The near-ubiquitousness of camera-equipped smartphones has seen many ditch their dedicated cameras in favor of the convenience of snapping shots on their phone. But although the quality of the camera in the iPhone has improved over the various iterations of that device, there are still many things a dedicated camera is better at. But you don't have to lug around a fancy DSLR to up your photography game … here are 10 compact cameras that offer something the iPhone can't.
Some people claim no-one needs more than eight megapixels unless producing large prints, others will argue 'til they're blue in the face that more pixels are always better. The truth, unsurprisingly, is somewhere in between, pixel count matters, but only if you've got the sensor size to back it up. The Sony RX100 features a 20.2 effective megapixel CMOS sensor, and importantly this 1.0-inch sensor, is larger than those used in most compact cameras and positively gigantic when compared with those in smartphones. This means the RX100 can capture photos with considerably more detail than the iPhone, while retaining a top-notch image quality and performing admirably in low light.
Other features of the US$650 Sony Cyber-shot RX100 include a 25-point autofocus system, an F1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens (which has a 35 mm effective focal length of 28-100 mm) and control ring that surrounds the lens body allowing users to adjust exposure, zoom and other functions.
There's no denying that photos from the iPhone can look great on that 3.5 inch screen, they're also more than adequate for sharing online, but if you want to produce a large print, view them on a large monitor (or even a Retina Display) you might notice that the image quality isn't quite what you expected.
When saving JPEGs the iPhone ignores a lot of image data. For smaller screen viewing this doesn't matter, but if you want better quality images, you not only need a bit more resolution (from a bigger sensor), but you ideally want to be saving files in a higher quality file type. The Canon Powershot G1X can store DSLR-rivaling images in 14-bit RAW format, which makes them more adaptable in post-production when doing things like recovering highlights or adjusting white balance.
The Canon Powershot G1X also boasts a large 1.5-inch, 14.3-megapixel Canon CMOS sensor, has an ISO range up to 12,800 and a 28 mm f/2.8 - f/16 lens with 4X optical zoom. It sells for $799.
When taking photos of fast-moving action, split-second timing can make the difference between a great image, and an awkward blurry shot destined for your trash folder. But while the iPhone camera performs well when it comes to shutter lag, anyone who has ever missed the moment with their first click will know how helpful a burst mode can be. The Casio Exilim EX-ZR200 is capable of capturing an action-freezing 30 frames per second (for a maximum of 30 images) at 16-megapixels, so it should be able to keep up with your running kids.
The $379.99 Casio Exilim EX-ZR200 also features a rapid shutter with a shooting interval of only 0.27 seconds (thanks to dual CPUs) and a 24 mm wide angle lens with a 12.5x optical zoom. It can also record videos at 1,000 fps … if you don't mind the resolution dropping right down.
Like the majority of smartphone cameras, there isn't an optical zoom on the iPhone, if you want to get up close to your subject (while retaining image quality and not using a digital zoom) you've got to move towards it. This isn't a problem with the majority of compact cameras, and the Samsung WB850F is no exception, it packs a whopping 21x optical zoom on a 23 mm wide-angle lens. That's a 35 mm film equivalent of 23 to 483 mm, which not only saves you a lot of walking closer with your iPhone, but also means your photos can have a telephoto angle of view and a more photo-journalistic aesthetic.
Other key features of the $380 Samsung WB850F include Wi-Fi connectivity for instant sharing to services like Facebook or Picasa, a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and built-in GPS.
While there are all sorts of iPhone accessories which attempt to turn it into a serious photographic tool – from a shutter grip to an SLR lens-mount – it lacks the manual control over settings such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO, which more technically proficient photographers require to give their images a professional look and feel. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 offers full manual controls including an aperture ring, rear focus control and rear click-wheel for scrolling through other options.
The Panasonic Lumix LX7 also boasts a LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMILUX F1.4-2.3 lens, with a 35 mm effective focal length of 24–90 mm, a macro focus range from 1 cm (0.39 inch), an ISO range of 80-12,800 and a fixed 3-inch LCD on the rear with 920,000 pixels.
