I'm looking to purchase a camera and have been wondering about the performance of compacts vs mirrorless styles of cameras. As far as a budget goes, somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 is doable. Less would be better, obviously.
Being that a lot of my photography will be outdoors and hiking, most rangefinders with their kit lenses are eliminated from contention right off the bat because they aren't pocketable. One exception seems to be the Sony alpha-NEX line. When they aren't powered on, the depth of the camera looks to be about 2.5" around the lens only...not the most comfortable to carry around but definitely doable. Other brands come with huge kit lenses that could be replaced if the budget allows for it.
The Sony RX100 and RX100II, and the Ricoh GR seem to be top choices for compacts, with the zoom capabilities of the Sony being the only thing in my mind keeping it in contention with the larger sensor Ricoh. Looking at mirrorless, the entire Sony NEX line stands out because of pocketability, but if I am able to find a good deal on a small zoom lens or a couple of small primes then the options for rangefinder cameras could be nearly limitless.
My concerns are many. First and foremost, will the mirrorless cameras take inherently higher IQ shots (as I have seemed to gather from quite a few message boards), or is this notion from times past before larger sensor compacts hit the market? If so, how much quality is sacrificed going with a zoom lens vs primes? I do not see myself carrying a large collection of lenses, and I am concerned about damaging the gear if I am messing around with swapping lenses while hiking (and the cost in dollars and weight of keeping everything safe and clean). I don't plan on printing large images at the time (though I could see getting into that in the future), so should I should set my budget considerably lower?
As for my preferences for photography, I tend to prefer wide angle shots but I am often in places where zoom could come in handy. Trips to Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Costa Rica and Shenandoah are planned for the next year. I like taking shots near sunset like everyone else, so low-light capture might be important, and I don't have a tri-pod yet but will be getting one for hiking trips.
Thanks in advance,