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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hi-Tech Studio: Fixed-Lens, Large-Sensor Compacts

The professional backup camera with extremely fast apertures and very high image quality

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Leica X2
At 4.88x2.72x2.03 inches, Leica's X2 compact is roughly an inch smaller than their highly regarded (and three times as expensive) M series of full-frame digital rangefinder cameras, which are already inherently compact simply because rangefinders lack a pentaprism. The X2 weighs 0.7 pounds in a diminutive body that still manages to house a 16.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor with maximum 4944x3272 resolution. Available in silver or black, Leica's camera designs are about luxury, and for the pronounced price point of the X2, you get a very basic set of features that has been wrapped elegantly in the classic form factor for which Leica is known. The Elmarit 24mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH lens is equivalent to a 35mm angle of view while ISO sensitivity ranges up to 12,500. The X2 adds an accessory socket for a viewfinder over the design of the previous model, the X1, and unlike most Leica models, digital or film, autofocus joins the manual controls. Although there's a 2.7-inch live-view screen with 230K dots, the X2 doesn't include video. (The new Leica M is the only model that does.) The X2 includes a retractable flash and RAW capture in the ubiquitous DNG format. List Price: $1,995.

Fujifilm FinePix X100S
Sigma's novel approach to compacts is to provide their user base with not just one large-sensor model, but three models that differ only by focal length: the DP1 Merrill with a 19mm lens (28mm equivalence), a 30mm lens with 45mm equivalence on the DP2, and the model announced at CES, the DP3 Merrill, with a 50mm ƒ/2.8 lens and 75mm equivalence. The Merrill compacts each offers a nine-blade diaphragm with an ƒ/2.8 aperture. The unique Foveon sensor design is the big draw for Sigma users. Unlike more standard Bayer arrays, it employs three stacked layers of photodiodes to capture independent RGB values at every pixel on the sensor. It also lacks an anti-aliasing filter, which results in sharper images and fewer color artifacts. Sigma claims 46 megapixels of resolution thanks to three separate layers of photodiodes, although at 4704x3136 resolution, this number is roughly equivalent to around 15 megapixels, and even that number is disputable. The Achilles' heel in the Foveon system is low-light performance, however. Distorted color and noise are noted to be significant at higher ISOs or during low-light shooting. These cameras are capable of standard-definition VGA video, but not high definition. Estimated Street Price: From $949.

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 packs a full-frame CMOS sensor into a literal compact body. The RX1's imaging quality is so good that it currently sits in fourth place on DxOMark's Camera Sensor Ratings, a spot that's just above most DSLRs and even several tested medium-format cameras, and just below the top three spots currently reserved by Nikon's full-frame D800/E and D600 DSLRs. (This isn't too surprising, as Sony manufactures several Nikon sensors, including those in the Nikon D800 and D600). The 35mm ƒ/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* prime lens includes nine aperture blades and the multilayered T* coating for reducing aberration. The body also houses an internal flash along-side compatibility with Sony external flashes and a variety of accessories like viewfinders, thumb grips and a clip-on LCD monitor via the multi-interface hot-shoe. The RX1 offers 14-bit RAW files, ISO from 100-25,600, a close minimum focus of only 5.5 inches and 5 fps continuous shooting. HD video with manual controls is available in 24p/60i/60p. The RX1 also includes dedicated aperture, focusing and macro-switching rings. All of this comes at a cost much higher than these other compact systems, however. List Price: $2,799.


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