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Outsmart Your Smartphone: Compact Digital Cameras That Take Much Better Photos

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

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Outsmart Your Smartphone: Compact Digital Cameras That Take Much Better Photos

Buying Guide to Compact Digital Cameras with a "Wow!" factor

Here are a dozen outstanding stand-alone cameras that do what no smart phone camera is capable of.


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.


Here's a quick overview; details about each camera follow.

Small Cameras, Big Sensors

Camera/Features

Ricoh GR

Sony DSC-RX100 II

Nikon Coolpix A

Sony DSC-RX1R

Resolution 16MP 20.2MP 16MP 24MP
Sensor Size APS 1-inch APS 35mm
ISO Range 100-25,600 160-12,800 100-25,600 100-25,600
Lens (35mm equiv) 28mm f/2.8 28-100mm 28mm f/2.8 35mm f/2
Finder/LCD 3 in/1,230k 3 in/1,229k 3 in/921k 3 in/1,229k
Best Video 1080p@30fps 1080/60p 1080p/30fps 1080/60p
Extras RAW, No low-pass filter, Mag-Alloy body Wi-Fi, NFC In-Camera RAW Edit Noise-free at highest ISO
Price $656.95 $698 $1,096.95 2,798.00
 
Uber Small Long Rangers
Camera/Feature

Nikon S02

Canon PowerShot N

Panasonic FZ70

Fujifilm SL100EXR

Resolution 14MP 12MP 16MP 16MP
Sensor Size 1/3.1 in NA 1/2.3 in 1/2.3 in
ISO Range 125-1600 80-6400 100-6400 100-12,800
Zoom range 28-87mm 28-224mm 20-1200mm f/2.8-5.9 24-1200mm f/2.8-6.5
Finder/LCD 2.7 in/230k 2.8-in/461K 3-in/460k/202k dot EVF 3-in/920k/920k dot EVF
Closest Focus 2 in 1/2 in 1/2 in 1/2 in
Video 1080p/30fps 1080p 1080p/60fps 1080p/60fps
Extras 7.3GB int. memory Flip-up screen Dolby Stereo 0.2 sec AF, 10fps burst rate
Price $126.95 $229.00 $279.00 $248.00
Posh Shooters, Smaller Sensors
Camera/Feature

Panasonic DMC-LF1

Canon G16

Fujifilm X20

Nikon P7800

Resolution 12MP 12MP 12MP 12MP
Sensor Size 1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 2/3 inch 1/1.7 inch
ISO Range 100-12,800 80-12,800 100-12,800 80-3200
Zoom range 28-200mm F/2 28-140mm 28-112mm f/2-2.8 28-200mm f/2-4
Finder/LCD 200K EVF/3-in 920k Optical/3-in, 922k optical/2.8 in, 460k EVF/3 in, 921k
Closest focus 1.5 in 1/2 in 0.3 ft 0.8 in
Video 1080/60i 1080/60fps 1080/60fps 1080/30fps
Extras 15 filter effects, manual Optical finder Focus peaking In-camera image editing, 19 scene modes
Price $299.00 $499.00 $499.00 $546.95


Small Cameras, Big Sensors

Let's start off with four cameras that have DSLR-sized sensors...and deliver pro-quality results.

Ricoh GR

Ricoh GR 
Adorama price: $656.95

"The GR fits in your shirt pocket, but has a big APS sensor.

"It's the most customizable camera we've seen."

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.



Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II
Adorama price: $748

The Sony DSC-RX100 II with its 1-inch sensor (a bit smaller than Micro Four Thirds), the Sony DSC-RX100M2. offers several more advanced features and claims improved image quality over the RX100, which will continue to be available. While it physically looks the same as the RX100 (which will continue to be available), the Sony DSC-RX100M2 adds Wi-Fi sharing, and a new imaging sensor that Sony says will deliver better image quality and less noise in low light. The Sony DSC-RX100M2 also addresses one of the major knocks against the original Sony DSC-RX100, which was a lack of a hot shoe/data port to accomodate an electronic viewfinder and/or flash.


