Given that so many people seem perturbed by the import (or lack thereof) of your numbering system, I recommend that your next list of ten recommended cameras use the following sensible numbering system to avoid unwarranted assumptions:
This should avoid any confusion.
Happy Tuesday. I will have you know that it is snowing this morning at TOP World Headquarters in Wisconsin. It's a warm, slushy snow that will melt soon, but still—it's April 21st, and it's snowing. Just to prove it can.
Meanwhile, we're up to "kumquat" on the big list. (Unless Ctein meant for his numbering system to go the other way. And, how would you tell?)
Here it is:
What's going on is a nod to a phenomenon that's very important to me. Now, I don't mean to insult anybody; there's a wealth of great information on the internet, and many enthusiasts and experts share their time and knowledge very graciously. But some e-precincts, in sinister contrast, have become a sort of fetid swamp of shopping one-upsmanship, with every knowitall trying to put the next one down as swiftly and thoroughly as possible and competing to see who's mastered the the deepest arcane factoids about this or that camera. ("As any idiot knows, if you load the latest firmware and then hack it with the Boogerpicker mods, you can open the RAW files in ZiggyRaw and convert them to TIFFs and back again and get much better quality. Anyone who does not do this is not seeing what the camera is capable of.") What that sort of minute, extreme pixel-peepery tends to miss, not surprisingly, is the big picture—those rare answers to the question, what's a hit?
Exhibit A: in 1984, Leica took its M4-P, a camera which itself had nearly become a literal castoff a decade earlier, and grafted a simple coupled light meter to it. Viola, as my old viola teacher used to say: the M6. Ever taken a casual swing at a golf ball and pured it? Hit it right on the sweet spot so you hardly felt the ball leave the clubface, and almost lost sight of the ball, it went so far? The M6 was like that. Pure smash hit. Biggest seller for Leica since the M3, if I'm not mistaken. Exhibit B: in 1988, Nikon made its best attempt at non-pro AF, powered it with a fistful of AAs, added its then-still-new "Matrix" multi-segmented metering from the FA, a lovely "high-eyepoint" viewfinder, and a shutter that reached the then-awesome speed of 1/8000th sec. The N8008. It became virtually the autofocus Nikkormat. Big hit. Exhibit C: in 2005, Canon introduced the 5D, an advanced-amateur full-frame camera with a high pixel count. For some reason, the 5D seemed to hit a "sweet spot" of image quality. Incredibly, for the next several years the 5D had its little corner of the market all to itself, and real photographers (people who make pictures, I mean) flocked to it. It's still in wide use and has never become cheap on the used market.
I'm not saying that "hits" are all-time great or classic cameras, necessarily. They're just the designs where everything seems to come together. Designs that tend to be popular with real photographers (see definition above). That sell better than expected. That I tend to run across again and again when I'm roving around the world wide web looking for interesting work. That photographers I respect tend to own and use. That are somehow, ineffably, more than just the sum of their specifications and feature lists.
Now, I've never used the LX3 myself. I've handled the deluxe Leica version, called the D-Lux 4, in a camera store. (Mike Crivello's in Brookfield, which, if you happen to live in Milwaukee, has a pretty full display of Leica products in stock and on view.) It's a tiny jewel. But I believe I have pretty good sensory antennae for this sort of thing, and all my camera-senses tell me that the LX3 is one of these "hits."
Best feature: 24mm-equivalent, ƒ/2-at-the-wide-end, Leica-branded lens. (Even in the Panasonic iteration.)
The LX3 (typical price: $430) is such a big hit that it might be hard to get. Nobody can seem to keep them in stock for long. I swear, the LX3 was in stock at B&H when I started writing this list. Not now, although you can pay $270 more and get the Leica-branded version. (Also available in titanium for a mere $300 extra. Do I need to tell you to pass on that?) At least the D-Lux 4 has a swell leather case, available in brown or black, although of course there's nothing stopping you from putting a Panasonic LX3 in a Leica case.
If you've actually managed to get your mitts on one of these, consider yourself lucky.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "I can offer some hands-on remarks for this camera, Mike. I recently picked up the Leica version of this camera, the D-Lux 4. Having never used the standard Panasonic LX3 I cannot say whether the Leica premium delivers anything extraordinary. I highly doubt it. But the LX3 was not available anywhere.
"Coming mainly from the Canon G7/G9/G10 lineage of point-and-shoots I have to say that I've been impressed with this little guy. Although I'm normally a raw shooter I find that the raw files from this camera are pretty average (i.e. ho-hum), in common with all of these tiny cameras. But I'm finding that the JPGs are really rather special, with a smooth tonality, nice colors, and detail preservation in the shadows. This in-camera processing is really where the money is spent on these little cameras so it makes sense that this is where the camera might shine.
"In terms of usability I've found the D-Lux 4/LX3 pretty easy to get accustomed to. The one niggling issue is that removable lens cap; but I'm even getting used to that. Unlike the LX3, the D-Lux 4 has no finger grip. Adding the optional Leica grip makes the camera very easy and secure to handle with your right hand but, alas, like the grip for the Leica M8 it makes it somewhat awkward to quickly change cards or battery. It also negates your ability to use the custom cases. Sigh.
"One rather unique feature on this camera, and one which I really am beginning to like, are the analog switches for the lens mode (aspect ratios and standard/macro/manual focus). It sure beats twiddling with an electronic setting.
"I really don't understand the silliness over an 'external viewfinder' for this little cam. Leica actually makes one...at $350 or so. I tried using my Voigtländer 21mm viewfinder which frames the lens' widest angle nearly perfectly. But of course as soon as you zoom-in slightly your viewfinder frame isn't worth anything. And it can't inform you of focus status, etc. So unless you're really trying to build a mini-M the lcd is far better than a 'dumb' external viewfinder. Far more continuously informative, far more accurate, no physical inconvenience.
"For lower-light, though, the LX3 can't really match the Canon G9 or G10. Yes, I know that you've read just the opposite. But I'm here to tell you that it's bovine byproduct. The Canon Gs still hold the throne at ISO 800+.
"No, it's not the camera. But it's small, easy to use, has a very good lens, produces images with very good fidelity. Good choice, Mike."