It may seem that smartphones have eaten up the compact camera market in recent years. However, a compact camera still has many advantages over the smart phone, especially if you want to step up in image quality.
The compact camera still fits into the niche of those who want good image quality, but don’t want to step up to a DSLR camera and interchangeable lenses. Because of the convenience of stills and video facilities on a smartphone, compact cameras have had to up their game and offer as much as they can into a small package, like HD video, a large zoom range and better quality sensors. There’s other advantages, such as a compact camera making a great travel companion and optics.
Here we will discuss some of the points you need to bear in mind if you want to find the best compact camera.
What to Look for in a Compact Camera
Luckily, there are loads of compact cameras on the market at different price points, but you still have to think about what the camera will be mostly used for. Most compacts cover video and stills equally well, with one of the deciding factors being a how much manual control you need or an automatic point-and-shoot.
The more manual controls over things like exposure and different shooting modes like on a DSLR like Av, Tv and manual, means you will be paying more for this functionality. The quality of the optics and zoom range will make a difference, especially important as resolution levels are ever-increasing and 4K video becoming standard.
As with any other type of camera its the quality of the optics that matter. This is one of the main reasons for taking the step up from a smart phone camera to a compact. It’s also about the sensor size and quality. Generally, the best compact cameras will have larger and better quality sensors than a smart phone. That, coupled with a large zoom range with better optics, makes for better video and stills. Companies like Sony have links with Zeiss lenses, using the likes of the GammaZeiss Vario-Sonnar for improved image quality. Price point will generally dictate the quality of everything throughout the camera.
The physical design of compact cameras can range from a very small square unit with a fixed lens to ones with a grip that give you more of a feel like a DSLR. Most will also have a rear LCD screen only, no viewfinder, but the latest models should have a tilting touchscreen and at a high resolution. Some of the higher end models may even have a hotshoe and an interchangeable kit lens.
Features to Look For
Compact cameras are going to be crammed full of features, but knowing how well they do the critical stuff on all potential purchases is worth noting. Megapixel amount on a camera isn’t always necessarily a reflection of image quality, but it’s still a good overall way to measure resolution. The higher the megapixel number, the higher the resolution with 20MP being around the standard. You can dig further into the quality of the camera’s sensor as this will be a further reflection of image quality.
The amount of optical zoom can range from 5x to anything like 30x and 40x. The bigger the number the more the lens can go from wide-angle to telephoto. Always look for the optical zoom amount, not the amount of digital zoom. Digital zoom is just narrowing into a point of the image with software, rather than true optical zoom.
Image stabilization has become commonplace in both camera bodies and lenses. If your compact camera of choice has image stabilization it will mean you can hand hold your camera for far lower shutter speeds than normal and still get sharp images. It’s a lifesaver in some low-light situations, so make sure your camera includes this feature if possible.
When it comes to video, most compact cameras can shoot in 1080p video with some moving to 4K video. The video facilities will be more or less point-and-shoot and with a crop factor, but you’re still going to get high quality footage, great for things like a travel vblog. Some cameras also offer different frame rates for Slo. Mo. and even some with amore advanced video features such as S-Log2.
The rear LCD display is usually the only way to view everything on a compact camera, so it had better be good quality. Some models have tilting screens, which is fantastically useful for extreme angle shots and very useful for video. Many displays these days are touchscreen, but it’s always advisable to double check if this is a facility. If you can compare the quality of the rear LCD display with other cameras in a shop is always an advantage. In some scenarios, like extremely bright sunlight, a viewfinder may be preferred to a rear LCD screen. However, there are not many compact cameras with viewfinders. If a viewfinder is at the top of your list, then a mirrorless camera may be a better option.
There’s plenty of connectivity within all types of compact cameras these days, featuring things like WiFi, Bluetooth and near-field communication (NFC). Most allow easy transfer of video and photos wirelessly to another device, most popular being a tablet or smart phone. Some of the best compact cameras even have GPS for geo-tagging your images. These type of features weren’t even found on high-quality DSLR a few years ago.
Compact cameras have to battle with the smart phone market, thus cram as many features as they can into their diminutive size. These include plenty of different creative modes for all types of shooting situations. Examples being panoramic, portrait, landscape modes, 3D modes and creative filters. Plenty of ways to get your creative juices flowing.
The aperture range on a compact camera lens is a consideration. The best quality lenses usually have a low f number around f.1.8 – f/2.8 going up to anything like f/22. The lower the f number, the wider the aperture and the more light the lens can let in. The lower the f number also means the better the camera at producing lovely blurred backgrounds.
As all things in life, the better the quality, the higher the price tag… usually. The price will come down to the brand, optics and facilities, so it’s always good practice to note down what you want from a camera firstly. If money isn’t a consideration and you want full camera bragging rights, at the top of the scale there are models like the Leica Q but expect to pay around $4,495.00. Good travel compact cameras include the Canon SX720 HS and SX740 HS. You can get these with 40x optical zoom, 4K video, and manual settings, all for just a few hundred dollars.
There are plenty of compact cameras on the market in the price range that will give you higher image quality above a smart phone with plenty of options if you want to progress to a DSLR. Once you figure out what you want from a camera, it’s a matter of looking into the facilities and what you can get in your price range.