Why Every Photographer Should Have a Casual Compact Camera

Why Every Photographer Should Have a Casual Compact Camera

Most photographers, especially the big-shot professionals, are very selective and even grandiose with their gear, but here's why having a casual and compact camera for everyday use is a great idea.

For most of our lives as photographers, we almost always are in pursuit of the best gear. Any reader of this site would know how much camera technology has been progressing this year more than any other. But why on earth would a professional photographer be seeking a small camera when everyone is going for the big guns?

The Actual "Need"

Ever since I started writing for Fstoppers about half a year ago, I've reviewed quite a number of cameras and related accessories. In order for our articles to be effective and worth your time, we always have to provide attractive visuals to keep your eyes entertained while you go through our babbling. For gear reviews, I always try and make it a point to take decent product photos of whatever I am reviewing, but I really usually don't feel like setting up my gear just for those. So, that's why I decided and convinced myself that purchasing a small camera would be reasonable. But of course, I didn't want to spend too much on such. 

My banged up Sony RX100 mark III (ironically, photographed with my phone)

I wanted something that would fit my pocket but still take decent quality photos. Choosing between a Canon G7X series camera, a Fujifilm X100 variant, and a Sony RX100, I found that the latter best fit what I was looking for. It's small and could fit my pocket, has a decent electronic viewfinder, and has pretty good range. I chose the third generation variant since it was the first among the line that had an EVF and was therefore the cheapest. 

The Added Benefit

As I got acquainted with the nice compact camera, I found myself bringing it anywhere and everywhere I went. Previously, the role of the everyday camera belonged to my smartphone, but I have to admit that I've always wanted something that could zoom in even just a bit without wasting good resolution. 

A handheld architectural photo taken with my compact camera

Professionally, I am an architectural photographer. And like most photographers, I go through my bouts of self-doubt, which is why I have actively been seeking ways to improve my vision and shoot more creatively than I have done in the past. The fact that I live in a developing city gave me access to a pretty good collection of test subjects even as I go through my daily routine. This newfound habit actually bore fruit to two direct benefits. First is that I now relatively enjoy running even the most boring errands, and second is that I get to train my eyes to find potentially unique angles.

Finding patterns with a small camera

Just in Case

In the short period of time that I've had this camera in my pocket, I've also found it very handy for situations where I didn't expect to be shooting something significant, but actually was. I recently went on a trip with circumstances that really would not allow me to carry my gear. Given the kind of photography that I'm passionate about, that can be quite a painful experience. Having a small and casual camera in my pocket every time I found something interesting to photograph was absolutely a delight. Having been able to carefully choose the camera that deserved the throne that is my sweaty pocket, I was able to rest assured that the photos of my random finds were of decent quality, at least good enough for me to work with. 

The built-in ND filter on my camera was actually something I didn't know of prior to purchasing, but it came in handy when I found this scene.

Photography as a Lifestyle

Another random travel find

I probably don't speak for everyone who reads this, but I believe that I'm not the only one who would call photography a lifestyle over a hobby or a profession. I'm not one of those people who do those one-photo-per-day challenges, but I certainly am one who would always be on the look-out for something nice and unique to photograph. A few years back, I was one of those eager photographers who would bring their gear literally anywhere. Nowadays, I don't always have that energy. So, having a capable camera always within reach is a delight. Having it on hand allows me to capture any moment I would want to, though with relatively more limitations, and lets me train my eyes for future projects.

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Lorin Duckman's picture

I carry a Power Shot GX5 II. My wife has a Power Shot GX7 II, dated but still wonderful. I cannot tell the difference with images shot with these and ones shot with my 5DIV or R when lenses within the range of the point and shoots are selected. At 721/2, the smaller cameras have great benefits.

Daniel Medley's picture

"I wanted something that would fit my pocket but still take decent quality photos."

I carry one everyday. I suspect that a good percentage of the population does as well.

It's a smartphone.

Deleted Account's picture

And honesty, they often shoot better images than a compact.

David B's picture

not when making prints. Phones are fine buy i keep it for social media

John Xantoro's picture

Depends on the smartphone and print size. Google Pixel does computational RAW for instance. With good light you can get pretty, pretty nice smaller prints.

David B's picture

The Google Pixel magic comes out at night for me. You'll get very good 4x6 prints, but most look like a phone camera to me. I prefer a small camera that doesn't bother with fancy sharpening because.

