At Northern Voice, one of the best sessions was the Photo Camp; the only problem was that, at ninety minutes, it was way too short. I did a little presentation on the state of the high-end-compact market (summarized below), but as usually happens at an Unconference, I learned more than I taught.

There was a lot of talk on workflow, something that is increasingly becoming an issue for your average digicam hobbyist. In particular, Roland Tanglao gave a presentation on Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe ought to put that boy on commission, because I bet fifty people are going to buy it. That would include me.

Big thanks to Kris Krug for pulling it together.

[Note to anyone who’s ended up here via search: This was posted in February 2007, and its contents are probably limited in usefulness to a few months following that date.]

Compacts · As I wrote recently in Camera Blues, my my workhorse Canon S70 is dying, and I’m thinking about replacing it. There were a ton of smart comments there and I ended up gathering up enough information to want to share it.

I think it’s terribly important, if you care about pictures at all, to always have a camera at hand. You can agonize forever about composition and white balance and post-processing, but the single most important factor in getting a good picture is having a camera when the good-picture opportunity occurs. For most of us, in particular those who aren’t professionals, an SLR is just too big and too heavy to want to carry it around all the time; my nice Pentax DSLR comes out with me when I have pictures in mind; but most of my best pictures are taken at other times. So some kind of pocket camera is really essential.

There are really two options in a pocket camera: you go small or you go ambitious. For example, Lauren uses a Canon SD400, it’s amazingly small and looks like a jewel; and it takes good pictures. Why would you want anything else? The high-end compacts are bigger and bulkier and might not even work as a pocket cam for a smaller person dressed for a warmer climate (the SD400 would work anywhere but a nudist colony).

The high-end cameras do have some advantages. To compensate for the extra pocket strain, they’re often kind of butchy-looking, often in black rather than silver. This gives your photographic subjects the feeling that this is An Important Picture.

But I digress. With a high-end model, you can expect it to shoot a wider angle, to have a bigger zoom range, and to have fine control over lots of settings, usually via buttons on the outside rather than going through a menu. A side-effect is that the back and sides of these models are richly festooned with buttons.

And historically, high-end compacts have supported shooting in RAW. The current generation seems to be backing away from this; speculation is that they’re worried about cannibalizing sales of DSLRs. This seems silly, since there’s a high overlap between the owners of high-end compacts and DSLRs.

As I discuss these cameras, the observant will notice that a lot of the pointers are into Digital Photography Review (DPR); this is hard to avoid because they have stats on every camera known to humankind, and detailed reviews of a high proportion. I tend to put quite a bit of weight on their reviews, because they are free with criticism when they find problems.

The Past · I’ve been carrying the Canon S70 since late 2004; at that time, it coupled the widest-available angle in a pocket cam with unusually long zoom, as much manual control as you wanted, and could shoot RAW.

It’s met my needs; unless I can get the zoom fixed, this will probably be the last time it’s featured on ongoing. Sunset at SFO.

Sunset at SFO

The Future · Searching for a replacement has not been entirely satisfying.

First, as I noted, the camera builders have been subtracting RAW support. It escapes me how subtracting features from a high-tech consumer product can ever be a good idea. Second, a few of them are still in the grip of the more-megapixels-is-better mania. It’s hard to blame them, given that that’s always the number that gets featured in the Best Buy flyers; but still, at this moment in early 2007, in the compact form factor, a 7MP camera is less apt to have noise and distortion problems than a 10MP model.

On the other hand, there is one very compelling new feature in the digicam world: anti-shake. In practical terms, this considerably expands the range of conditions you can shoot in without using a flash, and you’ll get some shots you just wouldn’t have, before.

Having said all that, let’s look at some of the options.

Canon S80 · Since I’ve been happy with the S70, its successor would be a logical choice. Trouble is, it’s two years old now (has Canon dropped this line of cameras?), doesn’t do RAW, and doesn’t have anti-shake. So I think it’s not that interesting.

Canon G7 · I had missed the G7 in my initial sweep, because for some reason I didn’t think it was a compact, but one of the Photo Camp attendees pulled hers out for us to look at. Anti-shake yes, RAW no. DPR thinks it fell short, but I think I’ll have to take a closer look.

