Holiday 2012: Compact Digital Camera Q & A








If you’re looking to purchase a camera this holiday season, you probably have a lot of questions. Do I buy a DSLR? How about a compact point-and-shoot? Why don’t I stick with my smartphone? And what is a pixel and why is it mega?


This article will answer some of the most often asked questions we hear at the B&H SuperStore from valued customers who are interested in buying a point-and-shoot camera this holiday season. We hope it casts a more casual light on what can often be an overly technical subject.

Let’s start with the perennial dilemma—Compact camera or DSLR?

Although pros are still mainly using DSLRs because of their reaction time, large sensors, low-light capability, lens options and durability, compacts are great for their spontaneity, size and “travel-ability.” More and more, compacts and mirrorless cameras are bridging the divide, but honestly, the best camera is the one you have with you, ready to shoot when the moment presents itself.

OK, how about compact camera versus smartphone?

Things that look so good on that 4” screen are generally good for Facebook and Twitter, but they never make good prints. With a cell-phone camera you get a tiny sensor, tiny file size, uncomfortable handling, low quality digital zoom and shutter lag. If you’re looking for a camera with a social life, we now offer excellent compacts with Wi-Fi connectivity, such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 530 HS Digital Camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5 Digital Camera and the Nikon COOLPIX S800c Digital Camera.

How important are resolution and megapixels?

Megapixels are highly, highly overrated. With its higher optical quality and much larger sensor, a 12MP Canon PowerShot G15 Digital Camera will knock a 16MP Canon PowerShot A4000 IS Digital Camera out of the park any day of the week. And generally, with very rare exceptions, such as the professional Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera, it is a bad idea to have too many pixels on a sensor. More pixels on a sensor (jammed closer together) create more noise, and a larger quantity of smaller pixels bunched on a sensor is worse, color-wise and light absorption-wise. There are more factors than simply the number of megapixels that determine image quality; for example, the image processor needs to be taken into consideration, and certainly the size of the sensor.

What are you usually paying for with a more expensive camera?

First, you don’t always need a more expensive camera, and there is never a “best camera.” If you’re a parent taking snapshots of your kids outdoors, you need a camera with fast response time and good image quality. A construction inspector who just needs to document work sites would need a rugged camera with low-light capability, but start-up speed and burst rate are not as crucial. And someone starting out as a wedding photographer would be encouraged to look into a DSLR—spend a bit more perhaps, and buy a professional camera, an f/2.8 lens and a powerful flash.

So to answer your question, if you are growing as a photographer and want to treat yourself to a quality camera, you should expect that camera to have, for example, 1080 HD video, rechargeable batteries, a fast lens and relatively large sensor size. But what is really important is to have a camera with manual control, in order to control shutter speed and aperture. Aperture and shutter speed work hand-in-hand to control how much light reaches the camera’s sensor. A good camera will allow you to control these two intertwined factors for more specific control over your camera's performance and over the final look of your image. Also important is the ability to shoot in RAW, which creates large, uncompressed image files that can be touched up and enlarged. And now common in better compact cameras is image stabilization, which uses digital or optical techniques to reduce the effects of camera movement and allow for sharper images in low light, and when shooting handheld.

In general, the larger the sensor is, the better the image will look, and the more advanced compact cameras tend to have larger sensors. Most compact cameras, like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 Digital Camera, have a 1/2.3” sensor, but the Nikon COOLPIX P7700 Digital Camera has a 1/1.7” sensor, which is twice as big as the 1/2.3”. Even bigger sensors can be found in the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 (1.0” sensor), the Canon PowerShot G1 X (1.5” sensor) and now available is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1, which contains a full-frame sensor, equal in size to even the best DSLRs.

And compact cameras with fast lenses are usually worth the money. The Samsung EX2 Digital Camera has a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, which allows it to shoot well in low light and control focus depth. It can also zoom from 24-80mm in the 35mm format focal length. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Digital Camera’s lens also has a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and an equivalent zoom range of 24-90mm.

What about zoom length, how important is that in a compact camera?

If you travel a lot or attend school plays, then a long zoom lens can be important to you. There are several options for advanced compact cameras with long zoom lenses, such as the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Digital Camera with its 50x (24-1200mm equivalent) lens. Another nice camera with a powerful zoom and smaller body is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Digital Camera with its 20x optical zoom, which ranges from 24 to 480mm in the 35mm format. But if you don’t attend a lot of concerts or high school sporting events and a long zoom is not that important, most compact cameras will have between a 5 and 15x zoom, which should be sufficient for your needs.

What would you recommend for an advanced or professional photographer interested in a more portable day-to-day camera?

If a user is a pro but buying for portability, we would recommend that they consider a mirrorless camera. What we refer to as mirrorless cameras are compact, interchangeable-lens cameras that use live view or electronic viewfinders for composition and can therefore maintain their compact size and still utilize any number of interchangeable lenses for creative control.

The advantage for a pro shooter in this case is that they probably already have lenses that, with a simple adapter, they can use on a mirrorless camera. However, in terms of a straight point-and-shoot camera for a pro, the above mentioned Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Digital Camera, the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS Digital Camera and of course, the Leica X2 Digital Compact Camera are all worthy possibilities with quality features and their own unique characteristics.   

Are there any compact cameras that came out this year which should catch our attention?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Digital Camera is a true professional point-and-shoot with all the bells and whistles. Also, the Nikon COOLPIX S800c Digital Camera is a very compact camera powered by Android v2.3, which allows you to upload and share photos directly from your camera and access the entire Google Play library of apps.

And the Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Camera, which is the latest generation of the Canon s90/s95/s100 family. We have it on display here at the store—in white with chrome and leatherette finish. Also, speaking of style, the Fujifilm XF-1 Digital Camera, has a slim, elegant retro style and is available in red, tan and black.