I'm a camera nut. I use my 5D MKIII and 7D to make a living. I've also gone through a variety of compact cameras. I always carry a camera, and unless I'm specifically out on a shoot, I don't want to lug abound my big camera and lens. My camera of choice has been the Panasonic Lumix ZS20 14.1 MP High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera with 20x Optical Zoom (Black)
, and for the price it's still a great camera. The Fujifilm XF1, although it has lower resolution, has now replaced it. Two words: Sensor size.
This uses a much larger sensor than your standard point and shoot - 2/3 of an inch. For a point and shoot/compact/pocket camera, it's unusual. True, more and more manufacturers are producing cameras with larger sensors, and eventually DSLR's (large cameras with mirrors) will be replaced by mirrorless models. For now, I love my DSLR and really, really like the XF1. There are a lot of things to like. The larger sensor means that more light is captured and the pixel quality is superior. Result - better low light photos and crisper, better quality photos. A 12mp camera with this large sensor will produce images with better quality than even an 18mp camera with one of those teeny sensors.
Example sensor sizes:
Standard compact camera: 3.2 x 2.4 mm (7.68 mm surface area) and 4.8 x 3.6 mm (17.28 mm surface area)
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 6.08 x 4.56 mm (27.724 mm surface area)
Fujifilm XF1/: 8.8 x 6.6 mm (58.08 mm surface area)
Canon 7D: 22.3 x 14.9 mm (332.27 mm surface area)
OK, so I take this thing out of the box. It is very retro. My GF's comment - "It looks so old that nobody will bother stealing it..." The controls seem minimal, but there are more than you first realize. This is the first camera I have found that is impossible to turn on without step by step instructions. There's a decal on the camera explaining it (poorly.) There's a mini guide to turning it on. There are several pages in the manual. It's clever, but it's something Rube Goldberg could have dreamed up. Twist the lens. Pull the lens out. Twist it again. We have power! Since the lens has a manual zoom (yes, a manual zoom), when you zoom out (go wider) you can accidentally turn the camera off. Bizarre. It's like the Nostromo self destruct mechanism on the original Alien movie.
The external controls are varied - on top we have the popup flash (feels cheap), a function button (Fn - so small it's easy to miss), the shutter release and the selector dial. On the back are two dials, a rocker and four buttons. This camera has so many features that several levels of menus are needed. This makes if difficult to find features. But - and this is rare on this type of camera - you have three custom function buttons. You can set the camera up the way you want, then save this configuration to a custom setting. Three different configurations. That's something some DSLR's don't even have.
When it comes to my DSLR, I shoot manual. I'm happy to see that the camera has a full manual mode, in addition to the many other modes. The auto-focus is near instant, the image quality amazing. Granted I've only used it for a day (shot around 200 photos and did not kill the battery.) I'll have it in my pocked for a while and will use it almost every day - I'll update as I gain more experience with it. Features? Exposure bracketing. Flash bracketing. Panorama stitching and even more.
After a day of using this camera I am impressed. I did add a screen protector (I have a bunch on hand that can be cut to size) as the screen is plastic and I hate scratched screens. I also have a bunch of small camera bags on hand. Tried a few of them, finding that the Case Logic TBC-312 Pocket Video Camcorder Case with Storage (Black)
The camera stores photos in two formats: RAW and jpg. RAW is also called a "digital negative" - RAW format is RAF. Photoshop and Lightroom support it. Jpg file, Fine: 1.3 to 2.2 meg each image. RAW format 19 to 21 meg (numbers vary depending on colors and detail.)
RAW and JPG has an image resolution of 4000x3000 pixels. If you use some of the special "pro" effects (pin focus, etc.) the image size drops to 2816x1221 pixels. Panorama size is 11520x1080.
Apart from the case you'll also need an SD card. A proprietary battery is included, as well as a charger, USB cable and wrist strap.
OK, so who (whom?) is this camera for? The serious amateur would be happy. The pro looking for a more portable pocket camera would like it (but no interchangeable lenses). A beginner may be overwhelmed at first, but just use full auto and you're all set. It a camera that someone with limited (or no!) camera experience can use, then grow into as skills improve. It has all the features you'd ever want. A pro or serious amateur will be surprised at the feature set. You'll have several "oh - it does that?!?" moments.
11-26-2012: Been toying with the video. I love high speed video. The XF1 shoots 70fps at 640x480, 120fps at 320x240 and 200fps at 320x112.
Effects can be "stacked" (my term). For example, if you set the film type to B&W, turn on bracketing and shoot - you'll get three B&W shots.
Battery - the battery drains when in the camera, even if the camera is off. The battery died in-camera. Put it away with 1/2 power. Two days later it was dead. So check and charge the battery before using! Have also been noticing more of the attention to quality - for example, the SD card slot. It's metal lined, not plastic. Plus - even if you try - you can't slide the SD card lock switch up. That's a GOOD thing. I have four other compact cameras. Another Fuji, a Panasonic, a Kodak and a Sony. You have to be cautious with all of them - slightly angled and the lock switch slides up, and your photos can't be saved. You need to remove the card, unlock, and replace. There is also SOME internal memory. You can capture a few images, but not enough to replace even the smallest memory card. But it's better than nothing if you forget to put in the memory card and discover this once you're away from home.