Canon S100 vs Panasonic LX5 vs Olympus XZ-1 vs Nikon P300

September 18, 2011

High end compact digital cameras side by side

This article is dedicated to the newly announced Canon PowerShot S100 high-end compact camera. There is something unique about premium compact digital cameras that we just can’t ignore. Cameras like the S100 are unique in a way that they include a fast lens and enhanced hardware components, which allows them to grab better photos under low-light conditions. When one of those cameras are announced, we can expect it to include a vast amount of upgrades components and features that didn’t exist in previous models. The S100 replaced the PowerShot S95, a high-end compact that grabbed a lot of positive comments all around the web. I hope that this review will help you get a good understanding about what’s new in the S100, what changed over the S95 and how the S100 competes against other cameras of the same type.

 

What are High-End (Premium) Compact Cameras?

shining golden star, ratingBefore we jump right into the specs an analyze them, let’s talk about high-end point-and-shoot cameras in general. When we search for a point-and-shoot camera, we are usually concerned about few things: image quality, noise in high-ISO, speed and of course, the overall design of the camera. Compact Point-and-shoot were first of all designed to be small and lightweight. It’s not that Canon or other vendor couldn’t come up with a larger camera with the same specs. All the fuss is about miniaturization, and the ability to pack a lot of advanced tech into a small housing.

With a high-end P&S camera you’ll pay more, but you do expect to get a lot more for your money. Canon and other vendors know that, and they do the best they can do make sure that you’ll get what you paid for. With premium digital cameras you can expect to get a high-sensitive and relatively large sensor. Furthermore, the camera should be equipped with a fast lens (usually F2.0 or faster). A lens that includes advanced optics in order to be used with a relatively large sensor. Of course those cameras can’t compete against Mirrorless ILC cameras in terms of image quality, and the reason relies in the size of the sensor. In almost all cases, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality is. Those premium compacts are intended for those who don’t want to buy themselves into an interchangeable lens compact camera. The camera is aimed towards the advanced photographer who needs a camera that performs better than what’s on the market today.

 

Low-Light Performance

moon at night with bats silhouetteSome of those photographers have special needs. They want the camera to perform nicely in low-light. One of the advantages of a compact camera is that you can take it everywhere you go, put it in your pocket and grab a shot whenever you want. That means that you might find yourself wanting to grab a photo of your friend’s birthday party when inside a relatively dark room. With a regular P&S you might find that it’s pretty hard to grab a good shot. I’ve read tons of comments from people being very frustrated about blurry images. Many just don’t understand why one camera can result in good IQ in low-light and another just can’t.

To keep things simple, in order to get a good image quality in low-light, you need a few things:

  1. Fast lens – a lens with a wide aperture to allow more light to pass through the lens and reach the sensor (the recording device inside the camera)
  2. Large sensor – it doesn’t have to be as large as in Mirrorless ILC cameras, but the larger the sensor the better the low-light performance. You might found some new technologies that emerged into the surface, including Back-side illuminated (BSI) sensors, which are built using advanced technologies that enhance the sensitivity of the sensor by up to 50%!
  3. Image stabilization – an image stabilization (or vibration reduction) is a mechanism that compensate camera-shake and reduce blue in images. It corrects the small movement of the camera when we shoot hand-held, and allow the photographer to shoot photos in lower shutter-speed, but without getting blurred image. It’s doesn’t help you freeze your subject, but certainly adds to the camera’s low-light capabilities (slower shutter speed = more light)
  4. Pop-up flash – A pop-up flash can certainly help sometimes. It doesn’t yield the most desirable results compared to an external flash, but for general use it cal help capturing a sharp image instead of a blurry one. Some camera models come with a hot-shoe mount, where you can attach an external flash. Most of us will probably won’t use it anyway, because it actually ruin the all thing of having a ‘compact’ camera.
  5. Raw format – Some high-end compacts (like the S100, XZ-1 and LX-5) can shoot in the Raw file format (negative digital). It’s important for many advanced shooters if they want better control on the camera’s output and want to decide later which settings to apply, instead of the camera deciding it for them. Can also improve high-ISO IQ due to more advanced NR algorithms that can be utilized in on fast CPUs, like on your home computer or laptop computer.
  6. Tripod mount – I put this in the last place because for most us us it isn’t that important. You can find come cameras that comes with a tripod mount, where you can attach a tripod to the camera. This is essential for those who want to capture long-exposure shots (up to a few seconds)

