The Canon PowerShot G15 is the only camera on test to offer a viewfinder of any kind (here, an optical type), and it also manages to offer a bright f/1.8 aperture at the wideangle end of its image-stabilised 28-140mm lens, which drops to a still-respectable f/2.8 at the telephoto extreme.
Behind the optic sits a 12.1MP backlit CMOS sensor, which can have its sensitivity adjusted between a broad ISO 80-12,800 range, and it also captures full HD movies at 24fps, or standard HD videos at 30fps, as well as reduced-resolution slow-motion videos at 120fps and 240fps.
In order to prolong exposures Canon has also integrated a physical neutral density filter inside the lens, which reduces exposure times by three EV stops, while around the back a 3in LCD presents its details with 922k dots. Images are captured in Raw (Canon’s .CR2 type) and JPEG formats, either on their own or simultaneously.
Thanks to a fixed LCD screen the Canon PowerShot G15 boasts a more slender body than its G12 predecessor. The body itself feels well constructed, and the rubbered grip – while not as substantial as some of the others here – does improve handling.
In terms of physical controls the camera scores many points: most of the controls are well positioned and large enough to be comfortably operated by larger-handed users, and they’re all clearly labelled too. The only exceptions here are the play button which is awkwardly shoehorned into a small gap between the viewfinder and mode dial, and the menu pad dial on the rear which is too close to the side of the LCD for comfort.
The inclusion of a viewfinder is likely to win some over, although the lack of parallax markings makes it near useless for accurate framing.
The Canon PowerShot G15′s metering system is generally reliable, and scenes containing many highlight areas don’t force it to underexpose the main subject. Indeed, the tendency is for the camera to occasionally overexpose, something confirmed by the accompanying histograms.
The AWB system isn’t faultless, but in natural light it performs very well, and in many situations which combine artificial sources it also does a decent job. Noise is well controlled and even at higher sensitivities the noise reduction system isn’t too destructive, and while Raw files are soft, once sharpened they show very good detail.
Distortion is also pleasingly low, as is chromatic aberration.
The Canon PowerShot G15 powers up and down marginally faster than the average speed set by the cameras here, and in good light the camera wastes no time in acquiring focus, although even with the AF assist light activated the camera is a touch behind the others for AF speed when shooting in sub-optimum conditions.
One area where it does do well is with shot-to-shot times, which may not be quite as fast as the LX7 or RX100 but aren’t that far behind either. The LCD is a touch darker and noisier than some of the others here, but it presents a stable view of the scene. Furthermore, the lens travels through its range at a pleasingly steady pace.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Fujifilm XF1
The XF1 sees a 2/3in 12MP sensor (the second largest in this group) based on Fujifilm’s EXR architecture and paired with a lens that spans a 4x zoom range from 25-100mm. Although the optic is image-stabilised, it’s disappointing to see its bright f/1.8 aperture at the wide end quickly closing down to just f/4.9 at the telephoto end.
The camera’s sensitivity range may be extended to ISO 3200 at full resolution, which decreases as sensitivity is adjusted up to a maximum ISO 12,800 option, while full HD videos are captured at 30fps, with the provision of optical zoom while recording. The rear is largely devoted to a 3in LCD screen, although its 460k-dot resolution pales next to those on the other models here. The camera also has Raw shooting and PASM control in common with the other six, while the 7fps burst option can be boosted to 10fps at a reduced resolution.
The XF1′s design is the most streamlined out of the seven cameras here, and it also differentiates itself by having a smart faux leather covering around the majority of its body. The camera is powered up by pulling and twisting the lens, which, on account of its shallowness when stowed inside the body, is awkward.
The mode dial sits flush against the top plate, and although it only offers a small section of its side for turning – which makes it harder to turn accidentally – it does at least move freely. There’s no grip to speak of but plenty of room has been left on the rear for the thumb, and as the buttons in this area sit flush against the back plate it’s difficult to press any accidentally.
