Best Point And Shoot Camera For Landscape Photography

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Best Point And Shoot Camera For Landscape Photography. This camera is quite small and portable but not too small. Buttons and dials are easy to use and it has a good amount of features for the price. The manual exposure mode has lots of options which are accessible from the thumb wheel on top. It includes many different modes including a panorama mode that lets you use the left or right side of the camera’s viewfinder to capture multiple pictures that combine into one image when stitched together with your computer.

The best point and shoot for landscape photography is a camera that’s easy to carry and gives you control over depth of field. The Nikon P900 ticks both of those boxes for best camera for landscape photography, due to its lightweight design, large image sensor and 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens.

Yellowstone landscape photo

Best Point And Shoot Camera For Landscape Photography

Buying a camera for landscape photography can be overwhelming, but the process should be fun and not just a leap of faith. First, choose among the three main tiers of cameras: point-and-shoots, mirrorless cameras, and digital SLRs. Then do some research based on your price range and specifications. The good news is that you can find reasonably priced cameras in all categories that capture quality images, and many are light enough that they won’t be much of a burden to carry. Below is what you need to know, and all of the information is current for 2020. 

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Best Camera For Landscape Photography

Option 1: Point-and-Shoots

Point-and-shoot cameras are about the size of a notecard with an attached zoom lens and mostly automatic features (hence the name). Don’t be fooled: technology keeps advancing and these cameras capture good images, are easy to use, and lightweight. In terms of cost, they run the gamut from inexpensive cameras that barely outperform your smartphone to high-end models built for professionals with large sensors and impressive lenses.

Point-and-shoots have experienced a resolution explosion in recent years, along with the rise of superzooms (some have a zoom range of 50x or more). The reality is that the small sensors and lenses on most point-and-shoots can’t capture as much light or sharpness as bigger cameras. If you want large, professional-grade prints, consider a mirrorless camera or digital SLR below. Otherwise, point-and-shoots have their advantages. When making prints, an average point-and-shoot should produce a 12” x 18” print without a significant drop-off in quality. For larger prints, consider a point-and-shoot like the Ricoh GR III that has an APS-C image sensor, which is the same size as many DSLRs.

Pros: Lightweight, easy to use, and relatively cheap. 
Cons: Mostly automated, struggle with large prints.
Things to Remember: Don’t be overwhelmed by features—focus on fundamentals like sensor size, megapixels, zoom, battery life, cost, and brand reputation.
Price Range: $100 to $1,000+
Top High-End Point-and-Shoots: The high-end Sony RX100 VII is a feature-packed point-and-shoot that pretty much does it all. We also like the Panasonic Lumix LX10, which has a faster lens and is cheaper. The Ricoh GR III in an interesting option with its extra large APS-C image sensor (the same as most DSLRs), but that camera has a fixed 28mm lens with no zoom. It’s the ideal compact camera for street photography but a little narrow for landscapes.
Top Mid-Range Point-and-Shoots: We still like the old Sony RX100 here, which is a fraction of the the price of the RX100 VII above. Keep in the mind that the zoom range is 28-100mm instead of 24-200mm, which is 4mm narrower and therefore less optimal for landscapes. 
Top Budget Point-and-Shoot: The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS has a huge zoom range at 24-960mm, is easy to use, and relatively inexpensive. The biggest downside is the small sensor, but that’s an issue with just about every point-and-shoot in this price range.
More: See our page on the Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras of 2020

Option 2: Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Cameras

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are the new kid on the block but they’ve made a big splash among serious photographers. Built entirely for digital, this modern breed of compact camera foregoes the internal mirror system of a DSLR; instead, light passes through the lens directly to the image sensor like a point-and-shoot. This build allows for a large image sensor in a relatively small camera body.

