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I’m a weirdo. Maybe it’s because I grew up around photography, or maybe it’s just because I love anything gadgety, but I carry a camera everywhere I go. Usually more than one. When I go out specifically to take photos, I carry my Fuji X-S20, but even though it’s small in terms of mirrorless cameras, it’s still not exactly the kind of camera that will disappear into a jacket pocket.
For that, I’ve always had a second camera. This has historically worked out pretty well for me. I have reasonably high quality pictures from the time when smartphone cameras were kind of a novelty, not the kind of thing you would actually want to look at pictures from. This pictures are from a trip to San Diego in 2008, taken with a Canon SD400.
They’re not amazing by modern standards, but I promise you they’re better than cell phone camera pictures in 2008.
These days, the pocket camera has taken on a different role for me. For example, in May we went on a little road trip to New Orleans. I took my XT-4 and a ton of lenses and stuff, which was great to be able to take a big camera with a fast prime with me when we went out to dinner at night, but I didn’t want to drag that camera around all day while doing tourist stuff like exploring the French Quarter or the Riverfront. So during the day, I just took the Ricoh GRIII with me and got some really great pictures with a camera that didn’t require a camera strap or a dedicated camera bag.
So basically, my second camera is something that’s small and pocketable, or at least jacket pocketable. It needs to be appreciably better than a cell phone camera. It needs to be quick to deploy. Bonus points if it’s also good at video.
I’ve had a few different cameras fill this role in the last few years, and while they all have things that I really like, none of them are my ideal pocket camera.
Let’s start with my current small camera, the Ricoh GRIII.
The GR III has a lot going for it. It’s very small and pocketable, the battery life is decent, but not amazing, but since the batteries are cheap and small so I don’t even care. It has an APS-C sensor and an F2.8 28mm FF equivalent lens. It also has IBIS, which is great in low light. It takes very good pictures.
So what am I bitching about? Well, for starters, it’s not weather sealed at all. This is generally not something that super concerns me, but since it’s a fixed lens camera, you have to send it in for service if you get dust on the sensor. Not only that, but the Ricoh seems to be particularly prone to getting dust on the sensor. You can find tons of threads on DPreview, Reddit, etc where people have dust stuck on their sensor. As a result, I’m extra paranoid about it and keep a JJC Lens cover on it all the time. This makes it a little slow for spur-of-the-moment stuff. If I’m walking around taking pictures with the camera in my hand, that’s not an issue, but if it’s in a jacket pocket or a bag I have to not only get the camera out but also remove the lens cover and find somewhere to put it that’s not going to make it dusty and defeat the purpose of having a lens cover in the first place.
The colors are great, but autofocus isn’t amazing. It’s noticeably worse than the X-S20. Autofocus isn’t the end of the world on a mirrorless camera that has a lens with a focus ring, but on a small, fixed lens camera, it really needs to nail focus every time and the Ricoh definitely does not. It’s serviceable, but I would not complain about improvements to the AF.
Video is also clearly an afterthought. It only shoots 1080p video at 30fps. No 4k. No higher frame rates. AF in video is particularly bad. You can tell they made this camera to be a small stills camera and absolutely nothing else. I remapped the video button in mine to change focus modes because I never bother shooting any video with it.
I’m grouping them together because they’re very similar, as you can see. I had the RX100VII first and overall I liked it a lot, it took very good photos, and had lots of zoom range. I would have traded some of that zoom range for a faster aperture though, as F2.8 on a 1″ Sensor wasn’t ideal for low light.
I sold the RX100 and got the ZV1, which is a great camera for video, but the controls were terrible for photos, at least for me. I honestly kinda regretted getting rid of the RX100 for the ZV1, but at the same time, I did appreciate its faster F1.8 lens.
