Consumer Digital Compact Camera

Panasonic Lumix FT3

Our emphasis with this category is always to look for a compact camera with enthusiast-level capabilities. Panasonic has won here before with its excellent TZ-series ‘travel zoom’ models which, incidentally, have lead to many imitators. Yet these cameras aren’t quite as capable as the intrepid traveller might like because they’ll still be stopped by rain, snow, low temperatures or, worse, being dropped. Which is why, this year, the Lumix FT3 attracted our attention.

Panasonic wasn’t first with a ‘tough’ compact, but it’s since taken the idea further than anybody else. The FT3 is waterproofed down to 12 metres (there’s an optional marine housing for going down to 40 metres), shock-proofed to withstand a drop of two metres and insulated to going on shooting until the mercury falls beyond -10 degrees Celsius. This starts to make it a real ‘go anywhere’ proposition, but the FT3 can also tell you exactly where you are as it has a built-in GPS receiver, electronic compass, altimeter and barometer. The GPS is linked to a database of over one million locations around the globe and it’s surprisingly precise about where it is too.
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The lack of manual exposure control options is a drawback, but we’ve found that Panasonic’s suite of ‘Intelligent Auto’ corrections is just so reliable, you really don’t miss them.

The camera can indeed do a better job and, besides, if you are in the process of being frozen, shaken, splashed or just hanging on grimly you probably don’t want to be fiddling with camera controls. However, Panasonic has taken into account the needs of the more adventurous user so the FT3 has continuous shooting at 3.7 fps, a 12.5 megapixels sensor, 28-128mm-equivalent zoom, Full HD video recording and a version of its optical image stabilisation that works even when you and the camera are moving (which, of course, is a likely scenario).

The Lumix FT3 really is a remarkable camera, not just in terms of where it can be used, but the results that can be achieved when you get there. It’s not just a ‘go anywhere’ camera, but a ‘carry everywhere’ camera.

Enthusiast Digital Compact Camera

Fujifilm FinePix X100

What can we say? The FinePix X100 was the camera story of 2011, making a profound impact on the market far beyond what even Fujifilm could have envisaged. And this impact will be ongoing because, make no mistake, every other camera maker has sat up and taken notice of the X100... meticulously dissecting it to find out exactly what has made it such a hit.

We can give them one clue... it looks, feels and works like a real camera. In other words, it’s innately intuitive at every level and, consequently, triggers instinctive responses in photographers.

While the technology embodied in the X100 – most notably the inspired hybrid viewfinder – is undoubtedly clever, there’s also a psychological aspect to this camera.

Of course, the retro styling is a big part of this, but the appeal goes well beyond merely the visual impression and on to the functionality aspect of a camera which has dials and an optical viewfinder.
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It’s about the interaction with the user that this configuration demands. It’s more direct, more involved, more intimate.

When you hold a camera away from you in order to use the external monitor screen for viewfinding, the separation happens on more levels than just the physical.

When the camera is held to your eye there’s a connection that very clearly transcends the physical and moves into the realms of seeing (rather than just looking) and all the thought processes that eventually coalesce into creativity.

However, being physically in such close contact with the camera is undoubtedly important because here the eye – the photographer’s most important tool  – and the camera – the photographer’s other most important tool – are at one.

And the eyelevel viewfinder eliminates distractions and determines, quite literally, a picture’s frame of reference. In any of the pictorial arts, the frame is the foundation upon which the skills of composition are anchored.

Turning this vision into an image is where camera controls can help or hinder.

So a dial which allows you to see all the available settings at a glance and is set by the single action of a turn trumps cycling through menus. It’s done and you can see it’s done, move on.

Now, of course, the X100 has menus and it has auto modes, but it also has dials, switches and an aperture collar so, drive it in manual, and it works like any camera has since the compact rigid body design was introduced, getting close to 100 years ago now.

See, set and shoot. Simple. And this is why the X100 is appealing to so many photographers on an emotional level.

It’s a camera before it’s a computer, and it’s putting the picture before the processes.

It’s not about getting back to basics – because the X100 is still very advanced under the skin with some very 21st century features – but about getting back to the essence of the relationship between the camera, the photographer and the picture.