"I was in the supermarket where I saw a sign that said 'pet supplies'. So I did. Then I saw another sign that said 'compact cameras'." — Based on a Stephen Wright quote..
Note 1: The headers with a grey background are the equipment I currently use. The rest was sold, lost or destroyed in a rage years ago...
Note 2: Rating from  (Bad, really bad) to [*****] (Great, truly great). Some stars may be between parenthesis to mean a general purpose use vs a very specialized niche use. For instance an 8mm fisheye may get *(**) to mean it's not very good for general photography but good for assembling panoramic shots and other specific purposes. Also the ratings refer to the time when I was using them. If the title is not in gray background, then it's obsolete.
Panasonic DMC-LX5 [*], 2011
I'd had the LX3 (see below) for barely a year when, on Jan 2nd 2011, I pulled it out of its cushioned bag to take a picture and saw a cracked screen and a crushed trigger. I'd used it the previous evening and I have absolutely no idea what may have happened. So after a bit of googling I settled on the upgrade of that model, the LX5. The differences are few but important:
Right: One of my first images with the LX5
The lens now goes to 90mm instead of just 60mm (the difference is actually quite noticeable).
The sensor is the same, but the processing has been improved, in particular it has a better dynamic range which was my pet peeve about the LX3. Better, but still not all that great. Also better noise above 400iso.
The buttons have been reordered and somewhat changed (more on that later).
The tiny joystick is gone. It took me a long time to get used to it and I somewhat miss it now, but I doubt many people will cry over it. You now simply use the wheel instead of the joystick. But the wheel is very imprecise: sometimes you turn it in one direction and it acts in the other!
The over/underexposure button is gone, which made me confused then angry the 1st time I tried to use that essential feature, but it happens to be done with the wheel now: just press it and turn. It would have been easier if there was a label on it...
Talking about labels, the buttons labels are now metal on metal, very tiny and only readable at a certain angle. Not the best 'improvement'.
There's a programmable function button.
There's a new square aspect ratio for those who like, I don't know, maybe the Polaroid format ?
Next to the trigger button, there's now a video trigger. Although I hardly ever take videos, I immediately found that feature addictive and ended up taking 7 videos on the 1st day. When you hesitate between picture and video, you only need to move your finger 5mm. Also you can zoom while filming (and the zooming is very smooth).
On the negative side all the accessories are different from the LX3, including the batteries, but compatibles ones can be found, like the Unipower PS0J13 (that is, until the next firmware upgrade decides to screw us over with the message "This battery cannot be used").
Search for the flash options and set it to 'Always' instead of the stupid 'Auto', otherwise the flash won't trigger in backlit situation when you pull it out. That's a really dumb default setting.
Things that stays the same: sensor, battery range, macro capabilities, dimensions, LCD screen, menu organization... Still no programmable sequence shots: fuck that'd be only 10 lines of code in the firmware, come on !
Wanna see the first pics I took with this camera ? So is it a better camera ? Well, it should very well be, but there are 2 hopeless issues with mine. If you have the LX3, is it worth dumping it to get the LX5 ? Well, I'm not so sure about that one...
Problems: In particular I get some horrible banding on the right side of high contrast images. Take a look at those and let me know what you think:
And the 2nd VIP (very important problem) is that some images have one side completely out of focus. This can only be caused by the lens being set in position asymmetrically. And if this happens, then the design of the lens sucks.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 [****], 2009
In 2009 my requirements for a compact digital camera for climbing photography are the following: same amount of pixels as everything else (>12M), a wide-angle lens that goes down to 24mm eqv, an extended dynamic range, RAW files, a viewfinder, manual capabilities and a good user interface. It seems simple but of the final contenders shortlisted here, and of course none fit the bill. I chose the LX3 mainly for its lens and its ability to do RAW files and the fact that it is the same hardware as the Leica D-Lux 4 which cost double the price for only some firmware changes.
Here are my first impressions:
A bit bigger and heavier than the Ricoh GRd. Seems very sturdy. The lens protrudes a little when retracted.
Excellent Leica lens.
Uses the same batteries as the Ricoh, although the references are of course different: CGA-S005E vs DB-60 and DE-A42A vs BJ-6 for the charger.
Accepts an 18mm wide lens adapter DMW-LW46 (on a lens adapter that can also take 46mm filters), although the lens is not detected automatically but needs a menu setting.
Has an external flash socket but only one model of flash apparently works in full mode (you can always use the old 'A' mode for the others).
Has several external buttons that are usually hidden deep in submenus on other cameras: AF/AF-C/Macro, 4:3/3:2/16:9 ratios, AE/AF lock, focus...
HD videos are very high quality as expected but produce huge files. Thankfully there are lower resolution modes.
The lens is indeed excellent (did I say that already?)
The dynamic range is much better than on the GX100 and the camera has some dynamics compression facilities that unfortunately do not work at the most usual ISO. Still, it is a far cry from the 3 years older S5 pro
Some of the programs do indeed seem to have some intelligence: a motion detector in the camera can adjust the ISO and the min exposure time so that the result is not shaky (with or without the stabilizer).
Ergonomics is good. Though the presence of a joystick and arrow keys add some confusion.
There are many AF modes (spot, matrix, fast, follow...) including one that tracks faces and also optimizes the exposure for them. It works rather well on kids.
The multiple aspect ratios are not simply a cut of the biggest one like on other cameras, but the wider one has indeed more horizontal pixels. For usual pics it's good to remember to use 19:9 for horizontal shots and 4:3 for vertical ones. The change is done at the flick of a finger. You can even bracket the aspect ratios ! If you take raw shots, you have access to the full sensor anyway (although the function can be hidden in some software).
Saving RAW files is very fast as to be almost unnoticeable (about 1s).
