Three Guys’ Camera Picks of 2012

As Christmas, the New Year and possibly the end of the world nears us, we bring to you our picks of various kinds of digital cameras.

Compact
Small and light, compact cameras lets you bring them around with you everywhere you go, never missing a shot. They are also a great complement to your DSLR gear. We bring you our picks for the more advanced compact cameras.

Sony RX100

Sony Cyber-shot RX100

Sony’s latest addition to the high-end compact market. Featuring a 20-megapixel 1” sensor (same size as the one on the Nikon 1 series), a large aperture of f/1.8-4.9 and a 3.6x zoom (28-100mm equivalent), it’s quickly becoming the favourite of photographers looking for a high-end compact camera to complement their SLR setup.

CK: My only quibble is that the lens starts at 28mm instead of 24mm, which would have made it far more versatile.

YS: Sony? Sony sucks. They can go DIAF for all I care.

Canon Powershot S110

Canon Powershot S110
Canon Powershot S110

Take the S100, remove the battery sucking GPS, add Wifi and a touchscreen, and you have the S110. It’s not changed much, but it’s still a good camera, offering the same 24-120mm f/2.0-5.9 lens and 12 megapixel sensor as its predecessor.

YS: Personally, I’d call it the S101. So incremental.

Canon Powershot S100
Now that the Canon Powershot S110 is released, the older S100 is being offered at heavily discounted prices online and in some stores. Amazon recently listed it under their 1-day Golden Box deal for just US$229, which is a steal.

YS: I think that has ended though, so no getting it at US$229. But if you can snag it cheap, and use a service like HopShopGo, it’s definitely worth it.

CK: It’s at US$249 now, not too bad actually.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

Panasonic Lumix LX7

For those photographers who desire a compact camera with a zoom lens starting at 24mm, there’s the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. Improving on the previous models’ f/2.0 lenses, the LX7 now comes with a zoom lens starting at 24mm at an aperture of f/1.4, a full 1-stop brighter. This meant that low light shots are now handled better, without the need to resort to high ISOs too quickly. Panasonic also added a aperture ring like the Fujifilm X100 for that retro look and feel that’s very much in the vogue now.

YS: This is a compact that’s really a joy to use. AF and shutter lag is like the Sony: fast and non-existent, respectively. The f/1.4 to f/2.3 lens really helps, and noise control is also improved. When it went for US$299 for Black Friday, I was so tempted to get it, despite swearing off on small sensor cameras…

Mirrorless
Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 17mm f/1.8

Micro Four Thirds users, this is your first serious camera (the upcoming Panasonic GH3 is the second). It packs dual control dials, a high resolution EVF, quick AF, a very impressive five axis in-body image stabiliser, and a Sony-derived sensor that compares very well with larger APS-C sensors. All that combined makes this an impressive camera. Backing it is the Micro Four Thirds lens lineup, which is still the only fully-fleshed out system among the mirrorless system cameras.

YS: My only real beef with the E-M5 is the size of the autofocus points. It’s too easy for the camera to focus on something else in that humongous box that passes for an AF “point”.

Fujifilm X-E1

Silver and Black versions of the Fujifilm X-E1
Fujifilm released the X-Pro 1 to good reviews among photography enthusiasts, but the expensive hybrid viewfinder drove costs and size up, and adoption down. The cheaper and smaller X-E1 attempts to resolve that. The 16 megapixel sensor with its unusual colour filter array is carried over from the X-Pro 1, along with image quality that is simply the best among APS-C sensors. Autofocus is also much improved.

CK: Unfortunately, the refresh rate of the EVF is too low. Panning the camera while looking through the EVF gives you a wash of blur unlike the fluidly smooth video from the Nikon 1 V1 (and Nikon has to spoil it with the choppy EVF of the V2…)

Fuji X100
When I first saw the output from the Fujifilm X100, it literally blew me away. Nice, rich colours, very little noise even at high ISO, excellent JPGs straight out of camera. Unfortunately it was plagued by its slow AF speeds, which was somewhat fixed in later firmware revisions but still nowhere as fast as a Nikon 1 V1. If Nikon put the sensor and image processor from the X100 into a DSLR body, I’d buy one.

APS-C DSLR
Nikon D7000
Not a very new camera by now, but still a very capable one. This is Nikon’s best DX-format (APS-C) DSLR, notwithstanding it’s “non-pro” body, lack of a 10-pin remote connector, centre button and a mere 3-frame bracketing and multi-exposure. The D7000 sports dual memory card slots, something which is only found on more expensive pro bodies. It also has a pretty fast AF speed, excellent image quality and reasonably good high ISO performance. For those who likes to shoot at the telephoto end, the DX crop gives you that extra reach by a factor of 1.5x.

