High-end compact camera group test


With cameraphones eating into their market share, manufacturers of compact cameras are ramping up the feature sets to increasingly sophisticated levels. Whether by including longer, better-quality lenses within slimmer bodies, or revolutionary sensor technology with increased capacity for gathering light, camera makers are claiming DSLR-like image quality, features and effects from smaller offerings.

The advantage is clear: professional-looking photographs without the expense or bulk of additional lenses, or the learning curve associated with owning a DSLR. In theory, you can now shoot an image good enough for the cover of Vogue with a digital camera you can pop into a pocket. If that’s true, the future every photo enthusiast has been dreaming of has arrived.

Quality doesn’t come cheap, however. Four of our cameras here – from Canon, Panasonic, Ricoh and Sigma – nudge or exceed the price you’d expect to pay for an entry-level DSLR with standard zoom lens. That said, we have included a couple of sub-£300 options from more family focused brands Fujifilm and Kodak for those who still want a feature-packed quality camera, but aren’t so bothered about manual controls.

So what should you be looking for in a compact that behaves like a DSLR? A physically larger sensor and dedicated, specialist lens is a start, as provided by the Ricoh and Sigma offerings – the theory being the bigger the chip and the brighter the lens, the better the camera’s light-gathering properties and the better the photo.

Greater flexibility – another property of the DSLR – can be found in the Canon G11 (featuring adjustable LCD and zoom) and Panasonic GF1, (allowing the lens on the front to be changed as desired). For those who still find both bulkier than they’d like, the Kodak and Fujifim compacts provide a 10x zoom with control over shutter speed and aperture, HD video, and low light and dynamic range boosting modes respectively – and they’ll still slot in your pocket.

Can any of these compact cameras seriously substitute for a DSLR, or, should they be seen as an able alternative for those occasions when lugging around a lot of kit is unnecessary or impractical? Read on to find out...

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