The Unanswered Question


Super Moderator Emeritus
Washington, DC
On Thursday Photography Blog posted a conversation they had with a number of executives from Panasonic about the newly launched G3. While the post undoubtedly only represents a small part of a longer conversation, and while the emphasis is naturally on the G3, I was a little surprised that when discussing the impact of M43 and other Compact System Cameras (CSC) on the market there was no discussion of the impact on the small sensor serious compact (hereafter SSSC to save repetition) segment of the market, not least because Panasonic has one of the best products in that market in the LX5.

One of those interviewed, John Mitchell, UK Product Manager for Lumix G, did mention the LX series briefly. When discussing the G10, Panasonic's basic m43 product, he stated that the G10 would be replaced as the entry level model by the G2, suitably repriced. He went on to say, "Obviously your average compact camera in the UK is £120, but these people who are looking to progress up they're into FZ or LX product and that is £399/£449 type product."

I take Mr Mitchell to mean that the prospective upgrader already has a FZ or LX type camera and it is these consumers that the G2 is aimed at; in other words these are people who are upgrading from an LX series camera. Yet it seems equally possible that some compact camera owners looking to upgrade to an LX level camera might see the G series cameras as an alternative. Seen this way the G series could potentially eat away at the market for the LX series.

So where does that leave the LX5? And, thinking more broadly, where does the NX100 leave the EX1/TL500. And where does the EPL1 leave the XZ1? And where, generally, does the future lie for SSSC's as the CSC market develops. Pricing might be a significant factor here. A quick scan of current prices on Amazon places all SSSC cameras at the $400 - $500 level. Yet entry level CSC's are often only a little more expensive and, in some cases, are cheaper. While some consumers may be willing and able to buy products in both categories it seems likely - especially given the marketing resources being devoted to CSC's - that CSC's will impinge on the market for SSSC cameras to some extent.

The question is, what will manufacturers of SSSC's do in light of the growth of the CSC market, whether or not they are represented in that market? The former are mostly mature products and upgrades tend for the most part to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Users of these cameras are not particularly interested in some of the more 'gimmicky' or peripheral features that appear on lower end compacts. Improvements in sensor and lens performance are much more desirable but in these areas each new generation brings only incremental changes - marginally better high ISO and DR performance from sensors and marginally faster lenses. Given this it's increasingly difficult to justify that $400-$500 price tag.

Pricing is one area the manufacturers should be looking at. Incremental changes allied to price reductions would be one way to keep SSSC cameras cometitive as the the price of entry level CSC's falls. To put some numbers on it, if SSSC's retailed at $300-$350 CSC's would more clearly be seen as an upgrade rather than an alternative and those of us who own both types might be more inclined to upgrade both.

Most of the existing SSSC's have been on the market for less than a year so it's unlikely that we will see any replacement models in the near future. The only exception is the Samsung TL500/EX1 which was announced in February 2010. As yet, though, I have seen no rumours of an 'EX2'.

All of this is, of course, mere speculation - or to give it its real name, guesswork. But, in for a penny, in for a pound. So here is some more speculation, or guesswork, about what the future might hold for each of the SSSC cameras.

Canon will continue with the G series, currently up to number 12. This is a well established, well liked mature product. And there is no Canon CSC to take sales off it. Will they also continue with the S series? Probably, though they have dropped this line before. If they were to choose to concentrate on one or the other they would keep the G series at the expense of the S series.

Nikon will probably continue with their P series but only because they feel they have to to match Canon. Nikon's commitment to compact cameras in general seems very half-hearted. Again, there is no Nikon CSC offering an alternative.

Panasonic will continue with the LX series even if their G series cameras do hit sales. Panasonic seem to me to be a company that takes the compact camera market seriously and I can't see them walking away from what has been a very successful product. The LX series has been successful not just in terms of sales but also in giving Panasonic a lot of credibility with photographers.

Olympus, having put time and money into creating the XZ-1 will, if sales are anywhere close to their expectations, continue with at least an XZ-2. Samsung are, I think, the company most likely to drop out of this market sector. The EX1/TL500 was a very well received camera but I suspect that Samsung might decide not to replace it, putting their efforts instead into the NX series.