For landscape photographers, mirrorless cameras are a very intriguing option. Sony has lead the pack with its full-frame a7 series for years, but there are a number of great other options from brands like Fujifilm and Panasonic. It’s worth noting that good wide-angle lenses for mirrorless cameras can be pricey, and a full set-up easily can end up costing more than a comparable DSLR. However, we love the lack of bulk and many professional landscape photographers are making the switch.

Pros: Compact, easy to use, great image quality.
Cons: Lenses can be expensive, and weight savings are noticeable but not groundbreaking. 
Things to Remember: Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic largely have dominated this sector and offer the most extensive collection of lenses, but traditional powerhouses Nikon and Canon recently made the jump to mirrorless. 
Price Range: From around $400 for an entry-level model to $3,000 and up for the full-frame Sony a7R IV.
Top High-End Mirrorless Cameras: It’s not even much of a conversation: the full-frame Sony Alpha a7R IV is the best mirrorless camera on the planet for landscape photographers. 
Top Mid-Range Mirrorless Cameras: Sony keeps coming strong with the Alpha a6500, which includes weather sealing, 4K video, built-in image stabilization, and some of the fastest autofocus in the business. We also like the Fujifilm X-T3, which is an excellent all-around mirrorless camera with ample quality lens choices for landscapes and other uses. 
Top Budget Mirrorless Cameras: The old Sony Alpha a6000 currently is a steal with the releases of the a6500 and a6600. With a kit lens it costs less than many high-end point-and-shoots yet will produce far better images. 
More: See our page on the Best Mirrorless Cameras of 2020

Option 3: Entry-Level and Mid-Range DSLRs

Digital SLRs—bigger camera bodies with interchangeable lenses—take professional grade images and foster the greatest photographic expression. Cameras of this type have considerably larger sensors than do point-and-shoots and capture fantastic detail and color. They also operate with less automation, allowing for adjustments in shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, among others (some point-and-shoots offer variations of these adjustments but it’s not the same).

Digital SLR and point-and-shoot size comparison
A digital SLR next to a point-and-shoot | Credit: David Wilkinson

The downsides of digital SLRs come with a higher price tag and increased size and weight. These cameras are bulkier than mirrorless cameras and many times larger than point-and-shoots, and you will need at least one lens and a camera bag to protect your gear. But on the whole, the image quality produced by digital SLRs is worth the extra bulk to many photography enthusiasts (consider it a form of cross-training). These photographs can be enlarged and hung on the wall for a lifetime.

Pros: Less automation (more room for creativity), professional grade image quality, great for large prints.
Cons: Less automation (more room for user error), size and weight, cost.
Things to Remember: Get to know the camera before your trip by reading the manual and going out for some test shoots. Many digital SLR’s have automated settings such as ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’ but you will want a baseline of familiarity.
Price Range: Budget DSLR camera/lens kits start at around $400; professional set-ups can cost $2,000 and up.
Top Cameras: The 24.2-megapixel Nikon D5600 is a powerhouse mid-range DSLR, and the Nikon D3500 is an outstanding budget DSLR. We also like the Canon Rebel T7i, but that camera has a number of video-centric features that drive the price up and many landscape photographers won’t need. Finally, Pentax makes the only weather-sealed DSLRs at the budget end of the spectrum, including the Pentax KS-2.
More: See our page on the Best DSLR Cameras of 2019

Option 4: Professional DSLRs (Full Frame)

The critical distinction between entry-level and professional digital SLRs is the jump to full-frame—professional DSLRs have extra large 36x24mm sensors that take full-frame images.

DX/FX distinction
The DX/FX distinction | Credit: David Wilkinson

In the image to the left, the inner box represents a DX photograph and the outer box is a full-frame or FX photograph. The difference is rather astounding: full-frame images contain substantially more visual information.

Full-frame cameras are phenomenal—the best of the best—and if you can afford one it will not disappoint. There are fewer deals in the full-frame market than we would like and lenses are particularly pricey—the extra large sensors require extremely precise (and therefore expensive) glass.

