With three new compact cameras on the way (The Nikon P7000, the Panasonic Lumix LX5, and the Canon G12), I thought it was it's time I re-looked at what these cameras can and can't do, when compared to a DSLR.
Sensor Size Matters
|Nikon Coolpix P7000|
The main reason people buy high quality compacts is image quality. Some are hoping it can replace a DSLR. It can and it can't. The smaller size of the compact sensor compared to a DSLR sensor is going to cause:
1. more image noise at higher ISOs; and
2. large depth of field, even at big apertures.
Compact cameras, with the smaller sensors, have a problem achieving a 'shallow depth of field' to blur out distracting backgrounds, which may be desirable when shooting portraits. Having said that, for adventure shots, a large depth of field is often desirable to capture wide-angle action with a lot of landscape in the background.
Not For: Portrait shooters desiring 'creamy bokeh' effects.
Bottom line: if you restrict your ISOs to 400 and below, and can live with the large depth of field effects, then yes, one of these cameras will do the job.
|No Creamy Bokeh Here. At F/2.8 on a normal-short telephoto lens, we would expect the dog and building behind her to disappear into a non-distracting sort of blur. Not so easy to do with a compact. Panasonic Lumix LX3, 60mm equiv, F/2.8, ISO400. Photo @ Norman Hoddap|
One of the major complaints against compacts are that they are slow: Slow to start up, slow to shoot, slow to write the image to the memory card... ooh, don't get me started!
Not For: Sports shooters.
Bottom line: The upside is that most people keep their compacts pretty handy, and can access them quickly, which somewhat mitigates the slow start-up time. Otherwise, be prepared to be somewhat frustrated, especially if you shoot RAW.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5|
It's all about getting what you want, i.e. CONTROL. Generally, I find that the smaller the camera, the more compromises it makes on handling: missing optical viewfinders, micro joysticks, single control wheel, etc. It's a good idea to handle the camera in store, since each model will have it's own handling quirks.
Not For: Manual Exposure Shooters or Control Freaks.
Bottom Line: Since depth of field control is limited anyway, and when you're busy with other aspects of your adventure, just leave the camera in 'P' (Program) Mode and let it do its thing.
Bottom BOTTOM Line:
|Canon Powershot G12|
For me, a lightweight, advanced compact like those above are certainly a useful addition or backup to my DSLR, especially in adventures where my DSLR might be too heavy, or to much at risk to bring. At this point in time, the limitations of these compacts are a little too much for me to leave my DSLR behind permanently, but I do find myself using these types of compacts more and more.