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Roundup: Enthusiast Zoom Compact Cameras

Barney Britton, Richard Butler | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Dec 18, 2012

The holiday season is upon us once again and with all the sales and special deals around at the moment, this is a great time to start thinking about getting a new camera. Maybe for a loved one, maybe just as a treat to yourself. In this article, we'll be looking at the current field of enthusiast zoom compact cameras, and examining their relative strengths and weaknesses to help you make your buying decision. As part of this roundup we'll be looking at the cameras' specifications and operational ergonomics, as well as their image quality and the relative merits of their zoom lenses. Here are the cameras we're going to be looking at, plus a link to the conclusion, for those of you who like to skip ahead...

Some of these cameras have been reviewed in full on dpreview, and some haven't. Where we do have review content on the camera, we'll be summarizing some of it in this article, and providing links to our full coverage elsewhere on the site. We won't be scoring the cameras that we haven't fully reviewed yet, but hopefully the information we've provided, and the sample images, should give you a pretty good overview of their relative performance. 
 
To navigate this article, click on the camera names above to go straight to the products you're most interested in, or click through the pages using the navigation at the bottom of this page. There are 12 pages in all, including a conclusion, and the cameras are arranged in alphabetical order. On each camera's page you'll see 'Check price / Buy now' links, and please be aware that these go to the relevant product page on amazon.com so if you're based outside the USA, don't be alarmed. 

Key Specifications Compared

A resolution of 12MP is more or less standard for the high end of the compact camera market at present, and some of the cameras in this roundup (the Nikon P7700, Olympus XZ-2 and Samsung EX2F) almost certainly share the same 12MP CMOS sensor. The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 obviously stands out, thanks to its much larger 1" sensor, but there are plenty of differences between the other models in this selection too, particularly in terms of their lenses.

 SensorISO Range*Lens (35mm equiv)DisplayVideoStreet Price
Canon G15 12MP 7.44x5.58mm CMOS 80-12800 28-140mm F1.8-2.8 3" LCD
921k dot
1080p 24fps $420/£490
Canon S110 12MP 7.44x5.58mm CMOS 80-12800 24-120mm F2-5.9 3" LCD 461k dot 1080p 24fps $350/£370
Fujifilm X10 12MP
8.8x6.6mm
EXR CMOS
100-3200 28-112mm F2-2.8 2.8" LCD
461k dot
1080p 30fps $500/£320
Fujifilm XF1 12MP
8.8x6.6mm
EXR CMOS
100-3200 25-100mm F1.8-4.9 3" LCD
461k dot

1080p 30fps $450/£320
Nikon P7700 12MP 7.44x5.58mm BSI CMOS 80-6400 28-200mm F2-4 3" LCD
921k dot articulated
1080p 30fps $425/£385
Olympus XZ-2 12MP 7.44x5.58mm BSI CMOS 100-12800 28-112mm
F1.8-2.5
3" LCD
921k dot
Flip/Touch
1080p 30fps  $550/£425
Panasonic LX7  10MP 6.7x5.1mm** MOS  80-6400 24-90mm
F1.4-2.3
3" LCD
921k dot
1080p
60/50
fps
$450/355
Samsung EX2F 12MP 7.44x5.58mm BSI CMOS 80-3200 24-80mm
F1.4-2.7
3" OLED
614k dot
articulated
1080p
30fps
$370/£420
Sony RX100 20MP 13.2x8.8mm CMOS  125-6400 28-100mm
F1.8-4.9
3" LCD
1.23m dot
1080p
60fps
$650/£450

* At full resolution
** Largest image area available (4:3 aspect ratio setting)

Technology Explained (aka 'The Science Bit'...)

Why Shoot Raw?

The addition of raw mode is one of the most obvious things that distinguishes cameras in the high-end, enthusiast, 'luxury' class of compact cameras from more mainstream consumer-oriented models. There are other features, too, which are traditionally the preserve of these higher-end products (like full manual control, a hotshoe, and fast, wide lenses) but raw mode is perhaps the most important. Some consumer-level compact cameras offer raw capture, but slow operational speed in this mode, and sometimes dubious image quality gains often make it much less useful than you might think (or hope).

The benefits of shooting in raw mode, compared to JPEG, are many and various. Raw files contain more data, so you can make more extreme tonal adjustments to them before you start to see a penalty in image quality. You can adjust the white balance of images shot in raw mode easily, and save as many JPEG copies as you like without fear of degrading the original file.

Nikon P7700 - JPEG (ADL 'Normal') Processed Raw (using ACR 7.3RC)

The JPEG+RAW images above were captured simultaneously on the Nikon Coolpix P7700. The original JPEG was shot with Active D-Lighting turned to 'Normal', by accident and as a consequence it's flat and lacking in contrast. The camera's AWB system has reproduced the (actually quite chilly) scene accurately, but boringly. A few minutes working on the Raw file in Adobe Camera Raw and we've been able to warm the image up, boost the contrast, and also tweak the sharpening to get considerably more detail out of the file. Click on the thumbnails above to see the full-sized original results. 

Canon G15 - JPEG (ISO 12800)  Processed Raw (using ACR 7.3 RC)

The images above were shot on the Canon PowerShot G15, at ISO 12,800. The 'straight' JPEG file actually looks pretty good but careful processing of the Raw file reveals more detail (important if you're aiming to make big prints) and we've chosen to add some warmth back in, to more accurately reflect the color of the street lights in the original scene. The G15's AWB system has done its job by neutralizing this warmth in the JPEG but the final result is a little lifeless. The converted Raw file is not 'better' necessarily, but punchier, more detailed, and more vivid.

Looking on the bright side - why a fast lens makes a difference 

In very broad terms, there are two advantages to large maximum aperture lenses. Firstly, a so called 'fast' lens lets more light into the camera, which is useful in low-light conditions, or when you simply need faster shutter speeds (useful for shooting people, sport, and to avoid camera shake at long focal lengths).

Panasonic FZ150, F5.2, ISO 400 @ 600mm (equiv)  Panasonic FZ200, F2.8 ISO 100 @ 600mm (equiv)

In the images above, we set up two superzoom cameras - the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 and its predecessor the FZ150 - at the long end of their zooms. Shot 'wide open' at the same shutter speed the new FZ200, with its F2.8 maximum aperture, can capture a well-exposed image at ISO 100. The older FZ150 has a slower lens, which means that it has to capture this scene at ISO 400, at which setting noise and noise-reduction have a negative effect on image quality. 

Canon G12, F4.5, 1/8sec, ISO 1600 @ 140mm Canon G15, F2.8, 1/20sec, ISO 1600 @ 140mm 

These two images show another benefit of having a faster lens in poor light - you can shoot at higher shutter speeds, which helps you avoid blur from subject or camera movement. Here, we shot two low light portraits on the Canon PowerShot G15 and its predecessor the G12, which has a smaller maximum aperture. If you click on the thumbnails above you'll see that the G15 has delivered a sharp image, thanks to its higher shutter speed, but the G12's smaller aperture forces it to shoot at a slower shutter speed, which has introduced blur. The only solution would be to shoot at a higher ISO sensitivity setting, which of course degrades image quality.

