Many people graduate from a smartphone and go straight to a DSLR, those high quality hulking behemoths that pro photogs use. The image quality is virtually great, but there’s a price to pay in taking that big step, from the sheer size and weight of those beasts to the complexity of lenses, camera settings, and accessories. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, there are cameras that are smaller and still take much better photos than your smartphone.
There’s a growing set of cameras that small (somewhere between a deck of cards and an airport paperback) featuring a good sensor many times larger than what you can get on a phone and high quality lenses that will totally nail that 5 star candlelit dinner. New models are being introduced seemingly every day, but as of this story, the hot ticket right now are cameras with 1” sensors like the Sony RX100 IV and Canon G7X. These cameras have modest zooms (good for zooming indoors) and are small enough to slip into the corner of your bag and still take nice photos. There are also cameras with slightly smaller sensors and smaller prices like the Fuji XQ2 and cameras with slightly larger sensors and slightly larger bodies like the Panasonic LX100. Each of these cameras offer shooting modes to help you take the next step and will perform well in situations where your phone might struggle. In skilled hands they can produce photos that you can make large prints with.
As you look at the cameras, think about what features are most important to you. Like taking selfies? Then look for a camera with an articulating screen that you can see while you compose the shot? Take a lot of photos in bright outdoor light? Then look for a camera with an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). For Instagrammers, look for cameras with built-in WiFi to simplify sending photos from your camera to your phone for sharing. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until you get home to share or bring a portable card reader like this one for the iPhone’s Lightning port.
Finally, the single best thing that you can do to improve your photography is to become a better photographer. So get that new camera and then take a course at your local art center. Then get out there and capture those precious moments better than ever.