I think I need to link to Thom Hogan's Compact Camera Challenge just out of self-defense, because so many people have emailed me about it.
It's a nice article. Although more highly specified, this is essentially what I wrote about 18 months ago as as the "DMD" or "Decisive Moment Digicam." Apparently Thom is as mystified as I am that in this world of excessive consumer choice, we still don't have a compact digicam based on a large (4/3rds or APS-C) sensor. It's a natural product category that just doesn't exist, but should.
We ought to get the first one very soon, however, although it will of course be different in its particulars than the cameras Thom or I specified—the Sigma DP1.
I worry about the DP1, however. Product categories are overly dependent on their first implementation. How it works is this. Somebody tries a new idea, and everybody else watches and waits. If the new idea is a hit, everybody scrambles to jump on the bandwagon. If the new idea is a bust, then nobody ever tries it again. I've been around long enough that I've seen some great ideas go down in flames this way. It's a shame when that happens.
As the first large-sensor compact, the whole idea of large-sensor compacts is riding on the DP1's fragile shoulders (and somewhat questionable—from a marketing standpoint at least—specs. That ƒ/4 lens might work out fine, but it seems slow to people and might make them hold off opening their wallets. Could be bad news for the concept). What I'm worried about is that Sigma's particular implementation might fall flat in the marketplace, and hurt or even kill the whole idea of the category altogether, before it even exists. I hope not.
Small sensors rampant
Then again, there's the possibility that Thom and I are just both wrong. Maybe a large-sensor compact is not what the world needs after all. Maybe the camera makers will just go on improving the small sensors until they do everything we need 'em to do.
Things sometimes seem to be moving in that direction. Take the Ricoh Caplio GX100 (above) that a lot of people are getting excited about, and that have just recently started getting into the hands of end users. First of all, I can just tell from the language in the press and advertising material that Ricoh is proud of this lens, and has put a lot of design and engineering time in on it. Next, the daylight samples, I have to say, are unusually impressive for a compact.
Granted, low-light performance is yet to be evaluated, and it probably doesn't match that of big sensors. But it's possible we just need to give 'em time.
P.S. The exclusive dealer for Ricoh products in the USA: