Smart phone cameras are improving all the time. The latest Iphone is usually marketed with enormous blown up images of photos taken on its latest device, displayed on huge posters at the side of the road. Sure enough, most people will be able to get by with the camera on their phone with the added bonus of it always being in their pocket to catch the moment.
As effective as these devices are, the limiting factor of their ability will always be the physical size of the lens. For any photography that requires an element of optical zoom, or negotiating tricky lights (such as nights or indoors), a device with a larger lens is usually required. Invariably where this need arises, this leads to the purchase of a larger camera.
Once this decision has been made, there are two main options... a compact camera or one with a single lens reflex (SLR) which incorporates a body and separate lenses. I suggest that most people would follow the logic of "well I have my phone for snaps so if I'm going to get a camera, I may as well invest in a proper SLR." This is understandable and indeed I have dabbled with SLRs in the past... I even have a Cannon D3 gathering dust in a bedroom drawer. The trouble with SLRs however, is that they have an enormous range of settings and switches and are physically heavy and bulky items to transport around. I found this when I spent time on safari in Tanzania and feel like I spent more time looking at the switches and dials on the camera than I did at the animals in the wild.
On returning from that trip, I realized I either had to commit a lot of time to learn to 'touch type' my camera and build up the muscle memory to be able to deftly switch between settings, or look at investing in a simpler device. Fortunately, my wife's best friend is a professional photographer, and was on hand to provide some expert advice on cameras whilst taking into account my personal limitations. We concluded that the Cannon G series of cameras was the range for me. She herself had a very well used G12 that she uses for reportage and up close photography, preferring it to her larger SLR which she finds takes longer to focus and is harder to transport around. On her 'journey' to find her perfect camera, she discovered a compact camera with many of the features and quality of an SLR, but in a more compact and 'quicker to handle' form. As a Canonite she naturally turned her attention to its range of large sensor compact cameras where the sensor is effectively the digital film onto which the light is directed and the image recorded. Broadly speaking, the bigger the sensor the better, and at the time the sensor on the G12 was about a quarter the size of her SLR but many times the size of a normal compact. She found it was so good, it was accompanying her on all her shoots and producing just the type of image that her clients were seeking.
With this reliable endorsement, I invested in the latest that the G range had to offer - at the time, the trusty G15. This is a camera that has been thrown into my bag every day for the last five years, has incredible battery life and has performed faultlessly in dusty lofts, damp basements and the full range of climatic conditions that London has to offer. Time and time over it has produced clear, detailed images and not just of confined, internal spaces. The images of futuristic blue buildings on this website were taken by me with my G15 on a sunny afternoon in London. The washes were created with a few tweaks of the camera settings, but no post production photoshop trickery.
The camera itself has enough settings that can be fiddled with in order to satisfy the inner camera geek, and its lens is versatile enough for close up and mid range zooming duties. In addition, the body is hard wearing and durable... I have dropped my G15 enough times and from heights too, and yet it is still going strong.
All in all the G15 is a great little camera and if you are considering purchasing an SLR, I'd recommend you have a play with one of the G or GX series. It may just be that you don't fancy the extra bells, whistles, weight and cost of a full blown DSLR and the little G range will do the job.