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While there are compact cameras with fast lenses (like Lumix DMC-LX7, F1.4) they seem to be rather thick. The lumix is quite thick, at 46mm, largely due to the lens protrusion. Is it possible to make a thin compact camera with a fast lens? If not, what are the technical limitations? If it is possible, are any examples currently on the market?

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This question has been cleaned up substantially and so I have removed all the previous comments reflecting the original content. New comments should, ideally, reflect the question as it currently stands. –  John Cavan Apr 19 '13 at 3:48

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

As long as you understand that your size constraint is limiting how much quality you can have, the one you are looking for is the Canon Powershot S110. It measures 27mm at the thickest point and yet has both a slightly larger sensor than usual and much brighter F/2 aperture at wide-angle, only it goes down F/5.9 on the telephoto end. As a bonus, it is extremely well designed and very easy to use.

EDIT: The question is entirely different now. However, I believe the existence of the Canon S110 says it is possible. Now possible does not mean simple and I am sure that Canon has to overcome challenges to make it work.

Furthermore, products are rarely designed on one specification alone. Considering the maximum aperture is one criteria but it interacts with other. One could probably make an ultra-compact with an even brighter lens by removing the zoom or making the sensor smaller. Either case would cause issue with some users. What you really want is a large aperture and a large sensor and most people also want a decent zoom.

You can check it out by searching for a fast aperture among cameras. As you can see, only 4 models currently are ultra-compact. Two of those are the Canon S110 and S100 with slightly larger sensors than usual. The others have smaller sensors and show lower image quality.

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Thanks. I did have my eye on this, but I wanted to be sure I was aware of any alternatives. It starts to appear that currently, this is the only camera that fits the bill. –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 14:52
    
If you are looking for alternatives to this camera that you already found, then just click on the link that Itai provided and do some comparison shopping. Most camera databases have this info. –  dpollitt Apr 18 '13 at 17:48
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@Itai Shame I can't +1 you again for your edit. Thank you. –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 20:25
    
@user1207217 - Thanks! You may accept the answer if you are satisfied with it though. –  Itai Apr 18 '13 at 20:34

Sensor size is especially significant for low-light shooting.

The Nokia 808 PureView is a cameraphone with a uniquely large sensor.

The sensor is 1/1.2" so it's close to that of the Nikon 1-series and the Sony RX100, yet the chassis is the size of a mobile phone. This sensor is far bigger than compact camera and mobile phone sensors usually are.

It is available new for about $350 if you look around.

In the last few days I heard that Nokia will be producing a Windows Phone 8 with a comparable sensor, though that could still be a year from release.

Search DPReview.com for more info.

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This looks interesting for sure, but I am immediately wary of any camera cramming that many pixels onto such a small sensor. A bit of quick maths shows that the sensor area is approx 7x more than that of a 1/3.2", which means its pixel density is equivalent to that of an approx 6MP 1/3.2" sensor. For the S110, it turns out the pixel density is roughly the same. But the S110 has a faster lens, and optical zoom range. Yes, one can crop, but that isn't useful if the lens doesn't have the optical resolution to support a 41MP sensor. +1 –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 17:19
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the trick is that it does not give you 41mp images, but uses pixel binning to create 5 or 8-9 mp images, with oversampling, like audio samplers does to ensure you see the details and reduce noise. –  Michael Nielsen Apr 18 '13 at 18:29
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here's a shootout: asia.cnet.com/… Shows how the bad 38Mp image is used to create low noise images wiht more details, due to the oversampling and intelligent resize. –  Michael Nielsen Apr 18 '13 at 18:39
    
I recommended the 808 since the original question emphasised low-light performance and being as compact as possible. No compact camera is as small as an 808 at this stage, yet only a handful have larger sensors. And, as Michael states, the 808 is designed to condense those pixels, so its effective pixel pitch is far better. –  Wolfsuit-Mischief Apr 20 '13 at 13:26
    
Once one begins to trade size for lens quality the Sony RX100 and the Fuji X20 quickly exceed the 808. And following them the Fuji X100S and Sony RX1, which are larger again, yet, unrivalled at that size. At this point you may start exploring system cameras, though. –  Wolfsuit-Mischief Apr 20 '13 at 13:29

The Sony RX-100 is f1.8 at the widest zoom but does get slower as you zoom. I'm exceptionally happy with mine. It is certainly pocketable.

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A lot larger sensor in this camera than most others of the size. Though it is 36 mm thick, one might just plain lie to his wife and say "this is 30 mm thick, or about so." without too severe complications? –  Esa Paulasto Apr 16 '13 at 21:42

I have a Nikon J1 with a 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens. I think the body is about 30mm, the lens will add a bit more. Not quite within your specs, but I bought it to take hiking as it was pocketable with some good features for the price.

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Funnily enough, my wife wanted a mirrorless interchangable lens camera, but that was because she believed you could take photographs without a lens on it ... –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 17:20
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make a pinhole? :) –  Michael Nielsen Apr 18 '13 at 18:48

I recently got a samsung ex2f which opens up to f1.4. I am quite happy with it. I dont have it with me right now, but specs says it measures 112.1 x 62.4 x 27.55mm (with the lens retracted), so it is within what you want.

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This is more like 40mm including the projection –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 14:47

Have to agree with the comments a bit subjective since new/better things are coming out but here's a camera that could match.

You didn't say anything about budget so.... Leica X2. 24mm lens f/2.8, ASPH sensor, good range of ISO 100-12500. It looks pretty small and handy to carry around.

Apparently a few people do think it's pretty good.

Also included with the purchase of X2, a copy of Adobe Lightroom 3/4 :D

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This is well outside of the size constraint. –  user1207217 Apr 18 '13 at 17:19

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