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Mar 272014
 
The clean looking, compact, and easy to operate Sony DSC-RX100 II is our choice as best pocket camera currently available.

The clean-looking, compact, and easy to operate Sony DSC-RX100 II is our choice as best pocket camera currently available.

As part of preparing for my trip to New Zealand, I decided it was finally time to retire my present camera – a lovely little Casio pocket camera that has been my faithful companion since July 2006.  It is stating the obvious to point out there have been very many changes – improvements – in digital camera technology over those eight years, and it was time for a change.

But, my goodness.  I went to Amazon, typed in ‘digital camera’ and was offered 1,276,789 search results!  Okay, so some cameras probably appeared in their search results multiple times, but even so, that’s a ridiculously enormous range of overwhelming choices.  Where to start looking, and when to stop?

If you’ve been thinking of possibly updating your camera, too, you might find this article helpful.  And please note that while the article is titled ‘The Very Best Pocket Camera?’ the question mark at the end is at least as important as the words before it – we all have different priorities, and so the best camera for me may well not be the best camera for you.

Here are the issues I considered.  After balancing the various compromises and trade-offs, and after reading way too many reviews and ‘top ten’ lists, there was one – and only one – clear winner.  The Sony DSC-RX100 II.  This article simultaneously discusses the features you should seek in a camera and explains why I feel this particular camera to be such a good choice.

Note that this list is mainly looking at factual quantitative features – things you can evaluate without actually needing to have the camera in your hand.  There are other things that are harder to evaluate other than while trying a camera in person – its comfort and ergonomic fit to you and how you like to use a camera, for example, or its speed and effectiveness at auto-focusing.

We ignore these things because they are more subjective rather than objective, and also because we generally find that a camera which scores well on the objective items also scores well on the subjective ones.  Although we confidently ended up ordering the Sony camera without ever having seen or touched one – and we should add we’ve been beyond delighted with it in actual use, and have shot almost 1,000 photos with it already – you might well want to go check out your short listed cameras in a regular retail store before making a final choice.

1.  Size, Convenience, Fancy Features

Cameras range in size from ones that fit in the palm of your hand and can be carried in a shirt pocket, to enormous monstrosities even larger and heavier than the 35mm SLR cameras of yesteryear.

Now it is generally true that ‘bigger is better’ in terms of a camera’s picture-taking quality and features, but it is also true that the bigger the camera, the less convenient it is, and so the less likely you are to have it with you all the time and the less likely you are to deploy and use it when something briefly triggers your photo-taking response.

From that point of view, I feel about cameras the same way I do about guns.  I’d rather have a less than perfect camera/pistol with me always, than have a perfect camera/pistol, but left at home.

The important part of this issue is to appreciate that these days, small cameras are (almost literally) 99% as good as big cameras.  Sure, decades ago, a pocket Instamatic camera was a woefully inadequate camera incapable of doing much at all, but with the new digital technologies, the gap between low-end and high-end has massively narrowed.  These days, tiny digital cameras are truly nearly as good as their enormous cousins.

For most of us, and most of the time, a small and relatively inexpensive pocket camera will consistently exceed our needs.  There is very little and perhaps no need to buy big (either in size or dollar terms).

I have not always insisted on tiny portable cameras, but I’ve learned my lesson.  In years gone by, I was one of those people staggering under the weight of a fully loaded camera bag, containing a heavy metal bodied 35 mm camera, motor drive, several lenses, large flash unit, various other accessories, plenty of rolls of film, spare batteries, and so on and so on.  So when/if I wanted to take a picture, I had to take the camera out of the bag, remove its lens cap, put on the lens hood, turn the camera on, consider the lens choice, maybe mount a flash unit or filter, and only then, be ready to compose and take the phone.  And (in case you wondered) I literally grew up with a Zeiss Super Ikonta IV, which was probably a good thing as it forced me to understand all sorts of things that these days are obscured by the digital automation.

The sense of freedom I get these days is enormously liberating.  I pull the camera out of my pocket, turn it on, take the photo.  End of story.  Easy, fast, and simple.  The camera no longer rules my life and limits my vacation experience.  The quality compromises and limitations I’ve had to accept by switching to tiny cameras are negligible, while returning my travel experiences to more balanced enjoyment of where I am is wonderful.  I’m no longer seeing the world through a viewfinder, as was formerly too often the case.

