High-Performance Compact Cameras

There are dozens of compact digital cameras on the market in a wide variety of shapes and even colors. Most are aimed at folks who just want to get nice pictures without having to learn much about photography, and they do a great job at that. But what about those who do know something about photography? Are there any compacts that allow us to put that knowledge to good use? Whether you’re looking for a solid backup for your DSLR or an alternative for traveling lighter, yes, there are many compact cameras designed with you in mind.

Compact digital cameras are conveniently sized—many will fit in a pocket, making them easy to take just about anywhere. One of the trade-offs of which you should be aware is that to achieve that compact size, image sensors much smaller than DSLR sensors are typically used, and that makes itself known in the form of noticeably reduced image quality, especially at higher ISO settings (400 and up with most compacts). A few compact models do use larger DSLR-sized sensors, but these are the exceptions, not the norm.

Used at lower ISO settings, however, today’s compact digital cameras can produce excellent images, and the higher-ISO results are also much better than just a few years ago. So, while they’re not a true replacement for your DSLR when quality matters most, the models featured here are excellent alternatives when a compact device is advantageous.

Compact cameras come in two basic form factors: flat and SLR-like. The former are slimmer and more pocketable, while the latter are more comfortable to use, especially at longer focal lengths, as they can be more naturally held to the eye like an SLR.

Manual exposure settings are important for creative control. Note that while all consumer compact digital cameras offer fully automatic operation, most don’t offer full manual control. The cameras included here do offer manual exposure and focus settings, along with automatic modes.

CANON POWERSHOT G12

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/24p
Eye-Level Finder: Optical
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.4×3.0x1.9 inches
Weight: 12.4 ounces

Canon introduced the first G-series PowerShot more than 10 years ago, and that pioneering G1 model set the path for the series: a compact camera with DSLR versatility, including RAW capture, compatibility with EOS DSLR accessories, easy dial controls, both optical viewfinder and LCD monitor (tilt/swivel in most models, including the new G12) and more. The G12 features Canon’s HS (high-sensitivity) system—a 10-megapixel sensor and powerful DIGIC 4 processor with revised noise-reduction algorithms for improved image quality in tough lighting conditions.

Verdict: One of the most versatile compacts, the G12’s ability to use EOS accessories makes it an excellent choice for EOS-system SLR users.


Sensor: 10 MP CCD, 1/1.7-inch
Lens: 28-140mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 80-3200


Power: Li-ion NB-7L
Max. Burst Rate: 2 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC
LCD Monitor: 2.8-inch, 461K vari-angle


CANON POWERSHOT S95

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/24p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $399

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 3.9×2.3×1.2 inches
Weight: 6 ounces

Providing the same sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor and image quality as the G12, but in a package about one-third the size and weight, the PowerShot S95 features a fast 28-105mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.0-4.9 power zoom lens, full manual control and all the automatic options a serious photographer would want, plus a larger, 3.0-inch LCD monitor. It also has its big brother’s RAW capture, 720p video and HDR modes. To obtain its tiny size, the S95 lacks the G12’s tilting/swiveling LCD, optical viewfinder, hot-shoe and control dials (although it adds a handy round-the-lens dial).

Verdict: With many of the G12’s features in a package not much larger than a deck of cards, the S95 strikes a great balance between size and performance.


Sensor: 10 MP CCD, 1/1.7-inch
Lens: 28-105mm ƒ/2.0-4.9 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 80-3200


Power: Li-ion NB-6L
Max. Burst Rate: 1.9 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC
LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 461K


CASIO EXILIM EX-ZR100

TOP FEATURES

Video: 180/30p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: No
List Price: $299

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.1×2.3×1.1 inches
Weight: 5.8 ounces

Casio’s new flagship EXILIM compact, the EX-ZR100 features a back-illuminated, 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, burst shooting of up to 30 10-megapixel images at 40 fps, and video shooting at up to 1000 fps (at 224×64 resolution). In-camera HDR extends highlight and shadow range, while HDR-ART automatically produces HDR “art” renditions. Slide Panorama makes it easy to create 360o panoramas in-camera. Of course, there’s full manual control of exposure and focus along with the automation.

