my love for photography of late and use a Nikon DSLR mostly. For a second camera that is good for spur of the moment carry or travel, I use an Olympus E-PL3 with the Panasonic pancake zoom. It’s as small as I could get within the criteria of good AF and sensor size. I manage to get some pretty good shots with it. However, it is weak in low light.
    I would like to go smaller though as this combination still isn’t pocket sized. I wondered if you have had a chance to check out the Panasonic GM1 or the Sony RX100 II?
    Cheers,
    Elliot

    • Thanks for the compliments. I reviewed the original RX100 here – the II is pretty much the same, though adds a bit of flexibility/ stealth with the folding screen. It doesn’t address the issue of the lens being poor wide open especially at wide, and at the corners – but at the same time it also makes an already very good camera better.

      The GM1 I just received this afternoon. If I still find myself using it after a week, I’ll put some thoughts down. If not, then I think that should answer your question…

  2. Timur Born says:

    I decided that trousers pocketability is more important than anything else for a compact that can go everywhere where you’d also take a smartphone. From there it has to beat the smartphone, which is easy with zoom capabilities, not any bigger cameras. So I looked at the biggest sensor cameras that fulfill this requirements, which pretty much leaves only the Canon S100/110/120 and Panasonic LF1. The RX100 is already too thick, not to mention quite expensive for a camera that is meant to only complement a bigger one when you feel too lazy to carry the extra weight and bulk (most often for me).

    In the end I got the LF1, as it offers a viewfinder and some other niceties, costs less than a S120 and RX100, but more than a S100/110. One of its main drawbacks is that you have nearly no control over its JPG output (sharpening, noise reduction, constrast etc.), so it’s mostly a RAW shooter for me. I listed more pros and cons in a DPR post.

    Still have to gather more experience with it, but the most important aspect remains that I can carry it several days in a row in a jeans trousers pocket without feeling awkwardly impaired.

    • I prefer the GR for that purpose. Is the LF1’s image quality good enough though?

      • Timur Born says:

        Unfortunately my longer reply seems to have been swallowed. I find the LF1’s quality adequate for its sensor size + lens, with the lens being the largest compromise (soft border wide open at the wide end with strong aberrations). I need a zoom lens and I want smaller, so the LF1 is closer to my personal needs than the Ricoh. Another drawback of the LF1 is practical absence of JPG controls, but with RAW shooting capabilities I don’t miss that too much.

        Here is a list of pros and cons: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/5281189784/lf1-experience-report
        Here the same with discussion and some sample images to describe what I mean by lens and JPG weaknesses: http://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3548788

        • I just borrowed my brother’s LF1 earlier today; handling is pretty good and the EVF is useful for stability if nothing else – it’s the worst EVF I’ve ever seen – but file quality remains to be seen…

  3. Hello Ming. Thanks for your time to comment on your wealth and knowledge on your profession and hands on experiences and opinions, I am sure everybody is amazed like me at your knowledge !
    Can I ask I have a sony rx100 and whilst I love its JPEG output I don’t find it a pleasure to use, is there anything out there either compact or semi-compact or even csc that you would recommend to match the rx100 JPEG output a FL camera is not out of the question and neither is budget to a degree, Maybe looking down the lines of csc with fast prime ?
    Can I ask your experiences if any with sony nex6 or 7 ?
    Kind regards and thanks in advance
    lee

  4. John Nicholson says:

    Would really appreciate it if you could get your hands on an MX-1 and give us your view. Thanks in advance.

  5. D3xmeister says:

    Very good article. The only thing I was surprised with was the RX100 stabilization. I have the RX100 and the IS is very good, makes a world of difference when needed.

    • It definitely makes a difference, but in my experience it doesn’t seem anywhere near as good as the Panasonics, let alone something like the OM-D…

  6. Timur Born says:

    One comment about your XF1 remark “RAW files are utterly terrible – nowhere near as good as the JPEGs”:

    Adobe Lightroom 4.4 got a workover for full resolution EXR files that makes RAW files match very fine detail resolution of JPGs. Even now it can help to choose small sharpening radii below 1, but with older versions it was kind of mandatory. There is an issue with 90° corners with both EXR and X-Trans files in LR 4.4’s new demosaicing (of EXR and X-Trans), but mostly only visible with pixel-peeping.

    Unfortunately working with EXR type RAW files in Lightroom is still very slow with Loupe/Compare, and even worse, the Loupe/Compare results are visibly different from Development. So it’s possible to get good results, but the hurdles are higher than necessary.

    My main beef with full resolution EXR images is that they cannot resolve diagonal line well, especially upper left to lower right ones can get lost completely (they literally vanish into mush). This applies to both JPG and RAW files.

    Concerning the decision between X10 and X20: I am still waiting for an answer from Fujifilm whether they fixed AUTO ISO with flash (and AUTO DR) on the X20, since they don’t want to fix it in firmware on the X10. As a X10 user (gave it away to a relative now) the main size related problem was the lens, not so much the additional height for the viewfinder.

    The main advantage of the X10/20 is it’s near silent operation when absolute stealth is needed. Theoretically you can shoot at a theater performance through the optical viewfinder without disturbing anyone else in the audience with the glow of a bright screen. And the shutter is so silent that I can shoot my family from 1 ft away without being noticed, while everyone turns heads when I shoot the already quite silent E-M5 from across the room.

    The main disadvantage (along the points mentioned above) is Fujifilm’s bad support. Not only the whole sensor replacement mess with the X10 (including repeated long wait times and sloppy lens assembly replacement), but several other things. Guess which company did not offer a dedicated Service point at last Photokina while most others did!? You get the point… ;-)

    • To be honest: it’s so much hassle that I’ve pretty much given up. There are so many easier ways to get better results…for instance, the JPEGs out of the new Olympus E-P5 I just tested blew me away; to the point that most of the images in the review and accompanying Flickr set are SOOC JPEG. They’re noticeably better than my OM-D, and required basically no work if you nailed exposure and white balance. And I know that even if I did want to work on it, the raw files (again, same as the OM-D’s as they use the same sensor) are nice and easily malleable. Not necessarily true with the Fuji…the JPEGs were nice, but not this ‘rich’.

      • Timur Born says:

        Now that’s a surprise, that you say the E-P5 JPGs are noticeably better than the OM-D ones. Now the question is how much of “too much bulk” does the E-P5 present compared to the compacts you listed here.

        Personally I keep thinking about an Olympus XZ-2 or maybe Panasonic LX7, but when I had them in hand they didn’t really seem *that* much smaller than m43 except for the less protruding lens when stowed away.

        • Something changed in the processor, apparently – according to Olympus. No idea what. The E-P5 is larger than the A or the GR, and that’s excluding a lens. That puts it way outside pocketable for me – a second body to accompany an OM-D, maybe, but that’s about it. I’d consider the XZ-2, G15, P7700 etc to be large cameras; the LX7 is midsize. All are too thick to comfortably fit in a pocket.

  7. I’ve been lurking around the site for a couple months now, finally decided to chime in.
    Firstly, big thank you, Ming, this site is invaluable, there is nothing quite like your reviews and other writings and style out there.

    I mostly shoot b&w on my old clunky Minolta SLR nowadays, but recently picked up Fuji XF1 to use as a travel companion. Took it to Nepal and SE Asia the other month. Although the JPEGs are indeed quite stunning for a relatively cheap ‘serious’ point n shoot, after a few weeks i picked up a couple of pieces of dust in the lens (I believe it’s inside the lens, not on the sensor, because the spots move when I zoom). Suddenly, after only a few months of service, the camera became pretty much useless – yes, I can Lightroom them out, but who wants to constantly do it; yes, I can send it for repairs, but the costs are prohibitive; yes, I shook it and hit it and vacuumed it, all in vain.

    So basically a warning – aside from all the photographic aspects – if you shoot a lot in sub-pristine conditions, one of the cons of all these zoom compacts is the dust vulnerability. (I say ‘all’, because I believe none of the above are weather proof).
    Based on this alone, I will be leaning toward either fixed lens or, perhaps, micro 4/3rd for my next pocketable digital.

    • Ouch – I think it’s probably exacerbated by the collapsible lens mechanism on the XF1 that I’d imagine might well suck dust into the body. A small neoprene pouch can help a lot here; in any case I generally try to carry my compacts either in a solo pocket or in a belt holster, and haven’t had any problems so far.

