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What’s the Best Compact Digital Camera?

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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What’s the Best Compact Digital Camera?

The top 10 compact digital cameras right now, Holidays 2012 edition

Have you ditched your compact camera for a smart phone? Here are 10 top compact digital cameras with compelling features that may convince you to come back.


What’s the best compact digital camera? That depends on what you’re looking for. But first, you may be asking, why bother? After all, my smart phone has a camera!

Well, there are cameras, and there are Cameras. Camera makers have produced a new generation of revolutionary new compact digital cameras that delivers better image quality, offer an easier user experience, and offer a better range of control and features than any dinky smart phone camera.


Related reading: "What's The Best Compact Digital Camera for Me?" 10 Things To Know Before You Buy



Instead of choosing just one “best” compact digital camera, I’ve picked 10 cameras, all available at Adorama, representing the best of their respective categories. Each of these models offers a compelling reason to ditch your smart phone camera so you can take better pictures.  (Note: Prices accurate as of Oct. 17, 2012.)

 

 


Nikon S800c

The World’s First “Smart Camera”

Nikon S800c

Adorama price $346.95
The
Nikon S800c may look like many other compact digital cameras to the casual viewer, but it is, in fact, a game changer. The first stand-alone digital camera to run on the Android open-source operating system, the S800c represents the strongest response to the smart phone revolution by a camera company to date. It is both a full-fledged WiFi/Bluetooth Internet device and a full-featured digital camera—a true technological mashup. It has a 16MP CMOS sensor, a 10x optical zoom with a 25-250mm (35mm equivalent) range, has optical image stabilization, 18 creative filter effects, and can capture up to 1080p HD video with stereo sound. You can upload your photos and videos when in a WiFi hot spot, or you can share them through your smart phone if you are out of WiFi range. But, since the camera is a true ‘Droid, you can also download any Android app, and customize the camera. Want to add Hipstamatic? Go for it. Angry Birds? Of course! It's a new world!


Canon PowerShot S110

The Touch-Me Compact Genius

Canon PowerShot S110 

Adorama price: $449
In survey after survey, Canon’s premium S series, which started with the S90, has been named the compact camera of choice for professional photographers, thanks to its ability to capture 12-bit RAW files (the same format used in Canon’s DSLRs), its fast f/2 lens, and class-leading 12MP CMOS sensor that doesn’t go overboard with pixel density (and that means better overall image quality). With the
S110 , Canon boasts faster focus acquisition (0.2 seconds), and a new 3-inch touch screen. But while you might associate touch screens with cell phones, this camera takes the technology beyond that, offering serious picture taking muscle—10fps burst rate, 1080p full HD video capture, ISO sensitivity up to 12,800, 6 different stabilization modes that are chosen automatically depending on the shooting situation, and the ability to upload and geotag images via your smartphone. And yes, you can transfer images directly via the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi.

GoPro HERO2

The Action Hero

GoPro HERO2

Adorama price: $299.99
The
GoPro HERO2 is mostly a camcorder. It doesn’t have an LCD monitor. Its lens doesn’t zoom. But this little camera has already boldly gone where no camera—still or video—has gone before. It has broken the speed of sound, been carried away by a seagull, and was almost eaten by a shark.  Depending on which configuration you get, you can attach the GoPro HERO2 to your helmet, surf board, bike or car, and then go downhill, catch a wave, jog, go for a joy ride, or dive from 120,000 feet at the speed of sound and record the entire experience on HD video and still images (yes, the guy who did that was wearing a GoPro HERO2). It has a fast f/2.8 lens that covers a near-fisheye 170 degree ultra-wide angle of view, and delivers stunning 1080p HD video as well as up to 11MP still images. It may not have manual exposure control but the center weighted average and spot metering do a spectacular job.


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1

The Money-Is-No-Object Image Quality King

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1

Adorama price: $2,798
Chances are, most pepople won’t buy the
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, because of its sticker shock-inducing price. So, who would buy such an expensive compact camera? Someone who has the money to burn, and who recognizes the value of a camera will deliver simply the best image quality of nearly every camera currently available. You see, the Sony DSC-RX1 is the world’s first camera with a full-size 35mm sensor. That’s the same sensor you’ll find on the kinds of cameras in the hands of today’s top photojournalists, fashion photographers, wedding photographers, and sports shooters. Sony complemented the sensor with a perfectly matched 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. The first test results, being published online, are showing image quality that blows away all other compact cameras and meets or exceeds the quality you can expect from a DSLR! One day, it will have competition and that may drive the price down. But if you’re looking for a compact digital camera that will deliver uncompromising sharpness, color fidelity and dynamic range performance right now, the Sony DSC-RX1—the world’s first and only (as of this writing) 35mm digital compact camera—stands alone. For an elite few, that camera will be worth the investment.