Verdict: The top model in Casio’s high-speed camera line, the EX-ZR100 is hard to beat on a price-per-feature comparison, especially with its incredibly fast burst rates.


ISO Range:100-3200
Sensor: 12.1 CMOS, 1/2.3-inch
Lens: 24-300mm ƒ/3.0-5.9 (35mm equivalent)
Power: Li-ion NP-130<


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 461K
Max. Burst Rate: 40 fps at 10MP
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


FUJIFILM FINEPIX X100

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/24p
Eye-Level Finder: Hybrid Optical/EVF
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $1,119

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 5.0×2.9×2.1 inches
Weight: 14.3 ounces

The hit of the 2010 Photokina show, the X100 features a great-looking retro design reminiscent of the classic rangefinder cameras and packs a big APS-C sensor—the size used in many DSLRs—into a compact frame. It features a unique hybrid optical/electronic eye-level viewfinder and easy manual control of everything along with full auto shooting when desired. Fujifilm’s EXR technology automatically optimizes the sensor for high resolution in good light, wide dynamic range in high-contrast situations and maximum sensitivity in low-light situations. A focusing ring on the lens facilitates manual focusing.

Verdict: It’s pricey for a compact, but the inclusion of an APS-C-format sensor—approximately 10 times the size of a typical compact camera sensor—means excellent light-gathering and low-noise images.


Power: Li-ion NP-95
Sensor: 12.3 MP APS-C CMOS, 23×15.8mm
Lens: 35mm ƒ/2 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 200-6400 expandable to 100-12,800


LCD Monitor: 2.8-inch, 460K
Max. Burst Rate: 5 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


FUJIFILM FINEPIX HS20EXR

TOP FEATURES

Video: 1080/30p
Eye-Level Finder: EVF
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions:5.1×3.6×5.0 inches
Weight: 22.4 ounces

The HS20EXR features Fujifilm’s nimble EXR technology that automatically optimizes the sensor’s resolution, dynamic range or low-light sensitivity as needed—or you can select which option you wish to use for a given shot. There’s also a 30x zoom lens, 8 fps shooting at full resolution (and 11 fps at 8 megapixels), high-speed movies at 320 fps, plus 1080 full HD video, Motion Panorama 360o for easy wide-scope shooting and lots more.

Verdict: The latest EXR technology and a 30x zoom, plus high-speed shooting, make this a well-rounded compact with a lot of versatility. AA batteries are a plus for travelers.


ISO Range: 100-3200
Sensor: 16 MP EXR CMOS, ½-inch
Lens: 24-720mm ƒ/2.8-5.6 (35mm equivalent)
Power: 4 AAs


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 460K
Max. Burst Rate: 8 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


NIKON COOLPIX P7000

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/24p
Eye-Level Finder: Optical
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×3.1×1.8 inches
Weight: 12.7 ounces (w/battery & card)

Nikon’s top compact for serious shooters, the P7000 features bigger pixels than most compacts and Nikon’s new EXPEED C2 image processing for better image quality and a wider usable ISO range. One of our favorite features, Zoom Memory lets you return to a selected focal length at a touch. Tone Level Information provides a histogram and lets you check balance between highlights and shadows. Optical and electronic VR (vibration reduction) help keep things sharp at slower shutter speeds.

Verdict: Though not Nikon’s newest compact model, the P7000 is still our favorite in the Nikon lineup, with an excellent zoom range from wide to tele, plus i-TTL compatibility with Nikon Speedlights.


