“What camera should I buy”?

OK, first thing first: There are several types of cameras around; your first move should be to decide which one is best for you:

* DSLR: Largest kind of camera. Largest sensor (and therefore best quality images overall). Takes interchangeable lenses. Examples: Canon T3, T3i, Nikon 7300 etc. There are a few varieties of DSLR; they can be super expensive, but they can also be had around the $500-700 mark.

* Mirrorless: Smaller kind of camera with interchangeable lenses. Sensor can be similar to DSLR or slightly smaller, but still big enough for superb images. Examples: Sony a6000, Olympus, Fujifilm.

* Point and shoot (one inch sensor): Within point and shoots, you have a few subcategories. The better class of point and shoots are “one inch sensor” point and shoots. Point and shoots have a built-in lens; they are not interchangeable. Their sensor is smaller than mirrorless, but larger than standard point and shoots. Prices range from about US$450 to about $1000. Examples: Sony RX100 series, Canon G7X, G9X. I have a chart that lists all one-inch sensor point and shoots I can post, if you like.

* Point and shoot (small sensor): These are the cheapest cameras, and pretty much very similar to each other, except slightly different feature lists. The small sensors aren’t great in low light, but can still capture an image. You can find these for US$200-300, buy based on price. Small sensor point and shoots aren’t necessarily much better than good smartphone cameras, but they do offer optical zoom, which is a big advantage. Also, sometimes it can just be handy to use your smartphone for one thing (GPS navigation or whatever) while you use the point and shoot to take photos.

* Smartphones: The better smartphones are actually nearly in image quality as good as the low-end point and shoots, and in some ways better. Many smartphones are excellent at panoramas and fast burst shooting, for example, and of course there is the built-in simplicity of uploading directly to social media. Here are some comparison shots I did between an iPhone6 and Panasonic LX3. I think they are very comparable.

Now … which is best for you? Here are my subjective opinions:

I think a DSLR is the best choice if your goal is to start a new hobby. It’s a great choice if you want to learn all aspects of what makes a photograph, and control all aspects of making that photo. You want to try different lenses and different genres of photography. Macro, long exposure, light painting, maybe some studio work. You want maximum image quality at the lowest price point. You’re not particularly worried about camera size. The DSLR is highly flexible and is the “classic” do-everything camera. There’s a lot of choice in this category and a lot of room to grow, if you want.

I think a one-inch sensor point and shoot is the best choice for “quality snapshots”. You want better quality than your smartphone can deliver, but you don’t want to worry about settings. And you want something you can carry around easily. These cameras hit a great sweet spot with good image quality, small camera size, and quick easy-to-use convenience. These are the best “travel cameras” IMHO.

A mirrorless is also a nice “in-between” if you want to dabble in some serious photography, but you really want something smaller than a DSLR. A mirrorless can be a good choice for either the hobbyist or the “quality snapshooter” mentioned above.

The smartphone is a good choice if you already have one, and you don’t want to carry around anything extra. If you’re not getting good images out of yours, possibly you could benefit from an upgrade to a better smartphone; however, possibly you could benefit by improving your technique, without spending additional money. If you don’t currently own a good smartphone, consider getting one. You’ll not only get a decent camera but a device that can do SatNav, play music, hold books and all kinds of data.

So, what about the “standard sensor” point and shoot in the $300 range? Frankly, the use case for these is very slim indeed. I don’t really recommend this category; you will probably be better served by spending more money and choosing one of the other options above. That said, if you really want a basic point and shoot (because of budget or other reasons), look at a used Panasonic LX3/LX5/LX7 series and the Canon S100, S110, S120.

Hope this helps.