Canon A710 IS · This one isn’t actually in the “high-end” category, but it was recommended by a few of the commenters on my Camera Blues piece. As I poke around the Internet, I have to say that there’s a lot to like about the A710 IS. It does anti-shake but not RAW, it’s light, it’s flexible, it’s cheap, it’s only 7 MP. Check out jgraham’s pictures over at Flickr; he/she is getting excellent results with this camera.

If none of the ostensibly high-end cameras are going to make me happy, I suspect that this puppy would take me most of the way there and save money too.

Panasonic LX2 · Formally known as the Lumix LX2; there’s a lot to like about this, on paper. It’s got a Leica lens, a 16:9 aspect ratio, antishake, and shoots RAW. Unfortunately, DPR thinks (and is pretty convincing on the subject) that they muffed the job of squeezing in the 10MP, so there are serious noise issues. Sigh.

Pentax A20 · I have a big soft spot for Pentax, it’s what my Dad always carried and our DSLR is a Pentax.

The A20 is kind of in the same territory as the A710; anti-shake but no RAW, a little less expensive, very decent specs. I’ll have to have a closer look.

All the cameras mentioned thus far have been out for a while, you can go to your friendly local camera store and buy one. It turns out that we’re only weeks away from PMA 2007, the world’s biggest camera trade-fair, so the new-product announcements are coming thick and fast. Here are a few that look interesting.

Sigma DP1 · This is a weird one, as you might expect; Sigma is mostly in the lens business, and their cameras tend to be idiosyncratic. Among other things, they use the Foveon sensor, which is radically different from the model used in almost all other Digicams. Think of this as the camera equivalent of Mazda’s rotary engine.

There’s not that much known about the DP1; It does exist on the company’s website, but without much detail. It does shoot RAW, but I don’t see anything about antishake. Here’s the weird thing: it’s not a zoom. It has a fixed lens said to be to 28mm-equivalent. Assuming it’s not vaporware, I’m going to have a close look at this; I appreciate people who have the courage to point in a direction different from that the mainstream market is facing.

Pentax A30 · This look like an update to the A20 mentioned above. Antishake yes, RAW no, sigh. In fact, the A30 differs only in having a larger CCD (which is good), and in being black.

Nikon P5000 · This one is either a stand-out or they have an effective PR organization; the announcement was covered at Engadget as well as DPR.

The features and specs and design all look decent to me. I poked around the Nikon site and there was lots of publicity, all silent on the subject of whether it will shoot RAW. Maybe the ball is still in play and some moronic Strategic Product Manager in the DSLR group is trying to get that feature subtracted. One of the commenters at Engadget said “Yes, it will have RAW” which is probably not conclusive.

The site is total Flash hell so I can’t actually point to the camera (uh, Nikon marketing, get a clue), but if you start here you can get there.

Conclusion · Maybe I’ll have to learn to live without RAW. Aside from that, nothing yet. I’ll be shopping and I’ll report back.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Malcolm Tredinnick (Feb 25 2007, at 23:13)

Thanks for the summary of the early comments and your conclusions. I have been slowly going through a similar process, needing something smaller than my DSLR for carrying around for candid snaps, and was focusing on the Nikon cameras, just because my DSLR is a Nikon. From the Nikon forums over at dpreview.com, it seems that the P5000 does not come with RAW, although Nikon have not ruled it out for an upgrade. A bit sad. I suck enough at photography that having the full range that RAW captures allows me to rescue some otherwise quite dubious setting decisions.

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From: Tom Armitage (Feb 26 2007, at 00:27)

If you can live without a zoom... Ricoh GR1?

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ricohgrd/

Raw, lovely wide lens, lots of control. I've only ever seen lovely photos from them.

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From: Tim Foster (Feb 26 2007, at 00:57)

Not so much a comment, as a "me too". I used to carry around an Olympus Mju-II 35mm compact. It had a fixed 28mm lens, autofocus & flash, and was practically bomb-proof and tiny.

The nice thing was, that although it was a light, cheap camera, it's optical quality was fantastic - a really bright lens (f1.8, was it?) I really fell in love with that camera.

