Best buys advanced compact cameras 2009

by Enche Tjin on October 16, 2009

There are plenty excellent advanced compact cameras available in 2009. Although compact cameras image quality are inferior to digital SLR camera especially in low light condition, many photo enthusiasts or even professionals are looking for compact cameras. The main reason is the portability. Digital SLR camera system are big and not convenient to carry all the time.

Recent years, manufacturers keep working to improve the image sensor, features and lens design. As a result, image quality is getting better and close to entry level DSLR camera performance especially in low ISO setting.

This year, compact cameras also face competition from micro four third system, which has bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses. But now, there are some advanced compact camera that has DSLR quality as well, such as Sigma DP series and Leica X1. We might expect to see more compact cameras with DSLR quality sensor in the near future.

Before I show you the best buys advanced compact cameras 2009, I will describe the characteristic of advanced compact camera. Cameras in this category usually have manual exposure control mode, better than average image quality, very good built quality and great handling and control.

Here is the best value advanced compact cameras in 2009

1. Canon Powershot G11 – Best buys of the year

canon-g11-s90-panasonic-lx3-top-comparison

View from the top to bottom: Canon S90 IS, Panasonic LX3 and Canon G11

After a disappointing G10, which has 14 mp but has worse image quality in high ISO (400 and above), Canon listened to its customers and work hard to improve its low light shooting image quality. Now, it only has 10 megapixel, but the image are 1-2 stops cleaner than G11 in high ISO setting. Canon G11 also got a bit design improvement. Now it has 2.8″ 460k swivel LCD screen.

G11 is an almost perfect advanced compact camera. It has excellent built quality, great image quality, versatile focal length (28mm to 140mm), plenty of control that even surpasses many beginner DSLR cameras such as dedicated ISO dials, exposure compensation dial, round dial, and customized function dial. Canon G11 is also very responsive and fast.

canon-g11It is also very friendly for people that don’t know about basic photography because it has smart automatic mode, scene modes, face detection and so on.

There are some weaknesses tho, for example, G11 is not small. It will fit a jacket pocket but not pant or shirt pocket. Furthermore it is just tad smaller than Panasonic GF1, a micro four thirds camera. G11 built-in viewfinder is also very small compared to DSLR or external viewfinder in other advanced compact cameras.

Nevertheless, there are much to like about this sturdy camera, from seasoned photographers to complete beginner.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009*

  • Image quality 4/5
  • Body handling 5/5
  • Performance 4/5
  • Features 4/5
  • Value 4/5

2. Panasonic Lumix LX3 – Runner up

panasonic-lumix-lx3Panasonic Lumix LX3 is 2008 compact cameras but is still very popular and very solid compact cameras up to date. It has unique lens: Leica 24mm-60mm f/2-2.8. It is a bit short compared to other advanced compact camera with zoom lens, but it produces very detailed and sharp images. It is also great in low light situation due to big maximum aperture.

Design wise, LX3 has a very good built quality and also a hot shoe. But it has one annoying problem with the design, which is the lens cap. In order to take your first picture, you will need to remove your lens cap, and it will slow you down. Another issue lies in the mode dial. It is very easy stuck between mode. When then happens, the camera will alert you that the mode dial is not in proper position.

One feature that best Canon S90 and G11 is LX3 movie mode. It can record HD quality while Canon’s camera only able to record standard resolution video.

Overall, LX3 is still an excellent camera in 2009, and it is ideal for low light and wide angle shooters.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009

  • Image quality 5/5
  • Body handling 4/5
  • Performance 4/5
  • Features 4/5
  • Value 4/5

3. Canon S90 IS – 2nd Runner up

Canon-s90-isCanon S90 IS is the younger brother of G11. If you think that G11 is too big for you, then S90 IS will fit you better. It has very good built quality, good handle of noise in high ISO, pocket-able and yet packaged with many dedicated buttons, and customizable dials. S90 IS design is excellent too. It has flat and low profile look that ideal for unobtrusive shooting. However, built quality is not as up to par with Canon G11 nor Panasonic Lumix LX3. It has plastic rather than metal casing.

Like its arch-rival Panasonic LX3, Canon S90 IS has bright aperture of f/2 at 28mm. It also has a longer zoom range than LX3, but it has smaller aperture at mid and longer end of the focal length. [Check out LX3 vs Canon S90]

The main weakness of S90 IS compared to the other advanced compact is the lack of hot shoe for external viewfinder or flash.

Along with G11, Canon shows the world once again and they are leader in making high quality compact cameras.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009

  • Image quality 4/5
  • Body handling 4/5
  • Performance 5/5
  • Features 3/5
  • Value 5/5

4. Samsung WB1000 – Honorable Mention

Samsung_WB1000-blackSamsung releases many compact cameras this year, and the best Samsung camera is Samsung WB1000 or also known as Samsung TL320. It is the cheapest and smallest camera than all compacts discussed here, yet it has very good features and performance up to par with advanced camera that cost and weight more.

Unique to WB1000 is the AMOLED 3″ screen that is very clear and detailed. In the future, it is likely that digital cameras will use this technology. It also has very versatile zoom length (24-120mm f/2.8-5.8) which bests many advanced cameras in term of focal length / zoom coverage.

The built quality is generally good, but not the buttons and dials. Handling and control is also very good. WB1000 has innovative round dial for the main control which could also be pressed to perform certain function. This is smart design, but I wish the quality of the dial could be better. Changing camera setting is easy and quite fast.

Like other casual/family oriented compact cameras, Samsung WB1000 has many scenes mode, and features like face detection, blink and smile detection.

Overall, this is tiny little package that will satisfy many photo enthusiasts or family oriented photographer.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009

  • Image quality 3/5
  • Body handling 3/5
  • Performance 5/5
  • Features 3/5
  • Value 5/5

5. Ricoh GX200 – Honorable mention

ricoh-caplio-gx200Ricoh Caplio GX200 might not be well-known in the western world, but it is very popular in East Asia region. Ricoh has unique philosophy, “less is more”. Therefore, many features that Ricoh has, is not just marketing gimmick. Any feature in Ricoh camera is feature that is important for photographers.

Ricoh has great film camera back then, but failed to catch up when the digital revolution begins. But Ricoh make an entry 5-6 years back ago with the introduction of Ricoh professional compact camera series starting with Ricoh GRD. Therefore, the design of this digital camera is closely resemble to camera in film era.

That being said, built quality and Ricoh interface are almost perfect for traditional photographers. It has body and control like DSLR miniature: two dials for each shutter and aperture, four way controllers, customizable buttons, a hot shoe and also 460k resolution live view finder.

So what is the bad side of this camera? performance is not as good as leading compact cameras. It needs 2 seconds to start up and 0.8 second to auto focus. Perhaps the biggest problem of this camera is the noise at ISO 400 and up. Practically shooters will be confined with shooting up to ISO 200 if they want a good quality image.

If you are coming from traditional film shooters or DSLR users, I highly recommend to look at what Ricoh has to offers in their proffesional lines. You will be surprised at the design and degree of customizations you can set in this camera.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009*

  • Image quality 3/5
  • Body handling 5/5
  • Performance 4/5
  • Features 3/5
  • Value 4/5

Overall, it is a great year to get an advanced compact camera. It does not matter where you come from, either a complete beginner or DSLR users. It is fascinating to have a small camera but can do many things and creates beautiful pictures.

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*disclaimer: I haven't test this camera personally
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