    • Timur Born says:

      Moisture also is an issue with these pumping lenses. A metal body can become a disadvantage, too. I had the X10 in my jacket pocket in winter. Then I came into a very warm and very humid room. And while all the plastic cameras where snapping happily away, my full metal X10 was still cold as ice and sucked all the moisture in, which resulted in heavy condensation fog on the lens *and* sensor.

      • Ouch – if the sensor condensation is bad enough, it might well leave watermarks…

        • Timur Born says:

          Might also have been condensation on the rear element, but after some time I could not make out condensation inside the lens and still got foggy images for quite some time. So I can only assume it was on the sensor. There was no visible deprecation after it all cleared up, though.

          And frankly, the dust I got inside the lens *with the lens* after having the sensor (aka whole lens assembly) replaced for the first time – due to the orbing X10 sensors – was far worse than anything I sucked in during my time of use. That was mostly in town and inside, though. Had to sent it in again and wait another 3+ weeks to get it back.

          • Ouch. That doesn’t sound good at all. So far I’ve been pretty lucky with collapsing lenses and dust, and only ever seen it once on a compact – my wife’s, which she leaves riding around in her handbag. I wonder if it was the environment or just a poor design on Fuji’s part…

            • Timur Born says:

              It was a mixture of winter cold metal body and metal barel lens and going into a very warm indoor pool room (baby swimming course). I don’t blame the X10, just mentioning that the plastic shooters snapped away happily. And using the zoom made things foggy inside the camera very quick. The X10 pushes a lot of air through its optical viewfinder, too, which you even can feel when you have your eye close to it (naturally).

            • I have a suspicion it’s specifically the XF1 – its lens mechanism feels a bit flimsy. And it travels more, as you mentioned. Combine the two, and you have a nice little vacuum there.

  8. Stephen Scharf says:

    I know this may sound somewhat like an outlandish idea, but have you considered the Fuji X10? From your X20 review, I know you played with one a fair bit, just curious if you’ve shot with one extensively.

    Reason I ask is this:
    I got into the Fuji X-series by literally stumbling across the X-10 last September at Costco. I didn’t even know of the X10 until I bumped into the display. I started using the X10 for everything, and relegated my old pro motorsports photography warhorse Canon 1D MkII to it’s Airport Addicted rollaboard case. I’ve been very, very impressed with the X10’s image quality, OOC JPEGs are downright gorgeous and there’s plenty of editing headroom even in JPEGs, and the EXR-baesd Dynamic Range settings actually worked very well. I’ve got landscape shots from Arches in Utah with unbelievable shadow and sky detail. Even the EXR “auto setting” worked quite well, producing excellent quality images (though I agree it tends to favor shutter speed over aperture). Raw images also convert very well in rev of Lightroom past 4.3.

    I loved that camera (and it’s image quality) so much it led me to buying the X-Pro1, which has become my main squeeze as a system-level camera.

    Reading about all the functional enhancements the X20 has, I had to have one, and ordered from B&H as soon as they were available; I received mine on April 17. To my dismay, though, I’m finding that the X20 has the same image quality issues you describe except when shot at base ISO. I shot some snaps in a mall the other day at ISO 400 that were downright dreadful when viewed at 100%. I personally find this quite disappointing, not only because I just laid down 600 smackers for it, but also because the rest of the camera is SO good. It may be going back to B&H next week.

    All this has made me realize I need to go back and thoroughly look through my higher ISO X10 shots in much more detail, but it memory, serves, it’s higher ISO performance was quite a bit better than the X20’s.

    I’m beginning to think the ideal compact for me is an X20 body w/ phase contrast AF, the wonderful trans-panel display with an X10 EXR sensor.

    Regards,
    Stephen Scharf
    P.S. I’ll have additional comments for your X20 review.

    • No, I haven’t. But I have shot with one (my brother has one). Didn’t like the slow AF speed, and frankly, the viewfinder is largely vestigial, so I’d rather have a more compact body. I didn’t get the impression IQ of the new sensor was worse than the old one, though – color and DR are definitely better, but noise seems to be binary (there’s either noise – above ISO 100 – or there isn’t – ISO 100) unlike the X10, and every other camera, that progressively gets noisier as you increase sensitivity.

  9. One other con for the Ricoh GR: It doesn’t have any kind of image stabilization. If this is going to be a con on the Coolpix A, it should be a con on the Ricoh too!

    This is also a big problem for anyone who does video: that’s obviously not you, but the lack of stabilization could shift anyone who wants some video use to the RX100.

    • Agreed. I think the RX100 is probably more flexible for video – and the deficiencies of the lens aren’t really visible when the whole frame is shrunk down to 2MP.

  10. Have you tried Nokia Pureview 808? Allways-carry-on option, though compromising some points on your list.

  11. Christopher says:

    What about the olympus xz-2? I like it’s usebility and Image Quality but It’s not really small and a litle bit slow.

  12. To Ming: I know you have said before that you don’t do video, but I must point out that the Sony RX100 does it exceptionally well. I think its the one reason why I don’t trade my unit for a Panasonic LX7.

  13. And what about the coming Panasonic LF 1..?

  14. The p330 is out. I have the p310. Though I feel it might have had the same issue you had with the Coolpix A, it does fit some of the criterias you mentioned but yeah I don’t shoot it over 1600, the jpgs are surprisingly malleable and I use it only for facebook or the web media for which it provides me enough image quality incentives for the 200$ I paid for it to leave my D600 at home.

    Sorta begs the question: what snapshot camera works best for that platform? (perhaps for another post)

    Anw, yeah you asked to tell you if you missed out on something so here you are :) p330

  15. You just described the Fuji X100s.

  16. Leica x2 has outstanding image quality and controls, just pocketable. Although not your fav 28mm, and a bit slow to focus. however, the images from your own review were outstanding…

  17. David Silva says:

    Sacrificing ultimate pixel peeping pleasure for compact convenience, I am partial to the Panasonic GX1 or other similar size / controls product with either the Panasonic 14-42 pancake zoom or the 20mm f1.7. I can carry it everywhere, and catch lots of otherwise missed shots. For me a very good compromise.

  18. Fuji XF1 ; Outstanding JPEG & Fuji X20 Decent JPEGs.

    Does XF1 IQ is better than what you get from the X20 really?

  19. the frustrating truth is that cameras get better as tehy get larger. there are inumerable advantages to big cameras. of course then you dont have it with you when that great shot comes. I dont have an answer i just share your frustration

  20. With Aptinas new 14mp one inch sensor and Epsons and Finetechs new EVF’s there are bound to be new additions from many makers of compacts and evil cameras. Choices are bound to improve. I doubt Sony or Fuji would use that sensor though.

    • Sony already has an excellent 1″ sensor. And they’d probably use one of their own EVFs. Fuji’s 2/3″ unit with PDAF is a step in the right direction buy still needs work.

  21. My suggestion would be the Merrill camera’s Ming. You can choose between the focal lenghts.
    I know you don’t seem to be fond of them, but why not borrow one and give it a go. IQ wil amaze you and perfect for BW also.
    You could even use a handheld flash with them for street portaits.
    Otherwise, I would say the new Ricoh GR. Looks very promising. IQ wise nowhere near the Merrills, but it’s made for street shooting of course.

    • I tried one. Operationally not for me. IQ is great but only at base ISO, and even then the A is pretty darned close; I never use flashes for street work. Too damned obvious and I’m not a big fan of the resulting look.

  22. Eddie Hawe says:

    Canon s110

  23. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Sony Announces the Cyber-shot HX50V: The World’s Smallest and Lightest 30x Optical Zoom Camera”

    http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/04/24/sony-launches-cyber-shot-dsc-hx50v-30x-compact-superzoom-with-wi-fi-and-gps

    I wonder how much noise those 20 Mpx in a 1/2.3″ sensor will make…
    And whether it does have better IS than the RX100 is said to have.
    And whether such a long compact zoom can make corners sharp at 24 mm equivalent focal distance – or maybe corners are soft also at the tele position…

    BUT, it is eminently pocketable, and for some it might turn out to be a possible travel zoom to add to your other carry-always camera.
    And it has an accessory shoe.

