Your talent—and Instagram following—has outgrown your phonecam. Start the new year by getting serious about your photography with one of these small shooters.
1. Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9
A smidge bulkier than the other models here, the GX9 offers added capability, like a 20.3-megapixel sensor and a full array of manual controls. Rich black-and-white film simulation modes and focusing features suited for astrophotography make it an alluring portal to artistic experimentation. It also plays nice with nearly any micro four-thirds lens. $1,000 (with a 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 lens)
2. Sony RX100 VI
The most recent camera in Sony’s revered RX100 line is its best yet, with a massive 1-inch, 20-megapixel sensor that slurps up color and detail no smartphone camera can match. In an elegant touch, sliding the electronic viewfinder up and into position also powers on the camera, putting you in shooting mode with an easy flick of your thumb. $1,200
3. Ricoh GR III
The GR III squeezes a 24-megapixel sensor and in-camera stabilization into an impossibly compact magnesium case. That pocketability means you’ll always have it, ready to capture that decisive moment. And even given the small size, you’ll still get print-worthy images. There’s no built-in flash, so you’ll learn to use available light, and the fixed f/2.8 lens will teach you to zoom with your feet instead of a rocker switch. Price TBD
How many cameras does your phone have? Mine’s got five.
Fancy phones normally come with three cameras these days—one in the front, two in the back. For LG, three just ain’t enough. Its new high-end V40 ThinQ (pronounced Thin-Queue) has two selfie cams and three rear cameras. At first, I gawked at that number of cameras, especially after seeing LG’s gimmick-heavy advertising slogan: “What’s It Gonna Take? Switch to the 5 Camera Phone.” A week later, I’m a five-camera convert.
Five Camera Shuffle
Maybe you’re asking yourself: How did we get here? What could LG possibly do with three rear cameras? Turns out, it’s just trying to do what LG does best: stuff everything into its phone. LG hates to let any competitive feature go unnoticed, and in this case that’s not a bad thing.
On the back, a standard 12-megapixel lens takes ordinary shots, like every smartphone you’ve ever owned. Flanking it is a 12-megapixel telephoto lens that gives you 2x optical zoom—just like an iPhone—and a wide-angle lens for those moments when you carved three full jack-o’-lanterns and really need them all in frame. On the front, there’s a standard 8-megapixel selfie shooter and a wide-angle 5-megapixel lens for group shots. Both are adequate.
You can swap between zoom, standard, and wide angle lenses by tapping on any of the three simple icons in the camera app. It sometimes takes a split second, but it works well.
Sometimes I want to zoom in, and sometimes I want to zoom out. For once, I can do both of those things on a phone without destroying the quality of my photo. The flexibility, combined with fairly competitive performance, makes the V40 a treat to shoot with—for the most part.
There are a few hiccups. For one, LG added a new camera app mode called Triple Shot that lets you shoot a photo with all three cameras at once. It sounds neat, right? In theory it is, but I’ve yet to find a use for it. It takes a second or so to take the three shots, so it requires a still hand, and a stiller subject. When it’s done processing, it spits out a moving .mp4 video of the three shots stitched together, which looks like an quick stop motion gif or a quick zoom-in gif on an object with some strange generic background music. You also get a copy of each picture, but you’re better off just choosing your lens and avoiding this mode. At least one of the three photos was blurry every time I used it. Sometimes the lighting is off, too.
Below are some nighttime shots taken on all three rear cameras. Low-light shots challenge every smartphone camera. The V40 tends to exaggerate colors and blur more in low light, but its shots are usually decent.
LG’s AI Cam feature, which I hated so much on the LG G7, returns on this phone. It doesn’t display random words like “Infinity Pool” and “Flip Flops” when you’re pointing it at a tree anymore, and now that it doesn’t, I wonder, is it doing anything at all? If LG is super confident in its artificially intelligent camera, it should have made it the default cam. You’re better off ignoring this mode, along with Portrait mode, which tries to blur the background around your face, yet still has trouble detecting said face, or figuring out where your hair ends and the actual background begins.
To be clear, these are minor gripes. LG’s camera takes better shots than most smartphones that aren’t the Galaxy S9, iPhone XR/XS, or Pixel 3. And with both wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, it’s more versatile than any one of the three.
Big & Tall
Put all five of those cameras in a metaphorical drawer, and you’re left with a very large, modern flagship Android phone. Standing a little over 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, the V40 ThinQ is about a big as a giant Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Like a Note 9, and almost any other popular phone this year, it also looks like a slab of metal sandwiched between two sheets of fragile glass (buy a case for this one). And like the latest iPhones and Galaxies, it also has a beautiful OLED screen (6.4-inch) that stretches from top to bottom, with a petite notch cut out on top for the selfie cams.
LG’s camera takes better shots than most smartphones that aren’t the Galaxy S9, iPhone XS, or Pixel 3.