If you are thinking you want the ‘best’ and are considering a DSLR type camera costing four figures, you should ask yourself this :  How many of the features on your current camera do you actually use?  Do you understand what all the images and icons mean?  Do you ever set the camera to Aperture or Shutter priority, and do you ever use the full Manual feature?  Which extra features on the new DSLR do you actually need and when would you use them?

Depending on your answers, getting a DSLR camera is almost certainly overkill.  Why pay extra for features you don’t understand and won’t use?  Truly – that’s the big question akin to ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ that the industry desperately tries to avoid you asking.

We are also reminded of what we used to see when people were evaluating phone systems with our help.  They’d get bogged down in comparing feature lists from different phone systems, and choose the phone system with the most apparent features and flexibility.  But then, after having bought the most sophisticated phone system, and probably paid a premium in the process, guess what.  They only ever use their phone system for answering calls, placing calls on hold, and originating calls.  All the other features that persuaded them to spend more money on a more sophisticated system never get used.

Don’t similarly be fooled into paying more for features on a camera that you’ll never use.  If you read on through this article and choose the camera I did, you’ll get a camera that truly is 99% as good as a top of the line DSLR camera, and still loaded with more features than you’ll ever need, while costing a quarter the price and comfortably fitting in your pocket.

One last thing about all the fancy special effects and features that most modern cameras now allow you to play with.  Almost always, the same features that the camera can allow you to play with can be replicated through Photoshop or some other image processing program.  Why spend large amounts of time when you don’t have it, ie, while on vacation, fussing with these features – surely it is better to quickly take ‘normal’ and good pictures, and then to alter/enhance them as you wish, at your leisure, when you’re back home and in front of your computer.

That way you have more time on holiday to enjoy your vacation – unless, of course, it is a 100% photography themed holiday.

2.  Picture Quality

Picture quality is probably the most misunderstood aspect of modern digital cameras, while – paradoxically – also being one of the most important aspects of camera selection.

Indeed, it is such an important issue that we wrote a separate article about megapixel misunderstanding last week.  If you haven’t already done so, you should read that now.

In that article, after having suggested that most people don’t need even 10 MP, let alone any more, we mention but don’t explain two other more important measures of picture quality.

The first of these is the resolution of the lens.  By that, we mean how much detail can the lens actually transmit and transfer to the sensor.  The easiest way to think of this is to consider the difference between an in-focus and out-of-focus image.  With an in-focus image, you can see a lot more detail – a portrait of a person may show individual strands of hair, for example.  But with an out-of-focus image, things are less clear, and instead of strands of hair, you see a blur/blob of clumps of hair.

To understand this further, you need to understand that all lenses are always out of focus.  They do not perfectly transmit their image to the sensor.  The only issue is how much out of focus they remain when the focus has been optimized, and this is measured by their resolution (often measured in terms of line(pairs) per inch or millimeter).

To make this more confusing, whereas pixel numbers are an exact measurement, resolution is not.  You need to make a subjective analysis of when the ‘blur’ between, eg, a light and a dark object becomes sufficiently sharp as to distinguish the edge between them.   There are scientific ways of doing this, of course, using fixed measurements, but that is beyond the scope of this article and therein lies the problem – it is hard to easily measure resolution.  Sometimes you’ll see test patterns photographed, and sometimes you can comparatively see differences in the test patterns photographed by different cameras.

Lens resolution is an important criterion, and almost never specified.  Some of the more advanced/better reviews might give you this data.

The second very important issue is easier to understand, has an exact measurement, and while not prominently featured, can usually be found for all cameras.  That is the size of the image sensor in the camera.  Exactly the same as back in the days of old-fashioned film – the bigger the negative, the better the picture – so too these days is it true that the bigger the sensor, the better the picture.

In the interests of economy and miniaturization, most smaller cameras have tiny sensors.  A tiny sensor allows for a smaller camera and a smaller lens, and therefore less cost in all three components, so from a manufacturer’s point of view, the smaller, the better.