    • That spec sheet does not look encouraging for image quality. But for most, it will be enough. Then again, we might be surprised – the 1″ Sony sensor in the RX100 is significantly better than the Nikon/Aptina one with half the pixel count…

  24. Jock Elliott says:

    Ming,

    How about a G15? Decent zoom. Fast lens (2.8 at telephoto). Jacket pocketable size. (I wear a G12 frequently on a neck strap under an over-shirt and the G15 is a hair smaller.) Lens collapses and is quick to deploy. Build quality is pretty good too. I have used my G12 for paid work. I have not personally handled or shot the G15, so a lot of this comment is based on suppositions.

    • It felt nice, in the build department, but the price and size…didn’t. We’re back to a similar problem as with the X20: it scores very low on the image quality per gram or cc stakes…

  25. Juanjo Lopera says:

    Have you tried the Powershot G15 ?
    It’s a great improvement over previous G series with an 28-140 mm 1,8-2,8 lens and optic viewfinder (cropped of course, as is the one in the X20…)
    I like the noise this camera produces at high Iso settings, as it resembles me the effect of Leica M8 and M9 cameras, some film appearance…
    I use it wide open always and it delivers great results. Good detail in shadows too.

    • Yes. I liked the feel but not the price-size-image quality ratio. Doesn’t go far enough above the other more compact cameras with the same sensor (or the LX7, for that matter) to justify the bulk.

  26. Ming that’s a great article, but it serves to highlight the fact that no camera is perfect. I applaud miniature cameras for their anonymity and convenience. I currently use a Panasonic LX5 and will change to an LX7 soon. It is in either my pocket or glove box at all times and has been instrumental in helping me take some of my best shots.

    The real issue is to understand and use any camera within its limitations. I would never have done this previously, but I also upgrade equipment regularly….cameras as well as software. The improvements in both generally increase usability and quality.

    In recent years I also use an iPhone 5 for personal shots and with proper processing, the results are more than acceptable. The bottom line is not to get over fussy with features and become too much of a gear head. If you do, life passes you by.

    • Oh, if you understand the fundamentals of light and composition you’ll be able to make good images with a cardboard tube and pinhole, but personally I like choice and good ergonomics :)

  27. John Lockwood says:

    How about the Sigma Merrill series Ming? Image quality is reportedly great, just have to decide which lens you like.

    • True – so long as you’re okay with base ISO and don’t mind the operational foibles. They’re also a little thick to pocket and not very ergonomic.

  28. I used Leica M8/9 W/50/30 Summilux asph for years because of the superb IQ and this has spoiled me but in all the years I could not become a natural manual focus user and I missed one handed shooting..this all just applies to digi cameras..I had the Sony RX1 breifly when it came out but found the focus too slow..Decided to sell all my digi cameras and having a year of film only..getting better at scanning and loving medium format..In the mean time I hope someone is designig my nearly perfect pocketable camera with super fast shutter and superb IQ..Interested in seeing how the new GRD performs..I love primes, 28mm is a very sexy FL IMO and I never would buy a zoom..
    Ming..I really enjoy your writing, thoughts and the discussions here very informative.

  29. Christian says:

    I think that E-PL5 with an Oly 17mm 1.8 looks like an interesting combo. Not the smallest, nor the biggest, but responsive and with decent IQ. Flip screen for thoose angels or candid moments.

  30. get a move on. I cant wait forever
    I am still waiting for you to find the perfect pocket camera.
    Nearly pulled the pin on the Rx100 but you selling yours saved me the disappointment of being disappointed:)
    Thanks for doing the legwork and the research
    Tim

    • So just go play with a few in a store and buy whatever feels nice to you. Tactility will make far more difference in use than image quality…what’s the point of having something great but not fun to shoot with?

  31. Rain Santiago says:

    I think camera companies also have this Apple disease in which they hold back certain features because they want us to spend more $$$ on the next generation etc otherwise if they created a camera that would meet all of our checklist then there’s no reason for them to further develop it and we’d all get bored.

    • Thom Hogan calls it the “Last Camera”. Meaning the camera that finally meets all your main requirements, to the point that subsequent model releases are mostly unnecessary to most. For APS-C DSLRs, the 7100 might already be there.

      We are a long way off in a compact though. Electronics will crack the nut eventually, rather than optics.

      • Agree to both. I think for the majority of the population, that point was some time ago – I prefer to think of it as sufficiency. For malcontents like me, there will probably never be a last camera. But we’ve definitely passed sufficiency, even for commercial work.

  32. I have somewhat similar requirements: I want something when I don’t want to carry a camera bag, and these situations are fairly common – going to ball games, parties, weddings, museums, etc., plus when just I’m out and about with the wife. Most of the time, these are fairly dark places, so a big aperture and decent ISO up to 1600 or so are fairly important. At the same time, I want something that just gets out of the way. Doesn’t need to be pocketable, but does have to able to be tucked away under an arm. A viewfinder would be great, but a tilting LCD might be better. Zoom would be great, but I’d prefer a high quality sensor.

    I’ve made do and either taken my E-M5+Panasonic 25mm (or the 20mm before i sold it; never clicked with that lens) or taken my S95. I’ve either felt like my E-M5 was really in the way, or that the results from my S95 were mediocre.

    I’d have gone ahead and bought something by now, but I really don’t feel like the options available to me are all that much of a step up from the 2 cameras I currently have to warrant the price. I haven’t been particularly impressed by the RX100 – it might deliver the best image quality of any pocketable camera, but that’s kind of damning with faint praise. The mediocre lens isn’t that interesting, either. The LX7 is nice and inexpensive… but the images just don’t pop to me; same with the XZ-2. The X20 looks cool, but every image I’ve seen at ISO 800+ looks absolutely dreadful. I like the way the Nikon A handles, but I don’t care for the focal length. And the price..ugh. Maybe if it had a built in viewfinder or a tilting screen, but it has neither.

    I’m renting an X100S Next month for a holiday weekend, during which I have two weddings. That’ll really be a test of fit for purpose. The focal length isn’t my favorite, so I’m kind of predisposed against it. My bank account will be happy if I don’t like it because it really is expensive.

    So maybe my solution is to get a Pen Mini 2 or GF6 plus a pancake lens? That won’t work since i so far don’t care for any of the pancake lenses for Micro Four Thirds.

    So assuming the X100S isn’t my cuppa…I guess I’m going to have to wait? Argh.

    Yep, the hope for a camera equivalent to the Momma Bear bowl of porridge (you know, the one that’s ‘just right’) continues …

    • I bought my friends a GF5 with the collapsible pancake zoom a while ago. Very nice little package and the GF6 will only improve on its abilities. It’s worth a look.

      They just had a baby and I wanted them to have something better than their S95. It needed to be small or it wouldn’t be used, and it needed to be easy to use (touchscreen focusing is a boon). I also got them a PQI Air card so they could easily download onto their phones or iPad. The GF6 takes care of that.

      I would have got them an Oly M4/3, but their smallest don’t have built-in flashes, which was another must.

      • Actually, other than a brief experiment with off camera flashes for macro, I’ve never used a flash with my OM-D…or ever, for that matter, with the RX100.

  33. May I just add that the quality of discourse on this site is of a very high quality. No blind loyalties, no hyperbole. Just passionate, thoughtful, informed and witty exchange. It’s a pleasure to take it all in. I wish we lived in the same hood so we could gather for cocktails some evening! Peace.

    • Absolutely agree Roger. Without doubt the best discussion on the web. Although we may live far apart from each other there is a very real sense in which we do live in the same hood. I don’t think any other site could develop and sustain the intelligent discussion of compact cameras that has occurred here in the last weeks.

      • I’m sure there must be others! Given the time zones I’ve been shuttling through, chances are I probably was in everybody’s neighbourhood recently at one point or another.

  34. I am hoping that Ricoh will bring out a successor to the GX200. Ideally with the RX100 sensor.

    That would be perfect for me.

    24 / 35 / 50 / 72 step zoom, with Ricoh controls, compact size, and RX100 image quality.

  35. Only 10% of premium compact users actually know how to utilize the features of the camera.
    I guess the same goes for DSLRs. How many people out there really understands apertures and depth of field?
    The marketers target the 90%. Not the 10%.

    • 10% is still a large market – especially for a premium, high margin niche product.

