Photography / Buying Guide

The Magnificent Seven: A Posse of Powerful Point-and-Shoot Cameras

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Point-and-shoots are under attack from every direction. Smartphones are replacing the pocket cameras of old and mirrorless cameras are filling the compact needs of more demanding users. Fortunately, manufacturers are introducing some powerful options that are defending the point-and-shoots’ honor. Many of these all-in-one designs offer capabilities and features that no smartphone or mirrorless can currently deliver. So, right here we rounded up seven of the best that are certain to hold their own in a fight to defend the good name and importance of the independent point-and-shoot camera.

Full Frame Leads the Way

At the head of the pack is a duo of full-frame powerhouses that both feature cutting-edge technology that manages to rival that of full-sized DSLRs: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II  and Leica Q (Typ 116). These two models could take on almost any challenger in a head-to-head battle and are clearly the ultimate examples of what a point-and-shoot can be. Neither takes over as the clear leader in this group, though, as pitting them against each other would be nearly impossible, since each offers its own unique advantages. So, let’s just get started with the most recent offering, the RX1R II.

It appears that Sony has taken the groundbreaking a7R II and shrunk it down into a more portable package. Equipped with the same 42.4-megapixel Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor, featuring 399 phase-detect AF points and the BIONZ X processor, the RX1R II will deliver incredibly detailed uncompressed 14-bit raw photographs and Full HD video at 60 fps in the XAVC S format, even when shooting at sensitivities up to ISO 102400. Also, this camera is the first ever to offer a variable optical low-pass filter, which allows you to adjust the voltage on the liquid crystal layer and adjust the light-splitting properties of the array. This means that you can prioritize detail, eliminate moiré and aliasing, or simply balance between the two as you need for your current subject.

Along with this imaging tech at its core, the RX1R II utilizes a Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2 lens, a classic prime that will please many shooters. Also, one of the more interesting additions is a pop-up 0.39" 2.36m-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF with a magnification of 0.78x. It also has, of course, a tilting 3.0" 1,228.8k-dot LCD monitor, a 3.5mm audio input, and a host of other features, including Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC. All of these combine to create one of the best cameras available today, independent of its designation as a point-and-shoot.

Moving on, Leica has released its own impressive model this year with the Q (Typ 116). This no-compromise compact packs a 24.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor into a beautifully crafted body. At the forefront of the Q’s design is Leica’s classic simple aesthetic, with a durable solid aluminum and magnesium-alloy build, as well as a 3.0" 1.04m-dot rear LCD touchscreen for intuitive control. One of the highlight features is the 3.68MP LCOS electronic viewfinder for live through-the-lens imaging with a positioning reminiscent of a rangefinder. Also, leveraging the Leica Maestro II series processor, it can create images at sensitivities up to ISO 50000 and at a continuous shooting rate of 10 fps.

Contributing to the quality of stills and the Full HD 1080p video is the Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH. lens on the front. This allows users to take control of the depth of field and easily separate the subject from the background. It also offers physical focus and aperture-control rings for full manual operation and, with the inclusion of the Digital Frame Selector setting, users can crop in to mimic 35mm and 50mm fields of view. The lens offers optical stabilization and can accept 49mm filters.

Pocket-Sized Powerhouse

Sometimes you need something that can squeeze into those tight spaces, or your shirt pocket. This is when the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV is the right choice. This camera is exceptionally compact, and takes on a variety of features previously unheard of in a camera of its size. Delivering these images is a 20.1MP 1" Exmor RS back-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor with a DRAM chip that results in dramatically improved speeds. This also contributes to improved dynamic range and low-light performance with a sensitivity range up to ISO 12800 and 16 fps continuous shooting. Also, though it is relatively tiny, the RX100 IV fits in a 2.36m-dot OLED pop-up EVF and a 180° tilting 3.0" 1,229k-dot LCD, as well as a 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens.

