Let’s begin at the ending:

There’s a new superclass of pocket cameras. Reliable field identification marks for this species include the ability to shoot RAW; having fine control over how the camera shoots and processes images; and the ability (or even just the potential) to add external flashes, filters, and lens adapters.

The Panasonic LX3 and the Nikon Coolpix P6000 are both superlative examples; they’re the top cameras, embodying two different design goals. If you want to take the best pictures possible — particularly in low-light situations — the Panasonic will make you very, very happy. If you value simplicity and convenience, you’ll love the Nikon.

The Nikon sells for a bit less than $400. The Panasonic is closer to $450.

Okay? 122 words and we’re through. The rest…is mere postscript.

And so here’s where I talk about the Canon G10. I did get a hold of a G10 to test out but I only used it for about a week. Just long enough to determine that my column would just be about the LX3 and the P6000.

Was the G10 that bad?

Oh, no. Not at all. If it were awful, hell, I would have devoted a whole column to its wretchedness. That’s how I spell “fun.” I had so much fun with the Microsoft Zune player that the opening line from my review became a question on “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”

I removed the G10 from the column because over the course of a week’s use and probably about 150 photos, it had failed to make any impression on me whatsoever.

None.

I take that back. I do like the built-in neutral density filter. Well done, there. Nifty feature. I’d use the hell out of it if it were on the LX3 or the P6000. You know…the cameras that truly got me excited about picture-taking.

I’ve had a couple of months to think about it but I’m right back where I began. I still don’t see a single reason for anybody to get excited about the G10.

It’s not as small or as convenient to use as the P6000. It lacks the Nikon’s simplicity, customizability, and creature-comforts. The biggest disconnection for me is the G10′s size: it’s too big for a lot of my favorite pockets. The P6000 fits everywhere except for a shirt pocket, which means that there is no moment and no circumstance under which I can’t have a high-quality pocket camera on me.

Again I say: the camera you have with you at the moment you want to take a picture takes much better photos than the one you left back at the house or the hotel…or the one that’s such a hassle you don’t want to even bother with it.

“But the G10 takes better pictures than the P6000!”

This was a frequent refrain in the comments to my previous pieces, and on Twitter; usually it was accompanied by a link to someone else’s review. Welp, I don’t agree with that statement. I’ve owned and used the P6000 for a few months now and after shooting more than a thousand pictures with it, I can confidently state that I’ve never looked at one of its photos on my iMac screen and thought “Damn. I wish I had a better camera. Why did the P6000 screw that shot up?”

No, I’m proud to say that the weak link in my photography continues to be my carelessness and ignorance…not my hardware.

(Not proud, exactly. Well, you know what I mean.)

But just for the sake of argument, I’ll say that the G10 takes better pictures than the P6000. We’re left with the following universe:

The G10 still doesn’t beat out the P6000. It takes slightly better pictures under certain circumstances. But no photographer who appreciates the difference between a conventional pocket consumer camera and the G10 or P6000 shows their photos to anybody without giving the images at least a few minutes of desktop tweaking first. And in those few minutes…poof! The G10′s hypothetical image superiority disappears.

Another horrible, horrible photo taken with the clearly-inferior Nikon Coolpix P6000.

Another horrible, horrible photo I took with the clearly-inferior Nikon Coolpix P6000.

Even if you insist that all sample photos be printed straight from the camera with no editing (oh, dear; I’m being so charitable with the terms here that I really ought to be helping terminally-ill children instead of making up hypothetical scenarios) the improvement isn’t terribly dramatic and it only surfaces occasionally. All in all, it isn’t a big enough difference to make up for the G10′s deficiencies. You’re still left with a camera that’s bulkier than the Nikon, isn’t as easy or convenient to use, and which doesn’t have as many major features (like GPS!).

And this “G10 that takes better pictures than the P6000″ still can’t beat the LX3. The Panasonic’s lens is wider and faster than the Canon’s, which means that there’s plenty of stuff you can do with the LX3 that you simply can’t do with the G10 (or the P6000). Like fit in the fifth person sitting at your table during a birthday dinner, or open up the aperture wide enough to pull in ambient light from the background in a dimly-lit scene and blur the background. The LX3′s lens is a world-beater.

So I come back to the simple rhetorical question that I ponder with every review: if someone comes up to me and asks for a recommendation, what could they possibly tell me about themselves and their desires that would cause me to recommend this product over its competitors?

I know the answer for the Panasonic (“I’m willing to suffer a little in the name of big-camera image quality”) and the Nikon (“I want a camera that won’t get in the way of my desire to take a picture.”)

The G10? It’s the Nowhere Man of this product category. It doesn’t take good enough pictures, nor is it small and convenient enough, to distinguish itself in any way amongst this kind of competition.

Now we’re back to me, finally.

I do seem to have named a — oh, “loser” is a harsh and inaccurate word — in this triangle, but I decline to declare a Winner. The LX3 and the P6000 are both great cameras and all I can say is that the Nikon was clearly the right camera for me. I love it. True, it took me a week or two before I could get it to take the best pictures it could possibly take, but that’s going to be true of any decent camera.

I’m so happy with the P6000 that it’s actually taken the place of the second SLR body that I kept telling myself I ought to buy, but which I couldn’t afford. I took two Nikons with me during my tour of Lucasfilm and ILM last month. Sure, I would have loved to have made my way through those hallways firing D700′s from both hands, John Woo-style, but the P6000 (shooting RAW) didn’t let me down. I had the right camera for every photo I wanted to take. When I had a chance to have my picture taken with R2D2 — obviously an image destined to become an 11×17 print in a nice custom frame on my wall — it was shot with the D80 and its fixed 80mm f1.8 lens. But every step of the way, the P6000 was always either in my right hand or dangling from my wrist. I brought it into play whenever I either needed the flexibility of its zoom lens or the speed and simplicity of its one-handed, away-from-the-face operation.

Let me end my recommendation of the Coolpix P6000 thusly: I wouldn’t trust a photo of the Jar Jar Binks Frozen In Carbonite sculpture to just any camera, you know.