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The handbag camera dilemma...

06 June 2012

The world of compact cameras is an interesting one - as phone cameras get better and better at taking pictures, you wonder whether it is worth buying a compact at all.

Up to recently I have always used a Canon S100 (and the S95 before it) as my wife's handbag camera - something always at hand to grab pictures of my son whilst out and about. The quality of the images and the amount of detail it could retain in RAW shooting for something of that size was just astounding and way beyond what you could do with something like an iPhone.

Sadly for the S100 (and for me), it had an argument with a swimming pool and lost.



Sony HX20


I decided to try something different - the Sony HX20. It could learn a thing or two from Canon about the controls (in fact Sony's own NEX-7 is a breeze in comparision) but work with it a while and you will get there. Trade off is superb quality on both stills and full HD video. When going away, I am always a sucker for using Sony's Sweep Panorama and having a 20x optical zoom can be useful. So as an every day camera it excels but I do like the images I can get shooting with either the NEX-7 or NEX-5n, especially when I have got a nice manual lens attached and in low light conditions.



Canon 1GX


Canon have recently come to the rescue with the Canon G1X, a compact(ish) camera with a larger than Micro 4/3rds sensor, but smaller than APS-C. I had to laugh when I looked at the measurements as it is so close to being Micro 4/3rds, it is silly. Below are the measurements -


Micro 4/3rds -18mm x 13.5mm Canon G1x - 18.7mm x 14mm APS-C (typically Canon) - 22.3mm x 14.9mm APS-C (Sony NEX 5n) - 23.5mm x 15.6mm

So as you can see, the G1X is more a Micro 4/3rds than APS-C camera. So what does this really mean? In theory the bigger the sensor, the better the low light (and high ISO) performance should be. Larger sensor cameras also allow a wider angle of view for a given lens size. Lastly, the bigger sensors allow a shorter depth of field, similar to SLR cameras, giving you the ability to throw the background out of focus.

So how does the G1X fare? Well, the reality is that it IS smaller than an SLR but you would be kidding yourself if you said it was truly compact. But if you compare it to a lower end SLR with a kit lens, it is really a more interesting proposition.

The viewfinder really is not great but use it just in bright light when you cannot see the screen and it just about serves a purpose. Don't go choosing the G1X for its speed. I found the autofocus quite slow at times and it really needs a faster shutter rate than the 1.9 frames continuous shooting it offers. For close up shots, you have to go into Macro mode, which is a bit of a pain as by the time you have done that, you have missed the shot.

As expected, the camera is nicely put together and has a premium feel about it. The controls are very intuitive and nearly everything you need is to hand.

As for image quality, it is absolutely superb. At high ISO's it is as good as any compact I have used but then that advantage is slightly offset but its slow lens - other compacts may have smaller sensors but they do use faster lenses.

I have had a NEX-7 with various different lenses on show at many of the various exhibitions and road shows I have attended so far this year and reaction has been very interesting. There is definitely a market for a larger sensor camera with only ONE lens.

Is the G1X it? Well I know that Canon is pushing it as the option for someone that has the fully SLR kit and wanted that quality in a smaller package. In that they have succeeded as it performs that function well - the higher ISO results are very impressive indeed. I also liked the built in ND's for shooting longer exposure shots. I personally shoot a lot of video as well and I find it a bit limiting in that department and I do think the AF is a bit slow. BUT I can see this being a great camera for some.



Sony RX100


So is that it then? It would seem not, as this morning Sony announced the RX100, a new compact (and yes this IS compact) camera with a 4 times larger than compact sensor (at 13.2 x 8.8mm). Okay so it is not up there in sensor size with the G1X, but you do have to remember that this is in a compact body and it has an f1.8 Carl Zeiss T* lens (with a useful 3.6x optical zoom) which is faster.

Interestingly Sony have adopted the Control Ring around the lens from Canon and actually if you squinted, you could see a similarity between the S100 and this camera! And really that is the thing here – this is an S100 rival not a G1X rival BUT with the added benefit of a larger sensor. Sure you have not got all the dials and controls to hand but I never found that an issue with the S100 - I could change shutter speed, ISO and aperture with my eyes shut.

I am truly hoping that Sony have got it right with the controls. I am quite excited about this camera, purely from a personal point of view. Image quality should be superb and high ISO performance should take a leap forward compared to our HX20 (which is not bad at all). From a video side of things, it has manual focus, MF magnify assist and peaking. Could this be the next handbag camera? Quite possibly.