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Monday, 13 April 2009


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Since, in the digital age, a camera is a product of its sensor, I can't see any way around DXO ratings. Either you believe the camera does something "magical", or you scientifically rate the picture quality.

Any 35mm camera you rate #1 will be bested by a D3X on a tripod for image quality, no matter what. Any medium format digital will be bested by the new phase one/mamiya for image quality, no matter what.

So now, to justify a #1 rating for any other camera, you are forced into talking about useless things like handholdability (in body IS), ergonomics, price, reliability, stealthiness, and interactions with lens systems.

I say useless, because few of those things can be measured reliably... some people have big hands, some people have big bank accounts, a leica M8 may be stealthy and have better lenses compared with a 1Ds markIII on the short end, but Alex Majoli of Magnum uses and Olympus P&S (in other words I think he has the edge on stealth, just take a look at his photos). What I am saying is that for every photographic rule there is an exception. In digital (because we can't change sensors like we change film), the only thing we can say is, all things being equal, this image is better than this image. One simply cannot ignore the laws of physics.

I am all for subjective evaluations, but if you do this the comments are going to be populated with people who are personally offended because they are taking your ratings seriously, when in fact there is little principled scientific evaluation of cameras outside of their S/N ratio, resolution, color fidelity, and certain aspects of responsiveness and durability.

It's win win for a reader like me because the comments will be hate fueled for no other reason than a camera reflects a persons zeitgeist. It's lose lose for you though, and I admire your courage.

"I disagree" is tongue and cheek now, but I predict blood on this one. How exciting.

P.S. If your #1 camera is a a handmade Miroslav Tichy you happened to pick up at auction, I will print this comment, eat it, and send you the video.

The DXO rating is commerce not science.

A great choice; I've given away two as gifts and heard nothing but astonished praise in return...another great feature of the 880 IS is the marvelous 3" LCD which is easily the best available in this class of camera.

For myself, I'm still using the 3 1/2 year-old A620 for a pocket camera (admittedly a bigger pocket) because: a) the swiveling LCD is just a brilliantly useful feature in a P&S, and b) its successors are too big for even a generous pocket and cram way too many Lilliputian pixels onto the same size sensor. I sure wish they'd stop doing that.


I think DXO ratings has nothing to do with commerce unless they are fake.

They give you a clear view on image quality your possible cameras can achieve and let you make an easy choice in this area. Then you can focus on functional advantages like speed, shutter, quality lcd, comfort of use etc.

Yunfat, if all elements of the photograph making process were subject to objective measurement, lists such as Mike's would be uninteresting. That's not the case, however. Even those elements that can be objectively measured are not all equally important to each photographer or to each photograph. The way those elements -- measurable ones and others -- are mixed and matched is what makes one camera design "better" than the next.

Your list? Boy, are you going to be screamed at. You should publish your hate mail - it would provide hours of entertainment.

On thing I learned after recommending this to my dad is that Canon P&S cameras have zoom lenses that work in about seven discrete steps. Pushing the zoom lever distinctly motors between the steps.

The Fujifilm F-series compacts I've used most recently have some 30 different settings, and they're subtle enough that one doesn't notice that it's not completely continuous. Same with the older Olympus C-series I had a few years ago.

This isn't necessarily a problem, but my dad found it irritating, and you might too if you're not expecting it.

Mike has made it pretty clear that his top-ten ratings are intended for entertainment and debate, not as presentations of scientific evidence. Those who have trouble with this concept should probably turn their attention elsewhere for the next few days.

You would rather have no optical viewfinder than a poor one. Given that most of the several hundred P&S cameras have LCD's that are invisible in bright light, I assume you are in favor of pointing the camera in the general direction and hoping something decent will result. Sort of like the early 20th century hand held cameras with no viewfinders.

Truly, I don't mind having lots of choices. It DOES bug me when I can't compare them in a rational way. I'm always looking for a table that compares cameras by feature.

The Olympus TOUGH cameras are a nice alternative if you need something that's waterproof. The IQ is not quite up there, but the only option for true underwater operation for the Canon 880IS is a case.