The 'shake demo' allows you to see when the stabilizer/motion detection combination actually become useful.
Right: An image of Apennines taken with the LX3 at the widest angle, with the flash. The contrast is well taken care of. Other images on that page show a loss of contrast and color due to the correction of the underexposure and a lack of dynamic range in the highlights.
And the negative things I have to say about the camera:
Exposure is consistently wrong by about 2/3 of a stop which is quite a lot. I will try to remember to overexpose in the future.
P mode seems to love the 2.8 aperture. Even in full sun. On a normal camera I would call this choice stupid, but on such a small lens I'm not sure it has much importance. I need to test this more.
The selector wheel turns too easily: every time I pull it out of a pocket or pouch I need to remember to check it or I end up in SCN mode or video mode. It really needs a lock like on the original GRd.
Videos use the rather rare Apple MOV format which is rather inconvenient to share with others. There's no date/time info in the MOV files making it difficult to sort together with images.
Metadata is somewhat lacking on the camera, you cannot tag the images with your name for instance although you can write something on the images, never mind that it is usually undesirable.
DCIM compatibility seems sketchy: I couldn't play back images taken on another camera that a 3rd one could.
The flash doesn't always trigger when out. I guess the camera decides when to use it or not, but if I pulled it out I WANT it to FLASH without having to second-guess it. This is unacceptable.
The battery drains pretty fast, maybe due to using the stabilizer in mode 2 (all the time). Less than 100 RAW images.
No B or T pause. The longest exposure is 60s only.
The macro mode only works in wide angle (1cm). In tele mode the min distance is about 30cm which is rather far.
A lens cap is always more annoying than a self-closing lens.
Raw files are RW2, yet another format not recognized by all programs, although the camera comes with the excellent SilkyPix.
No viewfinder, although an external one is available, which obviously makes the camera a lot bulkier.
The user's manual is in engrish.
Overall I find the camera a joy to use and the pictures very good. The consistent underexposure and the unreliable flash being the only real sore points. Now what about some pictures ? The Vettore section is done with this camera.
Fujifilm F100fd [**], 2008
Fast forward to 2008. Still in search of a compact camera with high dynamic range capabilities to match the S5 to take up with me in the mountains, I saw the Fuji F100fd. I bought it and was immediately strongly disappointed. They don't say what technology they use to achieve the extended dynamic range, but it doesn't work at 100iso, it works 200% at 200iso and 400% at 400iso. So, as a guess, it probably just performs 2 or 3 exposures in very short interval at various sensitivities and stack them using software HDR techniques. It is useless to me as it doesn't work at the lowest sensitivity.
The camera has too many other faults, the main one being that it does not have any manual mode (impossible to set arbitrary aperture and exposure time), no A/S mode, no over/underexposure control, no RAW files. Only useless 'result' modes. Now, quick, tell me the difference between the 'night' mode and the 'fireworks' mode ? I thought so. And finally I don't think the images it takes are all that good anyway, particularly the colors for which Fuji is usually praised look painted over by overzealous pre-processing.
The only nice mode I found is the ability to take two shots in quick succession, one with and one without the flash. It's quite useful in most situations, both indoors and outdoors.
Sony Cybershot DSC-T7 [*], 2005
I won this camera at a photo contest in late 2006. Here are my first impressions:
Very small and compact, but very dense as well, the weight is the same than the Ricoh GRd which is the double in size.
Very limited aperture and very narrow 38mm equivalent field of view. Not a camera for landscape photography.
No manual mode, and no S or A mode either. This ensures that this is not a camera but a toy. My first reaction was: "this must be some kind of mistake, the function is probably hidden somewhere else", but after reading the manual my second reaction was: "by now they must have corrected this major oversight with a firmware upgrade"... but I could find no such thing. Instead of too simple to use M/A/S modes, you get a P mode and all kinds of silly looking icons: moon, moon with person, moon with stars, moon with sandwich... or whatever.
No B or T pause for long exposure. Combined this absence with the above to make this camera totally unsuitable for night photography. I couldn't even figure out what is the longest possible exposure time either from the manual or several tries. It refuses to trigger if it considers that not enough light is available.
Right: An image of wild piglets and sows taken in Corsica with the DSC-T7.
The marketing seems very proud of the sliding door protecting the lens, but with my big fingers I leave my dirty fingerprints on the lens every time I turn the camera on. Takes practice I guess. The door also adds quite a fair bit of thickness to this slim design. And finally if you put the camera in a pocket (which it seems designed for), the door will open and drain the camera battery.
Exposure times and apertures are displayed on the screen, but what's the point if you can't change them ?
The ergonomics are quite tricky, particularly compared to the quick access wheels of the Ricoh. Here you have only a few very tiny buttons (which could easily have been made bigger as there's still plenty of unused real-estate on the back) to navigate menus and submenus to change any parameter. For instance on the Ricoh I can change the exposure in one click, change the white balance in 4 clicks; the same kind of actions on the Sony takes over 10 clicks (but the camera remembers the last menu so multiple changes can be quick).
All accessories are Sony specific or unique to this camera: Sony memory card, unique battery, unique charger...
The macro is incredibly powerful, you can shoot something no more than 1cm from the lens... but many digital compacts have this capability.
No anti-shake which would be handy as I've been unable to take shots at 1/30" with the zoom, something I can normally do easily with my reflex. This is due to the design that makes you hold the camera from the tip of your fingers.
The camera is so thin that there's no standard tripod thread. Instead you get a 'docking station' which is just a piece of plastic with a thread for the tripod. The problem is that this piece of plastic is bigger than the camera !
I must say that this camera makes me appreciate all the more the quality and design of the Ricoh, although I criticized it quite a bit in this review.