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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Pocket Camera Adventure

Taking advantage of the revolution in compact, non-DSLR cameras

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Portage around the Kings Rapid on the Colo River in New South Wales, Australia, taken with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100.

There's a revolution happening right now in the world of quality pocket digital cameras, and I'm digging it. I carry my DSLR cameras most places I go and usually have no problem slinging one around my neck for any job. But when it's pure adventure fun and not an assignment, I have to balance my photography with being a participant and moving efficiently through the country. This is where a smaller compact camera will fit the minimum baggage requirements perfectly. But, sadly, by the time I pack a compact or small DSLR camera for harsh environments, the padded bag or waterproof case turns the camera into a cumbersome package.

I guess the ideal micro-adventure camera would be one where you could just blink your eye to capture an image—nothing to hold, no box in front of your face with dials and meters to fiddle with. We're certainly getting closer to that reality with the latest camera phones, pocket cameras, GoPro-type cameras and Google Glass. But what these and other digital subcompact cameras have suffered from for years is a tiny sensor producing poor image quality when compared to the bigger DSLR. In the past, if you wanted serious picture control and image quality, the only affordable solution was to get a compact DSLR camera. But that's quickly changing.

In the past few years, social media and camera phones have pushed the popularity of photography into the hands of millions of new users. This has created a new market of photographers who want to step up their game and create better images. Would this kind of photographer want to pack a DSLR in his or her pocket? Maybe, but probably not.

So camera companies have been racing to put smaller cameras into the hands of camera phone users, and the results are many new high-end compact, mirrorless and now even pocket cameras— cameras that deliver SLR quality and performance in a much smaller package.

Back in the film days, I always owned a pocket camera that delivered high-quality images. In the '80s, it was the Rollie 35S, in the '90s the Contax T-VS. Since digital came about, the pocket cameras I've used were okay for web stuff, but the quality of the images out of my pocket cameras was never great, and when I dialed up the ISO in low light, the photo quality would plummet, and the best compacts were too big for a pocket. As a consequence, for the last few years, my only pocket camera has been my iPhone. What the iPhone taught me is the convenience and fun of an unobtrusive pocket-able camera.

In the midst of this recent flood of small cameras, I was determined to wait it out for a truly high-quality pocket camera that really could be a backup for my DSLR. Size, for me, is critical, so I set my camera sights past the excellent compacts and mirrorless cameras and kept my eye on the new pocket-sized micro-compacts. After testing a range of cameras, I assembled a wish list of some features I wanted in a pocket rocket.


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