In the mid-2000s, compact cameras were all the rage. Everybody had one, and they were all pretty much the same — small sensors and lackluster features. I’ve lost count of how many Canon PowerShot ELPH cameras I’ve owned that fit this mold.
Now, however, since cellphones have replaced compact cameras and the category has been populated with what are essentially enthusiast tools, things are a bit more exciting. Coming at you from Tech Through The Lens is a look at some models that still hold up in 2021.
For starters, the four cameras on this list feature a much larger sensor than point-and-shoot cameras of old. The Canon G9 X Mark II, the Canon G7 X Mark II, the Sony RX100 VI and the Sony ZV-1 all feature a one-inch sensor, which at this point is the bare minimum starting point to pull away from the computational imaging smarts under the hood of most smartphones these days. That said, all of this comes at a price, at just over $500 for the G9 X to north of $1,000 for a Sony RX100 VI. That’s a steep price for such a small sensor.
As an owner of the OG G9 X, it makes for a great, full-featured pocket camera, albeit a bit limiting with its lackluster lens (a 28-84mm equivalent with an f/2.0-4.9 aperture, which doesn’t do much for a smaller sensor). However, to get this much camera in something that’s the size of a deck of cards is not a bad deal for carrying around to photograph daily life.
That said, it’s probably worth it to step up to a not-much-larger G7 X series, which features a 24-100mm lens with a f/1.8-2.8 aperture. You can’t get it in the cool silver/brown combo, though.
While imaging prowess is a reason to buy one of these higher-end compact cameras over using your phone, these cameras don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s often easier to use your phone and get almost as good an image. That’s where the Sony ZV-1 seems to mix up the traditional compact camera formula a bit. For one, having a microphone jack on a compact camera is extremely rare, but there’s also a dedicated wireless shooting grip that positions the camera perfectly for vlogging and puts the controls within easy reach. Between that and the camera’s built-in background blur/skin-softening tools, the camera seems to make a much better case than the more traditional cameras for vloggers and YouTubers.
So, while not filling the market like they used to, compact cameras still exist for pros looking for a second travel camera or people looking for a meaningful upgrade for a cell phone, so long as you avoid the bottom end of the market and aim for models with larger sensors and expanded capabilities.