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The Best Advanced Compact Digital Cameras for Summer 2014

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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The Best Advanced Compact Digital Cameras for Summer 2014

Photographic pocket rockets

The high end of compact cameras with built-in lenses—also known as System, Advanced, or "Posh" compacts—has never been more diverse than it is today. Here's a look at today's top models.


Advanced compact cameras have been embraced by professionals as small carry-anywhere alternatives to their big rigs. Enthusiasts like the models that provide a DSLR-like shooting experience. The convenience of a small, full-featured (in some cases, with prominent manual focus and exposure controls, and a few with APS or 35mm  sensors) all-in-one camera that you can slip into a jacket pocket or small bag and take anywhere is a big temptation. Here are our favorites.

Top Advanced Compact Digital Cameras at a Glance (Prices accurate as of February 10, 2014):

Camera

Canon G1X

Canon PowerShot G1X

Fujifilm X100s

Fujifilm FinePix X100s

Leica X-Vario

Leica X-Vario

Nikon Coolpix A

Nikon Coolpix A

Fujifilm XQ1

Fujifilm XQ1

Resolution 15MP 16MP 16MP 16MP 12MP
Sensor Size 14x18.7mm 15.8x23.6mm 15.7x23.6mm 15.6x23.6mm 6.6x8.8mm
DxOMark Image Quality Score 60 NA NA 80 NA
ISO Range 100-12,800 100-25,600 100-12,500 100-25,600 100-12,800
Lens (35mm equiv 28-112mm f/2.8-5.8 35mm f/2 28-70mm f/2.5-6.4 28mm f/2.8 25-100mm f/1.8-4.9
Monitor size/resolution 3 in/922k flip-out 2.8 in/4600k 3 in/920k 3 in/921k 3 in/920k
Top Video Resolution/Frame Rate 1080p/24fps 1080p/60fps NA 1080p/30fps 1080p/60fps
What's Special Optical finder Optical/hi-res EVF Manual control dials Pocket sized Fast, high-end optics
Adorama price $549 $1,299 $2,099 $1,096.95 $369
Camera

Panasonic LX7

Panasonic Lumix LX7

Ricoh GR

Ricoh GR

Sigma DP-2 Merrill

Sigma DP-2 Merrill

Sony RX1

Sony RX1

Resolution 10MP 16MP 15/48MP 24MP
Sensor Size 5.6x7.4 15.7x23.7 15.7x23.5 24.7x35.8
DxOMark Image Quality Score 50 78 NA 91
ISO Range 80-12,800 100-25,600 100-6400 100-25,600
Lens (35mm equiv) 24-90mm f/1.4-2.8 28mm f/2.8 30mm f/2.8 35mm f/2
Monitor size/resolution 3 in/920k 3 in/1,230k 3 in/920k 3 in/1,229k
Top Video Resolution/Frame Rate 1080/60fps 1080p/30fps NA NA
What's Special Fast lens Fully customizable Film-like sensor array Best Image Quality
Adorama price $347.99 $696.95 $699 $2,798



Canon Powershot G1 X
Adorama Price:  $549

Canon Powershot G1 X




The system: The TC-DC58C doubles the length of the telephoto end of the zoom to 420mm, while the WC-DC58B stretches the wide angle range to 26.3mm. The external lenses are attached via the lens adapter. Want a lot of flash power? Any Canon shoe-mount flash, such as the Speedlite 270EX TTL or Speedlite 430EX II will work on it, and you can even set it up for wireless off-camera flash operation via the Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2!


Overview: The Canon PowerShot G line got its biggest change to date with the G1 X, Canon's first large-sensor compact. At 18.7x14mm the sensor is not quite as large as the APS sensors found on its low- and mid-range DSLRs, but we found it delivered DSLR-quality images. As with previous G's, the G1 X has a familiar array of both automatic and manual controls, as well as special effects filters and full 1080p HD stereo video capture. Everything about this camera is bigger—the sensor, the generous-sized LCD monitor, is wide ISO range, built-in HDR and more. It is physically bigger and heavier than previous G's to accomodate the larger sensor, but it's still smaller than a DSLR. A great travel camera. Read the Adorama Learning Center's full review.

DxOMark Test Results: Lab test results of RAW images showed noise-free images up to ISO 644 (ISO 800 for practical purposes) and acceptable noise levels almost to the highest setting, an astounding result for a compact camera. By comparison, the G12 delivers noise-free images through ISO 200. In fact, according to DxOMark's tests, the G1 X's overall image quality is one of the best produced by any compact digital camera.