The other advantage of a faster lens is that all other things being equal (which you can't always assume - something we will explain in the following paragraph) a larger maximum aperture means less depth of field, which allows you to blur backgrounds more. This is useful for portraiture, or any application where subject-background separation is desirable. 

Everything you ever wanted to know about aperture, sensor size and depth-of-field...

Where things get complicated is that in depth of field terms, reported apertures aren't necessarily equivalent from camera to camera, because sensor sizes vary so much. The different sensor sizes of the cameras in the high-end compact class actually makes it very difficult to directly compare their lenses. How different? Here's an illustration. None of the cameras in this roundup have 1/2.3" sensors, but it's the standard sensor size for almost all compact cameras, superzooms and travel-zoom compacts. 

When talking about aperture in terms of depth of field control, you must take sensor size into account. The graph below shows the equivalent apertures of each camera in this class, with their various-sized sensors, spanning the range of their equivalent focal lengths. Equivalent apertures allow you to understand how cameras of different sensor sizes will compare in terms of depth-of-field at the same equivalent focal length. Equivalent apertures also give an insight into the camera's light gathering capability, which is an indicator of image quality.

In this graph, both X and Y scales are logarithmic, so that a one-stop change of aperture brightness is a consistent height and a doubling of focal length is always represented by the same width along the bottom on the graph. Very simply, the lower the line at any given equivalent focal length, the more you can blur backgrounds. For example at 100mm equivalent, both the Olympus XZ-2 and the Fujifilm can deliver more-blurred backgrounds than the Sony RX100, despite its larger sensor. 

Canon PowerShot S110 @ 120mm, F5.9 Olympus Stylus XZ-2 @ 112mm, F2.5 

The images above show pretty clearly the real-world impact of the varying degrees of depth of field control that are possible from the cameras in this selection. On the left we have the Canon PowerShot S110, which has the joint-smallest sensor of all of the cameras in this group, and the slowest lens. Subject / Background separation is relatively poor, even at the long end of the zoom. The Olympus XZ-2 on the other hand has a much faster lens, which 'wide open' offers much better control over depth of field. 

Canon PowerShot G15

12MP | 28-140mm (5x) Zoom | $499 (US) £490 (UK) €550 (EU)

Canon's PowerShot G-series is one of the most iconic lines of digital compact cameras, with the original G1 having debuted back in September 2000. The resurgence of the market has seen Canon radically re-work the G even if its efforts are masked by the family resemblance to recent models. The G15 has a lens that's a whole stop faster across its range than its predecessors' was. It's also a smaller camera than recent G series model - foregoing the flip-out screen of the G12 in the name of portability. And, to top off the developments, the more svelte G15 gains full HD movie capture and significantly improved focus speed, helping ensure it can stand up against the latest competition.

Key Features

This latest model features a 28-140mm zoom with a fast maximum aperture of F1.8-2.8 mated with a Canon-made 12.1MP 1/1.7"-type CMOS sensor. The G15 features an ISO range of 80 to 12,800 and full HD movie recording at a frame-rate of 24 fps, with stereo sound from the built-in microphones.
The G15 is smaller than its predecessors but is still one of the largest cameras here...

...and that's mainly because of the viewfinder hump on top of the camera.

The G15 retains the exposure compensation dial introduced on 2008's G10 but the smaller body means it's now nested with the exposure mode dial. The G15 also has a front control dial, which makes it quick and easy to change exposure settings.

The G15 is one of the largest cameras in this group. In part because it has one of the longest lenses but also because it retains that rarest of things - an optical viewfinder. The viewfinder isn't terribly good (they never have been on compacts), but there are people, particularly those in sunny climes, who find them essential. The build quality is impressive, even in this company, with dense rubber grips and metal dials extending from the magnesium alloy case to give the sense that you're getting a durable, quality product.

The smaller body size has meant the mode dial and exposure compensation dial now overlap but the G12's front dial is retained to mean you still have plenty of at-your-fingertips control. That said, we found we had to adjust our hand position to adjust the front dial.

Performance and Image Quality

In our testing, we found that the G15's long but impressively bright lens is a real selling point compared to both its predecessor, and indeed most of its competitors. Having a maximum aperture of F1.8-2.8 combined with a useful 28-140mm (equivalent) zoom means that you've got a lot more flexibility in poor light, allowing you to set either a lower ISO sensitivity for cleaner images, or a faster shutter speed to avoid camera-shake or blurring due to subject movement.

Wide Angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (140mm Equiv.)
The G15's lens does well at all but the extreme corners, where there's a slight loss of sharpness. Overall the color and exposure of the outdoor shots is good though.
The portrait shot has very slightly over-warm skin tones but not to a problematic degree. The background is nicely separated and the rendering of the out-of-focus regions isn't distracting - a good result. The flash shot has rendered skin tones in a pleasantly warm manner. There's slight over-exposure of the second greyscale patch on the colorchecker but it's generally pretty good. Little effort has been made to balance flash exposure with ambient lighting.
The G15's lens is very good at closer focusing distances. You'll get the most control over depth of field with subjects that are relatively small and close to the camera, as here. While it hasn't got nearly the reach of a dedicated superzoom camera, the G15 offers a longer lens than most of its rivals. The quality is also high enough to allow you to crop into the image if you want to get a slightly closer view.
The G15's metering system could easily have underexposed this shot but the camera has delivered a very well-balanced image.  At ISO 3200, detail capture from the G15 isn't as good as it is at lower ISO sensitivity settings, but it's still pretty impressive. 

Detail capture is high at the low end of its ISO sensitivity scale, and its 28-140mm lens is excellent, aided by a very effective image stabilization system that we've found can deliver sharp images at shutter speeds as low as 1/15sec at full zoom. The G15 gets noisier at its higher ISO settings, but even at ISO 3200 and 6400 image quality is good enough for small prints or web use. For more critical work, shooting in Raw mode will allow you to get the most out of the camera. 

Summary

All in all, the G15 is a great performer and a pleasure to use. The G15 is highly recommended for anyone who needs a general-purpose compact with lots of manual control that can deliver great quality images. The lack of an articulated screen will bother some people, and it makes the G15 less flexible when shooting from awkward angles, and when recording movies. Of course the flip-side is that the increased portability compared to earlier models, and competitors such as Nikon's Coolpix P7700, is very welcome. 

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Canon PowerShot G15 Samples (49 images)

What we like: Excellent 'hands-on' ergonomics in a small, relatively portable body, optical viewfinder can be handy on occasion, very nice image quality, good, responsive operation. 

What we don't like: We miss the G12's articulated screen, and the lack of any meaningful manual control in video mode will frustrate budding filmmakers. 

Related Links

Canon PowerShot S110

10MP | 24-120mm (5x) Zoom | $355 (US) £370 (UK) €390 (EU)

The S110 is a relatively gentle update of last year's S100, with the guts of the camera - the lens, sensor and image processor - staying essentially the same. So it still uses a 12MP 1/1.7" Canon-made 'High Sensitivity CMOS' sensor, DIGIC 5 image processor, and 24-120mm equivalent lens offering a usefully-fast F2.0 aperture at wide-angle, but distinctly slow F5.9 at telephoto. The camera's control layout is identical too, including the excellent and much-copied programmable control dial around the lens.

The main additions are a smartphone-like multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, along with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity. The latter comes at the expense of the S100's built-in GPS module, but the camera can still geo-tag your images by syncing with your smartphone's GPS.

