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Small Camera Overview

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For several years I’ve wanted a small second camera, easy to carry around, but with image quality that is close to that of an SLR. A camera to take pictures with when my primary purpose isn’t to take pictures. Five years ago such a thing didn’t exist and I made do with the better point-and-shoot cameras, but wasn’t really happy with them. Then, a couple of years ago the mirrorless micro 4/3 cameras gave some small camera options that had near SLR quality images. And a few fixed-lens cameras like the Sigma DP-1 surfaced. Since then, Sony released the NEX bodies, Leica released the X1 and Fuji released the X100. Finally, there were small camera choices.

Today, there seems to be so many small cameras on the market or about to be released that it’s hard to keep up. The other day one of the techs mentioned a new camera we just stocked and I wasn’t sure if it was the one with the point-and-shoot size sensor but interchangeable lenses, or the one with the large sensor but a fixed, single focal length lens. So I figured it was time to make a table of the various cameras so it would be easier to compare them.

The first problem was deciding which cameras to list. Going with my definition, first and foremost the camera had to be small. The biggest of the mirrorless cameras is the Panasonic GH-2 (I think) at 4.9 x 3.5 x 3 inches so I set that as the largest size. The second requirement, ‘near SLR image quality’ was a little tougher. The mirrorless camera systems with 4/3 or larger sensors obviously are included. But what about smaller sensors with interchangeable lenses? Or fixed lens cameras with large sensors? I decided to include both, since some people are perfectly fine with just a 24mm lens if they have good image quality. Others are fine with having several lens options and aren’t planning on blowing up 11 x 14 prints.

That may not be the best set of definitions, but that was the most logical set I could come up with. My definition eliminates top level point-and-shoots like the Fuji X10, Canon G12, Ricoh G700, Leica V-Lux, etc. They all have point-and-shoot size sensors and do not have interchangeable lenses. I know there are some people interested in them as a second camera but there are lots of places to go compare point-and-shoot feature sets so I’ll leave that to those that do it best.

This isn’t a review, a recommendation, or anything of that nature. It’s simply a list comparing sizes, features, etc., limited to facts and numbers. For me, and hopefully some of you, it is a tool to eliminate some of the  many smaller cameras, the ones that don’t have features you want or need. Space constraints on a blog post prevent me from putting up one huge table, but I realize some of you will want that. So I’ve put an Excel spreadsheet with all the numbers lumped together that you can download HERE and sort by whatever criteria are most important to you. Feel free to pass it on to whomever might use it, but I’d appreciate it if you left my name on it – while it was simple to do, it was time consuming gathering all that data.

Camera Size

It’s really hard to get a grasp of how big a camera is without holding it. They’re all box-shaped, but some are long and thin, others short and thick. To try to simplify I’ve listed the cameras in order of size from smallest total dimension (Length + Height + Depth) as well as giving the width, height, and depth dimensions.

Weight gets a little tricky: if the camera has a removable lens the manufacturer gives its weight with no lens attached, which isn’t a fair comparison to another camera that has a fixed lens. So for interchangeable lens cameras I’ve given both the manufacturer’s advertised weight and added the weight of the ‘kit’ lens sold with the camera. That skews things the other way: now the interchangeable-lens camera may have the weight of a zoom added, while the fixed lens camera has only the weight of a built-in prime. But it should give you a range.


Camera W H D Total Weight Weight
oz. with lens
Pentax Q 3.9 2.3 1.2 7.4 6.3 8.3
Nikon J1 4.2 2.4 1.2 7.8 8.3 12.5
Panasonic GF3 4.2 2.6 1.3 8.1 7.8 13.6
Sony NEX 5n 4.4 2.3 1.5 8.2 7.4 14.2
Samsung NX200 4.6 2.5 1.4 8.5 7.7 14.0
Leica X1 4.9 2.3 1.3 8.5 11.0 11.0
Panasonic GX1 4.6 2.7 1.6 8.9 11.2 17.2
Olympus E-P3 4.5 2.8 1.6 8.9 10.5 14.5
Ricoh GXR S10 4.5 2.8 1.7 9.0 12.9 12.9
Sigma DP2x 4.5 2.3 2.2 9.0 9.2 9.2
Sony NEX 7 4.7 2.6 1.7 9.0 10.3 17.1
Nikon V1 4.4 3.0 1.7 9.1 10.4 14.5
Panasonic G3 3.3 4.5 1.8 9.6 11.8 15.8
Fuji X100 5.0 2.9 2.1 10.0 14.3 14.3
Olympus OM-D 4.8 3.5 1.7 10.0 15.0 19.0
Pentax K-01 4.8 3.1 2.3 10.2 16.9 24.0
Canon G1X 4.6 3.2 2.5 10.3 17.3 17.3
Fuji X Pro 1 5.5 3.2 1.7 10.4 15.9 22.5
Canon T3i 5.2 3.9 3.1 12.2 18.2 25.3

I added the Canon T3i at the bottom so you can compare sizes with a small SLR. As you can see some of these ‘small’ cameras aren’t so small. It also surprised me a bit to see how much difference there was in ‘sister’ cameras like the Nikon J1/V1 and the Sony NEX 5n/7. If small size is your first priority, the Pentax Q, Nikon J1, Panasonic GF3 and Sony NEX-5n should be at the top of your list.