Still, the tiny Fn button on the top plate is difficult to press at all. The menu is a winner, though, with a logical order of functions.
Despite the use of a relatively large sensor and Fujifilm’s EXR technology, the XF1 is decidedly behind the others with its image quality. Corner and edge sharpness are disappointing, although once stopped down the lens does improve.
In terms of resolution the camera manages to resolve details consistently throughout its sensitivity range, only sadly, at a lower level than the others, with far higher aliasing effects also present. Images in general appear over-processed, with noise and chromatic aberration frequently present.
Still, the metering system is generally sound, and the Auto White Balance system also proves its worth, with pleasing colours.
Thanks to the XF1′s manual zoom, the lens can have its focal length changed rapidly. Furthermore, as the camera is powered on and off in this way, you don’t have the wait for the lens to retract into and emerge from the body, which slows down operation on some other models here.
On the review sample, however, it was easy to overshoot the point of resistance which signified the 25mm focal length had been reached, which turns the camera off.
The lower resolution of the screen is noticeable against some of the other cameras, and the display staggers where others don’t, but AF speed is above par.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Nikon COOLPIX P7700
Although the P7700 loses the optical viewfinder of its P7100 predecessor, Nikon has increased the lens’s maximum aperture, with a maximum f/2 at the 28mm end and f/4 at 200mm. It also sees the inclusion of a Vibration Reduction system to help prevent image blur.
The sensor is a 12.1MP CMOS chip which captures images across a sensitivity range of ISO 80-3200, with an extended setting equivalent to ISO 6400 also on hand. The camera also records full HD videos with stereo sound, as well as images to a choice of JPEG and Raw options.
It’s the only model on test to sport a GPS system, and the standard 8fps burst can be increased to up to 120fps at a reduced resolution, while all composition and reviewing takes place through the 3in LCD on the rear, which can be pulled away and adjusted around a side pivot.
The P7700 is designed very much with immediate access to functions in mind, with three physical top-plate dials as well as two command dials and a pair of dedicated “Fn” buttons. Yet, despite its body being laden with controls, it’s still easy to hold the camera comfortably. This is thanks in part to the generously proportioned grip which is coated in rubber, a small piece of which is also found on the rear where the thumb naturally falls.
The grip is topped by one of the command dials, and, just as with its counterpart on the rear, it manages to be not just conveniently positioned but tactile and easy to turn. Thanks to the articulated LCD, and presumably the bright lens which also boasts the widest focal range here, the camera is the bulkiest on test but it still fits inside a coat pocket.
The camera’s metering system is intuitive, with just a slight tendency to overexpose on occasion (in this way, it behaves very similarly to the G15 and XF1). The camera’s Auto White Balance system is among the best here, with a sterling performance under nautral light and accuracy maintained well under artificial sources, although colours could do with a slight push towards vibrancy.
Sharpness is very good in JPEGs, with no haloing or other artefacts present, and the drop in corner sharpness at wideangle is only slight. The lens exhibits only a small amount of barrel distortion at its widest focal length, while the absence of chromatic aberration impresses.
The main performance-related bugbear with the P7700 concerns its write times when shooting Raw images. It’s not a case of it being slower than the others here, it’s that it’s considerably slower. The LCD screen, however, is superb, displaying details clearly and its brightness changing swiftly with the scene, although it does stagger in comparison with the others in some instances.
The zoom travels hastily through its focal range, although this is somewhat understandable given the wide focal range. Autofocus is reasonable in good light, but it’s a touch slower than the others, and much slower in darker conditions.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Olympus XZ-2
Olympus’s XZ-2 is one of three models on test to have a display which can be adjusted to a variety of positions, although here it’s over a hinge rather than the more flexible side pivot. It’s the only model to boast touchscreen operation, although it retains a range of physical controls for those not wishing to operate the camera in this way.