Canon PowerShot S110 key features

The S110's Wi-Fi offers a fairly standard feature set. You can transfer images to a smartphone or tablet running and upload stills and movies directly to social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. If you're out of range of a Wi-Fi network, you can still upload via your tablet or phone using Canon's CameraWindow app. It's also possible to print wirelessly to Wi-Fi-enabled printers, such as Canon's Selphy CP900 or Pixma models which were announced alongside the S110, earlier this year.
 
We've found that the system works well in both modes - connecting phone and camera via Wi-Fi or connecting phone to camera using the camera as a base station. Where it falls down is if you want to swap between a Wi-Fi connection to peer-to-peer where in our experience, you need to completely reset both devices' connection preferences and set camera and phone up all over again, before they will make a new connection. 
The PowerShot S110's front control dial can be customized to fulfill a range of different functions including exposure compensation, setting exposure parameters and step zoom.  A second control dial on the rear of the camera serves to adjust exposure settings and scroll through images in review mode, and the S110's menus. Hitting playback then the Wi-Fi/exposure compensation button brings up the S110's Wi-Fi interface. 
The most pocketable camera in this roundup, the S110 is nice and slim when turned off, and remains very portable even when the lens is extended.  New in the S110 is a touchscreen, which is very useful for setting AF, as well as menu navigation and setting up the camera's Wi-Fi functionality.

In terms of design, the S110 is near-identical to the S100, and the differences are very subtle indeed. The S110 is a little more boxy and angular (although not in an unattractive way), but has all the same controls in all the same places. We liked the S100's control layout, so consider this to be a good thing.

Overall the biggest change is invisible - the addition of touch-sensitivity to the screen. This brings touch-to-focus, which is addictively useful, and makes some menu options (Wi-Fi setup especially) much easier to manipulate. Where it isn't so good is in image review mode, where we've found that flipping between images, and zooming in / out of pictures can be a little glitchy. Image review is still easier using the 4-way controller and physical zoom rocker switch.

The S110's top plate is again almost exactly the same as its predecessor's; the power button is smaller, and the shutter button black rather than silver, but the basic layout hasn't changed. The lens control ring is now knurled, rather than ridged like the S100's, and this finish looks especially attractive on the white model. A tiny light beside the mode dial indicates when the Wi-Fi function is active.

Performance and image quality

In use, the S110 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, offering a well thought-out interface, fast, responsive operation, coupled with reliable focusing and metering. In terms of operational speed, the S110 isn't a sports camera, by any means, but where it counts - startup time and shot-to-shot time, it's pleasantly snappy. Even with a bog-standard SD card installed, the delay after taking a shot in Raw + JPEG mode before you can take another is barely 2 seconds. Focus is acquired quickly and reliably in decent light, only slowing down in dim conditions where the AF assist lamp comes into play. 

Wide Angle (24mm Equiv.) Telephoto (120mm Equiv.)
The S110's zoom reaches a useful 120mm at its long end. This can't match the 200mm reach of the Nikon P7700 but is longer than most of the competition. Offering such a broad range in such a small lens means the lens is very dark at the telephoto end - restricting its low-light capability at longer focal lengths.
At the long end of its zoom, the S110's maximum aperture of F5.9 is too small to really allow for much subject/background separation unless you're very close to your subject.  Flash exposure is one of the S100's strong points.  Here it's done a reasonable job of flash exposure without rendering the background as completely black.
The flash works well outdoors, as well. This shot was taken into the sunlight, and flash was used to expose our subject, and keep him from being silhouetted.  Sharpness from the S110's zoom is very good throughout its focal range, and thanks to effective in-camera reduction, JPEG  images are free from any serious fringing or CA.

As far as image quality is concerned, the S110 is an impressive little camera. We've rated its predecessors pretty highly and the S110 doesn't disappoint either. Up to ISO 400, image quality in JPEG mode is excellent, and it is only at ISO 3200 and above that noise really starts to have a serious effect on detail reproduction. In Raw mode, careful processing can give excellent, very detailed results right up to ISO 3200. In both JPEG and Raw capture modes we'd be hesitant to go much higher than this, but ISO 6400 and 12800 are available if you don't mind limiting yourself to small prints or web/social display. 

We had some concerns about the lens in Canon's previous S-series camera, the S100, but we're very happy with the optical performance of the S110's 24-120mm zoom which delivers good edge-to-edge sharpness across its span of focal lengths. Close inspection of Raw files reveals noticeable CA around high contrast edges, and some purple fringing around burnt-out highlights, but both issues are minor, and are rendered effectively invisible in JPEG files thanks to in-camera reduction.

The S110's lens is impressively fast at wideangle, but relatively slow by the standards of its competition at the telephoto end; this is the price you pay for its shirt-pocket size. But this is partially mitigated by excellent flash metering - traditionally a PowerShot strength. Flash shots from the S110 look great, in both interior scenes, where the flash is the main lightsource, and outdoors, as 'fill'. 

Summing Up

The Canon PowerShot S110 is a small camera with a lot going for it. Although its lens is slow by the standards of some of its competitors at the long end, it is the most portable of the lot, easily slipping into a shirt or pants pocket. It's zoom range of 24-120mm is very useful, and image quality is excellent up to ISO 800 in JPEG mode, and perfectly acceptable two stops higher than that. Unlike some competitors, the S110 remains highly responsive in Raw and Raw + JPEG capture modes, which is great news for enthusiasts.

The most serious down-side to the S110 in normal use is that slow-ish lens. Photographers tend to be interested in how well a lens can blur backgrounds when shooting portraits at full telephoto, and the S110's small aperture places it at the bottom of the pack of enthusiast compacts. But this is the tradeoff for it being the slimmest and most pocketable of the lot.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Scene Canon Powershot S110 samples (25 images)

What we like: Small, responsive, good image quality, effective touchscreen, Wi-Fi (when it works...)

What we don't like: Slow-ish lens means higher ISOs in lower light and less control over depth of field, glitchy Wi-Fi

Related Links

Fujifilm X10

12MP | 28-112mm (4x) Zoom | $499 (US) £320 (UK) €450 (EU)

The Fujifilm X10 is the company's first attempt at an enthusiast compact camera and a remarkably impressive one at that. Its styling sits about half way between a Canon G series and Fujifilm's elegantly retro X100 and X-mount mirrorless cameras, and offers all the direct control that its classic looks imply. It shares many of its features and much of its technology with the newer, smaller XF1 but features a longer and brighter lens, more direct control and an optical viewfinder.

Key Features

Like the XF1, the X10 is built around an unusually large sensor (at 8.8 x 6.6mm, the 2/3" type is 40% larger than the 1/1.7" sensors here) that offers three ways of creating images. The first is the HR high-res mode that is essentially the same full-resolution image mode as its rivals. However, thanks to the camera's 'EXR' sensor design, it can also offer 6MP images via either an 'SN' low-noise mode that helps average-out the noise in low-light images, or a 'DR' dynamic range mode that simultaneously shoots two different exposure times to capture extra highlight detail. There's a fuller demonstration of the capabilities of the EXR system in our full review of the Fujifilm X10, along with a more in-depth explanation of how it works.
The X10 is one of the largest cameras here - especially when you consider that the lens doesn't retract all the way into the camera body when it's switched off. Like the X10, the XF1 has a manual zoom - this means less battery drain and more precise control over framing, since it gives continuous, rather than stepped, control over the focal length.
The X10 is one of the only cameras in this class to have a dedicated focus mode switch - yet another feature you don't need to delve into the menus for. And, with Firmware v2, there's also a Function menu (accessed by pressing the RAW button) that allows key settings to be seen and changed quickly.