I've taken my current pocket camera, in it's protective case, whitewater rafting one time very successfully two other times were mixed. And now the camera works kind of flaky due to water ingress.

After that experience I am in the market for a pocket camera that is waterproof in a pool (or a river) onto itself. I will be buying when my current camera dies, or the summer, comes which ever comes first.

If you insist on Canon, they've finally decided to enter this market with the D10.

The miniscule differences between sensors as rated by DXO is virtually meaningless in the real world. Price, handling and ease of use, lenses available, acccessories available, are much more meaningful than a DXO rating.

You would be hard pressed to see any diffrence in 16 x 20 prints from the top 10 or 15 rated DXO camera sensors.

Photograpy is not about ratings it is about vision!

So far, I approve of your Top 10 list..... :-)

Yunfat - I think you need to read the intro to this list that Mike posted over the weekend. It's explains the point of view the list is written from.

"in the digital age, a camera is a product of its sensor..."

That's true to some extent, but I would take issue with the equation you propose that "best image quality == best camera". The two aren't perfectly correlated by any means. I'll take a camera I enjoy using and has features I like over one that produces slighty better pictures, but isn't as easy/enjoyable to use.

And "useless" is a poor choice of words for things that are subjective. That doesn't make them useless in rating cameras - it just means you need to keep in mind that your reading an opinion piece, rather than a scientific journal.

Could you pleas include Links to alternative retailers? I suppose I am not the only one saddened by this:


I know people will disagree, but I think that the P&S camera has been the few appropriate uses of digital technology. DSLR’s have only just caught up with film for image quality, and still cost far more, but P&S cameras quickly superseded their film equivalents. Looking for a good P&S camera before digital was a forlorn hope; the assumption was that this sort of camera was for idiots. None came with “serious” photographic controls, and their reliability, flexibility and image quality was severely compromised. You had to look at Contax, Rollie and Leica if you wanted a good small camera, and these cost as much as an DSLR. Today there are a range of small digital cameras, that certainly meet the image requirements of the casual snapper, whilst providing them with cameras they can “work” with- as well as the cost and convenience features of digital photography. Of course, viewfinders and extended depth of field remain an issue, but (other than a Leica M) when back in film days could you get an F2.0 small camera?

I have some down under friends. Hanging like a bat is natural for batty people.

This seems like a good choice for the #10 spot, though like JC pointed out, we're missing the perspective of being able to place it appropriately in the hierarchy of your Top Ten list since we don't know what the others are yet. I think ever-ready pocket-sized digital cams certainly have their uses. All of the reviewers seem to love this slim camera: Ken R. raves about it's handling and how easy it is for him to shoot with it one-handed (however it doesn't shoot "RealRaw" like his Leica M3), it was an "easy Dave's Pick", Steve was very impressed by it, and even Jeff found a lot to like about it. It seems like a solid choice as the best representative of it's class of camera, taken as a whole package.


I'v been looking at the small Canons , I have a G2 that is pretty nice. The best thing about the PS Canons in my opinion is the CHDK program, an open source replacement for the Canon firmware, that enables Raw, time lapse , focus bracketing and a lot of other features, see below for more. So far the SD890 SD870 SD890 are supported , but not the SD880. Alas not the G2 either.

See http://chdk.wikia.com

Just to add Mike, I regret that I came off as "angry." I really wasn't at all; I just thought I was being passionately earnest, matter-of-fact.

The SD880is was a nice camera, and so was the A590is.

WAS. As in last year's camera. As in no longer available at your friendly local big-box retailer.

(I sell cameras for a big-box retailer. I get to deal with the people who come in with a copy of Consumer Reports with their choice circled. Usually that is TWO models ago. Now I will have to deal with the hordes of TOP readers "Do you have the Canon 880?")

I'm actually jealous of my wife's Canon SD700, which is no longer made. With this low pixel camera she gets great pictures of the family (in good light of course) with accurate color. Things have gone downhill from there (IMO). It would be great if the SD880 was up to that level.

There are many, many "consumer" P&S cameras and some do distinguish themselves. The Olympus tough cameras are literally toddler indestructible. And the Ricohs are super nice and super user friendly. And BTW the Ricohs are officially available in the US through Amazon and Pop Flash Photo.