For landscape photography, one full-frame camera stands out from the pack: the Canon EOS 5DS R. With a whopping 50.6 megapixels of resolution, the 5DS R offers 20.1 more megapixels than the Canon 5D Mark IV and a 4.9 more megapixels than the Nikon D850. This camera is built for still photography with fewer video options than the competition, but we appreciate the split from the hybrid model at this end of the spectrum.

The cameras above not named the Canon EOS 5DS R certainly aren’t slouches, and you can even explore some budget full-frame options like the Canon EOS 6D Mark II and Nikon D750. Both offer impressive resolution for landscape photography and are among the best cameras out there.

Pros: Exceptional image quality (the best), high resolution prints of any size.
Cons: Cost, learning curve, size and weight.
Things to Remember: With a full-frame camera you should be prepared to invest in quality full-frame lenses (some smaller lenses are compatible but the images will be cropped).
Price Range: Camera bodies start at around $1,400 for the Canon 6D Mark II; good lenses cost nearly that much or more. 
Top Models: Nikon D850 and Canon EOS 5DS R
Lenses: See our article on Lenses and Focal Lengths for Landscapes
More: See our page on the Best Full-Frame Cameras of 2020

Option 5: Your Smartphone

For years, we hesitated to include smartphones in this article for a number of reasons. The images sensors were tiny, resolution was poor, the lenses didn’t have wide-angle capabilities (older iPhones couldn’t go wider than 28mm, for example), and the photos just didn’t come out very good. That said, the tides have shifted in 2020, and particularly with the release of the latest iPhone 11. The base model has two lenses including a separate ultra-wide at an impressive 13mm, along with a standard 26mm lens (the Pro adds a third tele lens at 56mm). The Google Pixel 4 is another quality smartphone for photography, although it can’t match the wide-angle capabilities of the latest iPhone. 

iPhone 11 landscape photo
Patagonia shot with an iPhone 11 Pro

With these improvements, we now frequently use our iPhone 11 Pro in the field, even for professional and website use. How does it perform for these purposes? The convenience is unparalleled, the new triple-lens set-up is fantastic, and the photos are increasingly usable in terms of resolution and quality. That said, images do get pixelated fairly easily if you plan on cropping or enlarging them and can look very electronic, autofocus is mediocre at best, and the files are small enough that editing in Photoshop can be challenging. All in all, smartphone photos can’t match a dedicated mirrorless camera or DSLR, but we’d take the convenience of our iPhone over most point-and-shoots any day. Plus, it makes for a terrific supplementary camera. 

What we like: Incredibly convenient, and the latest iPhone 11 sports a true wide-angle lens. 
What we don’t: Image quality still is limited, and particularly if you crop, enlarge, or edit.  
Things to Remember: If you really want to capture great images on a smartphone, shoot away. We often find that various elements of the photos are compromised, so take multiple shots and experiment with the different lenses and modes.  
Price Range: The iPhone 11 currently is $699 for the base model without a trade-in, and the Google Pixel 4 is $799. 
Top Smartphone Cameras: The iPhone 11 is the best overall smartphone for photography on the market in 2020, and the Google Pixel 4 isn’t far behind. 

Lenses for Landscape Photography

Don’t make the mistake of focusing too much on the camera itself while overlooking lenses. For landscapes, you’ll want a lens with strong wide-angle capability, which isn’t as easy as it might sound. Point-and-shoots tend to be around 24mm to 28mm at the wide end, which is serviceable but not optimal for big landscape shots (24mm is much better than 28mm). Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs are offered with kit lenses that usually are around 27mm to 29mm at the wide end. These kit lenses are decent but not professional grade and you’ll likely notice some distortion and softness, which is why we recommend adding a specific wide-angle lens for landscapes. To help clarify this topic, see our helpful guide on lenses and focal lengths for landscapes. 