Power: Li-ion EN-EL14
Sensor: 10.1 MP CCD 1/1.7 inch
Lens: 28-200mm ƒ/2.8-5.6 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 100-3200 (expandable to 6400)


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921K
Max. Burst Rate: 1.3 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


NIKON COOLPIX P300

TOP FEATURES

Video: 1080/30p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: No
List Price: $329

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.1×2.3×1.3 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces (w/battery & card)

Nikon’s new coolpix P300 features an extremely fast maximum aperture at the wide end of its 4.2x zoom lens, a backside-illuminated, 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, ISO settings to 3200 and optical VR (vibration reduction) to deliver good results in tough lighting. Backlight HDR mode combines multiple shots at different exposures in-camera, and Night Landscape mode combines multiple shots taken at higher shutter speeds for better tonal range and noise levels.

Verdict: We love fast apertures, and ƒ/1.8 at the wide end of the P300
’s range makes it ideal for soft-focus backgrounds or tackling low-light conditions.


Power: Li-ion EN-EL12
Sensor: 12.2 MP CMOS 1/2.3 inch
Lens: 24-100mm ƒ/1.8-4.9 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 160-3200


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921K
Max. Burst Rate: 8 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


OLYMPUS XZ-1

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/30p
Eye-Level Finder: Optional EVF
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.4×2.6×1.7 inches
Weight: 9.7 ounces (w/battery & card)

With a large CCD sensor (for a compact camera), CCD-shift stabilization and a wide-to-tele iZuiko zoom that’s very fast throughout its range, the XZ-1 is a good low-light compact. The fast lens and larger-than-most sensor also let you limit depth of field for selective-focus images. Another DSLR feature that’s rare in a compact camera is the XZ-1’s ability to control off-camera flash units wirelessly (there’s also a built-in flash unit). There’s no built-in eye-level finder, but you can attach an optional EVF to the accessory shoe.

Verdict: A fast maximum aperture and relatively large sensor make this our top compact from Olympus.


Power: Li-ion 50b
Sensor: 10 MP CCD 1/1.63 inch
Lens: 28-122mm ƒ/1.8-2.5 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 100-6400


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921K
Max. Burst Rate: 2 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-lx5

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/30p
Eye-Level Finder: Optional EVF & Optical
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.3×2.6×1.7 inches
Weight: 8.2 ounces

This popular model features a fast wide-to-short tele Leica DC Vario-Summicron zoom, effective Power O.I.S. (lens-element-shift Optical Image Stabilization) and a large high-sensitivity CCD sensor (for a compact camera), all enhancing low-light shooting capability. Accessory clip-on eye-level optical and electronic viewfinders are available.

Verdict: The update to the popular DMC-LX3 improves on its predecessor with refined contours and a more versatile zoom range with a fast maximum aperture.


Power: Li-ion
Sensor: 10.1 MP CCD 1/1.63 inch
Lens: 24-90mm ƒ/2.0-3.3
ISO Range: 80-3200


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 460K
Max. Burst Rate: 2.5 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-FZ100

TOP FEATURES

Video: 1080/60i
Eye-Level Finder: EVF
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $499

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.9×3.2×3.7 inches
Weight: 17.5 ounces

Here’s a compact that can do action—at 11 fps at full resolution (2 fps with continuous autofocusing) and 60 fps at 3.5 megapixels. A handy burst mode button brings up the menu to choose your settings. The 24x Leica DC zoom features three ED elements and two aspherical elements for improved image quality throughout the range. Quick startup, minimal shutter lag, Power Optical Image Stabilization and good battery life help capture the decisive moments.

Verdict: If your subjects are usually moving, the FZ100 gives you speed comparable to the best DSLRs to tackle action photography.