Very curious to see what film camera made the list. As my photography evolves I've moved from digital to film myself. Primarily, rangefinder.

Of course, viewfinders and extended depth of field remain an issue, but (other than a Leica M) when back in film days could you get an F2.0 small camera?

Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII. Canonet G-III 17. Olympus 35RD. Konica Auto S3. Yashica Electro 35CC. Yashica Electro 35GX. Minolta Hi-Matic E. Vivitar 35ES. Olympus 35SP. Those are all f/1.7 or f/1.8.

That's off the top of my head. There may be more.

I use a 7SII and a G-III 17 loaded with color neg as my main P&S cameras.

I know. I was just bein' funny.


Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII. Canonet G-III 17. Olympus 35RD. Konica Auto S3. Yashica Electro 35CC. Yashica Electro 35GX. Minolta Hi-Matic E. Vivitar 35ES. Olympus 35SP. Those are all f/1.7 or f/1.8.

Great list of cameras Oren, but none, I think, available this century or even some way into the last. Though we do now have a number of rangefinders, which at least means some people appreciate a nice viewfinder on a camera, even if Mike Johnston ain’t too fussed.


I'm not going to argue whether a Ricoh (I do use them) or any other camera model should be on your list. However, there are currently three authorized Ricoh dealers in the US (2 in NY, 1 in CA) and a Ricoh authorized service center in Chandler, AZ. Your statement that Ricoh is not officially imported to the US I believe is incorrect.

Keep up the good work,

Yunfat, even if image quality is one's sole concern, small cameras generally have fixed lenses, so it's important to get a camera with a lens that works for you in terms of speed, angle of view, and drawing qualities.

But image quality shouldn't be one's sole concern. The physical design of a camera has a lot of effect on how one uses it. I can get pictures with my G1's waist-level finder that I can't get with my DSLR, even though the DSLR has better image quality.

Re the SD880, my dad picked one up for a trip and *loved* it.

A few days ago, amazon was selling the Sigma DP1 for $400! US only, though (I need an american friend...)


Now that's a great deal in another sun loving compact with a color rendition to dye for. With the bonus of lighter files on your hard disk drive.
Poor handling and crappy LCD. But what colors!


What are seasons? Never heard of winter or summer. :P

Can't believe there are people getting angry over a choice of recommended cameras. And it's only #10!

Hey Mike

us antipodeans are the right way way up its you guys that are upside down.

My, I'm late to the party.

I've been a big fan of this camera series for the last 3-4 years - they're small, easy to pack around, take a beating, and take decent pictures. A few things I'd add: they have (optional, for purchase) waterproof cases that are good to 30 meters, work decently for beach/snorkeling shots, and give up reasonable results at lower depths. They're no G9 or G10-level P&S's, but they're decent.

My only real complaint (and solution): they don't take RAW photos, so you're somewhat limited there. I'm not sure if the CHDK project has made a port to the sd880, but they have for the sd500 (my camera), and that gives me back my RAW pics.

"The SD880IS's image quality is very good, especially if you're willing to learn a few basic software moves."

Care to elaborate on suggested "software moves" for said camera?

Thanks as always for a great site.


"In supermarket tests, given one, three, or 30 alternatives, people will buy most frequently when they have three choices. Thirty choices makes them...cross."

I don't know where you got this. I spent over 30 years in the Supermarket biz, many of them as a producer or user of Market Research. The statement is certainly true of some product categories, and may well be true for hard goods categories like cameras.

It is emphatically not true for many, probably most, 'dry' grocery categories. I recall one experiment with hair coloring. Somebody in one Division saw that 3 out of the 15 or so colors of the leading hair coloring accounted for almost 90% of sales.

So they tried carrying only those three colors. Sales practically disappeared.

Beer is another category like that. No mass marketer wants to carry that many brands of a commodity that is large, heavy and requires refrigeration. Carry under 10 brands, let alone three, and you are out of the beer business.

You don't think Campbell would be ecstatic to sell the same volume with a handful of flavors? Been in the cereal aisle lately? You think they carry all those brands because they want to, or because they have to?

