Camera frustrations and other first world problems

I’m not a camera pro. I have some photos on Flickr, but it’s just for fun, so I don’t really need a new camera. But I do want one. Thing is, there a lot of cameras out there, but none of them has the Goldilocks factor. None has the right mix of features, size, and price that makes me happy.

I now have an old Canon Rebel XTi, Panasonic Lumix LX3, and GoPro HD Hero 2 in my camera bag, but I began to feel an itch when I realized my 50mm F1.8 was broken in some way. It’s a laughably cheap lens with plastic mount, so it’s not surprising that I might have broken it over the years, but the discovery sullied my feelings about the body as well.

Here’s what I’m looking for (roughly in priority order):

  • Sufficient manual control to shoot in aperture priority all the time with EV adjustment
  • Autofocus
  • Wide angle
  • Fast lens
  • Compact
  • Big sensor
  • Easy custom white balance controls
  • Remote trigger
  • Affordability (intentionally undefined)
  • Articulated screen
  • Compatibility with some flash system, maybe
  • GPS

I have and love a Canon EF-S 10-22mm, so there is that reason to stick with Canon, but I’m not married to it. I would consider the Sony NEX 7 and 10-18mm lens, for example, but that combo totals very near $2,000 and violates my vague notion of affordability. And please don’t suggest I can save money by using my Canon 10-22mm on the Sony body with an adapter, as I’d lose autofocus with combo. Another strike against the NEX is the relatively slow maximum aperture of the lens lineup. The 10-22mm is F3.5-4.5, but there are plenty of faster lenses in the Canon lineup at other focal lengths (such as my cheap 50mm, and the one I’d likely replace it with).

I really like the compact size of my LX3, and the new Lumix LX7 looks like a good upgrade. Its 24mm lens is just within my requirements, but its F1.4 maximum aperture is the best of the pack. The lens isn’t interchangeable, but it’s a lens I can be happy with and the size is perfect. The sensor is small compared even to APS-C standards, but bigger than on a point-n-shoot and big enough to get some shallow depth of field effects. On the down side it doesn’t appear to support any sort of remote triggering and I don’t feel there’s a good flash system for a strobe novice like myself to connect with.

Canon’s new EOS M interchangeable lens compact looks interesting. It has the same imaging sensor, processor, and menu controls as the Rebel T4i, but in a smaller package without the mirror. Unfortunately, it also lacks many of the controls the Rebel has, so even putting the EOS M into aperture priority mode requires some surprising menu gymnastics. It also doesn’t appear to have any option for remote triggering and no articulated screen. With an adapter it can mount my 10-22mm with autofocus and other features, so at least there’s that.

The Rebel T4i the EOS M is descended from might be a good choice. In my list of wants it only misses with famously complex custom white balance controls and its large size compared to the others I’ve considered so far. Hate me if you want, but shooting RAW means shooting slowly and promising yourself you’ll balance your images when you get home. I like the option to shoot RAW, but my default is JPEG.

I’ve looked at Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras. There are some very good models among them, and there’s at least one good wide angle lens available as well. Like the NEX, however, the lens lineup appears slow, but combined with the smaller sensor size of these cameras it will be even more difficult to get depth of field effects from these cameras. These cameras also face the same price issue as the NEX: my 10-22mm lens is incompatible and I’ll have to buy a replacement, significantly increasing the price.

The following table scores these cameras on my feature list. The total assumes equal weight for all features, which is not necessarily reasonable, but gives me something to work with.

Feature comparison

Camera Lumix LX7 Canon EOS M Canon Rebel T4i Sony NEX 7
Manual control 1 0.5 1 1
Autofocus 1 1 1 1
Wide angle 1 1 1 1
Fast lens 1 0.5 0.5 0.5
Compact 1 0.5 0 0.5
Big sensor 0.5 1 1 1
Easy custom white balance 1 0 0 0
Remote trigger 0 0.5 1 0.5
Affordability 1 0.5 1 0
Articulated screen 0 0 1 1
Compatibility with some flash system, maybe 0 1 1 0.5
GPS 0 0 0 0
Total feature score 7.5 6.5 8.5 7

Price comparison, with lens

Camera Lumix LX7 Canon EOS M Canon Rebel T4i Sony NEX 7
Camera price $449.00 $714.00 $648.00 $1,098.00
Lens Built-in 24-90mm F1.4-2.3 10-22mm (with adapter) 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 (16-35mm equivalent) 10-18mm F4 (15-27mm equivalent)
Lens price $0.00 $868.97 $679.00 $848.00
Total with lens $449.00 $1,582.97 $1,327.00 $1,946.00
Total to me $449.00 $903.97 $648.00 $1,946.00

The EOS M lens price includes adapter. The price to me assumes I’ll use my 10-22mm lens on cameras its compatible with, rather than buy another.

The results of these tables easily excludes Sony, but also shows how nearly perfect the LX7 is for me. Yes, the Rebel T4i scores better, but I’d happily give up flash system compatibility for compact size, and that evens the scores. The LX7′s compact size is truly remarkable. While the other options are compact with certain lenses, the LX7 is the most compact, almost-pocketable option for all the focal lengths it supports. The EOS M or NEX 7 might look small with a pancake lens, but not with my 10-22mm or a fast 50mm. And more than just compact, the LX7 lens is fast throughout its range, and much faster at the wide end than any of the other options in this list. Sadly, the LX7 doesn’t appear to have any option to trigger the shutter remotely (the EOS M and NEX 7 support infrared remotes, the Rebel T4i supports both wired and wireless remotes).

So what are these cameras missing? What would make the decision easy for any of them?

  • I would buy the LX7 in an instant if it had some option for a remote shutter trigger.
  • The NEX 7 would be great if it were compatible with Canon lenses.
  • The EOS M would be great if it had working manual controls and an articulated screen (two features Sony was able to squeeze into the NEX 7). Support for wired remotes would be great too, but I’d honestly jump at this if it just supported better manual control and didn’t appear to be hobbled for marketing purposes.
  • The Rebel T4i appears to be a great camera, just significantly larger than the other contenders and larger than I want. My current Rebel stayed at home when I went to Europe with my LX3 (and iPhone) recently.

As it is, any purchase now feels like settling.

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