The X10 is an impressive addition to this class of cameras - combining a large sensor, bright lens, direct control and optical viewfinder to take the fight directly to the popular Canon G series. Indeed it's hard to see Canon's G15 without thinking of it as a response to the X10. Early problems with the sensor were resolved in a way that does Fujifilm credit, leaving a solid and likeable camera. Battery life is also towards the bottom of this group, despite the work required to move the lens being passed to the photographer.

The X10's focus speed is competitive in this class, though even in good light it doesn't stand out as exceptionally fast, and both speed and accuracy begin to fall as the light levels do. It's one of the few cameras in this group to have a focus mode switch and a button dedicated to selecting the active focus point, though, making it quick and enjoyable to use.

However the EXR system, while clever, has an impact both in image quality and camera complexity (there are two distinct methods of extending dynamic range, with no clear distinction made between them), which can't help but count against an otherwise excellent camera.

Performance and Image Quality

The X10's full-resolution images simply can't compete with the detail that most of its rivals are able to capture - a side-effect of its EXR design - and it's a disadvantage that carries-over into Raw as well as JPEG mode. Which is a shame because, beyond this, the camera performs well - its lens performs well with good corner sharpness throughout its range and its color rendition is very pleasant. It's also worth making clear that, in 6MP mode, the X10 does a good job of offering slightly cleaner low-light images or single-exposure captures with wide dynamic range - something even expensive compacts can struggle with.

Wide Angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (112mm Equiv.)
These images give a good idea for how the X10 deals with outdoor photography. Neither image is bitingly sharp, as a result of the EXR sensor design, but the corners are consistent in both the wide-angle and telephoto image. Color reproduction is pleasant and there's still enough resolution to produce solid prints up to at least 10x8 inches.
The X10 does well in the portrait shot, producing a realistic skin tone. The background, meanwhile is nicely blurred without being too fussy - helping give an effective separation between the subject and the background. The flash test too is good, with excellent color rendition without the skin tones becoming too cool. Ambient lighting is well balanced with the flash to give a great overall result.
We may gripe a little about the amount of detail the X10 can capture compared to these rivals, but try printing this image and you'll see it's very capable. Even without using the camera's EXR feature, this ISO 400 image retains plenty of fine detail.

Video is another weakness for the X10 (just as it is for the G15), offering little in the way of manual control over exposure and none at all over focus. Video quality is also a little disappointing compared to the best of the X10's competition. It's clear that Fujifilm's priority with the X10 was to make a camera for photographers, not videographers. 

Summary

The X10 won our Silver Award thanks to its impressive feature set, bright lens and good build quality but a few imperfections kept it from getting our top award. The image quality is good, with a well-performing lens helping the X10 do well in a wide range of circumstances. The EXR modes add flexibility, giving the X10 an edge in low light or high-contrast conditions. However the downside of the EXR system is lower resolution compared to its peers. Despite this, the X10 is an enjoyable and capable camera.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Fujifilm X10 Samples (49 images)

What we like: Classy styling and build. Bright lens. Excellent stills feature set.

What we don't like: Sub-par resolution in 12MP mode. EXR files awkward for 3rd-party Raw converters. Disappointing video mode.

Related Links

Fujifilm XF1

12MP | 25-100mm (4x) Zoom | $450 (US) £320 (UK) €460 (EU)

The Fujifilm XF1 is the latest in its reputation-building 'X' series - with the company showing off what it's capable of doing. It's impressive in terms of specifications but it also tries to offer something distinctive in terms of design and technology. Conceptually the XF1 sits towards the Canon S-series end of the spectrum - prioritizing small camera dimensions over direct control or a bright lens (it's the X10's job to fulfil those needs).

Key Features

The XF1 is built around the same 2/3" sensor as the X10 - which means it's able to offer the clever pixel-combining EXR modes as its bigger brother. But, away from the technical specifications, the XF1's two great strengths are its user interface and its design. Fujifilm has worked hard to ensure the XF1 is both attractive and usable. It's one of the smallest cameras in this group, making it a clear contender for photographers for whom pocketability is important.The XF1 also has a very useful 25mm equivalent wide-angle end to the lens, making it impressively flexible, despite its relatively compact dimensions.
The XF1 is a beautifully understated camera. It's much more than simply a compact camera with classic styling - it's a well thought-out photographic tool Like the X10, the XF1 has a manual zoom. This means less battery drain and more precise control over framing, since it gives continuous, rather than stepped, control over the focal length.
Although the rear panel has very few direct controls, the E-Fn button at the bottom right helps the XF1 offer a pleasant shooting experience for shooters wanting to take control over the camera. Pressing the E-Fn button switches the function of each button on the camera to an alternate, user-defined setting - allowing quick access to all the settings you change most often.

Performance and Image Quality

The XF1 has three modes - a full resolution mode or two 6MP modes that combine pixels to improve either dynamic range or noise performance. Confusingly, the camera also has a second mode to capture more highlight information, but doesn't ever make it clear which you're using. And, while the EXR capability means the XF1 can capture 6MP images with unsurpassed highlight detail, for a compact, it imposes some limitations on the full resolution output. Shoot at 12MP or in Raw and you can't quite match the resolution performance of its more conventional peers. More problematically, fine detail - particularly fine green detail - is often rendered in a rather blurred, smudgy way.

However, the Fujifilm's images are pretty good unless you dig around at the pixel level - the camera behaves very well in terms of exposure and its color rendition is on the pleasant side of realistic. The imperfect corners of the lens at its widest setting, plus the camera's rather disappointing demosaicing mean the image quality doesn't live up to the standards set by many of its rivals.

Wide Angle (25mm Equiv.) Telephoto (100mm Equiv.)
The XF1's lens seems to feature a lot of correction at the wide-angle end of the zoom - the corners aren't a patch on the performance at the long end of the lens, where it's rather good.
The portrait test is perhaps a fraction too bright but doesn't clip any detail and still represents the subject's skin tone nicely. Sadly the fussy bokeh means that, while the slow maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom allows some subject/background separation, the effect isn't as attractive as some of its rivals. The flash result is one of the best of the bunch though. Nothing else in this group has done such a good job of balancing the ambient light with the flash output. Color rendition is good and the skin tone is attractively warm - a really good result.
The XF1's lens starts at a usefully wide 25mm equivalent focal length. This doesn't quite match the Panasonic LX7, Samsung EX2F or Canon S110 but is still pretty handy. The 6MP EXR modes can be useful - this DR800% image, shot straight into the sun, shows the kind of dynamic range that  is usually impossible in a single shot for more conventional cameras.

Summary

The XF1 is undoubtedly a pretty camera but it's also one that does a good job of balancing the needs of the different potential user - it works well as a stylish point-and-shoot but is still quick and enjoyable to take control over. The XF1's output lives up to the standard of its exterior design - the metering is reliable and the color rendition is attractive. The manual zoom lens, once you've figured it out, gives precise control over your framing in a way that powered zooms don't.