Power: Li-ion
Sensor: 14.1 MP MOS 1/2.33 inch
Lens: 25-600mm ƒ/2.8-2.5
ISO Range: 100-6400


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 460K vari-angle
Max. Burst Rate: 11 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


PENTAX OPTIO WG-1 GPS

TOP FEATURES

Video: 720/30p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: No
List Price: $399

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×2.3×1.1 inches
Weight: 5.2 ounces

Pentax’s only current compact with manual capability is a good one. The new WG-1 (available with and without a built-in GPS unit) is waterproof, shockproof, crushproof, coldproof and dustproof, making it a great choice for use in harsh conditions. Digital Microscope Mode uses five macro LEDs for precise focus and even lighting. The WG-1 comes with a carabiner strap and a macro stand.

Verdict: Satisfy your outdoorsy side wi
th a rugged, go-anywhere compact. Weather protection and a built-in GPS make it ideal for travel.


Power: Li-ion D-L192
Sensor: 14 MP CCD 1/2.3 inch
Lens: 28-140mm ƒ/3.5-5.5
ISO Range: 80-1600 (expandable to 6400)


LCD Monitor: 2.7-inch, 230K
Max. Burst Rate: 2 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC


SAMSUNG TL500

TOP FEATURES

Video: 640×480/30p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $449

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×2.6×1.2 inches
Weight: 12.5 ounces

Samsung’s top “serious” compact, the TL500 offers a high-speed CMOS sensor and optical image stabilization. A very fast lens (throughout its zoom range) and a big, bright swiveling OLED monitor are its standout features. Control dials make it easier to set many camera functions than with many DSLRs.

Verdict: This max-aperture rival for the Olympus XZ-1 and the Panasonic LX5 has a bright, swiveling AMOLED monitor.


Power: Li-ion SBL-11A
Sensor: 10 MP CCD 1/1.7 inch
Lens: 24-72mm ƒ/1.8-2.4
ISO Range: 80-3200


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 414K AMOLED
Max. Burst Rate: Not stated
Media: SD/SDHC


SAMSUNG TL350

TOP FEATURES

Video: 1080/30p
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $349

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 3.9×2.3×0.9 inches
Weight: 6.4 ounces

This very compact camera can shoot 1080p full HD video, slow-motion video at 1000 fps, still images at 10 fps and eight-shot in-camera stitched panoramas. It also can shoot full-res still images and HD video simultaneously. A dial atop the mode provides direct setting of shooting modes, including manual. Despite the small size, there’s a big, bright, 3.0-inch AMOLED monitor.

Verdict: Among the smallest models here, the TL350 is nonetheless a high-speed powerhouse and a solid value.


Power: Li-ion SBL-11A
Sensor: 10 MP CMOS 1/2.4 inch
Lens: 24-120mm ƒ/2.5-5.8
ISO Range: Not stated


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 614K AMOLED
Max. Burst Rate: 10 fps at full res
Media: SD/SDHC


SIGMA DP1x

TOP FEATURES

Video: 320×240/30p
Eye-Level Finder: Optional optical
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $800

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×2.3×2.0 inches
Weight: 8.8 ounces

Sigma’s original DP1 was the first compact digital camera with a DSLR-format image sensor, achieved by putting the company’s unique Foveon X3 sensor in a new compact body. The DP1x is the third generation of this fine photo device, featuring improved speed and battery life. But the key features are that Foveon sensor, which, unlike conventional digital-camera sensors, records all three primary colors (red, green and blue) at every pixel site and a 16.6mm ƒ/4 lens designed specifically for the sensor (the sensor’s 1.7x focal length factor makes this equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera). The body is a sturdy, attractive, no-nonsense housing with straightforward operation and full control over everything, along with automation when desired.

Verdict: Sigma’s compact cameras are a unique hybrid, featuring the same sensor used in their pro DSLRs, but with a fixed lens.


