Iâm struggling to find the perfect camera for my needs. I watched a YouTube video by one of my favourite photographers, and she suggested the Sony DSC-RX100 M5, but it costs way too much. It got my attention because it was small, it had the SteadyShot stabiliser, and was good for night shoots.
Iâm now using a Canon PowerShot SX110IS, but itâs pretty terrible, unless the weather conditions are perfect. If I try photographing landscapes at night, I get wobbly pictures, and I donât usually have wobbly hands.
Iâm looking for something that is good on automatic but can switch to manual, in order to start experimenting with photography. I definitely need an image stabiliser, portability â Iâll use it for travelling â and a 20x optical zoom. Can you suggest anything around â¬250 (Â£224.50) to â¬350 on Amazon? I canât pay more than â¬600. Antonella
There are many different types of camera, and even digital compacts come in several different varieties. As it happens, there are two that would suit you: âenthusiast compactsâ and âtravel zoomsâ. Unfortunately, you would like something that fits both categories, and as far as I know, thereâs only one of those.
âEnthusiast compactsâ are small cameras designed for people who normally use a DSLR with multiple lenses but want a second camera they can slip in a pocket when not carrying their main kit around. They have to deliver high image quality, and price isnât that important. If you can afford a good DSLR with extra lenses, you can probably afford a compact camera that delivers similar results.
The Canon G1 helped kick-start this market, but the Sony RX100 has become many enthusiastsâ compact of choice. Iâm not surprised to hear your YouTube photographer recommended it, and it has made several appearances in Ask Jack.
Although the latest Â£1,000 RX100 M5 may be out of your price range, there are four earlier versions, and you may be able to find one at an affordable price. For example, you can still get an original 2012 model for Â£335.70.
However, enthusiast compacts do not offer the optical zoom range youâre after. Typically they have 3x zoom lenses, and the M5 only covers 24mm to 70mm.
The âtravel zoomâ design trades image quality for zooming ability. It uses a smaller, cheaper image sensor, which enables manufacturers to include a much better zoom range in a smaller lens. Travel zooms start with 10x zoom lenses, but many now do more. For example, the Sony Cybershot HX80 and HX90 have 30x zooms, the Nikon Coolpix A900 has a 35x zoom, while the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS has a 40x zoom. In film-camera terms, the Coolpix A900âs zoom goes from 24mm to 840mm, which is amazing. (The Nikon P900 has an 83x optical zoom covering 24mm to 2000mm, but itâs more like a DSLR.)
The bad news is that the longer the zoom, the harder it is to keep the camera still.
The good news is that travel zooms are in your price range, and typically cost around Â£250 to Â£350.
The one Iâd recommend for your purposes is the Sony Cybershot HX90, which has some things in common with the RX100 range but at a much lower price. It has a 30x zoom and a pop-up electronic viewfinder for Â£314.98.
Where you make sacrifices are the sensor and the maximum lens aperture. Like most travel zooms (and your current Canon), the HX90 has 1/2.3in sensor, which is only a quarter of the size of the RX100âs one-inch sensor. Also, it has an f/3.5âf/6.4 lens where the RX100 M5 has a much faster f/1.8âf/2.8 lens. The HX90 will not be as good for low light and night work, but it should still be pretty good.
However, as mentioned above, there is a camera that combines a long zoom with a large sensor to give you the best of both worlds: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS-100EBK, aka the TZ-100. Like the Sony RX100, it has a one-inch sensor, but unlike other enthusiast compacts, it has a 10x zoom range covering 25mmâ250mm.
At around Â£523, the Lumix DMC-ZS100EBK is twice the price of some travel zoom cameras, but itâs within your budget, and should meet your needs. The larger sensor should give you better results at night. Also, at 300g, itâs still portable, though itâs not as light as the leading enthusiast compacts, the Lumix DMC-LX10 / LX-15 (260g) and the Sony RX100 M5 (220g).
The Sony HX90 and HX90V (with GPS) are great compacts for the average traveller. But given your interest in both night shots and experimenting with photography, the Lumix TZ-100 might be worth the extra cost.
Who needs a stabiliser?
Image stabilisation helps to counteract the slight camera movements that are inevitable when taking handheld photographs. They donât help with large camera movements or moving subjects, and are actually more useful when fitted to video cameras and binoculars. They are also useful with telephoto lenses, because magnifying the subject also magnifies the effect of camera shake.
There are two traditional solutions to the camera-shake problem. The first is to use a faster shutter speed. The ârule of thumbâ is âone over the focal lengthâ. With a 50mm (or equivalent) lens, use a shutter speed of at least 1/50th of a second. With a 400mm lens, use 1/400th.
When there isnât enough light for a fast shutter speed, use a tripod, or find another way to stabilise the camera. This is by far the best solution for landscapes, especially at night. There may be some slight subject movement, but that often adds to the picture rather than detracting from it. (Long exposures of moving water have become a clichÃ©.)
If you canât use a tripod or monopod, there are temporary substitutes. Brace yourself against a fence or lamp post, or stand the camera on a wall. This is somewhat easier now you can use your smartphone as a remote for your real camera.
Another idea is to take a sequence of five or 10 stills: many digital cameras can do this if you hold down the shutter release. After that, just pick the sharpest shot and delete the rest.
The least good idea is to increase the cameraâs ISO rating. This makes it think youâre using a faster (more light-sensitive) film, so it sets a faster shutter speed. However, increasing the ISO too much reduces the image quality. It also increases ânoiseâ, which can create a grainy effect.
Increasing the ISO rating does provides faster shutter speeds, which does reduce the chance of camera shake, but itâs not the same as image stabilisation.
Most of the better compact cameras and DSLRs now have image stabilisers, which come in two main varieties. Optical stabilisers move an element inside the lens to compensate for slight movements. Sensor-shift stabilisers move the sensor slightly.
The Sony compact cameras and the Lumix TZ-100 have optical stabilisers. The Olympus Stylus SH-3 and Lumix DMC-LX10 have sensor-shift stabilisers.
In-lens optical stabilisers are arguably best for big interchangeable lenses on DSLRs: both Nikon and Canon have gone that way. The drawback is that it bumps up lens prices. Unfortunately, I canât say if sensor-shift stabilisers work better on small cameras with small lenses, and I havenât been able to find any comparison tests on compacts. If youâre interested, read some reviews of the Lumix DMC-LX10 / LX-15. Itâs Wirecutterâs pick for The Best Point-and-Shoot Camera, ahead of the Sony RX100.
Iâve set up the main cameras mentioned at DP Review so that you can compare specifications side by side with your PowerShot 110. You can also add or remove alternatives, of which there are many. If you are buying in the UK, check prices at Camera Price Buster.
Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com