While the iPhone 4 added an LED flash for taking photos in low light situations, anyone who has ever used it will know that it's not exactly the most illuminating of camera flashes. Sure, it enables you to take a photo of a nearby object in a relatively dark situation, but if you want to use it to highlight something a little further away, or light your image creatively, forget it. The Nikon P7100 features a built-in flash, which has a control range of 0.3 to 8 m (0.9 to 26 ft) and can be used creatively thanks to Manual Slow sync and Rear-curtain sync modes. Not only that, but it also has a hot-shoe for an external flash (meaning you could mount a Speedlight SB-900) and it works with Nikon's i-TTL lighting system.
The Nikon P7100 also features full manual controls, a large 1/1.7-inch 10-megapixel sensor, a tilting, high resolution 7.5 cm (3-in) 921k-dot LCD monitor, and Nikon's EXPEED C2 image processing system. It sells for $500.
Most smartphone cameras can take great shots in bright sunlight, but as soon as it begins to get dark, the limitations of their small sensors quickly become apparent. While compared to many smartphone cameras the iPhone performs admirably in low light, photos are still almost certain to be full of noise (that grainy effect which shows up in darker images). The Fuji X100 is one of the best performing low light compacts – at 126 x 74 x 54 mm (5.0 x 3.0 x 2.2 in), "compact" being a relative term thanks to its SLR-size APS-C sensor. The retro-looking camera has an ISO range which goes to 6,400 and is capable of turning out relatively noise-free images in poor lighting up to 1,600.
The Fuji X100 also features a hybrid viewfinder, a fast FUJINON 23 mm F2 lens and has all the manual controls you would expect from a camera aimed at professional or enthusiast photographers. It will set you back $1,200.
One of the weakest points of most smartphone cameras is the lens, all too often these lenses are cheap bits of plastic that are not up to the optical standards of those used in most compact cameras. And while we've already looked at the benefit having a zoom lens can have on your photographs, a fast and distortion-free lens can also do wonders for your image quality. The Ricoh GR Digital IV features a fixed 28 mm (35 mm camera equivalent) F1.9 lens, which is one of the best to feature in any digital compact camera. In addition to being sharp from edge-to-edge and resolving a lot of detail, the speed of the lens means it can let a lot of light in. This gives good performance in low light situations and it can be used to isolate a subject with narrow depth of focus, a blurred background and nice bokeh.
The $600 Ricoh GR Digital IV, which is a popular choice of compact for professional photographers, also features a 10-megapixel 1/1.7" CCD sensor, a 'Hybrid AF' focus system and a 3.0-inch RGBW 1.23 million dot LCD.
There's a reason there are so many protective cases available for the iPhone (including this bullet-stopping one), it's because the Apple phone isn't the most robust of devices … as many who have dropped one will know. But even a protective-cased iPhone probably isn't as tough as a compact camera designed to withstand drops, knocks and being submerged in water. The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS is one of the toughest compacts on the market, it's hard-as-nails credentials include being waterproof to 40 feet (12 meters), shockproof to falls from 6.6 feet (2 meters), and is still able to operate as normal in temperatures as low as 14° F (-10° C). It can also withstand a crushing weight of up to 220 pounds (100 kgf).
The $400 Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS also boasts a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, a bright f2.0 25 -100 mm equivalent lens and features built-in GPS and e-compass.
The iPhone is probably one of the best cameras going around when it comes to sharing your photographs. At a tap of the screen you can upload a snap to social networks or email it to your Gran, and you could always just show someone the photo on the screen. But if you want to print a photo out and give it to someone (physical photos used to be a thing, really!) it's not better than any other camera. The Polaroid Z2300 is a compact digital camera with Zero Ink (ZINK) printing technology, meaning you can produce 2x3-inch moisture and UV resistant prints wherever you are.
The retro-styled 10-megapixel Polaroid Z2300 also features a 3-inch LCD color display and costs $160.
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