Its 28-112mm lens offers a focal range that places it somewhere in the middle of those here in terms of scope, although it’s welcome to see that its f/1.8 aperture at the widest focal length only drops down to f/2.5 once it reaches the tele end. The combination of a 12MP backlit sensor and Olympus’s TruePic VI engine offer the respectable sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800, while full HD video recording at 30fps is complemented with stereo sound recording.
Raw shooting also features, as does a 5fps burst mode.
It’s clear that the XZ-2 has taken design cues from some of Olympus’s recent PEN models, with its dual-level top plate, moulded grip and articulated display. The metal body has an excellent solidity to it, with no give anywhere when pressured, while the control ring around the lens is a nice touch too, even if its shallowness does make it more difficult to get ideal purchase.
The second function button/lever control on the front can be accessed by the middle finger without the hand needing to be repositioned, while the flash which hides inside the top plate glides up smoothly once its catch is released. All the other controls either press, turn or click with ease, although controls in general are a little bit on the small side, particularly the menu pad dial which is one of the smallest ones of this group of cameras.
The XZ-2′s images boast a number of positive attributes, some of which are clearly down to its optic; corner and edge sharpness are excellent when the lens is stopped down, and very good at wider apertures, while distortion at the wideangle end is only visible with subjects containing straight lines.
Detail is also well resolved, although the sharpening applied to offset the smoothing effects of noise reduction in JPEGs can lead to natural subjects appearing unnaturally defined. The metering system is fine until faced with areas of highlights, where it underexposes easily, while the AWB leans towards warmth in both naturally and artificially-lit scenes.
The XZ-2′s screen brightness and contrast are both very good, while the camera’s shot-to-shot times are excellent. This is mirrored by a swift autofocus system, although when set to its auto all-points pattern it doesn’t always pick the most obvious elements in the frame, often choosing peripheral details instead.
The lens travels leisurely through its range, which may well be preferred by some for accuracy. The camera falls down with its menu system, however; options are not segregated in the most obvious way, and icons and abbreviations often take the place of clear labels, although common shooting options are easily brought up.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Panasonic Lumix LX7
The fifth iteration in Panasonic’s popular LX series, the LX7 maintains the same 10.1MP resolution and 24-90mm lens of its LX5 predecessor, but at f/1.4-2.3 the lens is now brighter while the 3in LCD screen sees its resolution boosted to 920k dots. The camera offers much the same combination of exposure controls as the others here, with full PASM options joined by Auto and Scene settings, with the further sweeteners of a built-in ND filter and Raw shooting increasing its flexibility even further.
A range of Creative Controls allow miniature, retro and cross-processed effects among others to be instantly applied to images, and while the camera doesn’t offer a viewfinder the accessory port underneath the hotshoe accepts an electronic viewfinder. Of course, the hotshoe can be used on its own with external flash units, although a pop-up flash also hides inside the top plate.
Along with the XZ-2 and RX100, the LX7 offers an aperture ring around its optic, although the physical clicks and markings around the lens means that out of the three it looks and behaves most like a traditional aperture ring. There’s only one mode dial on the top plate, and the grip doesn’t appear significant in the hand, while the command dial on the back plate could do with protruding further out for better purchase.
Furthermore, the camera is the only one out of the seven to have the functions on the menu pad buttons engraved rather than labelled in text, which makes them harder to read. There is, however, much to redeem these small issues, such as the generously-sized shutter release button, as well as the ND/focus rocker on the back which is sensitive enough for precise manual focusing adjustments.
With a slightly lower sensor resolution it’s not surprising to find the LX7 resolves marginally less detail than the average here. Detail is well maintained at middlemost ISO settings, although noise reduction in JPEGs is heavy-handed, particularly as ISO increases.
Exposures from the LX7 are slightly more balanced than with some of the others; typically this means that shadowy areas are not lifted to the same degree as with the G15 and XF1, for example, but that overexposure and blown highlights are less common. Colours in images are pleasing, and there’s some distortion at wideangle, although corner sharpness is above average.