Weather Sealing

Landscape photographers inherently spend most of their time outdoors, and therefore weather sealing is an important consideration when making a camera purchase. This technology isn’t an exact science and manufacturers aren’t as transparent about weather sealing as we would like, but the process generally involves adding rubber around the joints and buttons to prevent moisture and dust from entering. This won’t necessarily protect your camera during an extended deluge, but it does offer piece of mind during light to moderate precipitation and exposure. 

Weather-sealed mirrorless camera in the rain
The weather-sealed Sony a7R III in the rain

Weather sealing unfortunately increases the price of the camera and this technology is most often found on enthusiast and professional models (Pentax is one exception to this rule with entry-level DSLRs like the KS-2). With Nikon, for example, you’ll have to spend up for the D7200 to get weather sealing. For Canon, it’s the 90D but unfortunately not the Rebel series. For a complete list of current options, see our articles on weather-sealed DSLRs and weather-sealed mirrorless cameras. 

Landscape Photography Is About More Than Your Camera

The header image for this article was shot years ago with a cheap Nikon point-and-shoot that was all this author could afford at the time (we keep it up there for sentimental reasons). It’s definitely not a perfect photo—a tripod would have helped in these early morning hours as would a higher-end camera and lens. But I was out there at sunrise in breathtaking Yellowstone National Park, with freezing hands, taking photos while others were sleeping. You can spend as much as you want on camera gear, but a common thread of great landscape photos is being in beautiful places at the right time of day. Quality cameras and lenses certainly will help your cause, but you can capture memorable landscape photos on just about any budget. 

Best Camera For Landscape And Wildlife Photography

An Overview and Buyer’s Guide with Top Picks for 2021

Common Buckeye / Florida / 18 Apr 2019Bald Eagle / Florida / 18 Apr 2019

Your next digital camera will probably reveal more about you than the wildlife and wild places you intend to photograph. That’s because the marketplace is now so crowded with cameras that you should not buy one until you first consider who you are in nature.

A birdwatcher needs more zoom in a camera than a botanist. No mystery there. I’ll suggest cameras for each of you (and will probably save you some money). I might even suggest (for the first time ever) that some of you stick with your new phone as your camera in the wild. But first, whether you intend to shoot birds, butterflies, bryophytes, all of the above, or otherwise, ask yourself this: Who am I outdoors?

If you aspire to become a nature photographer, to shoot like a pro, to print and sell your images, I probably have no camera for you here. My own professional, published photography over the years comes from five digital Canon SLR (single lens reflex) bodies and an arsenal of expensive lenses. No point-and-shoot camera compares. (Even if you’re already an accomplished DSLR photographer looking for back-up gear, the sensors on these point-and-shoots, particularly their noise and lousy dynamic range, will invariably disappoint you.)

Dickcissel / Monhegan, Maine / 30 Sep 2019

But if you are a birder, a naturalist or a professional biologist simply looking to add better photography to your life or work, to mostly share your images online rather than print them in large format, you can do well with these point-and-shoots. Really well. Want proof? Almost every image in this review came from point-and-shoots priced at $450 or less, including this Dickcissel on Monhegan Island, Maine. (Click it for a bigger view.)

Will these cameras land you on the covers of nature magazines and win you awards and riches? Nope, sorry, not likely. As I said, if you want the detail and richness of high-end nature photography, get a real camera — not one of these point-and-shoots. Even so, when heading out on my usual rambles (including birding), I now bring the point-and-shoot. I only lug my expensive DSLR gear for work (yeah, I’m paid to shoot nature and teach photography) and for what I love to photograph most: insects.