Paul C's picture

Spot on comment David - even tiny 1/2.3" sensor compacts without RAW shooting can be very useful if you can turn DOWN the noise suppression, compose right first time to avoid the need to crop later and use the lowest JPEG compressiom and get the exposure and colour balance right "in-camera". Then - with modern post-processing you can get far superior results than the original processing algorithms can manage.

Learning to shoot without having to crop and expose and set the camera to overcome the intrinsic limitations of small sensors teaches you to be a better photographer when the big-sensor kit comes out.

With the collapse of the market for compact cameras, the current prices for secondhand compact cameras on eBay means you can get excellent ones for less than the cost of a pizza and a coffee! Now there's no excuse not to carry a camera - or to introduce youg people to the joys of camera-photography.

David B's picture

I think the real shame is how camera sensors break math. 2.3 is already a fraction and now I gotta find another fraction out of this? That's worse than improper! :P

Matt Williams's picture

A smartphone doesn't stack up to a good compact like a Ricoh GR. They're fine for instagram but fall apart pretty quickly at large sizes or especially if the light-levels get low. Anything past like ISO 160-200 on them is awful.

You can shoot RAW (which I do in Lightroom Mobile) and it's considerably better because you don't have all the smeary noise reduction, but nothing can beat the tactility, quality, controls, and experience of a GR or XF10, both of which are about the size of a smartphone.

I still use a GR II and it has one of the best lenses I've ever used. It's hard to beat the pixel-level quality you get from that camera.

Edit: and that's just comparing a phone to a compact with a similar fixed focal length. Throw zoom compacts into the mix and there's no comparison at all. Don't get me wrong, phones are EXCELLENT considering their sensor size and all that - one of the photos on my profile here was taken with an iPhone.

renimagines's picture

Just travelled extensively with the Ricoh GRiii and LOVE IT... travelling for holiday as a photographer we tend to overcomplicate things. I simplified my approach this time and stuck with the GRiii and editing on the ipad... I have several 16 x 24 prints done of that trip and amazed by the quality.

Matt Williams's picture

I actually recently bought the GR II. I know... why, when the III is out?

I would have loved the III but, I couldn't justify spending that much money on it when I also needed to replace a lens that I recently broke (my 60mm macro - the cost to repair was more than the price of a refurbished one).

I used to have the GR and I loved it and I stupidly sold it long ago. And then.... B&H had the GRII on sale for $449 brand new (for just a few days it seems). Half the price of the III. I lose the IBIS and newer sensor, but I save $450 and get to keep the (imo) slightly better ergonomics of the II vs the III.

But both are fantastic cameras. I carry it everywhere either in a leather belt holster or just in my pocket. Faster to use than a phone too, especially with snap focus. And the GR's produce such beautiful black and white files. Ricoh does something special to the tonal response of the sensors, because very few cameras can produce b&w files like they do.

renimagines's picture

The GRii is an awesome camera for sure - the whole GR line and history is great. I actually searched for the ii for years for a good deal and never found it (Hong Kong, Japan and everywhere I went... always found reason it was too expensive at the time) then the release of the iii and I just said the heck with it and picked it up for some recent travel. Yes the tonal range on the black and whites is awesome - using the card reader to the iPad pro with all edits done in Lightroom (for this trip, I’m typically a capture one on the computer guy)... and so pleased with the results. I print to my epson at 16x24 and awesome quality... The perfect travel camera for me... Some of the travel work if you’re interested (http://www.renimagines.com/budapest)

Deleted Account's picture

Same for me!

The GR3 release meant that the price of a brand new GR2 would come down and that's when I got mine. LOVE this camera so much. Just got back from road tripping around AZ and brought the Ricoh and my A7. Used the Ricoh a lot more because it fit into my pocket.

Deleted Account's picture

I also love how low key a compact is. Pair that with how quiet the GR's shutter is and you have a great street camera. I was no more than a couple feet behind these tourists in Chicago when I took this.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Some people just don't like the ergonomics of smartphones (I would be in this group). We can make the same arguments that people do net need anymore laptops for their spreadsheets or extensive typing tasks because technically it can be done on a smartphone. But you have to be a masochist IMO.

Daniel Medley's picture

I tend to fall into that group as well. I absolutely hate the picture taking ergonomics of a phone.

Korey Napier's picture

I'm in the same boat. I hate the ergonomics of using a smartphone for taking photos. I'd rather have a camera in my hands. It's simply not fun for me.