Nikon Coolpix A

Nikon Coolpix A
Adorama price: $1,096.95

"The Coolpix A holds the same highly rated 16MP APS sensor found on many Nikon DSLRs"

The Nikon Coolpix A holds the same highly-rated 16MP sensor found on many Nikon DSLRs, and is paired with a built-in, all-glass 18.5mm (equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm sensor camera) f/2.8  lens. Close focus in Macro mode is 4 inches. The Nikon Coolpix A is backed by a 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD monitor but lacks an eye-level viewfinder. ISO range is 100-3200, and can be pushed as high as 25,600. Nikon is offering the DF-CP1 Optical Viewfinder as an optional accessory that will cost approximately $450.  Nikon is claiming quick autofocus performance via contrast-detect TTL, and the camera offers multiple scene modes (Autumn colors, Beach/snow, Blossom, Candlelight, Children, Close-Up, Dusk/Dawn, Food, Landscape, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Silhouette, Sports, Sunset, High and Low Key) as well as a manual focus ring, full PSAM manual exposure controls, and RAW image capture.


Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R 
Adorama price: $2,798.00

"The RX1r is the world's first 35mm compact digital camera, with all the image quality that implies."

No, that price is no misprint, but look at what you get for all that money: The Sony DSC-RX1 is the world’s first 35mm compact digital camera, with a small camera body that houses 24.3MP, 35mm-sized sensor. The camera has a built-in 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T lens;  Taking advantage of the high quality images that a full-frame sensor can deliver, the camera is said to shoot “clean” high-ISO images up to 25,600, and is claimed to have a fast 0.13 second autofocus acquisition speed. The Sony DSC-RX1 is clearly aimed at serious photographers who are already comfortable with manual exposure and focus control, and who may already own a DSLR and are looking for a sophisticated little camera to augment their big rigs. By putting a prime lens on the camera, Sony was able to use the best glass possible—a good thing, because a lesser lens’s optical issues would show up clearly on a full-frame 24MP sensor. And, as the first compact 35mm digital camera, it is likely to be embraced by high-end photographers.


Long Rangers
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.


Fujifilm FinePix SL1000EXR

Fujifilm FinePix SL1000EXR
Adorama price: $329.00

The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 is the longest-ranging superzoom digital camera in the Fujifilm lineup. The 50x, 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens offers a surprisingly fast f/2.8-f/6.5 lens with ED and aspherical elements to improve image quality, and has a revamped Optical Image Stabilization system, which comes in useful especially at longer focal lengths. The camera is built around a 16MP 1/2.3 inch BSI-CMOS sensor that reaches as high as ISO 12800. Claimed AF speed is as fast as 0.2 seconds, and the camera offers a burst rate of up to 10fps making it a good choice for action shots. The SL1000 can shoot 1080p/60fps video with continuous phase detection AF and stereo sound via a built-in microphone.


Panasonic DMC-FZ70

Panasonic DMC-FZ70
Adorama price: $365.79

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.


Posh Point-and-Shooters With Smaller Sensors

Full-featured "Posh" point and shoot cameras—compacts that look like traditional rangefinder cameras of yore—provide DSLR-type control in a small package.


Panasonic DMC-LF1
Adorama price: $299

The Panasonic DMC-LF1 is the first in Panasonic's LF line of pocket-sized cameras to have an EVF. Does "LF" stand for "Little Finder?" Maybe! It offers a full 100% field of view, and an expanded ISO range. A new Leica-branded 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.0 lens fronts the Panasonic LF1. While the camera can hum along in full auto mode, experienced shooters can take control in manual focus and exposure. There's an on-board composition guide for beginners, Notably missing? A hot shoe.


Canon PowerShot G16

Canon PowerShot G16
Adorama price:

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.


Fujifilm X-20

Fujifilm X-20 
Adorama price: 499.00

With its classic design that hearkens back to popular rangefinder cameras, the Fujifilm X20 has a 12MP 2/3" X-Trans CMOS sensor and a new optical viewfinder. Between the new sensor and upgraded EXR processor Fujifilm claims a 20% increase in resolution and 30% reduction in noise compared to the X10. Fujifilm has substantially improved focus and shutter lag ties, with AF aquisition claimed in as little as 0.06 seconds, and a 0.01 second shutter lag. The Optical viewfinder (shown at right) offers a heads-up superimposed digital display that goes beyond most typical optical finders and includes the kind of information you would find in an EVF. The X20 can also shoot Full HD 1080p videos at 60fps.


Nikon P7800

Nikon P7800
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.


Uber-Small!

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!



Nikon S02

Nikon S02 
Adorama price: $126.95

"The S02 is a tiny fashion cam that's capable of high-quality photographs."

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,  PinkSilverBlue .


Canon PowerShot N

Canon PowerShot N
Adorama price: $269

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.

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