Caveats and Warnings

So you might now head off to find yourself and your camera among my recommendations below. But you would be wiser to heed a few warnings and learn some things before you can get these cameras to take photos like what you’re seeing here. I’m really good with these cameras; your results may vary. Here’s why:

  • Intelligence — It’s an endangered species here today in the United States. Rather than simply pointing and shooting, wildlife photography takes patience, an awareness of your critter, and, more than anything, some basic photography skills. You’ll want to dial these cameras away from AUTO (dummy) mode and at the very least know your way around shutter speed, aperture, ISO and metering. Not only that, digital camera manufacturers have gone rogue, building in more menus and complexities than most of you will ever need. It amounts to consumer malpractice. So you’ll also need some patience. (Fear not: I offer workshops and tutoring; so does my colleague Sean Beckett.)
  • Orthemis species / Costa Rica / 3 Jun 2015Light — It is your friend. Not high, harsh noon sun, but rather low filtered or direct light. With the mediocre sensors on these cameras, image quality declines rapidly in the shade or fading daylight. For those of you know it, ISO offers minor respite (I do everything possible to shoot below ISO 400 with these cameras, including not bothering to shoot at all.) This here Pepto-Bismol-colored dragonfly from Costa Rica (shot with an old Panasonic Lumix) is proof of how well a pocket super-zoom can perform with good light. You’ll see a few examples of how these cameras decline in lousy light among the sample images below.
  • Sensors — You really need to know about camera sensors because it might save you hundreds of dollars. These point-and-shoots come with one of two sensor types: either the standard 1/2.3-inch or a 1-inch sensor. (Do not try to make sense of these numbers: the 1-inch sensor, for example, doesn’t measure an inch in any aspect — not even close.) Just know that a 1-inch sensor has about four-times more surface area than a 1/2.3-inch sensor, which means it produce a higher-quality image, particularly in low light (like in the tropics or even in temperate woods). One problem with 1-inch sensors, however, is that they can add $200 or more (way more) to the price of your camera. For many of you, mostly birders, I’m not sure a 1-inch sensor is worth more than a couple hundred bucks extra, mostly because they cannot be fitted with big zooms. I do like them for other photography, however, particularly the ability of their wide lenses to produce shallow depths of field (blurry backgrounds).

By the way, if you like stuff like this, you might consider subscribing to my blog. No adds. No spam. No mindless politics. Just nature. Thanks.

Essentials for Nature

Complicating your digital camera choice are various options: RAW image capture, touch and tilt-out screens, WiFi image transfer, GPS capability, and convenience of menus and buttons. You’ll find those details in other reviews (I recommend Digital Photography Review.) But do note a few essentials for wildlife and nature:

  • A Viewfinder — Don’t buy a camera without one (particularly a super-zoom). You’ll want a viewfinder in harsh sunlight. Placing your eye to the camera also adds physical stability to you (and helps your shots).
  • Tilt-out LCD Monitor — Although not essential, it’s great for macrophotography, nighttime moth photography, and low-growing things where you can’t easily get on your belly.
  • GPS — If you’re big into iNaturalist, for example, or want to easily geo-reference your images all the time, consider a camera with a built-in GPS (even though it can suck battery life). (I rarely use WiFi transfer for images.)
  • Extra Batteries and Memory Cards — Do not wait; buy them with your camera.
    • Button and Dial Options — You want dedicated or programmable buttons or dials for: exposure compensation, ISO, and metering at the very least. (Never should you go to the menu to adjust these options when you’re out shooting.)

Compact or Bulky?

Compacts fit into your pocket (like that little Panasonic Lumix picutred above). Besides their portability, the lens on these cameras retracts into the body behind a trap door — nice protection during work or play outdoors. What I call “bulky” is shaped more like a traditional DSLR camera pictured right here. If you want big zoom, you’ll need a bulky. And all things being equal (they rarely are among cameras), a bulky will give you better images. Except that 1-inch sensors, even on compacts, will most often produce better images than  standard 1/2.3-inch sensors on bulky cameras.Bryan’s Photography LibraryDownload free explainers from my Photography Resources page. (By the way, that’s a point-and-shoot shot of a Ruddy Turnstone in very good light.)