Trying to find it's modern-day digital equivalent is depressing. Everyone wants to sell me a (crappy, slow) zoom lens, an optical viewfinder seems to be a thing of the past, and they're all caught up in the megapixel race (come on, it's 2007, get over it!) Still searching, be interested to hear what you come up with.

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From: Jonathon Delacour (Feb 26 2007, at 02:42)

Astonishing that you would include a camera that doesn't really exist -- being mentioned on Sigma's website isn't quite the same as being available for purchase in a store -- whilst ignoring the camera that does exist and from which the Sigma DP1 design is clearly derived: the Ricoh GR Digital:

* Superb 28mm-equivalent f/2.4 fixed lens with beautiful bokeh;

* High-quality 21mm-equivalent conversion lens;

* Shoots RAW (though, admittedly, the RAW write times are excruciatingly slow);

* High-ISO noise closely resembles the most gorgeous pushed film-grain;

* Superb build quality;

* Optional optical viewfinder (with 21/28 framelines);

* Amazingly good macro performance.

Most importantly, its front and rear dials allow you to adjust aperture and shutter speed so quickly and easily that the handling most closely resembles a Leica or Contax rangefinder camera.

To put it bluntly, for anyone who can live with the restriction of the 28mm-equivalent fixed lens, this is easily the best compact digital camera that's ever been released.

The GR-D's "Above Average" review from the pixel-peepers at DP Review (meaning "this camera is a piece of shit and only an idiot would buy one") should be regarded as a badge of honor.

Though I doubt that Ryan Cousineau was being sarcastic, he perfectly summed up DP Review when he wrote that "what distinguishes them is their painfully comprehensive explications of the control systems." To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the staff at DP Review know the specifications of everything and the value of nothing.

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From: Janne (Feb 26 2007, at 03:18)

Yep, the Sigma looks really interesting. As I mostly (lately only) use prime lenses on my DSLR anyhow the lack of a zoom does not feel like a big deal - and the idea of a near-DSLR sized sensor with all that means in low noise and general image quality is compelling.

Another potentially interesting contender would be the Ricoh GR (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ricohgrd/). They complain rather a lot about the noise level though, and while real-life images on the web aren't as bad as the review would have you believe, the camera does seem like a bit of an acquired taste. I did play with one in-store some time ago, and the body design and controls are close to perfect. Perhaps waiting for its successor would be a good idea, I don't know.

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From: terry chay (Feb 26 2007, at 03:54)

The Canon G*-series is just the old Canon S-series (still one of the best optics around) updated with the Digic 2 processor (no more pathetic shutter lag and tiny screen) and controls layout designed for serious amateurs. However, I recommend against the G7 because they pulled the RAW feature from it and the max ISO is worthless. (Before anyone talks about bad noise performance and color performance, I’d like to see someone seriously review G7 shot at ISO 3200.)

I explain that here: http://terrychay.com/blog/article/g7-hoopla.shtml

I own the Panasonic LX1. It has noise issues especially mottling on skintones, but nothing NeatImage won’t fix (at the cost of some sharpness) and it shoots RAW. In many ways, the poor noise performance comes is a tradeoff with it’s excellent color saturation and at screen viewable resolutions, I’d rather have that.

If you can’t deal with that, get a Fuji FinePix F* series which has their own sensor array designed to give the best dynamic range (a no-b.s. form of noise reduction). The Fujis don’t image stabilization (whatever they are calling it is actually just marketing speak for Auto ISO).

You will really like the layout of the G7 or the LX2 if you like your Pentax dSLR.

For a non-nonsense camera, I highly recommend the Canon SD700 IS. One problem is Canon’s increasing use of plastic (cheap feel), but the "Ti" models and the recently announced SD models do not offer image stabilization—a deal-killer for a no-nonsense camera. Like all Canons, the IR cut filter is insanely aggressive in order to get those “low noise” wins coveted in those silly DPReviews you read and thus the red channel is gained up to the point of “fire engine red” in order that the color chart tests don’t fail completely.

Which is just a long way of saying, just like software, in photography, you never get something for nothing.

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From: Janne (Feb 26 2007, at 05:38)

An addendum to my earlier post: Your Pentax is a pretty small DSLR; with a small lens like the 21/3.2 or 40/2.8 you'd have a package not much bigger than some of the larger options you're thinking about in your post. Might be worth considering; especially the 40/2.8 is a cheaper option than (I think) any of the cameras you're thinking about.

