Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Gadget Bag: Large Sensors, Compact Cameras
The brand-new class of fixed-lens compacts with big sensors and pro features
Compact cameras are facing heated competition from a new era of smartphones that are always connected and offer imaging quality on par with compacts that were introduced only a few years ago. As most serious photographers know, however, alongside these advantages smartphones also offer lackluster low-light abilities, impossibly slow autofocus, minimal manual controls, compressed image capture over RAW, run-of-the-mill video specs, nonoptical image stabilization and fixed lenses that offer slow apertures without optical zooming.
Now camera companies are starting to fight back by incorporating the advantages of cell phones into much more sophisticated cameras. For example, a few new compacts offer an interesting development, with several models fitting large image sensors, even full frame, into the efficiently sized bodies. This translates to far better imaging quality over the extremely small sensors that you'll find in smartphones because, all things being equal, larger sensors are able to gather more light. That means a better signal-to-noise ratio, which will result in less image noise, even over the latest smartphones with a lot of megapixels like the Apple iPhone 4S/5, Samsung Galaxy S III/Note II or the 13.1-megapixel Sony Xperia Z.
With many more likely on the way, a handful of new models also incorporate WiFi and the Android operating system. Just like your smartphone, this gives the cameras wireless abilities for accessing camera controls and images from computers or tablets. WiFi adds instant connectivity for uploading images and behind-the-scenes shots to the Internet and social media right from the camera. In short, smartphones are certainly convenient, but if you're looking for an extremely portable camera solution that also offers great imaging quality and pro features, there never has been a better time to look at compacts as a much better choice for shooting from the hip.
Historically, it has been expensive to produce a full-frame digital sensor the same size as the ubiquitous 35mm film plane of classic cameras. Now image processing and chip manufacturing have reached the point where large sensors are finding themselves more common, even in very small bodies.
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