Josh's Photo Blog

August 7, 2008

Quest for the Ultimate Compact – The Nikon P6000 and Panasonic LX3

Filed under: gadgets — joshuaps @ 3:06 pm

For those of you who don’t check photo gear blogs as often as I do (not sure that I know anyone that does, and that’s definitely a good thing… for them. Horrible habit.), Nikon announced their new lineup of compact cameras today, including their new top-end compact, the P6000. As I shoot pretty much everything with SLR’s (read: big cameras), and as Nikon isn’t nearly as competitive in the compact camera arena as it is with the pro-looking SLR’s, this isn’t something I’d ordinarily care about. But I’m in the market for a compact camera with pro-grade features to complement my SLR (precisely why is a topic for another post), and the P6000 might be one of several models that fits the bill for me.

Until about a month ago, if you wanted a pro-grade compact camera, you bought a Canon G9, which was the only camera on the market to combine (relatively) small size with easily adjustable manual controls, a hotshoe (for taking external flashes and, more usefully, radio triggers to remotely trigger them) and the ability to shoot RAW (an image format that gives superior results to those willing to play around a bit in Photoshop) at a reasonable pace. However, the G9 had major flaws for my purposes, the most notable being a relatively narrow (not wide-angle) lens; while you could buy accessories to rectify this, doing so would add enough to the camera’s already significant size and cost to put you in the ballpark of a compact SLR like the Nikon D60, which would deliver superior image quality and speed for little extra weight and size.

The field of play started to get a little interesting when Panasonic announced their new LX3 digicam, which brought an amazing 24-60mm f/2.0-2.8 lens and (allegedly) greater image quality to the table. To put this in perspective, you can’t buy a comparable lens for a Nikon or Canon SLR, and the closest approximation to it, the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, costs about $1700, or over three times the camera’s list price. It also happens to be a lot smaller than the G9, even with the amazing lens, and sacrifices almost nothing in features compared to the established rival (you can’t zoom in as much, but the wide-angle coverage is much more useful in practical photography)

Now Nikon’s throwing their own gauntlet into the ring, with the recent announcement of their P6000. It, like the Panasonic, promises much greater image quality and a wide-angle lens in a smaller package. While the Internet buzz seems to indicate that its RAW’s can’t be read by Macs (another item on my upgrade list, and another post topic), this isn’t an immediate concern for me, and I’m willing to bet good money that this will become a non-issue through a software update either before the camera’s release, or soon thereafter.

The camera’s one standout feature is the built-in GPS receiver, which I suppose is the tradeoff for a run-of-the-mill (though, thankfully, wide-angle) 28-110 f/2.8-5.9 lens. No, it’s not for navigating you from your house to the nearest photo opportunity, it’s meant to “geotag” your photos by recording the location where each was taken. The general idea is that, combined with Google Maps and/or Nikon’s Picturetown website, you can, over time, come up with a map of where you’ve been, with your photos annotating each destination. You can use this to scout out locations for photo shoots while walking about – take a photo of that interesting alleyway or mountaintop where the light hits just right at this hour of the day, then come back to it with your big guns when you’ve got the time and resources to make a great photo out of it. Or you could just use it to show people where you’ve gone, and where you are now. I will admit that this could end up being more than a little gimmicky, and that I’m more than a little partial to Nikon, just because their SLR’s have been very reliable. A similar menu system and full compatibility with my Nikon flashes is also quite helpful, though neither of these are deal-makers or breakers on their own.

There’s still almost 2 months to go before Photokina, the big camera show in late September where everyone brings out the latest-and-greatest. I’m probably going to wait till at least then before picking up one of those cameras, though a windfall of cash or an urgent need for something compact might swing me one way or the other


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