The High-End New Compact Standard

It seems that Sony started something with the RX100: use a 1” sensor with a fast mid-range collapsing zoom and put it into a body that is shirt-pocketable. Of course, Sony is on their Mark III version of that design (quite a good camera, by the way). But that isn’t stopping others from joining in.


Canon today announced the G7 X, probably the most confusing name they could have chosen. Haven’t we already had a G X and a G7? Maybe they think 7 is lucky, or maybe that’s the only number they had left in their mold etchings that wasn’t worn out, I don’t know. Moreover, this camera seems to be the update to the S90/100 series, so where did the S go? 

What we get in the US$700 G7 X is the Sony 20mp 1” sensor coupled with a 24-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 lens, a 1m dot touchscreen, a built in ND filter, 1080P/60 video and some other PowerShot stuff. As you can see from the photo, it even has a “selfie” mode. What, no EVF, no hot shoe? Oops. Basically we have a Sony RX100II without the EVF option but with a slightly longer telephoto reach. Or a Canon S100 with a 1” sensor.

So that brings me to an aside. When markets begin collapsing and the clear market leader stops innovating and begins copying, the end is nigh. This isn’t good for anyone. The innovator here—Sony—has a tougher time dislodging the leader because the leader has something that’s “close enough” and the leader still tends to have pricing advantage. The copier tends to send a message to everyone that there’s nothing new to look at in the market any more, so you should buy on price only. What happens next is Darwinian survival at its most brutal, and the good genes don’t always win out over the bad. 


Which brings us to the US$900 Panasonic LX100. It uses a larger m4/3 multi-aspect sensor that produces 12mp in m4/3 and 3:2, has a 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 collapsing lens, a hot shoe (for the included external flash), a built-in 2.8m dot EVF, WiFi, and can record 4K video at 30 fps or 1080P at 60. And yes, it can fit in a pocket, though not in a shirt pocket as it’s not quite as slender as a Sony RX100. At least Panasonic’s name makes a little more sense: “hey, it’s our version of an RX100 but with an L!” 

Actually, that last is a little unfair. The LX100 is a bit of everything, including some design cues from Panasonic’s original Lumix 4:3 camera plus a few from the recent GX7 (including that camera’s EVF, though it doesn’t tilt). It also has a full set of retro controls (aperture ring, shutter dial, exposure control dial). Focus is via the DFD system found in the GH4 and FZ1000, which should give quick, sure focus.

As usual, Nikon is off pursuing other ventures at the moment, but they’ll eventually have a Coolpix that tries to shoehorn into this category. 

So, in the large sensor compact territory these days we have essentially two camps. The rough breakdown is:

  • The RX100 camp: pocket camera with fast mid-range zoom, preferably with an EVF (Canon, Panasonic, Sony)
  • The X100 camp: bigger camera with APS size sensor and fixed prime lens (Fujifilm, Nikon, Ricoh, Sigma)

The RX100 camp is winning, and now has three very interesting choices in it. In the X100 camp, Fujifilm is winning as Fujifilm just iterates the heck out of their entry while the others sit pat.

As for what to pick, I’m with dpreview on this one: the Sony RX100III produces really nice shots, but it’s a bit of a pain to shoot with. The more traditional and photographer-oriented controls of the Panasonic LX100 and Fujifilm X100T are more appealing, I think. So the choice is a little more complex than it at first seems. I think it all boils down to how you’ll carry and shoot with the camera. If it really has to go in the shirt pocket and still shoot with an EVF, the Sony RX100III is the clear choice. If you can tolerate something bigger or the lack of an EVF, the choices just got much more interesting. 

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