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.