Power: Li-ion BP-31
Sensor: 4.7×3 MP APS-C CMOS, 20.7×13.8mm
Lens: 28mm ƒ/4 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 100-3200


LCD Monitor: 2.5-inch, 230K
Max. Burst Rate:Not stated
Media: SD/SDHC


SIGMA DP2x

TOP FEATURES

Video: 320×240/30p
Eye-Level Finder: Optional optical
RAW-Capable: Yes
List Price: $800

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×2.3×2.2 inches
Weight: 9.2 ounces

A companion to the DP1x, the new DP2x features the same Foveon X3 sensor and specs, but with a fast 24.2mm ƒ/2.8 that’s equivalent to a 41mm lens on a 35mm camera. Like the DP1x, the DP2x is a third-generation model, with improvements in image processing, shooting speed and battery life. Besides their elegant simplicity, the DP cameras feature a built-in pop-up flash unit and a hot-shoe for an accessory unit (or optional clip-on optical finder).

Verdict: For single-focal-length simplicity with Foveon image quality, the DP2x is a more moderate focal length alternative to the wide-angle DP1x.


Power: Li-ion BP-31
Sensor: 4.7×3 MP APS-C CMOS, 20.7×13.8mm
Lens: 41mm ƒ/2.8 (35mm equivalent)
ISO Range: 100-3200


LCD Monitor: 2.5-inch, 230K
Max. Burst Rate: 3 fps
Media: SD/SDHC


SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-HX100V

TOP FEATURES

Video: 180/60p
Eye-Level Finder: EVF
RAW-Capable: No
List Price: $449

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.7×3.5×3.7 inches
Weight: 20.2 ounces

Featuring a 16.2-megapixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor and a 30x optical zoom lens, the HX100V can capture 42.9-megapixel Sweep Panorama images, plus zoom in on distant subjects with a 35mm-equivalent reach of 870mm (the ƒ/5.6 maximum aperture at the 870mm end is pretty impressive, too). Optical SteadyShot stabilization keeps things steady at those long focal lengths. High-speed AF, three-shot in-camera HDR, 10 fps capture at full resolution, 1080/60p full HD video, a built-in GPS/Compass function and more complement full manual control for the serious shooter.

Verdict: A huge zoom range, fast burst rates and favorite Sony features like Sweep Panorama make the DSC-HX100V one of the most versatile compact cameras available today.


Power: Li-ion NP-FH50
Sensor: 16.2 MP CMOS, 1/2.3-inch
Lens: 29-870mm ƒ/2.8-5.6
ISO Range: 100-3200


LCD Monitor: 3.0-inch, 921K nari-angle
Max. Burst Rate: 10 fps at full res
Media: MS Duo SD/SDHC/SDXC


SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-WX10

TOP FEATURES

Video: 1080/60i
Eye-Level Finder: None
RAW-Capable: No
List Price: $279

SIZE/WEIGHT

Dimensions: 4.5×2.3×2.2 inches
Weight: 9.2 ounces

The DSC-WX10’s forte is speed. During autofocus, a magnetic coil moves the lens linearly, achieving focus with a straight back-and-forth motion rather than through rotation. A 7x G-series Zeiss zoom lens, three-shot in-camera HDR and manual control when you want it are assets. Intelligent Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama make it easy to produce effective wide-format shots, while 10 fps still shooting at full resolution complements 1080/60i video capability.

Verdict: A terrific value, the DSC-WX10 packs many of Sony’s best camera technologies into a diminutive package with an easy price.


Power: Li-ion NP-BG1
Sensor: 16.2 MP CMOS, 1/2.3-inch
Lens: 26-182mm ƒ/2.4-5.9
ISO Range: 100-3200


LCD Monitor: 2.8-inch, 460K
Max. Burst Rate: 10 fps at full res
Media: MS Duo SD/SDHC/SDXC


Camera Resources

Canon
www.usa.canon.com

Casio
www.casio.com

Fujifilm
www.fujifilm.com

Nikon
www.nikonusa.com

Olympus
www.getolympus.com

Panasonic
www.panasonic.com

Pentax
www.pentaximaging.com

Samsung
www.samsungcamerausa.com

Sigma
www.sigmaphoto.com

Sony
www.sonystyle.com

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