There was a time, not so long ago, when if we knew only one thing bout digital cameras it was this: serious photographers bought digital single lens reflex cameras and occasional snappers bought compacts.

Then logic dictated that the bigger camera, designed for a user with knowledge and wanting maximum user control, would cost more than the little automatic compact. The assumption was that the DSLR was bigger and more complex so ought to cost more than the compact. It was only fair.

How times have changed. On the review desk right now are two cameras from Canon, the EOS 1300D DSLR and the compact Powershot G7 X MkII. The DSLR, complete with 18—55mm lens retails for about $580 while the compact G7X sells for $850. Why is it so?

To further complicate the decision making process the EOS 1300D has an APS size sensor (that stands for Advance Photographic System and was the last consumer film frame size before film was overwhelmed by digital) of 18 megapixels while the G7 X has the much smaller 1” sensor of 20 megapixels. In relative area the APS sensor is more than 2.5 times the size of the smaller unit. This means that all other things being equal the 1300D should produce images with less digital noise (grain) at high ISO settings and will better preserve detail in both the brightest and darkest parts of the picture. Rule of thumb says that bigger pixels beat smaller pixels any day but we have no complaints about the image quality from the smaller camera.

The 1300D has another big advantage in the form of a true optical viewfinder. It is not the sophisticated mirror and prism system found in more expensive cameras but most people will not notice the difference. It is with design and construction choices of materials and mechanics that the company can keep costs down. There is more plastic and less weather sealing in the 1300D than in the much more expensive EOS 80D for instance.

The compact G7 X has a luxurious look and feel but sadly does not have a viewfinder, which is surprising at this price. The tilting LCD is very good with excellent colour, brightness and contrast, but it still becomes a black blank in bright sunlight. The 1300D has a fixed LCD which compromises the usefulness of the camera, and for video or remote control from a smartphone it must be switched into “live view”. The compact camera is permanently in “live view” mode, always a preferable system, constantly displaying on the monitor exactly what the sensor sees. The difference in operation is particularly noticeable when shooting video where the G7 X is the clear winner.

There is no doubt that the DSLR feels old-fashioned. It is big and relatively heavy. The compact feels modern with a lot of functions and features in the small body which, when the lens is retracted, is easily pocketable. As a travel camera the G7 X wins hands down.

The kit lens with the 1300D has a focal length range of approximately 27—82mm in full frame 35mm terms. The G7 X’s range is 24—100mm – a little wider and a little longer. And the compact lens is faster (has wider apertures for low light photography) going from f1.8 at the wide end to f2.8 at the longest focal length. This is a brilliant lens with excellent sharpness, colour and contrast with fast and accurate auto-focus. It is fixed, so the DSLR wins a point for having interchangeable lenses.

The 1300D has built-in WiFi connectivity and can be operated remotely from a smartphone and can transfer images wirelessly from camera to phone for uploading to social media sites. The G7 X needs NFC to make a WiFi connection, which may restrict it to Android phones, with which remote shooting works well. The 1300D uses Canon’s multi-tab menu system which is not the most intuitive in the world. The G7 X uses the same easy on-screen selection system that Canon compact digitals have used since day one, more than fourteen years ago. Neither camera comes close to Olympus or Panasonic in user interface design or remote control from a phone, but they are both serviceable.

To make decisions even harder another $80 will buy the Canon Powershot G5 X which is the same camera as the G7 X but with a viewfinder. The G7 X is very good but the G5 X is damn near perfect. Have fun deciding.

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Price: $2800 body only
Comes with the lot

THE LOW-DOWN: The K-1 is the first full frame Pentax DSLR. Inside the weather-sealed body there is a 100 per cent field of view prism viewfinder and an LCD with a novel swivelling system that allows for the screen to be put into more orientations than any other camera provides. The designers have made an amazing array of functions (HDR, exposure compensation, WiFi, bracketing, ISO etc) accessible through two body-top knobs. Resolution multiplication by sensor shift is one of the few functions requiring a plunge into the menu system. There are two SD card slots that can be configured for continuous overflow or for recording different formats. Both Adobe’s universal DNG and Pentax’s own PEF RAW formats can be used. Camera control by smartphone works flawlessly and comprehensively. The anti-aliasing filter has been removed from the 36mp sensor, but if there is a need to cope with moire patterns an electronic simulation can be turned on. The camera is compatible with legacy Pentax lenses from film days, sans automation.