The volume and power buttons are in their normal spots, and they’re joined by a new extra Google Assistant button on the right. This button constantly gets in the way. Like the newer Bixby button on Samsung phones, I just don’t need a button to open my voice assistant. Instead, I end up clicking it accidentally when I want to turn the phone screen on or off, making it less of an assistance and more of a hassle. Luckily, there’s a setting to disable it.
It’s also tough to reach the tippy top of that tall screen to tap icons or pull down the Android notifications menu, which made me wonder why LG didn’t included some reachability features. Phones like the OnePlus 6T let you yank the menus up or down from anywhere on the homescreen, and several phones let you swipe your finger down on the fingerprint sensor (usually on the back) to pull down menus. Fumbling around the overstuffed Settings menu was also frustrating. LG has four lengthy pages of toggles you can turn on and off.
LG’s interface is acceptable enough. My V40 has less bloatware than previous models (no phone needs two calculators), runs Android 8 Oreo, and has monthly security patch dated September 1. With LG’s new Upgrade Center now in operation, hopefully V40 owners won’t have to wait long to download Android Pie.
Overall, V40 is speedy and quick. It matches some of the top Android phones in many benchmark tests, thanks to a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB of memory for storing all those apps and photos. LG is also up on all the hip secondary features. The V40 is IP68 waterproof, has a MicroSD slot for extra storage, works with wireless/USB-C chargers, and has a headphone jack. Actually, it’s more than a headphone jack: With an onboard Hi-Fi Quad DAC for wired headphones and DTS:X for Bluetooth buds, the V40 and LG G7 are my favorite phones for listening to music.
Battery life is incredibly average. You’ll make it through a day, and your mileage will vary. I’ve ended most days with 30 to 40 percent battery left, which is not bad, but less impressive than phones like the new BlackBerry Key2.
ThinQ About It
The LG V40 costs $950 unlocked and will work on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon. That’s a lot of money, yet sadly it’s right in line with most high-end phones this holiday season. If you’re counting your dollars, there are many cheaper Android phones that can stare down the V40, like the LG G7 or Galaxy S9. Of course, none of them come with five cameras.
Your buck will stretch a little further this year, too. LG phones now come with a two-year warranty. The V40 may cost you a paycheck, but at least LG is putting its money where its mouth is.
Ditch the DSLR and say “sayonara, smartphone” with these awesome compact cameras.Smartphones may be the most popular picture-takers in the world, but dedicated cameras still have a ton of advantages. A pocketable point-and-shoot gives you features like optical zoom, better image stabilization, a bigger sensor for sharper photos, and way nicer dials and controls. If you love photography, get yourself a point-and-shoot camera. Don’t wait for the next family outing or the trip after this summer’s European excursion—treat yourself to a real camera and start capturing memories. No matter if your images end up printed and framed, or reeling in scores of likes on Insta (yes, you can still share your photos there), this selection of cameras will up your photo game in a way that portrait mode or studio lighting on a fancy new phone simply can’t.
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PowerShot G7 X Mark II
This Canon sits right in the sweet spot for price, features, and image quality. At $650, it’s relatively affordable too. The G7 X captures detailed images thanks to a big 1-inch sensor, optical stabilization, and 4.2x zoom. The tilting touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi increase its utility. I appreciate the wide selection of controls given the compact size—Canon found room for an exposure compensation dial, as well as a big front dial around the lens. Even though it’s easily stuffed into a pocket, this petite device sports a comfy, confidence-inspiring rubber front grip and rear thumbrest that make it satisfying to hold.
Need the basics? This tried-and-true Sony model, though several years old, is still a gem—especially since the price keeps dipping every time Sony releases newer versions. For as low as $370, you can scoop up this premium compact, which comes standard with a 3.6x optical zoom lens. It doesn’t have the modern amenities—it lacks both touch input and Wi-Fi—but the money you save by going for this slick Sony means you’ll have more dough left over for extra batteries, straps, SD cards, and cases for toting it into the wild.
We look at two cameras that approach the iconic quadrilateral instant photo from new angles.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10
Best for: Instagram natives
Fujifilm’s first square-frame instant camera is an analog-digital hybrid. Capture up to 50 images with the digital sensor, apply Instagram-like effects and tweaks on the dial switch, then commit only the best shots to film. It’s a bit like a miniature printer, using light to expose the Instax Square film. This hybrid approach means no more wasted shots and unlimited reprints for your friends. $279
Lomography Lomo’Instant Square
Best for: Artsy lo-fi fanatics
Unfold this uniquely styled camera, peer through its optical viewfinder, and capture square analog gold without dwellling over the ones and zeroes. Controls include exposure compensation, a bulb flash mode for long exposures, and a multiple-exposure option. A close-up lens makes for sharp selfies and colored flash filters let you fine-tune the mood of your shot. $199 and up