 

Olympus Tough TG-1

The Flexible Outdoor Adventurer

Olympus Tough TG-1

Adorama price: $369
Underwater cameras have become a growing compact camera subcategory and the competition is fierce. Olympus, a pioneer in the tough camera world, this year introduced the first expandable rugged camera, the TG-1. The camera boasts the largest imaging sensor in a compact underwater camera, which should produce better image quality. Its rugged ratings: Underwater submergible to 40 feet, drop-proof to 6 feet, freeze-proof down to 14 degrees f, and crushproof to a weight of 220 pounds. The TG-1’s 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens can be augmented by a 12mm (equivalent) fisheye lens and a 2x tele extender (available at Adorama for $99 each), which increases the longest focal length to 200mm. Built-in GPS is accurate to within 10 meters, and video capture maxes out at 1080p at 30fps. The camera is fast, with a top 10fps burst rate at its full 12MP resolution, and autofocus is almost as fast as a DSLR’s, so lag time is minimal.

Pentax WG-2

The Underwater Fashion Plate

Pentax WG-2
Adorama price: $229-$296.95, depending on color
With 12 generations of underwater/ruggedized cameras behind it, Pentax has extensive experience making cameras for the glug-glug crowd. The WG-2 is a 16MP CMOS sensor camera with a design that looks like a cross between an SUV and a pair of running shoes. Features include a 5x optical zoom lens, a 3-inch, 460K dot display, better GPS, 6 LED lamps to illuminate close-ups to 1 cm from the surface of the lens, 88.2MB of onboard memory, and of course those rugged specs: Waterproof to 40 feet, shockproof to 5 feet, freezeproof to 14 F, and dustproof. And with looks like this, it’ll stop traffic, be it the human or fishy kind. Available from Adorama in White, Red, Orange, or Black.

 

Nikon Coolpix S01

The Ultimate Microcompact

Nikon Coolpix S01
Adorama price: $146.95
The Lilliputian-sized Nikon Coolpix S01 is one of the smallest digital cameras we’ve seen. A simple affair with minimal buttons, the 0.7-inch thick camera is about the size of a credit card, is operated via a 2.5-inch touch screen monitor. But it is no slouch, quality wise. Its 10MP sensor has less pixel density, which is a techy way of saying it will deliver better results than most current compact cameras, even at ISO 400 or higher.  The camera can capture 720p HD videos, allows for in-camera image editing,  and lets you tap on a subject on the screen to take a picture. Even its price leaves a small footprint on your wallet. Available from Adorama in Red, White, Silver, or Pink.

 

Canon PowerShot A3300 IS

The Compact Bargain

Canon PowerShot A3300 IS

Adorama price: $114
If you are on a limited budget, there are plenty of basic cameras to choose from in the sub-$150 range. The Canon PowerShot A3300, in addition to offering 16MP resolution and a 5x optical zoom that starts at a wider-than-average 28mm and a large for its price range 3-inch LCD monitor, the A3300 can record 720p HD video. It focuses to about an inch from the front of the lens, has a discreet shooting mode (which disables warning beeps and flash), lets you shoot in black and white, and offers a variety of hipster-friendly special effects via Creative filters. Available in Black and, for $30 more, Pink.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

The Low-Light Stealth Shooter

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

Adorama price: $499
Street photographers on a budget may not be able to afford a Leica M or Fuji X Pro 1, but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, with its slightly larger than average sensor and Panasonic’s penchant for producing cameras with minimal lag time, is a more reasonable option. The LX7 offers the fastest lens aperture to be found on a compact camera—f/1.4 when zoomed out to its widest setting, which is 24mm (35mm equivalent). This, along with the low-light-friendly 10MP 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor, makes the LX7 a champ when it comes to low light photography. The 920k dot resolution LCD monitor is one of the highest resolution screens on the market, but if your shooting style requires eye-level shooting, consider adding the Panasonic DMW-LVF2 external live viewfinder, available at Adorama for $179.95.

 

Canon PowerShot G15

The DSLR Mini-Me

Canon PowerShot G15
Adorama price: $499
The Canon PowerShot G15 offers almost every feature you’d find on a DSLR, but in a near pocket-sized, self-contained, travel-friendly package. The G series has been a popular choice among photo enthusiasts and even some pro shooters, and for good reason: in addition to RAW and JPEG 12-bit image capture, a control array that will seem familiar to DSLR users, and an optical zooming finder that have been the G series’ trademarks, the G15 offers souped-up autofocus for a shorter lag time of 0.22 seconds, six-way image stabilization, 10fps burst mode, a new 12MP CMOS sensor, an expanded ISO range of 100-12,800, a redesigned 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, and the ability to record 1080p HD video with stereo sound. The camera is compatible with Canon’s entire lineup of Speedlite flash, and has its own line of tele converters so you can turn it into a true compact system camera.

 

Want to learn more? Be sure to visit the Adorama Compact Digital Camera department!

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