Struggling with your point & shoot camera and need some tips for taking better photos? This post is our guide to point & shoot photography, from choosing the right camera to using that camera. Many people don’t realize it, but today’s point & shoot cameras are surprisingly versatile. Many pocket-sized cameras are suitable for family portraits, food photos, and even tougher subjects like fireworks and night photography.
It’s just a matter of having the right point and shoot, and knowing how to use it. The latter half of that is the tough part. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements along the lines of, “great photos, you must have a really nice camera.” I know people don’t mean anything by it, but that’s about as insulting as saying to an author, “great novel, you must have an excellent pencil.”
In the case of photography, obviously equipment matters, but not nearly as much as the knowledge and skill of the person using the camera. Someone taking awful photos with a point & shoot might take slightly less awful photos with a thousand-dollar DSLR, but they will still be bad. This is difficult for some people to swallow, because no one wants to be the cause of their poor photos–easier to blame the camera!
But enough ranting. We’re here so you can master point and shoot photography, and come away with amazing photos of your own. While this post uses examples specific to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the tips here apply to point & shoot photography in general–not just at the theme parks!
Let’s start with choosing the right camera…
Buying the Right Point & Shoot
I don’t mean for my implication above to be that gear doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. If it didn’t, everyone would carry a $200 point & shoot and no one would spend thousands of dollars on DSLRs. There are certainly limitations of point & shoot cameras, some more than others. However, the camera doesn’t matter as much as some people think it does.
Aside from the photos of the camera itself, every photo in this post was taken with the Sony RX100 or Sony RX100M2 cameras, cameras that will fit in your pocket. Click each photo to view it larger in a pop-up lightbox–the detail and quality of these photos should demonstrate what’s possible with a point & shoot camera and some knowledge.
There are two newer models, the RX100 III and RX100 IV, as well. I consider the Sony RX100 line to be the gold standard of point & shoots, and have been praising them since I reviewed the original back in 2012. Despite the original now being almost 4 years old, it’s an amazing camera that is loaded with features and controls. (You can often find open-box returns to Amazon in their “Used” section for <$300–just look for Amazon Warehouse Deals as the seller.)
You don’t need to own one of the RX100 cameras, but you do need one with features and controls. That’s step #1 when choosing a point and shoot camera to own. Being able to manually control the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are essential.
Simpler scene modes like “night” or “portrait” might make for an easier-to-use camera, but ultimately the camera is only so “smart” and for you to use a camera to its full potential, you need to be smarter than it.
Cameras with manual controls like the RX100 also offer scene modes for easier use as ‘training wheels’ of sorts while you’re learning to use manual controls, but if you’re serious about improving your photography, buy a camera with manual controls. No exceptions. If you already have a camera with scene modes and can’t replace it, don’t worry, I’ll offer some ideas for “outsmarting” your camera in the tips for using your camera below.
There are other features that I think are really important. These include sensor size (bigger is better), focal range of the lens (more zoom is always good, but a wider lens is even better), maximum aperture (smaller numbers like f/1.8 are better), the ability to shoot raw (more flexibility when editing), and maximum ISO (higher numbers like 6400 are better). Pocket size is also essential to me, but that’s a personal thing (if you want to be able to take photos on Universal Studios’ attractions like those in Wizarding World of Harry Potter, below, you need pocket size!).
Other features I like, but that matter less to photo quality include things like a tilting LCD screen, WiFi, viewfinder, pop-up flash, megapixel count, video capabilities, auto-focus speed, and lens sharpness, among other things. The original RX100 excels at most of these things, which is why I recommend the Sony RX100 as a great point & shoot for anyone getting started in photography. Sony’s latest, the RX100 IV, excels at all of them. (Probably why the IV costs $950! Although I’d love it, right now it’s too expensive for me. For some people, it’s a DSLR-replacement, making it worth the money for them.)
There are other bells & whistles camera manufacturers might tout as selling points, but many of these are gimmicks. Don’t be swayed by gimmicks. They might be nice additions, but shouldn’t be a primary reason for purchasing a particular camera. Having found my personal “perfect” point & shoot cameras with the RX100 series, I don’t do much point & shoot testing anymore so I really don’t have other recommendations on particular cameras (this post probably sounds like it’s sponsored by Sony with all these mentions, but it’s not–I buy my own cameras and just really happen to love this one).
However, if you’re considering a certain camera and want advice, mention it in the comments and I’ll take a look at its features and let you know if they are up to snuff on paper. Obviously, without testing it myself, I can’t say if a particular camera performs well or not, but I can help point you in the right direction based on the feature list.
One thing I don’t recommend is having your phone be your only camera. Everyone uses their phone as a camera–me included–but I grimace a bit whenever I hear stats that the iPhone is the world’s most popular camera. Phone camera technology has improved considerably in the last few years, but even the best phone camera is still only as good as a very low quality point & shoot. The image sensor is necessarily small in phones, the lens is poor quality, and the user control is limited. While gains can still be made in all of these areas, there is a ceiling on camera phone quality.
A nice point & shoot is so much more capable than a camera phone, and like a phone, they can go almost anywhere. (I always carry one with me when I run marathons!) This is especially true in the hands of someone who takes the time to learn the camera’s features and a bit about photography.
Don’t document years of cherished family memories solely via low quality camera phone photos. Years from now you–or your kids–will regret that you did. Okay, rant over.
In terms of accessories, if you want to take night or fireworks photos, stabilization is a must. For point & shoot cameras, I think the Velbon Luxi M is a great light-weight travel tripod. If you want to go cheaper, here’s another option (albeit overkill from a weight and stability perspective). If you don’t want a tripod at all, try something like the GorillaPod. It’s not as versatile, but it’ll fit in cargo shorts!
There are other gear options, but camera and tripod are the most important for beginners.
On Page 2, we will go over tips for making the most of your point & shoot camera.