What Is a Point-and-Shoot Camera?

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A person taking pictures with a point and shoot camera.
Solid photos/Shutterstock.com

A point-and-shoot (or compact) camera is a small, easy-to-use camera with a built-in lens. They offer a step-up in quality from smartphone cameras while normally being more affordable and less cumbersome than a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Point-and-Shoot vs. Smartphone Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras make up a pretty broad category, which encompasses everything from the $150 Canon PowerShot ELPH 180 to the $1,300 Sony RX100. They were much more popular before smartphones took over the world, but they still have a place in many photographers’ pockets.

There are two major problems with smartphone cameras:

  • They’re small, and thus have to use small image sensors. All else being equal, larger sensors mean better image quality.
  • The thinness of the phone limits what focal length and aperture can be used for the lens.

It’s not that smartphones can’t take great photos in many situations, it’s that they’re limited by the fact that they also have to make phone calls and browse Instagram.

Point-and-shoot cameras don’t have the same problems. Because they’re dedicated devices, they can use larger sensors without making other compromises. This means that you can get better image quality, especially in low light. Also, because their built-in lenses aren’t required to be as thin, they can have wider, variable apertures and longer focal lengths. This is why some point-and-shoot “superzooms” like the Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 camera have crazy, 60x magnification while an iPhone struggles to get 2x.

The Pros and Cons of Point-and-Shoot Cameras

sony point and shoot camera
Sony

Point-and-shoot cameras have different pros and cons depending on what way you look at them.

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If you’re a smartphone photographer, a point-and-shoot camera can offer you higher-quality images, the ability to zoom much closer to your subject, more control over your camera settings, and, depending on the model, professional-friendly features like being able to shoot RAW images.

The downside is that you have to carry around another device and transfer photos from your camera in order to edit or upload them to social media. You also might need to spend several hundred dollars to get photos that are noticeably better than what you take with your phone in most instances.

Is a Point and Shoot Camera Still Worth Buying?

RELATEDIs a Point and Shoot Camera Still Worth Buying?

If you’re a photographer who’s used to using a DSLR or another large camera, modern point-and-shoot cameras can still offer a lot. The 1″ sensors in some high-end models offer image quality equal to that of entry-level DSLRs, even though the sensor is physically smaller. Also, unlike most mirrorless cameras, plenty of point-and-shoot cameras genuinely fit in your pocket. If you love shooting with a “real” camera but don’t want to lug one around, they’re a great option, especially since their built-in lenses tend to be versatile enough to replace multiple different ones.

The biggest downside, of course, is that you have to buy another camera. There are also some situations where a point-and-shoot camera, no matter how good, won’t stack up to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. For example, they’ll never be as capable of creating blurry, bokeh-filled backgrounds.

RELATED: What Is Bokeh in Photography, and How Do You Create It?

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