Long before the Oxford Dictionary crowned "selfie" the word of the year in 2013, people have tried to take pictures of themselves without aid of a second person, a tripod, or a mirror. As anyone who existed before smartphones came along can tell you, aiming a camera lens at your face and pressing the shutter doesn't always result in a usable pic. However, this was the method most employed until front-facing cameras became a standard thing on smartphones, thanks to the HTC Evo 4G and the iPhone 4.
It's been almost four years since those phones came out, yet front-facing cameras are usually an afterthought at best when it comes to quality. Every phone has to have one, but few people demand that they be top-notch.
Maybe that's because so many selfies end up on Instagram, filtered into faux vintageness where crispness, correct color, and clarity don't matter. Still, don't you think those #365feministselfie pics deserve better than the grainy output of a 1.3 megapixel sensor? I think they do. To get the best selfie action, we'll have to turn to real cameras.
Most DSLRs and some compact mirrorless cameras have LCD screens that swivel or turn to face front, making them ideal for setting up self shot. However, these cameras are expensive and bulky, not the type you'd carry around casually (that said, if you're into that, might I suggest the Nikon D5300, my current favorite DSLR?).
Most of the compact point-and-shoots with swivel LCDs are only sold overseas, like the Nikon Coolpix S6600. The self portrait-friendly shooters you find in the US are often made by either Canon or Samsung. Both of these companies have been working at making a great selfie camera for awhile.
Canon's most recent attempt, the Powershot N100, has a lot of great qualities. It's compact yet comes with a zoom lens. You'll be able to wirelessly transfer photos to a phone or tablet with ease. And not only does it have a swiveling LCD for taking pictures from any angle, it also has a rear-facing camera for taking a picture of you, the photographer, and whatever is in front of you at the same time. The 12 megapixel sensor is a big improvement over the last generation Powershot N (which Olivia took to the holiday party last year).
But if you want a camera that kills at selfies and will also serve you well in every other situation, you want the Samsung NX Mini. This shooter has a touchscreen that flips up 180 degrees, a move that puts it into Self mode and activates the "Beauty Face" enhancement automatically.
I have my doubts about the efficacy of "Beauty Face," but you're not limited to that mode. There's also HDR/Rich Tone, Night, Party/Indoors, and more advanced control options such as Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Manual. You probably won't need those last three for selfies--use them for taking great pictures of everything else, instead.
The NX Mini is one of the smallest cameras that offers the ability to change the lenses. You can shoot with a wide-angle 9mm lens with a fixed zoom or a 9-27mm micro zoom lens. Other Mini lenses are on the horizon if you ever want to get more creative. It's this aspect that makes the NX a versatile camera for any kind of shooting, though even if you stick with the fixed lens you'll get some great shots.
With the fixed lens on you can fit the Mini in the pocket of all but the slimmest of jeans. Pop the zoom lens on and you'll need a roomier pocket or to carry it in a bag. The surface of the camera is nice and grippy, so it won't slip from your hands easily.
And, I must admit, I do love that it comes in multiple colors. Mint green is my favorite, the brown coming in as runner up since it's attractive without being quite as flashy.
Taking selfies with the NX Mini has many advantages over a smartphone, such as an easy to reach shutter. Even holding the camera as far away from me as possible--as you do when taking a picture with multiple people or trying to get lots of background in the shot--I never felt like it was going to fall out of my hand nor did I have to stretch awkwardly to press the button. The 21 megapixel sensor generates sharp and colorful shots far better than any phone. Since there's an integrated flash and a Night mode, you can get clear pictures when light is low.
Where smartphones still have the edge is instant sharing. You can snap a pic and upload it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or wherever right away with a phone. The NX Mini tries to gain some ground with integrated Wi-Fi, the ability to send images directly to Dropbox or Flickr (no intermediary required), and instant transfers to phones and tablets. Once you set that feature up, it only takes a few seconds for the NX and your mobile device to connect. Then either transfer existing pictures over or instantly share every picture you take via Wi-Fi.
Doing this isn't as convenient as just taking photos with your phone. So which matters more, better quality or ease of use?
If the latter really is more important to you, then at least get a smartphone with the best front-facing camera. That would be the new HTC One M8. The 5 megapixel front camera on this sweet phone is wide-angle so you can fit more people in a shot. The app offers more settings for this camera than most other phones, such as HDR (balances uneven lighting), white balance adjustment, exposure value, and filters. Sans flash, this makes it possible to get some usable shots in low light.
If better quality pictures is a higher priority, you'll get that in the Samsung NX Mini for sure. You'll get quality pictures of your own fabulous face and of anything else you aim to capture. With the ability to change lenses and advanced settings, the Mini might even inspire you to learn advanced photography tricks.