Point & Shoot

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These are testing times indeed for camera manufacturers. Once upon a time, a compact camera was a vital part of the traveller’s arsenal – the best way to remind people how glamorous your life was. Then smartphones arrived, packing increasingly complex capability and spoiling the party – sales of digital cameras have fallen 29% in the past five years, with a high proportion of losses coming from the budget end of the market.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Increased competition has led to a raft of new innovations aimed at protecting the stand-alone camera from the ceaseless march of the smartphone. Just as smartphones co-opted camera technology, now cameras are integrating features we are more used to seeing on our phones.

One such development is the integration of Wi-Fi and even 3G. With traditional cameras, uploading your images can be painfully slow. You need to transfer the shots from your memory card to a computer and sift through them using a photo-editing programme before you can even think about putting them on the web. But in a fraction of the time, you can use your smartphone to Instagram a photo of your dinner (complete with retro filter), upload a “selfie” to Facebook, or post a snap of a street in New York to Pinterest.

Now both Nikon and Samsung have Wi-Fi -enabled cameras that run Google’s Android software, allowing you to save your photos in the cloud instantly and upload images to Facebook and Twitter through their respective apps. These cameras are great if you need to instantly send an image to the web (perfect for bloggers, for instance) but the trade-off is they tend to lack the advanced features of higher-end models.

Other abilities being integrated into cameras include the option to shoot in 3D – something that has failed to catch on in smartphones – to capture HD video, or to wirelessly share images between cameras (so you don’t have to wait for a dozen group pictures to be taken). Some of these features are great; others little more than gimmicks.

So how do you decide which device to go for? The first question to ask yourself is what you’re going to use it for. If most of your photos have at least one glass of wine in them, you probably don’t want to lug around a 1kg DSLR (you don’t need a rocket launcher to kill a pigeon). Conversely, if you’re a keen bird-watcher, you’re going to end up with a lot of very blurry pictures if you opt for a compact.

DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex) are the kings of the camera world, allowing you to take high-resolution pictures in a fraction of a second, even in low light. But they are expensive (at least $600 for an entry-level model), heavy and can be dauntingly complex for beginners. 

Opting for a refurbished camera can knock a significant amount from the price but there are pitfalls. Even cameras that have been officially refurbished by the manufacturer will usually have a limited warranty period – durations vary but usually fall between 90 days and six months, compared with the usual one-year warranty on a new purchase. Taking out an extended warranty is usually an option but this can be expensive, somewhat defeating the purpose of going for a refurbished model in the first place.

There is also a new wave of Compact System Cameras (CSCs) that claim to rival the quality and versatility of DSLRs in far smaller, lighter casings – often at a fraction of the price. While photography geeks tend to turn their noses up at this category, the quality is improving fast. Lastly, a decent compact camera will take images far better than your smartphone and fit easily into your hand luggage. Here is our guide to some of the best new products on the market.

1 SONY NEX-3N
Type Compact System Camera
$565 (with 16mm-50mm lens)
sony.co.uk
This is one of the smallest and lightest (210g) interchangeable lens cameras out there but it still packs a punch, with a 16.1-megapixel sensor that takes great pictures even in low light. It has a 180-degree tilting LCD screen, which makes taking pictures at awkward angles – over railings or at gigs, for example – far easier. It also has some features you would usually expect to see on more expensive cameras, such as a pop-up flash. It’s a good device for beginners who want to learn more about photography by experimenting with different lenses, as it allows you to slowly build up the amount of manual control you have over pictures.
Pros Relatively cheap, great in low light
Cons LCD screen is not as sharp as it could be

2 SAMSUNG GALAXY CAMERA
Type Compact
$520 ($580 for 3G model)
samsung.com/uk
Samsung claims this is the most connected camera in the world, and it may have a point. The Galaxy is the closest to a smartphone you can get in a camera, even running the familiar Google Android 4.1 operating system. Having in-built Wi-Fi and 3G (it takes a micro-SIM) means you can instantly save your pictures in the cloud, eliminating the potential double whammy of losing both your camera and the photos. You can also upload images straight to your Facebook and Twitter feeds. It takes pretty good pictures – thanks, in part, to its 16.3-megapixel sensor – and it is relatively light, at 300g. There is 50GB of free Dropbox storage included, meaning you will have lots of space to store all the pictures you upload on the go.
Pros Great connectivity
Cons Poor battery life if using Wi-Fi or 3G a lot

3 PENTAX MX-1
Type
Compact
$560
pentax.co.uk
This handsome, retro-looking camera comes in at the high end of the compact market, with a 4 x optical zoom and great low-light performance. It is sturdily constructed, with satisfyingly old-school brass plates running along the top and bottom, and takes better pictures than its 12-megapixel sensor would suggest. It has a pop-up flash and a large, sharp LCD screen. However, it is rather big for a basic point-and-shoot, and weighs 363g. The price tag is on the expensive side but you’re paying as much for the styling as the gadgetry inside. If you are a trendy type, though, this is a must-have wardrobe accessory.
Pros Looks great
Cons No hot-shoe mount for separate flash