Paul C's picture

Good point all of you - the only way to solve this is ergonomic problem is
[1] buy an external smartphone handgrip to make the set up ergonomic and not risk it slipping out of your hands - Amazon has several to choose from, some with bluetooth shutter buttons as well
[2] carry a compact camera !!!!

Tony Clark's picture

I love taking my Canon G15 on vacations and short trips. I also recommend owning some type of point and shoot even thought we always carry a cellphone.

Deleted Account's picture

It's called a smartphone.

I've had a load of compacts with this utopian idea of never leaving home without a camera. Even had one permanently in the glovebox of my car in case I forgot to take one.

It passes, don't worry.

Spy Black's picture

If you can live with the smartphone way to shoot.

It didn't pass.

Greg Milunich's picture

I use m 6d as my main but to knock around I carry my Canon M50 with a 22mm pancake lens or I have an IR modified Panasonic point and shoot. Its nice to travel light sometimes. Honestly through as a all around carry camera my Google Pixel 3 tends to be the one I use the most when I am just out and about.

David B's picture

I have the same phone and the camera always impresses me when I expect poor results but often disappoints when I really want something important. Colors are just grayed out in high contrast scenes like sunsets. A quick snap from last week and the gorgeous blue sky turned out dreary :(

Greg Milunich's picture

I have had okay luck but I mostly use it out with my kids but I do notice a lack of vibrancy sometimes. I did turn on the HDR feature and had some luck with that. My phone has been more useful when I want to capture video out and about. You still cannot beat the convenience of always having a camera in your pocket.

David B's picture

My phone has HDR and a + version. The latter boosts details but haven't noticed color difference between them. I'd be a lot happier with my phone if my they made camera calibrations.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Not anymore, phone is the only thing I carry around! Waste of money and extra bulk in your pockets for compacts! It is either full frame for quality output or phone for all our travels and family fun activities. I event stopped bring go pro to ski trips since iPhone has better steady video out of the box then gopro :)...Low light does not bother me since I do not shoot after dusk is over anyways... Camera makers have to start to think harder to survive in long run with phones around us... happy shooting everyone :)

Fred Teifeld's picture

Been carrying around various high end point and shoots for about 10 years. No phone will ever come close to the results I enjoy (Not a judgement of smartphones or their users) from a large sensor compact.

Spy Black's picture

I rarely leave without one of these two cameras, or a Canon G9 X Mk II for my motorcycle jacket. Cellphones don't cut it for me, even if they evolve to have better IQ.

Kergan Rathsbone's picture

Did I misunderstand, or did you say that you don't care as much about the result as the means?

Jim Hawkins's picture

Which Panasonic is that?

Spy Black's picture

The GM5, with an Olympus LC-37C automatic opening lens cap on it's 12-32mm lens. Sadly the GM5 is no longer available.

Jeff Gaumer's picture

I shot with just a Panasonic LX7 for years. I recently bought a Sony a6300, Sigma 16mm and 56mm. I tried the 16-55mm kit lens as a snapshot lens, then realized the LX7 was still a perfect and fast every day camera. Duh, Jeff. lol

Jacques Cornell's picture

Panasonic LF1 for shirt-pocket carry, Panasonic LX100 for casual low-light shots.

Daniel L Miller's picture

The Panasonic LX100 literally changed the way I shoot spontaneous shots. But a couple years later I now regret that the Mark I version of that camera is only 12MP. So I replaced it with the Sony a6400 with a 24 MP sensor so that if I come across a stunning image I don't have to sacrifice anything by carrying a "compact" camera.

Jacques Cornell's picture

The LX100 MkII has 18MP. I have a Panasonic GX9 with 12-32, and that's about the size of an a6400 with 16-50. I still take the LX100 for casual use, partly because it's smaller and partly because the much brighter lens makes it better for low light, things like group family photos indoors. This applies in comparison to the Sony combo as well. To get similar low-light performance from the Sony, even with the bigger sensor, you need a lens that's f2.3-3.5 - maybe a constant f2.8 zoom - and that makes the Sony MUCH bigger. To stay small and similarly bright with the Sony (or Panasonic ILC), you have to give up zoom and use a prime. I'll slap a 20/1.7 on my GX9 for this.
FWIW, with proper interpolation & sharpening, 12MP can yield a very crisp & detailed 16"x24" print.

Mike Young's picture

I used to do this but stopped, however I did start using my iPhone to capture possible future locations.

