Searching for a compact digital camera

By | September 25, 2009

Recently, I spent a lot of time looking for a new camera to carry around – a compact travel zoom if you may. I’m not a professional photographer, and have no ambition of being one, but I wanted a good camera that wasn’t bulky or heavy, and could take decent, if not great images.

After days of looking around and trying out many cameras, I whittled down my choice to a few models. While I see the evolution of compact cameras as that of compacting DSLR technology, the standard of most compact cameras still has some way to go.

So my philosophy is whatever we get in the meantime should just be considered as interim cameras, until camera manufacturers can lessen this very conspicuous gap. Right now, the Ricoh CX1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, Canon PowerShot SX200 IS and Fujifilm F200 EXR stood out as being the main cameras to watch in this group of mid range compacts, which was my principle search.

Also I’d have to add that besides looking at camera review sites, do check out Flickr by doing a search with the camera model you have in mind. Many of the shots in Flickr are well done, and demonstrate what the particular camera model can do.

ricoh-cx1Presently, I am torn between the Ricoh CX1 and the Canon SX200. Although I got myself a CX1, I might switch to a SX200 later. While not having as good a zoom as the TZ7 or the SX200 (which is 12 times), the CX1 has some main highlights. Chief among these is the 1cm macro close up range which is very good. It was important for me to get a camera with a good macro close up range because I wanted to practice lots of macro shots; the Lumix TZ7 minimum range was 3cm, while the Fuji FinePix could only manage 5cm.

I wanted a camera that can get as close up as possible, and be quick in response. Both Canon and Ricoh have very good macro-mode cameras except that the SX200 was bigger, bulkier, with an annoying flash that keeps popping up. Check out a couple of unaltered Ricoh CX1 macro test shots I did below.

orange skin orange skin

A useful feature of the Ricoh CX1 is the ability to shift the manual focus point around on the screen. This proves quite handy if you’re taking a picture of a small moving object while using a tripod. Also, the flash intensity can be controlled within the Ricoh, which is most useful, but it takes a bit of practice to get right. Fast frame shooting and level plane indicator are other perks of the CX1.

The Canon SX200 has something big in its favor – Manual controls. If you want to get into photography, the SX200 can prove helpful in developing your skills. Otherwise, the Lumix TZ7 is a no-questions-asked point and shoot that does well most of the time. The Ricoh CX1 would be something in between, because after using it, I find it doesn’t really produce great shots out-of-camera, unless you tweak the settings here and there, and perhaps lug a tripod along.

Meanwhile for color, I’d have to say the Fuji Finepix has the best balance of color, hue, and saturation, while the Lumix TZ7 is a little too saturated for my liking. On the other hand, both the Canon SX200 and Ricoh CX1 have rather bland colors (you wish it was livelier and fuller). But since I’m mainly looking for a good macro camera, only Canon and Ricoh are on my shopping list.

Although trivial, design and LCD screen display are some frills which I think Ricoh has excelled. The 920K pixel resolution of the LCD screen on the Ricoh CX1 is by far the best, and I like the small, sleek design. Contrast that with the Finepix 200 or the Lumix TZ7, which have pretty poor LCD display, making it harder to know how well or bad is the picture you’re taking. The Canon SX200 was also quite bulky.

If image quality is the most important thing (notwithstanding price), Sigma wins hands down for me. Sigma has set a very high bar in the compact camera market with the Sigma DP2 that according to them, has a sensor 7-12 times larger than any compact camera in existence right now! Well likely the best compact for landscape photography.

It is very telling if you head to Flickr. There are way more images tagged with Sigma DP2 than any other compact camera (despite the price of the DP2), and Sigma users never shy away from uploading their photos at a large size. I’m guessing this has to do with the above par sharpness and image quality? Well, I can’t wait for Sigma to produce a Sigma DP compact camera WITH a macro setting and zoom – And not price it out of reach of the average camera buyer.

But until then, a Ricoh or Canon will do.

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