DPReview Recommends: Best Cameras for Social Photography
Smartphones are great for casual picture-taking, but they're at their absolute worst in poor lighting, or when using flash. One of the reasons smartphones are so popular is that they're small, but better images don't require enormous cameras, and increasingly, good-quality compacts are shipping with social-friendly options including built-in wireless connectivity. For this list we've selected five of our top recommendations for cameras that you should take to those special occasions.
Prices given are representative of street pricing, and our recommendations are arranged from most to least expensive.
Recommendations are subject to change and are current as of November 2013
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 (w/12-32mm kit zoom)
$750 / £630 | 16MP | 5 fps max frame rate | 3" 1.04M-dot LCD | 1080/60i video
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 is a lovely looking compact mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that Panasonic is marketing at young, social photographers as well as enthusiasts looking for a small, lightweight option. It looks great, takes up very little space despite its Micro Four Thirds sensor, and with an interchangeable lens mount, you have a lot of options. With a fast 'pancake' prime attached the 16MP GM1 is a genuinely compact, pocketable camera, but for more versatility when it comes to framing, the kit 12-32mm (24-64mm equivalent) collapsible zoom is a solid choice.
The Wi-Fi-equipped GM1 is traditionally styled, but its operation is mostly driven by the large 3" touchscreen on its rear. An electronic shutter allows for silent image capture if you're shooting in a quiet environment, and its capable 16MP sensor offers an ISO span of 200-25,600 which should be enough to get the shot even in very low light. A small built-in flash is on hand if that proves impossible, or for social snapshots.
Nikon 1 J3 The Nikon 1 J3 offers plenty of advanced and fun features packed in a small, light and novice-friendly body. The major selling point of the J3 over a compact camera is its interchangeable lens mount, which is built around a 1"-type CMOS sensor. Image quality is a step up from most point-and-shoot cameras, and autofocus is impressively capable.
Canon PowerShot S120
$400 / £450 | 12MP | 24-120mm lens | 3" 922k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
Canon's PowerShot S120 is a slim, powerful compact camera which is designed to keep both enthusiasts and casual photographers happy. Although it isn't all that bright at the telephoto end, the S120's 24-120mm lens covers a good range for everyday photography, and image quality is up there with the best small-sensor compacts of its type.
Something that Canon has traditionally always been good at is flash performance, and the S120 gives great results in social situations, balancing ambient and flash light very effectively. The touch-screen equipped S120 is fast, responsive and fun to use, while still small enough to slip into a shirt pocket. Built-in Wi-Fi allows you to transfer images to a smartphone or tablet device, and once everything's set up, the suite of connectivity options work well. Do bear in mind though that the S120's Wi-Fi implementation does not include remotely controlling the camera from your phone or tablet.
Fujifilm XQ1 The XQ1 is styled in a similar way to the S120, with similar lens speeds and zoom ranges (25-100mm), plus built-in Wi-Fi and 1080/60p video. The XQ1's 2/3" X-Trans CMOS sensor is relatively large for its class and promises higher resolution and faster focusing that its peers.
Samsung Galaxy Camera (Wi-Fi only, 3G/4G options available)
$400 / £300 (Wi-Fi only) | 16MP | 23-481mm lens | 4.8" LCD | 1080/30p video
The Samsung Galaxy Camera is basically a mashup of the WB850F compact super zoom camera and the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. As such, this is about as connected a camera as you'll find, complete with a 'full strength' Android mobile operating system. If you buy one of the 3G/4G versions (a cheaper Wi-Fi only model is also available) the Galaxy Camera might well replace your smartphone 99% of the time - the only thing you can't do is place voice phone calls, although Skype or similar apps work perfectly well. As far as image quality is concerned the Galaxy Camera is nothing special compared to an equivalently-priced 'conventional' compact but that's not really what you're paying for here.
The Galaxy camera features a 16MP BSI-CMOS sensor and 21X 23-481mm (equivalent) zoom, packed into a body which from the front looks more or less conventional, but from behind resembles a contemporary smartphone. The entire rear of the Galaxy Camera is a touchscreen, via which you control the camera's photographic and 'smartphone-type' functions.
Sony Cyber-shot QX100 The QX100 is a camera module, comprising lens and sensor (the same 28-100mm lens and 20MP 1"-type sensor as Sony's Cyber-shot RX100) and... not much else. The idea is that you clip it to your smartphone, and control the camera remotely via Wi-Fi using Sony's app. It's clunky, but it works.
Samsung NX2000 (w/20-50mm kit zoom)
$400 / £460 | 20MP | 8 fps max frame rate | 3.7" 1.152 million-dot LCD | 1080/30p video
The Samsung NX2000 is an entry-level mirrorless camera built around an APS-C format 20MP CMOS sensor. Like all mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras it's as pocketable as the lens you attach to it, but even with the bundled 20-50mm kit zoom attached it's small enough to throw into the pocket of a jacket, or a handbag.
The NX2000's 20MP sensor is a proven performer which is capable of great image quality, and Samsung has packed with beginner and enthusiast-friendly features key among which are a large 3.7" touchscreen and a very comprehensive suite of connectivity options which includes NFC wireless connectivity. Other key selling points include a maximum frame rate of 8fps and full HD video recording.
Olympus PEN E-PL5 The 16MP PEN E-PL5 is small, lightweight and very capable, offering high-speed autofocus and tons of advanced and beginner-friendly features. Olympus has a habit of packing as much into its cameras as it possibly can, making the E-PL5 a great camera to 'grow into' over time.
Canon PowerShot N Facebook ready
$300 / £260 | 12MP | 28-224mm lens | 2.8" 461k-dot LCD | 1080/24p video
For a long time we've been asking manufacturers 'when are you going to create a new form factor for cameras?' and the Canon PowerShot N (which comes in 'conventional' and 'Facebook Ready' versions) is the first model we've seen that offers genuinely unconventional operational ergonomics. Lacking a conventional shutter release or zoom control, the tiny PowerShot N doesn't have an 'up', and the camera is controlled by pushing and twisting rings around the lens.
With built-in Wi-Fi and 'one click' support for Facebook, the PowerShot N Facebook Ready is aimed squarely at teenagers and social media addicts. Compared to a smartphone, camera specifications are impressive. ISO sensitivity caps out at ISO 6400, and the 28-224mm zoom lens offers much more versatility than any mobile device when it comes to framing.
Sony Cyber-shot QX10 The QX10 is the lower-end companion model to the QX100, and offers an 18MP sensor and a 25-250mm zoom. Image quality isn't quite up there with the QX100, but it's a cut above today's smartphones, making it an appealing option for the social photographer that occasionally needs a better end result than their smartphone can manage on its own.