Thoughts on Small Sensors in a CSC World

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Lili, Jun 8, 2011.

  1. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    For while now we've been wondering about the fate of Prosumer compacts in a world of larger Sensor CSC's. Many of these latter are of the same or smaller footprints a many of the former and the larger sensors can yield better IQ.
    Once I got my PEN I seldom used any other camera save occasionally my phone camera.
    The jpegs it produces are the best OOC I have ever experienced.
    But I found myself leaving it at home more often than not, and relying on my phone as a visual notebook. A task at which phonecams can excel but still lacking in low light ability and reach.
    Then I came across the XZ-1 with a very fast decent zoom lens.
    More than decent in fact; mine is sharp edge to edge.
    And when shot in RAW and carefully processed it can produce really superb IQ.
    All else being equal, not quite in the league of an APS-C or 4/3 sensor but close at ISO 400 and below
    The fast glass also helps with subject isolation using shallow DOF.
    It is a significantly smaller and light than my E-PL1 especially when one takes into account that fast lens (an equivalent one is still not available in m4/3)!
    And it is Silent in operation.
    So where am I going with this?
    I find myself using the XZ-1 far more than my PEN these days.
    So maybe there is still life in this type of camera yet.
     
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  2. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran S.C. Charter Member

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    With todays Sony announcement of the NEX-C3 and the forthcoming Panasonic GF3 CSC's will surely soon come up with a camera that equals the size and portability of a small sensor compact. But whether they can get a zoom lens to the same size remains to be seen.
     
  3. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    Very true but even should the lens be as small its unlikely to be as fast. Arguably the better hi ISO of the bigger sensor can make up for this disparity but even then it would lack the depth of field advantages.
     
  4. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran S.C. Charter Member

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    I don't know what the exact ratio is but you can get the same DOF as your Olympus on something like f/2.8 or f/4 on a larger sensor camera.

    The 20mm Panasonic is pretty small. On a GF2 or GF3 it makes a pretty small footprint.

    Camera Sizes
    111 x 65 x 42 mm - XZ-1
    113 x 68 x 33 mm - GF2 (GF3 will be smaller than this)

    It is of course a fixed prime lens. I don't see a m4/3 zoom as small as the XZ-1 anytime soon, so yes its a trade-off. Size versus quality.


     
  5. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    It is really odd but those few millimeters make a huge difference when carrying it about. Not to mention the weight as well. As to the trade-off: my PEN produces stunning IQ with very little post processing whereas to get anywhere near the same on the XZ takes far more work and care.

    From Michael Reichmann at LL
    "OK – here's the deal. The NEX bodies are very small. But as already mentioned the lenses are still APS-C sized. To keep them within reason in terms of size they have modest maximum apertures. Even the pancake 16mm is just an f/2.8. Now, compare this to a pocket-sized camera like the Olympus XZ-1 (review coming soon). This has a 28–112mm (equivalent) lens with an aperture of f/1.8 – f/2.5.

    Of course the C3 has a 16MP sensor and the XZ-1 has a 10MP sensor, and the NEX's sensor is also significant larger, which means better image quality. Right? Well, yes, but....

    The but is that when working in anything but bright outdoor conditions one is going to have to shoot the C3 at a higher ISO, because the lens is slower. A full two to three stops slower. So indoors, instead of ISO 400, for example, the C3 would have to shot at ISO1600 to ISO 3200, thus cutting its larger sensor advantage considerably. Combine this with the XZ-1's smaller size, superior user interface, and lower price, and the raison d'etre for the C3 starts to erode. The Panasonic LX5 and Samsung EX-1, two other pocket cameras with moderate sized sensors and fast zoom lenses are similarly equipped.

    In my view the NEX series desperatly needs faster lenses. But, to keep size down they should be primes."
    I saw this just now and he superbly sums up my quandry.
     
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  6. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Stephen
    Interesting topic.

    Looks to me like a combination like the GF3 for size, plus the 14 or 20 lens, and a larger M4/3 body for more flexibility, would give a person great IQ and lenses that work on two cameras.
     
  7. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    Except there is no native fast glass for m4/3 save the 20. And with the 20 the GF3 would be larger and heavier. The XZ lens retracts and makes it quite slim.
    As Soundimageplus states so succinctly; its a trade off of size and quality. Once the light drops, if one wants other than a 40mm-e FOV, then the ISO goes up, eroding the IQ benefits of the larger format.
    Since I work nights, I REALLY like fast glass.
    So for me, for now the XZ is the best option.
     
  8. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Stephen
    Fair enough - and it's good that we have these cameras to choose from. The XZ certainly seems to be very effective.

