In the era of the analog camera, also known as The Dark Ages, choosing a compact camera was easy. You just had to answer two simple questions: “Is it small enough that I can carry it without needing to employ a manservant?” and “Does it take pictures that don’t suck?” These days, those aren’t enough because the compact cameras of the digital age, also known as the Age of the Selfie, are not just cameras. They are whole camera systems known as CSC’s (Compact System Cameras).
The way you choose a CSC depends on your needs. Just getting a camera with decent ISO exposure and acceptable apertures is not enough. You need to know if it also has filters you can use, navigation for viewing your photos in advance, a proper zoom, auto-focus that actually focuses, Wi-Fi connectivity, and myriad other variables. To help you pick, we’ve considered all your options to bring you the 5 best compact digital cameras.
Samsung Galaxy Camera 2
Complete Connectivity: If you have ever been inclined to slap a 21x optical zoom lens onto your smartphone, then you will love the newest version of the Galaxy Camera 2. It bears an Android 4.3 operating system that makes it easy to use and allows for the best wireless connectivity available in any camera, compact or otherwise. Include a headphone jack, a 4.8 inch touchscreen for easy navigation and option operation, the ability to stream music and video, and you have the world’s first true camera/phone.
In the same way that smartphone and cell phone manufacturers discovered that cameras on a phone were not great, adding phones into cameras don’t produce the best pictures either. You’ll pick up some noise long before you hit the higher ISO’s. You can shoot decent video at frames per second ranging from 4.3-120, which is reasonable for a CSC. It includes various shooting modes and filter settings that grant versatility for any conditions. Basically, this is a very very good smartcamera, even if somewhat lacking in the “camera” portion. [Purchase: $400]
Olympus OM-D E-M10
Shutterbug’s Pal: Serious photographers often scoff at CSC’s as being the tools of amateurs. Such snobbery is easily put to bed by the E-M10. It is a combination of all of the best of mirrorless cameras, dSLR’s, and compact cameras all crammed into a CSC body. It has a gargantuan ISO range that goes from 100 up to 25,600, though you’re only likely to use a portion of that. It includes a few swappable lenses including an f/1.8 fish-eye and a pancake zoom which give you lots of aperture options.
While it is a truly outstanding camera, it suffers from the exact opposite issues of those that plague the Galaxy Camera in that there are almost no smartphone features to be had. The Wi-Fi is merely passable and mostly used for remote operation, not any fancy maneuvering. Navigation is nearly nonexistent and all the controls are handled by old-school knobs and dials. While enthusiasts will appreciate the classical touches and excellent quality, those raised with a digital spoon in their mouth will be lost. [Purchase: $800]
Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
More for the Money: With most CSC’s, as the size goes down, the price climbs. The SX280 seeks to not only combat this by offering a more affordable compact, but also packs a photographic punch. It uses a 20x zoom lens with a somewhat limited f3.5-f6.8 lens range coupled with a 12-megapixel sensor, which is certainly modest but is counteracted by Digic 6 noise reduction that will keep your pictures clean even as you reach toward the 1600 ISO range.
Additional features include Wi-Fi and a GPS sensor, though the GPS feels extraneous and more than a little clunky. You can easily push pictures from the SX280 to Android or iOS devices if you need to move your shots externally for storage or to distribute them digitally. You’ll get video capture in 1080p that can go up to 60 fps. The biggest drawback to the SX280 is the low battery life which will have you strapped to an outlet unless you pack power backups. [Purchase: $223]
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40
Truly Tiny: Many cameras bearing the “compact” moniker are still abnormally large in order to house all the features. For those that want a dedicated camera that is better than their smartphone, but don’t want to feel like an old west photographer complete with hood and a magnesium flash plate should seek out the TZ40. It has a 20x zoom that can retreat back to 24mm for wide shots, or get up close and personal at 480mm to see every pore on your girlfriend’s face. The auto-focus is one of the fastest available and almost makes the TZ40 into a point-and-shoot.
Though the zoom capabilities and auto-focus are impressive, the overall performance is great, not mind-boggling. This is certainly a camera for amateurs and will leave pros cold. It has good image stabilization for wobbly hands or taking shots on the fly. The touchscreen interface, GPS, and Wi-Fi will feel familiar to anyone acclimated to the technological revolution. It’s small size and simple operation make it the most user-friendly camera choice for those that want a slimmer size rather than reels and reels of breathtaking shots. [Purchase: $300]
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1R
Beauty in the Beast: The first thing that you will notice as a discerning consumer is that you will need to unfold the price tag on the RX1R to see all of it. If you have some EMT’s standing by to help you recover from the sticker shock and actually give the RX1R a shot, you’ll see why the cost is so high. For a compact camera (or any camera) it produces works that are nothing short of astounding. The reason for this is that it uses a full frame sensor giving it more photosites per pixel while nearly every other compact employs an APS-C system that compresses images.
It holds outstanding photo quality up through 1600 ISO that doesn’t degrade until reaching 3200 ISO, even when shooting video. Part of the secret to the high-quality pictures is due to the T-star lens which keeps photos sharp all the way to the edge. While it is still technically a CSC it is nearly as heavy as a dSLR at nearly a pound thanks to being constructed of magnesium alloy for improved external toughness. You will encounter issues with the auto-focus which will shift to a dynamic creative setting too often, meaning you’ll need to focus manually to get the best results. [Purchase: $2,800]
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX30/B
Honorable Mention: Most CSC’s are overrun with moving parts, which makes them susceptible to incursion by the elements. Such is not the case with the Cyber-Shot DSC-TX30. It is fully water, dust, and life proof while still keeping a trim and fit figure that looks smashing in a bikini. You can submerge it to about 30 feet for underwater photo shoots, or drag it along when you go off-roading. It only has a 5x zoom but 18 megapixels worth of resolution. You’ll definitely get some noise in ISO ranges higher than 800, but overall, this is an ideal compact for rough wear or heavy weather. [Purchase: $175]
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