Chris Longstaff's picture

I used to carry a camera everywhere, then lapsed into just using my smartphone. On a recent trip I decided on a whim to take my Ricoh GR ii with me. What a joy. It wasn't that the images were necessarily any better than the smartphone. But the handling and therefore the process was a joy. I think camera phones have a long way to go in Usability, image quality is largely acceptable.

Most smartphones are waterproof these days which is an added bonus. To that end I've just ordered a new Canon G1X iii, coming in at a little over half original ASP. I do wonder if the G1X iii had been origi ally priced at £700/$850 how different the reviews and love for that camera may have been.

stuartcarver's picture

Really fun to use this, AF isn’t brilliant mind but it’s great to Chuck in a pocket.

Deleted Account's picture

I use my E-M5 Mark II with 17mm f/1.8 as a walk around casual camera.

Bernard Languillier's picture

The key question is where to set the cursor btwn bulk vs quality.

I personally find the Nikon Z6 + 24-70mm f4 S to be perfect for this, very compact and lightweight while delivering uncompromised image quality.

I also own a RX100 mkV, but end being disappointed with image quality, although it’s good considering it’s size.

stuartcarver's picture

Fuji X-E3 and 18-55 or 15-45?

Nikon Z and 24-70 is still far too big to be classed as compact, regardless of how much smaller than a DSLR it is.

Martin Leblanc's picture

Bought a Sony RX100 IV as a pocket and underwater camera for traveling. Turned out the camera is way, way too fragile for pocket carry, on top of being expensive to repairs/replace, and too small and finnicky to use without the underwater housing, so I only use it for underwater photography. Still looking for that elusive "carry everywhere" camera, a role that is still fulfilled by mycell phone.

Spy Black's picture

Yeah, RX100s are fragile like eggs. Dropped my RX100 III twice, less than 3 ft, toast both time. Cost me roughly $200 each time to fix.

All of my other compacts over the course of time have hit the ground multiple times and kept going, Fuji E-900, Canon S-110, Nikon J4, Pana GM5, Olympus E-M10 Mk II, Canon G9 X Mk II (which went flying out of my motorcycle jacket across the highway after a crash), all of them kept right on chugging.

RX100s are a must to avoid. It's a shame, as they have great photo, video, and audio quality.

David B's picture

That's shockingly cheap for a repair! I'd think with how everything is crammed in there, it would be like fixing an iphone

Mike Shwarts's picture

That may just be your luck with the RX100. I bought a used RX100 iii and failed to read and/or look at the photos of it closely before buying. When I took it out of its package I found missing chips of screen from all the edges of the screen. Also a few cracks in the screen. It either took one hard fall or a few falls. Works just fine.

Spy Black's picture

Well I hope it's not your luck. Whatever you do, don't drop it. :-)

Alex Reiff's picture

I used to keep a compact camera in my car, figuring it would be useful if I ever had the sudden urge to shoot and didn't have a DSLR with me. The only use I ever got out of it was taking the SD card when I needed one in a pinch.

Mike Kemp's picture

I love traveling with my Panasonic GX7 and Olympus 17mm f1.8. Makes for a great, lightweight camera that doesn't get in my way. Pulled this image out of it during a trip to Iceland.

Carole Robertson's picture

A timely article! I'm looking for a pocket sized camera with a good telephoto. I want decent quality too.
I was recently on a multi day cycling trip. I had my gear on the trip, but found it too heavy and cumbersome to keep pulling out of panniers etc, so I found myself deferring to my phone. It would have been nice to have had more reach, but the portability made it my go to whilst riding and hiking. Looking at Panasonic Lumix, Canon Powershot or Nikon Coolpix with approx 40x telephoto.
Thank you for the article.

Cat Milton's picture

Hey - I've just seen the cameras you're referencing. I have the Coolpix P900 and having been a long time Nikon fan it's been a terrible purchase... ghastly image quality and very heavy (the latter I knew, so no probs for me but possibly a factor for you. The former I didn't know and it was such a huge knock as purchase was a big treat)
If you don't need RAW and won't be doing too much low light (without tripod) the unbelievably cheap, super light, tough little Canon SX540 HS is a hidden gem. Two pals have seen my images from this bridge camera and promptly purchased the same model. The Canon app for it is also good - including full size wireless download and remote shooting.
Happy travels - both thru the camera choice and literal travels :-)

Ohhhhhhh, edited to add I currently chuck the Sony RX100 M7 'in my pocket' (it's actually too fragile for that - so it's in a small padded belt bag - it's very good, very pricey but the 200mm might be too limiting for you ... which is why my trusty Canon SX540 HS goes into my day pack)

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