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Some flagship-level smartphones today come with excellent cameras, at least for their own use-cases. Sometimes you don't really need more than that in most of the photos you'll shoot, and thinking about a "better" camera experience isn't an easy task if you already have a "good enough" smartphone camera sensor.

However, I am looking to "upgrade" my photographical experience, without spending too much on high-end equipment and lenses, but at the same time without going for cheaper quality models that modern smartphones might actually beat in some cases.

Finding the right balance is not an easy task, you might look at a photo and say, "My smartphone shoots better than this", or look at another photo and think, "It does look better, but I don't see much of a difference to justify the price", and today's world of modern standalone cameras is not small, it certainly has many different models, which is why I've come here to ask, is there any camera model that satisfies or at least comes very close to my requirements? I am aware that I might be vague, and some photography professionals may perhaps request much more details than what I've offered you, but I hope you understand the gist of what I'm trying to say, even if I cannot express it well in words.

I have looked at mirrorless/MLIC models, but I'm not sure if they're the right type for my use case.

  • "very close to my requirements" is too vague. What does your phone not do well that you to do ? – StephenG Jan 31 '17 at 2:04
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    What is it that you want to photograph that your phone is not able to do well enough for you ? – StephenG Jan 31 '17 at 2:33
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    You need a larger sensor for that. The larger the sensor, the less noise. Something like a MILC would be an option to consider, most of these would perform as well as entry level DSLRs. – StephenG Jan 31 '17 at 2:41
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    Recommending specific models is decidedly off-topic here. I think your original, longer question was quite a bit better than the terse version. – mattdm Jan 31 '17 at 14:58
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    Okay. Don't tell me — edit the question to make it clear. – mattdm Feb 1 '17 at 2:38
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Your situation is not an uncommon one. The basic premise is that you want to step up from a smartphone camera, but not go all in on a DSLR kit. I have good news, to me the answer is quite clear (and no, not everyone agrees as this is very much an opinion). Keep in mind that I am a firm believer in smartphones used as cameras, but if you truly do want to upgrade - read on.

I would pickup a large sensor advanced compact camera. As you said you want to buy something better than a smartphone "without spending too much on high-end equipment and lenses", that is exactly what a large sensor advanced compact camera of today can do for you. Note that I am not suggesting a full out interchangeable lens mirrorless camera - of which I think is overkill for your situation.

Some of the important things to look out for when shopping come typically in two flavors, so I would look for both. First, you will want something with a large sensor. A 1" sensor is a great sized sensor that will blow away anything on a standard flagship smartphone from Samsung or Apple today. In addition, you can look for something with the largest possible aperture across the entire range of the lens - for example f/2.8 is a bright big aperture that will let in a ton of light and some mirrorless cameras can even do better than this.

If you are looking for some specific examples, check out cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 series, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100, or the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II just to name a few.

Further reading:

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    You are using confusing definitions of "mirrorless". – vclaw Jan 31 '17 at 10:47
  • @vclaw - Yeah you are probably right. I use the term mirrorless but not in the context of mirrorless interchangable lens like most. I'll update to be more clear. – dpollitt Jan 31 '17 at 19:11
  • @dpollitt I am looking at my options, but I have to ask, if you have one, single specific recommendation, what would you suggest? – Buffer Over Read Oct 6 '17 at 21:26
  • @TheBitByte - Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II is a great value. Sony DSC-RX100/B is awesome, but unfortunately the the price hasn't changed in years really. There are a few Panasonic Lumix ones that are decent as well. – dpollitt Oct 7 '17 at 13:37
  • @dpollitt As a newcomer to the photography world, the brands can be confusing sometimes. Do I go all in on that PowerShot one, or is there something better? – Buffer Over Read Oct 7 '17 at 14:49
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"My smartphone shoots better than this"

"It does look better, but I don't see much of a difference to justify the price"

Few issues.

It's flawed reasoning to ever say your smartphone shoots better. Your smartphone shot and processed it for you to some extent. It took all of the controls away from you and did its thing. The smartphone doesn't shoot better though; you just shoot worse with your camera. This is an issue of not knowing how to use your camera. If I have an iPhone 7 ($700 USD) and a Nikon D3300 ($400 USD) in the right hands the Nikon D3300 will take better photos every single time. If you're regularly seeing the iPhone 7 outperform than there's a bigger issue. Either something wrong with your camera or more likely you just don't know enough to use it well yet.

I realize I'm talking like its to you when yours is a hypothetical but hopefully that makes sense.


Next issue could be what are you using it for? I mean where are you looking at the photos? This is why your question is entirely too vague. If you're only looking at your photos on your phone and on facebook then it makes a lot less difference. If you look at them in print or even in high resolution on a large display then you'll notice a lot more quality differences. Here's a nice comparison of an iPhone 7 and a Canon Rebel. When looking at the thumbnails its pretty comparable but enlarge them. Look at the dog photos and the glass bottles. The sharpness and quality of the iPhone quickly plunges.

Cost: iPhone 7 around $700, iPhone 7+ around $850, Canon Rebel with kit lens around $450.


Value:

Flagship Smartphones don't in any way extend the lifespan of the phone. In 3 years it'll be old and ready to retire. Whether you do or are able to push past that point and keep going is another story but it'll be tough. Entry level DSLRs or Mirrorless or even Point-n-Shoots will last significantly longer. There's just less wear and tear typically since a phone you're using all day every day for the most part. There's less tech advances. Now to be fair there is some number of shots that starts pushing the limits -- 100,000 is a general base for DSLRs. You would need to take 3000 photos a month (which is a whole lot!) to hit that in the 3 years it'll take for your phone to die. The reality is most cameras can last a decade pretty easily, if someone upgrades its by choice not by necessity. With your phone its probably because the battery was dying, the OS was no longer receiving updates, the screen cracked, etc.

So your Flagship smartphone that lasts 3 years and costs $700 is about $233 a year. A solid mid-range DSLR (I'll use Canon 70D) that can last 10 years and costs $1000 is only $100 a year. Even if you want to replace your camera every 5 years bringing that cost up, you're also replacing your iPhone every 3 years. In 15 years you'll be replacing your iPhone 5 times for $3500. In 15 years you'll be replacing your 70D 3 times for $3000.


TL;DR

Any midrange camera will beat a smartphone in quality and in value. If it doesn't the problem is the photographer.

  • Excellent post on how a dedicated camera is better. – Janardan S Jan 31 '17 at 12:49
  • The cost comparison is a bit flawed considerig that the phone will see other uses as well. I.e. you buy the dslr in addition to a phone. – ths Jan 31 '17 at 18:34
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    @ths true, but you can get a less expensive phone instead of worrying about a flagship for the photo quality unless there's some other specific feature you need. I had written my thoughts on that (I think far more weight should be given to audio quality than camera quality) but felt it was getting a bit more into the opinion realm so removed it. – RyanFromGDSE Jan 31 '17 at 21:23
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Since you don't say what kind of photography you want to do, why you want to "upgrade" from your smartphone camera, neither how much time and money you want to invest on photography, it's difficult to suggest anything specific.

Maybe your best bet is to take a camera with manual commands, that gives you manual control on aperture, exposure, ISO and maybe focal length (zoom), giving special attention to cameras that are compact enough to be carried with you as often as possible, so you will use it more and learn more.

Most mirrorless cameras will do, as several high end compact cameras.

Since you don't have set any special technical requirement, go to a photography shop, look for cameras fitting your budget, try them, and take the one that "feels" better in your hands.

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