When your food deserves more-appetizing photos than your camera's phone can deliver, these cameras will feed your need.
There are as many styles of photographing your food -- from fresh-at-the-market to the crumbs left on your plate -- as there are ways to shoot and share 'em. But you don't want be a laughingstock over photos of your chicken stock. I can't help you with your food, but I can help you avoid the ignominy of poorly exposed images with harsh flash and bad color. Usually, you want to show how yummy and enticing it is. That said, if your goal is to make the food look gross and depressing as in the Dimly Lit Meals for One Tumblr, well, you can still do that with a good camera.
Some of the most common problems with food photos include, in no particular order:
-- Poor exposure -- Camera shake (shutter speed too slow) -- Harsh flash -- Boring composition -- Icky colors -- Color noise (red, green and blue speckles) -- Too soft or out of focus
Some can be fixed by simply thinking about the shot. Most importantly, what are you trying to show? If you're enthralled with the bright colors of your sorbet, they're simply not going to show up in an underexposed shot. On the other hand, if you're tickled by the layout on the plate, underexposed might pass. Others can be fixed with appropriate accessories, like a tabletop tripod or a macro lens for your phone. You can also improvise; use a rolled-up section of tablecloth as a stabilizer or have a friend hold a white napkin to bounce the flash. But try not to go all crazy like these folks.
For most of my recommendations, I'm sticking with relatively smaller, less expensive cameras; once you get past a certain price, almost any camera can produce what you need. However, more important than the fanciest dSLR is the lens: a great lens on a cheap camera will deliver significantly more attractive results than a cheap lens on an expensive model. And most companies provide a decent app for using your smartphone to upload.
As time goes on I'll update with newer recommendations, so stay tuned.
Editors' note: This story was originally published on November 23, 2013, but has been updated to reflect more-recent reviews and announcements. The latest update incorporates cameras that I've reviewed this year.
Important features: easy uploading, better-than-phone quality
When sharing in relatively ephemeral ways -- texting, WhatsApp, Twitter and so on -- it's more about the moment, and you probably want to get it posted fast and for that your phone is probably fine. (Instagram falls into two categories, because for some people it's about the moment, but for others it's about sharing a body of photographic work.) But if you want to move on to something a little better without losing posting speed and you have an iPhone, the DxO One is a far superior camera that plugs into your phone. For Android, the expensive Panasonic Lumix CM1 can connect directly to a cell network. Neither has image stabilization, but both deliver an image-quality boost and fast-as-a-phone uploads.
Important features: Fast lens, good photo quality, low price
When you'd rather spend your money on food but still want a decent camera, the $300 Fujifilm XQ2 is a great bargain, with a moderately fast f1.8-4.9 lens and the ability to focus as close as 3 cm/1.1 inches. It's more a point-and-shoot, without a lot of the manual controls you'll find on other cameras here, but as a cheap step-up from a phone with better low-light quality, this is a good pick.
When you're posting to sites where these photos will be widely shared and searched for in perpetuity -- Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and more -- you want them to stand out and preferably not embarrass you a few months down the line. A more expensive camera like the Panasonic Lumix LX100 my favorite choice overall for a foodie compact, especially now that the price has dropped below that of another great option, Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III. Sadly, it doesn't have a tilting flash, but it does have a hot shoe for one, and with a built-in electronic viewfinder, fast lens and excellent photo and video quality, it's a great all-around camera for casual low-light photography and videography.
In addition to good image quality in all lighting conditions and a tilting flash, I think the option to change lenses is a huge benefit for travelers; you simply can't get a low-light-friendly lens that's portable and has the zoom range you usually want for your travels. Compact mirrorless ILCs, with their small bodies and small lenses, make it possible to bring several lenses without breaking your back. But the key to the usefulness of these cameras is to get extra lenses, such as a 50mm macro -- if you're just going to stick with the kit lens it comes with, don't bother getting an ILC.
My recommended ILC for all-around use is the Sony A6000, although the less-expensive model that it replaced, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 is a decent choice as well. If you don't care about video, action shooting, or instant uploading, the Fujifilm X-M1 delivers the best photo quality in its class.
Using photographs to illustrate your how-to blog posts about ingredients, techniques, and final results (but stopping short of full video productions) requires a camera that accurately renders the look of the food, with sharp details, and one that's totable to farmers markets and on other shopping expeditions. For this, the least expensive model I'd recommend is the relatively old Fujifilm X-M1, which excels at these tasks. (I suspect its newer sibling the X-T10, which I haven't yet reviewed, would serve as well.) The newer Samsung NX500 is also a good choice and the screen flips up so you can see what you're doing.
Important features: Good video autofocus, interchangeable lenses
If you're all about the cooking and want to share tips, tricks, and video lessons, unless you have a minion to help shoot, you need a camera you can set on a tripod and forget. While the Canon EOS 70D dSLR doesn't have the greatest video quality I've seen, for the money it's still pretty good and its autofocus is the best for tracking you while you move around doing your thing, and the video will still look relatively professional.
Plus it can handle different lighting conditions better than most point-and-shoots. However, unless you want your tomatoes to look like oranges, you have to change the default settings.