Small, pro-quality cameras take aim at smartphones

ByABC News
September 14, 2011, 12:53 PM

— -- The last photo you took was probably with your cell phone.

Even so, an exciting trend is afoot in the point-and-shoot camera industry that is packing more professional features than ever into svelte, pocket-size cameras.

They're called premium point-and-shoots and the prices have been steadily dropping this year. Many now fall into the $300 to $400 range.

It's a necessary step for point-and-shoot manufacturers, as they compete with smartphone cameras that take excellent photos and are conveniently connected to the Web for easy posting and sharing.

These premium point-and-shoots come stuffed with many features traditionally reserved for single lens reflex — or SLR — cameras, which can cost upward of $2,000 and aren't so portable.

These devices are defying predictions of the demise of the point-and-shoot.

The biggest reason to invest in a point-and-shoot camera now is that the resolution race is all but obsolete. Any good digital camera now comes with a 10-megapixel sensor.

That's big enough to produce a stunning 8-inch-by-10-inch print and can easily go even larger depending on the individual image's exposure and the quality of the camera's sensor.

Go up to 12 or 16 megapixels and you've got a camera that can give you a poster of each and every photo you take.

What more do you need? And when's the last time you made prints, anyway?

These cameras allow even novice photographers to control exposures manually, producing that perfect image.

Much as when you buy a computer, you're buying into a platform. Each camera will come with its own set of available accessories and quirks.

Here's a look at the best of what's out there.

Lumix LX5

My favorite among these cameras is the Lumix LX5.

It's an unassuming camera that comes with a 10.1-megapixel sensor and a stunning lens that opens up to a very wide aperture of f/2.0 — a huge benefit for indoor and other low-light shooting scenarios.

The LX5,which lists at $500, has a full suite of manual shooting modes, including a manual focus setting. It also integrates with a full set of accessories from Lumix, including wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

The LX5 is a bit limited for video clips, though. It shoots only in two lesser-used formats and, depending on which software you have at home, an additional program may be needed to edit them.

Canon PowerShot SX150 IS

Just last month, Canon refreshed its great PowerShot digital camera line with three new models, including the budget-minded PowerShot SX150 IS.

It has a 14.1-megapixel sensor and includes a discreet shooting mode for taking photos quietly.

The best part? The $250 price tag.

The Canon PowerShot line has also had traditionally incredible video quality, rivaling some digital cameras that cost five times as much.

It's a bit bulkier than the Lumix LX5, but the price tag is incredibly attractive.

Fujifilm X100

For those looking for a huge dose of style, and a much bigger dent to the bank account, check out the Fujifilm X100.

It's a beautiful throwback to the cameras of yesteryear, complete with some of the quirks that made taking photos a bit more challenging back then. Most notably, there's no zoom on this lens.

The biggest innovation is in the optical viewfinder, which allows the photographer to peek through the camera instead of using the LCD screen on the back to compose the image. The optical viewfinder is then paired with a digital overlay that shows image settings.

The Fujifilm X100 has been in short supply this summer, which has kept the price at a gulp-worthy $1,500, if you can even find one online.

Once supply catches up, the price should fall to about $1,200.

But if that's too steep for you, you can wait it out a bit for the X10, Fujifilm's highly anticipated fall release.

It will retain some of the retro styling of the X100, but is expected to compete more directly in price with the other premium point-and-shoots.

It's a good time to be a shutterbug.