Fujifilm FinePix X100S
Adorama Price: Approximately $1,299

Fujifilm FinePix X100S

The System: Accepts 49mm filters via Adapter Ring or Lens hood/thread adapter. Accepts Fujifilm EF-42 TTL flash via hot shoe. The Fujifilm WCL-X100 0.8x Wide Conversion Lens turns the 35mm (equivalent) lens into a 28mm (35mm equivalent).

Honorable Mention: If the X100S is too pricey for your pocketbook, consider the $600 Fujifilm X20, which has a smaller sensor (2/3 inch) but looks and feels like a classic rangefinder camera. It features an f/2-2.8 4x zoom lens, optical viewfinder, and external exposure controls.

Overview: When the Fujifilm FinePix X100 first came out, it was greeted with great fanfare, but some disappointment about its pokey shutter lag time. This was improved via a firmware update, but now with the X100S, Fujifilm has boosted the resolution, increased the ISO range, and yes, put afterburners on the the camera's responsiveness. The company claims 0.01 second lag time, which is pretty much instantaneous. The fixed lens is a 35mm (35mm equivalent) f/2; Fujifilm offers an auxiliary lens that stretches it to a 28mm (35mm equivalent) lens. The unique hybrid viewfinder lets the user choose: optical, or the highest-resolution (2.36 million dot) EVF ever. The sensor's unique randomized pixel array eliminates the need for a low-pass filter, and if its predecessor is any indication, we expect outstanding image quality from this camera.

Other neat features include an ND filter, shutter speeds from 30-1/4000 second, cast-magnesium alloy and magnetic construction.

Leica X Vario
Adorama price: $2,099

Leica X Vario

The SystemHot shoe/accessory port accommodates Leica X2EVF2 viewfinder or Leica SF24D TTL flash.

Overview: Hold the Leica X Vario and you will immediately recognize that important intangible solid Leica feel. More importantly for photographers who want to take full control over the camera, the main controls—focus, aperture and shutter speed—are right at your fingertips and don't require pressing buttons and going through menus. The zoom lens is made of optically superior Leica glass and focuses to a foot away. For many photographers, the control layout and superior optics, along with the outstanding APS sensor, are reason enough to splurge on this deluxe camera that, when you add either a Leica X2 EVF2 electronic viewfinder or a 28mm optical finder, can be a fine street shooting tool that's smaller and lighter than its full-frame siblings.




Nikon Coolpix A
Adorama Price: $1,096.95

Nikon Coolpix A

 

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):

With an overall score of 80 and a remarkable low-light ISO rating of 1164, the Nikon Coolpix A displayed the best image quality for an APS-based compact digital camera. It maintains a signal-noise rate of over 30dB through ISO 800, and has a dynamic range of nearly 14 stops at the native speed of ISO 80.

Overview: Coming very soon! Nikon has taken Posh up a notch, launching its first compact camera that is built around a 16MP, APS-sized ("DX" designation in Nikonese) sensor that measures 15.8 x 23.6mm. Its built-in 18.5mm f/2.8  lens covers the equivalent of a 28mm lens on a 35mm sensor camera, and focuses to 4 inches. Nikon says the autofocus is super-fast, but there is also manual focus and exposure for those who want to take greater control over the camera. The A has a 3-inch, 921k dot LCD monitor and while it lacks a built-in eye-level viewfinder, you can pick up the shoe-mounted Nikon DF-CP1 optical finder  for $396.95, or you can save a few bucks by buying the Voigtlander 28mm finder for the Adorama price of $209. As befits a posh compact, you can shoot RAW images—and process them in camera.


The System: Hot shoe holds any Nikon flash and the Nikon Nikon DF-CP1 optical finder.


Fujifilm XQ1
Adorama Price: $369

Fujifilm XQ1

The SystemThe System: Fujifilm SEMA-1 Microphone adapter set, VF-2 live-view electronic viewfinder, Fujifilm wireless, shoe-mounted flash systemPT-050 underwater housing waterproof to 130 feet.


Overview: The big news about the pocketable Fujifilm XQ1 is the lens. Made of 7 glass lenses in 6 groups, it includes a high refractive index element as well as three extra low dispersion lenses, resulting in minimal flaring, ghosting, and chromatic aberration. Built-in optical image stabilization is claimed to reach 3 stops. A new control ring built around the lens barrel can select modes, focus, zoom, shift program, set shutter speed and aperture values, change ISO and exposure compensation, and set film simulation modes. Using the same 2/3-inch X-trans sensor as the highly regarded X20, the XQ1 features a fast 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 zoom lens that collapses almost completely into the camera body. The XQ1 sacrifices the X20's handy zooming viewfinder, but this allows the XQ1 to be a significantly smaller camera. A sophisticated control ring lets users choose either all auto or manual control, or anything in between, while images can be viewed via a new 920k dot LCD monitor.