Ironically the one thing the XF1's interface doesn't do well is to give easy access to its EXR capabilities - one of the features that should help the camera stand out. Getting to the EXR features in anything but the EXR Auto mode is unnecessarily difficult, but the XF1 is still a pretty good camera, even if you choose not to use them. Overall, though, the XF1's slightly glitchy image quality takes the sheen off a camera that looks great and is a pleasure to use.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Fujifilm XF1 Samples (25 images)

What we like: Classy styling and good build quality. Useful lens range. Well-designed user interface. Flash performance.

What we don't like: Disappointing lens corner performance at wide-angle. Poor detail rendition in full-size images.

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Nikon Coolpix P7700

12MP | 28-200mm (7.1x) Zoom | $426 (US) £385 (UK) €430 (EU)

In recent years, Nikon's track record in the high-end compact camera segment has been patchy. After a long hiatus, the Coolpix P7000 was released in 2010, offering nice image quality and a versatile 28-200mm (equivalent) lens, but glacial operational speed and a decidedly quirky UI. The P7100 solved some of these problems a year later, but compared to its rivals, a maximum aperture of F2.8-5.6 reduced the usefulness of the otherwise impressive zoom lens in marginal light.

The P7700 addresses this weakness - letting it compete much more directly with its peers. It retains the 28-200mm range but features a lens that's a stop brighter throughout its range. An F2.0-4.0 lens means the P7700 comes closer to competing with the likes of Panasonic's LX7 and Samsung's EX2F in low light, while offering a longer zoom range than its nearest competitor, the Canon PowerShot G15. A built-in ND filter is good news, too, and means that it should be possible to shoot at long shutter speeds without reaching for diffraction-inducing apertures. The P7700 omits its predecessor's optical viewfinder, but now features a fully articulated LCD display - in contrast to the slimmed-down Canon PowerShot G15.

Nikon Coolpix P7700 key features

Like its predecessor the P7100, the P7700 is peppered with external control points. The fully-articulated rear LCD screen is a welcome addition, and it's so slim that it doesn't appreciably add to the camera's bulk. The new camera features a socket for an external microphone (one of the few compact cameras to do so), and a flash hotshoe which allows any of Nikon's current range of Speedlight flashguns to be attached with full i-TTL compatibility. New in the P7700 is compatibility with Nikon's diminutive GP-1 GPS unit, and the ability to control a group of Speedlight flashes from the built-in flash. 

The Nikon P7700's 921k-dot LCD display is fully articulated, which is useful for video shooting A generously-sized hand grip, customizable 'Fn' buttons and DSLR-style control dials distinguish the P7700 from some competitors in this class. 
In this view you can see the P7700's settings dial on the far left, and exposure mode dial to the right of the hotshoe. On the extreme right is an exposure compensation dial, which offers +/-3EV compensation From the rear, the P7700 offers almost exactly the same UI as its predecessor the P7100, barring the deletion of the optical finder, and the addition of a fully, rather than partially, articulated LCD screen. 

Performance and image quality

Where the P7700 falls down is speed. It starts up quickly enough, in under a second, menus can be displayed and dismissed in a snap, and the 28-200mm zoom takes a perfectly reasonable 2 seconds to complete its full traverse, but when it comes to shooting, the P7700 can be frustratingly laggardly. With a standard SD card installed, it takes around 3 seconds after capturing a JPEG (fine) image before the camera is ready to take another. Switch to Raw + JPEG mode, and this delay increases threefold. Even with a fast UHS-I card installed, shot to shot time in Raw+ JPEG mode is still around 4 seconds, but this drops to a much more reasonable ~1 second in JPEG (fine) capture. 

Wide-angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (200mm Equiv.)
The P7700's lens is one of the slower examples in this class but the trade-off is that it's also the longest. And for some subjects, particularly ones you can't get close to, that's a major advantage.
At 200mm (equivalent) at F4, you can get nice subject/background separation in portraits shot with the P7700. Our flash shot is a little dark, but not underexposed, and although maybe a touch too yellow, color rendition is pleasant.
The long end of the zoom is very useful for isolating distant details... And the wide end, although not as wide as the 24mm equivalent lenses on some of its competitors, is good for more sweeping shots where you want more context. 
This macro image was converted in-camera from a Raw file, and processed as monochrome, with a 'red' filter applied. Image quality is best at the P7700's lower ISO sensitivity settings but this shot, at ISO 3200, is detailed enough for a small print or web use.

Turning to image quality, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 delivers excellent results at low to medium ISO sensitivity settings, and sharpness from its 28-200mm lens is high across the entire zoom range. Straight from the camera, JPEGs look great, but if you have the time, careful processing of the P7700's .NRW files can give excellent results. It helps, of course, that the P7700's maximum aperture is pretty generous across its zoom range. This gives it a 1 stop advantage over its predecessor at the long end of the zoom, which allows you to set a higher shutter speed for better sharpness or a lower ISO sensitivity for better critical image quality. 

Summing Up

Overall, the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is an excellent compact camera for anyone who wants the maximum possible versatility coupled with image quality good enough to satisfy reasonably critical use. The P7700's zoom range of 28-200mm is extremely handy for general out-and-about shooting, and a fast lens of F2-4, coupled with very effective optical Vibration Reduction means that most of the time, you'll be able to shoot in the P7700's 'sweet zone' of ISO 100-800.

Where the P7700 disappoints is in terms of operational speed. Although improved from earlier P-series models, the P7700 can be frustratingly slow to process images when shooting in Raw mode, and we'd regard the purchase of a fast UHS-I card to be essential for enthusiasts, in order to avoid long waits between shots. 

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Scene Nikon Coolpix P7700 Samples (36 images)

What we like: As much direct manual control over settings as you could hope for, sharp, versatile lens, effective stabilization and very good image quality at low/medium ISO sensitivities.

What we don't like: The P7700's enthusiast-oriented UI takes some getting used to, slow operation speed with non-UHS-I cards, especially in Raw / Raw + JPEG capture. 

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Olympus Stylus XZ-2

12MP | 28-112mm (4x) Zoom | $550 (US) £425 (UK) €550 (EU)

The XZ-2 is a fairly significant re-working of the XZ-1, that was one of our favorite enthusiast compacts when it was launched at the start of 2011. The XZ-2 retains much of what made that camera good, including a well-performing lens that remains bright across its entire range. More significantly, in response to improved competition, the XZ-2 has addressed all our major concerns over its predecessors' shortcomings - adding more external control and greater customization, both in terms of controls and image processing.

The camera also gains a higher-resolution, flip-out touch screen and removable front handgrip. But these come at the expense of compactness and take the camera out of truly pocketable territory.

