Here is a chef's dozen outstanding stand-alone cameras that do what no smart phone camera is capable of. Updated for 2015.
Smart Phones are great for general photography in good light, and are great for sharing photos and videos. But they fail when it comes to features like optical zoom, good image quality in low light, manual exposure control and a host of other bullet points that phone makers don't want you to pay attention to.
Well, camera makers have been quietly making compact digital cameras better and more capable than ever. Here are twelve models that just might make you just want to use your smart phone for texting, checking your Twitter feed, and...you know...phone calls.
Pricing and availability accurate as of January 13, 2015.
Here's a pair of cameras that boldly zoom beyond the range of any other camera/lens combination. Not exactly pocketable, they bring you closer than ever to the action.
Adorama price: $279.99
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70's 20-1200mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens brags the longest zoom range in the photographic universe. It's a whopping 60x, f/2.8-5.9 optic, and as you'd expect it has optical image stabilization—a necessity for the longer end of the zoom range. In the ongoing war between traditional camera makers and cell phones for the attention (and money) of more casual photographers, Panasonic is pulling several new tricks out of its hat. Fujifilm has tweaked its 1/2.3-inch sensor, offering up a 16MP High Sensitivity MOS sensor that they say cuts noise by up to 15%, and improves image quality at higher ISOs. A pop-up flash is built in, but the camera has a hot shoe and will accept the Panasonic DMW-FL220, wireless DMW-FL360L, and DMW-FL500 external flash models.
Other key features:
- Built-in Dolby Stereo Mic
- Full 1080p Video in AVCHD and MP4 format
- 5fps burst rate
- iA/iA Plus intelligent Autoexposure
- Auto and Manual Focus
- Close focus to within an inch
- Shutter speed range 8-1/2000 sec; up to 1/20,000 sec for video
- 3-inch 460K dot LCD monitor
- 202k dot EVF
- ISO range 100-6400
- RAW + JPEG image capture
Adorama price: $296.95
Pentax has just entered the ultrazoom market with a bang. With a 52x optical zoom lens that stretches from the 35mm equivalent of 24-1248mm and focuses to less than half an inch from the front of the lens, the Pentax XG-1 has a 16MP CMOS sensor and wide ISO range. Featuring an electronic viewfinder, full HD video capture with an external mic outlet, and high-speed shooting up to 60 images per second, the XG-1 offers a lot of everything.
Other key features:
- 1/2.3-inch Backlit 16MP CMOS sensor
- 1080p/30fps HD Video capture
- JPEG image capture
- 4.3-223.6mm (24-1248mm 35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 zoom lens
- Macro focus to 0.03 inches
- 200K Dot EVF
- 460k dot 3-inch LCD monitor
- Pop-up flash
- Sensor-Shift SR Image Stabilization
- ISO range 100-3200
- Drive mode approx. 4.7fps
Full-featured "Posh" point and shoot cameras—compacts that look like traditional rangefinder cameras of yore—provide DSLR-type control in a small package.
Adorama price: $599
Fujifilm has taken the features that have made its interchangeable X-line series so popular and applied them to the smaller-sensor, more compact and feature-packed X30. Featuring a 12MP 2/3-inch CMOS II sensor the camera features a high-resolution eye-level electronic viewfinder, which is more accurate than the optical viewfinder that it replaces from earlier models. It also features a high-resolution flip-out LCD monitor, Wi-Fi connectivity, both manual and auto exposure and focus controls, and a traditional camera feel. Miss film? The X30 has a Film Simulation mode that will give you a similar look as some of the great Fuji films of days gone by. The camera is fronted by a modest 4x optical zoom lens with a fast f/2-2.8 wide aperture, and records 1080p video at 60fps.
- 12MP 2/3-inch X-Trans CMOS II sensor
- 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) f/2-2.8 lens
- Claimed shutter lag of 0.01 second
- Focus to 3.9 in.
- 12fps burst rate
- ISO range 100-12800
- RAW & JPEG Capture
- 2.360k Optical Viewfinder
- 3-inch, 920k dot resolution EVF
- 1080p video at 60fps
Adorama price: $546.95
With the Nikon Coolpix P7800, Nikon has replaced the optical viewfinder with a digital one. An eye-level viewfinder on a camera this advanced is not just a welcome addition. For the advanced photographers who are its target audience, it's a necessary one. Unlike the dinky little squintfinders that covered approximately 70% of the lens's angle of view that could be found on earlier cameras (and on at least one competing company's high-end compact), the P7800's 921k resolution finder covers 100% and unlike the optical finder, it does this while still allowing room for a 3-inch, fully articulated LCD monitor. Add the optional WU-1a and you get Wi-Fi.
