While the point-and-shoot category has been eclipsed by the shift to more targeted camera types, one species of noninterchangeable-lens cameras is flourishing. Full-featured, premium fixed-lens cameras with distinctive personalities inspire pride of possession. Indeed, a few of the latest models covered here qualify as “cult cameras” because of their fiercely loyal coterie of followers.
All the cameras on our list are capable of impressive real-world performance. Moreover, all have a full complement of contemporary features, including cutting-edge autofocus (AF) and image-processing systems.
In addition, they incorporate relatively large sensors: 1-inch, APS-C or full-frame format. A good indication of the vitality of the premium fixed-lens camera category is that it’s evolving. Half of the models listed are new or significantly upgraded versions of their predecessors.
Advantages of Large Sensors
For any given megapixel rating, the larger the sensor, the bigger its individual pixels. Sensors with larger pixels deliver less noise at high ISOs (ISO 1600 and above). They also provide enhanced dynamic range (the ability to accurately capture and output extreme highlights and shadows). Moreover, they produce a wider color gamut, better color differentiation within a given hue and increased color saturation, especially at high ISOs.
Furthermore, larger sensors require lenses with proportionally longer focal lengths to cover any given angle due to their lower crop factors. For example, only 1.5x for an APS-C-format camera versus 5–6x for a typical point-and-shoot model. And since longer lenses provide shallower depth of field, large-sensor cameras with fast lenses in the f/1.8 to f/2.8 range enable users to create striking pictorial effects with the creative use of depth of field and bokeh.
It’s also worth noting that large-sensor fixed-lens models not only sport fast, high-performance lenses but also full feature sets. These may include RAW capture, auto HDR (high dynamic range), noise reduction and Full HD 1080p or 4K video capture. They may also provide state-of-the-art image-stabilization and AF systems, as well as blazing full-res burst rates. Other niceties are impressive responsiveness and minimal shutter lag times.
In short, each of the cameras listed offers a distinctive personality, an enticing blend of authenticity and style, and high-end performance capabilities.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI
Just announced as we were going to press, this svelte, higher-tech follow-up to the Sony RX100 V has a longer range 24–200mm* Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/2.8–4.5 lens. It retains the ingenious pop-up 2.35M-dot OLED True-Finder electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF is complemented by a 3-inch, 921K-dot, multi-angle, 180º-tilting LCD with touch capabilities. In addition, it incorporates Sony’s latest, most advanced Bionz X image processor coupled to a 1-inch, 20.1 megapixel Exmor RS BSI (backside illuminated) CMOS sensor.
Together they enable 4K UHD video capture at 30/24 frames per sec with HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and S-Log3 Gamma for optimum contrast control. It also captures Full HD slow-motion video at 960 fps and can shoot full-res still bursts at 24 fps with AF/AE. The RX100 VI employs a fast, precise hybrid AF system with a 315-point phase-detection array, and it also provides sensitivity settings up to ISO 12,800.
Other features include a clean HDMI-out port as well as built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with Bluetooth. It’s clearly aimed at serious enthusiasts that will appreciate its ergonomic function-assignable control ring, custom control buttons and its outstanding still plus video shooting flexibility. $1,200.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
This sleek, stylish high-performance Micro Four Thirds-format Panasonic all-rounder features a fast, sharp Leica DC Vario-Summilux 24–75mm f/1.7–2.8 zoom lens. It’s coupled to a 1-inch, 20.1MP High Sensitivity MOS sensor and can capture amazing 4K QFHD video at 30/24 fps as well as 8MP stills from video clips!
Viewing and reviewing is handled by a swiveling 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor and a high-resolution 2.76M-dot OLED live-view eye-level finder. The LX100 also shoots continuous bursts at up to 11 fps, provides ISOs up to 25,600 and offers built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC. Moreover, it provides full manual controls and Panasonic’s Light Speed AF with DFD (Depth from Defocus) technology to enhance AF speed and precision.
Other features include: slow-motion animation; highlight/shadow gamma curve control; a focus-peaking display with a control ring; a digital level gauge; and a hot shoe. The LX100 comes in a choice of silver or black. $599.99.
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
This model is the latest, most-advanced offering in Canon’s long-running, enthusiast/pro-aimed G series. The robust, ruggedly handsome machine has an upgraded 24.2MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced Digic 7 image processor. They provide 9-fps continuous shooting, sensitivity settings up to ISO 25,600 and Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 60 fps.
The Mark III’s 24–72mm f/2.8–5.6 lens incorporates a dual-sensing image stabilizer that provides a 4-stop anti-shake advantage during handheld shooting. In addition to a high-res, 3-inch, 1.04M-dot, vari-angle, touch-screen LCD monitor, the camera has a 2.36M-dot OLED EVF with touch-and-drag AF point selection. Furthermore, its Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology with phase detection delivers enhanced focusing speed and accuracy.
