For taking casual and spur-of-the-moment shots, smart phone cameras are great. But if you want a really good photo of an important event, or in a challenging setting with dim lighting, a smart phone can't do nearly as well as a real camera. If you're really serious about photography and don't need interchangeable lenses, an advanced point-and-shoot is a great choice. Nearly all the major camera manufacturers are producing such models, which combine large imaging sensors with excellent optics and lots of versatility. Those are some of the major factors that make for superior photos and videos that blow smart phones out of the water.
The photos below, all taken in a very dim club setting, illustrate the difference. The ones I shot with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 M3 are far better than those I shot on my iPhone 5—and that takes better shots than most smart phones.
For more on point-and-shoots and advanced cameras, check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.
Here are six cameras to consider.
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II, $800: The camera that got the highest score in our Ratings isn’t an SLR that costs thousands of dollars. It’s an $800 point-and-shoot, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II. This 13-megapixel camera is the first we’ve tested to earn an excellent score for overall image quality as well as flash photos and video. That’s an achievement unmatched by any SLR or mirrorless SLR-like.
That doesn’t mean the G1 X Mark II is the perfect choice for all shooting situations. There are times you might want the versatility of an SLR or mirrorless model that can take interchangeable lenses, the easy portability of a superslim compact camera you can slip in a pocket, or the durability of a rugged, waterproof camera. We have a few quibbles with this PowerShot. Unlike some models in its class, it lacks a viewfinder, so you’ll have to compose shots on its LCD. Also, its zoom lens isn’t very long: just a 5x optical, from 24mm-120mm. But overall, it’s a winner.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10, $1,000: If you want a longer zoom and don’t mind a little more size and weight, consider the Sony Cyber-shot RX10, which has an 8.3x zoom lens. It takes very good photos and excellent video and has a few features not found on the Canon, including an excellent electronic viewfinder, which is crucial when sun glare washes out the image on the LCD. The RX10 also has a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the range of the zoom, which is extremely rare on a point-and-shoot. This allows you to create more professional-looking shots, particularly in low light.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 M3, $800: This is the one model that’s not yet in our Ratings, but will be soon. (We expect it to rate well since the last two versions were recommended models.) One feature that makes this small, compact model particularly alluring is that it has a high-quality popup electronic OLED viewfinder that is very sharp and clear. In fact, it’s similar to many of the excellent electronic viewfinders found on mirrorless models. The camera is chockfull of features, from a swiveling LCD, for taking hard-to-reach shots and selfies, to a plethora of shooting and scene models.
Here are three other standouts, including two CR Best Buys that are easy on the budget.
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1, $350, shoots very good quality stills and video, yet is lightweight and thin (only 1.3 inches thick).
- Olympus Stylus 1, $650, takes very good photos and has a long zoom, 10.7x. Like the RX10, it has a constant f/2.8 aperture and an excellent viewfinder.
- Pentax MX-1, $250, costs less than many basic cameras yet gives you the flexibility that comes with manual controls. It excels at daylight shots and takes very good flash photos and video. Overall picture quality is decent.
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