Digital Camera Buying Guide: Which is the best small digital camera?
Design and Build Quality
All the cameras are built sturdy with metal outer bodies. Of the six cameras, three have small footprints (Canon S110, Nikon P330, and Olympus XZ-10), and are built like ultra-compact cameras. But the other three cameras are built more like prosumer cameras, with accessory shoes (hot-shoes), larger lenses and large sensors, and hence are significantly larger than the others. But strictly speaking of build quality, the cameras are all built equal, and the design follows the feature requirement.
Premium compacts are rich in features. But these features and capabilities vary greatly between brands and models. Some manufacturers omit certain features in the listed specifications, and this is a difficulty we face with most head-to-head comparisons. However, we have put in our best efforts to include as many features as possible, that we consider important. Here we have listed the key features.
The cameras were all comfortable to hold and operate. While the Canon S110, the Nikon P330, and the Olympus XZ-10 are small, the Panasonic LX-7, the Ricoh GR, and the Sony RX100 II are comparatively larger and heavier. The most comfortable to hold, however, was the Ricoh GR, followed by the Olympus XZ-10. The Nikon and the Canon come next at a joint third, followed by the Panasonic LX-7. The Sony RX100 II, however, lacks a proper grip, and the camera has a slippery finish. Combined with the weight, holding the camera without the strap is very risky. All the cameras featured intuitive menus and controls.
Being premium products, the cameras have to perform well. The cameras were subjected to strict evaluation procedures for image quality and overall performance.
Autofocus performance was determined by evaluating autofocus speed and accuracy in bright as well as low light. Here the Sony performed like a champion, followed by the Olympus. The Canon and the Panasonic followed suit.
Darkening of Corners
Most lenses exhibit some darkening at the corners at the wide-angle end with the lens wide open. We evaluated the corner darkening of the cameras by photographing an evenly lit, white wall, with the lenses at their widest apertures and at the wide-angle end. Here the Canon S110 surprised us with the darkening almost absent, followed by the Panasonic LX7 and then the Sony RX100 II.
Flare and Chromatic Aberration
Flare and CA were tested by capturing an against-the-light scene with light seeping through obstacles. The cameras were once again set to the widest aperture and the lens at the wide-angle end. The resulting images showed flare and chromatic aberration, if any. While the Canon controlled flare very well, the Ricoh exhibited the least chromatic aberration.
For this test, we photographed a test chart consisting of a uniformly spaced matrix (as in the case of an Excel document). Here too, the Sony came out with flying colours, followed by the Ricoh, and then the Nikon.
To evaluate White Balance, we checked the values of red, green, and blue tones in Auto White Balance under natural light, since most artificial light sources emit inconsistent light. The Canon came out first, with the Olympus following closely.
For this, we photographed a subject with good features and compared noise in shadow areas at ISO 800 and 1600. We did not test higher ISOs since these are not likely to be used often, and the characteristics do not change much.
Value for Money
The broad range of prices makes it very difficult to evaluate value for money. But inexpensive does not always mean that the product offers the best value for money. So we decided to find out the price-performance ration, which indicates the real value each of these cameras offer for every buck.
As we said before, premium compact cameras have a very wide range of prices. Obviously, the most expensive cameras will have the most advanced features. This comparative review is an indicator of how the cameras perform without the prices hindering the ratings. So if you are not particular about the advanced features such as accessory shoe and large sensor, but would like to spend every penny wisely, then the above results would definitely help. Here the Canon PowerShot S110 wins the battle, with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II coming in a distant second, trailed by the Ricoh GR.