4 reasons to get a camera instead of using a smartphone

Here's why standalone point-and-shoots still matter

Published: April 30, 2015 06:00 AM
Nikon Coolpix AW130 (top) and Canon PowerShot SX710 HS
Photo: Sam Kaplan

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Smartphone cameras have gotten pretty good, but most still lack some features that can translate into better photos, such as larger image sensors, optical zoom lenses, and effective image stabilization. You can find those capabilities in point-and-shoot cameras, which have gotten good enough to give “serious” cameras a run for their money. Because they’re usually smaller and lighter than SLRs, they’re easier to tote around. Here’s what you’ll find in the latest cameras we’ve tested:

1. Long zoom ranges

To capture an image with lifelike detail—say, the gargoyles on the cathedral, a lion’s magnificent mane, or your kid’s face as he waits to catch that fly ball—you need to take a close-up shot. But that’s not always possible (or wise). To take a close-up from far away, you need a camera with a long zoom. Many new point-and-shoot cameras have zoom ranges of 25x to 50x and even longer, which can get you close to the action.

When you zoom in, the slightest shivers of your hand are amplified, so look for an image stabilizer to ensure blur-free shots. The 20-megapixel Canon PowerShot SX710 HS, $350, has a powerful 30x optical zoom and a very good image stabilizer. At less than an inch-and-a-half thick and weighing just 9 ounces, it’s slimmer and much lighter than many other superzooms. If 30x doesn’t get you near enough to the action, consider Nikon’s recently announced Coolpix P900, a $600 superzoom with an 83x lens. That’s the longest lens we’ve seen on a camera like this, long enough to capture the craters on a midsummer night’s moon. We’ll test it soon.

2. Easy-to-use Wi-Fi

Many new cameras have built-in Wi-Fi to allow easy sharing of photos, a capability once limited to phones. With the $300 Nikon Coolpix L840, for example, you can instantly transfer your photos to a phone, then post them to your favorite social-media site. The advantage is that you’re sharing shots from a camera that’s far superior to the one on your phone. Another plus: By wirelessly linking the L840 with an Android or Apple iOS device using Nikon’s Snapbridge app, you can preview shots and control the camera from across the room using your mobile device. This 16-megapixel camera has a 38x zoom, so you could take a selfie from across a football field.

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3. Burst mode

Point-and-shoot cameras aren’t always the speediest shooters, a downside if you want to capture the exact moment a whale breaches or the split second your daughter stays upright on her first big-girl bike. That calls for quick-fire “burst” shooting of multiple shots per second, which is usually a strength of SLRs. But one advanced point-and-shoot we’ve tested has a speed-shooting mode that puts many SLRs to shame. It’s the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000, $800, which can capture 12 frames per second at its full resolution of 20 megapixels. Most SLRs and mirrorless cameras average 5 to 7 fps.

4. Rugged and waterproof design

“Oops!” is the last word many cameras ever hear. Then comes the tumble down the stairs or into the lake. If you’re lucky, you can still get your pictures off the memory card, but your camera—or worse, your smartphone—is often kaput. The good news is that there’s a class of cameras built to handle those klutzy moments. In fact, some cameras are designed to take a plunge, great for scuba diving or riding the rapids at the water park. Our tests showed that our top-rated rugged model, the Olympus Stylus TG-3, $350, can go 50 feet deep and survive a 7-foot fall. The new Nikon Coolpix AW130, $330, is billed as an even deeper diver; it can go 98 feet underwater, according to Nikon. The company claims it can survive a 7-foot drop without breaking. We’ll test it soon.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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