Phil Baker: Three Compact Cameras That Produce Superb Results

The new compact cameras Fujifilm X100, Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Canon PowerShot G1 X are muscling their way into consumer hands with superior technology, good looks and, man, they are so much lighter on the shoulders. Our industrial design whiz Phil Baker explains his selections and why.

Photo: Fujifilm XPro1

Shown above: Fujifilm X-Pro1

Way back in January at CES 2012, I saw the introduction of a slew of gadgets and innovations that are now hitting the stores. The best of these — the compact cameras. Here are my top picks.

Digital single-lens reflex (DSLRs) cameras have grown in size and weight. Some now are as hefty as two or three pounds. This is the direct result of feature creep — that ever-piling melange of features that drag products down, few of us use and, to boot, make the cameras larger and more complex to use. No wonder many users have become reluctant to carry these behemoths. So we welcome with open arms the new emergence of compact cameras. Check it out.

This past year saw the emergence of what I call the viewfinder pro category. These mirrorless cameras perform similar to the large DSLRs, but are lighter and more compact. They shed the mirror behind the lens and the bulky pentaprism on top, allowing the lens to be pushed closer to the sensor and hence be more compact.

Most importantly, these cameras use large sensors, similar in size to those found in DSLRs. They replace the through-the-lens viewfinder with an optical or an electronic viewfinder. These viewfinders are not as accurate for framing, but they’re often good enough especially when framing can be corrected later on the computer.

These compact cameras have a form factor similar to the classic Leicas: a thin, rectangular form with a compact lens protruding from the middle of the front and the viewfinder built into the body above the lens. The cameras are about half the volume and weight of a DSLR. Some have non-removable lenses while others are interchangeable. These cameras typically have a premium look, use more metal in their construction, and are built for durability. Prices span the same range as entry and medium-priced DSLRs.

Here’s why I chose these three cameras. Would love to see your photos from them. Email me at

Fujifilm X100

This is the camera that set the standard for the category when it was introduced last March. It’s a beautifully engineered camera, solidly constructed of magnesium, machined metal, with a leather-like covering that reminds me of the best classic film cameras. It uses a 12.3MP CMOS sensor (23.6 x 15.8 mm) and a non-removable lens with a wide f/2 aperture and an equivalent 35mm focal length.

Images are superb, particularly in low light conditions. It has a new hybrid viewfinder that offers both optical and electronic viewing. You can view your scene like a conventional rangefinder camera, or use the projected LCD display similar to what’s found in movie cameras, but with a higher resolution.

The one area where the X100 has disappointed is its firmware. The menu system is overly complex and there are some odd behaviors, such as the film speed setting shifting when you change shooting modes. Some of these issues have been corrected with a recent software upgrade, but it still remains a little quirky. Most owners have tolerated the flaws because of the camera’s appearance, fit and finish and the results it produces. Only recently did the long waiting times for buying an X100 diminish. ($1,200,

Fujifilm X-Pro1

At CES Fujifilm introduced the X-Pro1. It has a similar form factor to the X100, but has interchangeable lenses. It uses a slightly larger 16MP sensor, a similar viewfinder, and an even sharper LCD on the back that’s easier to view in the sunlight. There currently are three lenses: a 18mm F2, a 35mm F1.4, and a 60mm F2.4 Macro. It’s another beautifully-designed camera, solidly constructed, just slightly larger in size than the X100.

The bonus is a specially designed color filter on the sensor that effectively increases the sharpness by eliminating the need for an anti-moiré filter. Its sensor is the about the same size as the X100. While I was able to handle it at CES, it’s too early to judge whether the menu has been improved.  ($1699,

Canon PowerShot G1 X

Canon’s most recent pro-like compact camera the G12 is a ruggedly built camera that has evolved over the years, beginning with the G1 introduced in 2000. But it uses a small sensor, the same as in the tiny S95, making it hard to justify carrying a larger package to get similar performance.

The PowerShot G1 X is a major improvement with a sensor six times larger (18.7mm x 14mm) than the G12, an optical viewfinder and a non-removable, 28-112 mm-equivalent 4x zoom lens. Its body is made of magnesium and it’s impeccably finished in a matte black finish, much like the G12. In order to accommodate the large sensor, it’s about 30 percent larger than the G12. It’s aggressively priced at $799, making it a particularly good buy. If there’s one limitation, it’s that the maximum aperture is only f/5.8 at the telephoto setting, reducing its effectiveness for low light shooting. ($799,

I’m excited about these new cameras because they show innovation in their design and superb results, are as good as a DSLR, and portable enough to make you carry them and be ready for those special photo opportunities.

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