Low down on Advanced / Pro Compact Digital Cameras

What are Advanced/Pro compact cameras actually?

Advanced/Pro compacts are cameras that are considered the top of the line point and shoot digital cameras, though in features and usage they are more akin to a DSLR than standard point and shoot cameras.  The key features that make pro compacts superior to the other point and shoot cameras are,

  1. The camera sensor is much larger than what you find with most normal point and shoot cameras
  2. The lens of the camera will be very high quality, and very fast (have a large aperture) to allow shooting in low light.  The lens also might be developed by a professional lens specialist firm, and also actually manufactured by the specialist.
  3. The camera body will have loads of buttons and controls to access functions that allow maximize the use of the camera (similar to a DSLR)
  4. The camera will have full manual controls (M) in addition to the auto modes and aperture, shutter priority and program auto modes
  5. The camera will support advanced auto focus capabilities that will allow it to focus better under testing conditions
  6. The camera will allow connecting an external flash (usually one from the DSLR range made by the same manufacturer)
  7. The camera body will be made of special materials making the camera very high in quality and

Who actually buys these camera’s

With the prices of such cameras actually being same or more than some of the lower end DSLR cameras, one may question why not buy a DSLR camera and avoid paying so much what to one’s first impression is a fancy point and shoot digital camera.

  1. DSLR cameras are still much larger than advance compact digital cameras, hence you cannot carry them when you go for a private function
  2. Not everyone likes to have a DSLR camera due to the fact that after a while you get sucked into the “I need more lenses and accessories” game
  3. DSLR kit lens are not that great quality and also have smaller apertures (slower lenses).  Hence these advanced compacts can match or exceed the performance of the low end DSLR with kit lenses in the lower ISO ranges, which is good enough for most.  In addition the faster lenses on these smaller compacts can make them perform better than the lower end DSLR’s indoor.
  4. A DSLR lens with zoom that has the same aperture as the one’s offered by the compact lenses can cost you at least 2-3 times the price of such advanced compact.
  5. The advanced compacts also has a far better wide angle (24mm in most cases) than DSLR camera kit lens which are usually 27 or 28mm.

The primary buyers are the users who don’t want to own the DSLR, and want a camera that can take good to very good photos for family, home, adventure use opt for these advanced compacts.

The secondary buyers are the DSLR camera owners who usually have an advanced compact that they carry with them.  It also provides them the ability to take a quick shot without having to miss the opportunity while the try to change the lens that suits the shot!

What about the entry of the mirror-less compact system cameras

The introduction of the mirror-less compact system camera’s by Panasonic and Olympus, initialy laughed away by the giants Canon and Nikon, has surprisingly caused a large stir.  So much so these camera’s outsold DSLR camera’s in 2011 in Japan, a market that is more open to new innovations than the western markets.  Even the sales in US has increased to almost 20%, and has cause Canon and Nikon to also start developing mirror-less solutions.

Panasonic and Olympus are now challenged by products from Sony and Samsung, which feature the larger sensor found in DSLRs in the same mirror-less configuration.

This year saw two more entries, one from Pentax, a rather odd mirror-less since it features a body hosting a point and shoot type sensor (a sensor smaller than what you find inside an advanced compact!) yet with removable lens, baffling.

The latest entrant has been Nikon with the J1 and V1 models, which have been just released, and these have smaller sensor than the Panasonic and Olympus camera’s  though larger than an advanced compact camera.

The key selling point of these camera’s is that with the omission of the mirror shutter, resulting in these cameras shrinking in size so much that some of them have bodies smaller than the advanced compacts. However the term smaller is only valid when they are usually fixed with a fixed aperture lens, and when a zoom lens is added these are again larger and bulky compared to an advanced compact.  Olympus offers a folding type lens to make the zoom lens configuration also even more leaner, but this is also still larger than the largest advanced compact.

These mirror-less compact systems, with their larger sensor, smaller yet better quality kit lens (most of the kit lenses from these systems are much higher quality than the kit lenses that come with DSLR) offer very good picture quality though they are significantly smaller than DSLRs.  These cameras definitely out perform advanced compacts, but still have some limitations as the DSLRs such as the need to change lens, buy multiple lenses (and the need to be swapping lenses), high quality lenses being very expensive and being bulky than an advanced compact when fixed with a zoom lens.

Hence the need and market for these flagship high quality advanced compacts is not going to vanish very soon, as seen by the increase in the number of competitors in the market.

What models are current and recent Advance Compacts

In recent times the Nikon, Canon and Samsung cameras all use the same sensor supposedly manufactured by Sony, hence it’s the lens, software, features, and size of the cameras that make the difference.   The perennial challenge is from the Panasonic LX, that uses a different sensor but competes and matches the trio.  The newcomer from Olympus also seems to use the same sensor as the Panasonic.  Fuji was the newcomer with a new Fuji EXR sensor that is a bit larger than the other two sensors used by all other cameras.

Canon seems to be doing gentle upgrades mostly to fix the complaints of older models every year, so there are very little notable improvements, with the newer models doing better video and having faster auto focus being key improvement.  While the zoom levels are increased in some, you will notice the lens are also slower at the telephoto end, so be vary of that.

 Model Size (in) Size (mm) Megapixels aperture Zoom Lens
2011 Nikon P7100 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F2.8 – F5.6 7.1 Nikon
2011 Canon S100 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 12.1 F2.0 – F5.9 5 Canon
2011 Fuji X10 2/3″ 8.8 x 6.6 mm 12.0 F2.0 – F2.8 4 Fujinon
2011 Olympus XZ-1 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F1.8 – F2.5 4 Olympus Zuiko
2010 Canon G12 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.8 – F4.5 5 Canon
Nikon P7000 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F2.8 – F5.6 7.1 Nikon
Samsung EX1/TL500 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F1.8 – F2.4 3 Schneider kreuznach
Canon S95 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.0 – F4.9 3.8 Canon
Panasonic LX5 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F2.0 – F3.3 3.8 Leica Vario-Summicron
2009 Panasonic LX3 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F2.0 – F2.8 2.5 Leica Vario-Summicron
Canon G11 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.8 – F4.5 5 Canon
Canon S90 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.0 – F4.9 3.8 Canon
Post 2009 milestone models Canon G-Series (G10, G9, G7, G6, etc)Panasonic LXNikon P5000/5100