Refrigerated pickles, yup. A big size of halves, smaller jars of spears and slices, maybe add B&B chips for 4, and you are in business.

Cameras? Not my area of MR expertize. The SD880 is clearly a category winner. In fact, for several years they seem to me to have consistently offered the best compromises of features and performance in the non-SLR market. For the vast majority of shooters, the leading Canon entry in the category they want is probably the most reliable choice.

There may be something as good or a little better, but trying to find it may lead to insanity.

Me? I'm in the minority, still holding onto the F30 for low light moving things and people and still loving the A650 IS with CHDK "hack" for everything else non SLR.


Dear Yunfat,

"Since, in the digital age, a camera is a product of its sensor, I can't see any way around DXO ratings. Either you believe the camera does something "magical", or you scientifically rate the picture quality."

Errr, that is tantamount to saying there's no way to rank film cameras, except via what you call "useless" criteria. They could all take exactly the same film so their "DxO" ratings would be identical.

All those film camera tests and comparisons, totally pointless and useless, 'cause there's no meaningful difference between any of them.


pax / Ctein

I have the same complaint as someone else above. Product runs are too short. The 880 is not available at my local store. Your article prompted me to look at it though, which prompted to look at the previous 800, and it turns out that according to dpreview, its pics are just as good, if not better in some cases. Good enough for my purposes anyway, but good luck finding one.

These short product cycles are screwing up my used camera buying habits, and I don't like it.

Indeed this is a fantastic camera, along with its close brethen. It's really pocket sized, not too slow, and I would not hesitate to use pictures from it in exhibitions.

I mostly use its brother with a 35mm-e wide end, and that camera makes pictures so sharp I have a hard time getting used to it. This one is probably similar in quality, but I've not used it quite enough to be sure.

Oops, forgot link to picture samples and articles about both models:


Ctein, yep that's exactly what I am saying.

The paradigm has completely shifted. People who used to evaluate film cameras seem to reject the notion that 99% of people buying digital cameras these days do it based upon the "film" inside (megapixels and sensor quality), people buying a digital camera simply don't care about those things that used to differentiate film cameras. Did you ever buy a film camera because it uses the best film, a film that you couldn't use in other cameras? But now, people choose the best "film", and the camera is an afterthought.

I am of the opinion (and yes, it is strictly that) all those things you prized in your analysis of film bodies mean nothing in the digital age.

I understand this site caters to the 1% of us who still understand and are sympathetic to your point, however, if you go to best buy and happen to overhear a conversation in the camera department, are you more likely to hear "Wow, 14 megapixels" or "Jeez, this camera has great ergonomics and is extremely responsive"?

Digital cameras and film cameras are so different, any attempt to apply critical analysis that used to be important for one, is almost completely out of place in the evaluation of the other.

How is the feel of the camera in the hand, or the eyepoint of the viewfinder relative to a person who buys off the internet retailer? This consumer, and there are millions of them, buy their cameras sight unseen. Completely irrelevant are those characteristics you value so much. They see a megapixel number that is the highest, and they whip out the CC.

A word on behalf of the humble A590 mentioned at the end of this post. I've had this camera since it came out (and also had one of its predecessors). It's as compromised as all the other point and shoots, but otherwise it's a well-design bargain. It has plenty of MPs and great Canon controls. I use it in P mode and keep the ISO at 200 or below (easily changed in a first-level menu). The most important function--exposure compensation--is accessed by a button that falls right under my thumb. AA batteries are a nice function and the grip they live in make it easy to shoot one-handed. I can use this camera without fiddling or hunting, and I've even gotten pretty good at making it work (up to a point) in low light.

Late comment but I'm backtracking my way through old entries. I happened to buy my wife an 880IS as replacement for her 850IS thinking it would do as good or better a job. It turns out the 880IS has a serious issue with macro focusing: at close range, especially on red subjects, it keeps focusing on the background in spite of the focusing rectangle turning green.

Very annoying and hard to get rid of, even after focusing on a distant subject. I sometimes think it could even be a defect on that specific camera. I wonder if anybody has had the same issue...

Otherwise, great little camera.

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