Unfortunately, the opposite applies from a quality analysis point of view, and that is why this measurement is seldom proudly displayed.  The tiny sensors and their extraordinarily dense packing of microscopic pixel sensors quickly become inadequate in anything other than bright light.  The reason for this is that each of the pixel elements on the sensor has been made so small that it has become too small to pick up sufficient light to properly record the light information, and you get too much ‘picture noise’ obscuring the clean image.

Most modern cameras have a sensor that is described as a 1/2.3″ sensor.  A few have a 1/1.8″ or 1/1.7″, and even fewer have larger ones.  The table on this page tells you the actual sensor size associated with these strange measurements, with the key issue being the area of the sensor.

The 1/2.3″ sensor has an area of 28.5 sq mm.  That is the same as 4.5 hundredths of a square inch – super tiny.  Sure, it is much larger than the sensor in your phone, which is probably about 12 – 15 sq mm, but it is arguably too small to fit something over 10 million tiny light sensing points on.

I refused to accept 1/2.3″ as acceptable, and ideally wanted to find something larger than 1/1.7″ if at all possible.  This became tricky, because the larger the sensor, the larger the camera.  Eventually, I found a 1″ sensor camera, and to explain how wonderfully large that is, suffice it to say that its 116 sq mm is four times larger than the standard 1/2.3″.

This sensor also has a special backlighting feature that increases its light sensitivity/reduces the picture noise in low light conditions.

It is true that ‘full size’ DSLR cameras have even larger sensors, allowing for even better quality images, but for most of us, most of the time, that extra quality will not be noticed nor necessary.

As for the actual underlying megapixels, I was happy to accept anything over 10 MP as adequate, and ended up with a camera that was rated at 20 MP.  Yay.  That gives me more options for cropping pictures, and if I ever want to print out something enormous like a 16″ x 24″ poster, I could do that, too.

3.  Lens Issues

Back in the olden days, most lenses were fixed focus, because the more zoom you built into a lens, the poorer the image quality became.  As lens technology improved, 2x zoom ratios became accepted as being a sensible compromise between quality and convenience, and then, gradually the zoom ratio started to grow larger and larger.  Three times, four times, and onwards, nowadays it is possible to find lenses with 10x or even 20x zoom capabilities.

Interestingly, some of these super-zoom lenses actually provide quite poor quality images (both in terms of resolution, discussed above, and other things such as optical distortion, where straight lines become less straight and lighting that may not be even across the whole image), and only became feasible to consider because the images are then automatically processed in the camera to compensate for some of their deficiencies.  Needless to say, the less processing and the more natural quality present, the better the final result.

Part of getting a small pocket camera is accepting a single non-interchangeable lens, so it was desirable to get a reasonable zoom range on the camera.  When considering zoom capabilities, it is helpful to understand both the shortest zoom setting and the longest zoom setting.

Usually, zoom lenses are rated in terms of 35mm equivalent zoom ratios, so that we can use an apples to apples comparison, otherwise there’d be no way to understand what the zoom ratios meant on different lenses that are matched to different sized sensors.

With the 35mm equivalent ratings, a ‘standard’ length lens is about 50mm.  The smaller the focal length number goes, the wider the angle of picture coverage, and the larger the number goes, the narrower the angle of picture coverage (ie, it becomes telephoto).

Now for an interesting thing.  There is such a thing as a ‘too wide’ angle zoom.  Beyond a certain point, the image starts to get distorted, and straight lines, particularly around the outside edges of the picture, start to curve – as seen in extreme cases in what are termed ‘fish eye’ lenses.

Generally, the shortest normal zoom length is about 28mm, and if you go much shorter than that, you start to see distortions.  Anything less than 24mm is something to only use with caution.

There is also a ‘work around’ to the ‘problem’ of wanting a wider angle picture these days.  Many cameras have a ‘panorama’ setting allowing you to swing the camera around, and it will create a wider image from the panned picture you created.

