In an increasingly fragmented world where it’s difficult to maintain focus and attention for more than a nanosecond, it can pay to simplify. In the average pro’s camera bag, you’ll find a DSLR, a smaller backup DSLR, four to six lenses, a few strobes, spare batteries, a couple of lighting modifiers and a range of other ready-for-anything accessories. That’s a lot of gear. You might be ready for a lot of different scenarios, but with so much stuff on hand, it can be impossible to keep your focus, and you end up with a variation of paralysis by analysis. On the other hand, if you limit yourself to a single focal length and minimize the other components, you can see photographic possibilities open up everywhere you look.
The leading visionaries among today’s new breed of street photographers have been setting aside their DSLRs in favor of compact fixed- and interchangeable-lens models. These cameras are reminiscent of a generation of film-based models that were favored by photojournalists for their simplicity, reliability and high-quality optics. The mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have been gaining in popularity for a few years, and more recently, a cadre of high-end fixed-lens, fixed-focal-length cameras with excellent optics and large image sensors have come along. The latter group of "large-sensor compacts" are impressive, to say the least. Built with APS-C and full-frame sensors and coupled with fast lenses, these cameras have excellent low-light performance. They’re versatile and small, and you can use high-end lighting tools with them.
Fujifilm FinePix X100S
The FinePix X100S features a versatile hybrid optical/2360K-dot electronic eye-level viewfinder to handle just about any viewing need, with rich information display in both modes. The 16.3-megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor uses a highly random RGB pattern that eliminates the need for the sharpness-reducing optical low-pass filter found in most digital cameras, and is complemented by the EXR Processing II with Lens Modulation Optimizer for added sharpness. The sturdy, 5.0×2.9×2.1-inch, 14.3-ounce body incorporates a fast 23mm (35mm-camera equivalent) ƒ/2 lens and a 2.8-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor. ISO range is 200-6400, expandable to 25,600. Other features of special note include quick Intelligent hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF, RAW recording, up to 29 frames at 6 fps, a built-in three-stop ND filter, and 1080 full HD video at 60 and 30 fps. Estimated Street Price: $1,299. Contact: Fujifilm, www.fujifilm.com
Featuring the classic Leica rangefinder "look" (without the rangefinder), the X2’s 4.9×2.7×2.0-inch, 11.2-ounce German-made body contains a 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, a 35mm (35mm-camera equivalent) ƒ/2.8 Leica Elmarit lens and a 2.7-inch, 230K-dot LCD monitor. The X2 can shoot up to eight frames at 5 fps, record in RAW (DNG) as well as JPEG, and get up to 450 shots per charge with the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Autofocusing is quick and nearly silent. ISOs run from 100-12,500, and there’s a built-in pop-up flash unit (as well as a hot-shoe for external units). There’s no built-in eye-level viewfinder, but electronic and mirror external finders are available. Estimated Street Price: $1,995. Contact: Leica, us.leica-camera.com.