Other key features include: Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC and Bluetooth; dust- and moisture-resistant construction; a wide range of manual as well as automatic shooting modes; and a slew of built-in creative effects. $1,099.
Ricoh GR II
This ingeniously slim, high-performance, magnesium alloy compact offers built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity as well as wireless flash. Its 16.2MP APS-C-format sensor and GR Engine V image processor combine to deliver high resolution imagery along with impressively fast response times. Moreover, Ricoh eliminated the low-pass filter to enhance resolution and detail.
Its fast 28mm f/2.8 lens facilitates low-light shooting and the creative use of shallow depth of field. And it complements its wide ISO 100–25,600 sensitivity range. In addition, a 3-inch, 1.23M-dot LCD provides crisp, detailed viewing and playback. Furthermore, there is a choice of two (optional) optical finders that slide into the camera’s hot shoe.
Other key features include: support for RAW and JPEG formats; Full HD 1080p video capture; macro mode; 17 creative image effects, including retro and cross-processing; a full range of auto modes, like face detection; a maximum full-res burst rate of 4 fps; and a dual-axis electronic level. $599.95.
Sigma dp0 Quattro
Within its distinctively wide but still compact form factor, the dp0 Quattro P&S incorporates significant technical advances designed to provide enhanced image quality, responsiveness and speed. The upgrades include a higher-resolution, Sigma 29MP Foveon Quattro CMOS sensor measuring 23.5×15.7mm. The sensor uses the company’s signature three-layer design that captures full color information at each pixel point and is almost APS-C size. Moreover, it has been tested to be the equivalent of a 39MP Bayer sensor.
The sensor works with a True III image-processing engine and a 3-inch, 920K-dot TFT LCD monitor. The dp0’s ultrawide-angle 21mm f/4 standard fixed lens uses four “F” low-dispersion (FLD) glass elements said to be equal to fluorite glass. The camera also provides an ISO range of ISO 100–6400 in 1/3 steps as well as RAW image capture at a maximum resolution of 5,242×3,616 pixels. Other features include: contrast-detection AF; a manual focus ring; and standard PSAM exposure modes. $999.
Note: The camera is also available as the Sigma dp1, dp2 and dp3 Quattro with 19mm f/2.8, 30mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/2.8 lenses, respectively, each at $899.
With a retro look reminiscent of a rangefinder camera, the upgraded X100F sports a built-In ISO dial incorporated into the shutter speed dial. It also employs a unique 24.3MP, APS-C-format, X-Trans CMOS III sensor. The sensor is designed with a randomized pixel pattern to reduce moiré patterns and aliasing without a low-pass filter. Moreover, it works with Fujifilm’s advanced X-Processor Pro and a fast, sharp, Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens with a built-in 4-stop ND filter.
The premium P&S combines high style with high tech. It offers an innovative optical and electronic hybrid viewfinder that lets users choose between OVF and EVF viewing, as well as a unique parallax-compensating electronic rangefinder. And a 91-point hybrid AF system with 49 phase-detection points delivers impressive AF speed and precision.
Other features include: a 3-inch, 1.04M-dot LCD; a rear focus lever; RAW capture with in-camera conversion and processing; sensitivity settings to ISO 51,200; Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 60 fps; a full-res 8-fps burst rate; film simulation and creative filters; built-in Wi-Fi; a hotshoe; and a die-cast aluminum body with a die-cast magnesium alloy top. Silver or black: $1,299.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II
The successor to the first full-frame (24x36mm format) noninterchangeable-lens compact, Sony’s exquisitely made entry boasts a full-frame, 42.4MP BSI CMOS sensor with a variable optical low-pass filter. It’s built to deliver optimum resolution and artifact suppression. The variable LPF allows users to choose “off” to prioritize image resolution; “hi” to reduce moiré and color artifacts; or “standard” to balance those priorities. The camera also features a fast, sharp, wide-angle 35mm f/2 Zeiss Sonnar T* lens with three aspheric elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and a 9-bladed diaphragm for artistic bokeh.
Other high-end features include a 3-inch, 1.23M-dot, tilting LCD monitor and a retractable 2.36M-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF. Moreover, a Bionz X processor delivers 14-bit RAW image data, a maximum full-res burst rate of 5 fps and sensitivity settings to ISO 102,400.
In addition, the camera records Full HD 1080p video capture at up to 60 fps in the XAVC S format. The DSC-RX1R II’s fast, precise hybrid AF system provides 399 phase-detection points, while a 120-zone autoexposure system offers a multi-zone metering option. It also features built-in Wi-Fi/NFC and SteadyShot image stabilization. $3,299. sony.com
* All lens focal lengths are in 35mm equivalents.