You can, of course, get an older RX100 that does have a faster lens, but then you lose the newer AF and the mic jack from the VII, but to be totally honest, there’s one major thing keeping me from just purchasing another RX100VII, the camera still charges and connects with a MicroUSB cable. I cannot for the life of me abide spending over $1000 for a camera that has a MicroUSB port in 2023. That’s just absolutely bananas to me.
If Sony would update the RX100 even just a little bit and add a USB C port, that would likely be my choice. I would take the trade off in sensor size for bulletproof AF and great video. I’m just not going to carry a damn MicroUSB cable.
This is the only camera of the bunch that I don’t actually own and have never actually used, but I do own other fuji cameras, so I know what they excel at.
On paper the X100V is almost perfect. Same size APS-C sensor as the GRIII, F2.0 lens which is nearly a full stop faster than the F2.8 on the Ricoh, Fuji Colors, much better video performance than the GRIII, good autofocus, and I could match the film simulation to my X-S20. There are a few problems here though.
First off, I don’t have the camera for a reason, they’re absolutely fucking impossible to buy. I’m not going to pay 2x MSRP from a scalper for what is supposed to be my small, relatively camera. Fuji just absolutely can’t keep up with demand. This would be an interesting camera around its MSRP of $1400, but at close to $3k it’s not even a consideration.
Second, it is physically larger than both the RX100 and the Ricoh GR. It’s getting close to the point of not really being all that small, just slightly larger and I could put a small lens on my X-S20.
So what do I want?
Well, I mean I want a perfect little travel camera that costs $300 and has a full frame sensor and a 35mm f1.2 lens. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Small cameras are all about trade offs. With a very large camera body, you can honestly get whatever you want, as long as you have the money. You can have long battery life and great low light performance and fast glass and IBIS and a great viewfinder and amazing autofocus and basically everything you could ever dream of, as long as you can pay the bill. Once you start trying to cram stuff into a camera body that will slip into a jacket pocket, you start to run headlong into physics.
You can’t have a huge sensor and a very fast lens and have the body still be relatively thin, because you need actual physical space between the lens and the sensor. You can’t have super long battery life, because that requires a very large battery and a very large battery won’t fit in a very small camera, because, again, physics. So I guess I have to decide which trade offs I would like to make.
In a perfect world, Sony would release a new RX100. Or maybe a pair of them. One of them could be an update to the RX100VII with its superzoom lens, and one could be an update to the RX100Va with its shorter, faster lens. If they’re feeling like really dominating this market, they could even stick an APS-C sensor in it to more directly compete with the Ricoh and the Fuji. And both could, please, have a USB Type C connector on them.
Fuji could make it happen by updating the already almost perfect X100V with a new model with maybe better AF and IBIS, and most importantly, find a way to produce enough of them to meet demand.
Ricoh could do it by updating the GR III with some decent video features and make it at least a little bit less likely to get dust on the sensor. Either by having the lens fixed instead of retractable or, better yet, by doing some real weather sealing. I get that it’s a niche camera, but it’s not exactly a cheap camera, they can afford some sealing.
Or maybe it’s not going to be a camera at all.
I’m writing this on September 19th, 2023 and the reviews for the iPhone 15 Pro just came out today, and the phone will be arriving on Friday, September 22nd. This year they’re using the same 48mp main sensor as the 14 Pro but doing some software magic to mind meld a 12mp binned photo for dynamic range with a full read out 48mp photo for detail and giving you a 24mp image by default that is supposedly the best of both worlds. Early reviews are pretty enthusiastic about the image quality.
Every year people say “Smartphone cameras are better than actual cameras!” but so far that’s never been true. Phone cameras are undeniably getting better, though. I remember how impressed I was when I went from the iPhone 3G to the Nexus One, which had a 5mp camera that, at the time, I thought was absolutely awesome. This was what amazing phone camera pictures looked like in 2010.
Nexus One Pics:
Is this the year the iPhone camera is finally good enough to make me stop carrying a dedicated EDC camera? I guess we’ll find out in a few days.