The 10 Best Point And Shoot Cameras
Yes, They're Better Than Your Cell Phone
I've been a photographer for a great while now, and I've shot professionally for the better part of the last five years. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that photographers love to turn their noses up at point and shoot cameras because most photographers believe that their gear will save them. They invest in tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear in the hopes that the right combination will elevate their photography to new, unprecedented heights.
While the technical quality of an image is important, I'd say it's not actually the most important thing in a photograph. Image quality takes a back seat to things like lighting, composition, and, if we're talking about documenting our lives here, to nostalgia. That said, we're here to compare these cameras on the basis of the image quality they can provide.
Each of these is a fixed lens digital camera, meaning that the lens it comes with is the only lens you use. Many are zoom lenses, however, so with a simple push or pull of a small tab, the motorized lens elements reorganize themselves, allowing you to zoom in or out in an instant.
The sensors on these cameras range in size, but even the smallest among them is roughly twice the size of the sensor in your cell phone. And it's the combination of these two things–the lenses and the sensors–that make these cameras undeniably superior to your cell phone.
What's In Your Pocket?
It's an old photographer's adage: The best camera in the world is the one that you have on you. Those memories we spoke briefly about above, the moments in our lives that, when captured, elevate a picture above all considerations of image quality, require only that you have a camera to capture them.
With that in mind, the first thing you want to look for in your point and shoot camera is portability. After all, it's competing for carrying space with your cell phone, and even if it does take better pictures, you want to make sure you're willing to lug it around with you all over your vacations.
A few of these cameras are close in size to a DSLR with interchangeable lenses, the kind of system that will run you very quickly into the thousands of dollars. These larger cameras will probably require their own bag, or require that you carry them around your neck as you tour a given city or event. Also, because of their size and professional appearance, some event coordinators won't let you into venues with them, for fear of such high quality images being pirated.
The advantages of these cameras, though, are their lenses and sensors. Onto a larger body, these manufacturers have mounted a much larger lens, which, due to its greater light collecting area, performs wonderfully in low light settings. The bigger sensor also translates into better low light performance and more dynamic range. If you don't mind the bulk, and you know you shoot a lot of low light photography, these might be the bodies for you.
If you want something a bit smaller and less complicated, however, there are a few very simple, very inexpensive little point and shoots on our list. These tend to fit pretty comfortably in a pants pocket, so you can sneak them in anywhere, and a couple of them have very powerful zooms built in. Be careful, though, as there are only a few among them that have a sensor and lens combination capable of taking professional-level photographs.
Smaller, Sharper, Faster, Stronger
Taking pictures has long been a complicated process, and incredibly intelligent people throughout history have applied their wits to the task of making photography easier. That camera attached to your telephone is a testament to that effort, but it also highlights a certain balancing act that's gone on since the first photographic images were ever captured. That is the balance between ease and quality.
When early photographers like Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot established their own unique development techniques, they did so in the name of discovering the easiest and most efficient way to create the best photograph. Over time, however, development by way of a photographic negative became the standard, and the size of that negative shrank down, allowing photographers reduced exposure times and much easier, more portable photography.
The digital age brought with it yet another increase in ease, but a significant decrease in quality. Where a 35mm negative could produce prints up to roughly 3x2 feet without much complaint about quality, early digital cameras could barely produce a simple 4x6-inch print with any degree of clarity. The ease had been put in place, and then it was time for the quality to catch up.
Photographic quality has always trickled down from the more expensive sectors of the market. Manufacturers test new methods out among the professionals who can afford the latest and greatest, and, as a result, that technology is usually very complicated and not very portable. Once certain quality elements like better glass for lenses and larger sensors get codified, the task for engineers is to fit the newer, better tech into smaller, easier-to-use packages. The result of those 175 years of development is the list of ten point and shoot cameras you see here.