Where the BIONZ X processor really starts to shine here, though, is in video. The RX100 IV comes complete with internal UHD 4K video recording for up to five minutes at a time, as well as Sony’s professional Picture Profiles and the S-Log2 Gamma. This brings professional-quality video to the smallest form factor possible and, to top it all off, extreme slow motion at up to 960 fps is available. Furthermore, it is, of course, built with Wi-Fi and NFC functionality, ensuring you can control the camera from or send photos to a smartphone or tablet.

In case you need something with just a bit more bulk than the RX100 IV, you can swap the RX100 IV out with its bigger brother, the RX10 II, which packs in many of the same features but with a larger body equipped with more controls, a longer 24-200mm equivalent f/2.8 lens, and 4K video recording for up to 29 minutes at a time.

TOUGH is the Middle Name

Sometimes you need to make your way through a swamp, up a mountain, or even underwater—this is where the guy who isn’t afraid to get a little down and dirty comes in handy: the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera. Boasting water-, crush-, shock-, freeze-, and dustproof construction, this camera will go where many others can only dream. Designed to be an adventurer’s companion, the TG-4 has built-in Wi-Fi, GPS, and an eCompass that provide you with complete mobility and tracking for your travels.

The TG-4 will be able to hold its own in the imaging realm, as well, with raw file support and a 16MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor. This high-resolution system relies on the TruePic VII image process, which enables low-light shooting at ISO 6400 and 5 fps continuous shooting, great for capturing that speedy fish during your vacation diving adventures. The camera has a 25-100mm equivalent f/2-4.9 lens that is extremely versatile for capturing wide vistas and tiny details. Assisting your process, the camera comes with a Live Composite feature, which automatically puts together a series of exposures into a single image; a Microscope setting for getting extra close to your subject; and various Underwater modes.

Improve your Reach Dramatically

Sporting events, wildlife, and just having fun are all reasons for using a super telephoto lens. DSLRs usually price this out of the realm of your average photographer, but the Nikon COOLPIX P900 brings a 24-2000mm equivalent monster into both the portable and affordable arena. The 83x optical zoom is unmatched at the moment, and allows photographers to use it as an everyday camera or a specialized extreme-telephoto tool. The lens also features Dual Detect Optical VR for up to five stops of compensation, critical at such long focal lengths, and there is 166x Dynamic Fine Zoom and 332x digital zoom, for rare moments when you want just a bit (or a whole lot) more reach.

The bridge camera creates 16MP images with its 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, as well as Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps. Using this model is made comfortable through two different viewing options—either a 3.0" 921k-dot vari-angle rear LCD screen or a 0.2" 921k-dot eye-level electronic viewfinder. The P900 also benefits from full manual control options, in addition to the automatic settings, so users can set up the camera exactly as they need.

Take Panoramas to the New Dimensions with True 360° Capabilities

Built-in panorama modes on smartphones have nothing on the sleek Theta S, from Ricoh. A third-generation product, this model brings both advanced 360° imaging and Full HD video together in a single compact unit. The enthralling spherical images are created with two 12MP 1/2.3" sensors and two f/2 lenses that produce a 14.4MP final photograph. This image can then be viewed using interactive software to zoom in and look around as if you were standing in the middle of the shot. The experience can also easily be shared with others using live streaming via USB or HDMI and built-in Wi-Fi for sharing with a mobile device. Along with this, photos can be uploaded to the Theta 360 website, where they can be shared to Facebook, Twitter, or even Google Maps.

Delivering Results in an Instant

One of the most fun experiences in the history of photography was the use of instant film, as you saw the image slowly fade in to existence inside its distinctive white border. Fujifilm has kept this experience alive with the instax line. There are a variety of different options available, depending on what you want to do with the cameras. The instax 210 offers a lot of control, with exposure compensation options, and it works with larger Wide instant film. Someone who wants an option for a specific project, as well as their friends’ parties, will find this to be a great option. Most average shooters looking to dabble in the instant-film world will enjoy an instax mini 8, which comes in a plethora of different colors and has a fun, intuitive form that will get you shooting in no time. And, it provides something no digital camera or smartphone can—a physical print and experience to stick on a wall or share with friends and family.

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