The perfect compact digital camera

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For various reasons, I am researching compact digital cameras. As much as I love shooting with the iPhone, when I am on the road and don’t carry my DSLR kit with me, I want to have a better quality compact camera with me. There are some benefits of using the iPhone with plenty of apps to edit and share images. It’s all good fun, but sometimes, you want to take some more serious pictures as well.

My wife, also wants a compact digital camera and not rely on my DSLR for her photographic needs. So I started investigating the market.

The Requirements

  • Compact size
  • Easy to use
  • Manual settings
  • Great image quality
  • Best possible lens quality
  • Good performance at high ISO
  • Biggest possible sensor size (not number of megapixels)
  • Raw image support
  • Affordability

Some of the items seem to contradict each other, but there are some surprises I found in my research. I didn’t have access to test units and can’t tell you much about practical experience. I looked at some of the compact digital cameras in the shop to get a first impression, but not much more. My research included a lot of online research and different opinions. It is always a pleasure to find reviewers with very different opinions. I tend to pay more attention to reviewers, who used the cameras in real life situations and less in lab settings.

Some of the compact digital cameras, I will present over the next few weeks are not on my short list, but I want to present them anyway, as they represent interesting concepts and show trends.

The digital cameras that caught my attention are:

Fixed lens, high end compacts

4/3 Format cameras with interchangeable lenses

Zoom lens cameras with compact size sensors

As you can see from the list, I am not comparing apples with apples but am on a mission to find the best digital camera for our context, which is based on practical needs and less on what camera manufacturers think we need. None of the cameras are entry level compact cameras. Some of the digital cameras I excluded right from the beginning, as I simply did not like them (Sony NEX 3 and NEX 5 for example) when I looked at them in the shop.

Next week, I will start with the Fuji X100 and Leica X1. Both of these two digital cameras made an impression in the photo community and both have opinionated supporters and critics. Sounds like lots of fun for me.

At this stage, this is still an open race, though I have a few favorites. If you know someone, who wants me to use their camera as test unit for this series, please contact me.

What are you experiences? Which compact digital camera do you use?

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Michelle says:

    Yey – I am so thrilled you’re doing this.  I am looking at a bridge camera – either the Canon G12 or the Panasonic FZ100. Would love to hear your thoughts on either of these….

    1. Jürgen says:

      Thanks, Michelle for the moral support 🙂 I will write about the Canon G12 very soon. I left the Panasonic FZ100 (and the Leica version, the V-Lux 2) out of this comparison for three reasons.
      The zoom is a super zoom and the lens quality is not what I would want. Secondly, the camera has noise problems with images shot higher than ISO 400, which is a problem especially with a long lens, where need a faster shutter speed to avoid motion blur. The third reason is the size and bulkiness of the camera. I had the Leica version in my hand yesterday and found it far too bulky for what I am looking for.

  2. I had a bit of play-time with the Olympus E-PL1 PEN camera a couple months ago. Wrote about it here and here. The executive summary was:
    1. Not much smaller, ie not much easier, to carry, than a small DSLR.
    2. Great pictures, as long as you didn’t get too fancy.
    3. Irritating (under your thumb) and awesome (under your thumb) instant-video button.

    I’ll be watching this series with anticipation!

    1. Jürgen says:

      Andre, thanks for the comment and executive summary with the links. The image quality appears to be very good from what I saw. Interesting, that you experienced it as not much smaller than a small DSLR.

  3. Dion Forster says:

    I have a Leica X1 and a Leica M8.  The X1 is a superb camera – it has the best image quality that I have ever seen in a compact ‘point and shoot’ camera.  I used to own a Leica D Lux 5.  I will confess that while the X1 has much better image quality and build quality than the D Lux 5, I miss the zoom on the D Lux 5 and many of the other features, such as the ability to take really wide angle shots, shoot video etc., But, for a camera that can take pro quality photos and still fit easily in your bag you can’t go wrong with the X1. Of course neither of them compare to the Leica M8!

    1. Jürgen says:

      Thank you, Dion for sharing your expertise. I haven’t had a chance to test the X1 in person yet and hope to get hold of one soon, to do so.
      It seems, you are very happy with the Leica M8. Have you thought of upgrading to the M9?

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