Key Features

However, the XZ-2 also features arguably the biggest step forward in ergonomics since Canon's S90 introduced the lens ring as a means of adding control to this class of compacts - a two-mode control ring. The XZ-2's control ring has a click mode for controlling discrete settings and a smoothly-rotating mode for continuously variable settings. The result is a camera with a lens that offers more flexibility than a standard DSLR kit lens (with greater range and slightly more scope for blurring backgrounds), with at least the same ease of changing settings as most DSLRs.
The XZ-2 is a larger camera than its predecessor, having gained a large, flip-up touch-screen LCD. The additional bulk stops the camera being truly pocketable but adds considerably to the camera's versatility. A small switch on the front of the camera changes the lens rings' function between controlling two user-definable settings. In stepless mode it can control zoom or manual focus - flick the surrounding switch and it controls whatever discrete setting you've assigned to it (with different choices available for each shooting mode).
The flip-out screen offers a higher resolution than its predecessor, and will now flip up and down. It's also touch-senstive, allowing you to focus or fire the shutter, or interact with the on-screen control panel. The touch features can be disabled if you don't want them. The XZ-2 also offers most of the customization control of the company's flagship OM-D E-M5. This means you can set the preview image to warn of under/over-exposed areas (with user-defined thresholds), and use the company's Super Control Panel user interface, once you've mastered the menus' custom options.

The XZ-2 isn't the smallest or prettiest camera in this group, nor is it the largest or most control-covered - instead it sits in the middle-ground, offering all-round capability with plenty of customizable direct control. This makes it one of the most enjoyable photographers' compacts that we've used - it can be set up to provide the information and control that the shooter wants, with plenty of flexibility to tailor that to different shooting styles. As well as being able to customize the lens dial, the XZ-2 also has two Fn buttons, the second of which can have up to 14 functions assigned to it; pressing the button cycles through the selected options.

If you prefer not to take control and use the camera as a point-and-shoot, the iAuto mode will look after you well. iAuto mode includes the same touch-screen-operated, results-orientated Live Guide system as the company's PEN cameras, making it easier to control the camera's results, even if you don't understand the full implications of aperture or white balance.

Performance and Image Quality

The XZ-2's bright lens helps the little camera live up to the potential offered by its handling - it's able to keep using low ISOs for a little longer than most of its competition. There's every reason to think it shares its BSI CMOS sensor with the Nikon and Samsung models, but combines it with an impressive JPEG engine that produces very likeable images. The XZ-2's metering and white balance are dependable, to the point that you can concentrate on making the photographic decisions. The XZ-2 includes an extensive set of Art Filter processing effects, along with a post-capture in-camera Raw conversion option that's second only to the Fujifilm system in terms of flexibility.

Wide Angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (112mm Equiv.)
The XZ-2 produces some of the most detailed images in this group, right to the corners of its lens (though it can't magically compete with the RX100's 20MP sensor). The JPEGs are a touch over-sharpened and, as with several recent Olympus cameras, we'd recommend turning that and the noise reduction down a touch. Chromatic aberration is a bit of an issue at the wide end of the lens, with this being one of the only cameras at this level not to correct it. It's a problem easily resolved if you shoot in Raw.
The portrait shot is excellent - a touch of warmth to the skin tone, a good separation of subject and background thanks to fine detail in the foreground and smooth bokeh in the distance. Sadly the same isn't true for the flash shot, where the XZ-2 has significantly under-exposed the result. The XZ-2 gives you control over flash exposure compensation and even allows the control of remote flashguns, if you have one, but that control and sophistication doesn't make up for disappointing flash metering.
The easy access to camera controls encourages the use of features such as different aspect-ratios (such as this 16:9 image)... ...while the in-camera Raw processing allows you to retrospectively apply (or remove) Art Filter processing if you've shot in Raw.

The XZ-2's lens performs well throughout its range - maintaining good levels of sharpness and corner performance, even with the aperture wide-open. Some lateral chromatic aberration can be apparent if you look closely at wide-angle images, but it's not particularly pronounced and can be avoided by processing in most Raw packages. The XZ-2's focus speed is one of the only areas in which it doesn't stand out in this group - it's neither the fastest nor the slowest, perfectly acceptable without being stunning. Overall the XZ-2's lens is core to its appeal - offering a useful focal length range with well-sustained brightness and solid performance.

Summary

The XZ-2 is one of the most capable all-rounds in this test, marrying a fast lens with a useful zoom range and a degree of customization that makes it quick and enjoyable to use. Add its good image quality and excellent JPEG engine to the equation and the whole package looks extremely tempting. Users wanting a viewfinder may not not be sold on the XZ-2 (though it's compatible with the VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders), and nor will people needing something that fits in a small pocket. For everyone else, it's only the high price tag that might dissuade them from buying what is an excellent camera.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Olympus XZ-2 Samples (33 images)

What we like: Excellent image quality. Fast, good quality lens. Lots of direct control and customization. In-camera Raw conversion

What we don't like: Flip-up screen adds to bulk. Flash exposure disappointing. Default JPEG settings a bit over-processed.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

10MP | 24-90mm (3.75x) Zoom | $300 (US) £355 (UK) €460 (EU)

Following the groundbreaking LX3 and LX5, Panasonic came back this summer with the LX7, a refreshed model with an exceptionally fast F1.4-2.3 24-90mm (equivalent) zoom lens. With the launch of the LX7, Panasonic will be hoping to regain some of the ground lost to competitors over the past couple of years (many of whom have spent that time enthusiastically copying its idea). To encourage you to make the most of its fast lens, Panasonic has added an aperture ring around the LX7's lens barrel, alongside a 3-stop neutral density filter that has its own external control point. 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 key features

The LX7 also gets a new sensor, a 'High Sensitivity MOS' design, but as before this offers multiple aspect ratios (16:9, 3:2, 4:3) that use different crops from the overall sensor area to give the same diagonal angle of view. These are easily selected using a switch on the top of the lens, which also has a 1:1 position that's effectively cropped-down from the 4:3 frame. Continuous shooting specs are impressively high; 11 fps at full resolution with focus and exposure fixed, or 5 fps with tracking AF, compared to the LX5's 2.5 fps.

The LX7's MOS sensor enables a dramatically-improved video specification, with the LX7 capable of recording Full HD video in either the AVCHD Progressive or MP4 formats. 

The LX7's new aperture ring encourages you to make best use of its fast lens. It offers a range of F1.4-F8. with click-stops at 1/3 stop intervals. The connector port below the hot shoe accepts the optional DMW-LVF2 electronic viewfinder (that's also used by the DMC-GX1).
The LX7 fits nicely in your hand, and the aperture ring encourages two-handed shooting. All of the key controls fall within easy reach. Unusually for a recent Panasonic camera the LX7 doesn't have a touchscreen, despite the fact that it uses almost exactly the same onscreen interface as the co-announced Lumix DMC-G5 (that does).

The LX7 maintains the same form factor as its predecessors, with a compact metal-clad body that's liberally peppered with buttons, dials and switches. Two notable control additions are the aperture ring around the lens barrel and the ND/Focus lever on the back plate. Clicking-in the latter engages or disengages the LX7's built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, which allows you to shoot at large apertures in bright light or use slower shutter speeds. In manual focus mode, pushing the lever left or right adjusts focus. 

The lack of a touchscreen in the LX7 is disappointing given how well it's been integrated into other Panasonic models. We can sort-of see Panasonic's line of reasoning here - it means you don't have to move your left hand from the aperture ring to operate the screen - but we do like being able to specify the focus point by simply pressing the screen, and rather miss it on the LX7.