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From: John Cowan (Feb 26 2007, at 06:25)

Nudists often carry bags or pouches of some sort for wallets and keys, so cameras are no problem.

And did you mean "formally known as", or is that a typo?

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From: deepak (Feb 26 2007, at 07:00)

> Strategic Product Manger

Umm.. typo intentional?

I just took a look at Flickr's camera finder and it seems that the Canon SD600 is the new king of point-and-shoot.

http://www.flickr.com/cameras/

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From: Dan Rabin (Feb 26 2007, at 09:16)

Tim,

I've been extremely happy with my Canon A710 IS as a go-everywhere camera. I wear sport jackets, and it fits well into the outside pockets. The controls are easy to remember and use quickly: it's easy to switch among do-flash/don't-flash/auto-flash and between normal-auto-focus and macro-auto-focus. There's no RAW, but there are lots of pre-processing modes (too many, in fact), and both AF and AE are pretty darn good. The camera doesn't mount as mass storage under USB: you have to use the (acceptable) software (I'm on Mac OS X).

On the downside: the long end of the zoom isn't long enough for picking out architectural details or medium-to-distant landscape elements, and you only get a battery indication when you're very low. The camera takes a teleconverter, but of course that's silly for a go-everywhere role. Time-delay but no remote.

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From: Corey (Feb 26 2007, at 10:12)

Tim,

I like the pics you post.. usually a nice break from my stream of highly technical news/blogs.

It inspired me to grab my camera today and snap a few:

http://www.goldb.org/goldblog/2007/02/26/BostonBackBaySnowPics.aspx

-Corey

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From: Alan Little (Feb 26 2007, at 10:12)

The Fuji F30 might be another one for the list. The guys at the online photographer (best photography blog bar none?) love it, and by the standards of a small digi it's supposed to be prety good in low light - for me a key requirement in a snapshot camera. Jpeg-only though. I have its predecessor, the F10, and quite like it. Fuji always quietly made good cameras alongside the great film they used to be more famous for.

Tim Foster: Mju II. Yes. Lovely little camera. The Yashica T4 might have had an even better lens (Zeiss) but wasn't such a good alll-round package. However, the trick these cameras performed - small, light, simple package with great optics and *exactly the same sensor as an SLR* - is much harder in digital. The tiny sensors in small digis have inherently worse noise characteristics and therefore image quality than DSLR-size sensors; and if you're going with a DSLR-sized sensor and all the circuitry and battery capacity that implies, then you're not small and light any more.

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From: John Gruber (Feb 26 2007, at 11:08)

That Sigma DP1 does look interesting. But if the lens is fixed (non-zoom), why is it so slow? It's listed as f/4.0. I'd think the whole point of putting a fixed lens in the camera would be to make it faster, like f/2.0 or even f/1.8.

f/4.0 is *slower* than most zoom lenses at that focal length.

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From: Ben Richardson (Feb 26 2007, at 12:45)

I had the same problem. I have a D200 for anything considered, but I also wanted the better-to-have-one-than-not camera you describe. After much investigation, I have to say I can only recommend the Canon point-and-shoots. Borrowing from friends, and visiting stores, I tested the Panasonic/Leica models (nasty noise-reduction), a couple of the Nikons (so-so, I'm afraid, even though my whole SLR setup is Nikon), and saw enough evidence of the others' flaws to discount them.

Finally (trying to resist the pull of the Big C), I even went so far as to buy a Ricoh Caplio G5 (the GR has too many oversights for my liking) since my favourite camera ever is my trusty GR1s, and was heartbroken at the poor output. Thus came my basic realization: Canon's have the bases covered in all situations. The G5's lens was better than most, no doubt, and on the rare occasion you got a well exposed, balanced frame (at low ISO) it was great. But those moments were few and far between.

I finally got myself a now-discontinued PowerShot SD700IS (6MP) – even though tracking one down was an effort – and I can't recommend it highly enough. It Just Works. The newer SD800IS's lens makes too many compromises to hit the 28mm wide and is softer all over as a result, and the SD900 (which a friend has) lacks the image stabilization which is significantly more useful in getting good shots than 10 far-too-small megapixels. (I work professionally with digital images, and am SO over the megapixel thing. Give me fewer, better pixels any day.)

