I did a quick comparison of three compact cameras and I thought I'd share my results. The candidates were the Panasonic LX3 (now going on 2 years old), the new Canon S90 and the new Casio EH-FX100.
Here are my concise reactions after spending a day with each camera. I set each camera to achieve maximum image quality in JPEG mode. I did not test flash modes. These are obviously not reviews, so I will ignore similarities and focus on differences where there are plusses and minuses.
+ produces clear, sharp images with minimum compression artifacts
+ good dynamic range and preservation of detail
+ constant f/2.8 across the zoom range
- zoom range is very limited, often wanted more reach
- record/playback switch is clunky UI
- no built-in lens cap
+ very small, pocketable size
+ customizable function ring around lens is a good idea
+ when zoom is chosen ring function, zooms in logical steps (28,35,50,85...)
+ simple UI with a minimum of buttons, uses scroll wheel
- lens quickly slows from maximum aperture at wide angle setting, causing slow shutter speeds and motion blur when zoomed to telephoto
- images were not as detailed as LX3, seem over-processed / compressed
- lens function ring is a good idea but it's so close to the body and so thin it's almost impossible to get a grip on it
+ very clever high speed functions can be used to reduce motion blur, increase dynamic range, achieve subtle HDR in-camera, capture sports, etc.
+ 10x zoom range
+ large battery
- small sensor produces overprocessed, plasticky looking photos
- overly aggressive noise reduction built in smears details
In summary if I was using this type of camera to capture fast-moving subjects or I was shooting building interiors with backlit windows all the time the Casio would win by a mile, but I'd have to live with the plastic images. The Canon is so close to being great, but suffers from the thin function ring and over-processed images. The LX3 could really benefit from a longer zoom, but for my type of shooting (street, people) it's a great match. I look forward to seeing what Panasonic and Leica do with a successor to the LX3 / D-Lux 4, but for now the LX3 stays and the others go.
I know that there are many shooting styles and there will be many different opinions, but I hope that I can help some of you by sharing mine.