"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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I am considering buying new camera. As most of my photographing is done during the climbing trips, its suitability for climbing photography is the driving decision factor. Unfortunately, no one is producing s camera that would fulfill all my requirements.

My wishlist for climbing camera consists of:

  • Very small and light. Camera needs to fit in jacket pocked, otherwise it will see very little action. This rules out both SRL and larger compacts as well. We are talking about sub-200g range and as small as possible, especially depth is important.
  • Robust and weatherproof.
  • Lens. This is where it gets challenging. To be useful, the lens needs to have proper wide-angle. On the other hand, it needs to have reasonably long telezoom as well. Obviously the overall quality should be outstanding and it should not have any distortion to speak of. Tough order, I know. And it gets worse. As the lightening conditions are often difficult, large aperture is needed.
  • Controls. On top of proper automatic and metering, the camera should have usable manual controls. The key here is usable, which pretty much requires manual focus ring (you can't really use menus when trying to focus, can you).
  • Features. Ability to shoot RAW is probably on top of my list. GPS would be very handy for automatic geotagging.
  • Video. To be useful, optical zoom needs to be available when shooting video and the camera needs to be able to shoot HD video with normal frame speed, otherwise the whole feature is useless to me.

During my research, the following models made it to the short list:

Panasonic DMC-TZ7
Followup model of successful TZ5 with improved video features. Looks possibly the best compromise. However, based on reviews there are some rather alarming shortcomings. First and foremost, it has very small censor. This is almost a necessity if you want to pack an impressive zoom into a very compact body. The downside of this is of course reverse impact of aperture, noisiness and dynamic range. And sure enough, e.g. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 and Fuji Finepix 200EXR reportedly boast vastly superior dynamic range. LX3 would shoot RAW as well, but unfortunately it has much shorter zoom, is quite a bit larger and its video features are far inferior to TZ7.
Fuji Finepix 200EXR
Reportedly very good dynamic range and boasts 5x zoom which would be acceptable I guess, but its video features are sorely lacking.
Ricoh CX1
Ricoh seems to have an interesting looking model in their offering as well, namely CX1 (only SD video, though). Very interesting features such as in-camera HDR.
Canon PowerShot SX200IS
Canon's entry into compact superzoom market. Sorely lacking in the video department (no zoom during recording, seriously?).
Nikon Coolpix S620, S610, S710
Nikon offering in its Coolpix S range sport both wide angle lens and reasonable zoom (up to 7x), however sadly not in the same camera. The video-side can't really keep up with the competition either.
Olympus μ9000
The Olympus µ-9000 (also known as the 'Stylus 9000') is the flagship model of Olympus' µ-Series line of point-and-shoot digital cameras. The µ Series consists of compact cameras characterized by small profiles, relatively great optical zoom function, and a focus on stylish outward appearance.
Samsung WB500
Interesting feature set but reportedly can't hold its own in image quality department.

If only Panasonic offered similar camera to TZ7 with larger censor (granted it would limit the zoom, but something like 6-8x would still be very good. Combine that with with lower pixel density (meaning that instead of 10MP, it would have "only", say 8MP) and it should sport greater dynamic range and shouldn't suffer from high noise as badly as it currently does. In my book, something like that would be very hard to beat in supercompact point and shoot market.

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