With the relatively recent jump in smartphone camera quality and computational photography breakthroughs, it may seem like point and shoot cameras are a thing of the past. But there are scenarios where they still make sense.
For Casual Situations, Stick with Your Phone
Point and shoot cameras are better than ever, but they aren’t the same product they were fifteen (or even ten) years ago. A $100 or $200 point and shoot used to be the perfect item for casual photo taking. But now you’re better off using your phone.
Phones are better than cheap point and shoots for several reasons, but we’ll start by talking about photo quality. On paper, cheapo point and shoots should be better than phones. While phone cameras have 12 MP sensors and tiny lenses, even the dinkiest $100 point and shoots have 20 MP sensors, medium size lenses, and “10X OPTICAL ZOOM.”
But specs don’t dictate quality. A high megapixel camera with a fat lens has the capacity to create highly detailed images, but that capacity hinges on other factors—like lighting, lens hardware, and the software that’s baked into the camera. Your phone camera is built to work in low-light environments at a hardware level, but it also features unique computational software that’s absent from cheap point and shoots.
Wait, I’ve got software in my photos? Computational photography is a relatively new breakthrough that uses software to process and correct photos. Think of red eye correction, except your entire photo is processed to show more dynamic range (crisp whites and deep blacks).
The iPhone’s Deep Fusion software and the Google Pixel’s HDR+ are wonderful examples of computational photography. Each time you take a picture on these (and other) phones, you’re actually taking a burst of photos that are funneled through a DRAM chip and processed pixel by pixel to create one amazing image. Cheap point and shoots don’t do that. Often times, they don’t even have night modes.
Let’s not forget that your phone has built-in image editors, direct access to social media platforms, and potentially unlimited storage through services like Dropbox, iCloud, Google Photos, Amazon Photos, etc. A cheap little point and shoot doesn’t have any of that. They don’t even come with SD cards anymore!
As good as phone cameras are, though, they’re mostly limited to casual applications. If you’re trying to take professional or artistic photos that reach beyond the limits of a phone camera, a high-quality point and shoot might be your best option. It’s just gonna cost you a bit of money.
For Quality, Be Prepared to Spend More Than $400
Point and shoots have always lived a secret double life. On the one hand, they’re cheap and easy cameras for the masses. But they’re also wonderful tools for professional or amateur photographers who can’t (or don’t want to) deal with a huge DSLR.
While cheap point and shoots have fallen behind phones, expensive models have actually caught up with DSLRs. They take full advantage of their hardware to take better photos than your phone, yet they’re still super portable and easy to use.
The problem? You have to drop at least $400 to get a point and shoot that’s noticeably better than your phone.
That may be worth it if you take photos for your job, a hobby, or your own artistic self-satisfaction. But it’s still a lot of money, and there are many professional situations where phone cameras can get the job done just fine (all of the photos in our Pixel 4 review, for example, were taken with a Pixel 4).
And then there’s the question of, you know, why not buy a DSLR instead?
Would a DSLR Get the Job Done?
One of our favorite point and shoots is the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II. It sells for just over $400 and (subjectively) outperforms phone cameras. But it’s also more expensive than the Canon EOS Rebel DSLR, a “starter camera” that offers interchangeable lenses, manual controls, and better photo quality than the PowerShot G9.
We’re mentioning this because, in terms of raw photo quality, DSLRs are better than point and shoots. If that’s the big thing you’re looking for, then maybe its time to drop a few bones on a DSLR. But if you want something that’s portable, easy to use, maintenance-free, and durable enough to throw in a checked bag, then a point and shoot is your best bet.
Our Favorite Point and Shoots
If you’ve made it this far without bailing, then there’s a good chance you’re interested in buying a high-quality point and shoot camera. So, here are some of our favorites. We’ll explain why we like them, along with why they might be a good fit for you.
The Best Overall: Sony RX100 VII
It’s hard to beat the Sony RX100 VII. It’s so incredibly small and thin, yet it has an 8x optical zoom lens, a 20.1 MP stacked CMOS sensor, a retractable OLED viewfinder, amazing photo processing software, and a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter for wireless file transfers. The RX100 VII even makes for a great video camera, as it has a built-in mic jack, object tracking software, and it films in 4K.
Sony RX100 VII Premium Compact Camera with 1.0-type stacked CMOS sensor (DSCRX100M7)
The Sony RX100 VII is the king of compact cameras. Its hardware and photo processing software are unbeatable, especially at this size.
The Best Budget Pick: Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
Oh, it’s that camera we mentioned earlier. The PowerShot G9 X Mark II is the best budget point and shoot you’ll find. It’s super small, it rocks a solid 20.1 MP CMOS sensor and a 3x optical zoom lens, and it has an impressive time-lapse mode that actually works well. It’s a big step up from the camera in your phone, but it won’t break the bank.
Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II Compact Digital Camera w/ 1 Inch Sensor and 3inch LCD - Wi-Fi, NFC, & Bluetooth Enabled (Silver)
We love the PowerShot G9 X Mark II. It's a super compact and affordable camera that's capable of outperforming cellphones.
A DSLR in Your Pocket: Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
Looking for something in between a DSLR and a point and shoot? The Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is an odd duck compact camera that features some DSLR-like manual controls. It has all the spec-sheet bells and whistles you’d expect at this price (21 MP sensor and a Leica lens with 3x optical zoom), but it also has manual exposure controls, manual focus controls in a live viewfinder, and a hot shoe instead of a built-in flash.
Like the Sony RX100 VII, the Lumix LX100 II is great for shooting 4K video. Just beware that it doesn’t have a built-in mic jack, and the filming software (stabilization and focus) aren’t as robust as what the Sony RX100 VII has to offer.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II Large Four Thirds 21.7 MP Multi Aspect Sensor 24-75mm Leica DC VARIO-SUMMILUX F1.7-2.8 Lens Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Camera with 3" LCD, Black (DC-LX100M2)
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is a compact camera with classic manual control features. It's the perfect point and shoot for someone who still wants DSLR-styled controls.