A Niche Market for 1″ Sensor Cameras

Typically wildlife photographers out to get the perfect shot of a bird in flight or wild animal in the veld are wielding large lenses mounted on the most expensive of camera’s either a full frame camera or an APS-C to extend the lenses reach. In recent years some well know photographers have experimented with 4/3 cameras for this purpose with some success.
However, there are a lot of individuals who participate in this activity which have no intention of selling a large print, they are more interested in recording sightings for their purposes and sharing with fellow enthusiast over the internet. Their need for high-quality resolution is not essential. Instead, they are seeking a lightweight simple to operate camera that has an excellent lens range and produces low-resolution internet quality images, not print quality.
It would appear with the crash in the point, and shoot market, likely brought on by the use of smartphone cameras, some companies are now addressing this niche market by using 1″ sensors.

Photographer Sven Skafisk took the latest 2016 CIPA camera production data and created the chart above showing that compact cameras have continued to decline while DSLR and mirrorless camera sales seem to have stabilized a bit.

A quick review of DPreview shows three such cameras release in recent years one just in June of 2018, the Sony RX100VI, the Sony RX10IV, and Panasonic’s FZ 2000. Although a lot of these individuals currently use 1/2.3 sensor 12-megapixel cameras, that they have had around their necks for years with their binoculars, it is likely this will change. However a 1″ sensor is more than four times larger than a 1/2.3 sensor; also there have been significant improvements in resolution, dynamic range and colour in the last two year with the new sensors. A 1″ sensor has a surface area of about 116mm². A 1/2.3″ sensor has an area of about 28mm². Having 4× the light-gathering area is a huge advantage that is pretty much impossible to overcome.
Nikon seems to have opted to go in a different direction the Nikon Coolpix P1000 retains the 1/2.3 sensor, I suspect so they can produce the longest through in a camera yet 24-3000mm (35mm equivalent). For those that need such a zoom lens perhaps it is worth the compromise in sensor quality.

Courtesy of camerasize.com

Courtesy of camerasize.com

Announcement Jun 5, 2018 Sep 12, 2017 Sep 19, 2016 Jul 10, 2018
Sensor Size 1 inch 1 inch 1 inch 1/2.3
Resolution 20 megapixels 20 megapixels 20 megapixels 16 megapixels
Focal Length  24-200 24-600 24-480 24-3000
Focus Points
Maximum Aperture 2.8-4.5f 2.4-4f 2.89-4.5 2-8.8f
Weight 301g 1095g 915g 1415g
Dimensions 102 x 58 x 43 mm 133 x 94 x 145 mm 138 x 102 x 135 mm 146 x 119 x 181 mm
Frames per second
File formats RAW and JPEG RAW and JPEG RAW and JPEG RAW and JPEG

Sony Cybershot R100VI

The RX100 VI is my choice for the photographer who wants to not only do birding but travel with a camera that is lightweight and versatile. The lens quality of this camera because of its shorter throw 24-200 will not be as effective as a longer throw, but image quality will be better. The camera is also 1/3 the weight of the other three cameras and the only one that can be placed into a jacket or shirt pocket. 
If birding is a minor interest one might even consider the RX100 V(A), which is the replacement camera for the RX100 V, the Zeiss lens in this camera only ranges from 1.8-2.8f an extremely bright lens and with a 24-70 lens, it is opitically better than any of the four cameras. I would suggest that this camera is likely the top 1inch camera on the market in terms of image quality.

Sony Cybershot RX10 IV

The RX10 IV is a good choice if you really need a longer reach telephoto lens its 24-600mm equivalent range should meant the needs of most birders who dont need the higher quality of larger sensors, of the four new cameras in this category the RX10 IV has the brightest lens combined with a frames per second rate twice that of the FZ2500 and more than three times that of the Nikon P1000. 

It also has 350 focus points an important different from these other two cameras.
If you consider trying to capture a good image of a bird in flight, having a frame rate of 24 fps compared to 12 or 7 and 350 focusing points compared to 49 or less, this camera is much more likely to produce a great shot under these circumstances.

Panasonic Lumix FZ2500

The FZ2500 to my mind is not positioned well in this field at the moment against the RX10 IV or the P1000, it does not have the best frame rate, it’s zoom is shorter, its lens is darker, and it has a very low amount of focus points. I am not sure how you would characterize its advantages its not significantly lighter than the Sony cameras, so the only real advantage over the RX10 IV is its price over the RX10IV but it looses this advantage over the other two cameras. 

Nikon Coolpix P1000

The P1000 of the four cameras has the longest throw in its zoom lens 24-3000, it also has a 1cm minimum focus so it can be used for macro shots as well. When the camera lens reaches out into the telephoto range and the f-stop rises steeply camera shake and light becomes a critical issue. Nikon uses a “Dual Detect Optical VR (Vibration Reduction)” to compensate, it suggests that this increases the number of stops by five; using accelerometers and corrective elements in the lense to analysis the image and reduces the impacts of shake. The downside is the 1/2.3″ sensor which will be a compromise from the other camera’s 1inch sensors. 
If you are interested in a longer reach for the zoom lens it is possible to extend this to 6000mm, with some loss in quality, using a feature called Dynamic Fine Zoom. It is also possible to push this to 12000mm but again with a significant loss of image quality.


Looking at these three cameras, I would recommend the RX100 VI for someone who is concerned about portability and weight, as well as making sure you are buying a camera that is suitable for all purposes. However, a serious birder is likely to be happier with the RX10 IV as it has the longest reach in it lens a 24-600mm 35mm equivalency, and they may not be as concerned about its bulkiness.
If it is a long throw zoom lens you are after then the P1000 might be worth the compromise of a smaller sensor. The lens does become very dark at its outer reaches so it may require a tripod in poorer lighting conditions to reach the 3000mm equivalent. I am not sure why you might need such a reach and the compromise in quality and weight is significant. Still it is impressive technology.


Spoilt for choice: which Sony RX100 is right for you?
Ken Rockwell on the myth of the 1-inch sensor.