2011's Best... compact cameras
Xmas Gift Guide 2011 was the year when compact system cameras (CSC) really began to hit their stride. Late to this year’s party were the Nikon 1 J1 and V1 models, but we’re still waiting to on Canon to show its hand in this arena. More to the point, Canon has yet to deliver a successor to its revered PowerShot G12 which is showing its age now. A PowerShot Gx is rumoured, but we’ll not be seeing it this year, for sure.
Lens swapping has its appeal, but so does fast access to functions from dedicated controls. Indeed, 2011‘s batch of affordable system cameras sacrificed buttons for reasons of cost, while pricier dedicated compacts kept the tweaks within easy reach, but had fixed lenses. When it comes to respectable pocket shooters, 2011’s models gave photographers something to think about when on a spending spree: point and shoot with accessories galore or a touch of class with customisation at your fingertips?
Nikon 1 J1
With its new 1 models, Nikon introduced its CX sensor. At 10.1Mp and a mere 13.2 x 8.8mm, this CMOS offering notches up a 2.7x crop factor. While the build quality of both the J1 and V1 is admirable, not everyone was convinced that the CX sensor would satisfy, particularly that larger MFT and even APS-C offerings are available for a similar price with a kit lens zoom.
With a paucity of controls – par for the course at this end of the CSC scale – the Nikon 1 J1 has point and shoot at its heart and here it performs extremely well. Its multipoint autofocus is very swift and accurate and its metering is well judged too. The CX sensor worries turn to be largely unfounded too, so long as you don’t crop into microscopic detail as the Nikon 1 J1 delivers respectable images that should satisfy users keen to concentrate on composition and let the camera do the thinking. Just keep in mind that unlike the Nikon 1 V1, this model has no additional accessory ports for external flash options and the like.
Price £489 (10-30mm lens), £499 (10mm pancake lens), £639 (10-30mm and 30-110mm lens)
More Info Nikon
Packing a 12.2Mp APS-C sensor, the Leica X1 takes a no-nonsense approach to compact shooting with its fixed 28mm f2.8 fixed lens, equivalent to a moderate 36mm wide-angle lens on a 35mm camera. 2011 prompted a firmware update for this model to improve focusing performance and JPEG image quality but that wasn’t going to make a difference to the X1’s Achilles heel; its 2.7in screen with a mere 230k-dots. Still, Leica also makes an optional clip on optical viewfinder if you prefer old-school shooting.
Just about everything else on this camera is top notch, with easy access to customisation functions and excellent build quality. As far as image quality goes, the X1 is best in show, but it has a price tag to match which, like the Fujifilm Finepix X100, does impact on it's overall rating here. However, the cost is offset slightly by the inclusion of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 with the Leica X1, that’s worth around £235.
More Info Leica
Next page: Fujifilm Finepix X100
Compact system cameras
This article isn't about compact cameras at all, despite what the title would have you believe. Rather it's a round-up of "compact system cameras", or mirrorless cameras.
Over a grand for a compact?
Seriously, get a grip.
Panaleicas are a waste of time
Just get the Panasonic original and save a shedload of cash
Screen vs. viewfinder
For what it's worth, I can't bear framing using the screen on the back. Much easier to hold steady when pressed to your face. The other difference is that there is less to distract you from framing because all you can see is what the camera sees as opposed to all the distracting stuff outsideof the frame. In that sense I think it is easier to concentrate. If you are trying to get a moving subject then I suppose that context can be useful, but it is possible to open your other eye and use that....
Only trouble with my SLR (Canon 5d - £650 off eBay) is that it's big and obtrusive. It takes the knocks well though., as well as it's awesome full frame loveliness :)
You're not wrong, it's generally accepted that holding the camera to your face provides a much more stable posture for shooting. That's probably the main reason professional photographers cite for preferring a DSLR to these types of camera.
Sony's new NEX-7 features a rather nifty integrated electronic viewfinder, but unfortunately this camera isn't cheap. Some of the other cameras feature optional EVFs that you can attach, but the quality of these is variable, and obviously it cuts down the portability factor to attach an accessory like this to the body.
I hope that more mirrorless cameras with an integrated EVF appear in the future, but I worry this may not be the case. It all depends which market product the manufacturers are aiming for. Users upgrading from a compact camera are unlikely to care about having a viewfinder, whereas for people looking for a more compact alternative to their DSLR, the EVF is a killer feature.