Panasonic Lumix LX7
Adorama  Price: $347.99

Fujifilm FinePix X100S

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):
The LX7 scored a 50 overall, with a low-light ISO rating of 147 and an 11.7-stop dynamic range, not bad for a small-sensor camera. When you factor in the wider than usual aperture, this camera is better in low light than results indicate.

Overview: Meet the new low-light boss: At f/1.4, the Panasonic LX7's 24mm 4x zoom lens is the fastest lens you'll find on a compact digital camera. Combine that with the camera's 10MP, 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor (which will deliver a better-than-average image in a compact thanks to its larger pixels), this camera's a great choice for flashless low-light photography. Quick and quiet, the camera is unobtrusive and well suited for candid photography, including street photography. However, an optical or electronic viewfinder is also recommended.

The System: Panasonic Live View Finder DMW-LVF2 electronic viewfinder, Panasonic DMW-VF1 External Optical View Finder, Panasonic DMWFL3600 Flash.


Ricoh GR

Adorama price: $696.95

Ricoh GR

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):


At an overall score of 78, the Ricoh GR turned in an outstanding performance, second only to the pricier Nikon Coolpix A. The GR has a 13.5-stop dynamic range at the native ISO of 100, and maintains a signal-noise rate of over 30dB through ISO 800.

Overview: The latest incarnation of the Ricoh GR—which I described in my review as the VW Beetle of the Photo Industry—is a major leap. While previous models had small sensors, the new GR has a full 16MP APS-C sensor, making it the world’s smallest camera with an APS-C sensor. It’s a no-nosense camera that’s clearly been made by and for photographers. Its shutter release is one of the quietest and most responsive on the market, and when you pair it with a 28mm optical finder (to match the coverage of its 28mm equivalent lens) this camera’s simply a beast for street photography and unobtrusive photojournalism. You can choose full manual control, auto everything, or any step in between. A favorite feature? Snap Focus, which keeps focus locked to a pre-determined distance as a default, saving valuable fractions of a second.

The System21mm  converter available; hot shoe accommodates flash or optical viewfinder.


Sigma DP-2 Merrill
Adorama Price:  $699

Sigma DP-2 Merrill

The System: Hood Adapter HA-11 or 21 blocks out extraneous light, accepts 46mm filters such as the AML-1 Close-Up Lens, which is dedicated for the DP series cameras. Viewfinder VF-21 optical view, mounts on hot shoe—as do the External shoe-mount Flash EF-14, , Sigma EF-610 DG Super, and Sigma EF-610 DG ST flash units

Overview: This posh compact camera is a serious image quality machine. Depending on how you calculate these things, the upcoming Sigma DP1M (28mm equivalent lens) and Sigma DP2M (45mm equivalent lens) may be the highest resolution compact cameras in the world. Sigma says the cameras are 46MP, but that really means three 15MP sensors stacked upon each other for Sigma's unique RBG film-like sensor array. Either way, the sensors are APS-sized so no matter how you measure it, the quality should be amazing. The tradeoff? Speed. Previous DP-series cameras have been a bit slower than average. We are currently field-testing a DP-2 Merrill and will report results soon. In addition to the DP-2 Merrill, Sigma has announced a DP-1 Merrill with a 28mm (equivalent) lens, which is coming soon; all other features are the same. The M, by the way, is a tribute to the late Richard Merrill, the inventor of the Foveon sensor that's in every Sigma camera.


Sony RX1r
Adorama Price: $2,798

Sony RX1r

Lab test results (Provided by DxOMark):


The Sony RX1r's 91 overall rating is not just the best for a compact digital camera, it is one of the best image quality results for any digital camera, no matter the sensor size or form factor. Capable of noise-free image capture at ISO 2500 and 25-bit color depth, the RX1r's 35mm full-frame sensor delivers outstanding image quality.

Overview: No, that price is no misprint, but look at what you get for all that money: The Sony DSC-RX1 is the world’s first 35mm compact digital camera, with a small camera body that houses 24.3MP, 35mm-sized sensor. The camera has a built-in 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T lens;  Taking advantage of the high quality images that a full-frame sensor can deliver, the camera is said to shoot “clean” high-ISO images up to 25,600, and is claimed to have a fast 0.13 second autofocus acquisition speed. The Sony DSC-RX1 is clearly aimed at serious photographers who are already comfortable with manual exposure and focus control, and who may already own a DSLR and are looking for a sophisticated little camera to augment their big rigs. By putting a prime lens on the camera, Sony was able to use the best glass possible—a good thing, because a lesser lens’s optical issues would show up clearly on a full-frame 24MP sensor. And, as the first compact 35mm digital camera, it is likely to be embraced by high-end photographers.

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