RECOMMENDATIONS: You and Your Camera

Birders and Other Wildlife Watchers

Swamp Sparrow

You need zoom — lots of it. Way more than what you get from a standard point-and-shoot with its paltry 3x, 4x or even 16x zoom. Go big or go home. “Mega-zooms” or “super-zooms” give you 60x telephoto or more. No longer will you need to digi-scope that distant Ivory Gull for a record shot — your camera becomes a scope (but with lousier optics). This gallery alone should illustrate to you the shocking range and power of these super-zooms.

Insect photographers can also do well with a super-zoom. No need to approach that butterfly or dragonfly for a macro shot (and potentially scare if off). Just stand your ground, point, zoom, and shoot. Will the shot be as good as what you might get by inching close to the bug and using the camera’s macro setting? Probably not. But zoom-and-shoot is my preferred method for insects with these cameras. I often throw a little light on the subject with the camera’s built-in flash (even in daylight). It sharpens things up nicely.

So here are my picks for wildlife (with disclaimers [1] below):

  • Nikon Coolpix B700 — For some inexplicable reason, Nikon has discontinued my top pick (and the former top pick at Wirecutter). If you can find this camera new for $400 or less or used in good shape for less than $300, buy it. It’s got a 60x zoom and a 20-megapixel sensor. And if video is your thing, the B700 shoots 4K video, which is higher quality than you’ll get from the Nikon P900 (below). The B700 also shoots RAW images; the P900 does not. One catch: if you want to geo-reference your images, the B700 does not have a GPS.
  • Canon Powershot SX70 HS — Introduced in 2019 at about $450, and now hard to find and overpriced in places, this camera — with a 65x zoom, a new RAW format, and a 20-megapixel sensor — is the successor to my Nikon Coolpix B700. Also note that Canon is so much kinder to the “menu-challenged.” The SX70 HS does not have a GPS. Its predecessor, the SX60HS played to mixed reviews. But, overall, earlier versions of this camera, particularly the SX50 HS, were the go-to super-zooms among birders. So rest assured that the SX70 has a fine pedigree [2], and is now the second choice at Wirecutter (you don’t want the first choice).
  • Nikon Coolpix P900 — With a (sick!) 83x optical zoom, this is a birder’s point-and-shoot if there ever was one. You’ll fill the frame with feathers for $450 or so. Not to get too hung up on pixels, but the P900 comes in at 16 megapixels; others in its range give you 4 million more pixels, 20 megapixels, which matters. This camera does indeed have a GPS. I find the P900 a bit too large and heavy for my taste. Here’s a review. Nikon in 2018 released the P1000 with a (pandemic sick!) 125x zoom — it’s a beast and overkill.
  • Sony HX400V and Sony HX300 – Although I don’t find these two models among established camera reviews, they offer 50x zoom and Zeiss lenses at moderate prices. The main attraction to the 400v — at a reasonable $450 — is GPS (great for automatically geotagging images, especially if you’re a heavy iNaturalist user). The HX300 is a similar camera without the frills at about $300. If you buy either one, watch the model numbers and zoom ranges carefully (50x or bust); Sony has other cameras with similar model numbers (save a letter here or there) that I don’t recommend.
  • Panasonic Lumix FZ80 — Another in the 60x zoom class, there is a lot to like about this camera, including a price under $300. For that low price, you get a touch screen, 4k video and an 18-mega-pixel sensor. Basically, lots of camera here at a great price.
  • Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV – If you’ve got the cash, about $1,600, this camera’s 1-inch sensor and Zeiss glass add up to fine photos from a point-and-shoot. Its immediate predecessor, the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III, also worthy, goes for about $1,200. The Sony’s only drawback, particularly for birders, is its comparatively small zoom: 25x. Sony’s menu system is notoriously complex — not a deal-breaker but nonetheless insulting. (Sony could learn a few things about menu simplicity from Canon.) For overall use, yeah, this camera is a beauty. But birders will find its zoom lacking. Stay clear of the earlier models (the RX10 II and the plain old RX10) and their smaller zooms. Digital Photography Review loves this camera. Too expensive for me.