Performance and image quality

In use, the LX7 is a perfectly pleasant companion, and like its predecessors, one of the most 'finished' feeling compact cameras on the market. Although it is considerably chunkier than its lower-end travelzoom and point-and-shoot cousins the LX7 remains small enough to slip into a jacket pocket, and its fast lens and responsive autofocus make it a good choice for people and street photography. Where previous LX models could feel somewhat slow in operation, especially when shooting Raw files, the LX7 is positively sprightly. Even with a non UHS-I card installed, shot-to-shot times are around one second, which is perfectly reasonable. 

Wide Angle (24mm Equiv.) Telephoto (90mm Equiv.)
The LX7's zoom lens tops out at a relatively modest 90mm equivalent at the long end. However, it's also very fast, with a maximum aperture of F1.4-2.3, useful for both low-light work and giving a little subject/background separation. At a moderate subject distance (typical for portraits) the LX7 gives decent subject/background separation at its 90mm (equivalent) zoom setting, wide open at F2.3.
The LX7 has done well here, balancing the subtle ambient light from outdoors (just after sunset) with flash to expose our subject. Colors are a little cool, but the resulting image is nice.  At low ISO sensitivity settings and in decent light, the 10MP LX7 is capable of stunning detail. 

At its lowest ISO sensitivity settings the LX7 gives virtually identical image quality to its predecessor the LX5. Detail capture is very high and noise isn't visible until ISO 400, and even then, only just. Close inspection reveals that low contrast detail begins to disappear above ISO 400, and by ISO 800, although image quality is still excellent, fine detail is clearly being smoothed by noise-reduction. 

The LX7's fast maximum aperture is useful mostly because by opening it up, you can use lower ISO sensitivity settings in poor light. As you can see from the image above, depending on your subject it can also provide decent control over depth of field.

This shot, taken at close range at 24mm (equivalent) at the LX7's maximum aperture setting of F1.4 shows the sort of subject/background separation that you can expect at wideangle. Not great, but more than you'll get from a cellphone camera or low-end compact. 

At ISO 1600, noise is a factor in images captured with the LX7, and it this gets more severe at ISO 3200 and above. By ISO 6400 a general haziness swamps most of the fine detail. ISO 12,800 is a reduced-resolution capture mode and critically speaking, image quality is desperately poor.

The LX7 features a Raw capture mode, naturally, and although the camera's JPEG performance is very good, you get a little more when shooting Raw files, both in terms of flexibility (you can adjust white balance and exposure much more effectively post-capture) and critical image quality. If you're shooting at high ISO sensitivity settings in poor light, shooting Raw can also make a difference, as long as you don't mind spending a little time working on the files later. That said, in terms of absolute detail, the LX7's JPEGs are extremely good. 

Summing Up

The LX7 has a very nice collection of features that should make just about everybody happy. If you're a 'set it and forget it' kind of person, then look no further than Panasonic's great Intelligent Auto mode. That said, as you'd expect from this premium compact, there are plenty of manual controls on the LX7, too. You get all the usual exposure options, RAW support, lots of white balance options, and three types of bracketing. 

Overall, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is an excellent premium compact camera. Its fast lens, performance, and manual controls will make enthusiasts drool, while those just starting out can get great results using Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. There's very little to dislike about the LX7, with our main issues being redeye, slow buffer flush times when shooting RAW images, and vertical lines in panoramas. Aside from that, the LX7 is a first-rate camera and a strong contender in this segment of the market. 

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Scene Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 (32 images)

What we like: Fast, sharp lens, highly detailed JPEGs, excellent intelligent Auto mode

What we don't like: Relatively restrictive zoom range for its class, dedicated aperture ring less flexible than the customizable lens control rings on rival cameras.

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Samsung EX2F

12MP | 24-80mm (3.3x) Zoom | $499 (US) £420 (UK) €370 (EU)

The Samsung EX2F is a successor to the company's EX1 (known as the TL500 in some markets). Its name is now the same across all markets, and gains the 'F' that Samsung uses to denote its Wi-Fi capable cameras. It sees a 12MP BSI CMOS sensor supplanting the 10MP CCD that was used in its predecessor, and beyond these changes carries forward that camera's impressive specifications. Its lens starts off both wide and impressively bright (the 24mm equivalent, F1.4 figure being used extensively in the marketing material) but slows down soon after, meaning it's pretty quickly out-gunned by several cameras in this class.

Key Features

On paper the EX2F's spec is very convincing - it uses a 12MP BSI CMOS sensor (almost certainly the same one as used in the Nikon P7700 and Olympus XZ-2), and a flip-out swivel OLED display that, despite the lower dot-count, offers resolution equivalent to most of the other cameras in this group. The Wi-Fi feature, that can be used to connect the camera either to your home network or directly to an Android or iOS handset or tablet via downloadable apps, is unusual in this company. It has features such as a built-in ND filter to allow the use of its wide apertures even when outdoors.
The EXF2 sits in the middle of this group in terms of size. It fits nicely in the hand and its construction feels solid.

The EX2F has a promising looking specification, including the same fast lens as its predecessor, plus Wi-Fi capability. Despite a Wi-Fi position on the camera's mode dial, there's also a Wi-Fi position on the four-way controller which locks the camera up for several seconds if accidentally pressed.

The Samsung is one of the few cameras here to feature a flip-out screen - in this case a VGA-resolution OLED panel. The Samsung's Fn menu is rather good - allowing quick settings changes, when used in conjunction with the front dial. Hard-to-predict feature incompatibilities rather take the edge off the shooting experience, we found.

The EX2F is a well-built camera and one of the few to offer a flip-out swivel display. It's generally comfortable to use, though some of us found we had to reposition our grip on the camera each time we tried to use the front dial - which suggests the ergonomics could do with a bit more work.

Sadly the EXF2 isn't as well polished as most of the other cameras in this cohort. It features less customization and more quirks than any of the other cameras here, making for an occasionally infuriating shooting experience. Several settings are mutually incompatible but with no apparent logic or indication of the conflict, making it nearly impossible to resolve. While we can just about accept that Face Detection mode wouldn't be available in Raw shooting mode (though it's unusual on a modern camera), it took a long time to diagnose that a change to the image processing settings (even a one step increase in contrast) will also disable it. Furthermore, the camera's Wi-Fi button locks up the camera for almost 3 seconds if you  press it accidentally. It can be re-configured to perform other functions but they're all Wi-Fi related, so an accidental press involves a 3 second pause and some button pressing to cancel the action.

The Wi-Fi features themselves are potentially useful but, as with most wireless solutions we've tried so far, aren't as simple as you'd like them to be (though the Samsung system seems to be one of the more reliable). As such, it's hard to recommend the EX2F if you want to use Wi-Fi regularly (using an Eye-Fi card in the other cameras here will be similarly effective), and the rest of the camera's performance isn't good enough for Wi-Fi as an occasionally-used feature to tip the balance in the Samsung's favor.

Performance and Image Quality

The EX2F's image quality is competitive in this class, although it doesn't excel. Metering and white balance can be a little unpredictable, meaning images can come out too bright or with too much of a cold, blue tint from time to time. The camera corrects chromatic aberration rather aggressively, giving odd hazy halos on high-contrast edges. Add a high level of sharpening (and a loss of Face Detection if you try to adjust it) and the over-processed-looking JPEGs don't really show off the camera's full potential. The best way of getting to the camera's full image quality is to shoot Raw which, in the case of the EX2F, means capturing oddly large ~30MB files.