A common failing of many amateur photographers is to want to take a photo of as much as possible, which is perhaps why most cameras default to maximum wideness (ie shortest focal length) when first turned on.  You need to train yourself to start to zoom in, even if only a little.  In particular, try never to take portraits at maximum zoom, or else you’ll start to distort facial features (if close up) or have too much background and too little portrait (at greater distances).  Back in the ‘old days’ (whenever they were) professional photographers, when taking portrait photos, would never use a lens shorter than about 70mm – even the ‘standard’ 50mm lens was felt to be too distortive for good quality portrait work.

In terms of maximum zoom length, sort of ‘the more the merrier’ applies.  The only trade-off with longer zoom lengths is that the shutter speed needs to be increased so as to keep a sharp picture, but less light gets into the lens at longer focal lengths, and the combination of needing faster shutter speeds but simultaneously getting less light makes this a problem.  It isn’t much of a problem on a bright day, and better cameras these days have optical image stabilization (make sure your choice of camera does, too) which combats some of the need for faster shutter speeds, too.

I would have ideally liked to get a zoom lens that went out to 150mm or more, but ended up compromising on this, with the lens on the Sony camera having a 3.6 time range from 28mm to 100mm.

Most cameras offer a digital zoom extension of the zoom range.  Never use this, and make sure, when comparing zoom ratios, that the zoom ratio isn’t being quoted with the digital zoom included.

Unusually, the Sony camera has a third type of zoom as well – an intelligent type of interpolation to allow for a better than digital zoom but not as good as optical zoom enhancement.

There’s another way to ‘zoom’ a picture, as well – simply crop the resulting image and feature only the part you want.  With a huge 20 MP resolution, it is possible to considerably crop (ie zoom) the image and still keep lots of MP of picture information.

So, on balance, the 28 – 100 mm equivalent focal length will be more than good enough for almost all scenarios.  In an ’emergency’, I can use the ‘clear image’ intelligent digital zoom or simply crop the image to get more telephoto pictures.

The camera has Zeiss optics.  Call me a traditionalist, but I continue to believe you can’t get better than Zeiss, and with only the 3.6 zoom ratio, the raw unprocessed picture quality should be acceptably good at all zoom and aperture settings.

4.  Video

I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of a still image camera doing double duty as a high quality video camera too, but perhaps that is just me being slow to embrace change, and when pressed to explain this discomfort, I can’t think of any real reasons why still cameras can’t be multi-functional.  Whether you use a camera just for occasional short video clips, or for serious video, it is sensible and appropriate to seek a camera that can take high quality video these days (and/or a video camera that can also take high quality still images).

Interestingly, high quality video is much ‘easier’ than high quality still images.  Even 1080P video requires only slightly more than two megapixels to film (and the new 4K requires just over 8 MP), so from that perspective, perhaps it is indeed better to start off with a good camera and adapt for video, rather than a good video camera and adapt for stills.

Most of the time, the Sony DSC-RX100 II camera can be used perfectly well for video, and it has some nice features such as being able to set a fixed aperture (this prevents the auto-exposure present in many video cameras from making the image change as you move from a dark to light part of the scene and back again).  It has stereo sound recording, with two tiny microphones on the camera body; if you were wanting to take ‘serious’ video you’d want to make use of the external microphone adapter and record sound through separate microphones so as to get better quality sound and to isolate any possible camera noise from the recording.  Sure, it won’t put down SMTPE time code or do other true high-end video things, but for most non-professional purposes, this is not necessary.

The Sony camera can take up to 60P or 24P video at the 1080 resolution, with data rates of up to 28 Mb/sec.  Short of going to the new 4K resolution, this is as good as it gets currently.

5.  Other Requirements

There are some other features that might be in the ‘nice to have’ category and should be considered.

Movable Viewfinder/Screen

Most amateur photographers take pictures with their camera glued to their eyes.  That sort of recreates their own visual experience, but it is far from optimum in many circumstances, and some photographers would say that their best pictures are when they use a perspective different to the traditional eye-level view of the world we become accustomed to.

Never mind trying to take award-winning pictures.  If you’re taking a picture as mundane as of a small child or a pet, you want a convenient way to get the camera down to their level.  If your view of something is blocked by people in front of you, or other objects, you want a way to get your camera above or around the obstruction.