A good premium compact will need to answer most of those features in order to count as a good low-light performer. Having said that, it usually comes to the final image quality where we can see if the camera is capable of delivering the expect results or not.  Luckily, we have a large collection of professional camera review’s websites that do this job for us, comparing the image quality side by side. You can find those online comparison tools on dpreview.com and imaging-resource.com.

S95, Not Without its Competition

The Canon S95 was certainly among the most popular premium compact camera out there. It passed many of the online reviews with a very high score. It’s relatively large sensor (1/1.7″) helped this camera outperform many of the latest-generation high-end compacts, including the Nikon CoolPix P300 and others. There are two cameras in this category that made themselves a very good reputation when it comes to high-ISp performance, and that’s the Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. Both of those cameras feature a relatively larger sensor (1/1.63″) compared to the S100 1/1.7″ and P300 1/2.3″, with the P300 having the smallest sensor of the four.

Four premium compact digital cameras

The four cameras Premium compacts being compared: Nikon P300 (top left), Olympus XZ-1 (top right), Panasonic LX5 (bottom left), Canon S100 (bottom right)

When you view a side-by-side comparison of all four cameras (Olympus XZ-1, Canon S95, Panasonic LX5 and Nikon P300), you can see that the Canon S95, Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LX5 (successor of the LX3) outperform the Nikon P300. The Panasonic LX5′s image quality certainly grabbed a lot of attention. Not everyday comes a compact camera that can produce such stunning results in high-ISO.

So there we have it, four high-end compacts that are among the best we have right now: Canon PowerShot S100 (the newly announced one), Olympus XZ-1, Nikon Coolpix P300 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. After reading a lot of reviews, you’ll find yourself debating between those four cameras. All have fast lenses. All are small and lightweight, and all are fighting for the title “The Best High-End Digital Compact Camera”.

Comparing this four cameras in one article looks like a bit too much, but I try to do the best I can (to at least) help you make a better buying decision when you decide it’s time to open your wallet and grab on of those premiums.

I usually start with a short introduction about each camera, but this time I will start with a side-by-side comparison table and talk about the difference later. I think that it will keep things simple, and help you focus on the features that matter to you most.

 

Side by Side Comparison Table

Here’s a side-by-side comparison table which compares the four cameras on versus the other. Use this table to spot out specs that you just can’t live without, and those you get with one camera and not the other. Some people might eliminate a camera that missed a valuable feature. By using the elimination process, you find that choosing a new high-end compact digital camera is easier than you might think (at least for some of you).

FeaturesCanon S100Nikon P300Panasonic LX5Olympus XZ-1Notes
AnnouncedSeptember 15, 2011February 9, 2011July 21, 2010January 6, 2011S100 newest, LX5 oldest
Sensor Resolution
(effective)
12.1 Megapixels12.1 Megapixels10.1 Megapixels10.0 MegapixelsS100 and P300 highest resolution, XZ-1 the lowest.
Sensor Size1/1.7-inch