Botanists and Other “Stationary-Thing-ists”

Blue-sided Tree Frog

If your subjects lack legs or wings, or if you can easily approach them to within inches, you don’t need a super-zoom. Nor do you need one if you’re a general ecologist who might shoot natural communities, landscapes, geological formations or other bigger places. You can probably do quite well with one of the amazing compact cameras now on the market. I have shot — and even printed — many landscape photos from cheap point-and-shoot cameras not much bigger than a deck of cards. (Landscapes are like that — more forgiving in print than wildlife.)

Those super-zooms I mention for birders still work well up close with plants, herps and other stationary or slow things. So if you think you might also be shooting birds or insects or other wildlife now and then, be sure that your zoom is at least 30x (even though that’s now about the bare minimum zoom I suggest for birders). Otherwise, you’ll be fine shooting plants and places with these cameras, provided you know how to use them correctly in macro mode. So, if you do not need the zoom, you’ve got lots of options:

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII (and its predecessors) — A field ecologist’s dream camera. You get a 1-inch sensor, an 8x zoom and Zeiss glass in a compact package. The line of DSC-RX100s has for years been a consensus top choice. The only problem is its price (and menu complexities). This latest model — the VII — will set you back about $1,200. (With rumors of a model VIII this year, the VII should come down in price.) The model VI is exceedingly similar for about $1,000. Earlier models (including the VI, VA [not the V] and predecessors) have a 3x zoom. When you’re shopping, pay close attention to those Roman numerals indicating the specific model.
  • Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II — Canons generally don’t rise to the top among the bigtime tech reviewers. But the best review site of all, Digital Photography Review, likes this as a relatively affordable 1-inch compact. So do I. Although I hesitate to say that $800 is the “poor-man’s” anything, this is the poor man or woman’s alternative to that pricy Sony Cyber-shot. (The similar Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III isn’t as good for stills, but is better for video; it lacks a viewfinder.)
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 — Here are a few things you don’t normally find in a compact with a 1-inch sensor: a 15x zoom, Leica glass and a relatively affordable price: about $650. Digital Photography Review likes it. What you don’t get, however, is a tilt-out screen. It does have a (small) viewfinder. Although the zoom won’t be ideal for birds, it’ll do okay with insects. Adding this much zoom to a 1-inch compact does add softness to the lens. But, hey, versatility comes with compromise. This camera’s predecessor, the DC-ZS100, now goes for about $400.
  • Panasonic DMC-LX10 — Although this camera is getting on in years, it offers the essentials in a 1-inch compact, except a viewfinder. You can now find it for about $500. Here’s a review.
  • Cameras with 1/2.3-inch Sensors — The marketplace is loaded with regular, old point-and-shoots (not super-zooms) with standard sensors at lower prices. They’re all fairly similar and do particularly well with macrophotography. So shop for some of those “essentials” I mention above. Just be sure you buy a model that shoots in aperture or shutter priority modes; you’ll see A (or Av) or S (or Tv) on the camera’s top dial.

Your Phone

Sorry, your iPhone camera isn’t good enough for wildlife (except maybe herps and other cooperative animals). Even so, the in-camera processing (basically, automated image editing) and macro capabilities in newer phones may indeed be good enough for casual botanists and other biologists and naturalists shooting landscapes, natural communities and nature in close. (I expand on why phones work for field naturalists below.[3]) The panoramic options are lovely (like that shot above from one of my work sites in Vermont). And phones will geo-reference your images, which is always a good thing.