    • Tom Liles says:

      Hello MikeC. You know I’d say who knows that!
      [what 90% and 10% of camera owners are like]

      But I’m sure you didn’t mean it quite so literally. To play along, I think it’s the opposite. I reckon most people in your 90% [of DSLR owners, say] are well up on DOF and apertures; knee deep in cambridge-in-color and luminous-landscape “understanding” articles. I bet you they might break of more time on that [theory] than actually going out and using the equipment in anger. Then again they might not. I don’t know. But unless you’re doing this as a moderately serious hobby, I think it’s just a brief “boom” for most people. Nothing wrong with that, either. So after the initial excitement of buying a DSLR [in this example] they’ll study up like crazy. Maybe go out a few times. And that’s probably where it ends for most… because it takes time to master these concepts [as opposed to just knowing what they are], because there is only ever one way: the hard way.

      So yes, marketers target the 90%; but on precisely the opposite premises that you suggest. That’s why the Mpix stuff is just bananas… if people really didn’t understand anything about this equipment, you wouldn’t be able to make that pitch.

      I think we all love the illusion of being knowledgable. But this kind of knowledge in and of itself is of limited value, I’d say. What’d you rather have: a guy who knows how to fix your car, or a guy who knows the theory? Which’d you rather be? And so, who really cares about circles of confusion and numbers in an exponential series. Just take gazillions of pictures and know your machine like the back of your hand and how to get what you want with it. That’s what 90% of people don’t do: who has the time and inclination?

      Probably about 10% of us? :)

  36. Ricoh GR Digital V and needing more than 28mm… I know 35mm is not what you mean by “more” but, with an accessory OVF, and their 35mm crop mode, it may be what Gert-Jan (and possibly me as well) are looking for. In any case, I am busy shooting Acros 100 on someone else’s unloved Pentax MX with 50mm 1.7. It’s not pocketable but has many other good qualities not least of which, it’s kind of fun. Manual focusing and making adjustments based on the built-in light meter while shooting your toddlers is an addictive exercise.

  37. Makes me want to take out the CL :)

  38. A most unusual post here, what with this (gentle) whining when you so often inspire and challenge us to do the most with what we have (thanks for that by the way!)
    I think you’re being somewhat unfair to camera manufacturers. It seems to me the RX100 moved the bar quite a bit, regarding sensor size and image quality in a tiny package. So do others, if not by the same margin: the GR/A for APS-C sensors, IQ and size; the LX7 for its lens and aperture; the X20 for usable viewfinder, manual zooming and tactility. Ok, maybe the G15 doesn’t raise any bar in particular but it looks to be one of the most well-balanced compromises in its small sensor genre.
    There is a camera you didn’t mention, though. Its design brief was exactly what you’re wishing for: moderate speed, 3-4x zoom and APS-C. It’s the G1X, and look what they came up with! Slow lens, a bit short of APS-C sensor size and definitely chunky – and would still be too large even if they’d replace the tiltable screen with a fixed one and dropped the useless OVF altogether. Goes som way to show that you’ll have to wait some time before someone can deliver your dream camera, I believe.
    But I sure know how frustrating “they” can be. My own dream camera at least is doable right now, though thanks to the “35mm curse” (and now 28mm) I’m not very optimistic to see it one day soon: just make a X100s twin with a 50 e-mm, someone, please. I’m desperate enough to take the first generation X100 with all its warts. I would also gladly take a similarly equiped GR/A/X2. I could even default to a pancake 25mm lens to put on my OM-D (there was one in regular four thirds…) In the mean time, my choices are the Q+47mm (ahem) or the too-quirky-for-my-taste DP2M. Thanks, but no.
    A bit similar to your GR/A + OM-D kit, any of the above would pair perfectly with my 2-weeks old X20, which I seem to be really bonding with. So life’s good, even though manufacturers are short-sighted!

    • The trouble is, we had all of this and better in the film days. Basically, we’re not wanting anything we haven’t already had: a digital GR1v, please – but we’ve had to wait from 2001 til now to get it.

      • Had the GR1s. Pretty noisy little thing, and I don’t remember it being particularly good over 400 ISO (not its fault, of course). And though you could change film mid-roll, it’s not the same as juggling with ISO shot after shot. AF was OK but not up to par to modern cameras, and you couldn’t check results in case you’d missed focusing or exposure. Still, I didn’t know all that was going to be possible one day so I didn’t care and enjoyed the camera. Until the day I noticed the vf framed exactly as my 35mm lens on my SLR! (yeah, cropping later with slides was not exactly easy)

        I see a lot of nostalgia here on the likes of Nikkon 35Ti or Contax T3, but none of them was perfect and I remember exactly the same kind of bitching at the time over how they’d missed it once more, and how they couldn’t ever seem to design a camera right. Frankly, I think we’re spoiled :-)

  39. Ming,

    I agree with most of your article, I keep on ranting on stupid useless scene modes!

    I am also dreaming of a compact with just a few wheel and buttons, shutter, ISO, aperture, the old way on film camera. No settings are faster than these. AF never convinced me, manual focus is the way to go when you have time, preset focus is the way to go when in a hurry (street photo).

    As for VF, just place an excellent oled screen BUT add a folding light shield with loupe identical to what you get on an Hassy or Rollei twin lenses, it is cheap and terribly efficient.
    Based on that, APS-c sensor with small 28~80 zoom, minimum of electronics but first rate processing for both sensor imaging and lens corrections, into the smallest box possible.

    Nobody will ever produce this camera ! Big shame ! So I go with cheap compacts, an old TZ3 and the most pockettable cam I know of which can deep into the pool with you, the Sony TX10. It’s all auto/jpeg rubbish with a zillion useless possibilities, so instead of struggled into stupid menus, I chose one logo in there and just keep it that way. Results are …. what they are but I don’t expect much form these cams so sometimes I have good surprises.

    I have the feeling that even if I had one of the many cams mentioned all along in this thread, I would get even more frustrated to have spent a decent amount for something which still doesn’t do things basically straight and simple.

    • They’ll produce it once they run out of scene modes :)

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Tooppy,
      I have not found any “folding light shield with loupe” that shields sufficiently,
      so I am making my own, but they wear out after some time – and they don’t shield really well either.
      Could you please give me some reference?
      (My camera has a 3″ screen, Fuji XF1.)

      • Kristian

        Precisely there is none except and adaptation of the square Hassy shield but it would be so easy to make for them.

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          Thanks Tooppy,
          It seems I will go on using my square conical 10cm long tube made of cardboard, duct tape and a loupe.
          It folds flat behind the camera, protects the screen and unfolds quickly – the next iteration will hopefully be better at shutting light out.

  40. I bought the Canon S90 with pocket-ability in mind, etc. But I don’t like the Canon S series much so I put it aside. I have given up on the idea that a camera has to fit in one’s pocket and am quit happy to wear a small camera on a neck strap. I hardly can tell they are there (I have the RX100, Ricoh GR iV and the RX 7 and they all have small straps) and they seem more like a bolo tie than a camera. Some days I forget to take it off once I get to work and no one says a thing.

  41. Don Root says:

    My chuckle for the day: ‘pet beauty smile retouch mode.’ So true.

    • I was only half kidding. I’m pretty sure I’ve actually seen that on at least one mode dial.

      • Steve Jones says:

        The landscape photographer’s nightmare! You see the majestic mountain range topped with snow, framed by a deep blue sky and raise the camera to your eye only to find that the function dial has moved to the ‘pet beauty’ position and when you try to re-position it, the thing keeps moving back to the same setting all by itself.The guy standing next to you with the Rollei 35 get’s the shot.
        Then you wake up in a cold sweat.