- 12 megapixel, 1/1.7-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor
- Claimed faster autofocus
- 7.1x optical f/2-4 zoom lens covers 28-200mm (35mm equivalent)
- Full manual exposure control as well as aperture- and shutter-priority and program modes
- 19 scene modes
- 1080- HD video
- HDMI Mini Connector
- External microphone jack
- Hot shoe; compatible with Nikon Speedlight system
- Pop-up flash
Adorama price: $449.00
The Canon PowerShot G16 is the latest in a long line of premium Canon compacts. It offers fast DIGIC 6 image processor and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, and Canon is claiming improvements in autofocus. The G16 also boasts a 12MP sensor and fast 24-140mm f/1.8-2.8 (35mm equivalent) zoom lens and 3-inch, 922k LCD monitor and optical viewfinder remain unchanged. Astrophotographers may be interested in the new Star Nightscape, Star Trails and Star Time-Lapse Movie capture modes. Also new are a series of artistic filters such as Art Bold and Art Vivid, and handheld HDR Scene mode automatically combines multiple shots of a scene at different exposures, merges them and creates a single image with improved detail from shadow to highlights.
- Built-in WiFi
- 12MP CMOS sensor
- New Digic 6 image processor
- ISO range up to 12800
- HD video up to 1080p/60fps
- 5x optical zoom, f/1.8-2.8 (28-140mm, 35mm equivalent)
- Optical viewfinder that zooms with lens
- High speed autofocus
- Burst rate up to 9.3fps
- Intelligent IS automatically chooses from six different stabilization modes
- RAW and JPEG image capture
- Compatible with Canon Speedlite flashes
- HDR Scene Mode
- New Star Shooting Mode for night sky photography
Olympus Stylus 1
Adorama price: $699
Olympus has re-imagined its best-selling Stylus compact digital camera, giving it retro styling but a big electronic eye-level viewfinder, 3-inch touchscreen, a 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 minimum aperture, and built-in Wi-Fi. This is a great camera for travel photography when you don't have a lot of room and limited weight; its flexibility includes the ability to focus as close as 1/2 an inch from the lens, and the camera records 12MP stills and up to 1080p full HD video. It has 11 art filters and five art effects, plus the ability to put together a collage of multiple images in "Photo Story" mode.
12MP 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS sensor
28-300mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens, constant f/2.8
Auto and manual focus and exposure control
1.44 million dot EVF
RAW & JPEG capture
3-inch, 1.04 million dot, tiltable LCD touchscreen monitor
Control ring at base of lens
Wi-Fi, pairs with iOS or Android devices
1080p Full HD
High-Speed recording up to 240fps
7fps burst rate
Nikon and Samsung are making an effort to blur the line between camera and web-savvy device by introducing Android-powered Wi-Fi cameras. You can shoot away and upload directly online from a hot spot via the touch screen, and you can download apps to customize the camera or just to surf the Web or check your email.
Nikon Coolpix S810c
Adorama Price: $346.95
Running on Android 4.2.2, the Nikon Coolpix S801c is a pocket-sized camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, GPS and Wi-Fi, and is controlled via a high-resolution 3.7-inch touchscreen LCD monitor. While this is a large screen for a digital camera, it is more like the screen size you'd find on a smart phone. In fact, its size makes it more comfortable to use apps, watch videos, and browse the web via the camera's built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. When you're out of range of a Wi-Fi® network, you can wirelessly transfer your shots to a compatible smartphone or tablet for instant sharing.
- 16MP CMOS sensor
- 12x telephoto zoom.
- 1080p video
- Lens-Shift VR
- 3.7-inch touchscreen LCD
- Full web browsing and app download abilities
Samsung Galaxy GC200
Adorama price: $449
Samsung's 'Droidcam is the Samsung Galaxy GC200. It runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, and like the Nikon, lets you download apps via Google Play. It distinguishes itself with its long 21x optical zoom lens, full HD video capture, and a generous 4.8-inch touch LCD monitor. Wireless abilities range from Wi-Fi and GPS to Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. Remote View Finder lets you control your camera via your smart phone, and Autoshare has the camera automatically backing up your photos to your smartphone or tablet.
- 21x (23-483mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.9 Zoom Lens
- 1080p HD video
- 4.8-inch LCD monitor
- 8GB of internal memory
- Smart Mode, Smart Mode Suggest
- Photo Beam (Sends photos to anybody via NFC)
Small Cameras, Big Sensors
Here are three cameras that have surprisingly large sensors for such small cameras. The benefit? Much better image quality!
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
Adorama price: $897.99
Panasonic's top compact Camera, the DMC-LX100, is a low-light image quality compact marvel, thanks to its bigger 16MP Four Thirds sensor and a fast Leica DC Vario Summilux 24-75mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens with a top wide aperture of f/1.7-2.8 and nine rounded diaphragm blades for pleasing Bokeh. Capable of capturing 4K video at 30fps and 1080p at 60p, the camera offers 22 filter effects, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, and a top ISO of 25,600, one of the highest ISOs you'll find in a compact.