The SD700IS's lens is sharp as needles (for a point and shoot). The "manual" modes give you just enough control when needed, but 95 shots out of 100 just don't need it. The exposure and white balance are superb, the image stabilization is genuinely useful, and the flash balances perfectly when you use it. I have scarcely missed a shot with it – largely on full auto.

(Extra: A friend of mine has just bought the G7, and even without RAW – though why, why take it out? – it's a fine performer also. If you want the extra fiddly knobs, there's no reason not to get one, but obviously it's a much bigger, pricier camera.)

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From: Paul Guinnessy (Feb 26 2007, at 13:48)

What about the Panosonic TZ1? Its 5 megapixels but people seem to like its proformance.

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/PanasonicTZ1/

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From: Bruce McL (Feb 26 2007, at 14:04)

I agree the S70 was a unique camera and it's sad that "they don't make 'em like that anymore." Many of the cameras you are interested in are a lot bigger than the S70. If you can forgo RAW then you can step down to some smaller cameras. I'm finding that using Lightroom with it's non-destructive editing makes JPEG a lot easier to live with.

The Panasonic wide angle FX cameras are very small. I have an FX01 and really enjoy it. If I was buying right now I'd take a long look at the new Panasonic TZ2/3 cameras. They are bigger than the FX series but not huge, and have wide angle and incredible zoom. Did you mention the Canon SD700IS? No wide angle or RAW, but small and takes excellent photos. A friend has one and takes very good pictures with it.

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From: felix (Feb 26 2007, at 15:12)

I found myself in almost exactly the same position as you - my S80 broke (no fault of it's - only me and my dumbness) and I needed a replacement about 6 months ago. Wrote a longer write up on my blog, but the short answer is, I'd stay clear of the LX2. Everything it does up to but not including taking a picture is really great and superior to the S80. But shooting RAW is a chore as the write time takes a few seconds and the picture quality in RAW is fine, but not great. I've started shooting jpeg in a not-RAW mode, to drop the write time and just live with the kinda not great photos it takes.

I wonder about that Nikon P5000 and Pentax A30, they both look pretty reasonable. I guess we'll find out if they figured out how to solve the too many megapixels problem.

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From: Tim Buchheim (Feb 26 2007, at 16:29)

I bought a Canon Powershot A710 IS last October and I've been very happy with it. One feature I like is that if you take pictures at lower resolutions (I usually shoot at 3MP) then you can get some extra optical zoom out of it before the digital "zoom" kicks in. (How does it do this? Well, basically it is automatically cropping a 3MP image from the center of its 7MP sensor, which means you get more zoom than your optics gives, but w/o any interpolation. Obviously if you shoot at the full 7MP resolution then you won't get this extra zoom.)

I use the camera with iPhoto, and ignore Canon's software, so I can't really say anything about their software. (And usually I put the SD card in a USB card reader, but it's my understanding that Canon put a reasonably fast USB interface on this camera.)

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From: Colin Barrow (Feb 26 2007, at 18:13)

Direct link to the P5000 on the Nikon website:

http://www.nikondigital.com/main.html?page=p5000

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From: joe (Feb 26 2007, at 18:42)

Fuji FinePix E900... 9mpix, killer ISO, small, 2AA and only $250.

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From: rapretzan (Feb 26 2007, at 20:51)

I would definetely consider a Leica D-Lux 3 for what you're looking for.

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From: Simon Griffee (Feb 26 2007, at 21:09)

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 is a good compact camera.

Advantages (apart from always having it with you): Lovely Leica lens, RAW, anti-shake, landscape 28mm selectable wide angle setting (selectable on a swith on the lens, along with focussing control), manual focus setting (see tip below), full manual exposure and shutter speed settings, black, large LCD screen, 8 megapixels.

Disadvantages: High chromatic noise above ISO 200 means lost detail (the grain does look quite film-like though when you reduce color noise), no backup viewfinder, lens protrudes out of body even when off (won't fit in your jeans pockets).