Sensor

uji Resolution and sensor size aren’t the end-all, be-all for a camera by any means. In many cases the lens is the rate-limiting factor. But sensors are important, especially if you plan to make large prints with your camera. They are less important if you’ll mostly be posting jpegs online. In addition to the name of sensor type, I’ve put its diagonal measurement in mm, since I know comparing 1/2.7″, 4/3, and APS-C isn’t intuitive for a lot of people.


Camera Sensor Diag mm Mpix
Fuji X100 APS-C 28.4 12.3
Fuji X Pro 1 APS-C 28.4 16.3
Leica X1 APS-C 28.4 12.2
Pentax K-01 APS-C 28.4 16.0
Samsung NX200 APS-C 28.1 20.3
Sony NEX 5n APS-C 27.9 16.1
Sony NEX 7 APS-C 27.9 24.3
- - - -
Canon G1X 1.5″ 23.4 14.3
Sigma DP2x 1.5″ 23.4 14.4
Olympus E-P3 4/3 22.4 12.3
Olympus OM-D 4/3 22.4 16.1
Panasonic GX1 4/3 22.4 16.0
Panasonic G3 4/3 22.4 16.0
Panasonic GF3 4/3 22.4 12.0
- - - -
Nikon J1 CX 15.8 10.1
Nikon V1 CX 15.8 10.1
Fuji X10 2/3″ 11 12
Ricoh GXR S10 1/1.7″ 9.5 9.9
Pentax Q 1/2.5″ 7.2 12.4

I’ve grouped the cameras by sensor size and it’s obvious within each size there is a fairly large variation in the number of pixels on the sensor, especially in the APS-C group. It’s a bit surprising, again, that large sensor size and large camera size don’t go hand-in-hand: the NEX-5n is one of the smallest cameras but has one of the largest sensors, as does the Leica X1. But remember, too, that lenses for the larger sensors will tend to be larger.

Lens Type

I’m limiting this to native-mount lenses and have roughly ordered this table from most available native-mount lenses to those with a fixed lens (1 choice only). If the camera has a fixed lens I’ve listed it’s range and widest aperture. If the lenses are interchangeable I’ve listed the mount name and the number of lenses announced as available for that mount.

You can purchase adapters for many of these cameras that allow the use of hundreds of other lenses. But adapters bring their own set of problems: except for Leica M mount lenses, adapted lenses tend to be much larger than the camera; autofocus may not work with adapters; and the added mounts may create problems with infinity focus or side-to-side sharpness variation with wide-angle lenses. I’ve added a column showing what type of manual focus assistance the camera has – it will be particularly important if you are using other lenses on an adapter, but may be important to some of you even with the native lenses. Personally I much prefer a peaking filter, but some people prefer zoom magnified live view – but I believe all the cameras with peaking filters give you the magnification option too. ,


Camera Lens type Native lenses MF aid
Olympus E-P3 m4/3 many 10x
Olympus OM-D m4/3 many 10x
Panasonic GX1 m4/3 many 4x-10x
Panasonic G3 m4/3 many 4x-10x
Panasonic GF3 m4/3 many 4x-10x
Pentax K-01 K mount many* peaking
Sony NEX 5n E mount 7 peaking
Sony NEX 7 E mount 7 peaking
Samsung NX200 NX 6 10x
Pentax Q Q mount 5 4x
Nikon J1 N 1 4 5x**
Nikon V1 N 1 4 5x**
Fuji X Pro 1 X-mount 3 primes 10x
Ricoh GXR S10 modules 2 + m-mount peaking
Canon G1X F 28-112mm f/2.8-5.8 1 N/A
Fuji X100 F 35mm f/2.0 1 10x
Sigma DP2x 24mm f/2.8 1 5x?
Leica X1 36MM F/2.8 1 10x

* many of the available lenses are quite large

** The Nikon 1 series have a MF assist, but it’s rather poor and fuzzy. Then again, it’s autofocus is very good.

Viewing

Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to frame a shot, manually focus a shot, or view a shot on a horrible viewfinder. I find resolution is usually (not always, there are other factors) more important than absolute size, so I’ve sorted this list by LCD resolution. I’ve also marked when the LCD is OLED, since this should result in better image quality than a standard LCD.

