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What would be a reason for one to pick the compact (whatever it'd be P&S or something more advanced) over mirrorless compact system camera ?

Right now market is quite confusing — we have huge market of tiny-sensor compacts, we have mirrorless that use sensors in a size of these from P&S cameras (Nikon 1 being notable example), we have compacts with sensors bigger than most popular mirrorless system (Canon G1X vs m4/3), we have lot of APS-C sensor mirrorless which are matched by some of the compacts (Fuji X100 being most notable example, but even Leica has its X2), and to make it even more confusing — Sony released RX1 with full frame sensor, beating crap out of every mirrorless on a market.

So what are your arguments to pick compact over a mirrorless?

Why are they better, what's the reason behind logic of companies like Fujifilm which at the same time offers P&S and X-mount mirrorless using same sensor size?

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2 Answers 2

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Absolutely, there are good reasons to choose a compact camera, just like there are good reasons to choose a mirrorless. The key when looking at anything is deciding which reasons are important to you.

  • Size: A compact camera is, well, compact. A mirrorless camera's body may be compact but once you add a lens, it will often be double the thickness of a compact. Plus, the lens does not retract into the body as with most compact cameras.
  • Simplicity: A compact camera is an all-in-one package. Sure this takes away versatility but you do not have to worry about sensor dust or spend time changing lenses. This is the reason I believe we are seeing and will be seeing much more larger-sensor compacts.
  • Optimization: When a camera and lens are designed together they can be optimized far more, either to give higher-quality (which a large-sensor of course) or better optical performance such as a brighter aperture.
  • Price: There is saving in providing a camera and lens together, compared to something equivalent, obviously.

Personally I agree that this makes the market more difficult because there are now more compromises to deal with then ever. It is much harder to find one camera which is better in most respects than another. In the end, every type of camera is surpassed in some key area by another. It can be surprising and frustrating to realize this.

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Even keeping the same sensor size and lens parameters you will always save space by fixing the lens. You remove the need for a lens mount interface, lens barrels can be smaller as they gain stiffness from being fixed, you can put some of the lens mechanisms (zoom and focus motors) into the camera body, use leaf shutters instead of focal plane (Sony RX1).

So the main reason to chose a compact (fixed lens) over mirrorless (interchangeable lens) is size. Cost comes into it, but the image quality of many mass market compacts is in a different league making the comparison invalid so I will ignore cost and concentrate on high end "enthusiast compacts".

The tradeoff of a fixed lens is some amount of flexibility. However given the use case for small cameras (easy of use/carrying) this treadeoff is not hard to justify. Once you decide you need a telephoto lens your mirrorless setup starts to look decidedly less compact, and you soon get to the point where you might as well have brought a DSLR.

If you look at the Nikon 1 with kit lens, compared to the Sony RX100 you notice that they have the same sized sensor. Yet in a smaller package Sony managed to include a 10.4mm - 37.3mm f/1.8-f4.9 lens, whereas the Nikon kit lens has a smaller zoom range 10mm - 30mm, and narrower max aperture throughout the zoom range of f/3.5-5.6, almost two stops slower at the wide end!

The RX1 is a feat of miniaturisation. It's not a totally fair comparison (due to the lack of a rangefinder) but it's a lot smaller than the Leica M9. And when Sony make a full frame NEX, it will almost certainly be larger than the RX1.

Fundamentally enthusiast compacts and mirrorless cameras come from different design philosophies. Enthusiast compacts are about providing the best possible image within the constraints of a compact camera, whilst mirrorless cameras are about providing the "DSLR experience" in a package smaller and lighter than a DSLR.

Buying an enthusiast compact, especially one with a prime lens you are choosing image quality, and at the same time embracing restriction. Being fixed to a single focal length forces you to think hard about composition and shoot things in a different way to if you could quickly swap lenses. I appreciate this as to me mirrorless systems seem a bit of a slippery slope, you start with a zoom or normal prime, then you think ooh I could do with an ultrawide, would be nice to have a telephoto too, in case I see some nice details. And a fast prime for later when it gets dark. Oh sod it I'll just take my DSLR.

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Yep, exactly. I have an Olympus XZ-1 because I can take it everywhere, and it has a fast lens with a useful zoom range. It's hard for a mirrorless to improve on that without sacrificing at least one of the three. I could get one of those fancy retractable 3x zoom lenses, but in that case the faster lens of the compact cancels with the larger sensor of the mirrorless camera, and all I'm left with is less money. The ideal of course would be a compact with a fast lens and a big sensor and a good zoom: the RX100 almost gets there, if only it weren't so much slower at the long end... –  glaebhoerl Feb 12 '13 at 13:11

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