Tip: To get stealth candid photos, set the focus automatically at a distance you estimate the person will be at at the moment of capture; then switch to manual focus so the shutter release is instant.

Here's a <a href="http://simongriffee.com/photographs/mushroom" title="Mushroom.">photo of a mushroom</a> I captured hand-held with it.

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From: Sander (Feb 26 2007, at 23:24)

I'm another one with a big DSLR (D200) who's been thinking about buying a modern point 'n shoot for those moments when he wants to just snap a quick picture. But thinking back to the various occasions where I would've gotten it out, I came to the realization that in half of those cases I did end up laboriously getting out the DSLR from my backpack instead, and not only took the shot, but also then wandered around and looked for interesting angles, really got to know the scene, and took some of the pictures that have ended up being some of my favorites.

I very much fear that with a handy point 'n shoot, I would've snapped a picture and walked on.

And sure, there's times when you simply need to move on and have to be somewhere at a certain time (although I try to have as few of these times in my life as possible), and times when you wouldn't be carrying the DSLR in the first place. But I find that any time a picture is really worth taking, it's worth taking out the time to get it right. I find my greatest asset as a photographer to be my ability to wait - wait for the light to get just right, wait till I grok a location. And I know myself well enough that if I carried that point 'n shoot, I'd be too often too quick to dismiss the possibilities, take the shot, and move on. Which is too great a loss, and so I'll refrain from the point 'n shoot.

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From: Rob... (Feb 27 2007, at 00:14)

Find a second hand G6 and be done with it :)

Regards,

Rob...

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From: lee (Feb 27 2007, at 01:53)

on my canon s60 the highest-quality jpg looks roughly equivalent to raw. especially if you're making them substantially smaller, the compression is designed to throw away what's invisible.

if you have a 3264x2448, that's 8x11 printed at 300 dpi. a jpg compression block is 8x8, so it'll stand up well to jpg.

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From: Chris Hester (Feb 27 2007, at 05:27)

Fuji are one of the few companies who sell a compact with RAW. I forget the exact model. Check out their website.

I am wary of Canon compacts though. I've seen some great photos on Flickr which were spoilt by massive distortion on the left of the image. (Distortion is something most compacts probably suffer from as a result of the tiny lens.)

I also read that they use SONY for their chips, which is not such a good thing. I own a SONY compact and the compression is rough! Why they chose to only allow a FINE or NORMAL compression setting is beyond me. I guess it's down to file sizes, yet 2Gb and upwards memory cards are commonly available. My previous camera was a Fujipix 2Mpx and it had 3 jpeg settings, the top 2 of which offered excellent compression. (I hate overly compressed jpegs!)

The only reason I bought the SONY instead of another Fuji (or Canon etc) was that it allows video to be recorded to the full capacity of the memory card. I took great pains to study a wide range of cameras before buying, and noted many had limits on their video length, such as only up to 1 hour. Ironically, I hardly use the video at all!

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From: Chris Rijk (Feb 27 2007, at 13:59)

Regarding the Sigma DP1, I would expect Sigma to release full specs at PMA in early March, with actual shipments starting 1-3 months later. The DP1's "big brother" (the SD14 DSLR camera), which has the exact same sensor, is due to start shipping on the 6th March.

I hope the reason that the 16.6mm F4 lens (roughly equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm film camera) is fixed and F4 is because otherwise they couldn't make it high enough quality - the sensor behind it would show up any flaws very easily, and if the lens isn't sharp enough, it would seriously limit the sensor. Though I also imagine that Sigma aren't used to doing very small compact yet high quality lenses.

Assuming the lens is good enough, then a well taken shot (minimal camera shake, good focus, using RAW, etc) could be turned into a good looking A2 print quite easily. Some pros have done A0 prints with the Foveon sensor from 3 years ago, after all (using top-notch image resizing tools). Alternatively, you could take a small crop (ie quarter-size) and still get good looking normal sized prints.

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From: alek (Feb 27 2007, at 14:57)

You might take a look at the Canon SD800IS ... what is notable about that is 28mm (equiv) on the wide-angle side ... you do NOT see that very often in a compact point-in-shoot.

I.e. ask yourself how often you "back up" to frame everybody and run out of room ...