Ricoh will continue with their GRD series. These are niche cameras with a dedicated following. In that respect I think they are less vulnerable to changes in the market than some of the bigger players.

Finally, what of Sony and Pentax? Will we ever see small sensor serious compacts from either of these? No and no.


Hall of Famer
For the time being, a CSC with a pancake prime is about the same size as a small sensor, fixed-lens camera with a fast zoom. So long as that is the case, I think we'll continue to see advanced, small sensor, fixed lens cameras from the major makes. Also, I wouldn't count out Sony, who have a proud history in this segment.


Administrator Emeritus
Philly, Pa
The question is not so much answered by the makers but by the consumers.
My brother is the prime example. He ha used all of my cameras for over 40 years. While he may live the idea of an interchangeable lens camera, when it gets down to the money, he goes for the S95. This type of camera I call the do-all.
One doesn't need to invest in lenses, finders etc.
Just take the do-all camera and go make photos.

So the division in consumers seems to be at this line. The price point and convenient nature of cameras. It's not about how serious a shooter is. It's about what the shooter needs to make the photo.
I think the makers see it this way also.
The division is not so far past the initial purchase. The future cost for the product lies in options and accessories.
While my brother could easily afford extra lenses etc, his is a convenient carry camera without worrying about future cost involved.


Interesting post Oliver
It's something I think about as well - what always surprises me is the big gap in sensor size between the SSSc's and m4/3 - there really seems to be a perfect size somewhere in between. I see that there are rumours of Nikon making a CSC with a sensor a little smaller than m4/3, this would allow smaller lenses and bodies - What also surprises me is that Canikon seem simply have ignored CSC cameras completely - surely this will turn out to be a mistake?

As for the SSSC - I wonder if their life isn't limited - they're being squeezed from both directions, and the rather slow rate of new cameras suggests to me that manufacturers aren't so interested.

Actually - I feel the same about full frame (despite having much loved ff cameras) - the rate of new camera production, the real quality improvement in the latest APS/c cameras and the obvious increase in interest in MF digital suggests to me that they are also likely to be squeezed from both directions.

all the best


Super Moderator Emeritus
Washington, DC
Amin I was quite excited when I read somewhere last year that Sony were considering the serious compact market. I would love to see what Sony would come up with, but for now I think they are probably fully committed with the current product range. I would be delighted to be proved wrong though. If Sony could fit the LX5/S95 size sensor into a WX type body with RAW, full PASM control, and a slightly faster lens, especially at the longer end, I'd buy it.

Don, I take you point about the system beyond the camera but I also think that many people who buy system cameras never buy another thing and simply shoot with camera, kit lens and onboard flash. I'm sure this is true for some of the CSC's as well so for those people the choice is between two cameras that both represent a one off cost.

Jono I think your comparison with full frame is apt. Neither FF nor SSSC are going to disappear but changes in the market and in the available options and alternatives will have an impact on the potential market. There will still be demand for both, but perhaps not quite as strong as in the past and the manufacturers will need to factor that into their wider strategy. (BTW, I'm just 'olli')

As I say, it's all guesswork.

PS Please excuse any typing errors. I have a couple of fingers strapped together at the moment which as a three and occasionally four fingered typist is something of a challenge.


Super Moderator Emeritus
Washington, DC
No problem Jono.

BB - not dogwalking. Unfortunately a few weeks ago I managed to catch a knuckle in a rather heavy metal gate. Even more unfortunately this was on a finger I had had previous problems with. Even more unfortunately it's on my left hand and I'm left handed:smile:


Long live sssc

So long they cannot make a compact(I mean really compact) high quality zoom into a CSC, SSSC are definitely irreplaceable in my heart. Yes, some can live with a fixed prime on their SSSC, but I cannot. There is simply no lens(even ignoring size) that exist in the CSC market that rivals the quality (sharp wide open) and versatility(macro to portrait to 24mm wide) the lens in the LX5 and the ZX-1.