As we enter the summer season and start to think about making those essential holiday purchases you will want to ensure you have the right camera to snap your new Gucci bikini and those top-spec Raybans, so we have taken it upon ourselves to carry out some exhaustive and highly untechnical research to help you make the right camera choice this summer.
A trip to your local camera shop or a browse through one of the online review sites is a daunting and frankly confusing experience so we had a play with all the leading compact camera brands but chose to exclude the big SLR's, because let's face it, thats quite a bit of bulk to lug down to the pool.
So what are we looking for in a compact holiday camera? The first of our priorities is image quality, we want to be able to blow up the Ibiza sunset to the maximum Ikea frame size without pixelisation. Second is sex - we want a sexy, stylish camera that'll turn heads around the pool, and lastly is ease of use, we're lazy at the best of times but on holiday we take it to a whole new level so simple controls with some auto filters are always useful. With that in mind we set off to the beach (Pitsea, not Puglia).
#1: Olympus Pen
Our winning compact for the season is the Olympus E-P3, now in it's 3rd incarnation the 'Pen' as it's known amongst it's friends was released this week and adds a popup flash to the very cool and well stocked design features of the earlier models - sleek body in black, silver or White (with retro leather cases), interchangeable lenses, full auto or full manual shooting plus full HD 1920 video and really well developed art filters including grainy black and white and the very clever Diorama filter will which make it possible to turn downtown Benidorm into a model village when shot from from your hotel balcony. The sensor is a solid 12.3 MP and has a top ISO of 12800, so those sunsets are in safe hands, oh and it has the fastest autofocus in the world, faster than the best SLR's which, thanks to the mirrorless design, makes it around 50% smaller than it's SLR rivals of similar quality. The screen on the back is also nice and big and touch sensitive (yes touch sensitive) so you can fire the thing with a tap on the back and slide through the shots you've taken in the same way you would on the iPhone.
However all this is only part of the reason the Pen tops our chart because Olympus announced last week that the camera is now available in 3 sizes - standard as described above, the Pen Lite which adds a swiveling touch screen to the spec and then the Pen Mini, a completely compact version which is possibly the smallest camera with interchangeable lenses we've ever seen, in fact the lenses are bigger than the body (although if you want a really small camera go for Oly's XZ1). But the really great thing is that the specs and image size are the same for each model so it's really just comes down to the size of your pockets - S, M or L, literally.
We expect the Pen to start at around £700 for the single lens and body kit and rise upto £2000 with the various add on options. The Pen Lite is expected to start around the £500 mark but both the Lite and Mini arent quite in the shops yet.
#2: Fuji x100
The X100 is at number 2 in this list mainly because of it's sex appeal, it's retro (some might say Leica) styling, rangefinder aesthetics and grafite body could almost be mistaken as a novelty were it not for its excellent features which include a 12.3 MP sensor, chunky tactile controls, good video and 180° and 120° panoramic landscape modes. One for the seriously style conscious.
#3: Nikon Coolpix S6100
This is a very small camera with a very big sensor, 16MP to be precise which is perhaps strange for a camera which is likely to take a bit of a bashing in the bar with your mates because being so compact and with pretty coloured body options people might think its a bit of a throw-away model. It isnt, picture quality is great but it is a pretty simple point and shoot.
#4: Canon G12
The G range has been a popular choice amongst professional photographers for a while but the reduction to the sensor size, compensated for by clever software (the G12 now has a smaller chip than the G9 had a few years back) is slightly disconcerting and the rather blocky body is now looking a little military compared to those at the top of the list but it's still a great camera with all the reliability and features you'd expect from Canon.
#5: Leica M9-P
Let's face it, if you can afford a leica your probably not bothered which camera is actually best, they look amazing, take great pictures and thats all you need to know. Leica owners are also often Porsche and Sunseeker owners so we won't bang on about it's lack of features, if you can afford one - congratulations, can we borrow a tenner?
L- Canon G12, R- Leica M9-P