Camera Shootout of the Advanced Kind (Part 1)

3/6/2013 9:27:17 AM

With the point and shoot camera market hitting some-what of a wall in terms of growth, the camera makers figured it was time for the next stage of evolution advanced point and shoot.

Given the changing trends, manufacturers have started taking the features that make DSLRs so great and packing them into smaller point-n-shoot cameras. In the last two years, we’ve seen cameras with really fast apertures of f/1.4, we’re seeing bigger sensors getting packed into the little cameras not to mention those really convenient dials and controls that are also starting to slowly creep into these little shooters. Normally, if you want fast apertures of f/1.4, you’re going to have to shell out a lot more for the lens than you would for an advanced point and shoot. While the manufacturers are in a giving mood, they’re not willing to let the consumer have it all. If you’re hoping for a point and shoot with a really fast f/1.4-2.3 lens to also have a large sensor with an excellent 24mm (or wider) to 200mm (or longer) focal length, we recommend you go back to sleep and continue dreaming. There seems to be an underlying trend of crippling even these advanced cameras.

Panasonic LX7

Panasonic LX7

Advanced point and shoot

This is a category we are quite excited about as it is a sign that there truly is a future for the little cameras that fit into our pockets. It is a sign that we may not have to lug our DSLR kits around just because we want to be sure of not missing that critical shot.

Features and design

Given that the advanced point and shoot segment is still in its infancy, we’re not surprised that the feature set is still very fragmented. While one camera might play host to a large sensor, the optics on it might fall short with a relatively slow lens. On the other hand a camera blessed with a fast aperture might falter due to its small 1/1.7-inch sensor, at least when it comes to high ISO performance. Case in point being the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic LX7. While the RX100 has a large 1-inch sensor, its lens has a really slow f/4.9 maximum aperture at the telephoto end. The LX7 on the other hand, boasts an aperture range of f/1.4-2.3, the fastest in a point and shoot, but the camera gets crippled due to a small sensor. The Canon PowerShot G1x is the power horse here, with its huge 1.5-inch APS-C sensor, the first of its kind in a point and shoot camera, but with that huge a sensor comes a major drawback. The minute you lay your hands on a G1X, you’d feel like you’d rather be holding a small DSLR. Not only is the camera huge and bulky, but it also has a relatively slow f/2.8-5.8 lens. The G1x also weighs in at 534 grams, which is not really light so far as point and shoots go. All cameras in our comparison had a pop-up flash, with all the advance cam-eras also sporting a hot-shoe to attach external speed lights. The Sony RX100 is an exception here though, lacking both a hot shoe and external flash support. What it does have, however, is a pop-up flash with a novel hinge design that allows the user to tilt it back-wards to allow for a nice bounce from a nearby ceiling. We found that this ability to tilt the flash for different kinds of fills allowed us to achieve a rather pleasing image, one with a good balance of ambient and flash. With respect to design, we’re sort of on the fence with whether we should go for something that’s slim and pocket-able, or let the bulk of some of these cameras slide just because they have powerful imaging capabilities. The Nikon Coolpix P7700 comes to mind here, which has served us really well in many awry conditions. Its only downside was the slightly slow AF and that it’s incredibly bulky, but that’s probably because of the fully articulated screen. However, if something bulky is absolutely out of the question, then the RX100 or the LX7 are worth a look. Speaking of features and design, we’d like to make a special mention of the Fujifilm X10, which employs the most unique camera design of the bunch. It has a rangefinder-like design and it ships with a fast f/2-2.8 lens while sporting a decently sized 2/3-inch sensor which Fuji claims will give DSLR-like results. It comes with modestly fast AF, but one that takes a little getting used to along with the film Simulation Modes that we absolutely love. Fujifilm might not be making the Velvia film anymore, but you might get that same look with the X10. Overall, we feel that it can be hard to pick just one camera to trump them all based in just features, but our hearts are strongly set on the RX100 which not only has a large sensor, but also a fast starting aperture and comes with a tilting flash all wrapped up in a neat, sturdy plastic body that will fit into most pockets.

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 comes to mind  here, which has served us really  well in many awry conditions.