(7.49 x 5.52 mm)
1/2.3-inch

(6.17 x 4.55 mm)
1/1.63-inch

(7.89 x 5.81 mm)
1/1.63-inch

(7.89 x 5.81 mm)
Both the LX5 and the XZ-1 have the largest sensor size, P300 the smallest.
Sensor TechnologyHigh-Sensitive CMOSBSI-CMOSCCDCCDP300 the only one taking advantage of the BSI technology. The sensor used on the S100 utilizes the same technology used in Canon EOS DSLR cameras, which should be a good thing.
Image ProcessorDIGIC 5Expeed C2Venus Engine FHDTruePic VAll are among the latest processors, utilizes fast image processing essential for high-definition video recording and sophisticated NR (noise-reduction) processing for optimal image quality, especially in high-ISO.
ISO Range80 - 6400160 - 320080 - 3200
(6400 and 12800 in extended mode)
100 - 6400Looking at the native ISO sensitivity levels, the Canon S100 and the Oly XZ-1 offers the highest ISO.
Lens
(35mm focal length equivalent)
24-120 mm f/2.0-5.9 (5×)
Canon glass
24-100 mm f/1.8-4.9 (4.2×)
Nikkor glass
24-90 mm f/2.0-3.3 (3.8×)
Leica DC Vario-Summicron glass
28-112 mm f/1.8-2.5 (4×)
iZuiko glass
Olympus XZ-1 certainly the fatest of the four, although isn't as wide as the other three (24mm). S100 featuring the longest zoom (5×) and having the highest magnification (35mm equiv.) of 120 mm. All cameras are using genuine branded glass which should provide the highest optical quality for such cameras.
Normal Minimum Focus Range50 cm30cm50 mm60 mmP300 features the lowest minimum focus range in normal mode.
Macro Minimum Focus Range3 cm3 cm1 cm1 cm (Super Macro mode)Pany LX5 and Oly XZ-1 both features the lowest minimum focus range in macro model
Focus Points992311LX5 features the largest amount of AF points, XZ-1 second than P300 and S100 after.
LCD3-inch
461,000 dots
Fixed
3-inch
921,600 dots
Fixed
3-inch
460,000 dots
Fixed
3-inch
614,000 dots
Fixed
P300 has the highest resolution, XZ-1 second. Still trying to figure it out why Canon with its latest generation camera doesn't come with a higher resolution LCD (do you know why?). None of those LCDs are touch-sensitive.
Shutter Speed15-1/2000 sec8-1/2000 sec60-1/4000 sec60-1/2000 secLX5 certainly features the most versatile shutter speed range, great for fast-action and long-exposure shooting. P300 is the least exciting one of the bunch.
Pop-up Flash
(range)
Yes (7 meters)
Yes (6.5 meters)Yes (7.2 meters)Yes (8.6 meters)XZ-1 strongest flash, P300 the weakest.
Hot-ShoeNoNoYesYesMight be important for some, so make sure you don't overlook this spec.
Sequential Shooting Speedapprox. 2.3 fps (P mode)
approx 9.6 fps (High-Speed burst HQ - maximum of 8 continuous shots per burst)
7 fps*
(according to Nikon, 8 fps up to 7 shots = 7 fps actually)
2.5 fps
up to 10 fps (Speed priority but with reduced resolution)
2 fpsP300 has the fastest burst speed, XZ-1 the lowest. It's important to read the small letters, which tells about the buffer capacity. Even if the camera can capture images at high speeds, it can be limited by the amount of data that can be stored in the buffer (tip).
Can Shoot Raw?YesNoYesYesThat's probably the Achilles heel of the P300, it can't shoot in Raw. This is important for many advanced photographers.
Exposure Compensation±2 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)±2 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)±3 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)±2 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)LX5 gives you the ability to take photos at different exposures up to three stops, compared to two EV (exposure value) on the other digicams
Video Recording
(max resolution + frame-rates)
1080p241080p30/25720i60
720p30
720p30