YS: Slim pickings for APS-C huh? Where is my D400? Damn it!

Full Frame DSLR

Nikon D800

Nikon D800 with Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4G

One of Nikon’s best full frame body ever, with a DxOMark that beat Nikon’s own D4. Landscape and studio photographers will be delighted with the clean, 36-megapixel files that the camera delivers. The high resolution is probably one of the reasons why it’s unable to write as many frames a second to the memory cards, with a continuous burst rate of a mere 4 fps. Definitely not a choice for sports shooters. If you need the absolute highest resolution from a Nikon body and has a computer capable of processing the large files, get this.

YS: This is amazing. Every time I get a D800 sample NEF to play with, it feels like the sky is the limit. Crazy dynamic range, impossible shadow detail. Might still upgrade to this if I find enough photography work to fund it.

Canon EOS 5D mk3
Take the EOS 5D Mk II, tweak the sensor a little, and add a proper AF sensor, and you get the Mk III. Now that the camera finally has an AF system that befits a camera of its price and class, it’s less of a compromise for Canon users.

Nikon D600

Nikon D600
Nikon D600 with Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G

The D600 represents Nikon’s attempt to create a new market of affordable full-frame SLRs. We attended the launch event in Singapore sometime back and you can read our thoughts here. If you have been dreaming of having a full-frame Nikon body without having to shell out lots of money for a D800 or D4, this is the one to get. You do lose some of the features of “pro-body” cameras like the D800 or even the old D300, but if you can live with that, you get an awesome body at a great price.

YS: The D600 is an example of a camera done just right. The rollout for it was fantastic too. Almost Apple-like in execution. More please!

Canon EOS 6D

Canon EOS 6D with EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EOS 6D with EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Canon’s answer to the Nikon D600 at a similar price range. What Canon did with the 5D, it has now done it with the 6D: Given it an AF system that really should be better given the price and the competition.

YS: I did have a pleasant time with this camera, notwithstanding my quibbles with the UI and the autofocus. The latter will be a real issue for those seeking perfection. Time to get that micro-prism focusing screen.

David: I too enjoyed using the camera, as a previous Canon user of 7 years. Everything feels familiar though Canon did mess around with the controls for previewing images which confused me at first. Focus is fast with center AF point (the only one I use anyway) though I understand the other points don’t work too well.

I can’t help but think the Nikon D600 is a better deal if you are not tied to Canon – for roughly the same price point you get a faster more responsive body, faster AF and with dual SD card shots, a feature I wished my Leica M9 had. Still, it’s works well and is a cheap entry to full frame 35mm photography.

“I have too much money”
Leica M9
If you have too much money and want to travel back to the 50s to shoot a camera of a bygone era, you can get the Leica M9. What you’ll get is a body beautifully crafted and hand-assembled in Germany (not China, mind you) with tender loving care. Unfortunately, what Leica did well in optics they did not do so well in more advanced technology. The M9 sports an incredibly low-resolution LCD, full manual controls and a rather slow interface. It does however, like the aficionados would say, focus on your shot instead of letting the technology distract you, giving you an image with the famous “Leica glow”.

YS: This is shit. Sorry, this is really shit. When a sensor that is a quarter of the size outperforms it at 1/8th the cost, there is simply no excuse. Another one to go DIAF. The Emperor not only has no clothes, but he is dead and the corpse is rotting.

“Could have been better”

The following could have been truly great cameras, if only their companies stop fearing the canibalisation of their DSLR product lines.

Canon EOS M
Canon’s late entry to the mirrorless party is further thwarted by releasing a half-baked mirrorless camera with “oh-so-slow” AF (so slow, a Leica aficionado can MF his M9 faster than the EOS M.) The AF has been the butt of jokes, with The Camera Store TV making a stop-motion video mocking it. Get this only if you are a die hard Canon fanboi.

Nikon 1 V2
How many mistakes must Nikon make in their mirrorless line-up before they get things right? The V1 is not too bad a camera plagued with a bad UI and other small irritations. The V2 fixed some of these but comes with a bad EVF with a choppy view. Both have unrealistically high prices (though to be fair, the V1’s price has dropped dramatically since the V2 was launched.)

YS: Note the pattern here? The two with a DSLR lineup to protect have come up with the weakest mirrorless system cameras so far. Well, all that means is that some other company will eat your lunch instead.

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