A tiltable rear screen is a wonderful feature, giving you a way to conveniently achieve these results, and freeing yourself from only really being able to conveniently frame and film pictures at eye level.

It is very rare to find small pocket cameras with moveable rear screens.  Happily, the Sony camera does offer this – not a fully moveable one (which would allow for it to swivel and tilt pretty much through 360 degrees, including twisting it around so you could view it from the front), but it does tilt up and down, allowing you to hold if up high or down low and still see the screen.  A very big plus for that.

Standard USB Connection for both Data Transfer and Battery Charging

Another must-have is a camera which accepts a standard USB connector rather than one requiring some sort of proprietary connector.  We always have plenty of USB cables around, but invariably end up losing special proprietary cables.

We also wanted it to recharge the battery, inside the camera, via the USB connection.  This would remove the need to carry a battery charger with us (one less thing to worry about, pack, and possibly lose!).  The Sony meets both these requirements.

High/Enhanced Dynamic Range

If you’ve ever noticed how a picture will either have too dark ‘dark bits’, or too bright/white ‘light bits’, you are experiencing the lack of dynamic range between the brightest light colors and the darkest dark colors.  This is normal in most cameras.

More recently, cameras have started adding extra intelligence to compensate for this.  In effect, what happens is the camera takes two (or more) pictures.  One is deliberately over-exposed, so as to get more detail in the dark bits, and the other is under-exposed, so as to get more detail in the light bits.

Then the camera automatically mixes together the best bits of each photo into one single composite photo that is said to have a higher or enhanced dynamic range.

This is a very clever and often automatic feature.  It can even be found on more recent iPhone models.  It is definitely something you should insist that your new camera has.

Wi-Fi and GPS

Some cameras are now coming out with Wi-Fi connectivity, to make it easier to transfer photos between your camera and some other device – maybe a computer or tablet or phone.  We’re not sure if this is a gimmick or a truly useful feature – it is certainly easy enough to transfer pictures via USB or just by copying the SD card onto a laptop computer already.  The Sony camera does allow both Wi-Fi and also NFC transfers, so in theory it scores well in that respect, but we’ve not yet bothered to take the time and trouble to learn how to do this, and suspect we’ll never do so in the future.

Another feature that is starting to appear on some cameras is a GPS receiver that will invisibly ‘stamp’ each picture with the GPS location in which it was taken (okay, it doesn’t ‘invisibly stamp’ but instead adds it to the picture’s metadata).  This is an interesting feature, but often won’t work indoors, and might slow things down outdoors while the camera is trying to get a GPS signal.

Although it was a tempting feature, it wasn’t a ‘must have’ feature and so we weren’t too disappointed to discover the feature was missing on the Sony camera.

Audio Note Recording

A wonderful feature of my earlier Casio was the ability to record an audio note with each picture taken.  This enables you to say things like ‘this is a picture of Sally and George, who we met on the cruise, in front of the Cologne cathedral’ or whatever else, so that when you look at the picture, some years later, you are able to work out what it is of and why you took it.

It is very rare to find that feature these days, and it isn’t offered as standard on the Sony, but there is a ‘workaround’.  If you set the movie mode to low resolution VGA, you can then, with a single button push, record any audio/video commentary – ignore the video and simply play back the audio.  The time stamps on the messages will show you which pictures they relate to, and with the low-res video, it doesn’t use up too much space on your memory card (which are anyway so huge in size and inexpensive these days that it doesn’t really matter).

Flash Issues

Something we often see misused on cameras these days are flash units.  Sometimes we see people using flash to take distant views at night – that’s almost criminally stupid, because a typical compact flash unit has a range of less than 20 ft, and these people are trying to take a picture of something ten or one hundred times further away.  Using a flash in that case actually makes for a much worse picture.

Other times, we see people taking pictures through windows with their flash firing.  Again, almost criminally stupid, because the flash then reflects back from the glass, obscuring the picture.  Any time you’re taking a picture through glass, get the lens hard up against the glass to cut down on all possible reflections and to reduce the effects of dirt on the glass.

We also note some of the cheaper cameras don’t have the necessary minimum of three different flash settings.  You must get a camera with at least three settings (ie, always on, always off, and, more optionally, ‘auto’).  Some cameras don’t seem to have an ‘always on’ setting, and so will not always flash when required.