(60p *CCD output is 30p. | via Panasonic website)
We can see that the XZ-1 and the LX5 are a bit behind when it comes to videos, allowing HD compared to full HD on the other two.
Video Recording SoundStereoStereoMonoMonoIf you care about stereo sound while shooting video, P300 and S100 have it
Video Slow MotionYes
- 120 fps (640x480)
- 240 fps (320x240)
Yes
- 120 fps (640x480)
NoNoS100 more versatile when it comes to playing around with slow motion videos
Memory Card CompatibilitySD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXC
Battery Life
(CIPA)
200 shots240 shots400 shots320 shotsWill have to give it to the Panasonic LX5 that doubles the battery life of the S100. That can be a deal breaker for some.
Dimensions98.9 x 59.8 x 26.7 mm
(3.90 x 2.34 x 1.05 inch)
103 x 58.3 x 32 mm
(4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 inch)
109.7 x 65.5 x 43.0 mm
(4.32 x 2.58 x 1.69 inch)
110.6 x 64.8 x 42.3 mm
(4.35 x 2.55 x 1.67 inch)
S100 the most compact, than the P300.
Weight
(inc. batteries and card)
198 g189 g271 g275 gNikon the lightest, Oly the heaviest
Unique Features- Intelligent IS
- Raw + JPEG
- Built-in GPS
- Face detection
- Smart shutter (Wink, smile, enters the frame)
- Scene modes (inc. Fisheye, Toy camera effect)
- Best image selection
- Easy Panorama (180 or 3600 degree)
- Face detection
- Subject tracking
- Scene modes
- In camera image editing (inc. D-Lighting, Crop, filters, Skin softening, etc.)
- Intelligent resolution
- 5.0x Intelligent Zoom
- High ISO NR mode
- Miniature effect
- Film mode
- Multi Exposure
- Manual focus (via LCD)
- AF/AE lock button
- Quick ISO setting button
- Set Maximum ISO
- Optional EVF (DMW-LVF1) or OVF (DMW-VF1) as well as lens filters, protectors and external flashes
- In-camera Panorama
- Face detection

The above table might raise some questions for some of you. However, it gives a good overview of the advantages and disadvantages that each camera has compared to another model.

Panasonic LX5 – Pros & Cons

In favor of the Panasonic Lumix LX5:

  • Largest sensor (together with the XZ-1)
  • Supports extended high-ISO settings up to ISO 12,8000
  • Featuring a 24mm wide-angle lens
  • 1cm Minimum AF distance in Macro mode (same as the XZ-1)
  • The best shutter speed range (60-1/4000 sec), great for both action and long exposure shots
  • Has a hot-shoe for connecting external flashes (ie. DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360, DMW-FL500)
  • Can shoot Raw
  • 23 AF points
  • Has a pop-up flash
  • Best battery life in the group (400 shots)
  • A wide range of in-camera features
  • Raw + JPEG (optional)
  • Leica brand lens

What’s not that great?

  • Only 3.8x optical zoom, 90mm at the tele-end
  • Doesn’t compete well in burst mode (at full resolution) against the P300 and the S100
  • Only 720p videos, not Full HD and with monaural sound only
  • Second heaviest (but I don’y mean heavy, just weights more than the P300 and S100)
  • Lowest LCD resolution in the group (460,000 dots)
  • Oldest (a replacement soon?)

Canon S100 – Pros & Cons

What I like about the Canon PowerShot S100?

  • Large sensor (but not as large as the Oly and the Panasonic)
  • Take advantage of the new DIGIC 5 image processor
  • Has a pop-up flash
  • Can shoot Raw
  • Can record 1080p24 videos (at 24fps cinematic frame-rate) + stereo sound
  • Support for slow motion (120fps/240fps) videos (although at reduced resolutions)
  • The smallest in the group and second lightest
  • Raw + JPEG (optional)
  • Intelligent IS
  • Versatile zoom range with 24mm wide-angle
  • In-camera GPS

What’s seems to be lacking or missing?

  • A 1cm macro range would be nice (only 3cm)
  • Only 461,000 dot LCD resolution (why can’t we get a 921K like the P300?)
  • 2.3fps burst, not the fastest on the group
  • More video shooting frame rate options would be nice (only 24p, do you need more?)
  • Poor battery life, the lowest in the group (‘only’ 200 shots)

Nikon P300 – Cons & Pros

What’s exiting on the P300?

  • Back-illuminated Sensor (BSI) technology
  • Nice zoom range (4.2x) with a 24mm wide angle
  • F1.8 among the fastest together with the XZ-1 (at the wide end)
  • Has a pop-up flash
  • Fastest burst in the group (7 fps)
  • 1080p Full HD video recording with stereo sound
  • Can shoot slow-motion videos at 120fps (640×480)
  • Wide range of camera software-based functions
  • Lightest camera in the group, second smallest
  • Gorgeous 921,600-dot 3-inch screen, the best in the group

Anything that might be missing of lacking in the CoolPix P300?