- 16MP Four Thirds CMOS Sensor
- 24-75mm f/2.7-2.8 lens
- Focus to 1.18 inches in Macro mode
- Shutter speed 60-1/16000 sec in electronic mode
- Manual and automatic exposure and focus
- Burst rate to 40fps
- Electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch LCD monitor, 921k resolution
Adorama price: $696.95
The Ricoh GR has a redesigned 18.3mm (35mm equivalent: 28mm) f/2.8 lens, a nine-blade diaphragm, and a claimed 0.2-second focus acquisition—and, remarkably, an APS sensor. One of the key attractions of the Ricoh GR has been the ability to easily take manual control over exposure and focus, and these controls are inherited by the latest model, keeping all controls on one side for one-handed operation. While the familiar and intuitive layout has remained mostly untouched, Ricoh managed to add an AF Function lever to the back panel, and a depth of field preview button, which has been placed on the side with an aperture icon and the word "effect". The GR also offers TAv (Shutter speed/Aperture Priority) mode, which until now could only be found on Pentax DSLRs. Despite its larger sensor, the Ricoh GR remains true to its compact design and, as with previous versions, retains its solid magnesium alloy construction. The Ricoh GR is one of the most customizable cameras in the world.
Did I mention that it fits in your shirt pocket?
- 16MP APS-sized CMOS sensor
- ISO range 100-25,600
- Retractable 28mm f/2.8 lens (35mm equivalent)
- Magnesium alloy construction
- Full 1080p HD video at 30fps
- Shutter speeds: 300-1/4000 sec, bulb, time
- 3-inch, 1,230k dot resolution LCD
- Built-in flash, TTL hot shoe
- 54MB internal memory
- Supports Eye-Fi memory cards
- RAW and JPEG Capture
- I-Camera RAW Processing
- Macro mode
- No Low-Pass Filter
- Optional Wide Conversion Lens for 21mm equivalent coverage
- Optional 28mm viewfinder
- 4.6x2.4x1.4 inches
Sony RX100 III
Adorama price: $798
In the third incarnation of its RX100 camera, Sony kept the same stellar 1-inch, 20.2MP CMOS sensor, but shaved 30mm off the zoom lens and increased its speed from f/4 to f/1.8-2.8 for better low-light image capture. Under the hood, the camera has a faster processor, the same found in Sony's pro-level A7 cameras. The result? Sony says turn-on time is faster and claims 10fps burst rates, both improvements. The camera packs a high-resolution electronic eye-level finder, can be customized, and captures HD video. It offers NFC and Wi-Fi and has a Multi-Interface Shoe for a flash or microphone.
20.1MP 1-inch Exmore sensor
f/1.8-2.8 Zeiss 24-70mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens
Flip-out 3-inch LCD
1.440k dot EVF
Focus to 1 inch
ISO range 125-12800
RAW & JPG
Up to 1080/60p
Auto and manual focus and exposure
Both of these cameras have a certain soap-on-a-rope look to them. They're so small they could fit on your keychain—but they are very capable cameras!
Adorama price: 89.99
Marketed as a tiny alternative to a smart phone camera, the Nikon Coolpix S02 is about the size of a medium-sized bar of soap. As the successor to the first-generation Nikon S01, the S02 has a higher-resolution sensor-a 13.2MP CMOS-as well as a slightly larger 2.7-inch touchscreen LCD monitor. The camera's intended users-mostly fashion-conscious snapshooters-should enjoy its simple operation, diminutive dimensions, and four color options (blue, pink, silver, and white), but more importantly, they should with the image quality. Although it's small, the Nikon Coolpix S02 can also capture full 1080p HD video that will look great on your big home entertainment system screen. Other user-friendly features include the 3x optical zoom lens, Scene Auto Selector (which automatically chooses the most appropriate shooting settings for any scene), hand-held scene mode for better lowlight shots, as well as creative modes such as Mirror, Sepia, High Contrast Monochrome, High Key and Low Key. Available in White, Pink , Silver , Blue .
- 7.3GB of built-in memory
- 3x optical zoom
- 13.2MP CMOS sensor
- AF as close as 2 inches
- 2.7-inch, 230k dot LCD touchscreen monitor
- ISO range 125-1600
- RAW, WAV and MOV file recording
Canon PowerShot N
Adorama price: $299
The Canon PowerShot N camera is approximately the size of a bar of soap, and when you flip out the LCD monitor it can stand on its own. Despite its small size it features a 28-224mm (35mm equivalent) f/3-5.9 lens, an optical stabilizer, a 12MP CMOS sensor, and 1080 full HD video capture. The Canon Powershot N offers built-in Wi-Fi and lets you upload to the Internet via your iOS or Android Device via the free Canon CameraWindow app. The monitor can be flipped up to 90 degrees; users adjust settings and modes using gestures to zoom, rotate and select images on the screen. Dual rings surrounding the lens barrel control the lens and shutter. the outer ring controls the shutter, which can be released from any point on the ring; the inner ring controls the zoom.
- 12MP CMOS sensor
- 6-way optical image stabilizer
- 8x optical zoom lens
- 2.8-inch tiltable LCD with lens shutter
- ISO 100-6400.
- Creative Shot, which analyzes each scene and applies color, tone, crop or rotation adjustments to the image automatically.
- 7 creative filter modes
What's your favorite compact digital camera? Leave a comment below!