The LX7 turns on and is ready to shoot in good time, although, for whatever reason, it takes a good few seconds before the menu system may be accessed. The screen’s contrast is pleasing, although it does lack the bite of some of the others here, notably those on Nikon’s and Olympus’s offerings.
The zoom moves slowly, although this is understandable given the relatively narrow focal range, while the focusing system is capable, on a par with the other cameras here (but with a slightly slower performance in darker conditions). Shot-to-shot times are excellent, and the levelling function helpfully stretches across the entire display too.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Samsung EX2F
One of only two cameras to offer a side-articulating LCD (the other being the Nikon P7700), the EX2F also lists Wi-fi technology among its highlights. With this, the user can upload their images and videos to social networking sites or cloud services, or simply email them to others.
The camera’s 24-80mm lens may have the shortest reach here but it stands out from the spec sheet on account of its wide f/1.4-2.7 aperture (no doubt helped by its more limited range). The lens also boasts an image-stabilisation system, while behind it sits a 12.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor which is capable of capturing full HD videos.
The screen on the back differs from all the others here by being based on OLED rather than LCD technology, and while it matches the others in providing a Raw shooting mode, it goes an extra step with basic Raw editing functions.
The EX2F has been crafted from magnesium alloy, which gives it a reassuring weight and feel. The grip may not be as comfortably rubbered as Nikon’s P7700, or as intuitively designed as Olympus’s XZ-2, but it is defined and does ensure better purchase than grip-less models. It’d be nice, however, to see the front command dial standing out from the grip; as it is, its comfortable operation requires the user to reposition their hand slightly from the holding position.
The menu pad dial on the rear turns easily, although the lack of space between this dial and the side of the LCD makes it easy for the thumb to rub up against the latter when the screen is flush against the camera. The menu system, however, scores points for its clarity, with well-described options and a pleasing black/blue palette used throughout.
Although the camera resolves very good detail at its lowest few sensitivities, at ISO 800 and onwards it falls down hard, to the extent that at higher sensitivities the graph below no longer shows how much detail is actually being resolved. Colours captured in studio conditions show decent saturation, although in real-world conditions images appear somewhat dull and in need of processing to make them shine.
The metering system is also prone to underexposure, although details are maintained well in corners and edges when compared with more central areas, and it’s pleasing to see chromatic aberrations confined only to peripheral areas.
The EX2F’s screen has nicely saturated colours and a reasonable viewing angle too, although it lacks contrast and can sometimes take on a green cast. The focusing system performs well in good light, with just a touch of a slow-down against darker low-contrast subjects, while the bright green boxes clearly indicate areas brought into focus.
Although write times are slow when compared with the rest of the group, the camera does at least allow images to be taken as previous captures are being processed. The menu also impresses, however, with clear descriptions and the fluidly-moving menu pad dial making its navigation easy.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Sony Cyber-shot RX100
The RX100 not only boasts the highest-resolution sensor here, but also the largest. Its 20.2MP resolution should in theory allow for more detail and better enlargements, although being the second lightest on test may give it a disadvantage with regards to steady handholding. Still, to ensure images are as sharp as possible, Sony has equipped the 28-100mm optic with Super SteadyShot technology, and while the impressively wide f/1.8 aperture at the wide end should also help in this regard, its tailing off to f/4.9 at the 100mm end is a pity.
Images are recorded to both Raw and JPEG formats, while control over exposure is also possible through full HD video recording. The 3in WhiteMagic LCD screen boasts the highest resolution out of the septuplet of cameras here, with the 1.2million dots comprising an extra white dot for each RGB trio.
Slightly thicker than the XF1 but overall still the most compact camera here, the RX100 has decidedly few external controls, and those that are present are definitely on the small side. The rear is dominated by the 3in LCD screen, although in addition to the key controls present, it’s nice to see enough space has been left for a small menu pad dial and thumb rest.
It’s impressive to think that the smallest camera here not only sports the largest sensor but still manages to squeeze in a respectable 28mm start on its lens. Less impressively, although the aluminium body gives the impression of strength, as soon as the power button is pressed the slight give around this area is noticeable. The lens’s control ring moves fluidly, though, but its shallow profile may make it awkward for users with larger-than-average hands.