    I do wonder though if there higher ISO on M4/3 will impact IQ to any great extent. The GF3 has the G3 sensor, which so far appears to be very good at high ISO. If your output is to web or 8 x 10 prints (and perhaps larger depending on your tastes) then the GF3 with the 14 seems likely to be very effective.

    Not that I am arguing your choice. You are getting the images you want with a camera that suits you, and I bet you have fun using it. For me it would make sense to be able to use my lenses on several cameras, and I think that the size difference is very little in real-world use - and I suspect that the larger sensor will give me more flexibility in post.

    I am not sure what value to place on dpreview sample images, but you can use their tool to compare the G3 and the XZ at higher ISOs. To my eye, the G3 at 1600 or 3200 looks better than the XZ at 400 ( i think the G3 images were with the kit, not the faster 14).
     
  9. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    Not having used the G3 but comparing the XZ to my E-PL1, I would say the IQ of the former at ISO 320 is very close to that of the latter at 800.
    Even then at large reproduction sizes the larger sensor is a tad better. The XZ gets close in IQ, esp at low ISO.
    At 100 ISO there is little substantive difference.
    In the end the XZ IQ is good enough.
    At least for me.
    This pretty much sums up a huge part of the little Oly's appeal for me
    [​IMG]
     
  10. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Stephen
    Well I think that's the crucial thing: if you are getting the quality you want in a camera that you like using, then you have scored a winner.
     
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  11. Duane Pandorf

    Duane Pandorf SC Top Veteran

    868
    Apr 25, 2011
    Western NC
    I read the review today on the new Sony and I can quickly decide right now without ever holding one I'd never want to use it. It looks difficult to hold and the menu system description sounds atrocious. It may have a great sensor that will provide great IQ but if it's a PITA to use it's nort for me.

    It's one thing to make a camera body as small as possible but then their are physical limits with glass that goes on front.

    I'd love it if my GRD III had an APS-C sensor but then it wouldn't be as compact as it is. I'm still seriously waiting for the GXR M mount. You'll have the something to hold on to and a great customizable button/menu system. And then the chance to put fast glass on the front.
     
  12. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    That is one thing the XZ does well with the lens ring and rear dial; the UI is really quite good. The BEST UI is the GRD one of course :)
     
  13. stillshunter

    stillshunter Super Moderator Emeritus

    Nov 5, 2010
    Down Under
    Real Name:
    Mark
    Great topic here Lili and keen to hear more opinions.

    I was this close to chucking all my dSLR stuff in for a 'simple' compact - when contrary opinions flooded in on my thread asking what dSLRs can do that compacts can't?. Rather than dismiss these opinions outright I tried each out to get some empirical basis for my proposed transition. Well as much as I resisted, what I found was that I couldn't match the AF speed, frame rate, brighter more informative viewfinder (x100 users will have something to say here) or IQ (Sigma DP2 definitely aside here ) of my Pentax dSLR with my compact. The dSLR just shone in this regard...and this isn't to mention the ability to snap on glass above 300mm if you're so inclined.

    Having said all that I have been very impressed with the s95 - all that power in true back-pocket compact. It's my sketchbook and it is always there.".....wallet, check, keys, check, mobile, check, s95, check, OK, right to leave the house" :th_salute: But life with the dSLR is even better since 'trading up' from the K20D (now that's BIG) to the K-r. This little package has all the benefits of the dSLR in a small size (comparative to the G1/2)....but with a lightning fast AF and 6fps rate....not to mention clean files at 3200 and usable at 6400. It is sweeeet! The evolution in dSLRs to a more compact form, without compromise to quality, is a great leap forward IMHO - especially when they are pitched at the entry-level while being endowed with all the features you need and then some. Even if I wanted more I could step up to the K5 which only adds a few cms all-around but is a shadow of the K20D....but alas three times the price of the lil' Kr. The same can be said for Sony, and even Nikon. Their APS-C sensor cameras appear to be shrinking while their features set are expanding exponentially. Again an excellent trend IMHO!

    Not meaning to play devil's advocate here Lili, just thinking it's a case of different tools for different jobs. The beauty of the s95 is that even if I'm loaded up with the dSLR kit bag on the right shoulder, you can guess what's in the left back pocket itching and ready to play even while I'm squaring something up in the viewfinder :wink:
     
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  14. mmacleodbrown

    mmacleodbrown SC Regular

    197
    Oct 10, 2010
    London
    Stillshunter - your post really struck a cord with me as we share the same equipment or used to.
    I have a S95 and a K20D, and like you the S95 goes with me everywhere, just in case I need to take a photo..
    Yes, the K20D is big, and it is not a carry around camera by any means, it comes out when I know Im going somewhere and want to take photo's, otherwise it is in its box.
    Things I love about my S95
    Size - pocketable means I always have it - I cant stress how much that means to me
    The manual control ring - so good..
    It really is a capable camera, that has made me fall in love with the small form factor..