Super-small form factor means it can go anywhere with you, plus (as typical now), you get movie mode. No RAW mood ... and one annoying thing is very minimal manual controls ... so don't plan on fiddling aperature/shutter/etc. much. But does take decent pictures - here a few that I got because I had the camera with me - versus my Canon DSLR which was at home:

http://www.komar.org/ski/colorado/copper-mountain/

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From: Robin (Feb 27 2007, at 17:07)

I'm in a similar situation of wanting a camera that is (1) small enough to take everwhere and (2) complimentary to my DSLR. I'm very interested in the just announced TX1 http://www.dpreview.com/news/0702/07022203canontx1.asp .

I believe it is the perfect complement to a DSLR. Let me explain:

DSLRs are big; TX1 is small.

DSLR's rarely have a flip-out swivel LCD screens for composing; TX1 does. This is useful for hard to get shots. Hold the camera over your head to shoot over a crowd or for interesting perspectives. Take pictures of a toddler crawling without laying down. Take a picture of you and your honey at the top of a ferris wheel ride at sunset. It allows more possibilities for capturing great memories.

DSLRs don't have movie mode; TX1 does... an excellent one. You said it is important to always have a camera at hand. Why not video capability too? The TX1 even allows capturing of full-resolution stills during video capture. You can zoom while filming. The capability of doing 60fps (albeit at QVGA) allows for nice slow motion effects. It also does time-lapse video. Film a sunrise over your house. Video editing is getting so easy it is a fun. You just need a steady supply of fresh video footage. The TX1 is the solution.

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From: Chris Hester (Feb 28 2007, at 13:30)

Get this. In Issue 53 of Digital Photographer (UK) magazine, in an interview with professional fashion photographer Steve Brickles, he says:

"The newest camera I have is Fujifilm's F30. I've found that Fuji produces cleaner images with lower noise compared to anyone else. The cameras are a little quirky, but they let me take good images and I like to be slightly different. Other than one problem with one camera I haven't had any difficulties in the five years I opted for the brand. I'm not normally a fan of compacts, but the F30 takes great clean images and its high ISO range makes it ideal for parties."

His other cameras include the Hasselblad H series and a Fuji S5 with Nikon lenses.

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From: Kev (Mar 01 2007, at 08:56)

I've also searched long and hard for a compact camera with high-end manual features.

I ended up with the Panasonic DMC-LX2 (with the same hardware as the Leica D-LUX 3). It's actually perfect on paper: innovative wide-angle lens with a hard switch, easy controls for the complete range of camera functions, and even a manual focus all in a compact and attractive body.

In practice however the quality of the images themselves left me a little disappointed. It's the common problem of megapixel bloat as the 10 mega pixel resolution forced on the tiny sensor has resulted in highly noisy images, even in moderate lighting situations. Panasonic attempted to correct the problem with some blurring but that has proved too aggressive so images tend to lack detail unless one takes them in RAW mode.

So my experience mirrors the dpreview in the sense that everything's great about the camera except the pictures it takes. A great shame 'cause I really liked it but I think I'll be veering towards the entry dSLR Nikon D40 very soon...

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From: Mark (Mar 02 2007, at 19:36)

Reading through the comments here and some of the link, including DP Review, and without going into camera specifics, my advice would be to RTFM for each camera, or talk to someone who has. Many of the point-and-shoot cameras that seem not to have a particular feature in fact may have it, at least in a good-enough-for-jazz fashion, hidden away somewhere. The features are hidden because the market for these cameras is people who don't care about high-end features, and who would be freaked out by too much technical stuff in the interface.

Shutter speed control and slow shutter shots? Hint: check the manual for the details of the "Fireworks" mode. Aperture control? Hint: If the "Portrait" mode mentions that the background may be thrown out of focus, what does that imply to you? And so on with modes for night shots, portraits against backgrounds, and on and on. You need to read carefully and then experiment, but you can usually do whatever you want to do within reason, and you get to do it with a cheap (droppable, almost disposible), tiny, unintimidating (to your human subjects) camera.

As for lens quality, many problems, including rectilinear distortion, can be fixed with Photoshop > Filter> Lens Correction, and if you're a geek, it's scriptable over an entire directory.

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February 25, 2007
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