As the resolution charts show, not only is the RX100 capable of resolving more detail than the other cameras here, but it manages to maintain this excellently at high ISOs. Correct focus and appropriate shutter speeds, however, become more critical, as the higher resolution means that smaller inaccuracies are more easily spotted when images are viewed at 100%. While some corner softness is visible at wider apertures, the lack of distortion from the lens is surprising.
The metering system is also one of the most reliable on test, although AWB performance under artificial light could be improved. Colours are generally neutral rather than vibrant.
The RX100 has a marginally slower start-up time next to the other compacts here, despite it not being terribly slow in itself. It can take a while for the camera to power down when writing images, though, which makes putting it away quickly a touch more inconvenient, but its shot-to-shot times are excellent.
The focusing system is also impressively prompt and reasonably discreet, although in quieter conditions the whirring of the lens as it zooms through its focal range can hamper discreet shooting. The screen is of a high standard though, with excellent detail and fine contrast, while face detection works well to identify subjects.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Accessories and Video
One explanation for the popularity of enthusiast compacts is their compatibility with a range of accessories. In many cases these accessories are the same products which have been developed for DSLRs and other cameras in a manufacturer’s stable, such as Canon’s Speedlite flashguns which have long been compatible with PowerShot G and EOS series models alike. Canon’s G15 further supports a new waterproof housing and a remote for off-camera triggering. Similarly the Nikon P7700 supports Nikon’s own Speedlight flashes, as well as wired and wireless remote triggers and even a GPS unit and external microphone.
The Olympus XZ-2 is compatible with a surprisingly broad range of external accessories, which include a flashgun, electronic viewfinder and stereo microphone, in addition to two underwater flashguns, an underwater case and even underwater macro conversion lens. Panasonic’s LX7 accessory range includes optical and electronic viewfinders, as well as flashguns, lens filters and cases. Fujifilm’s X-F1 lacks a hotshoe, and so its accessory range is limited to a handful of cases and a mains adapter, while the omission of a hotshoe from Sony’s RX100 leaves it in a similar position.
Each camera shoots full HD footage, with the XF1, P7700, XZ-2 and EX2F recording at 30fps as standard, the G15 at 24fps and the LX7 and RX100 at 50fps. Yet, while they may output videos at the same resolution as each other, quality varies. The XF1 is perhaps the worst performer, with its footage devoid of fine detail and a general lack of clarity throughout, together with a microphone that is particularly sensitive to wind noise. The EX2F records smooth footage and very good sound, though the absence of fine detail is disappointing.
The XZ-2 does well to record fine details, leaving only the sound as an area of improvement, while the P7700 also ends up somewhere in the middle of the pack, with decent detail and reasonable sound. The RX100 doesn’t fare too badly, and its sound is good, though next to the others its footage doesn’t stand out as being particularly noteworthy. The most pleasing video comes from the LX7 and the G15. The G15 records superb detail and reasonable sound quality, though the tendency to overexpose means its videos (much like its images) are characterised by blown highlights. The LX7 also records excellent detail though, as with the Sony, the 50fps frame rate does produce videos with a different feel from the others, which may or may not be preferred.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Shot-to-shot speed and Controls
One area where these seven cameras differ greatly is with physical controls. While some provide these in abundance, others keep things as minimal as possible. This is, of course, a personal preference: while some may prefer a camera with a streamlined design for pocketability, others may prefer a substantial grip and a physical set-up more akin to a DSLR. The slow take-up of touchscreen displays on such cameras indicates that manufacturers still believe most enthusiasts prefer physical rather than virtual controls, which perhaps explains why Olympus has complemented the XZ-2′s touchscreen functionality with plenty of buttons around the body.
