The humble compact camera
As smartphones become better at taking photos it’s hard to see why anyone would want a compact camera any more.
Once a staple of every family holiday, the humble compact, also known as a point and shoot camera, is fading in popularity as people prefer to rely on their phones. But depending on your needs, there still may be a place in your digital life for a small, powerful camera.
Here’s a rundown of why they can still be useful, and what to look for if you do buy one.
Do I need one?
Why have a separate camera if you already have a phone that can take OK photos? Well, there are a few reasons.
First, have you looked at the photos you’ve taken with your phone? Are they any good or are they slightly blurry or pixelated?
If you feel your photos are a bit average and you’d like better quality images to capture your memories then you may benefit from a compact camera.
This is especially the case if you’re heading on an overseas trip or you want to take better photos of your growing family.
Most cameras on low or midrange smartphones are pretty average. They do OK when the subject is still and there is good light but they can struggle when conditions are challenging.
However, if you own one of the latest high-end smartphones, such as the Samsung S9, Pixel 3 or iPhone Xs, then you probably don’t need a compact camera as they can take great photos, but you will have to pay well over $1000 to get a phone like that.
What to look for
There are several things to look for when buying a camera: photo quality, the lens, portability, and ease of use.
All the major camera brands make great cameras that can take excellent photos. All of them have good sensors, which is one of the keys to getting high-quality images.
The best cameras have a oneinch or an APS-C sensor, which is bigger than those in more affordable cameras and much larger than those found in smartphones.
Of course, the bigger sensors are more expensive but they’re capable of taking similar quality photos to some DSLRs.
The other major factor influencing picture quality and price is the lens. You’ll have three options to consider: a high-quality fixed lens, an all-purpose zoom or a super-zoom.
A fixed lens is a set size, such as 23 millimetres. They’re usually ‘‘fast’’ lenses which means they have a large aperture to let in a lot of light so it’s easier to capture moving objects in low light.
An all-purpose lens will often range from about 24mm to 100mm. This lets you take wide-angle shots as well as being able to zoom into the action without losing picture quality like you would with a smartphone.
Super-zooms can go up to 600mm but they tend to be expensive and quite big.
Having a camera small enough to fit into your jacket pocket or handbag is quite important. If it’s too big then you’ll be reluctant to take it. A smaller size also means it’s great for taking hiking or backpacking.
Finding a camera that is fun to use is also key. Unfortunately, none are as easy to use as a smartphone, though some do have touchscreens which can make it easier to navigate menus. They have dials and buttons to adjust the most common settings so you rarely need to use the LCD to make adjustments.
Your best option is to go into a camera shop and try different brands to see which one you find the easiest to use.
Cameras to consider
There are dozens of options available so you’ll need to consider your needs and your budget.
If you’re looking for something affordable and good for everything, then take a look at the Panasonic LX-100 ($895) which has a large sensor and a 24mm to 75mm lens.
Also, consider the Canon GX9 Mark II ($690) which has a slim profile and a one-inch sensor.
For something more durable, then look at the Olympus Tough TG-5 ($749) which is waterproof to 15m and is great for outdoor adventures. Another option here is the Nikon Coolpix W100 ($280) which is also water and dust proof and is also a great camera for children.
For those wanting a fixed lens combined with a retro look, then the Fujifilm X100T ($1690) is highly regarded. It has a high-end 23mm lens paired with a DSLR-sized APSC sensor. Fujifilm also does a more affordable version of a fixed-lens camera, the Fujifilm XF10 ($875).
If you want something more high-end then take a look at the Sony RX-100 VI ($1840) which has a one-inch sensor and a 24-200mm. Older versions of this camera are also very good and are cheaper. Another option in this category is the Panasonic TZ220 ($1350).
Having a camera small enough to fit into your jacket pocket or handbag is quite important.
The Panasonic LX-100 camera is at the higher end of the market.
If you want something more high-end then take a look at the Sony RX-100 VI.