And, of course, once you go out in bright sunlight (or just because you prefer it) having the ability to look through a viewfinder rather than trying to squint at a camera’s LCD screen held at arm’s length can be a critical advantage. I’ve marked viewfinders as O (optical), E (electronic), O/E for combination hybrids (basically Fuji’s wonderful ones). If they aren’t marked as optional, then they are included with the camera.

Camera LCD Size LCD rez Viewfinder
Nikon V1 3″ 960k E
Pentax K-01 3″ 960k none
Canon G1X 3″ 922k O
Sony NEX 7 3″ 920k E
Olympus E-P3 3″ OLED 614k E (option)
Olympus OM-D 2.7″ OLED 614k E
Samsung NX200 3″ 614K none
Fuji X100 2.6″ 460k O, E
Nikon J1 3″ 460k none
Panasonic GX1 3″ 460k E (option)
Panasonic G3 3″ 460k E
Panasonic GF3 3″ 460k none
Pentax Q 3″ 460k E (option)
Leica X1 2.7″ 230k O
Sigma DP2x 2.5″ 230k E (option)
Fuji X Pro 1 3″ 1230k O, E
Ricoh GXR S10 3″ 920k E (option)
Sony NEX 5n 3″ 920k E (option)

Other Features

Most of us aren’t going to do studio work or shoot an epic video with this type of camera. Still, a built-in flash, or the ability to add a shoe mount flash can be an important feature, even if we only use it once in a while. So can the maximum speed it shoots at, whether it has some form of image stabilization, as well as whether it shoots video and at what resolution. These are in no particular order. Flash is either B (built-in), HS (hot shoe), or both. Video is listed by maximum resolution. Stabilization is either none, Sensor, or Optical (in the lens). Optical Stabilization, of course, depends on which lens is mounted. Finally FPS is listed, although an asterisk is used when the camera crops down to a low resolution image in order to get that number of FPS.

Flash Stabilization Video FPS
Fuji X Pro 1 HS none 1080i? 6
Fuji X100 B none 720p 10
Pentax K-01 B, HS Sensor 1080p 6
Leica X1 B, HS none NA 1.5
Samsung NX200 HS optical 1080p 7
Sony NEX 5n HS none 1080p 10
Sony NEX 7 B, HS none 1080p 10
Sigma DP2x B, HS none QVGA 2.5
Canon G1X B, HS O 1080p 5.6
Panasonic GX1 B, HS O 1080i 20*
Olympus E-P3 B, HS Sensor 1080i 3
Olympus OM-D H Sensor 1080i 9
Panasonic GF3 B, HS O 1080i 3.8
Panasonic G3 B, HS O 1080i 20*
Nikon V1 HS none 1080p 60*
Nikon J1 B none 1080p 60*
Ricoh GXR S10 HS O VGA 30*
Pentax Q B Sensor 1080p 5

Conclusion

None of this is going to take the place of reading good reviews, or actually shooting with the various cameras. Lenses, in particular, are usually the achilles heel of small cameras. There are some good Micro 4/3 lenses and a few other decent ones, but many of these cameras only deliver their best image quality when a good lens is mounted to it via an adapter. Hopefully, though, this will at least help you narrow your list down a bit.

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

February, 2012

 

 

 

15 Responses to “Small Camera Overview”

Jeff Mickey said:

interesting and useful article. Is there a reason for leaving out Olympus’s EPM-1?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

No good reason – I just forgot the EPM-1.

Roger

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Thank you Zig. Fixed that. I think I put ‘zero’ originally and then transcribed it as “O” for optical.

Best,
Roger

Samuel Hurtado said:

for me, the nex-5n would be the ideal pocketable camera… if it had a good but small normal prime lens!

lacking that, I went for E-PL1 plus the panasonic 20mm f/1.7
the sensor is not amazing, and the camera is lacking in many of the areas highlighted here, but the lens is great, the whole package is small and delivers nice pictures, and at $600 total, the price is ok
http://www.similaar.com/foto/lenstests/lenstestsa.html
http://www.similaar.com/foto/lenstests/bokehtests.html

Carl said:

I like my Sigma DP2, mostly because of the unique sensor. But I admit 2012 is looking to be an interesting year for quite a few of the manufacturers. Makes me wonder if Roger might carry the new Fuji and Pentax cameras for rent (lack of an EVF, or not…).

Chris Nichols said:

Roger,

Good article; thanks. Another minor mistake, I think. I just rented the Sony nex 7 from you, so I know that in manual focus there is either 4x or 10x maginifcation.