Also welcome is Nikon’s and Olympus’s decison to add a function control around the front where it can be conveniently accessed by the middle finger, something which has also been observed on recent DSLRs. The P7700 is also the only compact of the seven to provide a control dial on both the front and back, and one of two cameras – the G15 being the other – to sport a dedicated dial for exposure compensation, which is perhaps just as well given the tendency for both cameras to overexpose on occasion. Only the LX7 and EX2F lack a circular menu pad dial, something which benefits the others when zipping through menus.
The time it takes for a camera to ready itself for the next frame is subject to a range of factors, such as whether you’re shooting Raw images, what processing options you have activated and also the type of card you happen to be using. When a series of images is captured these are temporarily stored in the camera’s buffer before they are written to the card, and the size of the buffer will determine how many images can be stored. This may not be an issue for more casual photo taking, but when capturing an unfolding scene, or for sports or other action photography, such delays can make all the difference between getting and missing the shot.
Some cameras such as the Samsung EX2F allow you to continue shooting while images are emptied from the buffer and processed (the buffer can also be a repository for processed images before they are written to the memory card), while other cameras, such as the Nikon P7700, can freeze most of their functionality as this happens, which prohibits further images from being taken. This is often overlooked as it is something that can only be determined through use, but it’s worth thinking about if you use continuous shooting – particularly in Raw – with some frequency. Most cameras now support UHS SDHC and SDXC cards which promise high-speed transfer rates, although some still do not.
Enthusiast Compact group test ? Value and Verdict
Although the seven compacts here all safely fall into the enthusiast compact category, their asking prices stretch a wide range from just over £320 to £500. While some are quite evidently better than others in certain areas, it’s not true to say that a higher asking price necessarily reflects a better performance. The cheapest camera of the lot, the Fujifilm XF1, has an distinctly individual design and slips into the pocket far easier than almost all the others, but its low price is easily explained by many factors: it’s screen is the worst and its video quality is poor, and it resolves less detail than the others. Yet, the next priciest camera, Panasonic’s LX7, has a screen and video mode which easily rivals the more expensive models here.
The Samsung EX2F’s image quality is lacklustre, although for those shooting at lower sensitivities and keen on using its wireless functionality it may be deemed good enough. The £420 Olympus XZ-2 is also a mixed bag, with a fast AF system and lovely screen let down by mediocre image quality and a confusing menu. While the Canon G15 is a fine performer, with detailed images, an excellent video mode and fast AF, even these plusses can’t quite justify its £500 asking price. True, the Sony RX100 is only slightly cheaper, though this is understandable when the larger sensor, higher resolution and excellent detail retention at higher ISOs are considered. In terms of value it’s perhaps the LX7 and the Nikon P7700 which stand out, with the latter being the best all-round performer.
Each camera impresses in some respect, although with more competitors than before, each needs to do more to stand out from the herd. When the key needs of the target market are considered, two cameras stand out for the wrong reasons: the EX2F for its poor high ISO performance and slow write times, and the XF1 for its lesser-resolving sensor and low-quality LCD. This is a shame as both cameras have a number of advantages, but the fact remains that for similar money better options exist. The P7700′s slow write times are likewise disappointing, but it redeems itself in many other areas, from its image quality through to its handling (its chunky grip and plethora of direct controls certainly make it the best option for those wanting a DSLR-like shooting experience).
The LX7 is one of the better-value options when its build, video quality and general performance are weighed up against its price, but it’s bettered for resolution and handling by some of the other options. Conversely, the XZ-2 is perhaps the best option for spontaneous captures and awkward-angle shooting, but its £420 asking price is steep. To some, the RX100 may seem to be the antithesis of an enthusiast compact, given its lack of physical controls and a grip. True, it’s bettered by other cameras in some areas, but the combination of its general performance, image quality and size make it the most appealing camera of the seven.
Overall, if money is no issue and image quality is a priority, the RX100 is the recommended buy. If video quality and a more DSLR-like handling are priorities then the G15 is a better choice, while the P7700 deserves a highly commended badge for delivering impressively on practically all counts for significantly less at just £400.