Best fixed lens compact camera 2009

by Enche Tjin on October 18, 2009

Fixed lens compact camera is compact camera with fixed lens (not a zoom). So to compose picture, you will need to move closer or further away to the subject. These compact cameras are ideal for photography enthusiasts or photographers. Fixed lens camera usually creates better image quality than compacts with zoom lens because of they use prime lens and large image sensor.

Fixed lens compact camera becomes popular because Sigma DP series. Sigma DP1 is launched on 2007. DP1 is popular because it has DSLR quality class sensor. The sensor called FOVEON is an unique sensor that claims to capture excellent image and rich color.  This camera becomes instant hit because many photo enthusiasts are tired carrying big dSLR around and want something compact to carry all day long. Now, Sigma already have two cameras in the market, DP1 and DP2, and Leica X1 will ship sometime in early 2010.

If we talked about fixed lens compact lens, we also don’t want to rule out Ricoh GR series. Ricoh has been making fixed lens compact lens for ages. They starts making 28mm compact lens in 1996 for a film compact camera. Then in 2006 they launch the first GR digital compact camera. Ricoh revised the camera in two years interval and now we have Ricoh GRD3 in the market.

Ricoh camera is relatively unheard in US or western world, partly because it has small sensor, partly because lack of marketing initiative from Ricoh part. But the quality of the product such as built quality, handling and lens are definitely world class.

So.. Here is the best fixed lens compact camera in 2009

Comparison Table

Lens is converted to equivalency of 35mm full format sensor

Name MP Lens LCD Price Sensor
Ricoh GRD3 10 28mm f/1.9 3″, 910k $699 1/1.7″ sensor
Leica X1 12 35mm f/2.8 2.7″, 230k $1995 APS-C sensor
Sigma DP2 14/
41mm f/2.8 2.5″ 230k $625 Foveon sensor

Best fixed lens compact camera 2009:

1. Ricoh GRD3 / GRD III – 28mm f/1.9

ricoh-grd-3Ricoh GRD3 is a remarkable camera although it has small sensor.  I will tell you why.. First, Ricoh GRD3 built quality is excellent. It made by tough but lightweight magnesium alloy body which you find only in high-end DSLR camera such as Canon 50D and Nikon D300. Ergonomic of the camera is spot on. It is very comfortable to hold for a long time. It is partly because of the large leather-like textured grip and partly because of the top notch design interface (placement and the size of buttons).

Like high-end DSLR camera, Ricoh has two dials. The back dial/lever can be pressed for customizable option! It also has four way controllers and 2 customizable function button. Then, Ricoh also has 3 custom setting mode. These are really amazing and it has the best body design in compact camera level and definitely better than many beginner DSLR out there.

Then, it’s performance is very good for compact camera. It starts up around 2 seconds, and auto focus at around .5 second. Then, there are many features to trick the limitation of the AF speed. You can choose to have the camera pre-focus (track the focus even though you don’t press the shutter), you can also choose snap shots mode, which allow you to set focus in specific distance (1m, 2.5m, 5m and infinity. This will shorten or eliminate the AF speed which is awesome for street photography where you want to capture “the decisive moment

Ricoh weakness is the size of the image sensor. It is smaller than competitor, Sigma DP2 and Leica X1. The direct effect of this sensor is image quality won’t be as detail and rich as competitor cameras especially in ISO 400 and above. The other problem is it is harder to get shallow depth of field to make background / foreground blur.

On the other side tho, the use of small image sensor are great for achieving large depth of field. Fortunately, GRD3 has very big aperture of 1.9 lens. This is the biggest aperture lens in compact camera. (Panasonic LX3 has maximum aperture of f/2). This will help tremendously on low light condition shooting because Ricoh GRD3 does not have image stabilization and small sensor. My initial ISO test in controlled lighting shows that GRD3 has a very good performance even up to ISO 1600 [Check it out here]

Overall, Ricoh GRD3 is a remarkable camera in such a small package. It sports everything the serious photographer will love, not only fancy features as marketing gimmicks. Highly Recommended!

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009

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

2. Leica X1 – 24mm f/2.8 (equiv. to 35mm) – Runner up

leica_x1Leica is famous for its top quality camera and especially optics. Most of us probably know that they never compromise on quality. Leica ride in digital era is not smooth tho, they have various issue with their M8 rangefinder digital camera which disappointed many their fans and finally leave them and move to Canon and Nikon.

Leica typically don’t compromise on product quality, and that shows in their reputation. People loves their Leica and often brag about this red dot to friends.

Leica X1, announced with Leica M9 rangefinder digital full format camera, is trying to regain that image. Whether Leica X1 will live up to expectation or not, the specification and built quality looks promising. It has Leica 24mm f/2.8 lens (equiv. 35mm) APS-C sized sensor (equal to DSLR camera) and no nonsense classic interface design, including dedicated shutter speed and aperture dials.

This camera is highly anticipated by fans, especially street photographer. But the price will make it only affordable for a few of their fans.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009*

  • Image quality 6/5  – Exceptional!
  • Body handling 5/5
  • Performance 3/5
  • Features 2/5
  • Value 2/5

3. Sigma DP2 – 41mm f/2.8 equiv. to 61.5mm – 2nd Runner up

sigma-dp2As I wrote in the introduction, Sigma is a revolutionary camera. It is the first that fit big sensor in compact camera. The sensor Sigma use is the FOVEON sensor. This type of sensor is unique to Sigma and it is hard to tell whether it is better than the regular APS-C sensor.

The first DP1, is a hit. But DP1 has many problems such as slow processing speed and bad interface design. DP2 aims to fix these problem by upgrading the processor and putting faster lens (41mm f/2.8 equiv to 61.5mm).

Unfortunately, the processing speed of Leica is still not up to par with many compact cameras. Built quality is also not up to par with advanced compact camera up to date.

Therefore, this camera might be a good alternative for whom looking for high image quality and does not really concern about built quality and performance.

Subjective rating compared to other advanced compacts in 2009*

  • Image quality 6/5  – Exceptional!
  • Body handling 3/5
  • Performance 2/5
  • Features 2/5
  • Value 3/5

Camera like these are not designed for everybody because it is quite expensive and is not as versatile as zoom camera. You might also consider the focal length of the lens, because you won’t able to change it.

For enthusiasts, photography students or professionals, these camera are good for practice. Because of their portability, it is great to carry it all day long. Wouter Brandsma said compact camera is like a quick sketchbook, while DSLR cameras are a full canvas with complete set of paints.

*disclaimer: I haven't test this camera personally
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Wouter Brandsma October 18, 2009 at 3:53 am

Nowadays compact cameras are mostly associated with point and shoot style cameras. Quick, responsive, and always there. Even though the GRD3 is a very sophisticated camera, it still fits into that bill. At the high end though. The Leica X1 and DP2 (and for that matter the DP1) are so much less compact cameras in my opinion from a mentally point of view. These are cameras that need, I really mean need, to be used deliberately. With a P&S you aim and shoot, with the Leica and Sigma cameras you really must be focused. I think it can come close to the essence of a rangefinder camera. Still smaller than a SLR camera, but with much better image quality than P&S cameras.

I see the debating people have on choosing the GRD3 or the DP1. But both cameras are so completely differently. With the GRD3 you play. The camera becomes an extension of your hand without thinking about it. The DP1 will fight you. It will give you a hard time. You really must change the mind set. It is a serious camera that needs to be used very seriously.

And from a photographers point of view is it bad to have a camera that scores lower in the feature set? Maybe a camera geek might be interested in a lot of features, but I think many photographers want simple cameras with high image quality.

joe ruppert October 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I thought the canon g10 was an awesome camera, with a nice 28mm-140mm lens. maybe it should be added

admin October 20, 2009 at 1:56 pm

It has zoom lens not fixed lens Joe.

leo September 25, 2010 at 9:02 pm

What is wrong with the built quality of the Sigma DP1 and 2 ? I have no complaints. I agree with Wouter on his comparison between really P&S and small compacts like the Sigma’s and the X1.

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