Wide Angle (24mm Equiv.) Telephoto (80mm Equiv.)
The EX2F does well in the outdoor test shots - the lens performance is very good at wide-angle though the telephoto end isn't quite up to the same standard. Detail is well resolved, if a bit over-sharpened for our tastes. Still, a very solid result.
The portrait shot sees skin tones rendered a little on the warm side but is generally good. The rather short lens means the EXF2 doesn't allow very shallow depth-of-field, despite the relatively wide aperture, meaning there isn't the same degree of subject isolation as many of these cameras can offer. The flash shot is a touch too bright but skin tones remain neutral, so it's not too much of a problem. The EX2F has made little effort to retain any ambient lighting, so the subtle post-sunset sky outside the window in this shot is effectively just black. 
The EX2F's articulated screen can help get shots that would be guesswork without it. Its Wi-Fi feature also allowed us to publish this full-resolution image on the web before we reached shore. The EX2F's lack of orientation sensor means all of your images will need to be rotated manually. This is worth remembering before you share them. 

Summary

None of our criticisms should be taken to mean the camera is a disaster - it's actually pretty good and can produce some pleasant results. However, its rivals are all so good that simply being 'pretty good' isn't enough. The EX2F doesn't offer anything that at least one of its rivals can't do at least as well, either in feature or image quality terms. If you're desperate to have Wi-Fi capability, you may find a Wi-Fi capable card placed in one of the other cameras is just as useful.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Samsung EX2F Samples (25 images)

What we like: Good image quality. Wi-Fi capability. Solid build quality. Quick-to-use Fn menu.

What we don't like: Frustrating interface quirks spoil user experience. Over-processed JPEG output. Huge Raw file size. Limited lens reach.

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Sony DSC-RX100

20MP | 28-100mm (3.6x) Zoom | $650 (US) £450 (UK) €550 (EU)

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is one of the biggest steps forward we've seen in the compact digital camera market, with a sensor over four times larger than most compacts, in a still genuinely compact body. It combines this big sensor with a pretty bright (F1.8-4.9) lens that covers a useful 28-100mm equivalent range. Add to this a customizable front dial and the best video specs in its class and it very quickly begins to justify the premium over its peers that Sony is asking. At around $650 'street' price, the RX100 is a good $100 or so more expensive than any of the other cameras in this roundup. 

Key Features

The RX100 also includes all the clever shooting modes and image processing options that Sony has rolled out across its range (including the most reliable automatic panorama mode of any brand), giving it an unbeatable balance of size and capability.
The RX100 is a small, fairly ordinary-looking compact camera. Unless you knew otherwise, you'd never guess its secret identity as a large sensor camera. Despite this, it manages to squeeze a stabilized 28-100mm lens into its body - giving an impressive degree of flexibility. The rear screen on the RX100 uses Sony's WhiteMagic technology - adding a white dot to every pixel to allow the screen to be brighter or more efficient. This helps the camera to remain usable in bright light (though the brighter 'Sunshine' mode is fairly well buried in the menus).
The main means of controlling the RX100 is the lens ring dial. Its function can be reconfigured but that of the rear dial can't, so that often dictates your decision. Without the camera's sounds (including focus beep and fake shutter noise), you get almost no feedback that's you've moved the dial, which can be distancing. The other main means of controlling the camera is via the customizable Fn menu, which can include up to seven camera parameters and is arranged in the order you wish. It means that, despite the low number of external control points, the RX100 still makes it pretty quick to change any setting you might want to.

In use the RX100 is as competent an all-rounder as its specs suggest - its large sensor means it can't match the lens range of all its peers, but its 28-100mm equivalent zoom is useful nonetheless, especially given the increased image quality that the RX100 offers.

A few minor handling niggles (the lack of feedback from the stepless front dial and the inability to customize the function of the rear dial, in particular) mean the shooting experience isn't as engaging for the enthusiast photographer as it could be. However, the results easily make up for this, and its equal composure as a point-and-shoot means it will deliver these results regardless of how involved you want to get with the photographic process.

Performance and Image Quality

The RX100 fits more camera into a smaller space than just about anything we've previously seen and the image quality is consistent with that. Its 20MP sensor is able to resolve excellent detail in good light and the corner performance is solid too. The camera's metering is reliable with the occasional tendency to let the red channel slightly over-expose. The large sensor ensures the image quality is well-maintained as light drops, although the slower aperture at the long end of the zoom means it loses its advantage over the competition once you get beyond around 60mm. The JPEG processing is impressive at low ISO but, as you'd expect, at high ISO you can get better results by shooting Raw and tailoring the noise reduction to your own tastes.

In addition to the RX100's still image quality, it also offers the highest video specifications in this group. Indeed if you're at all serious about capturing video, only the Panasonic LX7 can match the RX100's 1080p60 capability. And, in movie mode the clickless dial becomes an asset - turn on focus peaking to aid manual focus and there's no compact as easy to manually focus for video.

Finally it's worth noting the RX100's impressive focus speed. It slows down a little in low light, but in most situations is at least a match for anything else in this company.

Wide Angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (100mm Equiv.)
The Sony captures more detail than any of its rivals in the daylight scene and, impressively for a lens that contracts into such a small space and is being assessed with such a high-res sensor, the corners of the images don't present any problems for the camera.
The portrait exposure is rather dark (something we saw fairly regularly when we reviewed the camera), but the skin tones are pretty good. Despite the apparently slow maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom, the RX100's large sensor allows it to nicely isolate the subject from the background. The effect isn't as pronounced as a DSLR with a portrait lens would be, but it's a great talent for a pocketable camera to offer. The flash exposure is good if perhaps a little under exposed. This slight underexposure leaves the skin tones nicely warm. The purple fringing around the catchlights in the subject's eyes is rather off-putting, however. The RX100 does at least offer the change to reduce the flash power output if you want (or to control an off-board flashgun remotely, if you prefer).
The RX100's 20MP sensor allows it to capture impressive levels of detail. In good light nothing in this class can touch it. It's also small enough that it can easily be fitted in a pocket, making it more likely that you'll carry it with you. And you know what they say about the camera you have with you...

Summary

The RX100 has received plaudits from many directions - it's an excellent camera and represents an exciting development, both for Sony and the industry as a whole. It offers all-round ability and pocketability that's hard to match. Overall it's a step ahead of the competition in terms of capability - it's only the shooting experience that stops it rendering much of the rest of this class irrelevant. If the prices are similar when you come to make your decision, the RX100 should be near the top of your shortlist.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

When looking at the studio scene, it's important to understand that the RX100 isn't at its best at the close focus distances required for this test, making the edges of the scene less sharp than the camera is capable of in most normal shooting.

Studio Comparison Tool Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Samples (41 images)

What we like: Excellent image quality and good lens performance. Impressive video capabilities. Compact body with quick access to key settings. Good rear screen.

What we don't like: Clickless dial gives uninvolved shooting experience, slow-ish lens (at the long end), no ND filter limits flexibility in good light. No viewfinder option.

Related Links

Conclusion

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.

Our recommendations

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. 

Our recommendations

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.

Our recommendations

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.