Small Camera Overview
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.
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.
|Sony NEX 5n||4.4||2.3||1.5||8.2||7.4||14.2|
|Ricoh GXR S10||4.5||2.8||1.7||9.0||12.9||12.9|
|Sony NEX 7||4.7||2.6||1.7||9.0||10.3||17.1|
|Fuji X Pro 1||5.5||3.2||1.7||10.4||15.9||22.5|
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.
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.
|Fuji X Pro 1||APS-C||28.4||16.3|
|Sony NEX 5n||APS-C||27.9||16.1|
|Sony NEX 7||APS-C||27.9||24.3|
|Ricoh GXR S10||1/1.7″||9.5||9.9|
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.
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|
|Pentax K-01||K mount||many*||peaking|
|Sony NEX 5n||E mount||7||peaking|
|Sony NEX 7||E mount||7||peaking|
|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.
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|
|Sony NEX 7||3″||920k||E|
|Olympus E-P3||3″ OLED||614k||E (option)|
|Olympus OM-D||2.7″ OLED||614k||E|
|Fuji X100||2.6″||460k||O, E|
|Panasonic GX1||3″||460k||E (option)|
|Pentax Q||3″||460k||E (option)|
|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)|
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.
|Fuji X Pro 1||HS||none||1080i?||6|
|Pentax K-01||B, HS||Sensor||1080p||6|
|Leica X1||B, HS||none||NA||1.5|
|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|
|Panasonic GF3||B, HS||O||1080i||3.8|
|Panasonic G3||B, HS||O||1080i||20*|
|Ricoh GXR S10||HS||O||VGA||30*|
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.
Author: Roger Cicala
I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.