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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Pocket-sized dynamos

Prosumer compact cameras offer the perfect marriage of a large sensor and compact size. DIGITAL LIFE puts seven of them to the test.
November 28, 2012
By: Tan Chong Yaw
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Pocket-sized dynamos

If you are looking for a prosumer compact camera, this is the season to be spoilt for choice. These high-end devices offer the best image quality camera makers can offer in models with fixed lenses. DSLRs are still better but they are giant sized next to these compacts.

This year, camera makers have introduced models with bigger sensors and more attractive designs.

Besides those looking more stylish than the standard staid black models, there are also ones that deliver better pictures.

A prosumer's chief selling point, of course, is photo quality that easily beats what you can achieve with a regular compact. Most can slip easily into a man's front trouser pocket; some even into a shirt pocket.

"Even with their small form factor, such cameras are able to take better quality pictures than other compact cameras because they have bigger sensors," said Mr Gerard Tan, account director for digital technology with the research firm GfK Asia.

This is what makes them attractive to consumers. Prosumer compacts make up 40 per cent of compact camera sales at Cathay Photo, a favourite stop for shutterbugs.

"Buyers are mostly males in their 20s and 40s. They are expert users who already own DSLR cameras," said Cathay's retail manager, Mr Vincent Tan.

Size does matter. "They want a big sensor and a small body," he said.

The quality of a picture from a digital camera is largely determined by the size of its sensor and the quality of the lens.

The average compact's sensor is tiny, less than a fifth the size of a microSD card. In a prosumer, the sensor is at least 50 per cent larger.

This year, camera makers are engaging in a game of sensor oneupmanship.

Canon fired the first salvo in January with its G1 X. Its sensor was six times that of a usual prosumer's but in a body three times bigger than that of the smallest prosumer model.

Sony struck back with the RX100, one of the smallest and sleekest in the prosumer market but with a sensor 2.5 times the size of the average prosumer's.

Then Fujifilm unveiled its XF1. This has a slightly bigger sensor but oozed retro chic in a choice of red, brown or black faux leather bodies.

Canon included a white model with tan accents to its black and silver options for its S110 camera. Sony rounded up the prosumer-pitched battle for the year with one for the record books.

Its RX1 sports a full-frame sensor, the same as you would find in a top DSLR. The sensor in this $3,999 camera, available next month, has a sensor 20 times that of a prosumer's.

Putting the RX1 aside, prosumer prices range from $600 to $1,000 - a few hundreds more than your run-of-the-mill compact. The extra money buys a quality lens that will perform better, especially indoors, and a truckload of other features.

Controls are top-notch. Other frills, depending on the model, may include Wi-Fi smarts, tiltable displays for tricky angles and photo tweaks.

Photo enthusiasts such as Mr Andrew Chan, 38, who works in marketing communications at an IT equipment MNC here, relish the combination of compactness and performance. His arsenal includes a full-frame DSLR camera, Nikon's D600, but he is also a happy user of the Sony RX100.

"I value compact cams for their size for personal ad hoc social and travel photography. That said, I still value image quality greatly, so I go for models with large sensors and good lenses, such as the Sony RX100," said Mr Chan.

Good things do come in small packages.

cytan@sph.com.sg

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