    I hate not having a viewfinder though..

    My Pentax I love because

    ergonomics - it just feels right in my hand
    IQ - the K20D is superb
    I can use old glass

    I took both camera's out at the weekend to try and get something for the shadow competition and I really noticed the differences, I was in a heavily wooded area on a very bright day, and the S95 just couldn't handle the exposure for the large variation in light levels accross the scenes I was trying to shoot. It might have been me not having the correct settings, but even on auto there was noticeable clipping and highlights. Thats fair enough, it is only a little point and shoot, but it has made me realise just how capable my DSLR is..

    I really like the idea of tiny lenses and a m4/3 body, but being realistic, Im not sure we are there yet in capability. Not enough lenses, and the body size is becoming less of an issue now. Take the K5, it is not that much bigger than the new G3, and yet far more capable. When you take that body size, with the selection of lenses and the functionality of the DSLR - it is a winner!

    Having said that, my favourite picture is still one taken with the S95, it has been blown up and is hanging on my wall, had it not been for the S95 being so portable, Id never have had a camera on me and missed the shot. That makes the S95 priceless to me, maybe not use it as much as I should, but I know it will be there when I want it..

    Im sticking with my K20D, and spending any spare cash I have on old lenses, as the glass will be a better investment for me, as the K20D exceeds my capabilities as a photographer at the moment. I plan to upgrade to a K-r or a K5 once the price comes down, but for now Im building up a decent selection of lenses and have invested in a nice little camera bag that will fit a body and 3 lenses that I hope will mean I will carry it around just a little bit more as you are right - that camera is big!

    Im looking forward to trading up to a smaller body as well, but only when my abilities have grown a little bit..
     
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  15. jonoslack

    jonoslack SC Veteran

    203
    May 6, 2011
    I don't think it remains to be seen at all - I think the simple answer is that they certainly can't.
    The real issue is the sensor size and coverage, and the sensor in the XZ-1 really is a great deal smaller than that in m4/3, simple as that:
    Nex Sensor: 15.6mm high area 365 sqmm
    m43 sensor: 13mm high area 224 sqmm
    XZ-1 sensor: 5.8mm high 45 sqmm

    I don't see any evidence that there is going to be a decent sized zoom for these cameras.
    Which, of course, is the argument for small sensor cameras - I don't believe they are going to go away, and I don't believe that the quality one's will either!
    al the best
     
  16. jonoslack

    jonoslack SC Veteran

    203
    May 6, 2011
    Lili
    Many thanks for starting this thread - it's really clarified some things for me
    Martin and Stillshunter - thank you also for your contribution.

    I was considering jumping back into m4/3 (for the third time) when the EP3 comes, but the truth is, if they bring out the lenses I want (a decent mid range zoom and some wides), then it's going to be so close to the size of my lovely K5 as to make little difference (bag required in both cases). I love the K5, viewfinder, 18-135 zoom etc. and I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that when I'm not shooting Ms, I'd rather use a zoom.

    Low light? well the K5 is fab, and with the ZK 50 f1.4 it does the job . . . . or I can use the M9.

    I'd kind of forgotten about the little Olympus (and the S95 come to that).

    It seems to me really that the crux of this whole discussion about pocketable cameras is:

    Do you want a zoom lens?

    If the answer is yes, then the latest breed of high quality compacts is the only answer.

    If you don't, then an X100 or an X1 or a Nex3/GF3/EPL2 with a 20 mm lens is the best answer.

    . . . . and if you aren't so fussed about pocketable, and you want a zoom, then you may as well have one of the newer small dSLR's and all the flexibility they bring.
     
  17. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    I understand how you feel with your Pentax; I feel quite the same with my e510. It fits my hand, has every control where I want it, it blazing fast and the draw is superb.
    I am not advocating dumping the DSLR's; quite the opposite. I just find the latest series of fast glass compacts have much to commend them.
    Notably they can be with one wherever you go.
     
  18. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    Understood Martin
    BTW the XZ takes the VF-2 EVF :)
    Also check out DPR's review of the Fuji F200EXR; used in M size one can gain almost DLSR's Dynamic range (actually beating some)!
     
  19. Lili

    Lili SC Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    Real Name:
    Lili
    Well Put, Jono!
     
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  20. mmacleodbrown

    mmacleodbrown SC Regular

    197
    Oct 10, 2010
    London
    Stops it being pocketable though, but it does still look like a very capable camera. I wasn't really aware of it until I saw some of your posts, I liked your pics, so then I checked using the comparison tool on DPreview, but thought it didn't give me enough over the S95 to consider getting..
    I think Im sorted for a compact for the moment - the problem with this site is that it is all too easy to get sucked in to wanting more gear than I actually need :smile: