Reading the news from the Photokina I realized one thing: “big in small” seems to be the newest trend. High end compact cameras are nothing new – they were very popular in the analog era and came into fashion again in the last few years. In this age of digital photography we have arrived at a point where manufacturers all try to one-up each other by squeezing ever larger sensors into ever tinier bodies. A certain analogy to “megapixel wars” is hard to miss. When the Sony RX100 was launched, with its pocket size dimensions and comparatively huge 1” sensor, it was celebrated. The camera’s third generation has been available for some time – it still has the 1” sensor, but compared to its predecessors it gets even more light onto that sensor, thanks to a faster f/1.8-2.8 lens. The success of the RX100 naturally prompted Canon to jump on the bandwagon, but the resulting compact cameras fit only into the pockets of cargo pants, if those. It’s not the G1Xs or the not yet available G7X that have led me to this topic, however, but two current large-sensored mini-cameras from Panasonic.
Image Source: Panasonic
The LX100 – a compact camera with a 4/3 sensor and a very fast zoom – and the CM1 smartphone with a 1” sensor and a f/2.8 prime lens set the standard quite a bit higher.
But now I can’t help but wonder: if it’s possible to build such fast lenses with usable image quality (which are capable of illuminating 1” and mFT sensors) in such a compact way, why are there no comparable optics for the m4/3 und Nikon 1/Samsung mini systems on offer? The 12-Xmm f/2.8 (24-70 equivalent) for m4/3 is huge. Compared to that, the LX100‘s “24-75mm” f/1.7-2.8 is truly tiny. Comparing the N1 10mm f/2.8 to the CM1 lens yields a similar result.
I will go out on a limb and claim that it is not possible to build good lenses that small, and that the costs of these compact camera lenses must be tied to image quality compromises which no interchangeable lens could have, while still being sellable. What we photographers need is a photo website like photozone.de which would compare these compacts’ lenses among each other and to similar lenses for system cameras.