Cheers

Chris

Chad Kirkpatrick said:

Roger, thanks for the excellent post! I find myself in a similar camp. I would also like a capable/compact camera to compliment my DSLR kit, and I have also evaluated the many offerings with a similar analytical/critical eye. Would you consider updating the list to include lenses for CSC and DSLR bodies sense CSC/DSLRs are not capable of producing an image without lenses? Two lists would be needed, one for fixed and and the other for zoom lenses, with CSC and DSLRs showing up in both lists. Lens selection would have to be somewhat subjective but could use measurable criteria such as the lens that best balances the optical quality, length and weight. Once size and weight has been determined for each camera kit then sensor size can be added to the mix. At this point you can generative an image quality to size/weight ratio.

If you completed such a review I suspect you would come to the following conclusions: If size/weight is most important and you don’t want to carry extra lenses then large sensor point & shoot cameras look like a good way to go, for example Sigma’s DP1/2m for a fixed lens camera and Canon G1X for a zoom lens camera. In the CSC realm, if cost and ultra compact size isn’t a major consideration and the best image quality is needed then Leica’s M9, Fuji’s X Pro 1, Sony’s NEX and Samsung’s NX200 are all very good. The middle ground includes lots of excellent options, but the best two look to be Panasonic’s GX1 for overall versatility and Nikon’s J1 for ultra compact CSC.

It seems that Sony would have a slam dunk with the NEX system if they offered a high quality compact zoom and high quality AF pancake prime, such as the excellent lenses currently available for micro4/3′s cameras. And a final observation, with the CSC market place getting increasingly larger and heavier, CSC camera systems start to compete more closely with DSLRs. Compact pancake primes for DSLR would bridge this gap.

Carl said:

Pancake primes exist now, even for full frame DSLR’s. If the market asks for even more, that would be fine. I assume the optical compromises outweigh the demand though, and are more apparent when used with a larger sensor having more resolution.

It goes back to my point from another section: Do people who are serious about photography, demand a camera/lens that can fit in a pocket? Isn’t it really just more about convenience than quality? Mass market appeal doesn’t always deliver a product with the best quality, rather more nearly the opposite. A compromise…so why put a compromise lens on a body that isn’t designed or sized, for compromise? If you really only want the middle third of the image to be good, then why use a big DSLR to take the shot at all?

Chad said:

Excellent summary, thanks! Very happy to see you have plenty of M4/3 gear as I’m about to make the plunge with the Olympus OM-D.

If you want to help get a sense of camera sizes in relation to each other, I highly recommend playing around on this website. You can even compare different camera/lens combos.

http://camerasize.com/

It can be a bit of time waster fiddling around with all the combinations, but in a good way.

They’re looking for more sample pics of various cameras and lenses and I bet you could help them immensely. Cheers, -C

Chad said:

BTW, what about adding the Leica M9 to the list for comparison purposes?

Brian said:

Yes, people who are serious about photography at some time will demand camera/lens that will fit in their pocket and have been doing so for years. The designer of the camera below is said to have been inspired to build the XA because he wanted a small camera to take on his vacation. I just gave mine to a collector and bought an NEX 7.
FYI from a few sources:
Olympus XA 35mm Film Rangefinder Cameras
Won over by its sharp lens, compact dimensions, sturdy casing and exposure controls, the XA camera quickly found favor among fellow enthusiast with many ending up as the camera ‘professionals carry on the vacation.’
The Olympus XA was a 35 mm rangefinder camera built by Olympus of Japan. It was one of the smallest rangefinder cameras ever made, together with the Contax T.
It was designed by Yoshihisa Maitani who had joined Olympus Optical Co Ltd in 1956. He was the chief camera designer and managing director of Olympus Optical Co Ltd., having developed a number of legendary cameras during his career. These included the Pen series, the OM series, the XA series, the IS series and the [mju:] series of cameras.
The original model, the XA, was sold from 1979 to 1985. The original XA features true rangefinder focusing, a fast 35mm f2.8 lens, and aperture priority metering. Later cameras, models XA2 to XA4, featured scale focusing instead of rangefinders. Model XA1 used a fixed-focus lens. The Olympus XA is small and light in weight, made with a protected lens for pockets.

Craig said:

Mistake? “Most of us are going to do studio work or shoot an epic video with this type of camera.”

I would have thought you meant “…aren’t…”

Craig

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Thank you, Craig. I absolutely meant “aren’t” and typoed it. Fixed now.

robin said:

Quite a useful compendium. We can each apply or own criteria, extrapolating price. So, If I require body stabilisation, a good selection of compact glass, wide mount compatibility, a decent sensor size, and a viewfinder (at least as an option) then I am left with… Olympus! Seems I made the right choice then. ;-)

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