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.
I continue to be delighted with my choice of camera and the quality images it provides, but several people have written to ask if I can also recommend something slightly smaller and/or less expensive. With a street price of around $700 and dimensions that approach the maximum that can be considered pocketable, it is true that the Sony model I recommend is at the far end of readily affordable and easily carried.
One immediate saving could be to choose the earlier model Sony DSC-RX100 (as opposed to the RX100 II). This has the same size sensor, but it does not have as good performance in low light, it does not have a hot shoe for accessories, and the screen doesn’t tilt so much. But with a street price of around $550, it is $150 less expensive.
However, that’s still a lot of money by many measures, and I wanted to see if there are acceptably good cameras for appreciably less money.
So if we want to go down in price to more around the $300 – $400 range, and to choose something a bit smaller in size, too, what then becomes an ideal choice? To answer that question, you can still apply all the tests that I listed in the earlier article, but simply be willing to compromise a bit more on the results you’ll consider acceptable.
In particular, the key issue to compromise on is the sensor size. The Sony DSC-RX100 is uniquely blessed with an enormous sensor (relatively speaking). If we instead choose to accept either a 1/1.7″ or 1/1.8″ (not quite as good) sensor, that gives us a number of other cameras to choose from. This still gives us a much better (ie much larger) sensor than the typical 1/2.3″ sized sensor in most small cameras today. (A 1/2.3″ sensor has 28.5 sq mm of area, compared to 38.2 and 43.3 sq mm in the 1/1.8″ and 1/1.7″ sensors – although all of these are much smaller than the wonderful 1″ sensor with 116 sq mm in the Sony DSC-RX100.)
I’ve prepared a spreadsheet listing over 20 different commonly recommended camera models, priced mainly from the mid $200s up to about $400. Several of the models I’ve included mainly ‘for reference only’ because they have what I suggest is the unacceptably small 1/2.3″ sensor, while a few models have even larger sensors (ie 2/3″) than the 1/1.7″ which I’d been proposing as an ideal compromise size.
You can of course use this spreadsheet as a starting point to then add your own selections of cameras, and additional columns for additional comparison points, and so on. We do not mean to suggest that the few details listed in this spreadsheet should be the only things you consider when choosing a new camera, and indeed, we’ve listed a number of additional issues in our earlier article, too. But this information can at least help you to prepare a short list and from that point you can then start to ‘drill down’ into much more detail.
All the cameras in this list have featured on at least one ‘top ten’ or ‘best of’ type list, so probably you can consider them all to be appreciably better than average (as of April 2014), meaning that you’ll likely be pleased with any of them.
In among the many different models, we’ve highlighted two that seem to be the best priced models while offering compact size and good performance – the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 and the Canon Powershot S110. If we had to choose between the two units, we’d probably slightly prefer the DMC-LF1, priced at about $300.
Please click here to open the full Excel spreadsheet. The usual disclaimers apply – data may be inaccurate or incomplete, pricing may have changed, and of course, do your own research before buying.