Smart-phone cameras have changed our lives. Think how easy it is to whip out your phone and capture stills or video of your kid’s game-winning RBI, your favorite band belting out a tune in concert, or the incredible rainbow arcing over your neighborhood following a sunshower (shown).
As smart phones have grown ever more sophisticated, their cameras have evolved almost to the point where they can replace a point-and-shoot digital camera. Almost is the key word there. If you’re looking for high-quality images, for now you’ll still want to keep a separate point-and-shoot camera (or something more elaborate). Here are the top five reasons a separate camera remains essential.
1. Superior zoom. Cameras have optical zoom whereas as smart-phone cameras offer digital zoom. Optical zoom is a true zoom lens that produces close-ups and longer-range shots without compromising image quality. Digital zoom merely enlarges the image and crops out the edges, resulting in reduced image resolution.
2. Wide-angle capability. If you want to shoot broader vistas for picturesque landscapes or get the entire family into a group photo and see their faces too, you’ll need a camera that can go wide. Smart-phone cameras typically produce mediocre wide-angle shots. (Smart phones are awesome for selfies. Learn how to take a better selfie.)
3. Better flash photography. A smart-phone flash doesn’t perform as well as one on a compact digital, something that becomes apparent when you shoot in dim light. Plus, some digital cameras let you adjust the flash output, letting you increase or decrease the strobe’s strength.
4. Longer battery life. Using your smart phone to capture memorable moments will quickly drain the battery, leaving you camera-less and phone-less until you can get to a power source. (Or you’ll need to carry an external battery pack.)
5. More storage. Images are space hogs. So unless you regularly curate the image gallery on your smart phone, you could find yourself out of storage space at a picture-perfect moment. A dedicated camera holds thousands of photos on inexpensive memory cards that don’t compete for space with apps and music.
Check our buying guide and Ratings for point-and-shoots and other digital cameras.
We recommend, these models, which cost $130 to $450. All are lightweight and score high on image quality.Olympus Stylus XZ-10, $300
Featuring a touch screen and very good LCD quality, this camera (shown) has an optical zoom equivalent of 26mm to 130mm. It also tested high on flash photography. You can snap about 240 photos before you need to recharge the battery. Potential downside: No manual focus.Canon PowerShot S120, $450
You can capture a wider angle with this camera, as it’s optical zoom equivalent starts at 24mm (and goes up to 120mm). It also includes manual focus, for those who like to fiddle with the sharpness. Battery life will last through about 230 shots.Fujifilm XF1, $250
You’ll get a lot of battery life out of this one—about 300 shots. Optical zoom equivalent is 25mm to 100mm. No touch screen on this camera, which could be a plus or a minus depending on your preference.Nikon Coolpix L610, $130
This 16-megapixel camera packs in the most bang for the buck. With an optical zoom equivalent that goes as far as 350mm, you can capture excellent close-ups and shoot from long distances. It also scores high on flash photography. Plan to recharge or change the battery often (the only one here that takes AA), as a charge lasts about 120 shots. No touch screen, no manual controls.Canon PowerShot S110, $350
The optical zoom equivalent is 24mm to 120mm, about average for this class of camera. Battery life lasts for about 200 photos, LCD quality is very good, and, at 7 ounces, it’s the lightest camera on this list.
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