  42. I agree that compacts suffer from these troubles. The thing is, they’re far, far better than at any time in the past, so you either pick one or … you don’t :) I opted for the RX100 after debating for a while. I agree with your list of cons, but don’t agree that they’re all showstoppers (and have a couple of my own).
    f1.8 maximum aperture is only at the wide end of the lens (it quickly reaches f4.9) – true, though due to the sensor size, only a couple cameras (Panny & maybe Oly) match it for shallow DOF and low light with their faster teles.
    And furthermore it needs to be stopped down to have good corner performance – I’d prefer a sharper lens, but then again, it’s a pocket camera.
    Optical stabilizer is nearly useless – I’m finding it better than nothing, but it could be much better.
    Near focus limit is laughable – agreed. There are some shots it can’t take.
    Front control dial is useless for changing discrete exposure values because it lacks tactile feedback – I initially set mine to ISO, but then found myself wanting to turn it for zooming, which was odd because I haven’t had a p&s with that feature before. So now I’m trying it for zoom control. Not sure if I’ll like it, since you have to rotate it far to change FL. But that shows that I can have all other settings I want avalable by customizing rear buttons.
    No shoe for optical finder – That would change the pocketability of the camera. (And what FL would you buy ? 28mm ?) An EVF option would be nice – I’d consider it. But it’s my pocket camera and this was an eyes wide open issue decision.
    – Slippery and not so easy to hold securely. Agreed, and while it was stupid of Sony, you can fix this with 3rd party products. My initial thought was that I was comfortable holding the camera with my thumb underneath and so had no need for a grip, maybe only a “skin”, but then after using it for a couple weeks, I’ve decided to go for a grip. Now I have to decide between the slipper Franiec or a grippy Flipbac.

    My own gripes:
    Fn button can’t be configured for direct access to LCD brightness or SSS on/off.
    No remote shutter option (really, Sony ?)
    No Auto ISO in M mode

    But keeping things in perspective, it’s an amazing pocket camera.

    • I have to be honest: I buy compacts all the time, but never keep them longer than a few months. There’s always something that starts to get annoying in short order.

  43. Ming,
    I’d keep my eye on Fuji and their future compact cameras. I believe that Fuji and Sony are doing something special with their sensors. Each generation keeps getting better and better. However, the difference between Fuji and Sony is that Fuji is a smaller fish and seems to be listening to what photographers want.

    They may eventually come up with an XE-1 successor that is compact enough to replace an OMD and Ricoh GR type setup. As a first step, they probably need to transfer their x100s improvements to their interchangeable cameras.

    That being said, the Ricoh GR and OMD setup you propose seem to be the most flexible so far. Too bad the Fuji Rep in Malaysia (?) is not carefully watching your blog! I think we all want the best super compact possible.

    • The issue with the Fujis is still RAW support to some extent, and to a greater extent, the cameras making strange exposure choices. Even if the X-mount cameras are small, the lenses can’t be because they have to cover APSC.

      Fuji Malaysia doesn’t seem at all interested…

  44. How come you missed the canon power shots ? I own a 2 year old very pocketable S95 and it turns out some very good images. Ken Rockwell rates the powershot S100is as the “worlds best digital pocket camera”

    • Aside from not owning one or having shot with one…slow lens, smaller sensor, most limited shooting envelope.

      • Will Needham says:

        I think perhaps you should give one a try. I understand they are easy to overlook both on specs and appearance but there is more to them than meets the eye. What they give up shooting envelope they make up in being optimised for the job in hand; the job of being a go everywhere pocket camera.

  45. Jorge Balarin says:

    It is a wonderful photo, but looks more like a homage to the dutch baroque masters. Thank very much for posting your work.

  46. Robert Westcott says:

    Great post Ming. For several years I used a GRD II but ultimately the IQ was not good enough in too many situations so I sold it recently and opted for a compact 28mm on my M9. Very excited about the GRD ‘5’ though — if the APS-C sensor really addresses the IQ challenge. The rest of the package is small (truly pocketable), well made, good design, good lens, etc.

    Agree with Tom above re the X100(s). It is too big to be pocketable; not a lot smaller or lighter than the M9/28 combo. As for IQ I was very disappointed with mine — I had old APS-C Canon SLRs that easily out-performed it. In the end I returned my X100 unit as it just did not meet any of my criteria.

    I think you are being hard on fixed lens examples. Usually they are much better lenses than zooms in terms of IQ and with today’s larger sensors can stand a bit of cropping if you want to go in closer.

    Thanks for your wonderful site and hard work!!

    Robert

    • The A has better image quality than the M9/28 Summicron I used to shoot…

      • Well that’s a pretty exciting prospect.

        (Unreasonably exciting, in fact… maybe it’s time I joined Gearheads Anonymous or something…)

      • rwestcott says:

        Ming, did I read your comment correctly? The Nikon A has better IQ than the M9/28 Summicron? If so I am astonished and will be down to the shop pretty soon (well … as soon as a comparison between the Nikon A and the Ricoh GR5 is completed). After my disappointing experience with the Fuji X100 I despaired of finding a compact camera with acceptable, let alone matching, IQ performance.

      • rwestcott says:

        PS I chose the Elmarit-28/2.8 ASPH rather than the Summicron as it is the most compact lens Leica makes. Very sharp and detailed but not considered to have the tonal graduation of the Summicron version.

  47. You mentioned “price” twice in the Nikon A cons list. I hope that was intentional…lol.

  48. Great series, Ming. Thanks.

    What we need is an LX7 body/lens with an RX-100 sensor. Shouldn’t be difficult and would be very popular. I think we’ll get there soon.

    John

  49. John London says:

    You know I cannot understand the modern need to have a camera with you all the time and yet also have that strange need to hide it in a pocket. In a pocket – ready for that once in a lifetime shot which has just been missed because it is in a pocket. This disappearing camera, lodged in a pocket which has to be fumbled to retrieve it, has to be small enough to fit a pocket yet have a fully retractable good zoom lens with maybe a self retracting lens cap, to be image stabilised, have a wide aperture at both ends, a large sensor, a large screen and an evf, light-weight yet sturdy and feels good in the hand. If people want to have a camera to hand that is where it should be – in the hand, not in a pocket! If people want to have just the means to take a picture when something fairly static presents itself, then I would suggest they find the best mobile phone with a built in camera and accept the compromise of being able to take a picture with the convenience of having something in there pocket and live with the constraints of a possibly reduced image quality. And lets face it, how many images actually get printed these days, most are just viewed on a computer screen, so image quality is relative to convenience, purpose and need.
    If it has to be minimized to fit a pocket then one has to accept the constraints of features that size will allow.

    As Mike Johnstone would say – and with apologies to Mike – “just saying!”

    Keep up the good writing Ming, your posts are always worth the read!

    JohnL

    • Oddly, I’ve never had this problem…but I have had the problem of not wanting to be encumbered by a camera when my primary objective is not photography. Subsequently you don’t bring the camera, and miss something…

  50. It certainly doesn’t solve all the problems and has its own host of weaknesses but I have to offer up the Canon S100 as a contender along with the rest. It’s extremely small and can drop into a shorts’ pocket no problem, F 2.0, ability to shoot RAW, a dial on top that gives you AV, TV and P like your DSLR and a decent 12 meg sensor. It focuses fast and has a decent zoom range. Yes, the speed drops off significantly and yes the low light performance is lacking. But if you’re looking to make Van Gogh with something smaller than an iPhone, it’s worthy until we get our dream compact.

    Humbly submitted. Thanks as always, Ming!

    Roger Wojahn

    • chou chong says:

      Same humble thoughts here. I found myself time and time again having a trusty Canon S110 behind my jeans for the unexpected events, despite aknowledging the more able RX100 (why is that, i don’t know )

      chou chong

    • Possible, but has a smaller shooting envelope than the competition – so I left it out…

  51. The x100s is basically all of this and more. I do not understand why your blog is not covering it? My theory is that it blows all of these other cameras out of the water to such an extent a comparison would be pointless. :) Its not tiny but its basically pocketable, with great speed and quality. Its going to be a massive hit. Mine goes everywhere with me

    • I actually put the order in for an XZ-2 instead of the RX100. See my (longer) comment above. Different people have different priorities. The RX100 is a certainly a great camera but it has too many things ruining it for me to be better in all aspects than the other mentioned cameras. Handling is something that I underestimated before purchases in the past and after trying the RX100 myself, it’s not for me.

      • Enjoy you’ll love the XZ2 even though I have the RX100 as my main compact, I went and bought a refurbished XZ1 myself a few weeks ago for less than $180 because of the fast lens and Olympus JPEGS.

    • Leica x2 is even smaller ; based on image quality alone , is it still competitive ?

    • Tom Liles says:

      Hello paleopariah. In the hope of saving Ming another explanation: I don’t think a sample was forthcoming to him [though he had put the request in. Popular demand got the better of stock, but he got us an X20 review instead. Not bad, considering.] For more, see his gear round up from the US and the X20 review thereafter.