LIKE: The true prism viewfinder is superb, beautifully bright and clear. And the free moving LCD is an object lesson in how it should be done.

The camera is large and heavy. The body alone weighs almost a kilo.

VERDICT: The Pentax K-1has the largest – and a little bewildering – feature set of any camera we have tested. Absolutely everything that a photographer is likely to need by way of camera control is built in. It surpasses the feature set of the Canon and Nikon full frame DSLRs at similar prices. This is a lot of camera for the money.

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Here is a cautionary tale for travelling photographers.

Jane P writes: “Last year while on holiday in the UK we had our locked hotel room broken into while at dinner and my beautiful Canon 5d MkIII, two L series lenses, Lee filters and fittings, MacBook Pro and iPad were stolen. We did have travel insurance and whilst the table in the brochure suggested we had $12,000 cover for stolen goods we learned a very hard lesson when the time came to make a claim and we actually read the fine print.”

The bad news was that what Jane thought was a total cover of $12,000 was in fact $6,000 per person covered by the policy. And there is a limit of $4,000 on cameras, equipment and all components and no matter what you have lost they are added together as a single item. The Canon body alone cost nearly $4,000.

There is no cover without original receipts. Fortunately the camera had been bought at Michaels Cameras in Melbourne and they promptly responded to a call for help and emailed copies of Jane’s receipts. (A good reason to buy locally).

Then came the news that the pristine camera and lenses were depreciated to 40 per cent of the purchase price. A check of near new Canons on eBay shows that 40 per cent is not a fair depreciation rate.

On the recommendation of Mr Peter Michael of Michaels Cameras we sought some further information from travel insurance specialists Cover-More.

Their first recommendation was that while “it may sound like a cliché … it is always worth reading the relevant section of the PDS (product disclosure statement – the fine print) if you are planning to take high-cost items with you overseas.”

It pays to talk with the insurer about the items being insured and the cover provided. Cover-More give the example of a $2,800 new video camera being covered without any excess. With what they call the Premium Plan there would be no depreciation because the camera is new and the maximum limit per item is $2,500, so that is what would be paid.

The moral of Jane’s story is that insuring expensive items is not something to be done with a simple signature on a standard policy proposal. Find an insurer open to negotiating a better cover for a higher premium. Or just travel with a cheap camera.

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Price: $900 (body)
Super feature set

THE LOW-DOWN: This 16 megapixel mirrorless camera is a slightly cut-down version of the GX8. It has most of the features of the GX8 but with a 16 rather than 20mp sensor. The headline features of 4K video, 4K stills, post-shot focus selection are in the GX85. There is auto-focus bracketing (with some lenses) and 5 axis in body image stabilisation. The in-body stabilisation works with optical image stabilisation in lenses that have it for an even better shake reduction. The optical low-pass filter is removed for added sharpness. The 75mm tilting LCD is touchscreen, which Panasonic does well. The electronic viewfinder is high resolution. WiFi Connectivity for camera control and image transfer to a smartphone is provided.

LIKE: Image quality is very good. We could only test JPEG because no RAW converter was available at the time of review, but based on the compressed image and knowing what Panasonic RAW images look like we are confident that the GX85 will stand with other cameras from the company.

DISLIKE: Placing the viewfinder on the left end of the camera – increasingly common with compact system cameras – is awkward.

VERDICT: Panasonic have loaded this camera with all the features you could need at a reasonable price. Be warned, it does so many useful things not covered in the quick start guide that the owner really must download the full user manual. The review unit came with a tiny 12—32mm (24—64 in film terms) lens, which although obviously made down to a price, performed well and makes the whole camera/lens unit nicely compact. Highly recommended.

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