4 NIKON D7100
Type DSLR
£1,300 (with 18mm-105mm VR lens)
nikon.co.uk
The D7100 is Nikon’s new addition to its line-up of upper-mid range DSLRs. It is a step down from semi-professional level (falling into a category usually called “enthusiast”). It’s versatile, powerful and gives incredibly sharp images, courtesy of its 24.1-megapixel sensor. If you’re a seasoned amateur looking to take your shots to the next level, this is the unit for you. Advanced features include anti-vibration technology and a 51-point auto-focus system, both of which help to ensure you get stunningly deep, crisp images. At 1.19kg with a basic lens, it’s actually a remarkably portable DSLR. A great all-rounder but not one for beginners.
Pros Amazing picture quality
Cons Long processing time between taking a photo and being able to preview it

5 CANON POWERSHOT SX240
Type
Compact
$225 (amazon.co.uk)
canon.co.uk
If you are looking for a $225 camera, this is a great option. It’s smart, well constructed and light (224g) and, while its 12.1-megapixel sensor probably won’t help you to win any competitions, it will certainly document your trips with far more finesse than your average smartphone. Its three-inch LCD touchscreen is among the best in its class and its menus are easy to navigate. The 20 x optical zoom is impressive and the battery life of around 230 shots is also decent. If you want a high level of customisation, this isn’t for you – but what do you expect at this price point?
Pros Well built, cheap
Cons Little scope for customisation, no GPS for location tagging (many compact cameras have this)

6 CANON EOS 1D C
Type DSLR
$7,000
(body only, amazon.co.uk) canon.co.uk
This professional-grade DSLR is one of the best cameras out there. Capable of shooting 4K video (which makes HD video look as pixelated as a 1980s computer game) and able to capture breathtaking stills, this is the zenith of many photographers’ camera buying lives. It has an 18.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and can shoot up to 14 frames a second. It is also able to shoot bright images in extremely low light. At 1.36kg, it’s not light, but neither is it heavy for a camera packing such high-end hardware. It’s not for beginners, but if you need the very best then it will fulfil all your needs.
Pros Amazing video shooting capability, professional quality stills
Cons Did you see the price tag?

7 LEICA M 240
Type Digital rangefinder
$7,600
uk.leica-camera.com
Leica is the holy grail for hipster photographers – a status symbol that also takes incredible, not to mention huge, pictures courtesy of its 24-megapixel sensor. This model incorporates features you may not expect to see on a Leica, including a live view LCD screen and HD video capture. Leicas are expensive and, in a head-to-head test, come up short against the higher-end DSLRs from the big conglomerates. But this misses the point – Leicas make you slow down and really think about what you’re shooting. You feel like you have a beautifully crafted slice of camera history in your hands (at 680g, it also feels reassuringly hefty). If you can afford one, you won’t regret it.
Pros Great image quality
Cons Expensive for the feature set

8 PANASONIC LUMIX DMC GH3
Type
Compact System Camera
$2,000 (with 14mm-140mm lens, amazon.co.uk)
panasonic.co.uk
The GH3 is a highly versatile CSC with an admirable feature set. It combines a touchscreen LCD display and Wi-Fi connectivity with some high-end image capture technology usually associated with a DSLR. Still images and video are excellent, but its ability to shoot in very light or dark conditions is lacking compared with some DSLR rivals. It has a 16.05-megapixel sensor and is splash- and dust-proof. Its autofocus system works well and the amount of manual control has been increased to make it appeal more to serious photography buffs.
Pros Comprehensive range of features
Cons Question marks over low-light performance

9 SONY DSC-RX1
Type Compact
$3,900
sony.co.uk
Sony’s Rx1 is a compact in size only, offering specs that punch far above its meagre weight (only 482g). Its whopping price tag is justified by gadgetry including a full-frame CMOS sensor that offers 24.3 megapixels, while its Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens allows for incredibly sharp, high-contrast images. The results are low in noise and high in clarity. It is capable of impressive macro work and is able to automatically patch together panoramic shots. If you want a high-end camera that won’t take years to get to grips with, this could be the one you’re looking for. It is also one of the few cameras to rival Leica in the looks department.
Pros Excellent feature set, easy to use
Cons Relatively short battery life

10 OLYMPUS PEN E-PL5
Type Compact System Camera
$640 (with 14mm-42mm II R Lens, amazon.co.uk)
olympus.co.uk
This mid-range CSC is a good bridge between a compact and the more complex world of the DSLR. Equally comfortable in point-and-shoot mode and manual, it has some impressive specs for a mid-range camera, including a 35-point auto-focus system. It is light, at 279g (body only), and can take some impressive pictures (it has a 16.1-megapixel image sensor). It’s a well constructed, durable camera that will keep the interest of photography newbies and more experienced users alike. As ever, though, DSLR enthusiasts will argue that this compact system camera falls short on both image quality and portability.
Pros Good price
Cons No built-in flash