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Beyond smartphones: next-step cameras

The Guardian // 13th February 2017
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Beyond smartphones: next-step cameras” was written by Colin Blackstock, for The Observer on Sunday 8th January 2017 09.45 UTC

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II

with a M.Zuiko Digital 14?42mm 1:3.5?5.6 II R lens; 16MP; 503g; £549

Mirrorless cameras are relatively new and should offer the versatility of a DSLR without the bulk. Like most other mirrorless models, this Olympus features an electronic viewfinder and allows access to a range of interchangeable lenses (although not as large a selection as some DSLRs).

Bulk is also shed by the use of a micro four-thirds sensor, which is smaller than the types typically found in DSLRs and some compacts. The decline in image quality this creates is unlikely to be noticeable to most users – especially if they are viewing their images on screen.

For upping your Instagram game, this is perhaps one of the best of the cameras tested. It comes with a range of on-board artistic features, including effects and filters, so you can have your photos instantly Instagram-ready. Seasoned DSLR users shouldn’t be put off – this camera is also good for some street photography or as a lightweight model for travel and holidays.

Who is it for? Those who find a smartphone limiting.

Canon EOS 80D
Full-featured: the Canon EOS 80D. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Canon EOS 80D

and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM; 24MP; 1245g; £1,219

This is a serious camera for enthusiasts. If you’re a point-and-shoot user wanting to upgrade, it’s a leap forward or if you’ve cut your teeth on a more basic DSLR, this is a fantastic next step.

The 80D is a 24 megapixel, APS-C sensor camera, which should produce high enough quality images for most needs. It’s not cheap, but is packed with features that allow you to get creative and is compatible with an enormous range of lenses and other accessories.

It has a vari-angle touch screen permitting interesting viewpoints or to get the framing and angles just right when taking a selfie. Menus and other controls, such as focus and shutter activation, can all be accessed on screen as well as the manual buttons and dials. It’s a very robust body, weather-sealed. If you’re looking for a capable DSLR and are serious about photography this is a worthy option.

Who is it for? Photographers who dream of exhibiting their work in a gallery rather than social media.

the Sony RX100 IV
Packing a punch: the Sony RX100 IV. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Sony RX100 IV

24-70mm equivalent; 20.1MP; 295g; £749

Sony has been producing the RX100 for almost five years and this version should benefit from a price reduction after the recent introduction of the mark V, although it remains an expensive compact.

The RX100 IV packs a lot of punch for its size, providing high-quality images and weighing just under 300g. It has a 20 megapixel camera, with a 1in sensor and benefits from a flexible LCD screen for selfies or high- or low-angle shots. Combine that with the effects palette that comes on board most cameras these days and it’s a hard option to beat for specifications. However, for uploading photos to social media this is an expensive choice – sticking with your smartphone or point and shoot might be the option.

Who is it for? Photographers who are moving beyond Instagram.

the Leica D
An ergonomic delight: the Leica D. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Leica D-Lux

Lux 24-75mm equivalent; 12.8MP; 405g; £850

There is something satisfying about holding this chunky compact – whether it’s the solid metal body, giving heft, or perhaps it’s nostalgia for what feels like a simpler build, with dials for aperture and shutter speed.

But this is far from basic. It is a rather high-end compact, given the price, with its 13 megapixel, four-thirds sensor, LCD screen and electronic viewfinder. And red dot. And that’s the thing. The red Leica dot imbues the camera with a certain photographic legacy. Yes, it will provide great quality images (that legacy is justified), but it’s an expensive upgrade from a smartphone.

Ergonomically it’s a delight. The dial-based controls reminded me of using a manual film camera from what now seems like another era, even if it was just the turn of the century. It comes with a number of creative photo filter modes, ideal for social media uploads without having to spend too much time editing or processing the images.

Who is it for? For those who value the look of gear as much as their work.

Panasonic Lumix TZ80
Perfect next step from a smartphone: the Panasonic Lumix TZ80. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Panasonic Lumix TZ80

24mm-720mm equivalent; 18.1MP; 282g; £329

If you’re looking for an all-purpose camera, the TZ80 is a solid choice. For a compact, it’s got a massive x30 optical zoom, which means you can get up close and personal (though at the farther end things do get a bit fuzzy).

It’s an 18megapixel camera, although with a smaller sensor (1/2.3in) than other models featured here. It comes with 22 creative options, so if you want to make your photos look miniaturised (or tilt-shifted), retro or add a star effect, you can do it all in-camera before uploading Instagram. It also has post focus that allows you to change the focal point of an image after you’ve taken it, so if anyone is photo-bombing your selfie you can blur them out. And while the TZ80 does have a touch screen it isn’t a vari-angle/tilt one.

Who is it for? Those who want an upgrade from their smartphone.

the Nikon D3400.
Entry-level solidity: the Nikon D3400. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Nikon D3400

with 18-55mm with f/3.5-5.6 zoom; 710g; £409

The D3400 is a solid, entry-level DLSR aimed at those taking their first steps away from their smartphone and moving on to a camera with interchangeable lenses to get a bit more creative or specialised with their photography.

It has 24 megapixels on a crop sensor (APS-C) and has a guide mode that teaches you how to use the camera as you go along via the LCD screen on the back of a compact and fairly lightweight body (395g without a lens).

Like several other cameras here, along with the usual modes (night-time/macro/portrait, etc), it has special effect modes including night-vision, silhouette and selective colour (taking black and white images where only one colour hue is highlighted). It also has SnapBridge, which connects the camera to a smartphone via bluetooth to transmit your photos as you take them to your phone. A nice feature for those who want to quickly upload their latest image to social media.

The D3400’s advantage over similarly priced compact and mirrorless cameras is the huge range of Nikon lenses and accessories available for expanding what is a great starter DSLR.

Who is it for? Photographers who want to experiment with different lenses and lighting effects.

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