Sample Images

At long last, some wildlife photos to prove my points. Read the captions carefully. Every one of these images got standard editing in PhotoShop. (Dirty little secret: all self-respecting photographers edit their images to make them look better.) Click any of them for an uncropped view or a slideshow.Mountain Goat in the Cascades of Washington, shot with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 from about 200 feet away.A Sunbittern shot with the Nikon B700 in Costa Rica, with a relatively slow shutter of 1/80th. Image stabilization works well on these super-zooms.Dead Costa’s Hummingbird shot with the Nikon B700 at full zoom from about 20 feet away.Checkered skipper (Pyrgus) species: top with the point-and-shoot and bottom with a Canon DSLR and 180mm macro lens.Three White Trilliums in a dew drop (on another White Trillium), shot with my Nikon B700 at a crazy-slow shutter speed of 1/25th.A copper butterfly species, about the size of your thumbnail, shot from about seven feet away (in Sweden) at 30x with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40.The same copper image cropped and edited.Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) from Maine shot with genuine SLR gear: a Canon 7D and a 180mm macro lens.Spruce Grouse, shot with the Nikon B700 from about 40 feet away at full zoom.Rock Ptarmigan (Norway) from about 30 feet away in good light, shot with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40. Not a bad shot online, but nothing you’d want to print at a reasonable size for a frame. Click and zoom for a closer look to see the fuzziness.There’s a Red Squirrel in that red circle, shot with the B700 a wide angle. The next image is your proof.Yeah, these super-zooms are insane.Yep, a Bald Eagle in that pine.Morning light made this shot possible.Siberian Jay in Norway, shot with a Panasonic Lumic DMC-LX5 from about 20 feet away.American Wigeon shot with the Nikon Coolpix B700 in good light from about 60 feet away.Aurora Damsel shot with Nikon Coolpix B700 from 8 feet away in good light.Beautiful Wood Nymph (Eudryas grata), shot with the Nikon B700 and the flash at a moth light at night.Western Tiger Swallowtail, shot with the Nikon B700 at full zoom from about 15 feet away.No, not a watercolor painting, but rather a Black-chinned Sparrow shot in lousy light at high ISO at full zoom on a compact Panasonic Lumix.Black-throated Sparrow from the same camera in better light.Sea Lavener (Limonium carolineanum) at a saltmarsh in Maine, shot with my iPhone 6. Not bad, but not always easy.Cocoon shot with the Nikon B700 in macro mode.Hawkweed shot with Nikon B700 from 7 feet away with the camera’s flash (and an open lens to blur the background).Northern Crescent shot with the Nikon B700 from about 7 feet away.


[1] Disclaimers: I haven’t used all these cameras. My reviews come from my own experience and a lot of time reading websites I trust. As for conflict of interest, I pay full prices for my camera gear, although I’d welcome PAC money, Super PAC money, Cub Scout pack money, a MacArthur Fellowship, a trust fund, or a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens.

[2] I was never a fan of these cameras until I discovered that one of my favorite field biologists on the planet, Dennis Paulson, sometimes leaves behind his heavy SLR gear and uses a Canon PowerShot SX50. I did the same and took my Lumix backpacking to Scandinavia. A birding friend and colleague, Brian Willson, uses a similar Canon Powershot SX50 with incredible success. The SX50 is a classic, responsible for many great wildlife images. But the SX50 has been replaced (by the SX60 and SX70) and other super-zooms I review here. (Even so, I’m sometimes tempted to buy a used SX50; it’s a classic.)

[3] If you want a “record shot,” simply to prove the presence of an organism, sure, use the phone. I do all the time. So do lots of other folks on iNaturalist. It’s great. Phones are replacing cameras among field ecologists as well, who mostly shoot plants and landscapes, even a few macros now and then. And if you’re using GAIA GPS for your field work, which is the best app ever created in the history of the universe, all the more reason to use your phone as a camera. But if you want bird or insects as “art,” as I said at the outset: get a real camera.


Product Review Specialists

  • Digital Photography Review (dpreview) – Probably the most comprehensive testing and reporting resource out there.
  • The Wirecutter – Now owned by The New York Times, here’s the latest and best online version of Consumer Reports.
  • Cameral Decision – I’ve just discovered this site, so I can’t fully vouch for it. But one great feature is that it allows side-by-side comparisons of cameras.
  • Techradar – An article on the top bridge cameras in 2017.


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