      Your x100s sounds great though. I just tried one tonight, and well…
      I’d watched the Zack Arias Turkey x100s package on YouTube; read the rave on the Strobist and was genuinely amped about the x100s. So much so I was seriously preparing myself for selling off the first ever camera I bought [a Panasonic DMC-L1] and its lenses [two Leica lenses: a Vario Elmaritt zoom and a D Summilux prime], something I promised myself I wouldn’t ever do, in order to fund buying an x100s… I did a ton of research. Know all the specs, know all the opinion…

      I just got to have a decent play with one in a camera shop this evening — my first hands on — and, frankly, I really don’t get it. It’s not small enough for pockets. It’s not big enough to feel like it isn’t a toy. That’s OK though, horses for courses. The manual focus EVF stuff is neat, but where did all that “this is AMAZING” sentiment come from? Don’t get it. I have an 80 dollar Nikkor Ai that is three or four leagues ahead in terms of feel [and this was equipment aimed at Joe Consumer in the cost-cutting 70s] and a 100 dollar katzeye screen that performs the same function, better, without the need for battery power. I don’t want to come off too negative, but I think the MF aspect of the camera has been talked up too much. As has the AF speed? I think it’s because I’ve never used or even held an x100, but the AF felt decidedly OK to me. Not fast or slow enough to remark on especially. Where’s all this “s stands for speed!” stuff come from?
      Having only had snaps inside a store and review on the rear screen, I couldn’t comment on IQ, but am well prepared to accept that this is a quality sensor and lens combo. But nah. Call me naive, but I didn’t take all that internet comment on the haptics of it to be hyperbole; the very very first thought I had when I got it in hand, what I was looking forward to most, was “nah.” This just colored everything thereafter.

      Whatever I think though, there’s no arguing this is a popular camera and when that happens it can only be for good reason. I saw two go off the shelves in the 45 mins I was in store. If they made a black one, I might be a bit more tempted to try again…
      [I bet you they release a limited edition black one for about 100 USD more sometime in the near future :)]

    • 1. It’s not pocketable. 2. It makes silly exposure decisions. 3. File handling/ support still isn’t good. I don’t think it’s pointless at all…perhaps you should take a look at some Coolpix A files; they play in very much the same ballpark, and the lens is superior.

      • Hi Ming,

        I’m one of those first time adopters of Fujifilm x100 now moved to x100s. I agree, those cameras are not so pocketable as the smaller ones but commands and usability are great in my opinion (but I’m coming from a long term experience with similar cameras, started when I was a child with an -already old- FED4). RAW support is getting better, I’m fairly optimistic to this respect. For me these are simply superb small cameras, being the 100s fairly better in terms of speed, but somehow different in terms of color redention and WB accuracy compared to the x100. I wonder if you tried the 100s before excluding it from your list: never had “strange exposure decisions” with both cameras. You can read my comparison with the X100 and my thoughts here – http://www.thevisualexperience.org/web/fujifilm-x100-vs-x100s/.

        Nice blog indeed,

        Massimo

        • I had one of the first original X100 cameras – I wanted to love it, but just couldn’t. Operationally, it was a disaster. The new one is faster but, but I haven’t been able to use one for a long enough period of time to determine if it’s fast enough – and if ACR’s file handling is up to scratch…

  52. Many thanks for another great article MT :-)

    I personally think you rationalise the problem very well and very fairly. The decision on one’s “take-everywhere” camera is actually a much more complicated issue than a special-purpose camera given how many more compromises have to be taken into account.

    Anyhow, having played with many compacts, I agree 1) RX100 is not nice to handle & 2) the lens and handling of the LX7/D-Lux6 is fantastic. As a result, I am planning on buying the LX7, take more pics more often and focus on being a better photographer.

    Lastly, if the rumour of Fuji X-M1 comes true (APS-C sensor, smaller body, 27mm pancake), the compact conundrum will get more complicated!!

    • Sounds like yet another A/GR competitor – but given the way the Fuji handles exposure decisions and the third party software handles raw files, I don’t think that it’s really an option…

  53. Hi there,

    I enjoyed this post a lot as I am currently looking to replace a Canon S90 which has become somewhat outdated and outgrown and is now only used when I make use of alternative firmware that lets me script the camera.

    My gaze is currently fixed on the Sony RX100, the Leica D-Lux 6 and the Olympus XZ-2.

    The Sony is obviously the camera with the best sensor, but it also has worst usability and the worst lens of the three. It also doesn’t allow me to add a viewfinder. The size is awesome though. The price is steep, but it’s probably worth it. From all the reviews I have read, the handling issues and the lens put me off. Also, I don’t like the 20MP files. Why the heck did they have to ruin this camera with 20MP?! Thinking about how awesome image quality could have been at higher ISO settings if they had restrained themselves from pushing past 12MP, it makes me very sad. So unnecessary and a big fail, Sony.

    The reason I am looking at the Leica model and not the similar Panasonic model is rather random. I don’t spend money on cameras, I spend air miles. And the shop that allows me to spend my air miles instead of real money does only offer the D-Lux 6, not the original Panasonic model. I love the Leica lens, I’d probably be fine with the handling (I tried the Lumix model at stores), but buying something as expensive as this which such a tiny sensor and paying such a huge premium for the Leica branding is against my DNA and ethics. Still, I have this tiny voice in the back of my head whispering: “if you buy this, you’ll be part of the Leica family…”. Ridiculous, I know.

    I hava a love affair with Olympus. I own an E-5 (rare breed, I know) and I also use an OM-D for more than a year now (I was one of the first in Germany to have one). I used an E-PL1 before that and I still own the VF-2 viewfinder, which I didn’t sell. I think the XZ-2 is all about usability. The tiltable touch screen, the format of the body which allows for easy and stable holding, the control wheel. This all speaks to me. The lens is a no brainer. It’s not as attractive as the Leica lens on the Panasonic based on the spec, but I have seen sample images (see link below) that prove to me the quality is there. Also, Olympus has great RAW files and the JPEGs are legendary. Shooting with the XZ-2 next to the OM-D will produce a consistent output of images in the same colour tones as the processing engines are identical. Being consistent in my photographic work is important to me. The noise reduction on the XZ-2 files doesn’t look as aggressive as on the RX100 to me either, looking at the image samples from the RX100 I was disappointed. Already owning the VF-2 makes the XZ-2 very attractive to me, despite its size. The shop where I buy with my air miles, the XZ-2 is currently discounted and sells way cheaper than the RX100 and comes with extras.

    It all depends on shooting habits in the end. Will I use the XZ-2 as a pocket camera to shoot with dedication in light conditions where I will require higher ISO? No, it won’t satisfy me there. That would be more for the Sony RX100. Or rather, if the situation permits, I’d take the OM-D with a good prime lens as it’s better suited for that anyway. Is the XZ-2 a better all round camera for shooting during daylight compared to the RX100? In my opinion yes, as it handles much better and allows me to use the VF-2 and the lens is no doubt better than the Zeiss branded lens on the Sony.

    I took great value from Robin’s review on the XZ-2: http://robinwong.blogspot.de/2012/10/olympus-stylus-xz-2-review-street.html

    Look at some of the image samples, especially at longer focal lengths and you’ll see that the lens delivers and the lens specs allow for shallow depth of field in spite of the sensor size.

    Currently, my bias is towards the XZ-2.

  54. Compacts are not perfect yet, but there is sure a lot more there than there was a short time ago. For me, the best compromise is the RX100 to throw in my pocket when going out for errands, etc. For my wife it’s the Fuji XF1 in her purse (she’s got style).

    If it’s for a walk about town and the light is good and we know we’re going to take a few shots, then Fuji X-Pro1 with the 18-55 on it. If we’re going out purposely to shoot, then the Nikon DSLR gear. Even then, we’ll throw the X-Pro1 in the bag for one of us to shoot while the other is using the DSLR. Amazing how the different form factor, old rangefinder style of camera with manual controls helps you get a different take than the DSLR, so it’s great to use both and get an interesting range of photos (not to mention doing your back a favor by not packing two DSLRs).

    • I almost never pack the DSLR these days; just insufficient advantage over the OM-D or large sensor compact for casual walk-around work. There are still things that it can’t be bettered at, but these are rapidly diminishing.