In addition to at least the three settings, we also wanted to get as powerful a flash as possible.  While the built-in flash unit with the camera is not particularly powerful, the Sony camera has an unusual and very positive extra feature, seldom found on compact pocket-sized cameras – an accessory shoe on the top, with contacts inside for an intelligent external flash (or various other devices, including external microphones and external viewfinder.

Sony’s HVL-F20M flash is compatible with this, and can be bought in a kit on Amazon with a bunch of other goodies for $150.  There is also a more powerful HVL-F43M, but this becomes significantly expensive and if you are needing this amount of flash, you would probably also be aware of other ways of approaching your requirements.

6.  Cost

Here’s a very subjective point that you’ll have to consider for yourself.  How much are you willing to pay for a camera?

As you of course know, there are apparently good name-brand cameras available for under $200, and of course, the chances are your cell phone has a camera in it too, and truly, for some people, maybe that is all they need.

There is certainly a large cluster of cameras all around the $200 price point, and another cluster of cameras around the $400 or so price point.  Going on up from there, it would seem there’s no real upper limit at all, but clearly – for most of us – the point of ‘diminishing returns’ occurs probably well before we even reach the $1000 price point.

On the other hand, you should consider the up-front purchase price of the camera alongside the value and use you’ll get from your investment.  If you buy a better camera today, it will have a longer technological life before you feel the need to replace it, and it will give you better pictures every time you press the shutter button.

In my case, my last camera lasted almost eight years, and during those eight years, I took many thousands of pictures.  I’ve no idea how long my new camera will last, but if we say it will last a similar time period, and be used a similar amount, then an interesting thing happens.  It becomes possible to justify spending more than ‘only’ a couple of hundred dollars.

Would you pay an extra penny or two a picture for a better camera and better resulting image?  Would you pay extra money up-front for a camera that lasts longer, and spares you the hassle of soon having to again research, buy, and outfit a new replacement camera?  (The cost of accessories for any camera such as spare batteries, rechargers, and carry-cases can sometimes add another $100 to the total purchase price).

The Sony DSC-RX100 II is not the cheapest camera by any measure at all.  It lists for $750 and I bought it at Amazon for $700, including an official Sony carry case that is worth about $50.  But while it is not the cheapest, it seems – to me – to be the best value and a fair compromise between insufficient or too much quality.

We note that as well as selling the camera by itself, Amazon also shows some value bundlesthat include the camera and various accessories.  If you don’t already have the accessories in the bundles, and think you might want them, they might be better value.

Beware of Used and Reconditioned Cameras

Amazon also sells reconditioned and used cameras, and while there are some things we’ll happily buy second-hand or reconditioned without a second thought, we’d never do so with a camera.  Our concern is that it might have been dropped, causing the lens assembly to have a component knocked out of alignment, and causing subtle but serious picture degradation.

7.  Enhancing the Camera

Once you’ve bought the camera, there are a number of other things to consider.

Protective Carry Case

If you buy the camera through Amazon, they are currently running a promotion that includes a free hard formed case for the camera that gives it excellent protection while not adding much to the camera’s bulk or weight.  You definitely must get some sort of protective carry case, and the free case, if still offered through Amazon, is a good choice.

Otherwise, you can get a soft case for very little money.  Here’s a Sony branded case from Amazon for only $4 – it is a bit of a tight fit for the RX100 II, but of course it stretches with wear.  The hard sided case mentioned above actually takes up less space overall, but this one is also about as small as they can be and still offer a modicum of protection.

Extra Battery and External Charger

It is sensible to consider buying a second battery.  The standard Sony battery is rated at 1240 mAh, and is expensive.  There are after-market batteries that are not only massively less expensive, but also with greater capacity (1500 – 1600 mAh).  We chose to get a pair of batteries complete with an external multi-voltage charger too – the camera as originally purchased doesn’t have an external battery charger, and instead requires you to charge the battery, in the camera, via a USB cable.