  • Smallest sensor in the group (1/2.3″)
  • 1cm macro would be nice (feat. 3cm)
  • Only 8 seconds minimum shutter speed
  • No hot-shoe (can’t add an external flash)
  • Only 240 shots battery life, second worst after Canon PowerShot S100
  • Can’t shoot Raw

Olympus XZ-1 – Cons & Pros

What’s exciting about the XZ-1?

  • Largest sensor in the group (together with LX5)
  • High native ISO6400
  • The fastest lens in the group (F/1.8-2.5) !
  • 1 cm AF in Super Macro mode
  • 60 sec shutter speed for long exposure shots
  • Hot-shoe for external flashes
  • Good LCD resolution (614K-dots), second best after Nikon (921K-dots)
  • Pop-up flash (has the furthest range in the group)
  • Good battery life (320 shots)

What the XZ-1 lacks of what we want to see improved?

  • Only 28mm wide, behind the competition (24mm)
  • The heaviest and second largest in the group
  • Slowest burst in the group (2 fps)
  • Can only shoot HD not Full HD (1080p) and that’s with mono sound, not stereo
  • Not as many software-based features as the other cameras (am I missing something? – check me on that one)

I think that the above section can draw a good picture of the advantages and disadvantages of each camera versus the competition. I highly recommend going over the above section again. When you read it again, try to spot some missing features, those that you feel that are categorized as “must-have”.

 

Image Quality Comparison

Even after reading the above specs, you won’t be 100% convinced to purchase a camera until you see how it performs. I can really understand you. Some of the specs are pretty cool, like a 921K-dots LCD, but it’s worth nothing if the image quality is poor. By the way, when I’ve searched for some S100 sample images, I came across some of the old Canon PowerShot S100 camera that was released back in 2000. So if you are searching for some sample images of the S100 yourself, make sure that you aren’t examining those of the older model (model name overlaps).
The first thing I’ve done is to visit dpreview’s high-ISO comparison web application (embedded in latest reviews, usually at page 8 of the review). I threw all the four cameras into the mix (S95, because still now S100 test photos). I’ve carefully examined the photos at ISO 100 to ISO3200.

Up to ISO 800

I can certainly say that up to ISO800 both the Canon S95, Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LX-5 did an excellent job. Panasonic and the Canon produced the cleanest image (in terms of noise), but the P300 didn’t due very well compared to the other three.

Up to ISO800,  you can clearly see how each camera approaches to NR in high-ISO. The S95 is more conservative and was able to produce more details than the other. The XZ-1 applies stronger NR, but it seems that it boosts the contrast to make the details pop out (I’m not sure about that though). The P300 suffers more from noise, but like the Canon it, doesn’t apply strong NR like the XZ-1. The LX-5 (up to ISO 800) does a very good job and keeping the balance very well between NR and detail preservation (althogh a bit soft compared to the S95 and XZ-1, probably due to stronger sharpening).

ISO 1600 & 3200

When we cross the ISO 800 barrier, we can see which camera is really doing some “tricks”, and which one really performs well. Remember, I am still looking S95 photos. It looks like the LX-5 applies stronger NR, but it does that very well because the image is sharper than the other three cameras, as Oly being the second.  I’ve very impressed with the image quality of the Olympus XZ-1 at ISO1600, really impressive indeed (in JPEG).

Going to ISO3200, I think that’s where the picture changes a bit. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 and the Canon PowerShot S95 produce better JPEG images with less visible noise, the XZ-1 starts losing details. We can see that in ISO3200 the Olympus XZ-1 applies very strong NR, which causes the image to look pretty soft. The S95 still maintains a good amount of details (less aggressive NR approach), LX5 has the best image quality of the four. The P300 has the lowest image quality in my observation.