  55. Will Needham says:

    Thoughts on the Canon S90/95/100/110 series? The often get overlooked because they look like just another point and shoot but they offer similar image quality to their G-series brothers in a properly pocketable format (as in; jeans pocket rather than jacket pocket). IMHO The controls are well thought out, with two usable control rings and customisable buttons and it’s plenty fast and responsive enough. The downsides are the smaller sensor than most here and that the lens gets substantially slower at the long end but I’m willing to accept those compromises in exchange for the tiny size (substantially smaller than an LX7 or RX100). It does also help that it’s half the price of an RX100.

    (Disclosure – I’m an S95 owner)

    • Smaller sensor and slower lens combine to make something whose shooting envelope is narrower than the competition. There isn’t that much size penalty to an RX100 or LX7, and both have larger performance envelopes due to sensor or lens advantages.

      • As I posted on the Fuji X20 review, I think the “bitter-sweet” spot is the Canon S110. The slightly smaller “envelope” as you say is easily forgotten when you’re happily shooting. Speaking as one who gladly pays more for great tools that actually work (for me), nothing currently hits the sweet spot, but the S110 is the current best-of-compromises for my money. The RAW files post-process very well for the sensor size, the highlights are decent, the color palette is balanced, and the menus and layout are all logical. High ISO is quite good, and the price… Before the S110, it was the S90, and before that it was the Panny LX-1.

        But I say bitter because here I am after 13 years, still reading about cameras and posting about cameras we all wish “they” would make for us. And we’ll all be here tomorrow, still wishing…

        • I have an S95, and I used to like it … but the more I use it (almost 2.5 years on), the more I feel like the image quality just isn’t up to snuff. Beyond ISO 400 isn’t advisable, and the lens gets slow very quickly in the zoom range.

          I’ve printed 12MP E-P1 photos at 16×20 that look great, but an 8×10 print stresses the capabilities of my S95. Even my non-photography inclined wife remarked that prints from the S95 seemed snapshot-ish in quality, even if they look great on the computer screen. From what I can tell, the S100 and S110 have more pixels, but the image quality isn’t all that much better.

          • Yes, you’re absolutely right, and of course: look at the lenses you “have” to buy! That breaks the equation for me.

            And I don’t know what you shoot but 8×10 stressing an S95? Hmm, my Panny LX-1 produced a beautiful 27″x15″ (thereabouts) print from a JPEG that hangs in my living room (yes I did a fair bit of post on it). Not sure the S95 could do that but I doubt it would be stressed by an 8×10. Well, we see/look for different things, I guess.

  56. Gert-Jan says:

    I like the fact that companies are releasing compact cameras with larger sensors and prime lenses with large max apertures. However, what I don’t quite understand and what personally puts me off a bit is that they mostly use 28mm lenses, which is too wide for me. Why can’t they make them wider, say 35-40mm equiv? The only one I’m aware of that’s wider is the Sigma DP2 with its 40mm equiv. lens but that one doesn’t seem to meet most of the other requirements. The Sony RX-1 with its 35mm lens is not really a candidate due to its size and price.
    I had a GR1 once; really nice camera with an OVF, but I couldn’t get used to the 28mm. A digital GR with an OVF and a real 35-40mm equiv. lens would be great (from my point of view).

    But for the time being: I should receive my Voigtlander 28mm 2.8 SLII lens soon (42mm on APS-C). That should make my D7000 compact enough while waiting for the “ideal” compact camera :-)

  57. I thought it was me when I couldn’t get a sharp close up focus with my Sony RX100. I pulled out my older Panasonic LX5 and had no problem. The menu is also a pain. Otherwise, the camera is very capable and I have gotten some very good shots with it.

  58. Personally I’m in the fence about the whole viewfinder issue. I thought I needed a proper viewfinder because “everyone” rags on gear that doesn’t have one, but then I tried the RX100 and I simply love the LCD-shooting experience! It’s the most fun camera I have because of that. The entire business of squinting one eye and pressing my nose up the backside of a camera, and then not seeing everything in the viewfinder, like the focus confirmation dot, without having to move my eye just isn’t for me, I think. Admittedly, that last part might be due to me wearing glasses and not getting my eye pushed really good in there, like I suppose I need to for the proper field of view.
    Then of course there’s the sunny days where I’ve realized I need a viewfinder to see anything, but the RX100 has still managed to take some darned good pictures with me “shooting blind”.
    So when screens are good enough to use under the full glare of the sun, I’ll go viewfinderless :)
    But, uh, related to the article, I’ve learned that viewfinder isn’t important to me, but the rest of your points are pretty much spot on. :)

    • The beauty of a true rangefinder camera is your nose is not stuck up the backside of the camera and your non viewfinder eye is free from obstacles and can assist in seeing what’s going on in the scene outside the viewfinder. Plus inside the viewfinder are minimal distractions where one has a clear view and no blackouts when the shutter is pressed. The major other benefit I have with the camera up to my eye is stability. I find it very difficult to hold a camera steady outstretched in my arms.

    • The only reason I miss it is for stability – you don’t have to hold the camera at arms’ length. Other than that, I prefer having the information and exposure preview of the LCD; also, you can actually tell what you’re focusing on :) Most of the time I don’t use external finders because they both make the camera less pocketable/ unable to fit in cases, as well as add additional optical surfaces to scratch/ get dirty…

  59. I just wear my Leica M-E everywhere. I gave up on compacts once I got spoiled with FF image files and the ability to control DOF. My iPhone takes care of video and the quick snap and “macro” shot. The wife commandeered my GRDIII. (8>)

  60. Peter Frailey says:

    Weight.

    Hi Ming, I hear you! I determined that any such compact must be 10 ounces or preferrably less, for me. My current choice is the LX5…any heavier than that and it pulls my pants down hahaha! People often measure pocketability by size or volume, but if it fits in a pocket but weights too much then it is annoying.

    I see the brand new Pany LF1 comes in at less than 7 ounces. Interesting.

    Peter F.

  61. I completely agree with you about the poor state of compact cameras. I was going to purchase the LX7 but decided to wait till the LF1 came out. It has an EVF but is slower. I think this current discussion is among your most read as I’m sure so many of us are in the same position. I am very interested in what you think of the 14-42 pancake vs the 12 ond 48 and of course the A/GR face off. Another great read.

  62. The RX100 is getting a bit long in the tooth by today’s tech life cycle. Hopefully this article gets a ping over at Sony and we’ll have what we want with the RX200. Great read Ming! :)

  63. Timely post, I’m on the market for a compact right now and face the same dilemmas!

    I’d love to have something with the size & sensor of an RX100, with a fixed 35mm or short zoom, with the rear controls of a GR V or MX-1 (AE-Lock button and rear dial right under the thumb) and with the “dual tactile ring” of an XZ-2 (brilliant thing).

  64. So far I’m still learning the best settings for my RX100 – but I’m pretty impressed. It’s capable of surprising subtlety, and although I love my LX3 (and was tempted by the LX7), the RX100 is just that bit more pocketable and the sensor that bit better.

    As Ming says, it’s not perfect – none of them are – and my wishlist for it would be:

    (a) The LX7 lens – 24mm is just better than 28mm for me, and I really don’t need to go too long.

    (b) Direct selection of Memory Recall Settings on the command dial – MR1, MR2, MR3, instead of a multitude of various Scene setttings.

    (c) Review zoom on the focus point – and be able to set the initial zoom level (it’s too high at the moment).

    (d) Ability to turn the useless ? button into another Function key in Shooting mode.

    (e) Use .DNG or .RAW rather than .AWS for raw files – no-one supports .aws as far as I can see, so have to convert to .dng after import.

    (f) Would be nice to have an EVF that could be added, as well as a touchscreen…

  65. bertram eiche says:

    Ricoh GRD 3 is with me 24/7. Sometimes i take my Mbinox 35 GT for film. Looking forward to own the new ricoh gr.

  66. What about the Olympus xz-10? It has a small Sensor, but a fast lens even at the long end. Held one imn the store a few days ago and was impressed with the build quality.It is also very pocketable.

    Personally I am very happy with my XF1. RAW quality is baffling, but when the JPGs are this gold I don’t need it.

  67. How about the E-PM2 with two primes and/or power folding lens? OR The winner of the Coolpix A/ GR and the EPM-2 with the 45mm Oly or lens of choice… Two cameras but one is smallish. ;-)

  68. I use Ricoh GRD IV and so far it is the best compact for me to carry daily. One thing that I wish it could be better is in image quality. I feel it is less sharp compared to Ricoh GRD III. Maybe because of more aggresive noise reduction.