We like charging the battery via USB cable, but when you’re trying to charge up a spare battery to have with you while out and about, it is much easier to have a separate battery charger to do that.  As it was, buying two extended capacity batteries, and the external charger, plus a car charger adapter too, all came to less than half the cost of buying just one official Sony battery by itself!  This page on Amazon lists a number of different companies, all selling what seems to be the same two battery and charger kit, all for about $17.

Some cameras lose all their settings and the date/time the instant you take the battery out, fortunately this Sony camera does not, so swapping batteries is easy and without any downside problems.

Memory Cards

Of course, you want to get plenty of memory cards, too.  We suggest getting fast Class 10 memory cards so as to make it easy to film high data-rate video as well as to quickly capture images.  If you know you won’t be filming video, then you can get away with slower (and cheaper) Class 4 cards (and even slower cards than that if need be).

It seems that 16GB cards are about the sweet spot currently in terms of cost per GB of storage and convenient size, and you can expect about 1400 largest size highest res pictures per 16GB card.  The same 16GB card is also good for about 80 minutes of HD video.  Amazon sell 16GB cards for about $10 or slightly more, depending on the card speed.

Note that 32GB cards are slightly less expensive, in terms of cost per GB of storage, but we find they ‘hold too much’ on them.  By that we simply mean that if you should ever lose one of them (or if one fails), you’ve lost an awful amount of stuff.  So we stick to lower capacity cards, and the difference in dollar cost is infinitesimal – some tiny fraction of a cent per picture.

We also sometimes choose to use specific cards for specific things, making it easier to file them subsequently.  These two cards might be for our last Christmas cruise, for example, and that one might be for our daughter’s birthday party, or whatever else.  In such cases, it can then make sense to use even lower capacity cards.

Being a Sony device, the camera also uses the proprietary Sony Memory Sticks as well as standard SD cards.  It used to be that Sony refused to support what has become the universal industry standard of SD, SDHC and SDXC cards, and you were forced to buy Memory Sticks if buying a Sony camera.  Eventually they realized this was costing them more in camera sales than it was making them in memory sales, so they capitulated and now support all three SD card formats as well as their own Memory Sticks.

There is no reason to buy the much more expensive Sony Memory Sticks, and no benefit if you do so.  However, if you have some from a former Sony camera, you can definitely use them with this camera too.

A ‘How To’ Book

The camera comes with a not very detailed printed out manual.  You can download a more helpful color manual from Sony’s support site, but even after doing that, we felt that there were things not well explained that we didn’t understand and wanted to better understand, and so we went out and bought a book about the camera, too.

This book by Alexander White seems to be the best one.  We bought it in eBook/Kindle format, but depending on your own preferences, there’s no reason not to buy the hardcopy instead.  This uses a modern Kindle format with color pictures and nicely laid out text, making it easy to read, and having it on various mobile devices means we always have the manual with us, without needing to always carry a heavy 472 page book with us.

Summary

The millions of choices of cameras that confront you when you first start considering a new camera can be reduced down to a much more manageable quantity.

Don’t buy ‘more’ camera than you need.  Don’t get obsessed by getting the most mega-pixels – but do pay attention to sensor size.

We clearly really like the Sony DSC-RX100 II, and so too do most reviewers, but that’s not to say it will be your ideal camera too.  However, we can definitely say that it has massively exceeded our expectations.  There is a stunning advance in quality compared to our old 2006 model camera.  It picks up and shows the slightest tiny detail in objects, and when taking pictures in low light, makes things clearer and brighter in the picture than they were to the naked eye.

That’s not to say that other cameras can’t offer similar capabilities, but our feeling is that in terms of ‘bangs per buck’ this is perhaps the ideal camera available today.

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  3 Responses to “The Very Best Pocket Camera?”

  1. […] I wrote, a couple of weeks ago, about what I (and most other reviewers) feel to be the best compact camera available in the market today, the Sony DSC-RX100 II. […]

  2. […] second article responds to several comments I received about my camera article a couple of weeks back.  Readers asked for recommendations for lower priced and/or smaller cameras […]

  3. […] last wrote about photography almost three and a half years ago, when recommending my latest camera purchase (a Sony DSC-RX100 II) as being a ‘best in class’ choice for people who wanted something […]

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