It is Xmas time and many of you will be looking for a special gift. Cameras are always popular so I thought I would give my 2 cents.
Let me start by giving the final answer early on. I am recommending any of the cameras in the popular “1” sensor” category. This is a hot relatively new category. All the majors are making at least one camera to compete in this series. They are all “high end” and you CANNOT change the lens. They all offer very high quality zoom lens with the lenses varying by how great a zoom factor they offer.
I have 2 of them, the Sony RX100 and RX 10. But Canon and Lumix and Nikon all produce equally worthy entries.
I assume the person who needs the new camera has either a smartphone or an entry level consumer camera (of the sort that costs less than $200). The key to moving beyond this level is sensor size. As good as smartphones are, all the light collected by the tiny lens is directed to a very tiny sensor. The camera can process the light all it wants but the result is always limited.
The following is a diagram of sensor sizes. Note that the largest sensor is shown at about 2.5 times its actual size. The “full frame” sensor appears only on expensive cameras and used generally only by serious hobbyists or professionals. The cheapest of these cameras cost at least $1500 to $2000 with an inexpensive lens. The next sensor size down is designed “APS-C”. These sensor also appear on higher grade cameras including ones used by professionals. But there are a few bargains with this sensor as well. The Canon’s entry level DSLR “Rebel” series has an APS-C sensor and you can buy a new one for $500 with a cheap lens. You can buy a mirrorless Sony A6000 with a cheap lens for $750. DSLR stands for “digital single lens reflex” camera. Folks who think they are giving good advice always recommend a DSLR. The mirrorless lenses don’t have a mirror that needs to pop up out of the way. Both DSLRs and “mirroless” cameras use interchangeable lenses.
When you look at the chart you might notice that the sensor that I am highlighting is even smaller than the APS-C sensor. It is not one inch either, but that is the accepted nomenclature. While smaller than either the full frame or APS-C sensor, it is still larger than the even smaller sensors which abound on the rest of the consumer cameras and smart phones.
The smaller “one inch” sensor actually has several advantages for the camera maker. To begin with, the overall camera is smaller (the rx100 will fit in the pocket of the average windbreaker). And with a smaller sensor, the lens is smaller too, so you use less glass in making it, and the grinding is easier (lenses are ground and polished). So Sony is able to use the renowned Carl Zeiss for its lenses, and Panasonic use Leica. Canon and Nikon make their own premium lenses and have for years, and when making a camera for this size sensor, they use their highest quality optics. Thus, the cameras in this series cost more than the entry level DSLR.
Before you pick a camera, you need to think a but more about the person you are buying for. If a woman, then think weight and hand size. None of these are light for their size. The Sony RX 100 is very small, so can be tucked into a purse. And if on a hike or whale watch, you can put your camera in double plastic bags and it will be safe all day. You can never secure a big camera and its lenses without a serious investment.
Here is the Rx100 - fits in a pocket!
The ones with the longest zooms (Lumix Z1000 and Sony Rx10) are not pocket sized. Still you can cover each with 2 gallon sized zip locks when you must.
This is the Rx10 with its longer zoom:
Then there is the type of shooting someone does. If mostly family pictures, then any will do. but if they want to shoot a bird in the trees, the longer zoom the better.
Finally, check for video, flash and touch screen. The Canon G5 has a hot shoe, so can accommodate an external flash. The Sony Rx10 has both an internal flash and a hot shoe.
It is all up to you.
Even though these camera come “complete” I ended up buying an extra battery and a charger.
And remember, the DSLR (or any interchangeable lens camera) is only part of a system. You will likely need at least 3 lenses, so the $500 investment becomes $2500 after you have a telephoto and wide angle. But these one inch sensor cameras are complete as they are.