I realise I am asking what will be one of the most common questions among first-timers looking to purchase cameras, but comparing statistics is not very useful and I am after some personal opinions: feel free to offend with harsh reality.

I will be travelling soon, mostly backpacking and need a camera. In a perfect world this camera would fit in my pocket so I don't also need to carry around a camera bag/take up lots of room for camera gear. But I also don't want a camera that is only marginally going to improve my iPhone pictures.

So in short, do I basically need a DSLR for "optimum" image quality? I have a budget of around £450-500; I was looking at the Nikon 5300 and similar, entry level DSLR's. Then I thought, how much of a sacrifice in image quality is it to get something small like the Sony RX100 or Canon G9x for ultimate smallness.

Should I just deal with the extra weight and embrace my ascendance into the world of non-phone photography?

  • What do you normally take pictures of? What do you intend on taking pictures of with a new camera? What aspects of your current photography do you find lacking that you feel a new/better camera will help satisfy? When you say "traveling", how far / how long will you be traveling? When you say backpacking, do you mean like across Europe from hostel to hostel via train, or do you mean like hiking in the backcountry? – scottbb Mar 11 '16 at 0:49
  • Also, aside from MILC options, there are also small cameras with dSLR-sized sensors in them that aren't that much larger. than the RX100 or G9X. – inkista Mar 11 '16 at 1:42
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    You might want to specify (and contemplate, if you haven't) whether it's the sheer image quality of your phone that you want to improve on, or more the ability to zoom in for wildlife shots and such, since this will have implications for your choice of sensor size. – junkyardsparkle Mar 11 '16 at 2:35

So in short, do I basically need a DSLR for "optimum" image quality?

You want to optimize more than just image quality -- you want an optimal balance of image quality and portability/convenience, i.e. something that provides image quality that's significantly better than your phone provides, but as small as possible. Control and ease of use are two other variables that you should consider -- do you want a camera that gives you lots of creative control, or one that does everything for you?

A mirrorless camera system might be the right choice for you. Mirrorless cameras give you the large sensor, interchangeable lenses, and creative control of a DSLR in a smaller, lighter package. For example, the Canon M10 is much smaller than even a small DSLR, but still packs a 18 megapixel APS-C sensor. With a 22mm f/2 pancake lens, the whole thing would easily fit in a large pocket. The EF-M lenses that fit the camera are smaller and lighter than the EF lenses that fit Canon's DSLRs, but you can also adapt EF lenses to the EF-M mount so there's a lot of flexibility. And at $500 or so, the M10 should fit into your price range.

Canon is by no means the only game in town, and you should look at the different options and decide what's right for you. The main thing is that a mirrorless system provides a good mix of image quality, light weight, and creative control for someone who needs a small camera that takes great photos.

PS: Invest in extra batteries.

Should I just deal with the extra weight and embrace my ascendance into the world of non-phone photography?

That's up to you. You're presumably familiar with the quality you get from your phone. A lot of phones have pretty remarkable cameras, but they are what they are -- tiny sensors with tiny lenses and not a lot of options or control. Having a more capable camera, whether it's mirrorless, DSLR, or a bridge camera, will definitely expand the range of photos you can take, but only you can say whether that's important enough to you to carry around the extra gear.

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