Let’s sum things up:ISO  400

  1. Olympus XZ-1 (one word- WOW!)
  2. Panasonic LX-5
  3. Canon S95
  4. Nikon P300

ISO 800

  1. Panasonic LX-5
  2. Canon S95
  3. Olympus XZ-1
  4. Nikon P300

ISO 1600

  1. Canon S95
  2. Panasonic LX5
  3. Nikon P300 (more noise, but details are better than the XZ-1)
  4. Olympus XZ-1

ISO 3200

  1. Panasonic LX5 (it was hard, very close results, but I will give it to the LX5 this time)
  2. Canon S95
  3. Olympus XZ-1
  4. Nikon P300 (although in high-contrast areas the P300 produces better image)

As we can see from the above results, below ISO400 (including), the XZ-1 is blowing the competition away, absolutely gorgeous image in JPEG mode.  When we change to ISO800, the XZ-1 loses its advantage and the LX-5 start showing its strength (remember, both have the same sensor size). At ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 both the Panasonic and the Canon rules. The Nikon is at the last place in the place in almost all tests except ISO 1600. Even in ISO 100 (160 on the P300) we can clearly see some evidence of noise in the image.

From what I can see, Canon needed to give the S95 a slight boost and try to do a bit better in high-ISO. If it can, the Canon S100 will certainly become one of the favorite high-end compact in its group. Of course we need to give it also to Panasonic LX5, although the oldest, certainly not the least when it comes to IQ. Having said that, I really want to say that I was enjoying looking at low-ISO (ISO400 and below) images taken with the XZ-1, in this ISO sensitivities, it really in its class of its own – BRAVO!

In one post on dpreview’s forum I’ve found a few links to various sample photos taken with the S100. I’ve installed this great Chrome EXIF Viewer extension (by Andry Virvich) which allows me to view the image EXIF in order to view the ISO in which every photo was taken and examine the image. Of course it’s not a very fair comparison, but that’s what I have for now.

Unfortunately, all image taken with ISO80 (bummer). Overall the image quality was very good, but it left something to be desired. After all, it was shot in the lowest ISO. The sharpness was pretty good. When looking at the image in 100%, I can’t deny that there is noise even in the mid-tones (ie. orange flower leaves).  I don’t know if this bodes well, but in order to come to a final conclusion we still need to view some high-ISO shots.

 

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot S100 looks like a great contender to be one of the top high-end compact digital cameras for 2012.  Right now it seems that it’s worth the upgrade only for those who need 1080 Full HD videos and GPS . The Olympus XZ-1 stills looks like the best performer under ISO800. I don’t think that the S100 can take its crown there. The Lumix is certainly a good all-around performer, and the P300 seems a bit outdated I must day. If you can find the S95 at a lower price you might want to give it a look.  The thing is with the S100 is its poor battery life, I just can’t understand why Canon can’t make it happen. Of course I can’t decide for you. I recommend going over the comparison above and see what works best for you. Overall, I was impressed with the XZ-1, LX5 and S95 performance. Even if the S100 will outperform the S95 (doesn’t look like it right now), still, some of you might find other cameras to be more worthy for your money.  I will update this Review when more information becomes available.

Buy Canon S100 from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Buy Panasonic LX5 from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Buy Nikon P300 from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Buy Olympus XZ-1 from Amazon or B&H Photo.

 

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Oh, and please comment and share your own opinion, that’s what matters most!

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  • Curt Sorrentino

    Hello,

    The exposure comp. specs on the Canon S100 are +/- three stops, not two. This is on page 81 of the user manual.

  • Beomagi

    One major advantage of the lx5 and xz1 is the aperture through the zoom range.

    Most people don’t quite understand that because of the large aperture, you’ll be shooting at lower ISO. While an ISO comparison works – out to an extent, at different points on the zoom, your ISO is likely to be different.

    e.g. with constant shutter speed, a canon s100 at ISO 1600 max zoomed in such that largest aperture is F5, with have the same exposure as the XZ-1 at max zoom, same shutter and ISO 400.

  • Ricardo Timm de Souza

    I have both the S95 and the P300, and noted that the P300 has in general a more precise autofocus, specially in macro, as the S95. For me the performance of the little sensor of the P300 is astonishing when compared with cameras with much larger sensors. Also the fact that the pop-up flash of the S95 ‘pops’ allways when you turn the camera on bores me – in the Nikon the flash appears only if you want it. The greatest problems of the P300 for me, since i normally don’t use RAW, are the worse battery charge indicator (when it blinks, it’s generally too late, so change the battery immediately!) and the absence of a separate charger as custom, so you need to buy one. The Canon has a separate charger included.

  • PAULO

    the old LX5 is still my favorite