Pocket superzooms are my favorite kind of compact camera because of their portability and versatility. This is the third update of my Pocket Superzoom Camera guide. It was first published in January of 2011 and I’m updating it again for the 2012 Holiday Season. All the camera companies have new pocket superzoom cameras and features, prices and performance have changed dramatically in the past year. For those of you who are wondering what I mean by “pocket superzoom,” it’s a point-and-shoot camera with a 10x or longer zoom range that fits in a pants pocket. However, cameras with a mere 10x zoom now belong in the budget category. I’ve even included one of those in my recommendations. A few years ago that camera would have been a lot chunkier and sold for at least $400. Now it costs closer to $150. The standard zoom range for pocket superzooms is now over 15x and most of the top-spec’d cameras have 20x zoom lenses. That they can make a camera with a zoom that long that fits in a pants pocket and has useable image quality absolutely blows my mind.
What’s New With Pocket Superzooms?
Even though most people will call the cameras in this guide point-and-shoots, that isn’t really an adequate description anymore. Here are some features and improvements you’ll find in current pocket superzoom cameras. Besides 20x zoom lenses (see sample zoom photos, below), all the high-end cameras have state-of-the-art backlit CMOS sensors now. There are two cameras in this guide that have full HD video at 60 frames-per-second for slow-motion action video clips. There are also two cameras with built-in Wi-Fi so you can transfer and upload photos and video right from your camera. Built-in GPS is now a standard feature in all of the high-end pocket superzooms, as is full-resolution high-speed burst shooting (as fast as 10 frames-per-second). Three cameras have manual shooting modes (PASM), one has a touchscreen LCD display and one can even capture in RAW mode. Prices have also come down a bit. Last time I updated this guide the top pocket superzoom cameras were selling for about $350. Now, the street prices for my top picks are closer to $300. That’s a whole lot of camera for your money.
These sample photos were taken with the Panasonic Lumic ZS10, one of our past pocket superzoom recommendations. They give an idea of the zoom range of a pocket superzoom camera – taken at a “normal” focal length (left), 24mm wide (middle) and 384mm full zoom (right).
Why Choose A Pocket Superzoom Camera Over Your Camera Phone?
Most of you probably have a camera phone you use for casual point-and-shoot photography. Many of you probably even have a Smart Phone that takes really good pictures. So why should you buy a pocket superzoom when your camera phone is so good? There are three reasons: lens, control and sensor. Even if you’ve got the best Smart Phone (I’m talking to you iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III owners), you’re still limited by awkward and minimal controls, a fixed lens and a small sensor (yes, size does matter – with sensors, anyway). The main selling point of a pocket superzoom is the huge zoom range. You can’t replicate that with any Instagram filter, with digital zoom or by cropping. And even though your Smart Phone has amazing image quality (for a Smart Phone), it can’t compete with any of the cameras in this guide. There’s a reason I carry a Smart Phone in one pocket and a pocket superzoom in the other. Your camera phone is fine if all you want to do is send family photos to Grandma and post filtered Instagram images. But with a good pocket superzoom you’ll have a camera in your pocket that can take pictures good enough to print and frame. Choose a pocket superzoom camera with built-in Wi-Fi or add an Eye-Fi card [link] and you can even transfer photos from your camera to your phone wirelesslessy and upload from anywhere.
Why Choose A Pocket Superzoom Camera Over A Premium Compact Camera?
I’m sure there are some readers who are wondering why I would choose a pocket superzoom over a high-end compact camera like the Canon PowerShot S110 or the Sony Cybershot RX100. That’s a fair question. Most serious photographers would prefer premium compact cameras like the Panasonic Lumix LX7, Canon PowerShot G15, or the Nikon Coolpix P7700. Those cameras have great features and better image quality than a pocket superzoom but they’re too big for my taste. If a point-and-shoot camera doesn’t fit in my pants pocket, I’m not interested. It’s true that some premium compacts will fit in a pocket but those cameras all have relatively short zooms. We all need to identify our priorities and what seems best at first may not actually be the best for every application. Personally, I’m willing to trade some control and image quality for a camera that fits in my pocket and gives me a lot of reach. That way I always have a camera in my pocket that can pull in distant mountains, frame tight action shots and have the reach I need to get any photo when I’m traveling. If I need better image quality I’ll take the time to get out my DSLR or compact system camera.
Top Five Pocket Superzoom Digital Cameras:
It’s time for me to shut up and deliver the goods. So here are my top five pocket superzoom cameras for the 2012 Holiday Season. They were chosen based on features, popularity and my own experience. Most of them are top-of-the-line models with the longest zooms, best performance and latest features. But I’ve also included one budget model with a 10x zoom. Honestly, they’re all great cameras – even the so-called “budget” model. Each manufacturer has tried to give their camera a twist that sets it apart from the others. Which camera is right for you depends on your own particular tastes and needs. I recommend taking a close look each one so you can decide which camera fits you best.
first camera – Sony Cybershot HX30V >>
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