What would be your perfect digital camera?

by , Editor, Which? Computing Technology 6 February 2012
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These are exciting times for camera lovers. Manufacturers are innovating like never before, making smaller cameras that offer the picture quality previously only achieved by digital SLRs. But when will they be perfect?

Man behind digital camera

I feel we’re closer than ever to seeing what I’d consider to be ‘the perfect digital camera’… but we’re not quite there yet.

There are now smaller-than-ever compact system cameras (CSCs), suped-up bridge cameras that boast Digital SLR (DSLR)-matching specs, and the kind of picture-taking speed in affordable models that you’d formerly have to pay over a grand for.

Ideally, I’d like an all-in-one camera that doesn’t need a kit bag and set of lenses, but can take top quality photos even in low light. Ultimately, its low light photography that’s a make-or-break for me, and this is what keeps me coming back to my DSLR and its large image sensor.

CSCs not quite doing it for me

I love the idea of CSCs like the Panasonic G-series, Olympus Pens or Sony NEX cameras, which have DSLR-sized sensors in much smaller bodies. But the second you put a typical kit lens on them, they stop being so portable and you certainly wouldn’t fit them in a pocket. And that’s before you start juggling secondary lenses for them.

Yes, CSCs have large sensors, but they’re still not portable enough for me. And I find it frustrating that, by and large, they’re still more expensive than most entry-level DSLRs. Also, the smallest CSCs don’t have built-in viewfinders – something I simply can’t live without.

Are bridge cameras a solution?

I do love the manual control options you’ll get with a bridge camera, and superzoom bridge cameras give you the kind of zoom range you’d need a colossal DSLR lens to match.

The downside to bridge cameras for me? Those tiny sensors inside them tend to mean grainy images in low light. If I take a bridge camera out with me, sooner or later I always end up regretting not packing my DSLR – usually as the light fades!

Has Canon served up a winner?

It’s true, I’m fussy. But I’m not impossible to please, and when Canon announced the Canon PowerShot G1X this January, I was genuinely excited by its potential.

Here’s a compact bridge camera that you can fit into your pocket, that has a fixed 4x zoom lens, an optical viewfinder and full manual controls. But most importantly (to me!), it has an image sensor nearly as large as a DSLR’s.

Could this mean reliable photo quality from a camera you can fit in your jacket pocket? I certainly hope so – we’ll be testing the Canon G1X as soon as it’s available to find out. But great as it sounds, I have a few reservations that keep it from being my perfect camera:

  • I’d like a faster aperture – the f2.8 lens on the Canon G1X sounds ‘ok’ to me. Had it been f2.0, I’d be so much happier (the small the f-stop the better the low light potential).
  • The optical viewfinder on the G1X wasn’t brilliant when I tried it out – it’s a smaller window that’s hard to work with. A quality viewfinder like the Fujifilm X10’s would have been better!
  • The price, the price, the price…£700 at launch? When you can buy a DSLR for £350, this really does seem daft.

So my perfect camera? It has to be cheaper than a DSLR, but ideally will have a comparable image sensor for those low light shots. Full manual controls, a useable viewfinder and a generous aperture, and I’m a happy man. And no thanks, I don’t want to change lenses, I have my DSLR for that!

But that’s just me, what about you? What would your perfect camera look like?

If the Canon G1X sounds the business to you, then you have a chance of winning one by entering our competition, which runs until 9 March 2012.

8 comments

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richard

To me it is simple

I want the same controls and sensitivity of a professional 35mm analogue camera – packed in a pocket sized machine at £200.. I’ve used Hasselblad. Leica, Nikon, Minolta analogues with superb results when producing commercial photos. The camera control over results was awesome.

Far too much control in digital is automatic – I like total easy control. I have old Richo compacts – Nikon DSLRs Canon compacts (all have viewfinders) The quality of the lens of the Nikons is satisfactory though I’d like better but they are fast enough.. My real problem is compacts are not heavy enough to be stable for me especially when using zoom for composition. Somehow I’d love a hot shoe on the compact though unless it was heavier it would unbalance it further.

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Alistair

Less shutter delay please on compacts

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Justin

http://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/whats-your-perfect-digital-camera/

Same controls on a compact as you’d get on an SLR, I agree with Richard.

I’d like camera menus to be snappier: not fading in and out like my Sony DSC-TX10 – so frustrating on when you need to change flash mode or something like that before taking a quick shot.

I’d like to be able to charge the camera from its USB connector (like you can with a TomTom) – and also to power the camera from the same connector (eg for long videos – you could do timelapse videos lasting for days).

For video mode, I’d like a 5 to 60 minute recording buffer (like a PVR in time-slip mode: constantly overwritten unless you decide to keep it). When you click to ‘start’ a recording, you’d also get some minutes of footage from before you pressed the button. I’ve seen this on some cameras but only a few seconds (not enough). Great for kids / animals / sports.

Most of all, I’d also like a standardised Bluetooth interface so that cameras could be remotely controlled (eg by a smartphone or ipod touch). With this, you could do the following:
1. ‘Advanced’ features (like full manual control) could be added to any camera without adding loads of buttons, keeping the camera uncluttered.
2. The camera companies would just have to provide an interface via Bluetooth, and 3rd party apps developers could come up with the ideas: GPS tagging; customisable naming rules for images, configurable control panels for Aperture/Speed/ISO/Contrast/Flash mode/Focus + all the obscure menu options… a smartphone has the processing power to let you design your own screen and menu layout.
3. The phone would serve as a remote shutter release – combined with a remote viewfinder – good for outdoor nature photos (you could stay warm indoors), or when the camera’s on a tripod waiting for the right moment to snap a child in a high-chair, or when holding the camera above your head… or self-portraits, or sports-helmet-cams . . .

That’s an interesting wishlist, Justin! One camera that may appeal to you is the Samsung WB150 – this has built-in wifi that allows you to control it via a smartphone as a remote viewfinder

http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/cameras-camcorders/digital-cameras/samsung-wb150-camera-features-built-in-wi-fi/

The video buffer is an interesting idea. One reason it wouldn’t be able to buffer as long as 60 minutes, however, is that digital cameras are limited in their video recording time to 29 minutes maximum – any more, and they’re classified as camcorders and subject to higher taxes!

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Justin

Thanks for that reply Rich, and for the link to the WB150. I think that camera answers my dreams! Size / weight are important to me, and it seems a lot bigger than my Sony DSC-TX10… so I’m glad it doesn’t have a viewfinder as that’d make it even bigger (sorry!). I’ll keep a look out for your full review.

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mmap

I shall never again buy a camera without a decent viewfinder. The panasonic is next to useless in daylight.

I agree mmap, and we’re still campaigning for manufacturers to bring back the viewfinder – we just had some good news from Canon on that front as well: http://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/canon-powershot-a1300-viewfinder-compact-digital-camera/

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Lee

Having been a keen photographer for 40 years my ideal digital would be a Gandolfi 10X8 plate camera in walnut with a digital back, IMO the ultimate technically challenging camera but a beautiful object to handle as well, the old adage is still the same as always a good bigun beats a good littleun every time a sensor that covered 10X8 would result in totally unbelievable images.
that said it still needs pointing in the right direction

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