Five Reasons You Need a Real Camera, Right Now (and What to Buy)
The best camera is the one you have with you, as the old chestnut goes.
And if you're anything like me, just the thought of leaving your home (or even the room you're sitting in) without your trusted glass rectangle is enough to cause hyperventilation—and by that, I mean your phone, which doubles as most people's camera these days. Since 2013, Apple has touted that more photos are taken with the iPhone each day than any other camera. But no matter how much you love add-on semi-pro apps like VSCO Cam and Litely, your very capable smartphone camera does have its limitations.
Cameras—actual cameras—are better, more stylish, and cheaper than ever. It might feel like a relic of the past, but here are five reasons why you need to get a real camera, right now. Just in time for the holiday weekend.
Crappy photos of your dinner at Noma Japan make you look like a chump. You can travel to the other side of the planet to eat a still-living shrimp and want to tell everyone you know, but can't be bothered to take a decent shot? Really? Camera makers know that most of us are taking photos for social media first, so speed and ease of sharing are paramount. I'm not buying a camera that requires me to figure out a work flow for my Instagram. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 ($750) has built-in Wi-Fi and can connect to your phone to upload images directly to Facebook or Flickr one at a time or automatically as they're taken. A lack of #latergram and more double taps is a good one-two punch.
The dark is your smartphone camera's worst enemy. Even with the iPhone 6's camera, which is one of the best out there, that romantic candlelit restaurant looks like a dirty sandbox with all the noise and grain—and that's if you can even get it to show anything at all. Suffice it to say it's a problem of fitting enough pixels (of a large enough size) onto a sensor and then getting enough light onto that sensor with so little space. No camera even comes close to touching the Sony A7S ($2,499) for low-light shooting. Paired with a compact 20mm lens ($349), it's small enough to tote around, even if it's not quite pocketable. You can get totally usable shots in an almost pitch-black room, so making sure those embarrassing late-night photos of your friend at the after-hours club look awesome on his Facebook feed is no sweat.
Looking Like a Boss
Following the cardinal rule of cool, now that fewer people have real cameras, carrying one that's immediately recognizable as superlative is a good way to set yourself apart. The little red Leica dot is must-have personal branding for the slightly nerdy, 21st century globe-trotting man. Shooting with the Leica M ($7,250) is entirely manual and requires some serious focus skills. It's the opposite of point-and-shoot, but when you get the shot, boy, does it look good (and you look good doing it). Remember: No one has ever stared enviously at the guy pulling a scuffed-up Galaxy S4 out of his back pocket.
Getting the Details Right
Smartphone cameras are meant to be all-purpose workhorses, but when it comes to zoom and macro they're terrible. You can get little clips and screw-on lenses to help here, but if you're already open to carrying additional gear, an actual camera is an easy step—and better bet. Any zooming you do on your smartphone is (with very few exceptions) digital zoom, which is basically just pre-cropping: You're tossing out resolution to give the illusion of zoom. What you want is optical zoom, which uses moving lenses to create the magnification. The Canon Powershot SX710 HS ($350) offers a patently absurd 30x optical zoom lens in a package that you can fit in your back pocket. Unless you're packing a tiny tripod or mini beanbag, lay off the espresso—holding the camera steady at 30x is nearly impossible.
I'm willing to bet that your No. 1 complaint with your phone is its battery life. A great way to keep your phone from dying by lunchtime is to stop pulling it out every five minutes, waving it around while the screen continuously refreshes, blasting the flash over and over, and synching every one of your shots to the cloud. Using the camera is one of the quickest ways to wreck your battery (and storage space, too) without even realizing it. Keep the lightweight, cool-looking Fuji X100T ($1,299) on hand instead, and selectively upload what you need with the integrated Wi-Fi or wait until you can plug the memory card in at home. No more pestering co-workers for charging cables or forgetting your precious device with that bartender you're always bothering.