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 comes to mind here, which has served us really well in many awry conditions.

Ergonomics and build

A lot of money is spent by camera makers to achieve the perfect placement of buttons and indents when it comes to their cameras. The companies truly do want the camera to be an extension of your arm, and therefore, much research goes into designing its curves to flow naturally with the human grip. We felt that in all the cam-eras we used, the Canon PowerShot G15 had the best blend of size and comfort. Its grip is designed and the buttons are all within the thumb’s reach, except the playback button which is right at the top, next to the viewfinder. The worst in our opinion was the Panasonic LX7, whose buttons not only felt like cheap toys, but also felt weirdly spaced. The RX100 is designed simply as an elegant slab of plastic with rounded edges with no real gripping options. If you’re comfortable with holding the camera with just your thumb and index finger, then you shouldn’t have any problems with the RX100, otherwise we strongly recommend looking into a third party grip option. It’s a tossup between the RX100 and the G15, slimmer design and pocket-ability vs superior ergonomics and function. The Panasonic LX7 and the Canon PowerShot S110 both fit well into the pocket, but follow the same design ethos as the RX100. Overall, if we had to choose, the RX100 would be our choice because it’s super light, so holding it with the ‘thumb-index-finger-combination’ doesn’t hurt at all, it has a large sensor and a fast aperture and most of all, it can easily be tucked away not only into a pocket, but also any reasonably small crevice in a backpack or purse.

Canon PowerShot G15

Canon PowerShot G15


Now THIS is the real meat of the show! With every manufacturer’s best cameras laid out in front of us, it all comes down to which camera can deliver the best images and videos. Our studio tests revealed that the Canon PowerShot G1x was hands down the best at controlling noise. Our testing parameters topped out at ISO 6400, as that was the maximum for most cameras. The G1x’s APS-C sized sensor didn’t have a lot of problem keeping the noise at bay. The RX100 was a very close second, given that it also has a large, 1-inch sensor. However, the real surprise here was the Fujifilm X10, which despite its smaller sensor was nearly at par with the RX100.

We measured the detail retained in the toy fibers and bottle label from our test scene at every ISO level. Once again, the larger sensor on the G1x put it ahead of the competition, with Sony’s 20 megapixel, 1-inch BSI sensor not far behind. The Nikons, obviously, with their tiny little sensors, couldn’t keep up with the front runners, but the Nikon Coolpix P7700 showed a surprising penchant for detail retention, at least when shooting RAW. If we were to leave ISO out of the equation and put the cameras in aperture priority mode, then we noticed the G1x falter slightly. With an aperture of f/2.8, the camera couldn’t achieve fast shutter speeds, which made shooting a person walking slowly quite a challenging image to capture. The LX7 on the other hand didn’t have any issues with capturing the image, but it did have a hard time locking focus. The G15 on the other hand did really well thanks to the fast, f/1.8 lens, but the real star of the show was the Sony RX100, which man-aged to lock focus and shoot at high ISO and give us decent enough shutter speed to capture our subject. Switching to the bright daylight conditions, the rules of physics were quite apparent. Larger sensors captured more dynamic range and displayed better color depth when compared to their small censored counterparts. Once again, the G1x shone bright here, with the Sony RX100 in close tow.

Sony RX100

Sony RX100


Canon Powershot G1x is the winner of our Best Performer award and therefore the point and shoot for you to buy. How-ever, before you shell out the $72000 premium for it, do note that you can buy a decent DSLR for that price, a DSLR which will give you the option to change and use far better lenses that those on the G1x. Instead, if you turn to the Sony DSC RX100, which performs almost as well as the G1x, you’d realize that for $53 490, it’s a far better deal. Given the amazing blend of performance and price the Sony RX100 truly deserves the Best Buy award. While the RX100 and the G1x wear the winner’s crown, we can’t help but make a special mention of the Fujifilm X10. It’s an incredibly beautiful camera with a great AF system, amazing imaging performance and a whole load of old-school dials. It doesn’t perform quite as well as the G1x, and it’s a lot more expensive than the RX100, so it loses out on the two logical metrics, but despite that, the Fujifilm X10has impressed us enough for it to earn our Editor’s Pick award.

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