Nikon Coolpix A
The Nikon Coolpix A features a 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor without a low-pass filter and a 28mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8 lens. It can shoot still images at 4 fps, as well as 1080p full HD video at 30, 25 and 24 fps and 720p HD at 30 and 24 fps. Normal ISO range is 100-3200 (expandable to 25600), with 14-bit RAW (NEF) as well as JPEG recording. Contrast-based TTL AF goes from 1.7 feet to infinity (down to four inches in macro mode). The 4.4×2.6×1.6-inch, 10.6-ounce body incorporates a big, 3.0-inch, 921K-dot LCD and an optional optical eye-level finder can be attached to the accessory shoe (which also accepts external flash units if the built-in one doesn’t provide sufficient power). You can even transfer photos to any WiFi-enabled device using the optional WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter. Estimated Street Price: $1,099. Contact: Nikon, www.nikonusa.com
Sigma DP1 Merrill, DP2 Merrill, DP3 Merrill
The latest version of the first compact camera with an APS-C image sensor, the DP1 Merrill features a 19mm (28mm equivalent) ƒ/2.8 wide-angle lens and the unique Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor that records all three primary colors at every pixel site. Image sensors can’t detect color; they just detect the amount of light that reaches each pixel. To get color information, conventional sensors cover each pixel with a red, green or blue filter, getting the missing color data for each pixel via complex interpolation from neighboring pixels through a process known as demosaicing. This process can produce moiré and artifacts, so manufacturers generally place a low-pass filter on top of the sensor to slightly blur the image at the pixel level, reducing moiré—and image sharpness. The Foveon sensor takes advantage of the fact that light penetrates silicon to different depths based on wavelengths: short (blue) wavelengths just a bit, medium (green) wavelengths deeper and long (red) wavelengths the deepest. Thus, no RGB filters are needed, no demosaicing and no blurring low-pass filter. So the Foveon sensor produces higher resolution than a conventional sensor of equal horizontal-by-vertical pixel count. The sensor in the DP1 Merrill (named in honor of one of the creators of the Foveon sensor) contains three pixel layers, each 4800×3200 pixels. Aside from terrific image quality, the DP1M features truly compact size (4.8×2.6×2.5 inches, 12.0 ounces), a 3.0-inch, 920K-dot LCD monitor, nine-point contrast-based AF and VGA (640×490) video capability. Estimated Street Price: $999.
Basically identical to the DP1 Merrill, the DP2M features a 30mm (45mm equivalent) ƒ/2.8 "normal" lens, measures 4.8×2.6×2.3 inches, weighs 11.6 ounces and carries the same price.
The newest member of Sigma’s APS-C sensor compact line is the DP3 Merrill, similar to the DP1M and DP2M but with a 50mm (75mm equivalent) ƒ/2.8 short telephoto lens designed specifically for the sensor. The lens makes it slightly larger: 4.8×2.6×3.2 inches, 14.1 ounces. The price is the same as the other DPM models. Contact: Sigma, www.sigmaphoto.com.
Ricoh’s new GR packs a 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor with no low-pass filter and a 28mm (equivalent) ƒ/2.8 lens into a compact 4.6×2.4×1.4-inch, 8.6-ounce body. ISO settings run from 100-25600, and you can record RAW (DNG) as well as JPEG files. The GR can shoot still images up to 4 fps, as well as 1080 full HD video at 30/25/24 fps, 720 HD at 60/50/30/25/24 fps and 640×480 at 30/25/24 fps. The LCD monitor is large (three inches) and sharp (1229K dots), but there’s no eye-level finder. A hot-shoe atop the camera complements the built-in pop-up flash. A nice touch is the built-in two-stop ND filter. Estimated Street Price: $799. Contact: Ricoh Imaging, www.pentaximaging.com
The first compact camera with a full-frame sensor, the RX1 features the same acclaimed 24.3-megapixel Sony Exmor unit used in the company’s SLT-A99 DSLR. In the RX1, image quality is even better because the RX1 doesn’t lose light to a semitranslucent mirror as the A99 does. Adding to the image quality are 14-bit RAW capability, a 35mm ƒ/2 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization. ISO settings range from 100-25,600. The RX1 can shoot still images at 5 fps, and 1080 full HD video at 60p, 60i and 24p. Despite the full-frame sensor and a 3.0-inch, 1229K-dot LCD monitor, the RX1 measures just 4.5×2.6×2.8 inches and weighs 16 ounces. There’s no eye-level finder built in, but optical and electronic ones are available as accessories. The RX1 even includes Sony’s easy Sweep Panorama mode. Estimated Street Price: $2,799. Contact: Sony, www.sony.com.
The RX1R is an RX1 with the optical low-pass filter removed. The low-pass filter minimizes moiré and artifacts inherent in the Bayer-RGB sensor system, but slightly blurs the images in the process. The 24.3-megapixel, full-frame sensor has a high enough pixel density that the blurring filter isn’t needed for most situations, so you can choose an RX1 with or without, depending on your needs: no moiré (RX1) or sharper with possibility of moiré in certain situations (RX1R). Note that moiré can be removed in postprocessing. The price is the same for both models.