Roundup: Enthusiast Zoom Compact Cameras
It's impossible to look at a group of cameras this diverse and select a single winner, since the needs and expectations of different users are too varied. Hopefully though, the information in the preceding pages of this review will help guide you towards those models that are best suited for your needs. In this page, we've split the nine cameras in this roundup into three main groups, representing (roughly) three of the main priorities that you might have when choosing a camera in this class. Those are, in order, pocketability, zoom versatility, and 'best all-rounder', for those cameras which offer the most compelling overall feature set. We've then selected what we think are the two best cameras for each of these use cases.
In making these selections, we're judging the cameras by their own merits. But as always, what matters to us might not matter to you, and you might have specific priorities of your own. So for example, if you shoot with a Nikon DSLR and you've got a Speedlight flashgun, the Coolpix P7700 might make an ideal second camera because it's compatible with gear that you already own. Likewise the Canon PowerShot G15 if you're a Canon DSLR user, or the Olympus XZ-2 if you shoot with a PEN-series interchangeable lens camera, and you want to use the same EVF or flash unit.
OK, enough caveats - here's our selection. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave suggestions and feedback in the comments.
So you want something to fit in your pocket?
If you're looking for better image quality than a regular compact camera but you still need to fit it in your pocket, there are arguably only three real choices here: the Fujifilm XF1, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 or Canon's PowerShot S110. Each works well as a point-and-shoot while also making it simple and enjoyable to take control over. Of course, how pocketable a camera is depends on how big your pockets are - none of the models in this roundup will weigh you down.
Of the three cameras we've selected as most pocketable, the RX100 offers by far the best image quality of the bunch, although it does come with a price premium.
Canon PowerShot S110 and Sony RX100
It's hard to ignore the Fujifilm XF1's attractive styling and engaging shooting experience when making a selection in this category, but we've chosen the Canon PowerShot S110 and Sony Cyber-shot RX100 as the standout products if your priority is a good quality, pocket camera. The Canon PowerShot S110 earns its selection for its exceptionally compact form factor, hassle-free ergonomics, touch-sensitive LCD and Wi-Fi connectivity. But in image quality terms neither comes close to matching the Sony RX100. Never before has it been possible to buy a camera that fits so much capability into a package so small.
Or maybe you need a more versatile zoom?
Capability doesn't need to come at the expense of quality, but there are some tradeoffs. The cameras in this roundup which have the most wide-ranging zoom lenses, for example, have slower maximum apertures than those which feature shorter zooms. But for some photographers, the benefits of a sharp 28-200mm lens, such as you'll find on the Nikon Coolpix P7700, will outweigh the extra light-gathering ability of a shorter, faster zoom such as that boasted by the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus XZ-2.
In terms of out-and-out zoom capability, two cameras really stand out in this group - the Canon PowerShot G15 and Nikon Coolpix P7700, which offer 28-140mm and 28-200mm zooms respectively. The G15's optical viewfinder is unusual in today's market, and its F1.8-2.8 lens may not be the fastest here but is still impressively bright. The P7700 has the edge when it comes to zoom reach, offering a telephoto setting of 200mm (equivalent), but compared to the G15 its operation is rather slow, and its lens is 2/3 stop slower, too. On the plus side though, the P7700's articulated LCD screen makes shooting video and composing images from awkward angles much easier. Both models offer extensive customization along with full manual exposure control from a generous number of external controls.
Canon PowerShot G15 and Nikon P7700
All of the cameras in this group are versatile but we've chosen the Canon PowerShot G15 and Nikon P7700 for their extra features, whether that be the Canon's optical viewfinder, the Nikon's extra reach or their ability to integrate into their respective manufacturer's systems. The Nikon P7700 offers the greatest reach of any of these zoom compacts, which might be a decisive factor for some users, but the G15's combination of reach and speed makes it very flexible camera. The loss of the flip-out screen might push some users away from the G15, but its brighter lens, faster focus, simpler interface, great build and dependable output make the G15 a formidable option, even with such capable rivals.
What's the best all-rounder?
If you're looking for a balance of size, image quality (even in low light) and direct control, we'd recommend taking a long hard look at the Sony Cyber-shot RX100, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. The Sony RX100's 20MP sensor gives it an advantage when it comes to resolution and the size of the sensor keeps it competitive in low light. There are some compromises to be made in terms of size and lens range but these models offer a compelling degree of versatility, especially if this will be your only camera.
The Olympus XZ-2 can't quite reach the RX100's level when it comes to image quality (and remember, resolution is a big part of this - at 20MP the RX100 out-resolves every other camera in its class), but the XZ-2's bright, sharp lens and useful 28-112mm equivalent zoom range make it very competitive amongst its smaller-sensored peers. It is also one of the most expandable cameras here, with the option to add an electronic viewfinder and remotely trigger Olympus flashguns.
The 10MP Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is the latest in a well-established line of premium Panasonic compacts, and there's very little to complain about in this latest iteration. Along with its ultra-fast lens the LX7 is improved in many little ways over the LX5, with a much better LCD display, dedicated aperture control ring and inbuilt one-press ND filter. It can also accept the high resolution DMW-LVF2 electronic viewfinder. The only real downsides are its rather restrictive zoom range of 24-90mm (equivalent), and the fact that its dedicated aperture ring is less flexible than the customizable control rings found on its rivals.
The Fujifilm X10 is also worth a look for two reasons - its excellent lens, and an EXR sensor which offers the option of incredibly good dynamic range and somewhat better high ISO image quality than its peers. The tradeoff is that you only get these benefits if you're happy to shoot at 6MP, and the way in which the EXR functionality is implemented can be confusing.
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 and Sony RX100
Much as we like the Panasonic LX7, the longer lens, excellent JPEGs and engaging user interface make the XZ-2 stand out for us. The XZ-2 is one of the nicest cameras in this group to use, featuring extensive customization inherited from Olympus's PEN-series interchangeable lens cameras. This is a serious enthusiast camera and easily one of the best of its type that we've encountered. Really the Olympus's strongest competition comes from the Sony RX100 - which at least matches it for image quality but doesn't quite offer the sense of engagement that we appreciate in the XZ-2's operational ergonomics.