    I initially hope GRD V has bigger sensor, such as 1″ and keep all the feature and form factor of GRD IV, I think 1″ sensor is a nice compromise of big-small sensor world. I can keep everything in focus easier than APS-C sensor. But we all know that the new Ricoh GR has APS-C sensor with f/2.8 lens. I’m a lil bit disappointed to lose hybrid AF, built-in stabilization and f/1.9.

    I’ll hold on Ricoh GR IV for now.

  69. A few days ago I bought Olympus ZX-1 and it is truly a marvel at this size!
    I wish to see a review from Me.Thein because that would be a great service to photo
    communities around the world.
    The fastest auto focus I have ever seen in any camera I have tried. Can’t git yo a blue jean’s trouser pocket bit can fit into a jacket pocket. Outstandingly fast responding touch screen is wonderful too.

    • I tried both XZ1 and XZ2. Left me feeling very lukewarm and not something I enjoyed using – it wasn’t bad, nor was it good. I’ve got limited time to write reviews, and this honestly wasn’t worthwhile.

  70. A bit odd that camera companies get it wrong so often with small digital cameras. It is especially frustrating when one looks at so many of the great small 35mm film compact cameras of the (not so distant) past. The Contax T3, Nikon 28Ti and 35Ti, and Fuji Natura Classica come to mind, though I suppose the small lenses would mean expensive microlens construction in order to make similar digital bodies.

  71. Brandon Feinberg says:

    I absolutly agree with your consensis and I belive that we will get what we want in two more generations of compacts. My go to compact at the moment is a Ricoh GR1s, although it limits you to 28mm (My favorite focal lenth anyway) you can at least have a responsive camera with just enough manual control and more control of dof since its full frame. The lens is also pretty good, paired with the 135 format you can create beutiful prints up to 8×10.

  72. As for the larger compacts cargo pants/shorts are a viable solution in warm weather.
    I agree with you on the more is better fallacy of design. Instant, easy control of basic parameters with a quality, large sensor and a fast lens are what I want. Plus, I am a still photographer – why should I have to pay for movie taking capability? Put that expense into picture quality.

  73. Rain Santiago says:

    Ming I think these camera companies cripple certain features on purpose so we can keep on the cycle of buying. But as a Rx100 user I gotta admit that Ricoh GR is starting to really tempt me :)

    • I’m pretty sure they do too. Or the engineers are forced To listen to the marketing people, who are of course not photographers and generally ignorant of what the buyers want…

  74. In similar situation myself – for the compact emphasis I’m finding the Nikon P330 looks pretty good. Good wide to telephot range, but loses to fast aperture at the tele end. Nice build quality judging from P310 I’ve played with. Good screen, good responsiveness in AF and shot-to shot. Decent image quality from real world examples I’ve seen.

    Still haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for … so will be soldiering on with my G10 for a little longer

    Mark

    • Controls are terrible – very disappointed with the one I tried.

    • I own the p330. Ming is right. Controls are terrible (like in: “what was Nikon thinking?” type of way). The image quality isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. The AF is unreliable even in good light, and if you shoot in RAW, the camera becomes really unresponsive, like one frame every 4-5 seconds.

      I carry it with me because it really does fit in the pocket, but if I had to do it again, I would have probably picked an rx100 instead.

      It’s like Nikon took a p310 and figured out how to make it cheaper (I handled a p310 and it handles better) and how to tag on RAW support to charge twice as much for a cheaper camera. I think this is the last Nikon P&S I buy (something I said 8 years ago).

      I am definitely replacing mine with a Ricoh GR V.

  75. Eric Brandon says:

    Possibly the Nikon V series? This blogger really likes his discounted V1 http://soundimageplus.blogspot.com

    • I never got to play with one…unless you’ve got enormous pockets, it doesn’t really fit the category. Another one of those cameras where the size-to-image-quality tradeoff is skewed unfavourably.

      • Steve Jones says:

        I’ve got a bit tired of the latest crop of cameras that are trying to be ‘ the one.’ They are all ‘designed’ to be lacking something as you point out. And they are all too much money for something that has a short life. All digital cameras suffer from this. Fuji X100 something, Sony NEX 5, 6, 7 whatever, all priced to squeeze out more money from our wallets before the succeeding model appears ( what seems like just a few months later.) Now watch out, here comes the Ricoh GR and we will all WANT it. But no matter how marvelous the lens turns out to be when it is put through it’s paces, you’ll STILL be limited to 28mm (so forget about portraits) and you won’t get an included EVF or optical finder.Those are SERIOUS drawbacks… BUT we’ll all WANT it.
        With this in mind I played with the Nikon V1 ( amazingly cheap now ) in the store yesterday. It begins to look good even with it’s cons. It has a good EVF, solid build quality, enough quality for a walk around camera, fastest focus and focus tracking out there,
        a big D-SLR battery that won’t die after 200 or so shots, great metering, VR in the lenses and most of the pro photographers who have used it seem to like it twice as much as they thought they would. Cons? Not small and light enough to fit your wishlist/criteria and ( oh dear! ) it doesn’t have the biggest sensor in the Universe BUT, since the best efforts by the likes of Panasonic, Sony, Fuji etc are still leaving us unsatisfied. The Nikon 1 at half or a third of the price of some of these other offerings, is looking good to me as a not too compact, compact.
        The real ‘The one’ camera doesn’t exist because we photographers are never satisfied and we want them to do everything our D-SLR can do, and that last one on your list, “the right tactile qualities” is a bit of a designer’s nightmare considering we all have such a different idea of touch and ergonomics.
        I think you are absolutely right though in putting a lot of emphasis on haptics. A camera that feels good in your hands all day is going to make you a lot happier no matter how many functions and features it is lacking, and if you are blessed with any photographic skill at all, you’ll still get great shots….even without that “biggest sensor in the world” feature.
        Back in the day we only had shutter speeds of I/1000th of a second and an ISO, (then called ASA) of 800 was impressive! Now in 2013 we want warp drive in our pocket and instead of appreciating what our cameras can do we complain about what they can’t do!
        That photographic genius Shakespeare would well have understood our plight…

        If camera specs and features be the food of love, play on!
        So that in surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.

        ( excerpt from 12th Megapixels )

        • I don’t mind 28mm only, or the lack of an EVF. Not a big deal to me. If the V1 had the same sensor as the RX100 I think it’d be a serious contender, but the problem is what it has now seems to be one solid generation behind.

          Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate my pocket cameras – and can shoot just fine with the 1/500s top speed, slow f2.8 lenses and usual ISO 100 film in my ‘Blad – but if we can have our cake and eat it, I say why not?

  76. William Jusuf says:

    good article..

    IMHO, at least for me.
    I dont want to miss any moment or any nice structure , I met

    I always bring GRD IV in my pant pocket anywhere I go

    also has the LX but I give it to my brother since it is way too slow and cumbersome in the workflow for me
    trading use for Ricoh GRD IV and RX 100 for 1 whole day + 1 event, still choose the fast work and flexibility of GRD

    well its just me
    good thinking , Ming

    Regards
    William Jusuf

  77. Mind sharing your thought with Olympus XZ-2? :)

    • Don’t have many. It’s competent but bulky, and didn’t leave much of an impression either way.

      • The Lumix LF1 looks quite interesting, but I completely agree. I also bought the RX100 as a carry-around, but ultimately became disillusioned with it – not entirely sure why, but it just stays in the drawer (loving the x100s though). Your comments about being designed by the marketing team rather than photographers is bang on. I can see similarities here with the automotive industry – just because I want a small car, it doesn’t mean I have to compromise on quality (and would be happy to pay a premium).

        • The lens kills it – f5+ on the long end? No thanks. ‘Same sensor as LX7′ is another way of saying one generation old and never-exceed ISO 400 if IQ matters…

  78. What about the Pentax MX1?

  79. Haven’t even seen one in the flesh…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Here are some choices. All of these can use the eyefi to wirelessly transmit images. Ming Thien has done a great job of doing some of these reviews and has a goodoverview: [...]

  2. [...] Source: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/04/24/the-trouble-with-compacts/ [...]

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